Several months ago, the nation came to a halt due the mass killings in Newtown, and rightfully, every news station, newspaper, and the like covered the story for days. It precipitated a national conversation on how to prevent future massacres from gun control to mental health care. It was the innocence of the young children that struck a chord with people. How could anyone hurt a young child?
Currently, the trial of Dr. Kermit Gosnell is underway. For those unaware, he routinely delivered live babies during the third trimester, and then cut the spine of the baby in order to kill them, decapitating breathing, screaming, moving babies. He even joked that one baby was so big he could “walk me to the bus stop.”
Where is the new coverage? Where is the outrage? Where is the national conversation?
The murder of these innocent children has been greeted by silence.
The pro-abortion lobby is scared of this case because it shows the true face of abortion. You can dress up the issue with a discussion of privacy and rights, but the reality is a baby loses his or her life in the process. The trial, the grand jury report, and the pictures make this loss of life painfully clear.
Finally, a few honest journalists have picked up the story. Instead of repeating their work, I encourage you to read their articles in USA Today
and The Atlantic
and to share them.
April 12, 2013 12:50
By Dr. H. P. Bianchi
I have a confession to make. I am a Patriots fan. Please keep reading. I’ll explain.
I grew up in Connecticut, watching the Patriots every Sunday; yes, even during those horrible pre- Belichick / Brady years. I move down “south” to attend graduate school at The Catholic University of America, fell in love with a girl from Baltimore, and the rest is history.
Her family is typical Baltimorean, and by typical, I mean crazy about the Ravens. Even though I sported my Patriot gear every fall and winter, they accepted me. I suppose by the grace of God. Needless to say, games between the Ravens and Patriots have become major events in our house.
Last year, I was particularly excited for the AFC Championship game, hoping for a little revenge for the 2009 Wild Card debacle. I never watched the game.
That Sunday morning, we received a call that my wife’s aunt had a heart attack and was at St. Agnes Hospital in critical condition. We spent that afternoon in a hospital waiting room, not in front of the television. The doctor informed us that she would have died, if she had not been brought in, and things still looked pretty bad.
When I eventually heard of Cundiff’s missing field goal. I felt nothing. My team was going to the Super Bowl. Who cares!
My wife’s aunt never improved. After several months of horrible suffering, she passed away. She was a saintly person, and as one relative stated, if she did not go straight to heaven, we are all in trouble.
Last year, I realized football is just a game, and it is not the players on the field that make watching the game great. If the Lance Armstrong case teaches us anything, it is that we tend to over idolize athletes.
It’s the people sitting next to you that make watching the game great. I’ll be wearing a Brady jersey on Sunday in a sea of purple, but there is no place I would rather be than with my family.
Aunt Mary Ellen, I love and miss you.
January 18, 2013 10:51
By Dr. H. P. Bianchi
I am the father of two young boys, and I am concerned about their future.
For most of Western Civilization, males dominated society, but in the last 50 years, females have gained access to jobs and education historically reserved for males. Women not only performed as well as men, but in many situations, they outperformed them.
Today, more females are enrolled in college than males and more women are in the workforce than men. In the early 2000s, alarmists spoke of the decline of boys in education and the business world. Numerous books like The War Against Boys, Boys Adrift, and Save the Males, chronicle a dysfunctional boy’s culture and its impact on society. The recent recession reignited this discussion as men suffered greater layoffs than women, resulting in some commentators calling it a man-cession.
Statistics can be used to prove every aspect of the gender question: male decline, gender parity, or continuing female subjugation. Beyond the statistics, the cultural portrayal of young males is worrying. It’s become cliché to talk about the recent male graduate, living in his parent’s basement, playing videos games, eating pizza, and drinking beer. Digging deeper into our culture, where are model men in the media? From the harmlessness of the Bernstein Bears to the comedy of Ray Romano and silliness of Homer Simpson, fathers are portrayed as bumbling idiots.
The image of the deadbeat dad - childlike, lazy, and obsessed with fantasy football - is countered by super-mom - worker, caregiver, and husband-sitter - able to balance soccer games, board meetings, and making the perfect apple pie.
Are these archetypes descriptive, I hope not, or prescriptive? That is, do they represent reality or do these images help create reality? I am apprehensive over the latter. Society sets the standard so low for boys that they might not rise above mediocrity, or by promoting these subpar models of manhood, boys might think this behavior is acceptable.
Beneath these images, true troubles exist in the culture of boys. Nearly universal exposure to pornography is destroying a generation of boys’ ability to properly interact with females. Altered by hours of perusing images of women, most boys view the opposite sex as objects for their gratification, not as individuals deserving love. Boys also appear to be more susceptible to new addictions, especially video games, and sadly many relate better to imagined realities than the real world. On the flip side, girls have the added motivation of centuries of adversity and countless media depictions of strong, young female characters. They have something to prove, but boys are lost in the midst of the modern world’s challenges.
Reflecting on the “crisis” of boys, I realized it’s not a crisis of boys but of men. Some, if not most, of boy activities are fitting for young individuals. Regrettably, males do not grow out of these activities. Is it more of a problem that boys play hours of video games or that men do the same? Girls will eventually drop their obsessions of Justin Bieber and Edward Cullen, but male fascination of sports heroes does not disappear; it only becomes most sophisticated. Are man caves really boy caves with beer replacing soda?
The missing process of male maturity is aided by the lack of real men. Media images, as mentioned above, reinforce the juvenile father figure. Real-life models are also in short supply. Today, a staggering 41 percent of children are born out of wedlock, and it increases to 53 percent for children born to mothers under 30. Where are the dads? It is a vicious cycle of men not being there for their sons, which then produces a new generation of sons with no positive male models.
Fortunately, I had a wonderful father, a model of selflessness and holiness, and after my wedding and move to Maryland, I gained a father-in-law with similar qualities. It’s my task to follow their examples and show my sons what it is to be a man.
Girls are statistically doing better than boys, but boys are doing fine. Girls are merely performing exceptionally. Much more importantly, girls are better at making the transition to adulthood. Contrarily, boyhood has been extended into the 20s and 30s, and just when you think a boy has become a man, a childish mid-life crisis rears its head.
For a man crisis to be averted, society needs to adjust its image of immature fathers, and real fathers need to start playing their role, providing an example for future generations.
October 12, 2012 04:17
By Dr. H. P. Bianchi
Hate has had a long run, but it’s time to retire the word and all its forms: hater, hatin’, hateful, hate group, hate speech, and so on. Any usefulness of “hate” has been undermined by its overuse and misuse. It does not mean anything now, and its use only incites more animosity.
It’s a classic retelling of the boy who cried wolf. If every instance of insensitivity is labeled hate, then how do we decipher between real hatred from exaggerated hatred? A person that does not like your outfit is not hatin’. A person that posts an article on Facebook that you disagree with is not full of hatred. A person from the other political party is not a hater.
We need to expand our vocabulary and use more appropriate and less incendiary words as the situation merits: rude, unkind, insensitive and the like. Reserve hate for truly vile acts. Wade Page’s shooting rampage at a Sikh temple that killed six people is clearly a hateful act. Better yet, only use hate to describe actions, such as hating murder, and avoid using hate for a specific person or even a group of people. Still better, throw the word into the dustbin of useless words, avoiding it altogether.
The problem has been exacerbated by a news industry that values sensational stories over substance. Additionally, watch groups and anti-defamation societies, though founded with good intentions, are more interested in drawing attention to their own organization than addressing intolerance, and together with the media, they often turn gaffes and out-of-context statements into hate speech, resulting in protests, condemnation, heated rhetoric, and (you guessed it) more hatred.
The sad story of Floyd Lee Corkins reveals the dangers of the name game. He recently entered the offices of the Family Research Council, yelled “I don’t like your politics,” and then opened fire on the security guard. He somehow believed that shooting an innocent person was an appropriate way to express his displeasure with the Family Research Council, labeled a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
As a nation, we need to turn down the rhetoric. Labeling something hateful, doing a hateful action, or increasing hate awareness are not going to diminish hate. More often than not, a vicious circle of increasing hate ensues from these actions. It’s time for society to collectively kick hate to the side. The answer is much simpler. Return hatred with love; that is the only true remedy.
August 20, 2012 08:10
By Dr. H. P. Bianchi
Guess how much media the average teenager consumes every day. You might want to sit down for this one. According to a study by The Kaiser Family Foundation, the answer is ten hours and 45 minutes! My first thought is how is this even possible? Excluding time at school and sleeping, teens must spend every moment connected to some form of media.
The extensive study used surveys and media-use diaries of individuals aged 8 to 18, and it included only recreational use of media; using a computer or reading a book for school assignments, for instance, was not counted. The research was conducted in 1999, 2004, and 2009, and the evidence shows a steady increase of media use over time. The breakdown in hours and minutes is: four hours and 29 minutes watching TV, two hours and 31 minutes listening to music, one hour and 29 minutes on computers, one hour and 13 minutes playing video games, 38 minutes reading print and 25 minutes watching movies. Teens are adept at media-multitasking – watching TV and surfing the internet at the same time – and therefore, are able to consume all of this content in seven hours and 38 minutes per day, slightly more tenable, but still over 53 hours per week.
There is a lively debate about the merits or problems of media in the lives of young Americans, but I think one overlooked issue is the question of influence. Parents like to think they are the most influential individuals in their children’s life, and if not them, perhaps an inspiring teacher or dynamic priest. What parents fail to realize is that a short dinner conversation, one hour class, or weekly homily is dwarfed by ten hours and 45 minutes of TV shows, music lyrics, and YouTube videos.
Parents need to acknowledge that their teens are most influenced by people their children have never met in person. Everything from the way they dress to their values are most likely acquired from what is coming off a screen or flowing through their earphones. What are the messages being sent to our children? Like most parents, I am not really sure, but I am fairly confident that they are at odds with Christian ideals.
The high numbers are driven by young Americans’ nearly constant accessibility to media and little parent oversight. The study reveals that few parents, only 30%, set rules about media use. Many teens also have access to mobile devices that give them immediate access to media. In the last five years, the number of eight- to-18-year-olds who owned cell phones jumped from 39% to 66% and those who owned iPods or mp3 players rose from 18 to 76 percent. Responders also documented that 70 percent have a TV in their room and 50 percent have a videogame system in their room. In short, parents give their children these devices and then walk away, leaving teens to determine appropriate time limits and content.
In addition to this statistical evidence, I have noticed a shift in children’s behavior. I was always perplexed by the large number of children at our local bus stop and the lack of anyone playing outside or at the playground after school. Now I know why they are not outside. They’re watching TV. I have also observed a change in college-aged students. Not long ago, students would talk to each before class, but now they sit silently in their seats, listening to music or playing with their phones. I have seen similar behavior in adults on the metro, waiting in line, or walking on the street, all connected to media, oblivious to the person next to them.
My sons, three-weeks-old and three-years-old, are too young to fall within the parameters of the study, but my older son has revealed to me how even young children can feel the pressure of media. It is scary how adroitly he can use a tablet, selecting games, playing videos. Perhaps, the closest I have gotten to locking up our only TV was after my son’s third birthday. I assembled his present, a sandbox, for half a day, and then after five minutes of playing, he said: “Can we go inside and watch a TV show.” I feel like I am fighting a losing battle. With the start of school, my children will feel the pressure of keeping up with the latest shows and songs, and I am sure the demands for new devices and more time to use them will only increase. Looking ahead, I can understand many parents’ frustrations and also their disappointments in regards to teens and media use.
There are some positive elements to media. Watching a good movie is a great release. The internet is a treasure trove of information. Yet, 10:45 of daily media consumption is excessive, unhealthy, and sadly, the new norm. Too many parents have forfeited their role as parents. They let the media entertain, instruct, and distract (effectively, raise) their children. It’s no wonder that it is hard to relate to teenagers and that they appear so different from their parents. Parents need to regain control of their children’s use of media, limit the time, observe the content, and most importantly, replace it with more face to face interactions.
July 28, 2012 08:59
By Dr. H. P. Bianchi
If you have ever toured the European countryside, you are familiar with the layout of the traditional farming village. Designed before the advent of automobiles, the towns are small clusters with houses grouped close together, surrounded by communal fields. The parish church is typically located off the central square, within walking distance from every area of the community.
The church was not only the geographical center of the village, but also the main meeting place for the people of the town. In the pre-modern period, people would gather for Mass every Sunday and holy day, and they would return repeatedly for devotions, processions, and other public prayers. In short, the parish was a central hub for spiritual and social activities.
The rise of industrialization ended the farming village’s place as the main organizational unit of European society. Starting in the late 1700s, former farmers rushed into urban areas to find new jobs, and the mass migration destroyed the local, religious culture of the village. In the cities, young people found themselves unrestricted from traditional moral parameters, no longer a part of religious community, and susceptible to new secular ideologies, such as Marxism. Many of the new, urban poor, therefore, dropped their attachment to religion.
The fall of the village parish is part of the theory of secularization, often overshadowed by more well-known elements of the thesis, including the modern state's replacement of the church’s role in education, health care, and welfare, and the secular intellectual shift during the Enlightenment and Scientific Revolution. The link between industrialization and secularization, however, was not lost on some contemporary Catholics who created the Catholic Land Movement in order to recreate the traditional farming community as a means to revive the faith, a movement that ultimately failed.
The American story runs counter the European experience as our country was founded by primarily by agrarian Protestants. Catholic immigrants did not arrive en masse until after industrialization and settled predominately in urban areas. Unlike their European counterparts, American Catholics recreated their parish communities in urban areas, spurred on by intense anti-Catholicism that excluded them from most of society. In cities across the United States, Catholic ghettos grew in numbers in the late 1800s and early 1900s, organized along ethnic lines and centered around the parish church.
The ethnic, urban parishes had separate schools, associations, social clubs, festivals, and a slew of religious activities such as Masses, novenas, and Forty-Hours' devotions. At the height of these parishes, typical American Catholics lived in close proximity to their church and visited it several times a day for educational, spiritual, and social activities. Outside of the home, their lives revolved around the parish.
The typical American parish began to unravel in the 1950s as Catholics moved out of the city to the suburbs, a result of post-war prosperity and raising tensions in urban areas. Suburbanites might live a ten-to-fifteen-minute car ride away from their parish, nixing frequent visits to it, and they more frequently opt to send their children to public schools instead of parochial schools, further rupturing the connection between parishioner and parish. Consequently, today's Catholics only visit their parish for Mass on Sunday.
The new suburban attitude compounded the negative effects of the new geographic layout of the parish community. Prosperity did not bring a fulfillment of material desires, but a want for more. People’s highest concerns were for a larger house, a nicer car, and more household items; thus, materialism supplanted religion. In the 1950s, American had just survived the Great Depression and World War II, and Americans were living a much more comfortable life, a life which did not need spiritual intercession; accordingly, attendance at parish events declined. The suburban life also offered much more competition to parish activities. Children were placed into recreational sports, music and dance classes, and a number of other activities. Families were so busy that attending a church activity on weeknight became impossible.
It is bleak period for parish life. While some parishes are thriving, many urban churches are closing and some suburban parishes are being merging. Sadly, most Catholics think they are “active” members of their community, if they attend a donut social after Mass.
Reestablishing vibrant parishes is fundamental to reviving Catholic culture. Primarily, the local church needs to be a destination for prayer. In addition to attending Mass, parishioners should be encouraged to frequent confession, adoration, stations, and other religious devotions. Parishes also needs to be reestablished as a place for education, providing accessible and authentic Catholic education for school-age children and ongoing adult education with Bible studies and other classes. Next, parishes would benefit from the establishment of numerous associations: youth, young adult, women’s and men’s groups. Membership in an organization, such as the Knights of Columbus or Legion of Mary, undoubtedly brings an individual closer to the parish community. Lastly, parish communities could add a social dimension by sponsoring more events like movie nights, dinners, or dances. It is the duty of the laity to help organize all of these events, support them by being present, and encourage other individuals to attend them as well.
Like the European case, the decline of the parish was only one piece of the puzzle in a increasingly secular America. The cultural revolution of the 1960s and confusion over the implementation of the Second Vatican Council added to the reduction of parish activities. Nonetheless, I see the revival of the parish as a tightly knit community - physically, spiritually, and socially - as foundational to the resurgence of American Catholicism.
July 12, 2012 03:07
By Dr. H. P. Bianchi
By now, most people have seen the heartbreaking video of Karen Klein, a bus monitor, being endlessly tormented by a group of middle school students, who mocked, poked, and threatened her. Klein does her best to ignore the taunts, but at one point, she breaks down into tears. It’s upsetting to watch, but also perplexing. What’s wrong with these students? Don’t they have any compassion for a 68-year-old grandmother?
As a teacher, I have seen firsthand the growing audacity of the youth. I had a healthy fear of my parents, teachers and elders instilled in me from a young age, but today, things are different. Most of my students are not malicious, and I never had to dismiss a student from class, a benefit of teaching at the college level. Yet, a growing number have no respect or deference for individuals in authority, and I am troubled by their casualness when they text message during lectures, come into class 10 minutes late, or chat with the person next to them. It’s not a big deal for them to blatantly break the small rules, and they are surprised, even shocked, if asked to stop.
Few people are more qualified to discuss this topic than Father Val J. Peter, former director of Boys Town, an organization that helps youths with emotional and physical problems, and author of more than 20 books on childcare and spiritually. Initially, he offers an historical reason for the collapse of authority. Over the last century, many influential individuals have abused their power, causing people to fear all forms of authority. It’s not hard to imagine why powerful people were questioned after Hitler and Stalin, and why we celebrate people who stand up and protest abuses of authority.
Father Peter contends this historical context led to a revolution in child rearing. After World War II, experts advocated adjusting the traditional model for raising children, and Father Peter labels Dr. Benjamin Spock as the leader of this movement. His Baby and Child Care (1945) was the most sold book in the United States over the next five decades after the Bible, influencing a generation of mothers. According to Father Peter, the traditional style of parenting was interpreted by Spock as “authoritarian, unfair, and unproductive. Punishment, said Spock, is not healthy for child and mother. Punitive disciplinary practices need to be abandoned.”
Traditionally, parents were tasked with instructing their children that lying, stealing and bullying were wrong, and they punished their children when they did these actions. The new approach suggests counseling or negotiating with children when they misbehave, or better yet, not to punish misbehavior, only reward good behavior. A flood of new works in the 1960s and 70s upheld this new philosophy, and Father Peter offers a succulent summary of their approach: “Parents should be therapists, not moralists.”
I am not advocating a return to corporal punishment or dismissing the value of some of the new methods, but pointing out that modern parenting can result in children who do not know right from wrong, do not expect consequences when they do something wrong, and think they are above any system of rules. In short, it produces middle school children who torment an elderly lady on the bus, without one bystander sticking up for her.
To add to this discouraging story, the boys behind bullying have received countless death threats, and now they live in fear. We should be upset, but bullying the bullies is also wrong, needlessly perpetuating the problem.
Fortunately, the story has a happy ending. A fundraising site has been collecting funds for Klein, and contributions are over a half million dollars. Klein plans to help her family with the money as well as donate some of it to charity. Some of the boys also offered heartfelt apologizes.
More importantly, the benefit of the video was that it shocked the nation into realizing our collective failure of parenting. If you think there is only one Klein in America, you are living under a rock. Every bus, classroom, and playground has children being mean and hurtful. We need to realize that our top priority is not to raise children who are good as sports or top in the class or have self-confidence, a critical intellect, or strong personalities. First and foremost, parents need to instill morality into their children, and only then will they be respectful.
June 28, 2012 03:47
By Dr. H. P. Bianchi
I can do many things that God cannot, namely sins. I am not bragging that I can be blasphemous, while God cannot; it’s actually an ignoble distinction. Rather, this reality illustrates an important point about freedom. God is perfectly free, yet He is unable to do any evil actions. Resolving this apparent contradiction reveals a lot about the true nature of freedom.
So, how do we square God’s incapacity of doing certain actions with His absolute freedom? For many individuals, freedom is the ability to do as one pleases without any restrictions. Catholics have a narrower view of freedom, limiting it to the capacity to do what is right. God’s inability to sin is, therefore, not a check on His freedom, but an integral aspect of it.
On a societal level, Catholics would insist that a free country is not based on a government without laws, but a government with good laws. For instance, a society that allows murderers to go unpunished is not free. Instead, a free society demands that murderers be punished for their transgressions. One can only imagine that a society without any rules would be chaotic, not liberating.
Doing as one pleases without thought of right or wrong is equally damaging for individuals. Instead of being guided by a moral compass, many people are controlled by short temporary urges. This form of motivation leads one to place physical gratification above goodness and is the cause of many people losing control of their lives to addictions, their wills completely subjected to whims and wants.
I recently read the story of a 21-year-old man from Florida who was addicted to an online video game. Living alone, he suffered from depression and had mental health issues. The video game soon trumped all aspects of his life: his family, his work, his friends, and even his desire to live; and soon he was playing the game for up to 12 hours a day. Possibly triggered by a mishap in the game, he took his life. His mother offered a profound remark: “It’s like all addictions, either you die, go insane or you quit. My son died.”
Addictions are everywhere. The traditional dependences on alcohol, drugs, food, and sex are still prevalent, but new technologies – television, the internet, and smartphones – have enabled more impulsive behavior and provide dangerous avenues for addictions. According to one study, the average teen consumes 11 hours of media every day, barely leaving time for anything else but school and sleep. Psychologists in 2007 defined a new condition: FAD (Facebook Addiction Disorder), with current estimates projecting that 350 million people suffer from this disorder, and a disturbing report from the UK found a million children aged seven to 12 addicted to Facebook. Still more alarming, the University of Montreal attempted to compare men who watched pornography with those who did not, but they had to alter their study when they could not find any male college students who had never viewed pornography. These few anecdotes reveal that new phones, computers and tablets have a tight grip on their operators, making it hard for them to put their devices down and to not incessantly peek at the screen.
Oddly, in a society that prides itself on being free, so many individuals are enslaved to addictions. The problem stems from our society’s enshrinement of a false freedom, sometimes referred to as license, which is the ability to do whatever one wants to do, forgetting certain actions are right and others are wrong.
With the church entangled in a very public debate on religious freedom, the concept is very much on everyone’s mind. During the course of this dispute, Catholics must remember the distinction between freedom and license. The HHS mandate is not a violation of freedom because it limits the ability to do a certain religious action. If a faith practiced something morally wrong (think pre-Columbian human sacrifice), it would be right to prohibit that religious practice. When debating against the mandate, it would be very easy to win by appealing to license, as many Americans believe restrictions are inherently wrong, but Catholics should not concede the general debate on freedom in order to win one battle. Even though the struggle will be more difficult, we must discuss the rightness and wrongness of the services guaranteed by the mandate in addition to dealing with the question of freedom.
Another overlooked point is that the debate is not so much about freedom as the hierarchy of rights. The current dispute is not about the ability to use contraception or abortion-inducing drugs. The church lost that debate decades ago. Moreover, individuals can freely select where they work and if they do not like the insurance plan, they can freely leave. The church’s position in no way limits freedom, regardless of how it is defined. Thus, the argument does not position the freedom of one group (religious employers) versus another group (women employees), but it asks which right is more essential.
Modern society has witnessed a proliferation of new rights, many are welcome but some are absurd. In effect, the HHS mandate is asserting a new right, claiming that all women are entitled to free contraception paid for by their employer. The legitimateness of this right is a discussion for another time, but more pressing is the mandate’s contention that this new right supersedes religious freedom, specifically, religious employers’ right to follow their own moral teachings. I imagine every politician would be reluctant to publically endorse this new hierarchy of rights, placing religious freedom toward the bottom, thereby contradicting the fundamental principles of this country.
The HHS mandate and the current Fortnight of Freedom campaign provide Catholics with an opportunity to learn more about the meaning of freedom. It is important to know the terms of the debate to be a good representative of the church, but it is also an apt time to examine our lives. Are we truly free, or are we slaves to our impulses? How easily can we turn off the computer, silence the phone, or put down the bottle? Freedom is an essential element of the Bill of Rights and the current political debate, but it also has a religious dimension that is a vital part of our daily lives.
June 22, 2012 09:59
By Dr. H. P. Bianchi
When I first joined Facebook, status updates focused on recounting mundane daily activities, such as: “I had a great omelet for breakfast,” or “Found some great deals at the grocery store.” Fortunately, our use of social media has evolved, and amid the traditional pictures, comical forwards and announcements, a growing number of people are now sharing links to online articles and blogs. Depending on your friends and subscriptions, your Facebook feed could serve as a veritable gateway to the news.
On the one hand, the distance of social media allows people to express their religious views more boldly. While I am hesitant to bring up religious topics with my acquaintances in daily encounters, sticking with the noncontroversial topics of the weather and sports, I have no reservations about posting religious articles on Facebook, clearly visible to my diverse collection of friends, representing a hodgepodge of different faiths as well as non-believers.
On the other hand, the separation of the online environment that allows us to be bolder with our religious activities also enables more bluntness in the comment section. People tend to be more civil in face-to-face discussions, avoiding confrontation and using veiled criticism, but individuals online are more inclined to be direct and frank with their comments.
Mix the extra brashness of Facebook users with the intensity of recent religious debates, like same-sex marriage and the HHS mandate, and a highly contentious atmosphere emerges. In short, Facebook is the new arena for the masses to debate, replacing the Greek agora, Roman forum, medieval university, and Enlightenment salon.
I make it a habit to NOT get involved in online debates due to my lack of time and what I see as the tendency of many people to only state their opinions rather than engage the other side. Nevertheless, I have been drawn to read many threads, intrigued by the style of argumentation rather than the content, and I have noticed a pattern emerging in many of the debates. Similar arguments appeared regardless of the topic, and in following paragraphs, I want to address four claims repeatedly leveled at people posting religious links.
Claim 1: Religious individuals are judgmental, intolerant bigots full of hatred.
Unfortunately, some Catholics are very hateful, and this was even more of an issue in the past. The official position of the church, however, is to love everyone, regardless of their actions or beliefs. We should not judge any individuals, and we should be tolerant of every person.
When the focus shifts to the realm of ideas and actions, we can and should be judgmental, and in some cases, reject and even hate ideas. Am I bigot or hater because I judged murder to be wrong? That is absurd.
The distinction between judging people and ideas is essential to maintain when debating online. Point out this difference often, and never slip into a personal attack, which undermines the Catholic position and drives people away.
Claim 2: It is wrong to assert general statements.
Even when one cautiously avoids discussing individuals, some people attack the ability to propose any universal statements. For example, X is wrong. This position is an extreme form of relativism and impossible to justify. The claim is a self-contradiction as it contains at least two universal propositions: (1) General statements exist. (2) They are wrong to assert. Typically, it is easy to debunk this line of reasoning by citing the numerous general statements made by the other individual.
Claim 3: A general statement is offensive to people who disagree with it.
This claim might be true, but I would counter that Catholics are more concerned with truth than not being offensive. If we are being polite, speaking the truth, and not discussing individuals, it is not wrong to offend someone. As a teacher, I might offend Johnny by instructing him that two plus two does not equal five, but I need to be truthful and correct him, even if it hurts his feelings.
Secondly, I would point out that religious individuals are not any more offensive than any other person holding a position. Every proposition is either true or false. If Catholics believe X is wrong and dissenters hold X is right, their position is also a universal, and is it not equally offensive to Catholics who disagree with it? The whole concept that religious people always think they are right and everyone else is wrong is a scam. Everyone does!
Claim 4: Since the church has so many problems, it should not tell other people what is right and wrong.
This claim represents a simple ad hominem argument, a common fallacy that seeks to discredit an argument by attacking the messenger. We would all be in trouble if only perfect individuals could give instructions. There would be no instructions.
The best way to defuse this argument is acknowledge the errors done by church members, starting with the denial of Peter and continuing to the present day. The church is composed of men, and all men are sinners. It does not mean the message is wrong.
What can we learn from this review? One glaring consistency is the hypocrisy of some of the claims: hatefully calling someone a hater, condemning general statements with a universal, claiming offense while equally offending someone else, and instructing someone not to instruct others.
I am, however, very sympathetic to the last claim. We need to look inward before we look at others, being the hardest on ourselves, the next toughest on those closest to us, and the most lenient with those who disagree with us. Sadly, we often do the reverse.
Lastly, the main point of this article is that the method of argumentation is much more important than the content. Onlookers will forget the syllogisms but remember the tone of the exchange. Convince people with your charity more than your rhetoric.
June 14, 2012 02:53
By Dr. H. P. Bianchi