Doctrine Unites, Prejudice Divides


I shared one of my favorite chapters from one of my favorite books by G.K. Chesterton, “The New Hypocrite” from “What’s Wrong With the World” on Fr. John Holleman’s radio show recently. In the chapter, Chesterton contrasts doctrine and prejudice as two modes of thought: “A doctrine is a definite point; a prejudice is a direction”. He explores these two modes in defending what, to modern ears, would seem like an audacious claim:

But indeed the case is yet more curious than this. The one argument that used to be urged for our creedless vagueness was that at least it saved us from fanaticism. But it does not even do that. On the contrary, it creates and renews fanaticism with a force quite peculiar to itself. This is at once so strange and so true that I will ask the reader’s attention to it with a little more precision.

I share Chesterton’s thesis along with a number of key quotes from the chapter and I explore how we can readily see that his diagnosis and predictions have come true and explain the dismal state of modern public discourse.

Click here to listen:

“Read C.S. Lewis’ Space Trilogy”

Our custom CS Lewis bumper sticker, urging all motorists to read his Space Trilogy.

Our custom CS Lewis bumper sticker, urging all motorists to read his Space Trilogy.

We actually had a custom bumper sticker made displaying the above exhortation and the names of the three books: Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, and That Hideous Strength.

My wife and I love the Space Trilogy — and Archbishop Chaput does, too! It makes the list in his article, “Ten ways to deepen our relationship with God.”

The archbishop says, “By the way, if you do nothing else in 2014, read Tolkien’s wonderful short story, Leaf by Niggle. It will take you less than an hour, but it will stay with you for a lifetime. And then read C.S. Lewis’ great religious science-fiction trilogy — Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra and That Hideous Strength. You’ll never look at our world in quite the same way again.” — ARCHBISHOP CHARLES J. CHAPUT, O.F.M. CAP.

Lying and Other Obstacles to Truth


I very much appreciated Leah Libresco’s succinct treatment of the topic of lying that was featured on Strange Notions today as the third in a series of articles about the topic. Her title was “Interfering with the Eschaton:Why Lying is wrong”.

As I have read the various explorations of the topics over the past couple of years I have had to agree with Leah and others who conclude that lying simply can’t be rationalized the way we sometimes want it to be. The world is broken and in need of healing and any time we deal with this difficulty through sinful means, we have passed the buck. We have insisted that the heroic virtue is someone’s else’s job,

This is not a comfortable conclusion but it is the one that seems most logically coherent with how I understand the world. It makes me uncomfortable in precisely the way that the cross makes me uncomfortable.

Near the end of her article, Leah introduced a very important point:

Honesty is a starting point; you can take the duty to avoid passive deception much further. Humans are prone to any number of biases that make it hard to hear or notice the truth. You may be telling the truth when you use CAPS LOCK, but you’ve made it harder for your interlocutor to listen to you. Tone can be as effective a barrier to truth as misdirection.

This caught my eye because the problem of inadvertently (or sometimes intentionally) erecting unnecessary barriers for other people to come to the truth is a favorite topic of mine and one I plan to write on more. On the topic of the morality of lying, this excerpt introduces an aspect of the the debate that I have wanted to address.

To Leah and others who have so eloquently treated this issue and explained the tough conclusion that lying is simply wrong, I would like to make a suggestion per not erecting unnecessary barriers to others whom we would like to help see this truth.

While I myself have come to accept this tough conclusion, I sympathize (perhaps because of the recency of my change in thinking) with those whose gut-reaction in response to the hypothetical Nazi scenario is to rationalize lying. One of the difficulties here is that we have too much hollywood and not enough saints. We have a plethora of mental images of how easy it would be to lie and all the goods that might come in consequence, and we have little mental material with which to imagine the alternative.

I think it would be helpful (as well as charitable) for some of the excellent writers and thinkers on this topic to indulge people who are morally paralyzed by such hypothetical scenarios by exploring what the alternatives to lying might be. If the Nazis really do show up at our doors tomorrow morning, and yet we are convicted against lying, what should we do? What does it look like? Let me be quite clear: I am not asking this rhetorically as a sort of “gotcha” as is the cliche, I am sincerely asking a question which I suspect is probably on the minds of many well-intentioned but troubled souls. We need to help re-populate the moral imaginations of those who find this a “difficult teaching”. (Would any good fiction writers out there like to take up the task? Or do you have some good sci-fi scenarios to recommend?)

Refusing to sympathize with such people and to address their concerns, I think, would be an example of one of these unnecessary barriers to truth. We may be tempted to consider such concern with contempt, perhaps recollecting our own past weaknesses and rationalizations, but we mustn’t lose souls in our enthusiasm to assert the point. Just as the rejection of lying involves embracing the Truth over what is immediately gratifying or comforting, so does tempering self-satisfaction and indignation such that we can speak charitably and sympathetically to those in doubt. As Leah states: “Love begins by not placing any new obstacles in the way of our neighbors.” If we want more people to be freed by this tough truth, let us love them enough to attempt to tell the Truth in a way that will help them better hear it (i.e. wight he CAPS LOCK turned off for starters).

In closing, we should expect to be challenged by the Truth and suspicious when we aren’t. In this case, the easy but ultimately wrong road is unfortunately a very familiar one in our minds. Speak the truth in charity, sympathize with those who are troubled, and regarding this particular topic, help people imagine what the hard but right road might look like – you may give them the nudge they need to embrace the cross.

(Caveat: Any potential character flaws alluded to in this piece are directed at the only soul I have first-hand knowledge of: my own. They may be of limited relevance to the rest of the world.)

Memes, Clever Sound Bytes, & Funny Pictures – “Discourse” in an Entertainment Culture


I saw this on facebook today:

Wow, where to start? (Wonka, it is hard to dissect your argument since I can’t hear myself think over the sound of your condescension. Who wants less science and more religion in schools? Who is this even directed at? Is it a fair summary of a particular groups’ thought?…..)

The source for information about Romney’s now (apparently) infamous “airplane windows” comment was:

I had already seen a number of these sarcastic memes scroll by and was becoming irritated.

Here’s another:

(Waitress talking to captain, temper tantrum, puzzled look, is any of this true?)

After some googling, I found this Snopes article:

The article included the video clip in question and the conclusion by Snopes that “…his tone and phrasing pretty clearly indicated that he intended the line to be taken as a tongue-in-cheek aside rather than as a serious statement.” (despite Rachel Maddow’s haughty, idiotic protestation).

It isn’t this particular instance of falsity that bothers me, but rather the growing trend in which almost all of our meaningful public discourse comes to us in careless, thoughtless, specious little bytes of entertainment.

Serious question: Do you think that these clever political memes/quips/quotes/pictures help or hinder the public discourse?

They nearly always present skewed, biased, incomplete, or out of context information, they nearly always have sources for the “facts” they claim to offer, and due to the nature of the medium, they nearly always make truncated, over-simplified, and logically fallacious arguments, either overt or more often merely implied.

Since only one person creates the clip, quip, or meme, and the other million people merely pass it along, you have a million people who shared what is likely to be false, skewed, fallaciously argued, illogical, or out of context information without thinking about it, checking sources, or being able to argue the point on their own.

Finally, with the information moving in the form of little entertaining pictures or sound bites, is any further discussion or thought often sparked? On the contrary, most of the time it merely encourages those who think they agree with the information or implied argument to nod their head and accept it and those who disagree to shake their head and ignore it, with neither party giving any more thought than that.

Everyday on Facebook or Twitter, you might see hundreds of these little bits of information scroll by. Some will make you chuckle, some will probably make you sigh in frustration; In my opinion they all make you a little dumber and a little numb-er.

We need real conversation, real logical thought processes, real fact-checking-before-sharing, and a shared accountability to be more informed about the things we are promoting.

Perhaps if you or I can’t make (or even explain) the argument without some polemical meme, if we haven’t checked the sources of the information, if we aren’t prepared to defend the accuracy of the premises and the soundness of the argument we are (consciously or unconsciously) putting forth…. perhaps we should stay silent until we have something worthwhile to say?


Neil Postman’s “Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business” is a great book along these lines. Check it out.

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

What Faith Is and Isn’t – Fr. Robert Barron


Here is another among the many excellent videos by Fr. Robert Barron. The video clarifies the common but (I think) often misused or misunderstood term “faith”.

This particular video caught my eye and then my immense interest and excitement upon watching  because Fr. Barron beautifully and concisely explains faith as it needs to be explained to the modern mind, for whom the word has so much baggage that it almost loses all meaning.

Using human relationships as an analogy, Fr. Barron shows how faith is not only normal but necessary in our relationships with both the human and the divine . In his example, Fr. Barron explains that while we can and do use our reason to learn much about another person, there is a whole world of knowledge about that person we will never know without them telling us: their thoughts, feelings, hopes, dreams, desires, goals, etc. To know a person on this level we must listen to them speak and at some point make the choice to trust what they say. Without this trust, human relationships are impossible. ( I once used a very similar example and line of thought in a talk I gave to high schoolers about the nature of faith. Great minds think alike, and mediocre minds, like mine, sometimes get lucky.)

This is insightful because faith is seldom thought of or talked about in a relational sense. Often faith is reduced by both believers and nonbelievers  to being blind belief, superstition, or a mere wager on God’s potential existence based on the probabilities of risk and reward.  But this is simply not what Catholics mean by religious faith.

In article 26 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church it states, “faith is man’s response to God, who reveals himself and gives himself to man”. Humans cannot initiate faith on our own (as they could if faith simply were an act of blind belief or a bet). Rather, faith is a relational response to God. God reveals himself and it is our decision to trust this revelation and act upon it which constitutes faith.

I think this idea of faith clarifies and makes sense out of a term that is often used quite vaguely. However, I think it is also challenging. It implies that faith really is about an encounter with God, a relationship with God. It is about trusting and obeying a live author who entered His own story in the person of Jesus Christ and remains present and approachable in prayer and in the sacraments of the Church.

If, contrary to its detractors, faith is not mere blind belief, superstition, or a cosmic wager, but rather a “yes” to the God who reveals Himself to us in Christ, the Word, through the natural world, art, beauty, the Church, the sacraments, and in our own hearts, there are important questions to be pondered by believers and non-believers alike.

Have I rejected or feared “faith” because I thought it was superstition or a blind jump? Am I open enough to Truth that I would accept and put faith in God if I really did encounter Him? Have I really sought God Himself or rather just some mental proposition about God?  Though I purport to “believe”, have I avoided this kind of faith in God for fear that He may not really be there? Have I avoided this kind of faith in God for fear that He really might be there after all, and want more from me than I am willing to give?

Here are a couple of my articles that ask and ponder similar questions:

Eucharistic Adoration: Alone with the Perilous Question

Two Fears – The Reasons We Avoid Discovering Whether God Is Really There

The com-box is open. I would love to know your thoughts!