Heather King on the Risks of Activism
Thanks to Janet Cupo for pointing out this post to me. I don't agree with everything she says, and obviously working "for a better world," as the saying goes, is a good thing to do, indeed an obligatory thing to do for Christians, but nowadays that tends to be defined as political activism and debate. And I find myself having less and less interest in and patience for most of the argumentation that's going on today, both among Christians and between Christian and others. Too often it's simply a form of warfare, and whatever the grand strategies may be, at the combatant level the goal of warfare is always the same and always simple: destroy your enemy. Sample:
Both the right and the left are simply variations on “the world” in which the goal is power, prestige, efficiency, triumph, and the goal is to shame or bully other people into changing without changing one iota yourself. The Catholic media that traffic in this sort of incessant "opinion"-driven "discussion" seem to me to have very little, if anything, to do with Christ.
I also like this:
Listening to a bunch of people try to shout each other down, especially in the name of God, is not only corrupt and depressing, but deathly boring.
All I know is that I don't really want my kids to grow up in a world that is worse than it is right now, which is frankly bad enough. I believe we are descending further and further into barbarianism.
For me it's a both/and not either/or. I must become a better Christian, obviously, both for my own sake and for the salvation of souls. I'm sure I make lots of mistakes (not thinking even of sins here, just mistakes) but I believe in God's Providence, so that even if I make mistakes, I trust that God will use them for good. I know He can and does - I've seen it up close and personal in the depths of my suffering, which has been acute in the last two years. I know what the Beatitudes are, first hand. Not that I have reached perfection, of course, but I've definitely undergone somewhat of a purifying.
I'm a great fan of Flannery O'Connor's "dark grace" which I liken to my own experience of God's Providence.
All that Heather complains of will be turned to good and as for me, silence is sometimes not an option. Sometimes it's a very good option, but sometimes not. So while the efforts of me and our co-religionists my be defective, in whole or part, I am very reluctant to point the finger at those who are doing their best to avert disaster, even when/if they are mistaken. No doubt the internet is the worst form of media for this kind of "warfare" but I'm inclined to think we must be a presence and vocal. Maybe we make a right balls up of it - I don't know. I do know that while on the one hand we are exhorted by St Paul to live at peace with everyone, it is also true that Christ came to bring a sword, not peace. It is an apparent contradiction, but living as a good Christian strikes me as a very complex business, on the whole.
As a little rhetorical question for Heather: who appointed you judge?
Posted by: Louise | 07/19/2012 at 09:43 PM
Actually, the one thing I am utterly tired of is the tendency of Christians to criticise one another. It's driving me nuts.
I have come to a point where I just don't care how other people live, uness they are doing something grossly immoral, which may or may not require me to speak up. Consequently I will not tolerate criticism of myself by anyone else either.
IOW if one cannot prove that what one's co-religionist is doing something grossly immoral, I just don't care for the opinions about his/her/their actions. But that's just me.
Posted by: Louise | 07/19/2012 at 09:52 PM
Just a quick note: whatever HK meant, I don't think that engaging in debate and activism is mistaken across the board. I think one has to consider two things: what is the effect on the person I'm debating with, and what is the effect on me? One should always ask whether one's speech and behavior are likely to move the opponent toward or away from Christ. And obviously one doesn't want to win the argument at the cost of becoming a worse Christian.
Posted by: Mac | 07/19/2012 at 11:14 PM
Yes certainly I'd agree with that and while I'm sure I fall short at times I do normally keep those things in mind. My own reaction to the excerpt posted here wasdue to a whole bunch of other stuff I've read lately and thinking about. And indeed I should have just expressed myself better by acknowledging my feelings. I will do that now.
So when I read Heather's excerpt here, I felt pretty cross. But really that was just because of my own stuff and my own journey. Sorry if I was unnecessarily argumentative. I do better when I just express how I'm feeling about what I've read. And I didn't mean to say that there might not be something worth thinking about in her article.
Posted by: Louise on the iPod | 07/20/2012 at 07:03 AM
No need to apologize. Actually I think part of what she was talking about was the counter-productiveness of criticizing other Christians. But in order to do that she criticized the ones who are criticizing...
One of my reservations about the piece was that I think she's not entirely fair to the religious right (as it's called here) in general and the pro-life movement in particular.
Posted by: Mac | 07/20/2012 at 08:28 AM
Right. In her books, I think she describes herself as liberal, but it always seemed to me like something that she had acquired early in her life and she just hadn't examined what that meant, because she frequently says things that are exactly the opposite of what a liberal would tolerate. In this post, you can see that she's noticed that it's a two-way street.
But what drew me to the piece is that I am just finished with these long, bitter discussions in which everyone knows their part and the other guys part and no one listens. I know that with the HHS mandate we will have to speak sometimes but we have to do it in such a way that we don't just prove to people on the left that we are the who they think we are--if that makes any sense.
Caryll Houselander always talks about seeing Jesus in everyone. I'm not very good at that in the heat of the moment, but I hope to get better.
Posted by: Janet | 07/20/2012 at 10:55 AM
Its a really hard call for me
Posted by: Grumpy in Pezousa after eating veal and chips on a Friday | 07/20/2012 at 02:44 PM
"I am just finished with these long, bitter discussions in which everyone knows their part and the other guys part and no one listens."
That to me is the main point. Never mind the other pluses and minuses of HK's piece, this is the reason I liked it and posted it. I'm not saying standing up and speaking out is wrong or mistaken--quite the contrary, it's important that we do that. But these shouting matches that simply inflame everybody, where neither side is making any attempt whatsoever to actually listen and respond with reason, that I'm not even willing to listen to, much less participate in.
Posted by: Mac | 07/20/2012 at 05:08 PM
Going back to Louise's first remark: "I don't really want my kids to grow up in a world that is worse than it is right now..."
I am extremely familiar with that anxiety. I once alarmed the girlfriend of one of my sons by saying I would like to bomb Hollywood. She had showbiz aspirations and took it personally. I thought I was done with that anxiety, at least, but now I have grandchildren.
Posted by: Mac | 07/20/2012 at 05:10 PM
I totally hear y'all re the arguing at one another shouting match thing and I do agree really. The internet brings out the worst in me.
One difference is that Australians are a lot less argumentative, culturally, except about sport (and completely irrelevant trivia, which some of us will defend to the death), so it's quite possible that Americans may need to tone things down a little, but Australians need to get past our natural apathy.
Posted by: Louise | 07/20/2012 at 09:04 PM
But just for a bit more context on that criticising of one another, in the space of a week or less I have read a number of articles, some of which argued that Christians don't care enough about society and the political sphere so abortion etc are entirely our fault, and the others argued that we have all been sidetracked by politics and hence taken our eyes off the ball (i.e. The Great Commission) and so all the evil in the world is entirely our fault. (I exaggerate only slightly).
I find myself feeling pretty depressed.
Posted by: Louise | 07/20/2012 at 09:07 PM
Grumpy, I just love your name changes!
You're not planning to go to Seattle anytime soon are you?
Posted by: Louise | 07/20/2012 at 09:10 PM
Maclin, I find myself sniggering about your blowing up Hollywood remark :)
Posted by: Louise | 07/20/2012 at 09:12 PM
There's a rock band called Blow Up Hollywood. Unfortunately the bit of their music I've heard wasn't that interesting.
Re your 9:07 comment, our political activity is one of those both/and rather than either/or things, I think. I do think a lot of Christians (not Catholics especially) have placed an inordinate hope in politics over the past 30 years or so, going back to the Moral Majority period. I don't know if this has a parallel in Australia. There was a belief that the country had been hijacked by a radical minority and had to be taken back. There was some truth to that, but it was a pretty superficial view overall, in particular in the way it overestimated the relative strength of Christianity in the culture.
Posted by: Mac | 07/21/2012 at 10:14 AM
i don't think we ever had anything like the Moral Majority movement here, although there must have always been some political activism by Christians
Posted by: Louise | 07/22/2012 at 01:05 AM
Well, it's been a pitched battle here for decades now. And the Christian right, thanks partly to its own faults and mistakes, and partly to the zealous efforts of the press--pretty much universally hostile--is generally seen by those who aren't part of it as harsh, mean, self-righteous, etc (to put it mildly). So part of my view on this is based on the desire to avoid reinforcing the stereotype.
Posted by: Mac | 07/22/2012 at 09:22 AM