rhetoric and evangelization

rhetoric and evangelization

A collection of pieces I wish I had more time to write about.

1. Bearing writes about
Using Persons as Rhetorical Means to an End

So how do we push back against dehumanizing political speech? The first step is, as always, attention to the beam in our own eyes—the kind of self-examination and purging to which Mark Shea has just vowed to recommit himself. Refuse to return a blow for a blow, and commit yourself to scrupulous attention to the ethics of your own writings.

Only then can you turn your attention to charitable correction of others’ failings. And even then, you have to distinguish between the bad thing So-and-so said, and the badness of So-and-so himself.

One principle is to remember to push back against dehumanizing remarks from the people on “your side” just as fervently as you would push back against similar remarks from the people on “the other side.” Maybe more fervently, because the argument might carry more weight coming from you.

As much as I would like to, incidentally, I can’t give up on anyone; can’t roll my eyes and sigh, “You just can’t argue with him.” It comes down to that theological virtue we call Hope: no person is beyond reach. On the other hand, I might well be the worst person to try to reach a particular individual, so interactions with other’s errors mean constant discernment of whether my decision not to engage is correct (because what I’ll choose to say is unlikely to make things better) or cowardly (because I’ve given up on their ability to see reason at all). It’s not easy, but then, staying true to truth often isn’t.


2. Leah Libresco: The Besetting Sin of Bloggers

But when writing online, and publicly, it’s important to be clear if I’m imputing a view or motivation to the author or just talking about a connection that came to my mind.

I find it easiest to make this distinction clear when I’m writing about fiction or theatre.  I’d love to hear from commenters or fellow bloggers about good ways to make it clear that someone else’s writing sparked an idea that’s now several steps removed from the original thing you read.  And do call me out if you think I’ve left this too ambiguous in future posts.

In the meantime, I think Mark has a great insight about consciously looking for ways to connect with the author, instead of treating a text or action as though it was as parentless as Aphrodite.

I’ve run into this problem many times. I mean to use a piece as a jumping off point, to trace a line of thought back to the spark. Instead I seem to be in argument with the author or worse to be imputing meaning to them that they didn’t mean. (I seem to run into this problem with Heather King’s writing quite a bit.) How to respect the author’s intention while still following a line of thought to it’s end…. that’s hard. I admit that often for me I get caught up in following the shiny idea and lose track of the person behind the writing. (I love that Leah’s illustrated her post with a picture of a magpie because really the image came to me independently in a completely different context earlier this week.)


3. Mark Shea: An Argument for Arguing Well

The moral, then, is to attend first to the argument, not to the person making it.  That can be hard when we know for a fact that the person making an argument is an unscrupulous criminal, or is sticking out their tongue at us when other people are not looking.  It can be really easy to divert from addressing the question of, say, evidence for the Resurrection and move straight to “Why my opponent is an abrasive jerk that no decent person should listen to.”  But tempting as that is, strangers watching the debate are not interested in your dislike of your opponent, nor is truth really going to be served even if you persuade them to reject his argument based on that.  Because, of course, it just may be that even though Galileo is an irascible pain in the neck, he is still right.


4. Listening to Young Atheists: Lessons for a Stronger Christianity

Sherry Weddell says never accept a label when you can have a story. Here is what you get when you ask, “Tell us your journey to unbelief.”

That these students were, above all else, idealists who longed for authenticity, and having failed to find it in their churches, they settled for a non-belief that, while less grand in its promises, felt more genuine and attainable. I again quote Michael: “Christianity is something that if you really believed it, it would change your life and you would want to change [the lives] of others. I haven’t seen too much of that.”

Sincerity does not trump truth. After all, one can be sincerely wrong. But sincerity is indispensable to any truth we wish others to believe. There is something winsome, even irresistible, about a life lived with conviction. I am reminded of the Scottish philosopher and skeptic, David Hume, who was recognized among a crowd of those listening to the preaching of George Whitefield, the famed evangelist of the First Great Awakening:

“I thought you didn’t believe in the Gospel,” someone asked.

“I do not,” Hume replied. Then, with a nod toward Whitefield, he added, “But he does.”


5. In that vein, Matthew Warner drops a gauntlet: Why the World Doesn’t Take Catholicism Seriously

We Catholics don’t look or act any different than non-catholics. It’s that simple.

The question we must answer is “if Catholicism offers a better way, why don’t Catholics’ lives seem any better?”

If we believe our faith and action in this life has eternal consequences, why don’t we act like it? If the God of our universe, the Creator of everything, is truly present in the Eucharist, why don’t our actions show this?

If our relationship with God is truly the most important relationship, why don’t our daily schedules reflect that? If our marriages and families are our greatest blessings, why do we sacrifice them for our careers?

If God has a plan for us, why do we make so many plans without him? And why are we not on our knees every morning thanking, praising and giving over to him every moment of our entire day?

If Catholicism is true, why isn’t everything we do ordered around this Truth?

The incongruity between what we claim to believe and the lives we live is revealing. Any honest outsider can surely tell that we can’t possibly believe what we say we believe. Not only is our religion a fraud, but so are we Christians.

That’s what Catholics as a whole communicate about Catholicism.

But we’ve gotten bad at making saints.

Because we’ve gotten bad at teaching. And I’m not talking about what we say in the classroom or preach from the pulpit. I’m talking about our example.

The best teachers show. As children we learn more by what we see our parents do than any words they ever say. We’ve forgotten this when it comes to handing on the faith.

We see this deficiency everywhere, online and off. How many times have you seen charity preached in anger? And orthodoxy preached in uncharity? This is the fruit of pride, not the fruit of a genuine concern for souls. We have fallen in love with knowing we are right and called it loving our neighbor.

My parents’ generation left the Church without leaving the pews. And now they wonder why their kids find it silly to stand in the pews of a church they never really understood professing creeds they never really believed.

And so we find ourselves scrambling for ways to teach the truth. To instruct the ignorant. Demanding orthodoxy. If they only knew what they were leaving! But we go about it all wrong. We attack all the symptoms without really getting to the heart.

Instead of lecturing people that they have to go to Sunday Mass, inspire them to want to go. Instead of telling them to dress more appropriately for Mass, give them something worth dressing up for. Instead of telling them not to be unchaste, fascinate them with chastity. And on and on.

It must not only be an affirmative orthodoxy, but also an active orthodoxy.

Instead of talking about how beautiful the faith is, show them its beauty. Instead of insisting upon how good the Church is, be Good. Instead of lecturing about truth, live a life transformed by it.

You don’t have to beat people over the head with the truth. You just have to open them up to it. Prepare the way. Then get out of the way. Open the cage door and the Truth will speak for itself. It will roar like a lion, who – once encountered – needs no help being taken seriously.


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1 comment
  • You might not see where you can use your gifts of writing and teaching because this is not the season for you to use them in the service of your parish. Organized ministry opportunities may very well be beyond what your schedule and energy will allow right now.

    Perhaps, though, you might be able to find a way to mentor some young mom who needs encouragement—especially a woman in a crisis pregnancy.