The Darker Side of “Civility”: Or, After the Hangover of the Al Smith Dinner

 

Al-Smith-DinnerThe hangover from last week’s surreal edition of the Al Smith Dinner is finally wearing off, and things still look ugly. Host Timothy Cardinal Dolan says it was an “awkward” meeting between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, who shared a dais with Dolan at the old televised dinner raising money for New York Catholic charities. Yes, obviously awkward, Your Eminence, but wasn’t it a tad awkward for you to be there, too?

Wasn’t it especially awkward for Your Eminence when Hillary, opponent of all that is Catholic (except liberal Jesuit heresy) said, “We need to get better at finding ways to disagree on matters of policy while agreeing on questions of decency and civility?” Dolan instead would agree, as he responded to calls to permanently cancel the dinner by saying, “nothing can ruin the event” as it is “America and the Church at their best.” Dolan is gravely wrong.

The dinner itself is trivial but its pretense to civility — years ago and now — highlights a paradoxical problem for Christians confronting the Left’s anti-Christian agenda. How do we remain “civil and decent” in confronting the Left’s ideologues and yet resist their hijacking of what it now means to be “civil and decent?”

Time was, a “good Christian man” embodied the ideal of American society. Now, the word “man” is verböten — too heteronormative and bigoted, and if you use it at work, you are soon to be fired. Pundits and politicians need to stop thinking in terms of abstract “policy matters” and remember what life is like on the ground, day-to-day, for us Christians. If you are a professional living in almost any American city, you cannot profess your faith; never mind that — you cannot utter pronouns informed by your faith — unless they are approved by the Gay/Trans Thought Police. Be civil, be decent! Your talent, your accomplishments, your hard work, and even your bubbly cheerfulness, do not matter. Your career will be ruined if you do not comply.

So, what is a Christian to do? Of course, we cannot respond with malice. We are called to the challenge of turning the other cheek and even loving our enemies. Do not underestimate the power of prayer in that endeavor. But haven’t we reached a point at which we need to assert ourselves, however politely, in a different way?

Consider the failed approach of Catholic leaders. They think that the first step to re-earning respect in American society is to “dialogue” with the Left. That low bar of success basically amounts to being friendly with liberals, tolerating “policy differences,” even hobnobbing with them “in good faith” at charity dinners, and then hoping they will change their minds. Friendliness is good, but the emphasis of this approach is wrong, not only because it has produced bad results, but because it grossly misinterprets what the Left is trying to do.

The point of embracing “dialogue,” for the Left, is to convince Christians that Christian morals are not all that important, or that they are somehow compatible with intrinsically anti-Christian views. In our desire to feel better about our opponents and intoxicated with the illusion that we were bringing them closer to us, we Catholics, for example, have, over time, lost our own sense of decency — hence the hollow commitment of a majority of Californians opposing gay marriage, or the Obergefell decision, written by a Catholic.

Gov. Jerry Brown last year said it was allegedly difficult for him not to veto a California law permitting assisted murder. That is what dialogue accomplished — it made it a purportedly “tough” decision. The truth is that Brown, like Tim Kaine and Justice Kennedy, is a disobedient Catholic who has ignored the pleas of bishops and dismissed the theological case against a seemingly-abstract “policy matter.” He did so because, ultimately, the bishops’ word and the Church’s “views” are not the most important thing for him. They do not seem all that important to the Church, either, whose leaders, persisting in dialogue, refuse to issue any official censure of these public Catholics’ dismissal of the Faith. What is most important for all involved? The empty ideals of openness, dialogue, decency. Yet when we look closer, these seemingly empty ideals are being filled with an anti-Christian agenda.

When Hillary speaks of the ideals of “civility and decency,” she really means the extermination of Christian principles. Only then will we be “decent” to gays intending to “marry”; only then will we be “decent” to the suffering who, often with dubious consent, “want” to be killed; only then will we be “decent” to poor young, confused “transsexual” boys who want to use the girls’ room. While many Christians (and especially Catholics) were losing a thick sense of what is decent, beyond good manners at a dinner, the Left fundamentally redefined the term.

The new “decency” of the Obama-Clinton era will continue to metastasize in ways that we could not have imagined when the Al Smith Dinner began 70 years ago. Pastors now express concern that they will be forced by the government to marry gay couples. Soon throughout the country, as we have already seen in California, school administrators will recommend to parents that sad or bullied children are “in” the wrong gender. Do not resist openness to changing your kids’ gender, they will say, or else you are bigoted and a decidedly indecent parent. And if your pariah status among fellow families is not enough, government coercion will finish the job.

What are we to do? We Catholics might begin by saying directly to Catholic leaders like Cardinal Dolan or even pundits like the brilliant intellectual, Robert George — wake up, Christianity is disappearing in America and you are consoling yourself with the pretentious nothings of “dialogue” and the abstract legalism of “religious liberty?” There is a critical asymmetry in your precious dialogue, and even a man like Donald Trump, with few Christian bona fides, can see it — Hillary and her party indeed “pretend not to hate Catholics” and are devoted to undermining the Church and her morals. Dialogue, perhaps admirable in other situations, cannot be constructive when it is with someone who intends to destroy you.

Is it too much to ask our leaders to combine rhetorical skill with some courage to tell this truth, to set a different tone of Christian urgency with the passion it deserves? We should stop obsessing over sterile “dialogue” and sheer “decency” (which has a new meaning now) and instead focus on explaining — without malice — how important these principles are to us Christians. They are not “policy positions” and they are not theoretical aspects of a Mills-esque Socratic dialectic — they are fundamental to our very being, to our sense of decency. Who knows, maybe the sincerity and fervor with which such points are made may actually attract converts.

Problem is that, at this point, the new “decency” is fundamental to the norms of perhaps most of the country. And so, are our leaders willing to see that contingent, with all of its power and glamour, get angry with even our polite articulations? Will they try to lead us ordinary Christians out of the trenches in which we find ourselves?

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  1. Six Days Of The Condor Inactive
    Six Days Of The Condor
    @Pseudodionysius

    • #1
  2. Saje Member
    Saje
    @SarahJoyce

    I’d be happy if we stopped doing the dinner. I always think it’s awkward, especially when  one person up there is always dead-set against protecting human life. But the Church has a lot of stuff she has to work out internally before she starts speaking truth to power. Plus, many of our prelates are voting for Hillary, I’m sure.

    It’s always good to hear from Abp. Chaput (who should be Cardinal Chaput, but sigh), though.

    • #2
  3. Basil Fawlty Member
    Basil Fawlty
    @BasilFawlty

    The dinners must continue. The Cardinal has acquired an insatiable appetite for crow.

    • #3
  4. Skarv Inactive
    Skarv
    @Skarv

    The examples you bring up are offensive to many more who are not Catholic. You don’t even have to be religious to consider heterosexual marriage the only marriage or to consider kid sex-changes a crime.

    • #4
  5. Front Seat Cat Member
    Front Seat Cat
    @FrontSeatCat

    You are describing very well, the place we find ourselves not only as Christians, but conservatives.  As a Christian however, if there’s no salt, there’s no light. The more diluted, the more it becomes irrelevant.  The days have arrived that Jesus talked about.  The Church itself is under attack, so how to defend? I think the wise know what is in front of them.  The armor is on, the shield is up.  To sit down to dinner to raise money for charity is one thing.  I believe to be a force, you can engage, but not endorse the views that go against Christian teachings. Waging war against evil can be done in many ways.  I think Cardinal Dolan knows full well what is going on.  The money raised still goes to Catholic charities, and we’ll take Hillary’s contribution and anyone else’s.  It’s going to get harder and harder.  You highlight all we need to know and thank you for your excellent post.

    • #5
  6. Western Chauvinist Member
    Western Chauvinist
    @WesternChauvinist

    I like Cardinal Dolan’s geniality and find it attractive to the Faith. However, when Donald Trump says Hillary pretends not to hate Catholics, why couldn’t he turn and look at her with an arched brow and say, “What of it?” Put her on the spot. Let her bow and scrape a little, rather than apologize to her for the truth Trump told.

    The Left knows its enemies are the family and the Church and it’s gone a long way toward their destruction in America. Our bishops’ response is usually weak, tepid tea. And you know what to do with a mouthful of lukewarm…

    • #6
  7. Scott Wilmot Member
    Scott Wilmot
    @ScottWilmot

    Louis Beckett: We should stop obsessing over sterile “dialogue” and sheer “decency” (which has a new meaning now) and instead focus on explaining — without malice — how important these principles are to us Christians.

    As my hero Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI warned, dialogue is no substitute for spreading the Gospel. As he said at the UN on April 17, 2008, during his Apostolic Journey to the United States:

    The broader purpose of dialogue is to discover the truth. What is the origin and destiny of mankind? What are good and evil? What awaits us at the end of our earthly existence? Only by addressing these deeper questions can we build a solid basis for the peace and security of the human family, for “wherever and whenever men and women are enlightened by the splendor of truth, they naturally set out on the path of peace”

    I’m also a broken record and have to link to this quote from another hero, Archbishop Chaput:

    Tolerance is a working principle that enables us to live in peace with other people and their ideas. Most of the time, it’s a very good thing. But it is not an end in itself, and tolerating or excusing grave evil in a society is itself a grave evil. (the rest can be read at the link)

    Most of our leaders have failed us. I sometimes wonder if a Cardinal Dolan even speaks for me any more. It is time for us to take up the fight.

     

    • #7
  8. Aaron Miller Member
    Aaron Miller
    @AaronMiller

    Truth and mercy are the Christian way of reaching across the aisle.

    Christ’s apostles regularly admonished their beloved listeners and criticized the cultures around them. Only after such demands for honesty and goodness did they offer to forgive moral debts in hope of reconciliation. Repentence comes before forgiveness.

    Christ and His earliest disciples, and generations of saints (most recently Mother Theresa), hurt a lot of feelings. Correction often hurts. Love is not always pleasant for hearts that long for other things.

    • #8
  9. Martel Inactive
    Martel
    @Martel

    Excellent post, and may Christians of all folds read and believe it.

    As Christians we are called to be “good”, but we incorrectly conflate “good” with “nice”.  Christ was good every second of His earthly life, but He was hardly “nice” to folks like the “vipers”, “hypocrites”, and money changers in the temple.

    Nice is bland and compliant and sometimes even pleasant, but in and of itself it accomplishes nothing.  On the other hand, righteousness can be scary and downright disconcerting.  But righteousness and boldness both invite the possibility that other people might not like us or even directly confront us, so we opt for nice.  Nice folks are left alone, not necessarily respected but usually tolerated.

    Moreover, in connection with today’s other post on Christian masculinity, men aren’t particularly instinctively inclined to want to be nice all the time.  In fact, sometimes we like conflict.

    So perhaps a more direct approach to confronting Christianity’s adversaries might have the added effect of attracting masculine men to the faith.

    Humility before Our Maker?  Always.  Doormats as the forces of death attempt to oppress, marginalize, mock, and coopt us?  Never.

    • #9
  10. EJHill Podcaster
    EJHill
    @EJHill

    Remember when people were afraid the pope would dictate to an American president? Good times.

    This new generation of Democrats, post-Kennedy Catholics, would prefer the church as constituted in Communist China. There the church is “officially” in the control of The Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association and the state is firmly in control of the CPCA.

    They will divide the church to the point that Catholics who want to be, er, Catholic, will do so in some underground manner. The new American Catholic Church will find all sorts of perversion acceptable. Except maybe worshipping Christ.

    • #10
  11. TempTime Member
    TempTime
    @TempTime

    Good post.  These words needed to be written — and read; and shared often, far and wide.  Thanks.

    • #11
  12. Martel Inactive
    Martel
    @Martel

    It would be one thing of we were refraining from really ripping into our adversaries from a position of strength, but we’re not.  The cultural left has put us very much on the defensive, often even within our own denominations.

    Which means not fighting isn’t necessarily virtuous and comes across as weak.

    Mercy is a biblical mandate, but in order to be merciful you have to have strength first.  The massive linebacker who ignores the slight of the little skinny dude is merciful.  The little skinny dude ignoring the slight of the linebacker is just afraid.

    We need to stop being the little skinny dude.

    • #12
  13. EJHill Podcaster
    EJHill
    @EJHill

    Martel: We need to stop being the little skinny dude.

    When I sent my boy off to Parris Island, I did it to Psalm 144. Now we all need it:

    1 Blessed be the LORD my strength, which teacheth my hands to war, and my fingers to fight:

    2 My goodness, and my fortress; my high tower, and my deliverer; my shield, and He in whom I trust; who subdueth my people under me.

    • #13
  14. GKC Inactive
    GKC
    @GKC

    Martel: Humility before Our Maker? Always. Doormats as the forces of death attempt to oppress, marginalize, mock, and coopt us? Never.

    I think of Belloc and the Church Militant.  I long for a fighting Church.

    “Christians are born for combat.”

    -Pope Leo XIII, “Sapientiae Christianae

    • #14
  15. Six Days Of The Condor Inactive
    Six Days Of The Condor
    @Pseudodionysius

    Who was Dagger John Hughes late Acrhbishop of New York?

     

    • #15
  16. Hypatia Inactive
    Hypatia
    @Hypatia

    As an attorney-at-large, I’ve written about the alleged “Crisis of Civility”  at the bar, and I think it’s a load o’ crap–just like it is in political discussions.

    Both are adversarial systems in which verbal battles are a sine qua non. Yes, you can refrain from blasphemous or scurrilous epithets, and probably should, but that’s as far as it goes.

    BELIEVE your adversary is beneath  contempt, and WRONG! WRONG! WRONG!–or concede defeat.

    I’m not a Catholic, but like @skarv, I’m horrified by the attempts to destroy biological gender identity, inter alia.   Anyone who is not similarly horrified does not deserve my “respect” ( another buzzword, meaning: act like the opposing viewpoint is just as valid as your own, maybe even superior….wouldn’t want to exercise your god-given reason to make a judgment!)

    So why pretend otherwise–which is what “civility” comes down to in political discourse.

    • #16
  17. Larry3435 Member
    Larry3435
    @Larry3435

    Louis Beckett: Now, the word “man” is verböten — too heteronormative and bigoted, and if you use it at work, you are soon to be fired. … If you are a professional living in almost any American city, you cannot profess your faith; never mind that — you cannot utter pronouns informed by your faith — unless they are approved by the Gay/Trans Thought Police. … Your career will be ruined if you do not comply.

    I didn’t click through to your links.  They don’t interest me.  Of course there are some outlier stories in the press, which I would take with a grain of salt if I did read them.  But, in the words of Groucho Marx, “who are you going to believe, me or your own eyes?”

    In my life, I know of no one who has adjusted their pronouns in response to the demands of the language police.  I know of no one who has been fired, or threatened at work, for using traditional pronouns.  And speaking as a labor lawyer who frequently advises clients on whether they have sufficient reason to fire a particular employee, if a client asked me about firing someone for this reason I would tell them that they were out of their mind, and were just begging for a very dangerous lawsuit.  And that’s in deep blue Los Angeles.

    My respectful advice to you is that working yourself into a panic about the risk of being struck by lightning is unjustified.

    • #17
  18. Doctor Robert Member
    Doctor Robert
    @DoctorRobert

    Larry3435: My respectful advice to you is that working yourself into a panic about the risk of being struck by lightning is unjustified.

    Tell that to Jack Phillips, Elaine Huguenin, Erika and Nicholas Christakis, Brendan Eich, etc etc.

    Pretending that we are not in a civilizational struggle, and that we are not losing, will not make it go away.

    • #18
  19. Basil Fawlty Member
    Basil Fawlty
    @BasilFawlty

    Larry3435:

     

    I didn’t click through to your links. They don’t interest me. Of course there are some outlier stories in the press, which I would take with a grain of salt if I did read them. But, in the words of Groucho Marx, “who are you going to believe, me or your own eyes?”

    In my life, I know of no one who has adjusted their pronouns in response to the demands of the language police. I know of no one who has been fired, or threatened at work, for using traditional pronouns. And speaking as a labor lawyer who frequently advises clients on whether they have sufficient reason to fire a particular employee, if a client asked me about firing someone for this reason I would tell them that they were out of their mind, and were just begging for a very dangerous lawsuit. And that’s in deep blue Los Angeles.

    My respectful advice to you is that working yourself into a panic about the risk of being struck by lightning is unjustified.

    You’re on the wrong coast.

    http://nypost.com/2016/05/19/city-issues-new-guidelines-on-transgender-pronouns/

    • #19

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