Sunday, January 31, 2021


After the elections, people from both sides of our dualistic political system have accused the bishops of supporting the other side, using the same arguments. Iimi deals with Daryl and her mother deals with her co-worker, Jean. The attacks presented here are ones I personally dealt with on Facebook debates. The only difference is I removed most of the abusive language I saw there.

Thea and Jean’s discussion is more civil because they are more mature and professional than high school students. Not because that faction is more mature.

The thing to note is how both factions make the same errors. They just draw contrary conclusions from their misinterpretations.

Sunday, January 24, 2021

Virtue Signaling Into a Wrong Turn?

Warning signs are flashing ev'ry where, but we pay no heed

'Stead of slowing down the place, we keep a pickin' up speed

Disaster's getting closer ev'ry time we meet

Going ninety miles an hour down a dead end street

Yeah, ninety miles an hour down a dead end street

Well, ninety miles an hour down a dead end street.


—Hank Snow, Ninety Miles an Hour


As a confession, I used to be a bishop basher. That showed up in the (thankfully no longer available) earliest days of my blogging. My perspective changed due to two things. First, I studied the Vatican II document Christus Dominus, which brought home to me the fact that these men were successors of the Apostles and my behavior was wounding Christ’s Body, completely at odds with my professing to be a faithful Catholic.


The second reason was when Benedict XVI visited the United States in 2008. I do not know what he said to the bishops in the closed meeting, but I could see they certainly came out fired up and speaking out. During the next twelve years, they did speak out on wrongdoing that we frequently tolerated.


Let me stress that WE. It made a lot of people angry when they spoke out against policies favored by our side. People angrily demanded to know why the bishops didn’t speak out against the evils of the other side. Democrats accused them of being in the pockets of the Republicans and vice versa. Leading a prayer service one night, an angry participant asked why the Church didn’t speak out against homosexuality or abortion.


I was tempted to ask, “Why? Are you a homosexual abortionist?” Thankfully, the Holy Spirit gave me a swift kick of prudence, and I avoided destroying a friendship. But behind the snark, there was a purpose to my unasked question: We should be looking to the Church to teach us how to live in accord with God’s will, not for them to tear our enemies “a new one.” If they teach on an issue, and we think they are on the wrong side, that should be a major red flag that we are going in the wrong direction.


Now that does not mean that bishops are infallible. They are sinners like us and can choose to do wrong. They can have dubious opinions and make bad administrative decisions. The sex abuse scandal proved that. But, as canon law reminds us, it does mean that when they teach in communion with the Pope, we are to give religious submission of the mind:


can. 753: Although the bishops who are in communion with the head and members of the college, whether individually or joined together in conferences of bishops or in particular councils, do not possess infallibility in teaching, they are authentic teachers and instructors of the faith for the Christian faithful entrusted to their care; the Christian faithful are bound to adhere with religious submission of mind to the authentic magisterium of their bishops.


We certainly need this reminder today. After a bitter election season, we see partisan Catholics from both sides of our dualistic political system accuse the bishops of openly supporting the other side. Catholic supporters of Biden accused the bishops of supporting Trump. Catholic supporters of Trump accused the bishops of supporting Biden. As with all contraries, it is impossible for them to both be right. But it is quite possible that both sides can be wrong*.


And the critics were. The bishops staunchly opposed policies at odds with Church teaching during both Democratic and Republican administrations. Anybody who paid attention would know they opposed the evils on both sides. But, tragically, people only notice the criticism of their own side and think that the criticism of their political foes is never enough. The problem is, what the partisans want is for the bishops to say, “your side is scum and you must vote my way.#” But the bishops cannot do this. Cardinal emeritus Arinze mentioned this in his interview/biography, God’s Invisible Hand:


Bishops, therefore, should not come producing political formulae for solutions of inter-ethnic and national questions. As individuals they have every right to have opinions, but if they voice that opinion it would be regarded as that of the Catholic Church, and that’s serious. The bishop has to be aware that he is spiritual father for many, and the Catholic Church does not impose a political pattern on all her children. The bishop should be able to speak on Sunday to people who have different political affiliations. The people should be able to recognize in him their common father. This explains also why the Church would not like the bishop, or the priest, to engage in party politics—because it becomes difficult for that priest or bishop to be spiritual father to those who disagree politically with him. (Page 81).

Canon law #287 also tells us:

can. 287 §1. Most especially, clerics are always to foster the peace and harmony based on justice which are to be observed among people.


§2. They are not to have an active part in political parties and in governing labor unions unless, in the judgment of competent ecclesiastical authority, the protection of the rights of the Church or the promotion of the common good requires it.

Telling Catholics to vote for a specific party is a violation. This is why the Bishops put out voting guides that tell us the moral obligations we must keep in mind. If we use them dishonestly or fail to have a good reason (that God will accept at the Final Judgment) to justify support of a candidate or party who will inflict evil, we will answer for it.

Of course, the demand for justice is real. We see a government do evil and, especially when a Catholic is involved, we want the Church to speak out. The problem is, we only want them to do that with our enemies. Faced with the risk of four years of the other party in power, we want them to be quiet about our own faults lest we lose elections. So we want them to become as partisan as us, but only if it works in our favor.


In other words, we want the bishops to play hardball with our enemies but we refuse to be disciplined ourselves. Instead, when the bishops say “you are also wrong,” we accuse them of heresy and dredge up falsehoods or facts irrelevant to the issue at hand as an excuse to disobey. We portray our disobedience and hypocrisy as a “higher obedience.”


We are virtue signaling, but our signal shows we are headed in the wrong direction at a high rate of speed, ignoring the warning signs that the bishops put up.





(*) Contraries can both be wrong. Contradictories mean one must be right and one must be wrong. So “All A is B” and “No A is B” are contraries. If only some A is B, then both are wrong. However, if I respond to “All A is B” with “some A is not B,” I have contradicted the statement and one of us must be right and the other wrong.


(#) A couple of bishops did effectively do this and the result was that partisans pointed to them as “proof” that the whole Church did it.

Friday, January 22, 2021

This Time We Have a Farce

Hegel remarks somewhere that all great, world-historical facts and personages occur, as it were, twice. He has forgotten to add: the first time as tragedy, the second as farce. 

—Karl MarxThe Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte.

Whatever the reader thinks of the results, after all the yelling and shouting is done, we have a new President, installed on January 20th. The 22nd brought us the anniversary of Roe v. Wade and the March for Life (rendered virtual by the coronavirus). Watching the usual two factions squaring off once again, I am reminded by the quote of Karl Marx. We are seeing history happening twice. The first was tragedy. This is farce.

The tragedy was watching a certain faction of American Catholics deny the authority of the bishops when they spoke out on the injustice of immigration policies and the application of the death penalty. They accused the bishops of supporting the Democratic Party. The other major faction of American Catholics pointed to this defiance as a proof that the first faction was committing political idolatry by rejecting or downplaying those teachings.

The farce came when we had a change of Presidential administrations. Then, Catholics of that second faction did everything they denounced the first faction of doing. Though instead of downplaying or rejecting Church teaching on immigration policies, they downplayed the Church teaching on abortion and the need to end it legally. They accused the bishops of supporting the Republican Party. Meanwhile the first faction pointed out their own double standards.

If both factions can point out the fact that their opponents were doing wrong, it testifies to the fact that they both know right from wrong. And, if they both know this right and wrong, they are without excuse when they do what they condemned in others. What they are doing is causing scandal by leading those outside of the Church to think that Church teaching is whatever we want to be. They will not take us seriously and not believe our claims of Apostolic succession and the binding authority when, at any one time, half of the American Church is condemning and refusing obedience to the bishops when they teach.

These people will not listen to correction. If you point out that the Church has taught contrary to their assertions, they will accuse the Church and you of being in error or being a political shill for their enemies while they claim they are being faithful to the Pope (they are not) or Sacred Tradition (again, they are not) as a higher loyalty of obedience. Of course, it is always their owninterpretation of these things. Using the No True Scotsman fallacy, they insist that whatever contradicts their own interpretation is not truly Catholic, regardless of who taught it. 

It is too late to undo the original tragedy. I do not see any evidence that participants in the farce will change their views to obedience either. So, all we can do is work to engage people of good will and help them understand that our beliefs are not only reasonable, but the only way to live rightly.

Unfortunately, we will run into a lot of trolls out there in the process. We will run into people who calumniate us as giving “comfort to the enemy.” On the Left, we will see claims that standing up for the right to life against abortion makes one guilty of every wrong an anti-abortion politician should commit. On the Right, we will see the same thing directed against those who remind us of the Church teaching on the death penalty and immigration. We will see lots of spurious logic and special pleading as people try to explain why their own failings are “different.”

We will have to stay consistent. If a person is tempted to say, “You’re not pro-life, you’re only anti-abortion,” that person claims he has knowledge about the full teaching on the Right to Life. The Church has taught enough about the evil of abortion that someone claiming to be knowledgeable about what the Right to Life really means. And, when the Church makes clear how to apply the timeless teaching for the conditions of today on the death penalty and immigration, we cannot claim to be faithfulCatholics if we refuse obedience.

Since both sides are claiming to be faithful Catholics, they have an obligation to obey when taught. And if they do not understand the teaching, they have an obligation to seek out the meaning. If they do not, they contribute both to tragedy and farce.



(†) Of course, I do not approve of Marx in any way. But this quote does seem to effectively describe the situation that partisan Catholics put the Church in.

Monday, January 18, 2021

The Partisan Trap

“You are the salt of the earth. But if salt loses its taste, with what can it be seasoned? It is no longer good for anything but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.” (Matthew 5:13)

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.” (Matthew 7:21)

“This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.” (Mark 1:15)

Every time Americans change Presidential administrations, there are laments and cheers from Christians based on the fears of what the new administration will do or hopes that we will finally be free of the old administration. Since every administration has moral and some immoral planks in their platforms, both reactions are understandable.

The danger is failing to recognize that one’s own side has immoral planks and failing to stand up to them. We tend to treat those failings as “unimportant.” We might use evasive language to make it sound like we care about those issues while neither saying nor doing anything meaningful about them. Instead, we focus on the issues the other side fails on, elevating them to unforgiveable sins while we “criticize” our own side by “praising with faint damns.”

Think of it. When is the last time you have seen a Catholic who supports Democrats who condemns his party’s support of abortion with the same anger as he condemns the Republicans for other violations of social justice? When is the last time you saw a Catholic Republican denounce his own party for violations of social justice with the same vehemence he uses for his political opponents over abortion?

Instead, Catholics of both factions come up with excuses and evasions to justify their inaction. The other side is worse! “The stakes are too high right now!” “Why don’t you say anything about X?” “That’s just a prudential judgment!” “This is the worst evil out there!” These things ignore the fact that we are called to convert the world, turning them away the things that damn souls. The Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20) existed before the existence of the Democratic and Republican parties and will continue to exist long after the two parties have been forgotten in the dust of time.

The failures of Catholics to stand up to past administrations do not excuse us from standing up now. Repentance means turning away now once we realize we have gone astray. If others have played the hypocrite, it does not justify our playing one now

And that is the partisan trap in a nutshell. Convinced of our own righteousness, we think only the sinners of the other side need to repent and turn away. Tactics we condemn when used against us, we willingly take up and use against our enemies. But our Lord Himself told us, “For as you judge, so will you be judged, and the measure with which you measure will be measured out to you” (Matthew 7:2).

That warning makes perfect sense. If we know that X is wrong, and judge others for doing X in favor of their cause, do we really think God will give us a free pass for doing X in favor of our own cause? God will not accept “Whataboutism” as a valid plea. If we know something is wrong when used against us, we are without excuse if we use it when it benefits us. As St. Paul wrote (Romans 2:21-22), “[Y]ou who teach another, are you failing to teach yourself? You who preach against stealing, do you steal? You who forbid adultery, do you commit adultery?

On January 20, 2021, one Presidential administration will end, and another will begin. Regardless of how we—or others—responded to the last one, we all have an opportunity to act rightly to this one, putting God and obedience to His Church first and standing up when the government acts wrongly. If we are silent, after all our angry words against others, we have fallen into the partisan trap and need to change, asking for mercy.


(†) As always, I list these dichotomies in alphabetical order to avoid accusations of bias.

Friday, January 15, 2021

If We Want Justice, We Must Not Be Unjust Ourselves

As I watch the aftermath of the mob that stormed the Capitol building, I am struck by some things being proposed in response that seem to be rather dubious. Let me be clear: That act was rightly condemned, and justice does need to be done in response. However, some of the angry proposals made in response seem to be unjust in themselves. Some seem to disproportionate demands made against people who did not take part in the mob attack itself. Others seemed to be taking advantage of the outrage to simply target political opponents for short term (and shortsighted) gain.

This article is not going to dissect those actions or identify the people I think might be guilty of them. That would turn the article into a political argument and would distract from the point I want to make. It could even be rash judgment if I am mistaken in my assessment of their motives. What I want to do is look at the demands of justice in a way that would be true regardless in the past or present, regardless of whatever events or information might come up later, with no need for me to offer retractions.

Justice can be described as giving to others their due. That can be positive in the sense of making things right to those who were wronged and negative in the sense of exacting proportionate consequences for wrongdoing. A failure to do make things right for the wronged or failing to exact no more or less than proportionate consequences to the wrongdoers is injustice. However, punishing people for something where involvement in wrongdoing is remote or non-existent is also injustice. For example, a person who sells gas at a gas station is not considered guilty of aiding and abetting if he sells gas to the driver of a getaway car used to commit a crime unless it can be established that he knows and condones the action it enables.

That means we cannot target a person whose ideas we dislike, punishing him or her for the actions of others, unless we can show a direct cause-effect link between Person A’s ideas and Person B’s actions. Nor can we charge person A for anything greater than what he or she intended to do or could have reasonably foreseen as arising from those actions. Vincible ignorance is a sin, while reckless behavior and criminal negligence are actionable.

Therefore, we must be careful not to mete out injustice in response to injustice. When passions run high—especially when we have been personally hurt by injustice—it is easy to respond in anger and act unjustly ourselves even while being convinced of our own righteousness. If we assume that our foes are reprehensible and a crisis is one good way to remove them from power for the greater good, we are also acting unjustly by doing evil so good might come of it.

As Catholics, must show the way by making certain that we do not support injustice against our foes because we dislike them or think it is the only way to stop them. As Socrates pointed out, being just is not doing good to our friends and evil to our enemies. We must do good—which is not necessarily the same as being nice—to everybody. We need to make sure actual cause and effect is established before we seek to punish a person for something. We need to make sure that only the wrongdoers are held accountable, and only for what they have done.

That is hard to do of course. People on both sides of our dualistic system can point out unjust responses from “the other side” while ignoring the injustice on their own side. They are both right when they point out the double standards of others. The problem is, they are both wrong when they explain away or ignore the double standards on their own. People are good at pointing out the hypocrisy of others.

History should be our guide: It is not only immoral, but dangerous to have a double standard of justice depending on the leaning of the wrongdoers. For example, Weimar Germany, during the period of 1918-1933, did have cases where police and judges were sympathetic to the Nazis and handed out exceptionally light sentences compared to those whom they were antagonistic towards. That was an injustice and helped the growth of Nazism from being a fringe movement to becoming a major power in German politics prior to 1933 when Hitler came to power. However, a past failure of justice must not be used to justify allowing a similar miscarriage in the present. We cannot remain silent on past injustice but we cannot use “Whataboutism” to justify ignoring the present injustice either.

My adaptation of an old political adage might help here. “He who says we must do something in situation A, must be prepared to support doing the same in situation B unless it can be shown that the different conditions in situations A and B merit a different response.” That means we must be careful in how we form our demands and in the parallels we draw. If we are unwilling to have a standard being held against us, we should be extremely cautious about applying it to our foes. The balance of power will always shift and those who were targeted while out of power will invariably use the same tool once they are back in power.

We can either apply real justice to our foes or we can continue the cycle of injustice. The Catholic belief requires the first. Modern politics always chooses the second. With this in mind, regardless of what happens in the world, we who profess to be faithful Catholics must start by acting justly in what we do and what we say.


(†) The original, “He who says A, must say B,” was formulated by one James Burnham. I know nothing of his politics or beliefs. So, please do not associate me with anything he said that might be offensive.

Monday, January 11, 2021

Convenient or Not

I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingly power: proclaim the word; be persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient; convince, reprimand, encourage through all patience and teaching. For the time will come when people will not tolerate sound doctrine but, following their own desires and insatiable curiosity, will accumulate teachers and will stop listening to the truth and will be diverted to myths. But you, be self-possessed in all circumstances; put up with hardship; perform the work of an evangelist; fulfill your ministry. [2 Timothy 4:1–5 (NABRE)]


As we try to come to terms with the attack on the Capitol building, American Christianity is in a difficult place. The fact is, some of our long taught moral beliefs are associated with the politics of President Trump. As he is now disgraced, some people try to take advantage of his disgrace to discredit our beliefs. It is made worse by the fact that some groups of Christians elevated Trump to a near idolatrous status and made excuses for his behavior. Yes, I pointed out that tying our beliefs to the extremists is the fallacy of composition, but that doesn’t change the fact that many people are unable to separate what we believe from how some Christians created a bad witness. It is stereotyping, but we have to deal with it by considering our individual behavior and seeing if we have contributed to the contempt our Faith is currently held in.


This is not an article about the mob attack, or Trump per se. This is an article about how these events bring home the need to be consistent in teaching the Faith regardless of the conditions we find ourselves in, neither compromising with the hostility of the world, nor justifying evil because of the temporary benefits we might gain*


Unfortunately, both sides in our dualistic political system are very skilled at spotting hypocrisy on the other side and terrible at spotting their own. The result is people tend to think that the problems only exist because of the “other side” and, if that side was permanently defeated, the problems would be gone too.


I think we need to behave in a manner that witnesses to what we believe and, to do so, we must put what we believe first over any other motivations, sacrificing the latter when it conflicts. The world attributes partisan motivations to our beliefs. As a result, they reject our beliefs as partisan. Tragically, some Christians do act in a partisan manner and it provides critics with excuses to reject what is vitally important. Now some is not all, but if we want to put an end to this, we need to speak out for what is authentically Christian and reject whatever tries to hijack it for political gain. While we cannot control how others see us, we can control whether that perception is just or unjust. 


We must also be open to correction. It is a disgrace that Catholics on both side of the American political divide see the rebuke from the Pope or our bishops—when it goes against our politics—as partisan behavior instead of something to heed. But, when the bishops say something that we agree with, we treat it as proof that the other side is the side of Darkness. Whether on abortion or immigration, Church teaching has long preceded the founding of America… or the arrival of the first Europeans in the Americas for that matter. When a country—especially when Catholics within that country adopt that behavior—behaves in a way contrary to the Gospel, the bishops must speak out against that behavior.


Another tragedy of this is the error of Whataboutism. This is the logical fallacy called tu quoque. It is an attempt to deny a valid rebuke one sees as directed against them. Regardless of whether the bishop of a diocese should have spoken out against a different example of wrongdoing earlier, this does not change the fact that we need to listen to what they speak against now. So, we see, in the case of the Pope speaking against the storming and sacking of the Capitol building, some Catholics saying that he should have mentioned other incidents by name. Personally, I think this is a fallacy of false analogy (the differences outweigh the similarities). But these critics forget the key point: What the Pope said about violence is true and we should make it our own:


Dear brothers and sisters, I offer an affectionate greeting to the people of the United States of America, shaken by the recent siege at the Congress. I pray for those who lost their life—five— they lost it in those dramatic moments. I reiterate that violence is always self-destructive. Nothing is earned with violence and so much is lost. I exhort the government authorities and the entire population to maintain a deep sense of responsibility, in order to calm souls, to promote national reconciliation and to protect the democratic values rooted in American society. May the Immaculate Virgin, Patroness of the United States of America, help keep alive the culture of encounter, the culture of care, as the royal road to build together the common good; and I do so with all those who live in that land.


The person who thinks that prayer is partisan, or error needs a remedial course in Catholicism 101.


Here I want to bring up another point. If you, the reader, are thinking angrily or triumphantly about the evils of the other side, you are part of the problem. Conservative vs. Liberal; Democrat vs. Republican… these movements and parties all run afoul of the teachings of the Church in one way or another. If we are to be Catholic first, then we must be the vanguard of opposing the evils of the party we belong to, not explaining it away because “the stakes are too high.” If you are a Catholic who votes Democrat, YOU have a responsibility to lead the way in opposing the party support of abortion and other evils that the Church condemns. If you are a Catholic who votes Republican, YOU have the responsibility to lead the way in opposing unjust immigration policies and other evils that the Church condemns§. And all of us need to remember: If out party gets elected; we must bear witness to what we believe by speaking against those wrongs.


Yes, some things are eviler than others. But the deadliest sin for us is not the one that we are never tempted to commit. The deadliest sins are the grave sins we blind ourselves to. As Gaudium et Spes #16 warns us:


Conscience frequently errs from invincible ignorance without losing its dignity. The same cannot be said for a man who cares but little for truth and goodness, or for a conscience which by degrees grows practically sightless as a result of habitual sin.


If we will keep these things in mind, and act on them, we might be able to change how we are perceived. But even if the world will not change their views, we will be able to make sure that our witness shows their accusations are false.


But if we refuse to hear our Church—which teaches with God’s authority and protection—then we should consider the words of Lumen Gentium #14 (referencing Luke 12:48):


All the Church’s children should remember that their exalted status is to be attributed not to their own merits but to the special grace of Christ. If they fail moreover to respond to that grace in thought, word and deed, not only shall they not be saved but they will be the more severely judged.


We profess belief that the Catholic Church was established by Christ to teach with His authority and protection. So, we are without excuse if we place our Catholic faith below our partisan concerns and cause scandal in others by leading them to believe our moral beliefs are no more than partisan concerns.




(*) I think we should keep in mind Roman Emperor Commodus: A morally bad man whose policies brought a temporary (if coincidental) respite from the official persecution of Christianity. That temporary benefit was good, but it does not mean Christians approved of the evils in his reign.


(†) We need to realize that the storming and sacking of the Capitol shocked the world. Regardless of how people viewed our varied political administrations, America was, up to this point, seen as a stable democratic Republic. For this to happen shows that we are just as susceptible to extremist movements as they were. Given the serious consequences of such movements in history, such alarm is understandable.


(‡) As always, I alphabetize these dichotomies to avoid any accusations of putting more emphasis on one side than the other.


(§) Yes, this applies to Catholics in minor parties too.



Saturday, January 9, 2021

Applying the Golden Rule After the Mob Attack

 I wanted to write about the attack on the Capitol building from the moment I heard about it but trying to write without either seeming to make excuses or judging rashly was difficult. Now that a couple of days have passed, I have a sense of what has been said and what needs to be said.

Before I begin, I need to make something clear about what this article is not. This is not an article about the mob attack itself. It has been accurately covered already. Nor is it an attempt to fact check the claims and counterclaims about it. There are fact checking sites that have the resources to do that better than I could hope to do. I also want to make clear that nothing I write is intended to be partisan. I might slip up and let some passion slip by my proofreading before I hit “post,” but I hope to avoid that as much as possible.

What I hope to do is to look at some of the troubling attitudes that have come out in the aftermath… attitudes I think are incompatible with our Catholic Faith. While we cannot help what others do, we have an obligation to act rightly in our approach to things. Part of this approach recognizes that the US Bishops universally—and rightly—condemned this attack. Because of that witness, as well as the Catholic teaching on civil authority, we cannot pretend support or attempt to justify what happened is compatible with our moral beliefs. Yes, we might fear what the next administration will do when it takes power. But we cannot choose an evil means to achieve an end we think good.

One serious problem is the fallacy of composition. This fallacy holds that whatever is true of an individual member of the group is true of the whole. So, if member X of a group is racist, the whole group is also considered to be racist. This fallacy is so widely held, that people fail to see it is a fallacy. 

The problem is this is also known as stereotyping. The fact that one member of a group has a certain trait does not automatically mean that every member of that group has that trait. Think of all the racist assumptions out there, like thinking all Muslims are terrorists, all Hispanics are illegal aliens, or all African Americans are felons. Most people today realize these are offensive assumptions. But it is the same error of reasoning.

We need to ask whether the group itself possesses the trait by nature or requires the trait for membership and, if so, whether the individual who holds to it is a stalwart or whether he or she was shortsighted or naïve about the trait or their membership in the group holding it. If the group itself, or the person within it, does not hold that trait, then we commit rash judgment if we assume guilt.

A sister fallacy is guilt by association, where a group or position is condemned because some unsavory people also held it or, more commonly, a facsimile of that position. No matter what political platform you hold to, there will always be extremists that also favor a position that you do. Do we resent being lumped into those groups ourselves? If so, we must avoid assuming the approval by an extremist automatically invalidates the position of others.

In other words, we have an obligation to learn if our assumptions are true before acting on them. If we do not, we are guilty of rash judgment at best and guilty of evil if our false assumptions harm another unjustly. If the reader immediately thinks, “Why should we show any sympathy to those racists?” then that reader is guilty of stereotyping. Why? Because it is assuming guilt without verifying it.

Remember this: Some groups do not require the trait they are stereotyped as holding, so it is unjust to assume they hold it by default. Other times, people might not hold the offensive trait of a group but are ignorant of it, or assume it is not serious and therefore inconsequential. Of course, those assumptions are false and can have dire consequences (for example, those people who did not recognize the danger of the Nazi party pre-1933 and supported Hitler as a lesser evil), and we need to disabuse them of their notions. But we need to remember that, in these polarized times, others are as distrustful of our views as we are of theirs. Instead of realizing we disagree over what is morally right, they think we knowingly support evil instead§.

Bringing them around to the truth in these circumstances is going to be difficult. But we need to avoid adding to the problem. Consider how the views you disagree with bother you… especially when your opponent tries to justify them to you. How do you feel when they start falsely accusing you of something you do not support? If you know they are wrong when they do so, then you know you must not treat them that way.

Finally, we must avoid hypocrisy. We must be consistent in applying our moral beliefs. In the period immediately following the attacks, both the political Left and Right pointed out the double standards of the other side in a way that could be summed up as: Why did you condemn these riots, but not those riots? Unfortunately, they committed the tu quoque fallacy in doing so, trying to deny the other’s outrage by pointing out their indifference to other examples. There was no self-examination of conscience as to whether our reaction to our own side’s wrongdoing was unjust or our condemnation of the other side was unjust. But unless we look at our own reactions and ask if we are playing the hypocrite, we will convince nobody to change. Everybody is skilled at pointing out the other side’s hypocrisy but terrible in spotting their own.

What this boils down to is The Golden Rule. No, we cannot let people in error remain in error. But in trying to correct others, we must do unto others as we would have them do unto us (which should be to act with justice and compassion). Would we get angry if our opponents used a certain tactic or an unjust accusation against us? If so, then we know we must not do this to others. We must make certain that the person we are debating is guilty of something before accusing him or her of holding it. And, if they are guilty, we must respond in a Christian manner regardless of how they treat us.

If we will not do this, we are behaving unjustly… regardless of which side we might think is worse.



(†) I do not say this to exclude or deny the morality of non-Catholic Christians and non-Christians. Rather, I am a Catholic writing mainly to fellow Catholics. While I hope this article will be useful to them as well, I do use certain assumptions of Catholic belief by default.

(‡) In such cases, we would have to consider invincible vs vincible ignorance, but that is beyond the scope of this article.

(§) As an example. In 2016, I voted for the American Solidarity Party, because I thought both major party candidates were unfit for office. Members of both major parties attacked me for “supporting” the evils of the other side.

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

So, Now That it is 2021…

(The original comic was from 40 years ago. Things haven’t changed all that much)

2020 was a year that was routinely panned as the “worst ever.” We tend to look at everything unfortunate, everything unjust, or everything tragic that happened this year and treat it as if it happened because of this year. As a result, we tend to look at it and say we are glad it is over and that 2021 must be better because things could not possibly get any worse. I think that this is the wrong way to look at things.

I do not say this out of pessimism. Nor do I say this to discourage others. Yes, COVID-19 was something difficult and tragic. And those who lost loved ones to it will no doubt remember 2020 with grief. Those who suffer from economic hardship will no doubt look at this past year with resentment. This is entirely understandable. People want to hope that things will get better.

But I think much of what people point to as why “2020” was a horrible year was also happening in previous years as well. But, because of social isolation, we spent more time looking at the news and became more aware of these things happening. Natural Disasters? Political Injustice? Racial Strife? These were happening in the past too. But our immediate concerns tended to drown them out. But when you are forced to social distance and spend more time on the internet, these things are harder to ignore.

Our life did not improve on January 1st, 2021. It will not improve on January 20th, 2021 when we change Presidential administrations. The fact is these things are beyond our power to change by changing the calendar. Sure, we might (or might not) deal with things in a more efficient manner with a different political philosophy. But the underlying problems will not go away with a change of government.

While we do need to work to correct injustice, we also need to remember that we cannot just do it by way of human policy and technology alone. Benedict XVI (Caritas in Veritate #70) warned us:

Technological development can give rise to the idea that technology is self-sufficient when too much attention is given to the “how” questions, and not enough to the many “why” questions underlying human activity. For this reason technology can appear ambivalent. Produced through human creativity as a tool of personal freedom, technology can be understood as a manifestation of absolute freedom, the freedom that seeks to prescind from the limits inherent in things. The process of globalization could replace ideologies with technology, allowing the latter to become an ideological power that threatens to confine us within an a priori that holds us back from encountering being and truth.

Yes, we might be able to develop vaccines and provide stopgap financial measures to keep people going during this crisis. But the crises we noticed this year shows that we have been acting on the out of sight, out of mind principle. So long as things went well for us, we could ignore what was bad for others. But now that things are bad for us too (and I admit that I probably suffered far less than others during this time), we want quick fixes where we can go back to normal.

But we should not think this way. The fact that we are now aware of things being bad should make us ask what we need to do to change this in the future. Technology alone cannot solve it. In some cases, it is like slapping a bandage on an amputation. Pope Francis made this point in the encyclical Laudato Si, where he discussed the technological “solutions” to problems:

55. Some countries are gradually making significant progress, developing more effective controls and working to combat corruption. People may well have a growing ecological sensitivity but it has not succeeded in changing their harmful habits of consumption which, rather than decreasing, appear to be growing all the more. A simple example is the increasing use and power of air-conditioning. The markets, which immediately benefit from sales, stimulate ever greater demand. An outsider looking at our world would be amazed at such behaviour, which at times appears self-destructive.

56. In the meantime, economic powers continue to justify the current global system where priority tends to be given to speculation and the pursuit of financial gain, which fail to take the context into account, let alone the effects on human dignity and the natural environment.

In other words, as things get worse, we look for the quick fix instead of trying to change our harmful behavior. The Holy Father was speaking of ecological injustices, but it could apply to other areas of our life as well. We do not want to change how we live if it means inconvenience. So, our “fixes” do not actually fix the problem. They merely kick the problem down the road.

For as long as Christ’s Church has been on Earth, she has been calling for people to look at things differently, according to the Great Commandment (Loving God with all your heart, mind, strength, and your neighbor as yourself). To seek the greatest good for each other, we need to ask ourselves whether our behavior itself is contributing to the crises here.

If we want 2021 to be better than 2020, we need to do more than hope for technological solutions and political party changes. We need to ask what we do that causes harm. I do not mean “we” in the sense of “everybody but me” either. Unless we stop thinking that the harm only exists because of what the “other side” does and ask ourselves what “our side” does wrong, 2021 will be no better than 2020.



(†) In my more pessimistic moods, I am reminded how, in the movie Schindler’s List, this theme ran throughout the story. Whenever a character exclaimed, “How can things possibly get any worse?” things immediately got much worse.