Monday, October 10, 2011

Come now, let us reason together

On October 1 on The Impractical Catholic I posted the news out of Rockford, Illinois that the state Department of Public Health had suspended the license of the Northern Illinois Women’s Center, an abortion mill most notable for the anti-Catholic antics of its owner and employees, and now established as completely uncaring of their patients’ health. After making some grimly celebratory remarks, especially on how access is far more important to the hard-core pro-aborts than is women’s health, I added a YouTube clip of Queen’s video “Another One Bites the Dust”.

The only comment I got was this piece of whiny snottiness:

I find it quite ironic that you use a song that was written and performed [by] a *gasp* HOMOSEXUAL to celebrate this.
Why do I even waste my time, we all know you are going to keep on trying to keep others down ....

I no longer make any attempts to prove I’m a nice guy with plenty of friends both straight and gay, conservative and liberal, Catholic and non-Catholic. For one thing, people like “Poosy” don’t listen, don’t care, and won’t believe me anyway. For another, it reminds me too much of the old Jewish joke about anti-Semites: “Some of my best friends are Jews.” So of course “Poosy” finds it ironic: in the cramped, angry little box of her ideology, I’m not allowed to have gay friends or to appreciate good music performed by homosexuals because it would detract from my all-encompassing homophobia.

©United Feature Syndicate.
Just to state the obvious, if you write or speak about controversial topics, some people are going to hate you because they don’t like what you say; its objective truth or falsehood is irrelevant, even distracting. That’s just part of the human condition. Of course, ancients like Socrates and Cicero didn’t have modern psychobabble to contend with; their enemies were content to use more conventional insults. But if there were ever a time when people universally demanded that public debate be dignified, polite and to the point, I’d like to know when that was.

Many of us middle-aged dinosaurs can remember with fondness the pre-Internet “good old days”, when you could count on the opinions editor of your local newspaper to separate the weeds from the wheat, the thoughtful — or at least the civil — from the viciously hysterical. And occasionally you can still find chat boards, discussion forums and newspaper blogs where moderators kick trolls to the curb. But considered in the vastness of Western history, such consideration is a mere blip, less than a second on the clock of Man’s existence.

But still and all, is it really worth it to have a combox? I’d like to say “yes”, because there have been a couple of times thoughtful readers have caught me out in errors and misstatements. And yes, I do get a little bit of comfort when people compliment my writing.

The real danger, though, is in the ego boost you can get from the whiners, the jerks, the trolls and the wild-eyed zealots. They don’t puncture your self-esteem at all. No, they simply confirm your intellectual superiority by their foot-stamping dogmatism, as well as their nasty speculations about your intelligence, sanity, benevolence and sexual health. They feed your ego with generous slices of their contempt, self-pity and ideology-driven delusions. How clever you are, to be able to tell a straw man from a genetic fallacy like a hawk from a handsaw!

And speaking of hawks from handsaws, I’m reminded of another line from Shakespeare: “The devil can cite Scripture for his purpose” (The Merchant of Venice, I:iii:93). And so Satan can, as he quoted Psalm 91:11-12 to Jesus in the wilderness (Mt 4:6). “For even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light” (2 Cor 11:14).

So when the combox fills up with steaming mounds of enlightened, inclusive tolerance and sensitivity, the temptation is for us Christians to comfort each other (and ourselves especially) with the Beatitudes: Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so men persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Mt 5:10-12).

And it’s right at that moment that you’re no longer really writing for Christ. You’re just too busy throwing yourself to the lions to notice.

Because behind the adolescent whining, the jerky snottiness, the provocative trollery and the over-the-top zeal is a person, a soul. You don’t really know why they stopped to read your post, let alone why they bothered to snark in your combox. It’s always fun to speculate, and God knows I’m as guilty as the next blogger, but it’s as much lemonade-stand psychiatry as is their nasty speculations about your intelligence, sanity, blah-blah-blah.

Like the senator is supposed to have told young Lyndon Johnson:

Telling a man to go to hell and then making him go is two different propositions. First of all, it is hot down there and the average fellow doesn’t want to go. And then when you tell him he has to go, he just bristles up and he is a lot less likely to go than if you hadn’t told him anything. What you better do is get out the Good Book that your mama used to read to you, and go back to the Prophet Isaiah and read what he said. He said, ‘Come now, let us reason together’” (Is 1:18).[1]

So from here on out, I’ll try to remember that I am a nice guy. “I do none harm,” Sir Thomas More tells the court in A Man For All Seasons. “I say none harm. I think none harm. And if this be not enough to keep a man alive, then, in good faith, I long not to live.” If I can’t agree with you, I can at least not mock you.

Come, let us reason together.

[1] Valenti, J. (1975). A Very Human President. Cit. in Boller, P. F. Jr. (1981). Presidential Anecdotes. New York: Penguin Books.