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In Essentials, Unity, In Non-Essentials Diversity, In All Things Charity

May 1, 2009

Catholics need to find a way to work better with each other. That’s one of the things I’ve learned through my time using the internet. There is a tendency, and it is one I have as much as many others, to disregard others once we find we do not entirely agree with each other on a specific issue. Even if we are in the right, we often are not right in our interaction with others. Even if we are right, we end up proving ourselves to be in the wrong. Once we prove ourselves to be doctrinally correct, it is easy to fee that all those who disagree with us must, by their nature, be morally reprehensible, and the kind of person we should label with some sort of nasty name, before disengaging ourselves from them, never to work with them again. But it is quite difficult, and takes much time and energy, to really understand doctrine; we should be patient with those who have not engaged a specific doctrine as we have, who find the doctrine itself is new to them. They will have questions. We must be willing to engage them the best we can. Of course, they must also work to make sure the questions are not engaged as a way to excuse themselves from the doctrine, but to understand it better.

The worst thing to do is to label those we disagree with by some horrible name and then to try to blacklist them. Doing so will never impress outsiders; more importantly, it only serves to harden the hearts of those we criticize, to make sure no dialogue, no positive interaction, no change is possible. This is not the way a Catholic is to engage others. We are called to work with each other in charity. Even when we find out that others are gravely wrong on an issue, we are to interpret what they say charitably, and to work with what is held in common to bring them to a new understanding. It’s not easy. In the heat of a debate, I know I fail at doing it. It’s also not easy to remember that our own background, study, and experience, especially on those areas close to our hearts, will be different from others who have not explored those issues on the same level and in the same amount of detail. Just because they do not end up agreeing with us at the end of a given discussion does not mean they are obstinate. It just means that, as is to be expected, the dialogue is only beginning. We should keep the dialogue open by being willing to work with those same people in other areas, areas in which we agree, so that we can better understand each other, and from there, work to show in the light of that agreement how we can find better accord in areas of disagreement. But if we just cut people off once we can’t convince them they are wrong, all we do is prove ourselves insecure in our own position. 

Recently, I have been impressed with the way some who hold positions I strongly protest (such on torture) have asked for further detail as to why people think they are wrong. Even though I do not think we have come to a common agreement, I think the openness is real, and the search for answers is real, and the worst thing would be to stop it by insult. On the other hand, there are some who I agree with on moral issues, who, nonetheless, bludgeon others on these same issues, and cause people to return to the kind of hard-heartedness which is going to prevent societal change. And their problem is not only in the savage, uncharitable, and undignified approach they take to their “opponents,” it’s how quickly they turn on their own, and try to find reasons to disregard each other as if they were looking to find out who should be “king of the internet hill.” With friends like these, who need enemies?

  1. May 1, 2009 11:14 am

    BTW, this is not to say we should not point out specific ideas have been determined to be in error, and, if a heresy, that it is a heresy; but that is a different concern. Most people will hold some wrong views, formed on good faith, without any attempt to disregard the truth — they just have not been shown it. It is not wrong to point out that error, but it is wrong to use that as a means to blacklist or disassociate ourselves with such people.

  2. May 1, 2009 11:29 am

    The trick is parsing out the essentials and non-essentials. Is that an essential?

    • May 1, 2009 11:36 am


      OF course we need to parse out the essentials; but even then, in all things charity. It’s hard. I am not the best representative of charity — I will never claim I am. I always struggle with it. But it is the gracious soul who I think brings out the best results in others. Grace perfects nature, love/charity attracts. We must remember, as we dialogue with others, what truly leads to metanoia, and it’s not our arguments (even if they play a material part).

  3. May 1, 2009 11:52 am

    I hear ya, I would have answered: Its a mystery. As Wittgenstein put it, “Whereas one cannot speak one must remain silent.”

  4. Joe Hargrave permalink
    May 3, 2009 11:42 pm

    I just wish I could beam into everyone’s minds I meet that no matter how ugly an argument gets, I don’t hold a grudge. As quickly as I get ticked off about something a person says, I get over it.

    Unfortunately, once you cross the line with some people, there’s no going back. Oh well.

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