During the debates leading up to the 1983 pastoral letter of the bishops of the United States on nuclear weapons, “The Challenge of Peace,” the great churchman Archbishop Philip Hannan of New Orleans said that many of the bishops were uninformed. I paraphrase, because the archbishop himself used much more colorful language, honed by years of working with the 82nd Airborne Division during World War II.
The Plot to Kill Hitler and the Vindication of Pius XII, Crisis Magazine
The article gets better from there.
I’ve got to admit I’m still grinning about the line “The protocols of the NCCB letter did not become a template for the defense policies of President Reagan,” but that’s also what got me thinking. There is, um, an awful lot of very visible heat radiating around what Catholics should do to properly apply Church teaching. If we exclude those instances where someone has Church teaching wrong in some way– not that those aren’t loud and painful– we’re left with either problems of judgement (what’s the best way to apply this principle?) or data problems. A sub group of data problems are assumptions, and that breaks into two groups– starting assumptions, and definition assumptions.
Starting assumptions are things like “people in jail aren’t causing harm;” definition assumptions are what exactly is meant by “harm.” Depending on what “harm” means in the context it’s used in, the starting assumption is either true or it is false. If it’s taken from one context– “people who are in jail are not going to be committing violent, in-person crimes against the general population”– and put in another–“people who are in jail cannot do anything which causes harm of any sort”– then how true it is changes.
Some of the more vicious arguments I’ve seen are because both sides know that they’re right– and and they are. Just…not the way the other is hearing it.
Some of your reading may be familiar with my rant about “person” vs “human” or “person” vs “alive.” I have actually changed some folks’ minds on the abortion issue by leading them to realize that they are creating a category of humans that are non-persons. Thing about the Nazis, they took their assumptions to a big and obviously ugly extent– there’s no way to plaster over those mass graves as being a mercy killing, the way that you may have heard of a woman who justified her abortion as being because she loved the kid.
For all the grand post… the Church’s job is easy. It’s figuring out how to do it, and then doing it, that’s hard. It doesn’t get easier by folks ignoring the knowledge problem. Even if it can’t usually be phrased as colorfully as the Archbishop most likely did.