Judge Not…

 

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*Sidenote; this is a slightly revised version of something I wrote a while back. It’s just that the topic has come up once again.*

It is natural for young people to embrace things with zeal. Whether it be social and political opinions or religious fervor, youth lends itself to jumping into things with both feet.  I was no different. During my college years, when so many of my friends were abandoning their faith, my Catholic faith took on a much more orthodox appearance. Some would have even called it borderline traditionalist. With time, temperance and a great deal of education, I shed some of the rigidity and, in turn, adopted a more discerning and patient brand of faith. I learned to avoid being quick to rashness or judgment, as well as refraining from fruitless, pedantic debates over issues that need not be debated. That being said, we must also be mindful of the fact that while judgment is God’s and His alone, we nonetheless retain the right to call something what it is–or isn’t, provided that we have factual basis for our proclamations.

I’m all for an inclusive Church–a Church that understands that it literally takes all kinds. Much like our civic society, I’ve long felt that we are much better off when we are open to and respectful of all points of view, even if we disagree with those points of view. We can certainly point out the erroneous beliefs that people hold without resorting to vitriolic judgment. My own beloved University of Notre Dame has been the subject of controversy this week, criticized by both alumni and “fans” for allegedly not being Catholic enough as a result of presenting Vice President Joe Biden and former House Speaker John Boehner with their distinguished Laetare Medal. Critics from both sides of the political aisle have cast stones at Notre Dame President Fr. John Jenkins C.S.C. for inviting both statesmen; those on the right claiming Biden is pro-abortion and those on the left claiming Boehner is pro-death penalty.

The Laetare Medal is presented annually by Notre Dame to Catholic individuals who have performed outstanding service to both the Church and society as a whole. The charges against both men might very well be accurate, but we cannot deny that both men have spent their lives working towards the betterment of American society and both men have spent their lives practicing their shared Catholic faith. Furthermore, shouldn’t we as Catholics pride ourselves in the fact that our universities expose us to different points of view? Fr. Jenkins made it abundantly clear that neither he, nor the university were endorsing either man’s political viewpoints. Instead, they were simply commending them for decades of distinguished public service. The history of universities as bastions of academic excellence is deeply intertwined with Catholicism, especially with the Jesuit order. I am a product of both Jesuit and Holy Cross institutions and I, for one, can speak directly to the fact that it was my exposure to that which was different that served to strengthen and fortify my faith. To shelter ourselves from reality, opting instead to live in a proverbial bubble of possibly obtuse thinking, does us no good.

With all of that being said, we nonetheless reserve the right to call someone out for promoting or supporting something that is in direct contradiction to the teachings of Jesus Christ. The danger with this, however is that oftentimes, those who do so possess a rudimentary understanding of Church teachings and theology and instead opt—unknowingly– to speak from their political soapbox in the name of defending their faith. While Biden has in fact been a supporter of abortion and Boehner has likewise been a supporter of the death penalty—not to mention promoting other economic policies which have at times been detrimental to the needs of those of limited means—the fact remains that both men have attempted to do what they have believed was right and both men have attempted to remain true to their Catholic faith. At that point, it becomes a matter of conscience; ergo, it is between them and God. We reserve the right to point out their mistakes, but we hold neither the right to judge them, nor to arbitrarily excommunicate them in the court of public opinion.

 

We cannot know what is in the hearts of other men. What we can know, however, is that when your political views blind you from that which is Christ-like, you allow them to take precedence over behaving in a Christian manner, which then leaves you open to the judgment of others. To equate a university’s desire for dialogue and compassion with being liberal or harboring a subversive—even heretical—political agenda is irresponsible. That is not to say that we can never know that something is definitively right or wrong. On the contrary, if we have well-formed consciences, we can safely engage in dialogue with those who think differently than we do without fear of being somehow corrupted and maybe, just maybe our Catholic charity and our willingness to live the Gospel through our actions might open their eyes to something they’ve been missing all along.

Of Bathrooms and Circuses

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For the past few months, I’ve made it a point not to comment on the ongoing bathroom gender debate that has been somewhat disproportionately dominating our national headlines. I’ve done this for two reasons. Firstly, I have to admit that I am unsure of where I stand on the issue. Secondly, and this ties in with the first reason, I genuinely try to observe and digest all aspects of an issue before weighing in on it—almost unheard of in our modern Twitter world—but alas, I’m vain and I prefer not to look like a fool.

Let me state the obvious: I’m neither a doctor nor a scientist so I really don’t know a great deal about the medical and psychological realities that are at play here. My area of study is in the spiritual realm and so I can only comment with any degree of accuracy from that perspective. If any of the proceeding commentary can be debunked or contradicted by hard, scientific fact, mea culpa; I am not too proud to stand corrected. That being said, I always seek truth above all else, no matter how controversial or unpopular that truth may be. Truth is not subject to the whims of society and that is something that is not debatable. If we can agree upon that one point, I think we can proceed amicably.  If we cannot, then it might suffice to say that you’re not necessarily part of my target audience and much of what I write might very well rub you the wrong way.

After much discernment, I’m finding that I’m not much closer to fully grasping this issue than I was when I first started researching it. As is often the case in our oft-polarized society, there are two very extreme sides to this issue, neither of which is willing to give any validity to the other side’s point of view, nor are they willing to so much as budge from their extreme opinions, despite any attempts to offer perspective or reasoning. One school offers one brand of rhetoric in the name of tolerance and progress while the other side offers their own brand of rhetoric, employing red herring conjectures aimed at frightening people, while maligning an entire class of people who, despite any of our opinions, have a right to exist in our society. I will address both sides and their many flaws before offering an alternative viewpoint.

The information age has undeniably increased the rate in which we receive and process information and as a result, the rate of social progress has likewise become a more rapid and immediate. Movements fueled by social media have seen greater levels of success than ever before thanks to the instantaneous spread of information and the ability to garner national headlines at a moment’s notice. While in theory this might seem like a positive step, in reality it has proven to be a very dangerous tool. The court of public opinion receives its often flawed evidence instantly and as a result, verdicts are formed just as instantly, without any consideration given to the fact that the information provided might be biased or just plain incorrect. The Arab Spring comes to mind, as does the Michael Brown case in Ferguson, MO. In both cases, news went viral almost immediately and widespread public opinions were formed without even a fraction of the actual factual information being known.

Those on the progressive side of the political aisle are very quick to make just about anything a civil rights issue and once that label sticks, it becomes very difficult to oppose publicly without being branded a bigot. This has become a prime tactic of the American Left and while disingenuous, it has been a brilliantly successful strategy. That is not to say that the American Right doesn’t employ similarly abhorrent tactics. The bathroom issue has brought out the worst in both sides, with those on the left using the blanket civil rights term to promote a rather bizarre and largely vague cause and those on the right seemingly demonizing trans-gendered people by comparing them to sexual predators and child molesters. So which side is right?

In my view, neither side is right. The left has tried to make this akin to the historical African-American struggle, which it simply is not, while the right has shown a fundamental lack of understanding and compassion by ignoring the fact that trans-gendered individuals have a right to exist under the law. That being said, there is a great deal of grey area at play that is being ignored, a grey area where elements of validity in the arguments of both sides reside.

If a man or a woman goes through the full spectrum of medical steps necessary to transform themselves into the opposite sex, it would certainly seem self-evident that the individual in question would use the public restroom that corresponds to their appearance. Bruce Jenner was born a man but has made himself to look, for all intents and purposes, like a woman. He now claims to be a she, going by the name of Caitlyn. I would find it somewhat more jarring to see someone who looks like him (her) in the men’s restroom rather than in the women’s restroom. There is absolutely no reason to believe that he (she) poses any more of a threat to society than anyone else.

But I also cannot help but wonder where our society is headed, morally speaking. While it certainly seems tolerant and compassionate to reinforce the cliché that we can be anything we want to be, I’m inclined to think that perhaps we need to be more realistic with ourselves and face the fact that sometimes we simply were not born to be the thing we might want to be. Since the age of three, I desperately wanted to be a professional baseball player. At 5’10, with scrawny arms and a complete inability to hit a curveball, I had to come to grips with the fact that it simply wasn’t in the cards, despite the fact that I continue to live and breathe baseball. I firmly believe that baseball is in my blood, as much as anything else, but limits have been set and I have to live with that.

So is it possible that despite all the medical advancements and all the Tony Robbins-you-can-do-it-if-you-believe-it motivational drivel, maybe, just maybe, we ought to simply accept that we are who we are, regardless of what we might want to believe? This is in no way a commentary on homosexuality vs. heterosexuality, as that is a completely different issue. But one cannot be blind to the fact that the notion of being born a man, yet taking medical steps to become a woman certainly comes off as being peculiar—even mentally unstable—to the vast majority of people. Again, I am not a doctor, so I cannot speak to the science behind this, I can only wonder if it speaks of a deeper superficiality that has become pandemic in our global society. As people have increasingly dismissed the need for a relationship with God, they have grown increasingly in love with themselves, via plastic surgery, materialism, the delusional pursuit of wealth and the social façade that comes with it and I simply wonder if this is but one more aspect of that grand societal depravity?

The real issue at hand goes far beyond who uses which bathroom. If it didn’t, unisex bathrooms would suffice; but the courts have said that they won’t. The real issue is that we are a society afloat on a rudderless ship. We have abandoned belief in God, opting instead to believe in ourselves and as G.K. Chesterton once wrote, “the men who really believe in themselves are all in lunatic asylums.”