I’ll be honest – I have no idea who will end up reading this. Like-minded friends and family members, certainly, but who else? What audience will these musings reach?

It would discourage me if our blog only ever reached highly committed orthodox Catholic young adults. Don’t get me wrong, highly committed orthodox Catholic young adults. You’re my kinsfolk and I love you. However, consider this: as a human person, you possess two of the most unique and powerful tools on Earth, namely, the ability to assent to a particular belief, and the ability to communicate this belief and your assent to it with others. But if we only share our thoughts and reflections and insights with those who readily agree with everything we say, to what end do we converse? By associating exclusively with individuals of a similar ethical and theological bent, we cheapen the innate power and purpose of language and conversation.

Does it surprise me that in this modern age we so often hold our collective tongues? Not in the slightest. The bold declaration of one’s opinion has become a new sort of dangerous. No, it’s not like olden times, when one could and would be hanged or burned at the stake or what have you for expressing an unpopular position. Instead, the immediacy of modern communication technology allows for the instantaneous skewing, decontextualizing, and distribution of anything you say at which someone decides to take offense. It’s become exceedingly difficult to find “pure” news – bare-bones reporting that cuts to the chase and leaves the commentary to the (conveniently categorized by political affiliation) commentators. Concurrently, it’s exceedingly difficult to avoid a completely non-biased take on a news story. We hear what the media has to say about the Pope’s latest statement before we hear the statement itself. This is why making such statements becomes dangerous: because of how quickly your reasonable, well-thought-out assertion transforms into a vicious, bigoted attack as it passes through the social and news media filters.

But the problem is not the media, per se. The problem is that the time we take to consider, judge, reflect on, and attempt to understand a certain point of view has become as miniscule as the time it takes for these points of view to spread. The sheer velocity at which we take in information requires us to make snap decisions about our opinion of this data. My hypothesis in regards to why we are so keen on aligning ourselves with a certain group or subculture is that our membership in these circles allows us to make these decisions not based on what we really, truly think about them, but rather, on the perspective of the article or tidbit compared to the perspective that I, as a member of this particular social subset, should hold. No, I didn’t really spend any time critiquing or analyzing this argument about same-sex marriage; I’m a Catholic so I know I’m opposed to it. Why is this person trying to talk to me about the pro-life movement? Don’t they know I’m a liberal feminist?

The “search for one’s identity” has become “the search for the appropriate label for one’s views.” Once we find the proper label, we can use it to deflect opposing viewpoints and to crutch the lack of understanding we have of our own views and why we hold them. Do we suppose that every Catholic who voted “yes” on the recent marriage amendment ballot understood why they were doing so? Could everyone who voted “no” on the same ballot provide a formal argument for why the state should allow same-sex marriage? I don’t pose this question as a challenge, but rather as a clear example of the way we can use our associations alone as justification for holding certain positions. The important thing isn’t finding the right group, it’s coming to a clear, articulate understanding of what you, as a unique individual human person, believe. We should always be prepared to explain why we hold or reject a particular opinion. This means that we must give viewpoints that might seem repugnant a fair shake – even if we are quite certain we won’t agree with the opinion being offered, understanding what we don’t believe is just as important as understanding what we do. A failure to show philosophical charity to an opposing viewpoint is a failure to prepare a rational defense against it.

We then return to my first point – the power and purpose of communication. As I mentioned earlier, the media is generally not the place to go if and when we seek unadulterated perspective. You can’t have a conversation with a newspaper article. You can’t convince a political advertisement that it’s wrong. Nor can you share your own points of view with these things. (Sure, you could send a letter to the editor, etc., but you get what I’m saying.) What we can do is converse with people who disagree with us about what it is we disagree on. This isn’t just another call to “coexist,” because I think we occasionally need to draw attention to the fact that you and I hold opinions that are diametrically opposed to one another, and then talk about the how and why of our disagreement. It is abundantly clear that many people have different ideas about the nature and purpose of marriage (for example). Now, how many conversations – not debates, not arguments, not grown-up-name-calling sessions, but reasonable, peaceful conversations – have you had with somebody that holds a view on marriage different than yours? Conversely, how often have you lashed out at, or spoken down to, or dismissed the opinion of, those who don’t see things the same way? We all have everything we need to create understanding and unity! We possess the intellectual and emotional capacity to share, learn, comprehend, relate with one another, and yet we’re afraid or unwilling to explore these capacities, because we’re afraid to risk the danger of stepping outside of our labels and into the world of another’s. It’s time to stop bickering with one another as members of Party A and Party B, and starting talking to and learning from one another as members of the human universe.

And so, I hope for two things: That people who strongly disagree with the things I say read this blog, and that we all keep the things I’ve just said in mind. If I say something that make you sick to your stomach, talk to me about it, so I can talk to you about it, so I can understand why you see it that way and re-analyze my own position accordingly.

Don’t seek victory – seek understanding.


Jake Nelson can be reached at jaken@stmichaelsduluth.org.


3 thoughts on “Let’s Talk.

  1. Jake … do we also fear disagreeing with our “group” because we risk not belonging to the group anymore? We humans need to belong … most of us fear “not belonging” to a group.
    Great writing … yes, I’m one of those “agree-ers”:) I hope dis-agree-ers also read and respond.

  2. Very good points and perspective all around. But two thoughts jump out at me.
    1) is that in my experience I have rarely, if ever, found solidarity or a like-minded perspectives among groups of Catholics…even highly committed orthodox ones who claim to hold the same beliefs. But having said that I’m probably a generation and a half older than you all. So I am happy if you have found such support among your peers. Brad (comment above) is quite right…”We humans need to belong”…perhaps not necessarily to some organized “group”, but definitely to other human beings who are capable of striving to know and understand another and comprehending what is true and good and beautiful…understanding over victory (as so beautifully stated above) or love over power and control whether by argument or other means.
    2) when you stated “you can’t have a conversation with a newspaper article” I thought: it is also very very difficult to have a real conversation online or through a combox on a blog and impossible to have a personal (as in, person-to-person as real live human beings who can get to know each other and establish a relationship) converation through what we now call the “new media”.

    Anyway, those are my thoughts. I do not mean them to be discouraging. I just wish that more people would make time to engage in such conversations which might foster understanding and lead to greater solidarity in real life.

    Thank you for your thoughtfulness & commentary.

    • Good insight on both points. I think one of the issues involved in trying so hard to find the right group is that we take on the same labels they do, but without first having a conversation about what that label actually means. We need to have conversations among ourselves, as WELL as those who might disagree with us!

      I agree that even a venue like this isn’t a great one for real, profound conversations to take place, but at least it’s a little more personal than a nationally distributed newspaper article, and hopefully it can and will spark some “live” conversations!

      Thanks again for the comments, Sophia. Wisdom is your name, and wise are your remarks.

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