instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Thursday, November 15, 2012

They can't even hear you now!

Mark Shea posts a letter he received from an African American reader of Catholic and Enjoying It!

Here's the dynamic described by the letter, as I see it:
  1. A politician or political operative make some statement that contain racist code words. (I mean this as an empirical observation. The statement does, in fact, contain words that, in certain contexts, serve as racist code words.)
  2. African American Catholics point out the racist code words used to white Catholics.
  3. White Catholics dismiss African American Catholic concerns about racist code words.
  4. African American Catholics are left with the sense that race divides them from white Catholics.
As a white Catholic who is not a politician or political operative, I have no particular expertise or insight to offer regarding the real or apparent racism encoded in political speech. I have "opinions," in the contemporary sense that I can open my mouth and form sentences based on what my brain happens to do in response to a racist code word-based stimulus.

But I shouldn't regard Step #2 above as a solicitation of my opinion. It is, rather, an expression of sorrow (to put it very generically), and the primary Christian response to sorrow is not dismissal but compassion.

This holds true even on matters on which I consider myself an expert, even when I determine that the sorrow expressed is unjustified, even when I am morally certain the sorrow is sinful. It doesn't do either of us good -- it's quite likely to do both of us harm -- for me to deliver an objectively true judgment in a manner that ensures the judgment will not be received by the other person, and someone who has just expressed sorrow is not (generally speaking) in a mode to receive blunt judgment of that sorrow.

We've heard these sorts of "win an argument, lose a soul" exhortations before, and I've delivered some myself (to myself as much as to anyone else, for all the good that's done).

But it occurs to me that this may be particularly difficult to recollect when dealing with political matters, which (I assert without proof) American Catholics don't typically regard under the "lose a soul" aspect. Politics is played with a different mindset than religion, or even social interaction generally, and the idea that the primary response to a political assertion ought to be compassion is counter to habit.