catholicism…the “quintessential dysfunctional family of the 21st century”

Robert McClory, over at NCR, has written a blog post after my own heart. Can We Talk? is a reflection on the responses he received on a previous post titled Dissent? Don’t You Dare!

In the first post, McClory explored the stifling of “thoughtful and earnest dissent” within the Catholic Church since Humanae Vitae. He believes that, “The curtailing of all dissent in this era does not serve the good of the church. Rather it leads to disruption, disintegration and disaster.”

The ensuing discussion from readers on his blog is a microcosm of the larger, vitriolic style of debate present in our church today. The loud voices on the right challenge any and all dissenters to unquestioning obedience to church teachings – or please leave. The loud voices on the left speak out for the right of each conscience, “without adding any qualification.” And, of course, there are the off-topic comments “perhaps influenced by the Republican presidential debaters”!

But there are other voices that offer hope. McClory writes,

These are thoughtful, searching folks who read, pray and ponder thorny problems like dissent without coming to rancorous or absolutist positions. The hang-up here is that these searchers, like the proverbial choir, talk only to like-minded associates, so their balance doesn’t get into the discussion. More often than not, it’s the extremists who frame the debate.

So can we talk?

I have this idea of a debate on dissent in the church, or better, a series of debates between qualified representatives from left and right — no grandstanding, no polarizing, no gotcha questions, no yelling.

Undoubtedly, the result would not lead to mass conversions from either camp, but it just might lower the decibel level, even set a tone of respect we haven’t seen in a long time.

Somehow, we’ve got to get out of this quagmire that has turned Catholicism into the quintessential dysfunctional family of the 21st century.

A big AMEN!!!

day 20 – divisive debates

Formal debating comes with its own procedures and rules. These ensure that both sides have an equal opportunity to be heard within a civilized atmosphere. The skill of rhetoric revolves around the ability to think critically, to choose your words wisely, and to present them respectfully. Trying to understand the opponent’s way of thinking (even if only to achieve success in the debate) encourages open-mindedness. For this reason, a good debater can successfully put aside personal opinion and defend both sides of an issue.

Of course, we can’t be expected to follow the rules of formal debate in our daily discourses especially if we are discussing an issue close to our heart. But too often our discourse lacks any critical thinking, wise words, or genuine respect for the other.

The shouting matches that we witness in the media today are the lowest form of debate, if they can be called debate at all. We listen to them on TV and radio and read them in newspapers, magazines, and the internet – especially in letters to the editor and readers`responses. Based on the characteristics of these divisive debates, I wonder if this is the corresponding list of tips. Yes, they are the antithesis to yesterday`s list of dialogue tips. 😉

1.       God tucked your ears on the side of your head, but put your mouth front and center. Use it.

2.       The goal is to take down your opponent. Use their talk time to strategize your next move.

3.       Interrupt, interrupt, and interrupt some more.

4.       Learn how to twist your opponent’s words, take them out of context, and then throw them back for a slam-dunk.

5.       The issue is black and white. There is no common ground, so there’s no use wasting time looking for it. You are right. They are wrong.

6.       The louder and angrier you sound, the better your chance of winning.

7.       Use your face to keep up your side of the conversation while the other is talking. Rolling eyes, raised eyebrows, and loud exhalations are especially effective. Learn how to PFFFT with style.

8.       You know it all, and the world needs to hear it.

9.       Wow them with your ability to pontificate. No need to come up for air. The longer the discourse, the smarter you will appear.

10.   It’s all about winning. Don’t stop until the other admits defeat!