Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Wheaton's Law and Catholic Dialogue

It looks like there has been a lot of discussion surrounding my article on why we should drop insulting terms like "Neo-Catholic" and "RadTrad" from our lexicon.  For the most part, it's been an overwhelmingly positive discussion.


I'd like to develop it a little more by bringing in something some of my audience is going to find foreign:  what we gamers call "Wheaton's Law."  Awhile back actor Will Wheaton gave a speech about sportsmanship in competition, specifically online gaming.  The speech could (and has) been boiled down to one phrase (sanitized for a Catholic audience):  Don't be a jerk.

Does anyone think "radtrads" like being called radtrads?  Do "Neo-Catholics" like being called "Neo-Catholic?"  Both audiences treat those terms as insults.  Most people who say those terms lack the stones to say it directly to someone's face.  Or more likely, they don't actually know any flesh and blood "others", they just do it from behind a keyboard, being internet tough guys.

As Catholics, our goal should be to reach out to everyone, including fallen brothers, guiding them to the mercy of Christ Jesus.  In doing so, we should avoid doing anything that can create a barrier to this.  There's a reason Holy Mother Church doesn't call the SSPX or sedevacantists "radtrads" even though she seriously disagrees with their positions. 

Now you might think these people are unworthy of dialogue.  You might think they are unworthy of charity, and they deserve to be insulted.  Those darn "others" deserve every piece of scorn they get, and I get to define what makes someone the other!  This isn't me getting on a soapbox.  The problem described here is inherent in the human condition, mine included.  We like to label things.  Who knows why.  Maybe it's evolutionary, maybe it's psychological, maybe it's a combination of a lot of factors.  That it is part of human nature doesn't mean it is okay.  We need to strive above our nature, to disagree without being disagreeable.  Of course, we all think we can do this.  Yet what does the "other" think?

I also don't necessarily think we need to do away with all descriptions.  If a Charismatic wants to call themselves a Charismatic, and they still understand that the Holy Spirit works through all Catholics, and they aren't superior, more power to them.   It really doesn't damage me.  Likewise, I think people who love the Extraordinary, love traditional devotions, emphasize huge families, and fight hard to bring a sense of the sacred to places it is sorely lacking, let them be called "traditionalist" if they so desire.  Just make sure they understand that they are not the only ones who emphasize those things, and others try to emphasize them as well.  Let all of us live out our charisms, and live them out expressing our common Catholic Faith.

My problem is when we violate Wheaton's law:  when we define someone with a term to belittle and mock them for no other reason to belittle and mock them.  One doesn't need to use "radtrad" to condemn the ideas that Vatican II taught formal error, the New Mass is invalid/evil, bathe in conspiracy theories, etc.  You lose nothing from dropping that term.  In fact, you gain something:  you'd be stunned how much goodwill you can come to the table with when you aren't starting out your discussion by mocking someone.

These people might reject what you have to say.  They might even insult you back.  Let them.  They might come around later.  Or maybe someone sees the work you've done, how you reached out, and that changes their heart.  This is the way of the Church, following her should be sufficient.

In the end, I'll grant you the right strictly speaking to use such labels.  Yet why don't we ask ourselves:  Is this actually doing any good?

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