Fr. Mark’s Musings for Sept 2
As some of you have noticed, I have some very definite ideas about politics, and as far as I can tell, most of my ideas are quite a bit different than those of most parishioners here. This is not a bad thing. Some people say that a priest should not talk about politics from the pulpit, while others say they don’t want to engage in conversations about politics. While I can sympathize with these sentiments, I do not believe either of these statements are really coming from the Holy Spirit.
I say this for two reasons: (1) The things happening in our country and in the world, especially right now, are too important not to talk about. For us Christians, they should be discussed, especially in the context of the Gospel, which means they should be discussed right here. (2) When we say we shouldn’t talk about politics, I believe we are speaking from our fear, and fear is not from the Holy Spirit. The risen Christ says to his apostles, “Do not fear”, and the Holy Spirit sent out the disciples to speak boldly.
Of course, when we do discuss politics with each other, we don’t want it to turn into a yelling match. My own tendency is to let my emotions get the better of me, so I have to monitor the volume of my voice and my hand gestures, especially because I have a short fuse, a loud voice, and I’m tall—this can be an intimidating combination!
Marriage counselors will tell you that couples will inevitably fight—in fact, there are times when they need to, in order to resolve an issue. However, it is important that they learn to “fight fair.” This is true for political conversations also. There are ways of not fighting fair, besides the obvious ones like threatening, mocking, or bullying.
A workshop I went to actually used a military term, suggesting that there be “rules of engagement” in such a conversation. Of course, in a spontaneous discussion, there is no time to formulate rules, but let me suggest some general do’s and don’ts. (I’m not saying I follow all these myself, but I try to!) These are based on real conversations that I have had with lots of people, especially in the last year.
-Try to avoid “hit and runs.” At times I have had people make an emotional or controversial point with me, then say, “I don’t have time to discuss this,” and dart away. Obviously, this isn’t very helpful. On the other hand, we need to also respect the other person’s time limitations. I need to periodically “check in” with the other person and make sure they do have time to talk.
-When I get emotional, I get impatient and want to get everything out at once; I’m also afraid that the other person won’t give me a chance to say everything I want to say. But I need to trust the other person, and not make too many points at once or talk too long without giving the other person a chance to jump in.
-Try to avoid making disingenuous statements, such as this one I have heard from time to time: “I don’t follow politics much”—then the person rattles off a long string of opinions. If you don’t follow politics much, you shouldn’t have so many strong opinions!
-Try not to say things that are obvious, or utter pious platitudes about politicians—these can be a tip-off that you’re being defensive. Example 1: “He/she isn’t perfect.” This says nothing—Mother Theresa wasn’t perfect, and neither was Hitler! Example 2: “We should pray for our leaders”—yes, of course, but this is often said to deflect legitimate criticism of a politician.
-Know which words are “dirty words” and which aren’t—many people seem to get confused on this. Neither “socialism” nor “capitalism” are dirty words—though many people talk as if the former is intrinsically evil, while the latter has no flaws. Neither “liberal” nor “conservative” are dirty words.
“Patriotism” is not wrong, but “nationalism” actually is. A patriot says, “I support my country when it is right, and work to change what is wrong.” A nationalist says, “My country, right or wrong,” and implicitly believes that he/she gets to define who’s a patriot and who isn’t. Unfortunately, there is a lot of nationalism in our country now.
-Try to be balanced. Try to get at least some of your news from sources that are more oriented toward facts than opinions, and try to talk once in a while with people who don’t share your views. Don’t criticize the media for “always saying negative things” about someone when they’re simply reporting what the person said or did. In conversation, don’t call something a person says “their opinion” when they are actually stating an established fact.
-Most especially, don’t put the candidate that you oppose under a microscope, while wearing blinders as you look at your own candidate. In one extreme case, a man not from this parish told me he had read four books about one particular situation that was mishandled by the candidate he opposed—but he seemed to know virtually nothing about scandals involving his own candidate!
-Lastly, when staking out your own position, be aware of Catholic teaching, and also be aware of History.
Our pope and bishops have teachings on many issues, not only abortion. You can take a position that differs from that of Church leaders, but if you do, you should be able to give good reasons why—reasons rooted in facts, not just fears or prejudices. (I myself differ from official Church teaching on one or two things, and I can tell you exactly why.)
The thinking of both John Paul II and Pope Francis is heavily weighted toward nonviolence. Many of us believe that nonviolence in a nice idea, but doesn’t work in the real world. My reading of history suggests the opposite—yes, there are lots of bad people in the world, but actually it is violence that is altogether impractical. The human tendency to look first for violent solutions to our differences is a consequence of original sin.
-Finally, History is important. When looking at the history of race relations here in Detroit, this history did not begin with the 1967 riots—a lot of things happened before 1967 that many of us aren’t aware of and/or don’t like to talk about. If you don’t know this history, you can have a very distorted view of racial issues. I encourage you to learn this history.