Saturday, March 19, 2016

Quick Quips: On Speaking and Acting Rightly

I think it is time for another edition of Quick Quips because there are a number of problematic behaviors appearing that are incompatible with our Catholic faith that Catholics seem to be in danger of adopting.

Justice Requires Us To Act Justly Even if Others Act Unjustly

In Plato’s Republic, there is a discussion about justice. One of the guests (Simonides) discusses the nature of justice when it comes to giving a person his due and describes it as "it is that which renders benefits and harms to friends and enemies.” (Republic, 332D). During the course of the discussion, Socrates demolishes this assumption, pointing out that justice is about doing right to a person, regardless of whether the person is a friend or an enemy. That shouldn’t be a surprise to the Christian. We believe our Lord told us:

31 Do to others as you would have them do to you. 32 For if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do the same. 34 If you lend money to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit [is] that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, and get back the same amount. 35 But rather, love your enemies and do good to them, and lend expecting nothing back; then your reward will be great and you will be children of the Most High, for he himself is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. 36 Be merciful, just as [also] your Father is merciful. (Luke 6:31–36.)

The point is, even if someone we oppose is evil, that person’s wrongdoing does not justify their foes in doing evil in return. Many Christians, especially in election years, may shrug off that retaliation as “Karma’s a b*tch” or even cheer on wrongdoing when it happens to a foe. In the most extreme, we see this mindset when a deranged person kills an abortionist and the response is, “He deserved it.” In lesser extremes, we see politicians condemned for using a tactic when it inconveniences us but cheer it when it benefits us.

But that’s exactly what we must not do. If we believe something is wrong, and condemn it when a foe does it, we must not support it or laugh when an ally does it. If something is wrong, we must not do it. Finding excuses on why the situation is not exactly the same and therefore justifies the slightly different situation is just splitting hairs. Of course we need to make certain that the substantial differences do not outweigh the similarities (the fallacy of the irrelevant analogy), but compiling differences that are merely appearance is not substance. Nor can we object on the grounds that we just don’t want to face the same inconveniences our opponents suffered (that’s the fallacy of special pleading).

When it comes to politics, people may think that benefitting friends and harming enemies is the way of the world, but as Christians, we’re called to a higher standard of behavior, and we’re not to sink to the level of the world.

For Better or Worse (They’re not About the Same Thing)

In discussions, we tend to talk in terms of comparisons. We say that A is better than B or that X is worse than Y. As long as we are using the same scale of comparison, there is no problem with making factual comparisons or even offering opinions on the subject. But what we must not do is confuse them. If we are saying A is better than B, it does not mean B is worse than A. Likewise, if we say that X is worse than Y, this does not mean that Y is better than X. In other words, if a person makes a statement of comparison, it is unjust to change his words. So the person who says A is better than B cannot be accused of saying B is worse than A.

That’s because the two words are two different comparisons. Better means “a more favorable degree." Worse means “a more unfavorable degree.” Therefore, when a person chooses the term “better,” he is speaking about the nature of which is more positive. To accuse him of saying the less favorable one is worse is to put words in the mouth of the speaker that were not intended.

For example, The Church teaches that rape is worse than consensual fornication, but that both are mortally sinful and condemned. The person who would try to argue that "the Church says consensual fornication is better than rape” would be speaking nonsense. The Church says both are evil and neither can ever be done. The fact that one does greater evil does not justify calling the one that is not as extreme “better.” The point is that the Church cannot be accused of saying “fornication is better than rape.” She didn’t say that!  She didn’t offer approval of fornication in making that comparison.

I bring this up to make a comparison. I think people are forgetting this however in day to day life. When it comes to the political debates, I have seen people offering the view that Candidate A is worse than Candidate B. Then someone comes along and says “So you think Candidate B is better? What about this, that and the other? How can you be OK with that?” Again, the person making the comparison between politicians isn’t saying that one candidate’s evil positions are worthy of support. He’s saying that he views one candidate’s views as being more serious in terms of doing harm to others and does not downplay the other candidate’s evil.

Tying these Together 

I mention these issues to make a point about how we behave towards others. In times of controversies (and the elections certainly are that) it is easy to justify wrongdoing and to speak falsely about a foe. It’s also easy to misinterpret and draw conclusions about a politician or a fellow voter that they never intended to say. The political system has low expectations and promotes savaging weakness—at least when it happens to the foes—and grossly distorting an opponent’s position. But we who profess to be Christian cannot do this. We must treat those who hate us with the same love and justice that we treat those who love us. We must do to others the way we would be treated—even if they do not return the favor.

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