Claiming a person chose wrong and chose so out of malice is a strong accusation. We must prove the accusation is true before we look for motives why the person acted in a certain way. If we don’t give proof, then our charge is not proven and all our speculation on motive is meaningless. This is why so many news articles and blogs aggravate me. People assume wrongdoing, then make wild accusations over why wrongdoing occurred. Here are some examples from the past week.
Struggling to Pull Defeat Out of the Jaws of Victory
The Vatican released Pope Francis' Apostolic Exhortation, Amoris Lætitia, today. From what I have read so far (about halfway through), it is an excellent document which explores the meaning of marriage and family before considering the cases of people at odds with the Church teaching. The secular media is remarkably subdued, mostly keeping quiet about it. The text contradicts the predictions or accusations made about “opening doors” to changed Church teaching. Even one of the most notorious anti-Francis Catholic blogs posted a relatively subdued article about this Exhortation.
Even so, certain Catholics, unwilling to surrender their preconceived views have tried to portray this as leaving doors open to error—only disagreeing on whether this was good or bad. Despite the fact that there are no soundbites which sound shocking when taken out of context, some try to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory by saying certain concepts might be interpreted as leniency and saying “It’s not the fault” of those who are at odds with the Church. That’s a far cry from the cheers or wailing over the synod critics who were certain the Pope would open doors to “same sex marriage” and “Communion for the divorced and remarried,” but they’ll take what they can get.
I must ask: At what point do such people realize they have seized their position so irrationally that they can no longer see reality? If they assume a claim is true and then impute bad will to the Pope, they do wrong in not investigating the truth of the matter.
The Papal Invitation that Wasn't
Perhaps because the media and dissident Catholics can’t spin Amoris Lætitia into screaming “POPE CHANGES CHURCH TEACHING” headlines, they latched on to another headline. Now we see the media talking about the Pope “inviting” Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders to the Vatican. The Facebook Catholics started arguing about the fact that Senator Sanders is pro-abortion, pro-same sex “marriage,” and pro-socialism and whether it was an endorsement of his politics.
As it turns out, Sanders wasn’t invited to speak at the Vatican and he wasn’t invited by the Pope. One Bishop Sorondo invited him to a conference at the Vatican on the 25th anniversary of the Papal encyclical Centesimus annus. Sanders may or may not meet the Pope while there, but he wasn’t invited for the purpose of meeting or speaking before the Pope. In fact, there’s some question about whether he should have been invited. In other words, the things that would have made the story newsworthy did not happen.
Religious Freedom is Slavery
Earlier this week, while driving to work, I listened to NPR on the radio. In this segment, they interviewed a self-identified “Christian baker” from Mississippi about the just signed religious freedom law. This baker said he didn’t feel threatened by lawsuits and prosecutions aimed at Christians. He said he saw his job as “baking cakes” and not judging who was "worthy to buy” them.
That’s not even remotely the problem here. Christians who feel the need for religious freedom laws don’t want laws giving them excuses to arbitrarily shun people. They want protection from forced participation in something their religion calls morally wrong. The past seven years gave us growing encroachment on religious freedom. People have lost their jobs for supporting the traditional understanding of marriage.
Business owners involved in weddings get sued, fined and prosecuted for refusing to take part in “same sex weddings” or hire a person openly flaunting their contempt for the religious teachings of the denomination they work for. The Supreme Court refused to hear cases about this. Christians who believe they would do wrong by participating want protection from unjust legal action.
To call this concern “homophobia” or “intolerance” is an ad hominem attack against these people. The accusations do not refute these conscientious objections. They merely assume they are wrong and then impute a “motive” for why the person holds them. CS Lewis once spoke about assuming a person was wrong and then jumping to the argument of why the person went wrong.
The problem is that before you can psychoanalyze why a person went wrong, you have to show where he is wrong. In other words, holding that a person is a homophobe because of his holding position X is jumping the gun—first you have to show that the person is wrong about position X before using terms like “homophobe” to explain why he holds a “wrong" view.
People must investigate whether a claim is false before speculating over why a person holds a false position. Speculation over why the Pope is changing Church teaching, the motive for Bernie Sanders' invitation to the Vatican, or why people in Mississippi are bigots, is pointless if the Pope didn’t change Church teaching, if Sanders’ invitation was wrongly given or if religious freedom supporters aren’t bigots.
Avoiding false witness or rash judgment means we investigate what is true before falsely accusing people of bad will. Investigating first means we just might have meaningful discourse over right and wrong instead of wrongly accusing people of wrongdoing.