Monday, September 12, 2011

Calls for silence?

First, a brief "housekeeping" announcement: anonymous commenting has been enabled again. I will be watching comments to make sure that trolls don't once again infect the blog, but I'm reasonably sure that things will be okay, and I dislike making my regular commenters jump through hoops to be able to post comments on this blog.

Now, then.

I don't want to pick on this particular blogger; this post is the first of hers I've read (hat tip: Mark Shea). But I've been puzzling over it all day, and have finally decided to write about my puzzlement. Ordinarily I would do this by going through the blogger's post and pointing out specific areas where I disagree; but, like I said, this is the first time I've ever read this particular blog, and I'd rather not take so focused an approach to discuss something that really is more a vague uneasiness than a direct disagreement. The blogger seems to be saying (and I'll be more than happy to correct this if my brief synopsis is not at all what she intends) that it does us no particular good as Christians to write and speak and act against such things as abortion, gay "marriage," the death penalty, etc. (I'm sure she would add war and torture and other hot-button issues that we Catholic bloggers tend to write about); and it does us no particular good as Christians to get into liturgical discussions with each other (and, again, here if she's saying we shouldn't be having liturgical wars I have no problem, but she seems to be saying that even discussing liturgy is a waste of our Christian time). We should be working instead on being a follower of Christ, on standing with the unborn and Death Row inmate, um, Latin Mass devotee? converting our hearts, going to Mass and Confession, and working on rooting out our own personal sins.

So: being a follower of Christ by praying and working and living our vocations, going to Mass and Confession, and tackling the sins and problems of our own lives in order to give our hearts more completely to Him is good. But--being a follower of Christ by doing those things and also working to end abortion (via activism or education or volunteering at crisis pregnancy centers--or only via activism? It's not clear in the post) or to stand against gay "marriage" and for the preservation of the family or to work to hold the Church's teaching on the death penalty in its merciful fullness in your heart or to develop a true love for both of the liturgies of the Roman Rite and to be excited, perhaps, about the coming new translation that is a huge step in the right direction...that's somehow bad?

I'm not sure that I get this.

A Christianity that does not transform people, help them turn away from their sins and selfishness and pettiness, create saints out of sinners, and so forth would certainly not be a true following of Christ. But a Christianity that says nothing to the prevailing culture of death, recreational sex, injustice, poverty of matter and of spirit--is that a true following of Christ?

I can understand a call for greater civility in how we address each other (both online and in real life). I can understand a call for compassion, for kindness, for meeting people where they are--I try, imperfectly, to do that here on this blog and in my encounters with my fellow human beings.

What I cannot understand is a call for silence.

Silence in the face of our own sufferings and tribulations--sure, although the joy of being part of a community of believers is that we can also ask for prayers from our fellow Christians, and these prayers can strengthen and uplift us in the midst of the most serious of trials. If, however, we choose to be silent about our crosses, we can look to Christ as our model.

But silence in the face of the sufferings of others? Of the innocent? Of the poor? Of the people caught up in adultery or fornication or homosexuality, especially the ones who want desperately to hear a message that is counter-cultural and hopeful and truthful? Of people involved in lesser ills, but still ills, things that are roadblocks in the path that follows Christ--who may not, themselves, realize that they are held back in this way?

I wish to share a personal experience here, but I don't wish to cause the person concerned any embarrassment. So the references are oblique; I apologize. Someone I knew was involved in something the Church does not permit. I found out by accident--I would never have looked for the information. So I discussed the matter with my husband, and prayed, and then offered the person the information about this thing that this person was associated with.

I was prepared for pushback, hostility, indifference--I thought I was prepared for anything. But I was not prepared for the person's actual response.

This person immediately, completely, even joyfully eradicated the problematic association from this person's life. This person thanked me for the information with a sincere heart and a faithful Catholic outlook. My own reaction was humble gratitude that God would have allowed me to witness what the true Christian response to this sort of thing ought to be--especially given my own deep deficiencies, most notable when I resisted for so long the idea that Catholics ought not to approve of torture (a different issue, but a similar sort of thing, really).

What if I had remained silent? What if I had not offered, in love and with prayer, this information I had to my friend? What if I had convinced myself that doing so would somehow have been "un-Christian" instead of knowing it to be the thing I had to do? If God had held this person I refer to accountable for the association, how much more would I have been accountable, knowing what I did in truth know?

Again, I understand, and sympathize with, calls for civility, for avoiding any grandstanding, for steering clear of rhetoric that is deliberately inflammatory and that disrespects the people to whom it is addressed. I understand it, even though I sometimes fail in this area, for which I have many regrets.

But I don't understand calls for silence in the face of our culture's pervasive and perverted evils. I will never believe that the Christian response to societal ills is to shut up about them. Perhaps that reveals my own sinfulness--or perhaps silence is not the only proper response of a Christian to the evils of our age.


Siarlys Jenkins said...

Even though your political participation may clash at times with mine, I think I agree with you. As long as we don't go to war over liturgy, there is no reason not to discuss it. Some people believe it is important. I believe it is important to say that any liturgy is good if it brings you closer to God, but I don't think God cares much about the details.

Staying in prayer all the time does not get us off the hook for being active participants in our civic culture. I can't picture Jesus responding to the crowd ready to stone the adulterous woman by retreating into the synagogue to pray while they proceed to do what they originally intended.

Anonymous said...

Hmmm. I didn't interpret her post in the same way. I thought her response to the young man engaging in Facebook arguments resulting in frustration was more like advice to stop beating his head against the wall. It sounded like the young man, though sincere, was going about his life as a Christ follower sort of backwards, fighting issues before or without hearing the Holy Spirit within him first. I know that sounds corny but I hope you can get past my lack of clarity (I'm terrible at writing which is why I never comment!). I didn't think her post was really saying that people in general ought to be silent with truth or not discuss anything worth discussing, but that some of us (perhaps especially those of us immature in our faith, spiritual life) should leave the issues fighting/discussing to others and just focus on learning how to love like Christ. At least that's my own experience reading into it. I don't feel called right now to "fight the issues" because I'm just in the toddler stages of my spiritual life. I have strong opinions about all the hot button issues but I can't be an activist about any of them right now. Learning to truly love is radical enough for me these days. In the meantime, I hope and pray that if and when the Lord wants me to speak up for Him that He will give me the grace and courage to do so because I certainly don't have enough wisdom or whatever to do it on my own.

Tobins said...

I read that blog post earlier today after Mark linked to it. Like you, I'd never read that blogger's posts before. Parts of it had me nodding my head in agreement, but then I'd be struck by another part that had me shaking my head in puzzlement. I do think that we can -- and should -- discuss and educate ourselves and others about the Church's teachings. I think we should actively try to root out evil, injustice, and suffering in our world. Yes, we must work on our own sins and not forget civility and kindness or act as if we are better than anyone else, but remaining silent is rarely the best course of action when we are confronted with the sins and problems of others.

Joseph K @ Defend Us In Battle said...

I was puzzled by her post as well. I have read others, and like them... but this one left me going: "I disagr..." but then I would come across another blog that was praising the post, or another blogger praising the words. I started to think I was too daft to get her point.

I don't know... I wonder some of the same things you did, not all, but some, and just I dont know. Maybe there is something missing, or maybe I just disagree. I think the hard things are worth talking about, and I think the blogosphere serves a necessary purpose... even if it is to just exist and being largely ignored.

I don't know... maybe I should just keep reading it until I figure it out.... seems you might have at least got your finger on it.

love the girls said...

As a whole I agree with her. Or at least I agree with the first few paragraphs, it's much too long to read the whole article.

I typically write to figure out for myself the issue at, or for the entertainment value, (or at least entertaining to me).

Which brings me to incivility and blog wars. the best part of blogging are the blog wars because they're by far the most entertaining.

As for abortion, and such, those are problems words will not solve, or at best have only the slightest impact on. Not unlike political yard signs.

But slight is better than nothing. The most important part is to figure out who might actually be paying attention. For instance, my favorite method is to treat the prolife rallyers as the targeted audience with placards going after birth control abortifacients and similar.

eulogos said...

I don't think God makes saints in only one style.
Whatever style suits you probably includes some temptations peculiar to that style. If it is a quiet style, not to speak when you ought to do so. If it is a more assertive style-and there were certainly saints who were not quiet people!- then to enjoy argument for its own sake, even to enjoy winning.

I enjoy verbal skirmishes but do not imagine that I am really striking blows for God or making myself a saint when I engage in them. It could be that I will be called to abandon them completely at some point. Or there may be a time when God can use any facility for argument I have for good. When it is only directed by myself, there is nothing at all especially holy about it, nor is it particularly wicked.

I do have a question for those of us who like to take up our verbal swords and join the lists for God. What if we win the jousting, but drive the defeated person from the church? It seems that Bishop Martino whom we conservative Catholics loved, drove my own daughter -not a very good Catholic, but she was going to mass-from the church by his extravagent behavior in Scranton. I was involved in a long conversation about the abortion in a Catholic hospital issue, in which Anne Rice was also involved. It went on for a month, a royal battle, and we righteous ones proved how exactly our principles were right and what the Church teaches....and right after that, she left the Church. True, she ought to have submitted, she ought to have put what the Church teaches ahead of what she felt with all her heart was the only humane and decent thing to do. But maybe it was wrong to push her to that decision point right at that moment. And other less well known people may also be pushed like that beyond their strength. It is something to think about.

Susan Peterson

Jacque said...

Exactly the reason I read blogs but comment very rarely.

I've been reading Heather for a month or so and she is my kind sinner; One who has lived in the world and now wants to live in God's grace.

Anonymous said...

I do have a question for those of us who like to take up our verbal swords and join the lists for God. What if we win the jousting, but drive the defeated person from the church? It seems that Bishop Martino whom we conservative Catholics loved, drove my own daughter -not a very good Catholic, but she was going to mass-from the church by his extravagent behavior in Scranton.

"Win an argument, lose a soul" I believe is an old Dominican maxim, and one that is good as far as it goes. The problem is that we are in the age of sentimentality and false compassion. As such many of our Church leaders have been charitably evading the Truth in a manner of speaking, so that when a bishop like Martino comes along and gives it to us straight, we act like he's the bad guy when in fact the bad guys are the bishops with the attitude of "as long as it brings them in" which only means that no one should really get too concerned about reminding people into what exactly they are being brought. I don't believe any amount of typical "nuanced" and mushy emotional appeals could have persuaded Anne Rice to stay because in the end it was all about the right to deliberately kill innocent human beings. These are hard teachings, and attempts to make them palatable to worldly thinking only insults everyone concerned.

Siarlys Jenkins said...

I won't belabor the point, but one thing I cannot comprehend is bowing to ANY authority when it conflicts with what all my heart and soul tells me is the only humane and decent thing to do. What I look for in leadership is someone with the skill and ability to show us the way to attain what all of us participating have agree, with all our heart and soul, is the right and decent thing to to.

IF someone could win an argument, in a manner that convinces me that what they advocate IS the humane and decent thing to do, then I could follow them.

Melanie B said...

Erin, I didn't read it as a call for silence at all. She says to her correspondent that IF discussions frustrate him, THEN perhaps he should engage in them. And then she expounds her own reasons for not wading into the various debates. But I don't see where she says that no one should talk about things ever.

In fact, in the comments she adds this clarification: "But the idea is not to avoid DISCUSSION (obviously, or I wouldn't have written such a long piece!), but to avoid putting ourselves, rather than Christ, at the center of it..."

I think I can get behind that. It's not that we need to be silent, but that before we open our mouths we need to be sure that we aren't speaking out of a love for self instead of a love for Christ. If your goal is always to speak from a humility rather than pride, then I can see why often you're going to have to keep silent. Not because it is always wrong to speak but because you don't think this is the right time or that you would speak in the right way.

Charlotte said...

I've read one of the books published by that blogger and enjoyed it, FWIW, even while I haven't found her blog compelling enough to read on a day-to-day basis. Perhaps I will take another look. Anyway, I think her perspective is formed by what she's been through - just trying to get through a wall to where she believed God cared about her at all. Abortion and the Latin mass don't really matter when you feel God hates you and has it out for you.

I agree with Eulogos - different saints, different ways to be a saint, different callings. Where I am in my spiritual walk right NOW, I agree with that blogger 100% - until I can get my act together and come to terms with God's love, all the battles and injustices and sin out there don't matter all that much, at least to me, personally. And masquerading with the "right crowd" in constantly talking about those subjects on a blog is no indication that all is well in one's own spiritual house.

But I said "right NOW." That could change. For that blogger, it could change. Still, since she's battled alcoholism, cancer, numbing depression, and divorce, I do more understand where she's coming from than not. I don't believe she's advocating for silence for everyone - rather, maybe for those whose lives have been nothing but craziness and unrest.