instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Monday, June 11, 2007

Some dry distinctions

I am, if anything, too sympathetic to (and too prone to) criticism of Crabby Catholics, such as is found in Greg Erlandson's widely-linked editorial, "Orthodoxy's 'Dry Drunks.'" (In Erlander's vivid phrase, these are tradition-minded Catholics who are "all Inferno and little Paradiso.")

Still, I think Matthew Lickona makes some good points against Erlandson's pop-psychoanalyzing. I think the distinction between external act and internal disposition is useful here, to avoid overstating the evidence and to avoid rekindling the "only losers label others" debate, but mostly because they are different phenomena that should be treated differently.

Matthew uses an old joke to illustrate the point that simply complaining doesn't in itself make someone a complainer:'s rather like the kid who didn't speak until he was four, and then said, "This soup is too cold." When asked why he hadn't spoken earlier, he replied, "Up to now, everything was fine." Oftentimes, people speak up only when there's a problem.
True enough, and a person who spends twenty minutes a week blogging about problems in the Church may reasonably object to being considered "all Inferno."

It seems to me, though, that speaking up only when there's a problem is itself a problem. Catholics can't generally afford the luxury of being misunderstood; our mission is to make disciples of all nations, which we can only do by balancing Paradiso and Inferno in public.

What good is a heart full of joy if the only thing others ever see is bitterness? And by what others see, I mean what actual people actually see, not what they would see if they followed you around and listened in on your private conversations and prayers. If my public blog presents a different personality than my private speech, then I lack integrity; my joy and my [let's stipulate it as righteous] anger are dis-integrated, and therefore a poor reflection of the One God.

You see, then, what this means for the external/internal distinction. If I am more or less internally integrated, then I should make sure my external acts reflect this.

Oh, and we can also distinguish between integrity and balance. I might have an 80/20 balance of Paradiso/Inferno, but if I do it by being all Paradiso 4 days out of 5, and all Inferno the other day, then I'm not integrated. If I were integrated, then no matter how you sliced me, you'd get the same balance.

A final distinction that might be pertinent to the Crabby Catholic phenomenon (which, per the external/internal distinction, I should probably call "Crabbily Catholic") is between reasons and justifications. Most of us have reasons for most of the things we do, often reasons others can sympathize with. But merely having a reason for doing something, even a compelling reason, doesn't necessarily mean being justified in doing it.

(Links via People of the Book.)