By John Norton - OSV Newsweekly, 11/7/2010
Maybe recently in your local newspaper or online you saw an Associated Press article titled, “Catholic Bloggers Aim to Purge Dissenters.” It was a pretty lengthy piece, focusing mostly on “conservative” voices who come across, sometimes justifiably, as vengeful self-appointed ministers of ecclesial and doctrinal purity. It paints the Catholic blogosphere as a pretty rough world, with nonstop artillery fire across the ideological divide.
Having spent time there, I can tell you that’s sometimes the way it seems. And, actually, not just in the blogosphere either. Some parishes experience the same sorts of divisions, too.
Obviously, that’s not very edifying. But what’s a way forward other than a plaintive plea for civility?
Elizabeth Scalia offers an answer over at First Things, where she blogs as the Anchoress. (Yes, this is the second time I’ve mentioned her recently, and, no, she’s not paying me.)
Let’s have vigorous debate, she says. But:
“We add to the broken body of Christ when we try to judge who is the ‘better sort’ of Catholic, or who is doing damage to that body. We all do impressive jobs of bringing ‘scandal’ to the Church by our very passionate need to see things ‘made right’ (as we see it) and by the ways in which we indict each other’s imperfections.
“See how these Christians love one another, making lists and assigning labels to the nefarious ‘others.’ What an odd, ungenerous thing to do. Better, I think, to actually correspond with an individual one believes to be in error. To become acquainted with the person one has publicly named a ‘heretic’ or a ‘yahoo’ is to admit that ‘other’ into a shared humanity, which should be the very least Christians can do for each other.
“That carries a risk, though. Actual dialogue with an ‘other’ might not only soften one’s edge, it may actually affect one’s own cherished point of view in surprising ways. To engage is to say you are willing to be a little bit open, and to be open is to be vulnerable. Entrenchment feels so much safer, but is ultimately so limiting. ...
“We are not meant to agree with one another all the time — what a boring world that would be — and to disagree is not automatically to be rude or insulting. Civil disagreement and debate is a very good thing. Sometimes impassioned fury is fine, too, as long as we can keep the overt sneering and the consignment of our foes to various flames of woe to an absolute minimum.
“We Catholics are a raucous family. In families, as within marriages, people will disagree on very important matters, but they can still speak of and to each other with charity, for the sake of abiding love.
“If we who claim Christ cannot, then what the hell is the point?”
What’s your reaction to her remarks (which can be read in full at bit.ly/aYWgsB)? Have you found people less able to engage in civil debate? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please note: Comments left online may be considered for publication in the Letters to the Editor section of OSV Newsweekly.
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