Tuesday, August 11, 2015

I'm On Your Side

I may spout any number of political ideological heresies from this space, as is my right and duty. Yet I think it is important to say that I like Republicans; I think like them, and talk like them. I am them.

As Catholics wishing to adhere to all that the Church teaches, we may find ourselves at odds with deeply-held ideological commitments; if we do it well, we can articulate a bold, truly humanist conservative vision that will be compelling to the body politic; if we do it poorly, we alienate the very people we want to reach, and we unwittingly reinforce the piecemeal approach to ethics and political engagement that we abhor.

The very first rule of effective communication is to connect with the audience; dispose them to hear what you are saying. If a faithful Catholic is indeed compelled to question the philosophical basis for the broad economic vision of his political party, for example, he can do this more easily by frankly acknowledging the things the listening or reading audience finds compelling about that vision. In short, you don't persuade an audience by insulting them.

When a person makes a party identification, he's probably doing one of 2 things: he's indicating to members of his own tribe that he'd like to discuss something with them, or he's attempting to broaden his own appeal beyond the tribe, based on a shared commitment across the party identifications.

I think a person who doesn't connect with his audience, who appreciates nothing of their points of view, and who thinks ad hominem suffices for argument deserves a dwindling audience. I say this as someone who knows a thing or two about snark, to my great regret.

If I say to you, "Ayn Rand's vision of society does not comport with Catholic social doctrine" I'd better be able to say why. And frankly, I've read and appreciated enough of her to know why a reasonable person could pick her up and say, "I like this; I find this compelling!" If that makes you uncomfortable, you don't read enough. If you think insulting a person who likes Ayn Rand and exalting yourself as a better Christian is all you need to do, you probably write columns for the National Catholic Register, or (ironically) the Acton Institute. I read "Anthem" at least once a year. I've read parts of "Atlas Shrugged," and the last time I read "The Fountainhead," I was too young to remember it. In short, I don't think it makes you a bad person to read her books, and even to like them. The fact that she was a raving atheist who hated Christianity and C.S. Lewis (the nerve!) is actually immaterial to the merits or demerits of the case. If Joe Carter knows this, it sure doesn't show. She may well have been a vile person, but again, that doesn't really help us intellectually.

I think writing column after column about The Donald, and insulting the GOP primary electorate (most of which isn't paying attention) is simply pride, plain and simple. Somebody is either too proud of their own ability to receive the social doctrine, despite the ideological challenge it poses, or lazy, or both.

Personally, I'm just getting tired of gearing up, waiting to see if we get "Martin Luther at the pub" Mark Shea, or "Reasonably articulate, serviceable Catholic apologist" Mark Shea. If politics makes you this angry, don't write about it. Sheesh. 

I take the risk of blogging about him again, though it could be vanity on my part, because I think it's important to cultivate the best voices we can for the faith, and for political engagement. I don't think the Register is helping us right now. Maybe they really fear the "right-wing Catholic" charge they get from the left; I don't know. I only know that this song of, "I'm fiercely independent!" sounds like sneering to me.

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