15 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You traverse sea and land to make one convert, and when that happens you make him a child of Gehenna twice as much as yourselves. (Matthew 23:15).
Such words are “liberality,” “progress,” “light,” “civilization;” such are “justification by faith only,” “vital religion,” “private judgment,” “the Bible and nothing but the Bible.” Such again are “Rationalism,” “Gallicanism,” “Jesuitism,” “Ultramontanism”—all of which, in the mouths of conscientious thinkers, have a definite meaning, but are used by the multitude as war-cries, nicknames, and shibboleths, with scarcely enough of the scantiest grammatical apprehension of them to allow of their being considered really more than assertions.
John Henry Newman, An Essay in Aid of a Grammar of Assent (London: Burns, Oates, & Co., 1870), 41–42.
We must do all by love, and nothing by force.
We must love obedience rather than fear disobedience.
[Written to St. Jane Frances de Chantal]
Francis de Sales, Letters to Persons in the World, trans. Henry Benedict Mackey and John Cuthbert Hedley, Second Edition, Library of Francis de Sales (London; New York; Cincinnatti; Chicago: Burns and Oates; Benziger Brothers, 1894), 160.
Some people I know quit Facebook, disgusted over the tone. I can understand the disgust. It seems that most of what crosses my feed involves people who are posting stories giving the worst interpretations possible to the actions of those they dislike, politics and religion alike. The problem I have with this is: giving the worst possible interpretations to an action is not seeking the truth. Instead, the critic has tried the target in abstentia and declared them guilty of openly supporting what the critic fears from him.
It leads me to ask, what are we really trying to do here? Are we trying to inform people about the truth of the matter? Or are we trying to vilify the person, encouraging others to hate the person like we do? I admit this can be a fine line. If we think a person or an idea is dangerous, we want to warn others about the danger. But when we reach the point of repeating whatever makes a person sound evil, often showing no interest in understanding what a person is actually trying to do, I think we’ve stopped warning and started propagandizing.
For example, politically, supporters of the President are called “Fascist.” His enemies are called “Communist.” Both labels assume that the other side is not only wrong but actively trying to overthrow the good. But when pressed, the reasons I’m given for the opposition can be summed up as only their political position is right and there can be no good reason for opposing it.
The same thing happens in terms of religion, people who defend the authority of the Pope are called “ultramontane,” “modernist,” or “liberal.” Again, when one delves into the accusations and rhetoric, the basic assumption is that only the accuser’s interpretation on the application of Church teaching is correct, and there can be no good reason for taking a different view.
If we were serious about warning people about the truth of the matter, we’d start by learning the truth about what a thing is supposed to be and how the person we warn against is violating it. But instead of showing this knowledge, people use these labels aimed at demonizing the person opposed and conditioning the target audience to believe the attack.
Words do have proper meaning, and words can be misused or abused. When we abuse words to invoke a certain emotion, we’re not trying to get to the truth. We’re trying to get others to irrationally accept what we say. For those of us who profess to be Christian, this attempt to replace truth with emotional appeals to buzzwords goes against the great commission, where we are told to teach people. We need to teach people what we must do and why we must do it so they understand. We must submit our opinions to the teaching authority of the Church to be sure we have not deceived ourselves and do not mislead others.
When we’re tempted to use the labels instead of the teaching the truth, we need to ask what we are really trying to do. Are we really trying to help people do right? Or are we looking for recruits to bolster the size of our faction? If we’re trying to help people do right, we’ll stop with the propaganda, the labels, and the ad hominem attacks. Instead we’ll seek to lovingly show what the truth is so they accept it freely. But if we’re focussing on recruiting for a faction, Our Lord warned us harshly against it.