Wednesday, April 27, 2016
Resisting the current of harsh commentary....
Michael Brown writes:
The quickening descent of American politics into ribald, mean-spirited, and generally coarse discourse should be no surprise: it has been on this trajectory for several decades now, propelled not just by movies and music — which no longer require commentary — but the psittacism, the constant, numbing negative drumbeat, of harsh (not to mention un-Christian) verbiage on the internet and talk-radio and cable TV.
The result, the fruit, is now constantly before us, as politics sinks into what can most charitably be called a quagmire, and entertainment into a “cesspool of impurity” (to borrow a phrase from the Blessed Mother at La Salette).
Gutter language is the norm of modern America.
The other day a liberal woman in Gainesville, Florida, verbally assaulted Governor Rick Scott, calling him — shouting at him — a word we don’t even want to abbreviate. You used to be arrested for such things. There are no more profanity laws, not really. Is there no such thing as decency? We are now, indeed, a “Savage Nation” (the name of one caustic talk show).
Unfettered anger and uncharitable approaches have been drilled into us (listening to radio, as so many do, while working or driving or sleeping, thus often only partly aware of what’s being said and how it is being stated, although it washes to the subconscious). There is seething anger: some justified, some inspired or magnified by the Prince of Division (reigning behind the scenes, in the dark, in the radio waves; divide and conquer).
And so now we are at the point of tremendous factionalism; it’s why we often carry articles under the category of “upheaval watch.” Minorities are mad. Majorities are mad. Immigrants are mad. Natives are furious. Liberals detest each other as much as they detest conservatives, and vice versa. Atheists are furious. So are evangelicals.
Are we really still the “United” States when the governor of New York bans official travel to the state of Mississippi because Mississippi has passed a religious-rights law. This same governor previously banned non-essential travel to North Carolina when that state barred trans-sexuals from using restrooms opposite the gender they were given (by God) at birth.
It is not just a passing observation, because on many fronts, the seeds for civil uprising and/or even civil war have been cultivated. That leaders and major commentators and candidates could be tearing into each other the way they now do (“liar,” “sniveling,” “coward,” “stupid,” “crazy,” small of hands) is astonishing even if it shouldn’t be astonishing — upsetting even though one can see the frustration of the hitherto “silent majority.”
Punches are thrown at rallies. There is hatred. Insults about manhood fill the air. Height and weight and looks are fair targets. There are salacious reports. There are salacious photos (including of a potential First Lady).
On TV, formerly dignified and objective newsmen use language that only a short time ago was confined to bars, sports stadiums, and gyms. Once-staid magazines such as The Atlantic and The New Yorker allow a certain degree of scatological utterance; mainstream publications occasionally allow their writers to use the “f-word” (in their own prose).
Women who claim to be Christian — often Catholic — take to the microphone and use language once confined to men’s locker-rooms to besmirch the opposition (all in the name of righteousness).
A “born-again” candidate for vice president (2008) uses the term “punk a—” to describe protesters, while the sitting vice president is also known for a bit of saltiness.
When the head of the Democratic party cusses in front of nuns who are protesting the health mandate (the law that would force them to pay for contraception), it’s just another news item that passes quickly. How inured we have grown! (That’s a nice way of saying “hard.”)
We pay for such things in the afterlife.
“Shun the gossip of men as much as possible, for discussion of worldly affairs, even though sincere, is a great distraction inasmuch as we are quickly ensnared and captivated by vanity,” warned the classic Catholic writer, Thomas a Kempis. “Hence, we talk and think quite fondly of things we like very much or of things we dislike intensely. But, sad to say, we often talk vainly and to no purpose; for this external pleasure effectively bars inward and divine consolation. Therefore we must watch and pray lest time pass idly. When the right and opportune moment comes for speaking, say something that will edify.”
Indeed we only have a set number of hours on this earth; it is wise to use that time well.
The undercurrent of harsh commentary (See here, my note), of execration, of cussing, is now burbling — gushing — into the very fabric of American society. It is what our flag is now fashioned with. It goes for every walk of life, and every political party. It is what we wear. It is how we drive (now, too often, so rudely, and with profane hand signals).
Is it caused, in large part, with the suddenly-roused white middle-class, by what a magazine called Salon (itself known for caustic language) recently said, in discussing “Savage Nation”?
“Between American multinationals, who do everything and anything to avoid taxes, and American politicians, who so often trade on their office to amass vast fortunes, regular working class Americans feel abandoned,” it said. “For decades, as businesses have increasingly exploited undocumented immigrants for cheap labor or moved operations out of the country entirely, these voters have become resentful, watching their wages stagnate and full-time jobs with benefits become scarcer by the day. For many of them… ‘Savage Nation’ is a kind of sanctuary.”
While there is no question that a number of major issues have been neglected for far too long, and that the middle class has been all but forgotten — with Washington unable to accomplish just about anything, even when it has the notion to — good Christians are allowing themselves to be swept toward a vortex of rancor. It could end up being a truly epic divide (or series of them).
No one knows to what end result.
But one can guess it will not be a good one.
Indeed. In his Encyclical Letter Ecclesiam Suam, Pope Paul VI told us that, "The Church must enter into dialogue with the world in which it lives. It has something to say, a message to give, a communication to make." (No. 65).
The Holy Father goes on to say that, "Dialogue, therefore, is a recognized method of the apostolate. It is a way of making spiritual contact. It should however have the following characteristics:
1) Clarity before all else; the dialogue demands that what is said should be intelligible. We can think of it as a kind of thought transfusion. It is an invitation to the exercise and development of the highest spiritual and mental powers a man possesses. This fact alone would suffice to make such dialogue rank among the greatest manifestations of human activity and culture. In order to satisfy this first requirement, all of us who feel the spur of the apostolate should examine closely the kind of speech we use. Is it easy to understand? Can it be grasped by ordinary people? Is it current idiom?
2) Our dialogue must be accompanied by that meekness which Christ bade us learn from Himself: "Learn of me, for I am meek and humble of heart." It would indeed be a disgrace if our dialogue were marked by arrogance, the use of bared words or offensive bitterness. What gives it its authority is the fact that it affirms the truth, shares with others the gifts of charity, is itself an example of virtue, avoids peremptory language, makes no demands. It is peaceful, has no use for extreme methods, is patient under contradiction and inclines towards generosity.
3) Confidence is also necessary; confidence not only in the power of one's own words, but also in the good will of both parties to the dialogue. Hence dialogue promotes intimacy and friendship on both sides. It unites them in a mutual adherence to the Good, and thus excludes all self-seeking.
4) Finally, the prudence of a teacher who is most careful to make allowances for the psychological and moral circumstances of his hearer, particularly if he is a child, unprepared, suspicious or hostile. The person who speaks is always at pains to learn the sensitivities of his audience, and if reason demands it, he adapts himself and the manner of his presentation to the susceptibilities and the degree of intelligence of his hearers....In a dialogue conducted with this kind of foresight, truth is wedded to charity and understanding to love." (Nos. 81, 82).
As faithful Catholics, we must recognize and embrace these characteristics of authentic dialogue, even when our partners in dialogue refuse to accept these principles. For we will often encounter those who have succumbed to relativism or who do not possess a love of objective truth. For such people, the purpose of dialogue is not to attain truth but rather to achieve personal victory and to triumph at any cost. As Dr. Montague Brown explains in his wonderful book "The One-Minute Philosopher" (Sophia Institute Books): "An argument (emotional, not rational) is a disorderly confrontation based on an unwillingness to learn from one another. Desire for victory takes precedence over love of truth, with the result that agreement becomes impossible....in an argument, I simply want my position to be the right one and you to agree with me. I am, indeed, looking for agreement, but on my terms, not in terms of objective truth." (p. 33). An authentic dialogue (which such people are not really interested in) is, "..an orderly confrontation based on a mutual willingness to learn from one another. It involves the presentation of evidence by each party and then a good-faith attempt of the participants in the discussion to come to agreement...In a discussion [or dialogue], I do not primarily want to disagree: I want to know the truth.." (The One-Minute Philosopher, p. 32).
It was Pope John Paul II, in his Encyclical Letter Ut Unum Sint, No. 36, who said, "There must be charity toward one's partner in dialogue, and humility with regard to the truth which comes to light and which might require a review of assertions and attitudes."
This requires maturity.