Yesterday’s post on Women Deacons attracted a great deal of interest. Whilst declining to get into a discussion with an ‘anonymous blogger’ (she meant pseudonymous, but let that pass), Professor Beattie felt the need to comment. As I pointed out in the comments, it was indeed Fr Lucie Smith who mentioned African women, it was she who felt the need to tell us what they really thought when men were not present; Fr Lucie-Smith simply confined himself to telling us what they say in public. It is a feature of a certain sort of progressive that they promote their own opinions by telling us they are those of the marginalised on whose behalf they purport to speak; this simultaneously signals their own virtue and implies that opposition to that view is a form of discrimination against the marginalised; sanctifying their own position, it demonises that of their opponents. It is one of the reasons that our public discourse has become so problematic. A liberal/left so convinced of its moral superiority finds no problem demonising its opponents; they are not simply incorrect, or mistaken, or ill-informed, or wrong, they are evil. If you doubt that, go to Twitter and follow the way Corbynistas refer to ‘Tories’. Human nature being what it is, those being demonised will respond in kind.
We see a not dissimilar process in disputes between Catholics sometimes. Those secure in the knowledge they are speaking on the side of orthodoxy can get very shirty with those who promote heterodox opinions; this is, I suppose, several steps up from feeling the need to delate them, imprison them and get the State to do unpleasant things to them. Once heterodoxy ceased to carry such risks, those holding such opinions felt emboldened to express them, and having been badly treated so often by the orthodox, they learned to respond harshly. Indeed, despite the fact that no one could accused the English and Welsh bishops of conservative tendencies, liberal Catholics still seem to feel they are a persecuted minority. I have lost count of the number of times I have been told about the terrible persecution of liberals by the “Panzer Kardinal’ Ratzinger, usually by people who deny the tenets of the Creed and reject the teachings of the Church on celibacy, abortion and a number of other issues; these same people dominate the local church, freely express their opinions without challenge, and on the rare occasions anyone raises a question, they are slapped down. In contemporary discourse, of course perception is all, so if you feel yourself persecuted, you are. In such a hall of mirrors, both sides feel persecuted and therefore aggrieved, and therefore entitled to speak of each other in terms which are, to put it mildly, unappealing – quite often citing the insults that the Church Fathers hurled at each other at various Councils. This clearly makes people on both sides feel better about the tone they use. It should not do so, because we see that in many case such language led to schisms and persecutions. Have we not moved on beyond this?
We do not, I fear, seem to have a language in which we can hold each other in respect whilst disagreeing profoundly. I was much struck, when listening to Fr Copplestone debate Lord Russell by the respectful tone used by each man. One hears it still when men like Rowan Williams debate, but one hears it too little. If, as Christians, we cannot sufficiently distinguish between what we think are erroneous opinions and the individual advancing them, we’re not trying hard enough. As Catholics, we should also remember that there is a defined teaching of the Church which should be respected and obeyed, but also that people are allowed to ask questions without having the charge of ‘heretic’ hurled at them; if those of us holding an orthodox position do not care for being called ‘bigots’, we should return the courtesy to others.
That it should be necessary to labour such an obvious point is a sign of how uncivil our society has become.