Wednesday, April 15, 2009

How (not) to Conduct Civilized Debate

Awhile back, an old and dear friend with somewhat different views from my own regarding abortion suggested several things in the course of a conversation, to wit:

  • President Obama is not pro-abortion, he is pro-choice.
  • My friend and interlocutor's position is "anti anti-abortionist"
  • Pope Benedict XVI is leading the Catholic Church toward destruction by clinging to outdated ideas on condoms and birth control
I answered the first thusly:

There is a distinction in the abstract between being pro-choice and being pro-abortion, and there may be a real difference; in all my life, however, I have never met anyone who claimed to be pro-choice but not pro-abortion, who, when pressed, did not eventually say that s/he thinks there are cases in which abortion is a good option, one to which s/he would recur.

I say this makes a person pro-abortion, rather than simply pro-choice.

President Obama made public statements to the effect that he would not see his daughters "punished with a baby," in the event they "made mistakes[.]"

This sounds an awful lot like he's glad to have the option around.

This makes him pro-abortion.
Now, to the second, which was motivated by an argument to the effect that abortion foes would save more lives by spending time and energy on things like adoption, rather than on operations and campaigns directly opposing abortion rights, I essentially replied that perhaps more lives would be saved if people seeking and providing abortions spent their time and money on things like adoption.

I have yet to answer the third bulleted assertion, because there seems to be so much wrong with it that I know not where to start.

It has always struck me as absolutely uncanny that people can be perfectly willing to accept the truth of the Church's central claim, i.e. that God became a carpenter and died the death of a criminal and then got up two days later, but they balk at the idea that encasing one's member in a synthetic sac before engaging in coitus might be unnatural.

I am fairly sure we need to do a whole lot more to shape the conversation, including the language in which it is conducted and the default terms of reference. Most people, including, sorry to say, most Catholics, believe that the Church's opposition to birth control began in '68, and is a matter of Papal discipline, rather than right apprehension of Natural Law and the Church's constant teaching.

I will end on the following note, one I think is likely to become my refrain in the near future: people who disagree with the Church on any number of issues are not, ipso facto, bad. They may have a very inadequate or even seriously mistaken understanding of what the Church's position on a given issue really is - and this is extremely important, for, what appears to us to be wilful opposition to or perhaps flagrant disregard for the Magisterium may be a simple matter of a more-or-less sound conscience acting on bad information. We have all found ourelves in such a situation. In short, to put a positive turn on a famous maxim of Bishop Fulton John Sheen, love bringing people to the truth more than you love being right and winning the argument, and you will find yourself winning more arguments and bringing yourself closer to the truth.



Clayton said...

Pope Benedict XVI is leading the Catholic Church toward destruction by clinging to outdated ideas on condoms and birth controlFor some people, the cross of Jesus Christ is nothing more than a symbol of destruction. Perhaps this sort of ethos would lead someone to say something like this.

No one wants a share in the cross if it is simply a symbol of death.

Lazy Disciple said...

I am sure it might, and sadly, quite certain it actually has.

I also think that the majority of folks buy into this sort of unreasoning simply because they are not used to thinking things through.

Most people adopt the default moral positions and general outlook of society rather reflexively - which is why sane social thinkers have recogized the need to support and encourage good mores.

What we need to do is to challenge people's presuppositions, not indict the positions they almost cannot help but hold, so long as they do not question the ground of them.