Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Marching For Whatever You Already Support

What a field day for the heat
A thousand people in the street
Singing songs and carrying signs
Mostly saying, "hooray for our side"
(Buffalo Springfield, For What It’s Worth)


This past weekend we saw a March For Our Lives over gun violence in our nation. Youth and their supporters marched for an end to school shootings. Unfortunately, the March and the reactions to it confirm one tragic fact about America—most people have already made up their minds about what it all means and anyone who disagrees is considered a tool or a willing accomplice of all that is evil. Whoever disagrees is a terrible person who doesn’t care about children dying or having a dictatorship (choose whichever fits your own narrative.

I, like everyone else, have opinions about the March and what is right and wrong. But I don’t intend to discuss my views in this blog—I see the purpose of my blogging as urging people to follow the teaching of the Church, not to argue that my preferences are Church teaching. Trying to interject my personal political views into this would be counterproductive.

Three Questions Everyone Must Ask

As I see it, a Catholic view of any political protest requires us to ask three questions:
  1. What is it that is being opposed?
  2. What is proposed to replace it?
  3. Is the assessment of what is condemned and the proposed solution just?
In my experience, people are very vocal about #1, rather vague about #2, and almost never answer #3. It’s easy to rail against what you dislike, but proposals to replace it tend to be reduced to platitudes about previously held beliefs (in this case “ban guns” vs. “right to self defense”). Almost nobody seems to ask whether there are problems with their solutions that must be addressed; almost nobody asks whether their treatment of the other side is calumny or rash judgment.

The result is nobody is dialoguing about what should be done. Where did existing laws fail to work? Where did laws conflict with each other? Where were laws absent? This is where we should start. We should be asking where laws need to be better enforced, reformed, or created. Instead we have people either saying “we need no new laws” or “we must make laws” without showing that the position will actually make a more just society. Each side just assumes their side is reasonable and never addresses concerns. Dialogue is replaced by ad hominem arguments and personal attacks.

Everybody is angry that things are the way they are. Everybody wants things to change. But nobody is willing to ask if they need to change for the good of others.

Now Let’s Apply This Generally

At this point I should reveal my “bait and switch.” I mentioned the March For Our Lives because it is recent and controversial. But every problem I mentioned above is found in every demonstration. It’s hard to see it when it is a demonstration we approve of. For example, as a Catholic I fully support the annual March For Life that happens on the anniversary of the infamous Roe v. Wade. But I do acknowledge that it’s easy to downplay legitimate fears. We can never compromise on the fact that abortion is intrinsically evil. But I do notice that the articles that address the fears of the other side are fewer than the moral outrage articles [†]. Even though we must reject any solution that accepts abortion as a “right,” we do need to address the fears that lead some to think that they “need” a right to abortion.

In every issue where people are divided, we must ask what is true among the claims and what must be done about the concerns. That doesn’t mean a fallacy of compromise however. If I claim you owe me $50,000 and you say you owe me nothing, the just solution is not you paying me $25,000. If I speak truthfully, then you do owe me $50,000 and splitting it in half is an injustice. But if I speak falsely and you owe me nothing then it would be unjust to make you pay at all.

So we cannot compromise on the Christian obligation to seek out and follow what is true and right. But we cannot ignore legitimate concerns either—even if we cannot accept intrinsically evil or unjustly applied solutions. This means we have to evaluate our political views in light of Church teaching, rejecting whatever contradicts it. But we can’t just write off legitimate concerns that lead people to false conclusions or legitimate conclusions we disagree with.

The Example of Pope Pius XI

For example, in 1937, Pope Pius XI wrote a scathing encyclical on Atheistic Communism (Divini Redemptoris). He showed why it was incompatible with Christianity. But, after doing that, he then said we had to ask why people were turning to it as an option. He wrote:

38. It may be said in all truth that the Church, like Christ, goes through the centuries doing good to all. There would be today neither Socialism nor Communism if the rulers of the nations had not scorned the teachings and maternal warnings of the Church. On the bases of liberalism and laicism they wished to build other social edifices which, powerful and imposing as they seemed at first, all too soon revealed the weakness of their foundations, and today are crumbling one after another before our eyes, as everything must crumble that is not grounded on the one corner stone which is Christ Jesus. 

39. This, Venerable Brethren, is the doctrine of the Church, which alone in the social as in all other fields can offer real light and assure salvation in the face of Communistic ideology. But this doctrine must be consistently reduced to practice in every-day life, according to the admonition of St. .James the Apostle: "Be ye doers of the word and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves."[21] The most urgent need of the present day is therefore the energetic and timely application of remedies which will effectively ward off the catastrophe that daily grows more threatening. We cherish the firm hope that the fanaticism with which the sons of darkness work day and night at their materialistic and atheistic propaganda will at least serve the holy purpose of stimulating the sons of light to a like and even greater zeal for the honor of the Divine Majesty.

In other words, it’s not enough to just point to the Church teaching. It has to be lived. Whether we are heading off useless arguments over the best ways to apply Christian teaching or whether we are opposing error, we have to live out the compassion and love that forms our faith. That means we can’t just say, “I disagree, so to hell with you!” The Church didn’t just condemn communism. She said we must live the truth in response. Likewise, it’s not enough to just condemn abortion. We have to work to make it unnecessary as well as unthinkable. Nor is it enough to merely condemn guns or emphasize the right to self defense. We have to work on identifying and eliminating what makes us unsafe.

Applying Our Faith

Of course the existence of sin and concupiscence means we will never eliminate these things on our own. There will always be someone who chooses to do evil by whatever means he or she can find.  Some of them may even deceive themselves into thinking they are doing good. Others will twist arguments to make it appear they are promoting good. Some may even try to say the Church should keep out of what they label “political issues.” But the Church rejects that view. In Vatican II (Apostolicam Actuositatem), we are told:

5. Christ’s redemptive work, while essentially concerned with the salvation of men, includes also the renewal of the whole temporal order. Hence the mission of the Church is not only to bring the message and grace of Christ to men but also to penetrate and perfect the temporal order with the spirit of the Gospel. In fulfilling this mission of the Church, the Christian laity exercise their apostolate both in the Church and in the world, in both the spiritual and the temporal orders. These orders, although distinct, are so connected in the singular plan of God that He Himself intends to raise up the whole world again in Christ and to make it a new creation, initially on earth and completely on the last day. In both orders the layman, being simultaneously a believer and a citizen, should be continuously led by the same Christian conscience.

We can’t divide the world into “holy and secular” and treat it as if the Church has no place in the latter. In seeking to make the world a better place, we have to live our Christian beliefs and temper our political views so they are modified by our faith. We can’t just demonize and condemn. Nor can we say “I don’t care about your concerns.” We have to provide Christian solutions to the real fears of others—even if we cannot accept their solutions. And, if we can’t accept their solutions on account of our moral obligations, we must work to show them a better way: in love and not like “Now look you stupid jerk!”

No doubt we will be rejected by many. But we must remember that the saints also encountered such hatred (and, in the case of martyrs, encountered worse) in converting the nations. They didn’t give up, even though conversion of a nation took centuries. We shouldn’t give up either. America needs conversion. But we should make sure that where there is intrinsic evil, we teach in love why we must reject it, and where there is dispute over political solutions we must have the willingness to investigate where the true and just solutions lie, and not just demand that whoever does not embrace our politics embraces evil by default.


[†] It is a lie to say that pro-lifers “don’t care” about these other issues, however.

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