Lesson 3: Truth and Political Correctness

Political CorrectnessA few weeks ago, Father Jude reminded us that the given in a democracy is a reasonable, educated audience. “Absent that as the valid context, free speech in a democracy is just so much noise, at best, and, at worst, a detriment.”

Knowing Jude, I am sure he did not mean that all reasonable and educated people make good decisions. He is well aware of human frailty. Fake news is nothing new. John Adams wrote about the time it took to “cook the news.” So too, science, which has become fundable research in our day, has always, to some extent, supported public opinion. And the courts, for all their claims of blind justice, have always based their judgments on who wields power.

Nonetheless, reason and education presumed some form of common story that set rudimentary standards for evaluating what is truth and even fact. Communities functioned, because the people with whom you dealt everyday could be assumed to somewhat embrace that story.

Until recently, that story was based on the narrative shared by the western religions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Jesus made clear the essential ambiguity of that story when he responded to any request to define his teachings by telling a parable. If pushed to clarify his meaning, he simply told another story. I see this as indication that the search for truth is an ongoing conversation.

That conversation for some time has been maintained and promoted in our nation’s public school system. The system was to provide the fundamentals for good citizenship, which included not only reading and writing, but also some form of the common story.

The latter was taught significantly as problems of democracy. It assumed certain canons or standards that the community regarded as norms for truth and critical thinking. Many in the community, and especially the leaders, could quote the Bible and Shakespeare when expressing their thoughts. As the social capital provided by the residue of religion dried up, political correctness was used to replace tradition. Its standards are a simple tolerance best described as politeness.

What we saw in the last election was the breakdown of political correctness. My daughter, Frances, watched Fox News for a week after the election in hopes of understanding the group that voted for Trump. She reports that she heard two kinds of reasoning. The first was voiced by those who claimed Trump said what they had believed for a long time but were afraid to say. The second reported they had not seen any hope for many years, Trump said he could fix that, they were willing to give him a chance, and if he failed, everyone would be experiencing their hopelessness so we could begin all over again.

What you hear in both positions is that this is a brand new world, a very dangerous global system that demands entirely new approaches to manage the risk involved. Along with political correctness, the common story based on religious tradition has been rejected. This is reflected in the movement championing the freedom to choose your own private school and the selection of a cabinet member who represents this position.

Inevitably, some kind of rudimentary common story will emerge from all this. I think John is correct when he suggests it is a time for Christian witness, if we are to have any kind of voice in the conversation forming that story. The first stand is to make clear that Christians believe power alone is self-destructive. The center of our message is that true wisdom is love that heals rather than exacerbates violence. The second is that the indecent lives flaunted by too many of the present public spokespeople do not serve as a model for citizenship. Truth in the Christian story is always associated with righteousness. Of course, the message goes on and on. As my son-in-law observes, it is easy to proclaim the Christian message in this context; the contrast is so evident.

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2 Enlightened Replies

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  1. Fr. Jude says:

    I was kind of expecting that we would be in the Garden of Eden for this Lesson.

    Indeed, I do know the “party line:” “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” But in a democracy, we don’t need “all” to make good decisions, we just need “enough.” Perhaps there might be some value, in another context, in hammering out exactly what a “good’ decision might be, or a “bad” one, for that matter and what, specifically, might lead a reasonable, well-educated person to make over the other.

    Like Francis, I too, have made an effort to appreciate what motivates the “typical” Trump voter.

    Considerable effort, frankly.

    Because I thought, as a reasonable and well-educated person I should attempt to understand what I have been so sinfully tempted by my human frailty to dismiss as bat-excrement insanity.

    I’ve studied the in-depth reports of interviews with a wide range of such voters, in The Washington Post and The New York Times. I’ve read excerpts from The Atlantic Monthly, and whole articles in the New Yorker and the New York Review of Books summarizing those voters’ comments and poll responses.

    Moreover, I have direct personal experience: I grew up in that milieu and spent decades at Thanksgiving and Christmas and Easter and 4th of July meals with my mother at my aunt’s house, where Faux News is ALWAYS on. I have uncles and cousins who swear fervently by guns, God and the GOP. One the greatest blessings of my mother’s moving into a nursing home is that I no longer have to endure all that.

    My conclusion: I’m sticking with the “bat-excrement insanity” hypothesis. There’s just no commonality, not one shred of anything remotely resembling a shared “story.” There’s no basis for any kind of “negotiation” of the truth, only capitulation to hate-laced conspiracy theories or a kind of one-sided “agree-to-disagree” (which cashes out as keeping one’s mouth shut to avoid raised voices and the kind of political incorrectness that almost always kills the beer-buzz.)

    Speaking the Christian Truth in Love at such a venue would be right out, unless one is longing for the modern verbal equivalent of The Stoning of Stephen. Sad! But then, as Benedictine monk, I’m off the hook for having to say anything. In fact, I’ve taken a vow not to speak at all, including, as Benedict so emphatically reminds us in The Rule, saying anything good. (Those who know me well will surely think, “For Fr. Jude, that IS real martyrdom!”).

    I’ll be looking for you next in the Garden of Eden. Don’t forget your (politically correct) fig leaf.

    • Fr. Jude says:

      (I read this thing over 3 times, and I still couldn’t get the typos out – end of second paragraph: “to make ONE over the other.” Perfection, meet Frailty! Oh, damn! And now I’ve missed Compline. Modern Technology ruins another soul’s chance of absolution.!)

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