A Catholic perspective on the world and all the good things therein, especially books and food. Literature cum chocolate is the order of the day at The Crockery.

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No longer a graduate student, Teresa is now a professional know-it-all.

Friday, March 09, 2007

If you have to fight. . . fight fairly

When Leopoldtulip and I were undergoing pre-marital counseling, one of our multiple advisors told us something along the lines of "It's okay to fight, but make sure you fight fairly." These are good words for any relationship, but perhaps particularly for relations between churches. A series of recent posts on various Protestant blogs regarding Catholic-Protestant animosity calls attention to the ways people have of fighting unfairly when it comes to denominational quarreling. I think there's a lot here that's worth reading, so though my own blogging time is limited these days, I wanted to call attention to a few of the posts in question. If you're curious, start reading here, with this post by Weekend Fisher, who expressed a simple and reasonable request:

I wish that Roman Catholics and Protestants would stop making such unjustified and uncharitable attacks on each other. I consider that we have enough to keep us busy if we stick to discussing actual theological differences, without compounding the problem with personal attacks, unjust charges, or general hostility.

Well, I wish that too. And I'll try to be (wo)man enough not to point fingers at various examples of the kind of uncharitable behavior that I think this post addresses. I will say, though, that the examples provided there are perhaps unequal (as Weekend Fisher recognizes). The Catholic example is a book by a prominent conservative Catholic writer. The Protestant example is a forwarded letter which, it seems, merely repeats Boettnerian nonsense to a new generation. One could draw from this example the impression that Protestant Anti-Catholicism merely stems from the ignorant. In fact, there examples of well-educated Protestant authors who make claims just as uncharitable or rhetorically unfair as those made in the Catholic example. Sadly, uncharitable and illogical attacks on Catholicism are not limited to likes of Dave Hunt and Jack Chick.

If that first post intrigued you, read this response at Dr. Platypus. (Note to readers: I have no idea who "Darrell Pursiful" is but I love the name of his blog.) Pursiful is interested not in the "nastiness" of anti-Catholic rhetoric, but in the silliness of it--what I would probably have called the illogic of it. He gives two concrete examples of "silly" thinking with regard to Catholicism. In a later post and perhaps even more provocative post, Pursiful asks his (Protestant) readers "Why do we cringe?" at Catholic doctrine and practice. Many of the responses in the combox are well worth reading.

So. . . can we all fight fairly? I guess I've become a pessimist on the subject of inter-church relations, because my answer is "no." We can't all get along. There are always going to be stupid, angry, self-absorbed people (on all sides of the issue) who resort to unfair tactics. And there are always going to be people who are more interested in scoring points in a vigorous debate than in carrying out "the ministry of reconciliation." Still, I think this series of posts (and I could have listed others!) suggest that thoughtful Christians CAN recognize that our call to unity requires a commitment to charitable and fair dialog. And that, at least, is good news.

(Hat tip to Bonnie at Intellectuelle).


Blogger La Mama Loca said...

In fairness, I think much of the negativity or unfairness is not due to "stupid, angry, self-absorbed people (on all sides of the issue) who resort to unfair tactics" but to individuals who are simply not good at writing or speaking in a non-offensive way. That is, they understand what they have written or said to be the truth, and they can't even see what is offensive in it if it is pointed out to them. This may be a flaw in their thinking, but it is not necessarily a moral flaw.

Moreover, if you believe that a belief of the other group is definitely wrong, then they will likely be offended when you express that belief.

4:01 PM  
Anonymous D. P. said...

I'm glad you found your way to my blog. Thanks for sharing your perspective!

4:19 PM  
Blogger Weekend Fisher said...

Hi there

I'm interested in the pessimism. I see pessimism itself as part of the problem, all the while I'll acknowledge that I'm tempted towards pessimism so I'm not meaning to point fingers but commisserate. Do you expect the problem is (how did you put it:) "stupid, angry, unfair" people have the upper hand, or that they are tolerated by those of us at large, or what? How is it that the "stupid/angry/unfair" crowd has the upper hand?

7:40 PM  
Blogger Teresa H.T. said...

la mama loca wrote:

In fairness, I think much of the negativity or unfairness is not due to "stupid, angry, self-absorbed people (on all sides of the issue) who resort to unfair tactics" but to individuals who are simply not good at writing or speaking in a non-offensive way.

This is true. To be more specific, and to unpack what may have seemed like unnecessarily harsh words, let me clarify. I'm thinking specifically of a wide range of people who:

1) Don't know what they're talking about, but think they do. That's what I meant by "stupid," although "ignorant" would have been a more just word.

Sometimes this is because they are generalizing from limited experience. (I.E. the Catholic convert who mistakenly assumes that all Protestants are exactly like the ones he knew in his specific denomination.) Sometimes it is because all their information comes from a faulty source, as may be the case with Protestants whose knowledge of Catholicism comes only from former Catholics, or from Protestant writers.


2) They are very upset about perceived wrongs, and their anger makes them uncharitable. I've seen this in converts to Catholicism who seem (at least to me) to be very bitter about their past. But I've also seen it in conservative Protestants who are angry about "Rome and her lies."

Now, this anger is arguably just, at least in some cases. But the people I'm thinking of don't handle their anger well. Instead, they let it poison their attempt at apologetics. The worst examples I can think of are those on both sides of the issue who insist that the opposing team's ministry must be deliberately fleecing their flocks, because there's no way the ministers or priests could REALLY believe what they preach. (And yes, I've seen this as a claim from both Catholics and Protestants.)


3) They are not self-critical enough to realize that some of the objections they raise against their opposition would actually apply to them, too, or that the objections are inconsistent with their own actions. This also falls under the "stupid" category, although sometimes I'd lump it under "unfair," as when the arguer is stacking the decks against the opposition.

Often, you see a combination of the above.

It's true that these people aren't necessarily sinning. They aren't necessarily bad people. They often have good wills. They want to win souls for Christ. And, as you point out, they generally don't realize that their approach is offensive. (In some cases, though, they DO realize that they are offensive, and they actually think their offensiveness is necessary!)

My concern, though, isn't just that they offend people: it's that often their very arguments or concerns are flawed. Just fixing their communication style wouldn't help, because they aren't adequately engaging the other side. They usually aren't interested in engaging the other side.

I also want to clarify that I am not suggesting that the majority of amateur apologists are like this. I am thinking primarily of worst-case scenarios. That said, I do see these traits crop up quite a bit.

10:51 PM  
Blogger Teresa H.T. said...

How is it that the "stupid/angry/unfair" crowd has the upper hand?

Well, it's debatable whether they do have the upper hand. But they are certainly the loudest people on the issue, precisely because they are so passionate about it!

It's also true that beleaguered minorities tend to define themselves in opposition to other groups. This means that enclaves of theologically conservative Catholicism and theologically conservative Evangelicalism (which at least perceive themselves as minorities, regardless of whether they really are) are both tempted to define themselves against each other. And when they DO band together, it's often simply because they are both defining themselves against some other foe-- secular modernity, or liberal Christianity. Both of these responses represent ecumenical problems, in my opinion.

10:56 PM  
Blogger Sharon said...

They say, "Politics make strange bed-fellows" and so may be the case with the Catholics and Protestants who do so by "defining themselves against some other foe-- secular modernity, or liberal Christianity." If fighting a common foe brings them together in a good way, that's not necessarily bad, is it?

8:09 PM  

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