Anyone who has spent any amount of time talking to me knows that politics is not my arena. I have spoken at length about how I believe that politics in our country is completely bankrupt, and that we could be spending our time and efforts in better ways. Then a few months ago after I had spent the preceding evening waxing eloquent on this topic, I woke up and found that Pope Francis had said that we had to be involved in politics. "Do I as a Catholic watch from my balcony?" he asked, "No, you can't watch from the balcony. Get right in there!"
Well, I still believe that I, personally, am not called to be in the middle of the fray--whatever gifts I have do not lie in that direction--and I still believe that Christians are rapidly losing the ability to be heard in the public square. However, I do try to at least seriously consider what the Holy Father says, and I thought that what I might be able to do is to write occasionally about some of the things we have to keep in mind when we engage in the political realm. This is my first attempt to do so.
While reading Josef Pieper (heavily informed by Thomas Aquinas) on the virtue of prudence, I came across this passage.
There can be false and crooked ways leading even to right goals. The meaning of the virtue of prudence, however, is primarily this: that not only the end of human action but also the means for its realization shall be in keeping with the truth of real things. This in turn necessitates that the egocentric "interests" of man be silenced in order that he may perceive the truth of real things, and so that reality itself may guide him to the proper means for realizing his goal. On the other hand, the meaning, or rather the folly, of cunning consists in this: that the loquacious and therefore unhearing bias of the "tactician" (only he who is silent can hear) obstructs the path of realization, blocks it off from the truth of real things. "Nor should a good end be pursued by means that are false and counterfeit but by such as are true," says Thomas.Prudence, seeing "the truth of real things," informs all good actions. If we want to reach a good political outcome, we have to be good all the way. We can't overlook the truth in our opponents' arguments, or fudge the truth in any way in our own arguments. It is so tempting to do either of these things in a good cause, but doing so undermines our efforts.
Unfortunately, when I read many Catholic and other Christians commentators or bloggers, or just people commenting on articles or on Facebook, I come across a kind of manipulation of the facts. Sometimes it's a subtle bending of the truth, or a repetition of something that was originally read out of context. I'm not talking about political pundits or spin artists, I'm talking about sincere Christians who are trying to defend the culture or the Faith, but who slip into the folly of cunning and inadvertently cut themselves off from the truth of real things.
In his letter to the Philippians, St. Paul admonishes us to, "...be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine like lights in the world." If we are going to do this, we must first of all be quiet and listen to what is really being said. As the above quotes says, "only he who is silent can hear." We have to do some research to see if the information we are passing along is true and presented in the proper context. We must silence our egocentric interests. And then, having discovered as best we can the truth of real things, we speak, not to destroy our opponent, but to illuminate him for the good of his soul.
If we do otherwise, if we bend the truth, subtly alter the facts, suppress knowledge that seems to weaken our argument, we may win the day, but it will be a Pyrrhic victory because we will have destroyed our souls.
UPDATE: This by Stephen Greydanus is about exactly the sort of thing I'm talking about.
And this is wonderful--long but worth it and also touches on some of the things I'm trying to say.
"The world is waiting for those who love it. If you don’t love men. Don’t preach to them." Fr. Vincent McNabb