Re the News from Boston

Re the News from Boston

For all my out of town family and friends who are following the news this morning, we’re south of Boston and well away from the towns they’re talking about in the news, although we do have family and friends in the lockdown area so you prayers are appreciated. I’m praying that this is resolved quickly and with no further injuries or loss of life Thank you for joining me in prayer for all the police and emergency workers and for all the innocent bystanders who are scared right now. Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy.

And yes I’m also praying for the bombers, living and deceased, and for any who aided and abetted them may God have mercy on them.

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  • Geek Lady, That is awesome. I’d love to go to that OB’s office. Though I do wonder about the practical aspects of it. Do the nurses and receptionists likewise get to bring their babies to the office? At what point does that become unmanageable? More than a couple of babies wouldn’t really be practical.

    But I can’t see any real reason why women couldn’t bring an infant to someplace like Dom’s office at the pastoral center. And of course with many jobs there could be the option of working from home at least some of the time. (And that should go for men and women. There is often little reason why Dom couldn’t do what he does from home except a prejudice against it.)


    I wonder. Are people afraid that if they take faith out of the equation they are somehow betraying their faith? There are so many good secular arguments to be made and so few Catholics making them. I have to wonder if there isn’t an emotional component to that kind of thinking.

    Bearing, I look forward to reading your post. Not sure I have time at the moment. I’m sitting down to nurse the baby, but Dom’s taken the big four to Home Depot and I hate not to take advantage of them being gone.

    “On FB and twitter, where communications are short, I have taken to the decision that victory generally looks like “convincing someone that their opponent might possibly have reason and good will, and be led astray as the result of holding different assumptions or having different information, rather than being a caricature of evil or stupidity.”  Unfortunately, this means that I am often attempting to wrest that victory out of people on my own “side” of an argument.”

    Yes. I think we’re in agreement both on what victory looks like and on having to use it on my own “side.” I often end up playing “devil’s advocate” just to get people to try to give the other argument the benefit of the doubt.

    I’m probably guilty of some of that dehumanizing kind of argument at times. It’s hard not to get swept up in it. I do try to avoid it, though. I think it helps that my Facebook friends run the gamut of political and religious affiliations. I try to always be thinking of how the various people on my list will respond, not only the ones I agree with. What will my cousin who is in a same-sex marriage think about this post? I ask. Or her parents? What will my gay best friend from high school think? Or all my Obama supporting cousins? It kind of keeps me focused.

    And yes, I do have in the back of my mind that “Our notion of Hell and Mercy coexisting is founded on the possibility that some would see Heaven itself as a dystopia, and so they must be free to remain outside. ” So what does that mean for contemporary America? Must someone always be outside? How do we negotiate democracy (or a republic) when our ideas of what freedom means are diametrically opposed?

    Geek Lady, there are some great online writing programs you might check out. I know a lot of very writerly people, Melissa Wiley among them, rave about Brave Writer. I haven’t checked it out so I don’t know about how well it handles the rhetorical end of things, but even if it doesn’t there must be options out there. You can always get a bunch of books on rhetoric and bone up on it. I was actually pretty weak on it when I began teaching composition. I did a lot of reading up and while I still feel like I’d be a pretty weak rhetoric teacher, maybe that’s selling myself short since I can pretty clearly see many rhetorical failures as I critique other people’s arguments all the time.

  • I’m glad I followed Erin here, because I’ve been thinking along these lines for a while – no one engages the *best* of the arguments against their position, and we have a real difficulty assuming goodwill on the part of people we disagree with. And that bothers me, because I believe quite fervently that “cor ad cor loquitur.”

    Something that’s been bouncing around my head for months now is the thought that we need some sort of controversy clearing house – somewhere that the best arguments on all sides on a controversy can be gathered in one place. Not necessarily in debate – it might be best if it didn’t have comments boxes or any direct forum for debate, unless it was heavily moderated – but just to have them there, side by side, to explore the premises underlying each, to look for points of agreement and points of difference.  You know?

    And then maybe a spin-off podcast, where two people who disagree would have to research and present the other person’s side, the way you sometimes did in highschool debate club…

  • Re: the OB’s office, it’s quite a small office, a doctor, nurse, ultrasound tech/receptionist and a business manager/receptionist.  The nurse is older, but it seems a fairly close-knit office and I think the doctor wouldn’t object to them bringing infants as they came back from maternity leave.

    It is pretty clearly a sub mobility, newborn sort of arrangement.  Her new daughter will probably go to daycare by about six months.  But I think it does demonstrate that a mother-friendly workplace is at least possible.  An arrangement like this would never be considered or permitted in the current bureaucratic office environment.  It’s hard to even imagine what higher level at work childcare (or even schooling) would look like, since there’s such a stigma against the idea.

    I’ve got it a little different, since I’ve got quite a more dangerous workplace than a standard doctors office – there are places I cannot take GeekBaby, and places I shouldn’t, and places that are actually perfectly safe, but would freak people out.  I suspect even a mother friendly lab would be reasonably possible.  But the whole fabric and tempo of the workplace would have to be different.

    (And thank you for the writing program tips!  We’re at decision time for homeschooling, since David willbe starting kindergarten this fall.)

  • This is great, Melanie. And you describe exactly why I wanted to teach at a Catholic university (though none would have me).  I want to teach undergraduates who have a strong foundation in faith to articulate it in a way that will allow them to be taken seriously.  I agree that mentioning religion on an Eden Foods thread seemed very much the non-sequitor, and did not seem like something that would help the company, frankly.  I still want to see the utopian novel, though.  Utopia may be harder than dystopia, but it is also true that the demands of the genre are a bit easier.  Utopias are essentially fictionalized treatises rather than real novels with a storyline!

  • Eeeek. Don’t have time to read through all of the comments. Sorry if I’m repeating.

    I have spent a lot of time (figuratively) beating my head against a wall over this.

    One of the problems I see on “our” side is that we consider it weak (compromise, lukewarm, etc.) to either try to understand where someone else is coming from and/or try to steer them along in the right direction as we are able without trying to beat them over the head with the whole of Catholic doctrine.

    In the end, I think perhaps the truth in a nutshell is that we won’t win these battles by argument, but by love – by really, truly following what’s in the Gospels. And of course it won’t be a perfect “win” here on earth. It never really is.

  • A small, irrelevant niggle: most Orthodox Jews have no problem with contraception used by women, including the Pill. Ultra-Orthodox reject any contraception, but this also means giving up entirely on any spacing of children, since something like NFP would not work with Jewish family laws.

  • Apologetics style arguments don’t work in the culture wars. It’s one thing if you can assume basic things about your opponent, like, say, the existence of God, or the value of the Bible. That’s why it’s easier to debate from a religious viewpoint with fundamentalists types. They might hate your religion, but at least they respect religiosity. It irritated me to see religious freedom brought in to the Eden foods combox because it is not a religious company, and most of its customers are probably neither conservative nor religious. If someone says “I think A is bad because B and C” and another says that A is bad because C and D, surely, to win people over the first task is to find the common ground represented by C. Religious and political arguments only polarize the issue further. There are very few granola types who will give you the time of day if you bring God into it, though that’s probably better than bringing conservative talking points in.  The culture wars are essentially lost because no one is willing to be an individual, for all both the right and left’s clamoring for individuality. Life issues are essentially personalist issues, and you can’t argue a general theme with something that is about someone’s perceived personal need. The person gets boiled down to a meme or a hashtag, which does no one any good.

  • I disagree that the culture wars are completely lost.  They can’t ever be—for the same reason we are talking about here; because the individualistic and utilitarian “side,” the so-called other “side,” is made up of individuals, who are themselves persons, and who can have individual changes of heart.  What is needed is a multi pronged approach to reach people who have different places where they are still vulnerable to the truth.

    One theme that still resonates, for example, is that society ought to protect the powerless against being exploited by the powerful.  Another theme that resonates, even in the face of “all-that-matters-is-consent”-ism, is that people can lack the ability to consent meaningfully because of addiction, incapacitation, or imperfect knowledge.  A third theme that resonates is the idea of human rights as something that transcends civil law, that laws can be unjust—therein is the germ of the idea that morality is not determined by social contract. 

    Many people who appear to hold utilitarian beliefs and to reject traditionally formulated morality, still have moral instinct which gives us something to work with.

  • I have a hard time making arguments. Once something makes sense to me, I have a hard time seeing why it doesn’t just make sense to someone else and so have a hard time articulating the parts that make up the whole. It is like once I can see the whole tapestry, I have a hard time finding the individual threads again. I have a weird brain I guess and, to be honest, it functions much less well now years into children than it used to say 10 years ago. I used to think it was a mom thing but now I wonder if it is just a me thing.

    Anyway, I wonder if part of why people argue poorly is the way they feel they are being engaged. I mean, I don’t feel like anyone “on the other side” actually asks if abortion is good or right but just insists it is no matter what is said. When it comes to contraception, people assume you should use it and if you don’t, your looked at like you have 12 heads or you get called a “breeder”. I think many people feel like they have been forced into a very defensive position… abortion wasn’t decided after debate or scientific research or a national vote… it was forced through the courts. The HHS mandate wasn’t voted on by Americans… no one had even read Obamacare before it was forced on the country. And when people do seem to be open to letting people discuss and decide, it seems like it is hard to get a fair and open platform without rants, pickets, or being blackballed. I’m not saying this makes it okay to argue poorly… I just think it might help explain why people respond to arguments the way they do and why responses tend to be more emotional, less thought out.

    Personally, every time I’ve tried to, not even argue but even just discuss something, I am not met with any rational response but told how offensive I am, how hateful, etc. Now, maybe I am just making the wrong argument – it’s completely possible – but then I’d like to see someone make an argument that doesn’t get that response, who actually does make even a smidge of headway and understand what I’m doing wrong. I’m not nearly as articulate as I would like to be (as evidenced by this comment smile ) (but, perhaps fortunately, I also feel like 99% of the time, no one is listening to me anyway).

    There is certainly an art to arguing well, but it isn’t something that has been formally taught well and hence most people don’t know how to do it well. And I think, each side feeling like the other side is forcing its own utopia on the other only results in reactionary, emotional arguments rather than a rational discussion. Fr. Barron has a whole video up on how we have become incapable of even having arguments anymore.

  • I think part of what victory looks like is my OB’s office.  Thursday I had my first appointment with her since she had her own baby, and she had her new daughter in the office with her.  They’ve got one of the exam rooms set up with a bassinet and changing table and rocker, and the various nurses and receptionists all take turns baby wearing.

    So, I guess part of what victory looks like is for mothers to have real, functional options that accommodate both motherhood and work.  Motherhood is hard work by itself, certainly.  But modem motherhood lacks a sense of work as a meaningful contribution to the family’s survival and well being.  (Not having meaningful work is a distressing feeling, and I wonder how much that contributes to the increasing popularity of homeschooling.)

    Motherhood is easiest to combine with writing-type intellectual work.  But not everyone is made for that.  I know my heart breaks every morning when I leave David at my mom’s… But at the same time, I don’t notice the ache when I’m having a really good, productive day at work.  (That such days are rare is a product of my specific lab environment, not inherent to working I think.)

    So a good place to start is a maybe a less corporate, more family-business style environment.

  • I cometely agree.  I try hard to avoid using faith in my arguments.  This is easily done because even if you take faith entirely out of the equation, science and reason are on our side.

  • I completely agree with you on the rhetoric.  What amazes me is that people don’t see how much better they would be able to argue if they understood their opponents on their own terms.  Even leaving aside general benefits like a higher level of discourse or better mutual understanding—you could really approach it completely self-servingly.  “I won’t win unless I grok my opponent and his argument.”  Yet people on all sides of an issue routinely behave as if to attempt to understand an opponent’s argument from his perspective is to concede ground to him.  How small-minded, and how foolish.

    You know what it reminds me of?  It reminds me of how in the years during and after WWI, several states banned instruction in the German language.  (Google Meyer v. Nebraska for this—an important case in compulsory-education history)

    Really?  Don’t you think if you want to win a war against somebody, it might be useful if some of your young people entering the army can understand the enemy’s radio transmissions and interrogate captured soldiers?  Why even bother with cracking the Enigma machine?

    But I digress.  On FB and twitter, where communications are short, I have taken to the decision that victory generally looks like “convincing someone that their opponent might possibly have reason and good will, and be led astray as the result of holding different assumptions or having different information, rather than being a caricature of evil or stupidity.”  Unfortunately, this means that I am often attempting to wrest that victory out of people on my own “side” of an argument.

    I would like to continue this discussion, yes, mostly from the rhetoric point of view.  I think it is related to the notion that no human person may be “used,” but may only be responded to with love.  I see a lot of “use” of human persons on FB—repeating of stories and memes, often distorted, about real people in order to score what the repeater thinks are points or to make some kind of a wisecrack.  I also think there is a lot of dehumanization going on—to give an example (that, i should add, i am guilty of because of using shorthand on Twitter to stay under character limit) I am personally disgusted by theuse of the term “pro-aborts” as a noun for human beings.  I get the point, but I don’t like the implication that a person should be referred to as the embodiment of a single political position.  Maybe the character limit is a proportionate reason to do so on Twitter, I don’t know, but surely not anywhere else.

    I am off to morning Mass and then the gym, but I will try to post on this later this weekend.  Suffice it to say I am more interested in tackling the rhetorical end than the utopia end, but I like your insistence that you don’t want to live in a utopia that would be a dystopia for anyone else.  Nevertheless, this isn’t possible.  Our notion of Hell and Mercy coexisting is founded on the possibility that some would see Heaven itself as a dystopia, and so they must be free to remain outside.

  • Bearing, I’m looking forward to your post!  I’m interested in the rhetorical part myself, but completely unqualified to even muse on it.  My education was very weak in the area of writing in general, much less writing persuasively…

    This is actually one of my biggest homeschooling concerns – effective writing is not taught in schools, and I’m not (currently) qualified to teach it myself, so how do I remedy David’s future schooling?  This isn’t like Texas’s requirement of a curriculum including civics, where I can pretty easily hash together what’s necessary for elementary and middle grades.

  • I wouldn’t disagree with your correction, which feels more like a paraphrase to me!  You can work to find moral common ground, and I almost said something to that effect, but it is very, very difficult, and not always fruitful.  Once a vehement opponent knows your sensibilities, any appeal to moral common ground may well fail simply because of resistance.

    It behooves anyone to be able to come at a problem from a different angle, and not to rely completely on appeals to morality.  If you ask someone who is pro-choice whether they feel that abortion is *always* unfortunate, you will *usually* get an affirmative (though not in extreme cases).  That is not exactly the same as saying that it’s always wrong or evil, but it’s a start.

  • There’s a lot of typing here when it comes to the other “side.”  In fact, I think a lot of people take the “well, it’s not my business what someone else does,” or “we can’t legislate morality,” or “I can’t decide for someone else what’s right,” or however else it’s articulated.  Which is a position of weak resolve.  We call it “relativism.”  Others see it as being respectful of others.  That’s the first thing to realize about the “other side.”  It’s not all about polar opposites, though those are the most vocal people.  Many people simply don’t believe that a single Truth is true for everyone, and so hedge when it comes to recognizing absolute wrongs.  It’s a matter of being certain in one’s beliefs, and having been there, I can’t really condemn others for being unsure.

    The second thing that occurs to me is that once you acknowledge that there is no religious or moral common ground, you have to realize, too, that you can’t MAKE arguments based on higher authority.  That might feel like where *you* are strongest, but it doesn’t matter if that’s not a point of agreement. 

    I have had the experience of teaching argument—to college freshman.  It fails because the topics are designed to be divisive and because it is frequently taught in a way that feels like indoctrination.  As a result, students with convictions that are based in traditional morality feel threatened.  And often they are.  And as a result, they don’t listen.  It is a problem.  🙁  And I think there is that underlying fear that has been mentioned above—that to argue from a basis other than faith is to deny faith or admit that faith is weak.  But relying on faith-based arguments, in addition to placing one at a disadvantage in certain contexts, can also lead to a certain laziness and an inability to see beyond those faith-based arguments.  An understanding of the big picture is absolutely necessary.

  • literacy-chic:  “once you acknowledge that there is no religious or moral common ground, you have to realize, too, that you can’t MAKE arguments based on higher authority.”

    That doesn’t seem right to me—because religious and moral common ground are not inextricably tied to arguments from authority. 

    It seems more correct to say that once you acknowledge that there is no authority recognized by both sides, then you realize that no useful arguments can be based on higher authority.

    Yet just because there is no common authority recognized—no common holy book, no common guru or respected figure whose word is to be taken on trust—does not imply that there is no religious or moral common ground.  Moral common ground is not derived solely from authority figures.  It may take work to find it, but likely there is something there from which to begin building a structure of agreement.

  • I have some thoughts about what constitutes “good” rhetoric (as in “morally good” rhetoric) here.  Maybe it could be a start on how to teach good rhetoric and good writing.

  • Well, having been only in secular contexts, I have very little knowledge of Christian theories of rhetoric, so your post is interesting in that respect, definitely, and I think would have much in common *in theory* with secular rhetoric.  I’m not in a position to teach rhetoric any longer, so it’s mostly theoretical to me.  But I can definitely see where it needs to be reformed in writing courses, at least.

  • Unfortunately, moral relativism does not permit rational argument it all. It is grounded in a denial of the principle of non-contradiction, which is the foundation of post modernity. The result is that the only basis for argument is emotion/sentimentality. Unless there is a collapse of relativism, logic will never matter, and therefore, neither will truth.

    Another point, while I get the gist of this essay—which I think is beautifully written—I think it is slightly naive. There are many people who disagree with the Church who are compassionate, upstanding, well- meaning people for sure. There are also many selfish, hedonistic people who don’t care at all about the value of human life—theirs or others. Sin is real, and mortal sin blinds and corrupts. So I guess I think our only hope is prayer and not argument at all.

  • I would definitely disagree about moral relativism not permitting logic.  Morality does not claim exclusive rights to logic, by any means.  In fact, I believe that this is a way of dismissing people who are weak in their convictions and so fall back on moral relativism.  They are people, too, and often as well-meaning as the best of faithful Catholics.  They just aren’t convinced that what we—or any others—hold as true *is* the absolute truth.  They might, for example, take C. S. Lewis’s _The Last Battle_ to imply that all religions, if practiced faithfully, lead to the same God.  And since Christians think so highly of Lewis—why not?  That’s only a single example that I once latched onto.

    Since moral relativism is based at least somewhat in feeling—and I agree more or less—the way to get past that is, in fact, logic. 

    Saying that the only hope is prayer is basically conceding the field—and the world.  You do still have to live in the world with other people who have different opinions, and writing them off because their philosophy is not yours is… well, elitist and judgmental.

  • I hope this is not out of place; I just thought I would like to make a recommendation as well to the lady concerned about teaching writing… you may like to check out the Institute for Excellence in Writing ( I am very impressed with what I have discovered so far.

  • I love this essay…so thoughtful…
    Just like there is science behind nfp, there is also science behind bcp…
    And just like being open to having as many children as God wants is a choice…there is also the issue of limiting births for numerous reasons…
    There are two sides to every story.
    And part of having a productive debate is being open to the two sides, and all the hypothetical circumstances that may surround the sides…
    I think this is where we all sometimes fail…
    What is true for one may not be true for another….

  • You know, Gina, I was chatting with one of our former medical students last week (we get a couple each year during the summer of their first year for research) about the science behind NFP.  The initial research has been published for something like 30 years, and she’d never heard of it.

    The topic only even came up because I got the comment of how nice it is that I have one of each now.  (You know, the kind with the heavy undercurrent of “you can stop now”.)  I’ve taken to deflecting these with a joking reference to needing more data points for my sex prediction research.  That got us discussing what NFP is, how it has the same use effectiveness as the pill, the advantages and disadvantages of the thermometer methods, how it’s green and pretty much free to use, how I even use it to see if it can predict a baby’s sex (because I can’t help being weird like that.)

    All of these things I talked about are true.  They are features, not bugs.  But at the same time, they don’t really address the heart of why contraception is wrong.  The idea that NFP is just Catholic Contraception(TM) is both widespread and remarkably deep seated.  And while discussions of how great NFP is may be effective and respectful, they aren’t necessarily important.  They don’t address the issue at stake.

  • Wow, this conversation has really taken off.

    I like what Alicia has to say about remembering that those on the other side of a discussion are not the enemy combatants, even if we see ourselves as being involved in spiritual warfare. Properly speaking, if we are engaged in spiritual warfare, the Enemies are ‘powers and principalities’ – which makes those we are speaking with either comrades or casualties. I’ve found that it helps me immensely to remember that every soul is a battleground, mine included.

    If that’s the case, the proper attitude when engaged in either religious apologetics or ‘culture wars’ social discourse must be compassion and concern for individual motivation and individual experience.

  • “not by argument but by love”—Arguing can be a *way* of love. 

    Remember the spiritual works of mercy?

    1) Admonish sinners.
    (2) Instruct the uninformed.
    (3) Counsel the doubtful.
    (4) Comfort the sorrowful.
    (5) Be patient with those in error.
    (6) Forgive offenses.
    (7) Pray for the living and the dead.

    See numbers 1, 2, 3, 5?

  • Bah! I had a long comment typed up that I thought had posted last night. And it’s gone. Well I can’t type it again right now, maybe later.

  • My “in a nutshell” was intended to imply that this “not by argument but by love” is a little bit of a simplification. I’m not trying to dump argument, but to put it in its rightful place/priority. I think our current Catholic counter culture often seems to think in terms of battle and of going in with “guns blazing”. I don’t think this is generally a good or effective starting point – particularly with something as difficult for our culture to understand as our arguments against gay marriage (which are particularly difficult to understand in a world in which contraception has become the norm).

    St. Peter says that we need to be prepared to give a reason for the hope that is in us, but I think this presupposes allowing others to see this hope and working with God to become effective witnesses to this belief in our world.

    “You are the salt of the earth. But if salt loses its taste, with what can it be seasoned? It is no longer good for anything but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. You are the light of the world. A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden.
    Nor do they light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket; it is set on a lampstand, where it gives light to all in the house. Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.”

  • P.S. I think part of the problem with “battle” mode is that we easily (and often emotionally) misinterpret who the “enemy” is. If we think of the person with whom we’re arguing as the enemy, I think we’re dooming ourselves from the start. It is rather our job to help unentangle them from the enemy, and we have to do that with love and by meeting them where they are, not getting angry and defensive because they don’t already “get it”.

    This is partly what I understood Melanie to mean by whether we know what victory looks like. In our sometimes thick-headed idealism about not compromising, we are unwilling to recognize genuine progress on the path of truth.

    (And I hope it is clear here that I am not accusing anyone here of these things, just trying to clarify my position in a general way.)

  • @Literacy-Chic:
    The philosophical foundation of present day relativism, both moral and otherwise, is Friedrich Nietzsche, who explicitly denies the principle of non-contradiction, I.e. the sine qua non of logic. I wasn’t taking a cheap shot at the secularists. This is the self-avowed position of post modernity!

  • @ Jess

    While you are definitely right about Nietzche’s influence (and Kant’s situational ethics), people who are attracted to relativism because it makes them comfortable are not necessarily disciples of Nietzche.  I almost said something about how often “postmodernism” and “modernism” are blamed, when in fact, there are few real people who self-consciously ascribe to early-twentieth century philosophical movements, and it does no one any good to evoke them.  You might want to refrain from assuming that others are not aware of the philosophical underpinnings of “secularism.” 

    Prayer isn’t elitist and judgmental.  And—is this why you think we should stop arguing?  Because it gets ugly when someone misreads someone else’s intention completely and is intentionally ungenerous?  However, giving up on others because you ascribe to them a philosophy that you can’t countenance, and so cannot tolerate is, in fact, elitist and judgmental.  Which is what I said:  “writing them off because their philosophy is not yours is… well, elitist and judgmental.”

    I can completely respect someone who wants to stay out of arguments because they transform us into something other than the people we mean to be.  But I take issue with classifying and vilifying people according to their misapplied desire to allow room for others’ beliefs.  In my experience, *real* people who adopt relativist positions are merely weak willed, confused in their beliefs, or both.  I’m sure some are trying to subvert religion.  Many can’t be bothered.  And many are just trying to figure things out, or else going on the best instruction they have available to them.  Perfectly appropriate to pray for them, but excuse me if I think your way of doing so was framed in a more negative than positive way.

  • I think it’s important to remember that, whatever the ‘self-avowed position’ of those that label themselves post-modernist, individual people have their own motivations and reasons for believing as they do, which very rarely have any explicit connection to any academic or scholarly work. Even when these philosophical ideas form part of the unexamined assumptions underlying their ideas, that still doesn’t make it automatically fruitless to attempt to dialogue – once an idea is made explicit through dialogue, it can be examined, and sometimes subsequently rejected.

    In any case, I think that willingness to discuss the rational basis behind someone else’s beliefs is only to give them the respect due their dignity as children of God. Reason is a divine gift, and I find that most people reason more or less consistently – but often from wildly different premises, which is where emotion, culture, experience, and faith all come in.

  • I like this:

    “Properly speaking, if we are engaged in spiritual warfare, the Enemies are ‘powers and principalities’- which makes those we are speaking with either comrades or casualties.”

    I wonder… how does “warfare” interact with—and influence—rhetoric?

  • Jess, be fair. I think you are reading what Literacy-chic says in a prejudicial manner, which is really the point of this post, that we need to allow the most generous interpretation of other people’s words. Literacy-chic didn’t say prayer was elitist and judgmental. She said “writing people off because their philosophy isn’t yours” is elitist and judgmental.

    Now prayer isn’t always writing someone off. Sometimes it’s an acknowledgement that you’ve done your best and that you need to leave the rest up to God. But it can also be an excuse for not trying. I’m not saying that anyone here is advocating one or the other approach.

    I think we should avoid seeing praying and arguing as an either/or. When you are engaging in argument or dialogue with someone you should pray for them and pray for the dialogue to be fruitful. In fact, it’s never a bad idea to stop and pray before engaging in a discussion either online or in person, asking God for help and reminding yourself that everything you say should be for the greater glory of God and in service of his truth and love.

    But prayer isn’t necessarily enough, either. As bearing points out the spiritual works of mercy definitely apply here. We are called to instruct, to counsel, to admonish and to be patient. All of those imply not just stepping away and praying for someone, but continuing to interact with them, to engage them.

  • While the roots of moral relativism as a philosophy might lie with Nietzche, most individuals I’ve encountered who espouse a morally relativistic worldview are not actually very familiar with Nietzche. Also,in my experience very very few people are actually relativists once you scratch the surface. They do actually believe in some sort of principles of fairness and justice. And while most people are terribly crippled when it comes to logic, I think that is more aptly attributed to failure of schools to teach logic rather than to a Nietzchian moral philosophy.

  • Oh I see Literacy-chic responded while I was busy typing.

    Kate, “Reason is a divine gift, and I find that most people reason more or less consistently – but often from wildly different premises, which is where emotion, culture, experience, and faith all come in.” Exactly, it’s often not the ability to reason that is impaired but that people are beginning with false premises. However, I do think there are some logical fallacies that do regularly creep in and it’s not a bad thing to be able to point them out, gently though. Some people make a game of scoring points through labeling other people’s logical fallacies, or use the game of find the logical fallacy as a way of refusing to engage the other person’s argument. I think you want to be careful to avoid any appearance of doing the one and be sure not to do the second.

    Speaking of giving the appearance of not engaging with people’s actual points, I do wish my blogging software allowed for threaded comments. One of these days we’re going to migrate over to WordPress and I will be very happy to be able to respond to individual comments in a more efficient manner. I feel that some very good comments are getting lost in the shuffle. I’m not trying to ignore them, but my time here is limited and I’m often trying to type while holding a baby or nursing a baby. It’s not terribly conducive to being able to give every commenter the attention I would like.

  • Lit-chic:
    I think that the result of existing in a spiritual battleground *should be* to fill us with greater concern and compassion for our fellow souls, and greater urgency for their well-being. “No man left behind” sort of thing. The resulting rhetoric would be passionately persuasive rather than combative.

    Unfortunately, we are far more apt to fight those we can see and hear rather than invisible spiritual powers, and the effect is that we too often care little what happens to those we dialogue with, so long as we can ‘win’ the discussion (or, in the context of the culture wars, we choose political ‘sides’ and become fixated on the next election/political victory).

  • I like what you’re saying, Kate. I was thinking of a kind of thread in rhetorical studies (within English as an academic discipline) that examines the terminology we use to express our ideas, and the influence it has on the way we conceive of our interactions and the concepts that we’re discussing.  Sometimes it’s total hogwash, but it’s fun as a mental exercise sometimes.  A good example is—what does the language we use to describe literacy, or what do our fictional representations of literacy, tell us about how we think about literacy and its uses to the individual or within society?  That’s my overarching methodology, if you will.  But there are other examples—does using the term “the lay of the land” somehow sexualize the earth?  To most people, that’s sort of a silly question.  Not to environmental rhetoric specialists, of whom I am *not* one.  So when we talk about spiritual *warfare*, does that very terminology result in the tendency to assign a combatant role to someone who disagrees?  Well, yes it does.  I rather like the way you shift the analogy, but if we’re talking about warfare, we’re necessarily looking for “sides” rather than common ground.  And even if/though “warfare” is accurate for the conflict between good and evil, it is counterproductive to frame it in those terms when dealing with our fellow human beings.  BUT—so many people value that way of thinking about temptation and evil that I fear making that point, lest I be interpreted as saying that there’s no such thing as evil, or the devil, etc., which is not at all what I’m saying.  I’m just thinking about the consequences of the “warfare” rhetoric for our interactions—especially online.

  • I was *thinking* about it, but hadn’t really formulated anything.  Hence the question.

    Thanks for explaining on my behalf, Melanie.  I’m sure I was overly-direct.

  • Lit-chic- it would be interesting to examine the use of battleground language in scripture and patristics and see the context.

  • Interesting point Kate (about examining the use of battleground language). I would imagine it would be helpful to distinguish/differentiate between the language used in the Old vs. New Testament.

    I would also like to make a small follow-up to my previous comment which came up as I’ve been mulling this over, and that is, not only does building a relationship with someone as part of the process of bringing them to Christ help in providing a foundation to any arguments that might be made, it also can alleviate the very real possibility of going in “with guns blazing” and simply jumping to conclusions based on our impressions of what “people out there” tend to do/think. The example I have in my head (a real life example that happened to someone I know) is of a well-meaning lady preaching about the evils of birth control to a faithful couple struggling with infertility.

  • I was thinking about this when I was reading Elizabeth
    Duffy’s latest essay, on the perennial “what do you say to the strangers that ask you about the number of children you have” question —it is here.  And that raised a question in my mind about moral rhetoric. 

    When someone tries to engage you using, shall we say, immoral rhetoric—asking as if they have the right to information they don’t have the right to, as in Elizabeth’s essay, or maybe they are gossiping, or using a person as an example in a way that disrespects the totality of that person’s humanity—we have usually got many things to say, but they all boil down to a basic choice of engaging the content of the discussion or of challenging the rhetoric.  To follow up on Elizabeth’s example, if you’re asked by a stranger,

    “Are you done having children?”

    You could choose to engage the content (“I don’t know” or “I love babies, so I hope not” or “I like to just think of it as one child at a time” or “No, are you?”);

    Or you could challenge the rhetoric itself (“Do you always ask strangers such personal questions?” Or “I don’t feel it’s right to say about children whether you are ‘done’ with them, as if you’re talking about a book you got tired of reading.” Or deflecting the question, which is only a polite way of refusing to answer it.)

    I am not sure whether one approach is better than the other.

  • I’m a little resistant to the term “immoral rhetoric” because I’m not sure rhetoric itself can *be* immoral.  It is basically a tool to engage an audience.  So the purpose might be immoral, but the rhetoric is only immoral insofar as it exists in service of the purpose.  Rhetoric is about making appeals to draw a reader in.  Immoral rhetoric might be rhetoric that seems to say one thing, but is deceptive, perhaps…  Mulling this over—a very interesting topic…

  • bearing, interesting point bringing in Duffy’s essay. Me, I tend to avoid confrontation at all cost. (And then later rehearse in my head what I should have said.) So I’m not sure how comfortable I would be challenging someone’s rhetoric. Though it sounds good in theory, it would put the other person on the defensive and I’m not sure I can actually do that.

  • I think this discussion about martial language is really interesting. I’m going to rabbit trail for a bit on that. Daria Sockey had a post about martial imagery in a reading from St Ephrem in Friday’s Office of Readings. Me, I love militaristic imagery in my prayers, but I know it really bothers some people. I do see, however, how it can be problematic if you see the other person as the enemy—any other person. But when we talk about Christ as hero, it is death and sin that he triumphs over, not individual people.

    So I think this is where < a href=“”>bearing’s post on moral and immoral rhetoric</a> becomes really useful. (re-linking so you don’t have to search for the link.) Yes, it might be useful to say that our enemy is sin. We say we love the sinner, but hate the sin. But as Literacy-chic points out, that can still be problematic. I think many people really don’t know how to do that. They still come across as hateful. Maybe we could reframe: the enemy is bad rhetoric. That puts the ball much more in my court rather than my “opponent’s” (Still having problems with the terminology here. I suppose I should say “interlocutor”? The thing is when someones’s coming at you swinging, at least rhetorically speaking, it’s hard not to frame it as an argument, with “sides”, isn’t it?) If the enemy is bad rhetoric, then my first concern is making sure my own rhetoric is moral, pulling the plank out of my own eye, before trying to fish for splinters in the other guy’s eye. One of the prerequisites of moral rhetoric is that we seek to understand and give respect both to the argument someone else is making and to the person who is making it. Even if we find they are guilty of bad rhetoric, we still seek to understand how and why. Moreover, we must always give them the most favorable interpretation we can.

    So often when people do pay attention to rhetoric in online discussions it is to accuse the other party of committing a rhetorical fallacy. And it’s usually done in a nasty way. So I think our School of Moral Rhetoric must find a way to emphasize that mandate to treat the other person in way that you respect their personhood and assume that even whey the commit a fallacy, they do so in good faith. Which means pulling your punches and not trying to score points off of identifying someone else’s mistakes.

  • Yes. As usual, I’m being sloppy. “Moral approach to rhetoric” is better, but not as easy to type.

  • I *did* read Bearing’s post!  But I find “moral rhetoric” a bit easier to envision than “immoral rhetoric.” 

    I guess I was thinking more of analyzing the rhetoric, rather than challenging it.  But most people don’t respond well to analysis of language, so maybe don’t listen to me.  I’m enjoying this discussion precisely *because* everyone here seems to be open to that!  It’s refreshing.

  • I think what’s bugging me is that it’s not the *rhetoric* that’s moral.  That implies agency.  It’s the attitude or the intent with which one pursues argument.  So if the rhetorical situation is the


    that produce the text, those are places where that moral agency can come in—the Context (arguably), the Author, the Purpose, the Subject, and perhaps the Culture.  The rhetoric is the language used to execute the actual argument—the strategies of communication, whether conscious or unconscious.  It’s the product rather than he process, for me, I guess.  Perhaps I’m working from a more contemporary understanding of rhetoric, rather than a classical one?  Moral rhetoric, for me, would be simply evoking the rhetoric of morality—replicating the language used to discuss morality, or examining the language used to convey arguments about morality, or based on morality.  I guess “the language used to convey arguments about morality” is actually what we’re discussing. But the sense I’m getting when Bearing and Melanie use the term “moral rhetoric,” is a moral *approach* to argument/rhetoric, argument proceeding from a moral position, and executed in a way that is consistent with one’s overall (Christian) moral philosophy.  Do I have that basically correct?

  • Well, I’m kind of making a reference to the post of mine that Melanie linked to in her update, about a morally good rhetoric.

    By extension, an immoral rhetoric would be:

    – one that seeks to lie or deceive
    – one that is constructed in order to serves bad ends
    – one that fails to respect the dignity of human persons.

    F’rinstance, gossip is an example of an immoral rhetoric.