Showing posts with label 2020. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 2020. Show all posts

Thursday, December 31, 2020

2020: A Year of Ignorance and Rash Judgment

(The image in this piece is of a statue of Lincoln being removed. The intent of the image is Lincoln raising a slave up from slavery. But it has been misinterpreted as a slave kneeling down in front of Lincoln. And that’s a good symbol for one of the major problems of 2020.)

Setting aside the obvious tragedy of COVID-19 as a separate category (so nobody will think I am equating any of the other things I write about in this piece with this), I think one of the biggest tragedies of 2020 is the level of ignorance and accompanying rash judgment. By this, I mean that people showed themselves to be ignorant about facts, intention, and context when they encountered things they disliked. They did not know the facts or context of the matter and, as a result, assumed the worst possible intention for their actions.

As always, I want to make clear that I do not point my fingers at one faction in this accusation. Nor am I saying it came out of nowhere. This was decades in the making. Some of it involved real injustices that were ignored. Other parts involved assuming that whatever one disliked was done with the worst possible motives and those who were accused of that assumed motive needed to be exiled. No attempt was made to understand how people might think differently in good faith, or how people in past eras might have failed to understand what we now know to be morally wrong.

I think the misrepresentation of the pontificate of Pope Francis was a harbinger of 2020. He recognized that even when people do wrong, that does not always mean they maliciously intend to do what they know is evil. As a result, he called for a proper assessment of the person’s knowledge and intention before condemning them. Tragically, people missed the point. They assumed (whether with approval or disapproval) that what he did was “changing” Church teaching, rashly judging his motives when all he was doing was making clear this teaching of the Church. Did he make errors in judgment based on this? On occasion (the Barros case comes to mind). Did he make deliberate and malicious errors? I reject that claim.

But the treatment of Pope Francis from 2013 to the present served as a warning of what was wrong with our way of thinking. We assumed that we could not be in error, but those who took a different view could, and must be intending evil in holding that different view.

This is not to argue a moral relativism. There are objective moral demands, and some acts are intrinsically evil… things that cannot ever be supported or made good by intention or circumstances. And, yes, when it comes to intrinsic evil, we cannot “explain away” by saying that a past evil had a good intention. Once we come to understand that a thing is evil, we do have an obligation to correct our understanding. But one who is ignorant that a thing is evil might not have any malicious intention at all. Wrong is still done through that ignorance, but the guilt of the evil may be reduced.

Moreover, sometimes an accusation of malice is simply false when the person making it assumes that a moral evil is acceptable and whoever opposes it must be “intolerant.” For example, Christians are constantly accused of bigotry in the West because they insist on saying some actions are morally wrong. So, critics of Christianity in 2020 tend to do what they wrongly accuse Christians of doing—attempt to legally coerce Christians to abandon their moral beliefs—because they think the Christian view is morally wrong. 

Some things must be opposed. Abortion, racism, and other injustices can never be given a pass because “other issues are more important.” But we can never just assume the worst possible intention on the part of those who commit them.

This is what 2020, with its cancel culture and other attempts to silence the opposition, has done. Regardless of what you, the reader, thinks of Biden or Trump (or any other factional divide), we have an obligation to assess what is true about a belief or the person who holds it, and making sure our judgment does not act out of ignorance or rashly assume the worst possible motive when we disagree with someone. 

I pray 2021 will be better.


(†) I do categorically reject the accusations that he made errors in teaching.

Monday, November 30, 2020

God is My Savior: Reflections at the Beginning of the Liturgical New Year

When I was growing up in the 1980s, there was a popular T-shirt that read, “Life’s a ***** and then you die.” It is something we thought was funny as teenagers. But looking at it from the perspective of today, I can see it was a cry of despair that life is suffering and meaningless.

Flashing forward to today, the temptation to think that way is real. Regardless of one’s outlook on life and wherever one lives, 2020 can easily be considered—expressed most charitably—sub-par. Depending on your outlook, 2021 can only get better… or can only get worse.

Of course, for Catholics, the New Year has already begun with the First Sunday of Advent. The message of Advent is important because it tells us that, no matter what hope or despair we feel about the Presidential Election or with COVID-19, that we need a savior and that our Savior will not forsake us.

That does not mean life will be all “sweetness and light” of course. Life does have hardship and injustice that is out of control. It also has hardship that comes in response to our own actions. Those who suffer the worst of it quite naturally feel embittered if told to “hang in there” because things are “looking up” (cf. James 2:16-17).

Rather, the Advent declaration of The Savior serves as hope to those in the worst of circumstances that no matter how bad life gets, there is respite offered to us. Not a superficial ephemeral respite of this world. But that things will be made right in the substantial and eternal sense. 

But, at the same time, it tells those whose faith is in themselves, in politics, in science, that we need saving in a way that these things cannot solve. At 12:01pm, January 20, 2021 we will have the same problems we have today. A change of political administration cannot change that. We will still be subject to the ravages of disease. A coronavirus vaccine cannot change that. In other words, we are mortal finite beings who are unable to solve certain things.

If we do not have a Savior, all we have been through in 2020 is meaningless, a farce. The changes we might get in the future does no good for those who died this past year, for those who suffered this past year.

But, if we do recognize our need for a Savior and seek to live according to His ways, we will be able to make sense out of what we have been through and will go through. There is a point to life, there is a relief from our sorrows that is much more than nothingness. God is in control.

He is in control, but He is not a “fairy godmother” or a “genie” who grants wishes when we pray. Sometimes, we do have to say, like Jesus did, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me; still, not my will but yours be done” (Luke 22:42). We may have to be told like St. Paul was, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).

Job could not see the sense of his suffering. He railed against the perceived injustice of God in letting these things happen to him when he did not do anything that merited such punishment. God’s response to Job was not to excuse Himself. It was to point out that Job could not grasp what God knew and designed and Job had no basis for telling God that what He permitted was unjust.

We do need to keep this in mind. I do not know what might happen to me today, tomorrow. I could drop dead. I could be stricken by a disease. I could lose my family or friends. But come what may, I trust that God is my Savior and that what happens to me here on Earth does not mean that God has abandoned me.

So yes, 2020 is a dumpster fire… and I am sure others can say it more vehemently than I can, having suffered more. But, regardless of whether 2021 is better or worse in the temporal, physical sense, we have a Savior who offers us what we cannot possibly do for ourselves. We would be wise to trust and follow Him regardless of how the road looks here on Earth.