Ross Douthat puts up a piece alleging a plot, led by the Pope no less, to change Catholicism and a number of Catholics sign a letter of protest in response. I have numerous issues with Douthat’s column but see no reason whatsoever that his voice should in any way be silenced and that seems to be the goal of the letter signers.
The professors and pundits complained that Douthat was proposing a politicized reading of Church affairs and that he was, at the end of the day, unqualified to speak on such complex matters, presumably because he doesn’t have a graduate degree in theology. Their prim closing remark—“This is not what we expect of the New York Times”—was an unmistakable insinuation that views such as Douthat’s simply should not be allowed into the arena of public conversation.
Are all of Ross Douthat’s opinions on the Synod debatable? Of course. Do I subscribe to everything he has said in this regard? No. But is he playing outside the rules of legitimate public discourse in such an egregious way that he ought to be censored? Absolutely not! Anyone even casually familiar with Douthat knows that he is exceptionally smart, articulate, careful in his expression, and a committed Catholic. So he has argued that divisions at least analogous to political factions have emerged at the Synod. From the Council of Jerusalem in the first century through Vatican II in the twentieth, the Church has been marked by conflict, rivalry, and faction. If you doubt me in regard to the first, take a good look at chapters eleven through fifteen of the Acts of the Apostles; and if you’re skeptical in regard to the second, peruse any two pages of Yves Congar’s massive diary of the Second Vatican Council. And while you’re at it, read John Henry Newman’s history of the Council of Nicea in the fourth century, or any treatment of the sixteenth century Council of Trent. When has the life of the Church not been susceptible to a political reading?
And the suggestion that, because he doesn’t have a credential from the academy, Douthat isn’t qualified to enter into the discussion? Please. If a doctorate in theology were a bottom-line prerequisite, we would declare the following people unqualified to express an opinion on matters religious: Thomas Merton, Flannery O’Connor, Graham Greene, Evelyn Waugh, C.S. Lewis, William F. Buckley, W.H. Auden, or to bring things more up to date, Fr. James Martin, George Weigel, and E.J. Dionne. In point of fact, it is often the case that those outside of the official academy often have the freshest and most insightful perspectives, precisely because they aren’t sequestered in the echo-chamber of politically correct faculty lounge discourse.
The letter to the Times is indicative indeed of a much wider problem in our intellectual culture, namely, the tendency to avoid real argument and to censor what makes us, for whatever reason, uncomfortable. On many of our university campuses this incarnates itself as a demand for “safe spaces,” where students won’t feel threatened by certain forms of speech or writing. For the first time in my life, I agreed with Richard Dawkins who recently declared on Twitter, “A university is not a ‘safe space’. If you need a safe space, leave, go home, [and] hug your teddy…until [you are] ready for university.”
It would seem, given my last two posts and now this one, that there’s some premeditation going on, some pre-planning in my selection of what it is I’m posting but in actuality, though all three posts are clearly related, their publication was honestly coincidental, more accidental, than anything else.
Of course, there might actually be a higher reason the interwoven message of these three posts is being conveyed, a message the culture so needs, a message stating unequivocally that there are better ways to deal with those you disagree with, ways that have little to do with scapegoating, vilifying or silencing the other.
Disagree, even vehemently but do so substantively and with respect.
It used to be a thing. Let’s figure out how to bring it back.
Is that even possible?
St. Jude would think so.
Crossposted at Brutally Honest.