I am confident that I speak for more than just myself when I say that the aftermath of the inauguration of Donald Trump as our 45th president has been incredibly disheartening. Some feel disheartened because of Trump’s executive orders, others because of his cabinet picks, still others because of his supreme court pick. While I certainly have my reservations in these areas, I feel especially disheartened because of what I expect will become of our public discourse in the years ahead. It may very well devolve almost entirely into slander and reactionary outbursts of rage, if it has not done so already.
I first felt particularly discouraged in this way when I read an article addressed “[t]o those participating in the March for Life” (Hood, You Don’t March for Life, pg. 1). I was saddened after reading the article because of its sweeping overgeneralizations and outright slanderous claims about pro-life people. One such claim is put forth by the author when she describes what she believes would be the mindset of pro-lifers toward, in her example, a 14 year old girl who “had its first experience with a boy”—who “is scared…embarrassed, and…does not want to get in trouble with mom. So it looks for a Planned Parenthood in its area, but they’ve all been shut down” (Hood, pg. 2). The author goes on to say the following about what she claims is the pro-life mindset toward a 14 year old girl in such a situation:
But you feel no sympathy for it anymore. It’s now a slut to you. It should have made better choices, been more Christian. It is no longer worthy of your support, and you do not march for it. Because you’re not marching for life. You’re marching for religion, and righteousness, and oppressing women with your outdated views of how they should behave.
I will grant to the author that there are some who call themselves pro-life for whom that is a more or less accurate description. But for her to address her remarks to all “those participating in the March for Life”—that’s just ridiculous, and flat-out wrong. Many people who are against abortion are extremely compassionate and fully and authentically pro-life. My wife is one such person; this article that she wrote (published by Blessed is She around the time of the March for Life) is a great reflection of her compassion and authentically pro-life stances.
Needless to say, I became indignant after reading the article slandering pro-lifers. For the next few days, I was ready at any chance I could get (not in public, I’m too timid) to vocalize my harsh criticisms toward “the left”, with their “moral poverty” and “inability” to have reasoned arguments absent of slander. I eventually let my frustration out in a political argument with my wife that started, I kid you not, with her jokingly asking our 1 year old child, “Elijah, what do you think of Trump’s immigration ban?” Men, if your wife makes jokes like this, they are NOT invitations to vent your current frustrations concerning politics. She’s just trying to be funny—because a 1 year old can appear quite pensive, as if to be really reflecting on the question asked, as he stares off into space while chewing his hand. If only I knew that then…
What I learned from this ridiculous argument with my wife is that I am guilty of the same things of which I have accused the pro-abortion author. I overgeneralize and even slander about those with whom I disagree politically and morally. In short, I learned that I am no exemplar of reasoned discourse, which I champion and claim to cherish deeply. I, then, am contributing to the outcome for our public discourse that I fear so greatly; this is in part because of my lust (yes, lust) for knowledge. It may seem strange that I should put it in those terms, but it is undoubtedly true that our desire for knowledge can be taken to the extreme and actually work against real acquisition of knowledge. I fear that this is the case for many Catholic men who, with the best of intentions, want to educate themselves on topics of pressing concern. Thus, they also are contributing to the coarsening of our public discourse—hence the reason I am writing this article.
Aristotle famously said that “all men, by nature, desire to know.” That such is the case is self-evident—as is, I think, the fact that our desire to know is a good thing. The problem—largely a problem of culture at root—is that we don’t know how to come to know. That is, we do not possess the requisite discipline, restraint and perseverance for coming to a sound understanding of extremely weighty and complicated issues. Instead of exercising these virtues, we seek instant gratification by forming our opinions after reading just one or two articles from sources with biases toward our political leanings, or—God forbid—after seeing a political meme on Facebook that reinforces our biases. There is a solution for this problem, but it may not be what you would expect.
In a recent Sunday Mass, we heard these words of Scripture from St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians: “I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified” (1 Cor 2:2). This is what we must do, is it not? We who are part of that “humanity come of age, proud of its rationality” (Pope Francis, Lumen Fidei), who suffer from the delusion that we can know everything—we must for a time step away from our quest for knowledge of worldly things, to seek out knowledge of Christ alone, and Him crucified. Only after doing this shall we possess the strength and clarity to truly become men of great knowledge who contribute positively to public discourse. Otherwise, we have no right to act as if we already are those men.