Some of my Catholic friends have been urging me and others on the Catholic right to tone down the rhetoric when it comes to discussing issues related to the Notre Dame scandal, or Notre Shame as time is showing it to have been. They want us to tone down our "harsh rhetoric" on issues such as abortion, President Obama and other Catholics who support him. These friends insist that they respect my right to my point of view, and they assure me that they, too, oppose abortion. However, they argue that many tactics of the Catholic pro-life movement are “negative” (e.g. showing pictures of aborted fetuses) and therefore counter-productive. They argue further that these tactics – which include protesting Notre Dame’s bestowing an honorary doctorate of law on President Obama – actually exacerbate tensions and divisions within the Catholic Church and within society at large. Finally, they charge that such tactics are spiteful and otherwise uncharitable. We on the right would say “sinful,” but these friends of mine don’t use that language.
I am not impervious to these criticisms. I don’t like being thought of in these terms, though I confess I sometimes accept their judgment with a touch of mischievous relish. I don’t know anyone on the Catholic or Christian right who wants to be thought of as using language that is counter-productive, divisive and spiteful.
Okay, maybe Ann Coulter, bless her.
But when it comes to their suggestion to tone down the rhetoric, I think we shouldn’t, and I doubt we will.
Father Z, by the way, came in first in every category of the 2009 media blog awards - blowing away all other nominees.
First of all, there’s history. No matter how earnestly these Catholic friends of mine insist that they oppose abortion, when I think about what they want us not to do, I am forced to conclude that they just don’t see the symmetry between the abortion issue and other moral tragedies in recent history, such as the Holocaust and racial segregation. Would my Catholic friends today not applaud those German, Austrian and Italian Catholics who risked their lives to speak out in the strongest terms against the racial policies of Hitler and Mussolini, even though in doing so they used language that their friends thought was counter-productive, divisive and spiteful?...
Is it me, or is the outrage of these Catholic friends of mine over the recent murder of the abortionist George Tiller, and the blame they hurl at the “extreme rhetoric” of pro-lifers for his death, not analogous to the anger of those white Catholics in the 60’s who blamed civil rights activists for instigating the Watts and Detroit riots?
Did Dead Man Walking incite increase lethal injections?
Do war protesters cause war?
My third reason for not wanting us to tone down the rhetoric is a sense I have, a feeling not easy to pin down.
I am sensing a kind of Zeitgeist in the air which censures the use of “harsh rhetoric.”
Oddly enough, when you scratch the surface of these folks running around trying to pretend they are Mother Teresa reincarnate and Mr. Congeniality, they are caustic, uncharitable, absentee to their families, friends, colleagues. Thou dost protest too much. They're writings are stilted, what comes out of their mouths in public and behind closed doors are two completely different personalities. These nice folks are sophomoric and acerbic and backstabbing under the radar.
The phoniness takes your breath away
Perhaps somewhere, there is a person out there in life who is telling people to tone down the rhetoric and be 'charitable' that actually acts that way in their real relationships. I've yet to come across one in my eighteen years of activism, but it could happen. If any of these people actually had the persona to have liberal friends, love them, have relationships with them - they'd be able to acknowledge that liberals use harsh language about us, they laugh at it. We know that people who are normal on both sides do it. We don't have to swing into some stoic person when a liberal enters our peripheral vision nor do they.
But the net effect of this unrelenting censorship from the left is that the pro-life (yes, read: anti-abortion) message is ground down, silenced under the rubric of “it’s all right that we agree to disagree about this issue.”
Homosexual activists have a saying, "silence equals death." What they know, what the Catholic left doesn’t, is that all rhetoric aimed at effecting social and political change must, above all, be heard.
In the meantime, how many progressivist Catholic media shills will complain next week that this week’s G8 summit in L’Aquila, Italy, was disrupted by protesters advocating on behalf of the global poor or the environment?
You see, it’s not all acerbic rhetoric that merits labeling as counter-productive, divisive and uncharitable. It’s just pro-life rhetoric.
And that, in the end, is why we probably won’t tone it down.