I like Thomas’ reply to Cardinal Martini’s recent comments on a range of subjects including condom use. He links to various articles that discuss the subject. The Cardinal seems to take the "lesser evil" tact over and over again. Be Holy as your Heavenly Father is Holy becomes do lesser evils than the evils you would commit otherwise. His view of condom use seems to elevate the body over the soul. That you can commit a sin to remain in good health, when in fact it is a greater evil to commit this act. Even if you thought otherwise and your though our main concerns should directed towards health than still recommending condoms would be the wrong solution. Condoms are not one even close to one hundred percent effective for reducing pregnancy and women are not even fertile all the time. So as far as preventing STDs goes they are even less effective. The Cardinal only recommends this solution for married couples with AIDS, but over time the failure rate of condoms will make the chance of the other partner contacting HIV almost a certainty.
Thomas also says that this is a difficult situation for the Holy Father to be able to tacitly reprimand him. As for me I think that Cardinal Martini should be shaken not stirred.
Jeff, I hear you saying that love without truth is meaningless. I’m saying that the converse is also true: truth without love is meaningless. God is truth, so it cannot be loving of us to deny the truth, or to allow others to persist in their denial of the truth. But the ultimate truth that God discloses is his love, so how does it make sense for us to disclose his truth in a way that isn’t loving? Certainly under no circumstances should we “be nasty” to someone for the supposed purpose of revealing the truth to them. (To be fair, I think you probably really only meant that we shouldn’t be afraid of others accusing us of being insensitive.) The minute we stop treating people with respect for their God-given dignity, we’re no longer speaking God’s truth.
Case in point: Pat’s left the building, so to speak. Now what good does that do her? Some have chalked it up to her recalcitrance. Maybe. Or maybe she felt humiliated and attacked; it’s pretty hard for anyone to have a conversion under those circumstances.
You’re going to say we can’t worry how people feel. I agree that “being nice” is not the same as being loving, and we can’t abandon the truth to avoid giving offense. But I also believe that in 99& of all cases, it’s a false dichotomy to say that we can’t practice both truth and love — that is, communicating the truth in a way that makes the good of the other person the first priority. To do that, we need to think about whether we’re communicating the truth in a way that the other person can hear and understand. And we need to treat the other person as a whole person, not just as an opponent whose humanity we reduce to their “wrongness.”
It’s too bad the Gospels don’t record what Jesus talked about at all those dinners with sinners that the Pharisees were constantly griping about. How was it that Jesus, a man whose holiness could have been intimidating, got all those dinner invitations from public sinners — the lowest of the low? I’ll wager a guess that he got invited to dinners and parties because people knew how much he cared about them. He opened people’s hearts with his love, and once their hearts were open, they could hear his words of truth and freedom. Would Pat invite any of us on this thread to her house for dinner any time soon?
Yes, none of us are perfect; we all make mistakes. That is why Jesus repeatedly — over and over and over — emphasizes that we ought to treat others with mercy and forgiveness, and err in the direction of loving “too much.” After all, we’re not God…we don’t want to claim, as Adam and Eve did, to have a god-like grasp of the truth…we’re not even the Magisterium. This is why humility is a virtue.
A lot of what I’m saying comes from almost 20 years of experience actively working on the abortion issue. In college I was right out there on campus with the pro-life group, organizing speakers and displays of fetal development and leafleting and writing op-ed pieces in the student paper and marching in Washington. Of course we got a lot of blowback. At first I was frustrated…after all, I had “the truth” — people were just wrong for not listening!
Over time, I got to talk to many, many people on the other side. I listened to lots of stories, and slowly I started to see where people were coming from emotionally (if not logically). The bottom line here is that *I* had to experience a conversion…one in which I went from viewing “them” as “the opposition” to truly seeing them in all their humanity…their hurt, their complexity, and their beauty as ones still loved by God.
Have I softened my position on abortion? No way. Does it still make me go from zero to sixty when I hear the distortions used to justify it? Absolutely. Have I become silent on the issue? No way. I have personally told a woman that she couldn’t use the phone at our homeless shelter to make a long-distance call for an abortion appointment. I spent a good deal of time trying to persuade another woman not to have an abortion. And I continue to write publicly for an end to abortion. But I am much more careful about how I express my views. I try to establish a relationship first — a friendly comment or compliment goes a long way (“Wow, you’re brave for sharing your story…that must be so hard!”). I do a *lot* more listening, because 1) it is a way of respecting the dignity of the other person, and 2) it helps me to say what I am going to say in a way that’s more likely to be heard. And I try to go slow, as opposed to taking the microwave approach (“zap’em for a minute and you’re done”). I ask lots of questions, both as a gesture of humility and as a way of being open to their humanity. And guess what? I’ve found that people are much more open to hearing what I have to say than they were when I just laid out “the truth” without any regard for how that truth might harm someone whose hurt prevents her from even hearing it.
Have you heard the conversion story of Norma McCorvey, the “Roe” of Roe v. Wade? For years and years, those of us in the pro-life movement hammered her with the truth. In the end, though, it was her friendship with a little girl — the daughter of some protesters — that opened her up.
So yes, let’s stand up against the culture of death; let’s perform a spiritual work of mercy by “admonishing the sinner”; let’s evangelize the Gospel and Church teaching. But let’s always make Christ our model for *how* we continue his mission in the world.
. . . and an olive– with skewer– dropped in.
I don’t see what is so hard. All the Pope has to do is say, “Cardinal Martini was not in union with Church teaching in his comments about condoms. Thank you.”
It’s shocking that a guy who is a cardinal, nearly 80 years old, never learned that the Catholic Church has no doctrine of approving a person’s doing the “lesser of two evils.” Maybe it was his flawed Jesuit training?
The truth is that, when one is faced with two evils, one is also faced with a third choice, the moral choice — which is to do NEITHER of the two evils. So, in the AIDS/condom case, one neither infects one’s spouse nor uses condoms. The married couple instead accepts the need to abstain from intercourse entirely — until (by a gift of God) the diseased person is cured, if that day ever comes.
The only Catholic doctrine that mentions the “lesser of two evils” involves a person TOLERATING someone else (e.g., a legislature) choosing to do the lesser of two evils, when it is impossible to bring about the doing of the good choice.
God be with you.
I have been persuaded that Cardinal Martini’s argument is wrong. (Please note: I think MARTINI IS WRONG!) But none of the theologians in Thomas’ links argue that condom use is “the lesser of two evils.” Nor does Cardinal Martini.
Rather, they argue on the basis of double effect. A common illustration of double effect that is used is the case of an ectopic pregnancy. When a woman gets an ectopic pregnancy, may the embyonic child be removed so that it does not kill her? Most Catholic moral theologian say “Yes.” This is classic orthodox, traditional moral theology. Even the SSPX, for heavens’ sake, says, “Possibly yes.”
Why? Isn’t that abortion and going to kill the child? Well, yes, but it’s also something else, too. It’s removing the embryo so it doesn’t kill the mother.
So, isn’t that doing evil (killing the child), so that good (the mother’s survival) may come of it? No. Isn’t that the lesser of two evils? No.
This is one action with two effects. The one action is: removing the child. The two effects are: first, the child’s death; second, the relief of mortal pressure on the mother’s Fallopian tubes and her survival.
One action–two effects. Which is the effect you want? To save the mother. Do you want to kill the child? No: although you KNOW the child will die, you don’t directly WILL that–you only sadly tolerate it. If there were a way to save the child after its removal, you would do it.
So, can you give the mother “medicines” to kill the child, which will then be miscarried? NO! That’s doing one thing (administering chemical to kill the child) so that another thing (automatic miscarriage and relief of mortal pressure inside the mother) may FOLLOW. TWO actions; not one. Doing evil that good may follow. NOT ALLOWED!
William May’s letter, one of the first links in Thomas’ post, admits that this double effect analysis would probably work with condoms and AIDS IF the only problem with condoms were that they are contraceptives. So far, Martini is right. But they AREN’T just contraceptives. Using a condom is changing the receptacle of seminal fluid from a woman to a balloon. It’s essentially masturbatory and an unnatural act. So double effect (I want safety from disease and I’ll tolerate but not desire the contraceptive effect) won’t work.
Just be careful you don’t mix up double effect with “the lesser of two evils” or you end up trashing Catholic moral teaching. It’s double effect that allows you to kill a dangerous intruder or to shoot an enemy soldier. You don’t directly desire their DEATHS, but killing them is the only effective way of STOPPING them and that is a licit effect of a bullet in the heart.
I am a Catholic woman with HIV. I was infected on my job (RN) over 20 years ago. I am blessed in that my husband and children were not infected also, as I found out 16 years ago. I love my husband and in order to protect him from this virus we do use condoms. Used properly, he has not risked infection. It is not a “certainty” that he will contract the virus over time by using this protection. I do not feel any condemnation in still being able to express my deepest love for my husband while protecting his life. I enjoy your blog, but this one has hit home. Please get your facts straight and put yourself in my position. We have been married for 25 years. Our children are 19 and 22. I am thankful to God for each and every day that I have with them. If it were not for my faith and the strength that He gives me, I don’t think I’d be alive today. I will someday stand before God, and if the subect of condom use and love for husband comes up, then I guess I’ll have to answer. Until then, please spare your judgement of others in these unique situations.
“…please spare your judgement of others in these unique situations”
Amen! God bless and help you, Pat.
You ask me if I have my facts straight. Can you provide one magisterial teaching that says that a grave evil like contracepton can be used? Love is not commiting a mortal sin and offending God. I know you are in a difficult situation and don’t want to appear harsh, but this is the reality. I urge you to please contact a reliable orthodox priest about this.
Then-Cardinal Ratzinger as head of the CDF wrote:
“To seek a solution to the problem of infection by promoting the use of prophylactics would be to embark on a way not only insufficiently reliable from the technical point of view, but also and above all, unacceptable from the moral aspect.”
Being in a difficult situation does not excuse you from the moral law. Your opinion is quite understandable in light of the circumstances, but it is one that should change. What was the point of the martyr’s deaths if they could have just chosen to renounce Christ to get out of a difficult situation?
Wow. I am committing a grave evil in order to protect the man that I love. The fact I was refering to is the “certainty” of my husband contracting the virus through the use of a condom. It’s been 16 years and he’s not infected. This is not a case of martyrdom. This is about sharing the gift of love with my husband. Like I said, I’m the one who will stand before God. Remember the scripture,” Judge not, that ye be not judged”. (Matthew 7:1)
How about Matthew 18 about rebuking your brother. Obviously judgment is required in discerning sin. Though we may not judge someone’s final judgment. Making decisions on what are objectively sinful acts is what we are called to do. Pretty difficult to call someone to repentance without first judging that they require it.
As far as what you call sharing the gift of love. Think about how many people who are fornicating or have divorced and remarried who will say exactly the same thing in defense. To love is to will the good of another. To involve another in a gravely sinful act is not truly love.
Pat, a couple things.
First, I sympathize with your situation. I know it must be very hard.
Second, I would ask if you’ve read any of the Church’s teaching on this subject? Any of the articles I link to, for instance?
You say (I hope sarcastically) that you are committing a grave evil to help protect the man you love. I think we would both agree that you can’t committ grave evils evil to achieve good. I would hope so anyway.
But as far as using a condom – where you deliberately withhold your fertility from your spouse, either directly or through an action you KNOW is contraceptive, isn’t a full sexual act: it is neither open to new life, nor is it a full expression of marital love, because you are withholding an essential part of the act of love.
I would urge you to at least keep an open mind on the topic. You’ll be in my prayers – God Bless.
Matthew 18:15 states, “Moreover,if thy brother shall trespass against thee,go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone; if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother.” I didn’t realize I was “sinning” against you personally. And for that matter, this is quite a public forum for your rebuke. I am willing the good of another in protecting my husband. You have no idea what we have been through. I have been a Christian all of my life. I’m glad you joined the fold after 40 years, but stop being so high and mighty. “Let he that is without sin cast the first stone.” As far as your friend, American Papist…yes I have read your links and especially enjoyed the debate. You are young and have not had the life experiences that I’ve had at 51 years of age. Don’t tell me that I’m withholding an essential part of the act of love. I am beyond procreation. And this is the safe way that we can express our love to one another. I have no problem with it and neither does my Catholic husband. God has blessed us with two wonderful children and I’m thankful for every day I have. I have been volunteering with the Catholic Detention ministry for 5 years and love working with incarcerated men and women. I visit those who move from the county jail to prison and also I visit someone on death row. God is not finished with me yet, and neither do I feel his condemnation regarding this matter of condom use. I thank you for your prayers and I hope that I can continue to enjoy both of your blogs without a bitter taste in my mouth.
I sympathize with Pat, too, but I see that her way of thinking is very common among Catholics.
I find Catholics, for example, who are very orthodox in other ways defending acts of mass murder in war the same way: It was necessary, my grandfather would have died if I didn’t do it, we had to do it to defend our country, millions of Americans would have died otherwise…
I would understand, Pat, if you were not convinced that the Church condemned this. But what I don’t understand is that you seem to be saying, I did it out of love, I’m satisfied it’s right, don’t tell me God condemns it, I know better.
That’s just not how Catholics think about these questions. Plenty of people, for example, say, “I’m a homosexual, you have no right to condemn me, you don’t understand, I KNOW it’s good that I and my partner have a relationship. You have no right to judge me.
Do you say, “Fine,” to that, too? Or do you say, “It’s not allowed, it’s against the law of God. I’m a sinner, too, but I can’t tell you it’s okay. It doesn’t matter what you feel, God says it’s wrong.”
I think that’s all that’s going on here. People are trying to be true to the law of Christ and testify to it even if it makes them seem mean. Sometimes that hurts. Sometimes it seems harsh or unfair. But we have to try to find out what God allows and what he doesn’t and we can’t just go on our feelings, or what the results are, or what feels right to us.
Anyway, God bless you. I can’t imagine facing what you’re facing; most likely I wouldn’t handle it with anything like your grace.
Pat, no one is judging you here and to constantly claim it is rude and obnoxious.
Jeff: please tell me where in scripture that this is a grave sin. Publius: parachutes aren’t 100% effective, but you don’t see people jumping out of planes without them. Billy: gee, I feel judged by your statement and that’s just rude and obnoxious on your part. I’m done talking to you perfect Catholics. You have no clue as to what my life is like and to who I am. Keep writing your little blogs and I’ll continue with the Corporal Works of Mercy.
Sorry, Pat; there is a difference between condemning the sinner and condemning the sin. And moving to the ‘Where in Scripture…’ defense shows that either you were poorly catechized, or that you do not accept the Church’s claim to be able to make judgments about faith OR morals. I do not know how God will judge you; I’m hoping to go through the ‘Mercy’ door myself. But rejecting the teachings of the Church (given that you understand these to be the teachings of the Church) is a sign of pride (in the sinful sense). And this is an indication of the sinfulness of your act: you cling to the goodness of it, for the sake of the good that you want to accomplish, despite the Church’s clear teaching on this. Some sayings are difficult for people overall; others, for people people in particular situations. This does not means that these teachings are not binding. God bless and keep, and please, pray for us, just as we will be praying for you.
Pat, I sympathize with your agony of mind — both about your infection and about what you perceive to be the attitude toward you here. It so happens that I mostly agree with the doctrinal points that people are making, but I think the approach might be reconsidered. Folks, I don’t think we should talk to Pat as though she were (a) deliberately choosing evil or (b) mentally deficient. It’s possible that there are complexities involved that a blog comment can’t encompass, and that there’s a way for Pat to find some peace of mind without anyone’s soul being endangered (including the souls of those involved in this discussion).
Pat, maybe you can find an orthodox moral theologian who can help you with the problem. If in fact you’re post-menopausal, there might not, as you say, be any blocking of the openness to life — but I honestly don’t know. If that’s not the case … well, I’m thinking of people who’ve contracted other infectious and in fact disabling or potentially fatal diseases that would injure their spouses in the course of loving acts, even simple embraces. There are very hard choices to make in these cases. Does the uninfected spouse choose to risk infection? Does the infected spouse choose the agonizing course – agonizing for both parties – of abstaining from the loving acts? Or what? (To risk reducing the discussion to a trivial level, doesn’t this happen when a spouse has a severe cold?)
This isn’t an easy way to live by any means, and I don’t think anyone should take Pat’s situation lightly. But, as everyone keeps saying, there are more than bodies at stake here; there are immortal souls. Pat deserves both sympathy and loving guidance toward a way to love, not just now but forever.
Pat, I do sincerely sympathize (suffer with). What agony of mind you must be going through as you’re suddenly confronted with a possibility of having to make additional painful choices. But do try to find out for certain. Living with even a crumb of uncertainty in the back of the mind can be even worse than knowing the worst. (As I’m sure you found out when you first suspected that you’d been infected.) When God gives trials, He also gives strength. The cross of Christ be between you and harm. I’ll keep you in my prayers.
I’m the wife of Jeff in the comments above.
Thinking about what you must be suffering–which I know I can only begin to imagine–made it hard for me to get to sleep last night.
What I’ve been wondering is whether it would necessarily be wrong for a couple in your situation to continue your sexual relationship WITHOUT condoms. A terrible risk to your husband, yes–but the whole point of our Faith is that our souls are so much more important than our bodies.
I don’t know how high the risk of transmission is from woman to man, but I gather it’s much, much lower than the other way around. I also understand that the presence of bleeding, open sores, & the like–which other venereal diseases & anal sex make so much more likely in cases very different from yours–are big contributors to the transmission of HIV. In fact, I understand AIDS is not really & literally a sexually transmitted disease, but a blood-borne pathogen. And of course there is often bleeding w/ ordinary sexual intercourse–but not nearly as often as in these other situations, where almost all the transmissions take place.
AIDS is no longer a speedy death sentence for folks in America and Europe–it’s a chronic and to some extent manageable disease, as you know so much better than I do. I don’t see why a small risk of contracting a manageable chronic disease is necessarily wrong to take, for a good reason.
And I think having sex in your marriage is a very important good, for many reasons.
Though I also figure it would be a perfectly reasonable choice, if both of you believed you could be continent without continuing your sexual relationship, to decide that it was more important for your marriage, & yr. children, & so forth, to stop having sex in order not to risk your husband’s contracting the disease.
I’m not a moral theologian, & I don’t want to be steering you wrong. I’d be v. interested in what the rest of you–Jeff Miller & the commenters–think abt. this. And maybe I’ll email it to the American Papist, to see what he thinks, too.
God bless & I will pray for you in what I know is a difficult and painful situation,
Pat, a short note about me being very young and “not having the life experience” to talk to someone older than myself.
I agree that I am relatively young, but the truths I’m talking about are the truths of the Church, which has a 2000 year experience. The Church is a “specialist in man” because it has been helping man in his fallen state and has been given the task by the Holy Spirit to convey to him the truth of Christ.
Second, a young man living in today’s world has to deal with sexual issues and decisions EVERY day – I have friends who are living together, practicing every type of sex imaginable. I have had friends who are gay, etc., etc.,
Every person I’ve ever talked to about sexual sins has always said at the beginning of the conversation “I know what I’m doing is right because it feels right and who are you to say that it isn’t You can never know what I’ve been through.”
That’s how the conversation starts, by the end the person almost always admits that they aren’t happy with their life, aren’t happy with their decisions and desperately want to feel healing (they often try to compensate by showing what other – legitimate – good works they do).
In other words, whenever I simply tell them the truth of the Church, their first acts are always defensive (and some of them stay that way). However, I have heard (sometimes years later) that they eventually gave the Church a chance – and everytime they have they have felt tremendously better – happier. One of my friends stopped living with his girlfriend and hopes to marry her later… after they manage to live chastly.
In other words, what I’m trying to say is that everyone initially resists the Church when they are scared of her truth, it takes TRUE humility to admit that other people could be telling them a truth they don’t want to hear – because it is always not that person who is speaking, but Christ in them.
God Bless Pat, I hope you have the courage and humility to give the Church’s teaching another chance, God gives all of us as many chances as we need.
I just want to add a sentence of great praise for Jeff, Mrs. Jeff, American Papist, and Aaron — for giving proper advice to Pat. It’s sad that her mind appears to be closed on this, that she may not have even read the last several messages, and that she may be deserting this and other “orthodox Catholic” blogs. But you have done your duty, planting seeds for the Holy Spirit to bring to fruition.
>>>>”What I’ve been wondering is whether it would necessarily be wrong for a couple in your situation to continue your sexual relationship WITHOUT condoms. A terrible risk to your husband, yes–but the whole point of our Faith is that our souls are so much more important than our bodies.” !!!!
OK, you people have now proved you’re self-righteous and arrogant to the point of telling people to kill those they love (and yes, I think that’s a risk to your soul too!!!). I’m ***horrified*** at how you have treated our sister in Christ, Pat. And if you have the sense God gave you, you’d recognize that the proper moral move–even holding to the condoms are always grave moral evils no matter what the use–would be abstinance, not risking a deadly infection for her husband. Good God almighty. And that’s a prayer for mercy, not taking his name in vain.
Thanks for the appropriate understanding of double effect up there. I suspect many of you use it in other circumstances. For example, are all you all pacifists too? Good for you if you are, but I don’t hear you thumping about the unjust war we (the US) is in nearly as much as outing liturgical abuses and skewering dying women.
Please note that only Mrs. Jeff suggested that she engage in sex without a condom. I think she is quite spectacularly wrong and that it would seem to me that it would be more of a sin to open her husband to HIV than to use the condom. The best and only sin-free course would seem to be abstinence.
I agree that some here haven’t handled the situation with as much delicacy as it requires, though I think Pat’s accusing people of being judgemental for expressing a moral view in unity with the Church rubbed a lot of people the wrong way.
Thanks for the appropriate understanding of double effect up there. I suspect many of you use it in other circumstances. For example, are all you all pacifists too?
See Jeff’s comment about that above (fourth from the top). Double effect does not mean that the ends justify the means. In fact, if the means to the good end are intrisically evil, double effect doesn’t apply. Thus it is not permissible to inject poison into a embryo/fetus lodged in a fallopian tube, but it is permissible to remove the tube (since it will become infected and kill the mother) even though doing so will indirectly cause the death of the unborn child. Jeff’s point (and William May’s) is that a double effect argument would probably work if the only thing wrong with condoms were that they were contraceptive, but that that isn’t the case*.
*Though the matter isn’t as certain as that contraception is wrong. Which is why going to see an orthodox confessor is excellent advice.
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint, dill, and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. It is these you ought to have practiced without neglecting the others.”
Count on Christ for cutting to the heart of the matter. Let’s set aside, for a moment, the moral question being debated here. I don’t object to anyone defending church law. I’m quite grateful for the Church’s teaching and for the guidance of her Magisterium. What I find disturbing about this discussion is that some seem to lack any sense of charity or mercy toward Pat. Those of you who suggest that Pat is endangering her mortal soul…you know, go ahead and defend Church teaching, but let’s leave it up to God to make that determination. You profess to be concerned about her well being, yet you have no qualms about crushing her with your words. Yes, Jesus defended the law — and to call us to practice it perfectly by practicing it in charity (read the Sermon on the Mount). You can be as right as rain about the ins and outs of Church teaching, and still not get it, if you use your words as weapons rather than starting from a position of charity.
Remember how Jesus said that many a prostitute and tax collector would get into heaven before the self-righteous scribes and Pharisees? If you’re worried about protecting anyone’s soul from mortal danger, sit down and read the Gospel. Then look in the mirror, and consider whether you preach the truth out of love for others — or because it makes you feel superior to others.
Well, I have a lot of sympathy for Pat but don’t agree with her. I brought this up to my relatives and they had a different take on it. In my family it was quite common for women to die in childbirth or during the course of a pregnancy, so married couples swearing off sex for the sake of health wasn’t exactly a new concept. In fact, two sisters had to discontinue marital relations because doctors told them, “You survived this time, but have another child and you’ll probably die.”
We’re not talking the 1800s, either. Or post-menopausal women, either. Imagine being told at 28 that you and your 32-year-old husband must have separate beds and live chastely until you were past the child-bearing years. There’s nothing easy about that.
Of course, there’s a note of harshness in some of the responses to Pat. I doubt that anyone who answered her thinks they did a perfect job. I certainly don’t think *I* did.
But look. No one began this discussion by pointing to PAT. No one knew of her existence or her condition. She entered the conversation and chose to reveal it and she used her condition as a sort of universal refutation, a kind of shield: “Do you DARE to tell ME that I might be doing wrong? You have NO such RIGHT!”
Now, none of us is perfect, but I don’t think the main problem with the modern world or its mentality is a lack of sympathy and “support.” Pat certainly deserves sympathy and support. And I’ll bet there are lots of people in her life who give it to her. Enless amounts of sympathy are given in private and public to people who have AIDS–to the point where it crowds out a lot of sympathy for other people who need it too.
ONE of the besetting problems of the modern world, anyway, is that almost no one will tell those who are doing wrong that they are doing wrong. And especially sad people, miserable people, suffering and unhappy people. No one will DARE to correct them. People are afraid of hurting their feelings, they are afraid of bringing condemnation and opprobrium down on their heads–for daring to be “judgmental.” Where most of us fail is not in failing to be sympathetic, but in failing to be clear about right and wrong as we understand them.
I feel very sorry indeed for Pat and if God asked me whether I thought she should be given leeway or not, I’d plump for LOTS and LOTS of leeway. But I think the people on this thread would rather make their mistakes in the general direction of being TOO frank, of speaking TOO clearly about what they think is wrong. And even if they don’t do it perfectly, I think that it’s probably better for Pat to know that what she is doing is serious and at the very least morally questionable. She can’t get a complete pass on that just because she’s very sick.
Still less can all the other sad folks get a pass. The women who got abortions, the men who helped them, those afflicted with homosexual temptations, those who have married badly and been abandoned to loneliness. All these people need us to be courageous enough to risk seeming nasty–courageous enough even to BE nasty. Courageous enough even to risk being WRONG now and then in the attempt to remember that there is such a thing as RIGHT.
Please don’t forget that on the Internet it’s not just hard to develop a true relationship, but it’s easy to misconstrue intent. And, frankly, we’re assuming that Pat was being truthful and not provocative. The final sentence of her introduction was a nice example: “Until then, please spare your judgement of others in these unique situations.” It can be interpreted as “Please be charitable” or as “You don’t get it, so spare me”.
Incidentally, I don’t think it would matter how nicely everything was phrased. Pat would still have rejected it and gotten angry. When my friends very NICELY tried to steer me clear of my sins, I raged against them. I stopped seeing them. The fact that my best friend cried when I told her what I was doing just sent me into a self-righteous rant about how *I* was doing so much charitable work and *I* was quite ready to defend myself to God. (Not unlike Pat’s parting shot.) I’m ashamed to say that I found it easy to manipulate most people into acknowledging that I was a good person and it was a rough situation, etc. ad nauseum. THAT was what I took away from the discussions – confirmation of my “okayness”, not the constructive criticism.
So, yes, we should try to be charitable. But we should also realize the limits of communicating with nicknamed strangers via text on the Internet.
There’s a lot of goodness and wisdom in what you say and I recognize it and applaud it.
I think perhaps you misunderstood what I said. I didn’t say that we had to be nasty. I said that we had to RISK sounding or even being nasty sometimes.
What I mean is that in difficult situations, we are probably going to act imperfectly. And if we are discussion a contentious issue there are a variety of “risks” that we take.
One “risk” is that, through excessive kindness, we will leave the IMPRESSION that we think our interlocutor’s errors or sins are not really all that important or that they’re just matters of pleasant disagreement.
People may sometimes honestly see things differently. But when they are involved in sin, they also frequently are looking for excuses and rationalizing. Too much kindness can play into their challenging defensiveness.
How to combine kindness and sympathy with clarity and firmness? This is a complex issue. I see many people who, out of fear of confrontation, are TOO kind and TOO sweet. That can be a sin against charity, too! But it gets far less attention in our age than meanness.
When I engage a person in discussion whom I believe to be sinning, I may err in EITHER of these two ways. I may be too soft or too hard. In fact, being an imperfect person, I am almost sure to make one or other of these mistakes in the course of the conversation.
So, what many people do is just opt out. That way I won’t make EITHER mistake. No risk.
I’m saying, it’s better to engage. And it’s better to take the RISK of being nasty when you are trying to be firm and clear than it is to simply lean so far over to the sweetness and light side that you are almost sure to leave the person with a defensive and milquetoast impression. So, I don’t think it’s NECESSARILY (PLEASE note that word) true that it’s a failure that Pat left.
And, let me repeat, no one sought out a woman suffering from AIDS in order to unload on her. She volunteered a challenge which she needn’t have done. Her tone was not one of tearful sadness, but of angry and dismissive challenge. People could either respond or not, and if they responded with the necessary clarity they ran the risk that their imperfect personalities would give off some sparks with hers.
Saints would do better, I am sure. We should all try to do better in these situations. But if Pat had been confronted with silence or merely with expressions of sympathy or with hesitation about clarity and truth, I think it would have been far worse than the imperfect result that ensued.
So, I think the thread did OK, though we SHOULD reflect on whether we could have been a bit more loving and sympathetic without compromising.
this is what goes on in Jeff’s head: “koo-koo….koo-koo” i imagine it somewhat like the bird chirping in the cartoons.
>>> though we SHOULD reflect on whether we could have been a bit more loving and sympathetic without compromising.
Well said. Humility should not prevent us from speaking the truth, but it should make us constantly evaluate whether we are making the good of the other our top priority as we do so.
Joseph – I learned much from what you wrote. Thank you especially for this line from your last post: “Humility should not prevent us from speaking the truth . . .” In my case all too many times my bottom line motivation in “speaking truth” is more about being right than caring for the good of the other. For me, I must remember that the good of the other should be my only priority, lest I give my pride any kind of opening in which to feed itself.
Pride can bite you even then! “I am so good and kind and loving; all those other guys are so mean and harsh and UnChristian!” That’s what’s worrisome to me in some of the comments I read.
It gets you from every angle, that nasty Pride.
I get that, Jeff. Which is why 99.9% of the time, I’m better off just keeping my mouth shut.
Ah-HAH! That’s what I’m talking about. It’s better to take the risk of getting it wrong than to opt out. That’s why the guys on this thread trying to balance telling it like it is with a modicum of charity are not to be condemned, but PRAISED. Even if they didn’t get the balance perfect. Most people just leave out or completely water down the truth-telling part because they’re scared they’ll come off as mean.
Jeff – permit me to toss a bit of water on your Eureka moment (and to mix metaphors in doing so). It’s not the risk of being wrong that’s the issue for me – in fact, being wrong is a fine way to learn to be humble. It is that I really need to learn to be humble which for me (and I’m only speaking for myself here) means checking my motivation: is it really to help someone else by pointing out a truth that they need to hear (a fine motive, indeed perhaps an obligation of mercy) or is a prideful need to be right really the driver. So, what I’m trying to say — and apparently doing so rather poorly — is that if I, personally, can’t truthfully be coming from a place of clear, charitable, non-prideful intention, then I, personally, should keep quiet.
As far as these posts are concerned, I join you in praising those who struck the balance you referenced. The issue that I brought up was ancillary to that, and not a comment or a critique of any of the posters. In fact, I stand in awe of their ability to communicate the truth the way that they did, yourself included.
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