Fascinating Miscommunication

Over on the Book of Face, somebody posted this:

Now, for the most part, I agree with this. Indeed, I wrote a post a while back saying much the same thing. Prioritizing nstitutional ass-covering over the good of the human person is evil because the institution was made for man, not man for the institution and human beings are, as Vatican II says, the only creature on earth whom God has willed for their own sake.

But I took issue with one bit of careless wording: the bit about “alternate theologies” which appeared to me to assume that the only reason one would propose such things is “to keep people from leaving your religion”.

So I commented:

Why is it bad to help people see the love of Jesus for them and liberate them from Freak Show lies? If somebody has been brainwashed that Jesus hates them, why on earth is it bad for them to learn that Jesus loves them? This course seems more like spiritual euthanasia than healing.

Reactions were fascinating:

Do you know Jo Luehmann ? Have you followed her story?

This statement wasn’t made in isolation. There is context that makes her post incredibly reasonable. If it makes you feel defensive or attacked, take it as a nudge from the Holy Spirit to reflect and pray.

(I felt neither defensive nor attacked. I merely disagreed with her statement as it is worded. I’m sure she’s a very good person and she obviously has the interests of wounded people in mind.)

There are various ways to look at this exchange. The most common way in apologetics circles is to focus on the propositions being offered by my interlocutors. This nearly always leads to a fruitless quarrel because what my interlocutors really want is not to have an abstract discussion about the abstract question of whether theological discussions can be beneficial.

What they want is for hurting people (and very often the hurting persons are themselves) to be heard and seen and not regarded as a threat. So many of these conversations are between apologetics types eager to defeat somebody in intellectual combat and wounded people saying, “I’m in pain, dammit, and you treat me like some sort of enemy, or as a practice dummy to display your intellectual fencing skills on. Screw your theology and LISTEN TO ME!”

On my end, of course, I was completely sincere. For me, struggles with pain and suffering rooted in theological questions (“Is God good? Does he love me? Why do brother and sister Christians behave like such dicks and SOBs and why is it that people I have gained so much good from can be so awful sometimes?”) have been massively, massively helped by escaping terrible theology and discovering good theology. So I was quite sincere in my questions and seeking–or imagined I was seeking–their good.

But the backlash made me realize that without communicating that I was listening to their pain first, there would never be a second point in the conversation. And the paradox is that this was because at some level I wanted to center my own experience of healing rather than their hurt. An important epiphany.


2 Responses

  1. I love this! Takes a lot of self-reflection to notice these things when we do them. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Pardon the lengthy reply, but I wanted to mention an example of what I would consider a similar dynamic I often encounter.

    I am currently engaging in a discussion on a local discussion board about the Washington legislative bill that stalled in the 2023 session that would have made religious clergy and other employees mandatory reporters in cases of reasonable belief that abuse has occurred.

    The original bill contained a “clergy-penitent privilege” exception for the specific case of confession only. It was compatible with Catholic teaching, the reporting mandates in other states, and exceptions for other highly sensitive situations like those involving attorneys and spouses, and it was supported by our archbishop. It passed the state senate unanimously, but the house of representatives then stripped out that exception, which made the bill a lot more contentious, and the Senate didn’t confirm the House’s changes.

    The Seattle Times then wrote an article effectively blaming the Catholic Church for killing the bill, which is false, and it stirred up a lot of angry discussion (one poster even proposed burning down churches in response). I’m working really hard to keep mind as I formulate my responses to the discussion:

    “What they want is for hurting people (and very often the hurting persons are themselves) to be heard and seen and not regarded as a threat.”

    I’m resisting the temptation to fight against the anger at the Church, and trying to focus on confirming the need to report these crimes, but at the same time to promote a law that balances interests and, frankly, addresses the overwhelming majority of the situations where abuse is discovered.

    I admit, however, it is extremely challenging to remain patient. I know they want the wrong of abuse to be acknowledged, and I know that we have to accept that we as a Church have a long list of collective failures that make it difficult to understand why the seal of confession is important to us.

    But first of all, there is my own temptation to perceive an attack on the Church as an attack on me (which, in truth, is how some of the comments are phrased – “Catholics are evil”). Psychologically, I would say this is a big part of what leads us often to act as if the victims are threats.

    Further, this specific discussion did not start as expressing desire for acknowledgement that there is real harm to solve. It is started as an attack on the Church, and it seems impossible to steer it in the direction of how to balance the protection of victims with the freedom of religion. There are some who are sympathetic to my point of view, but for some of those involved in the discussion, it seems to me that anything less than an outright rejection of the seal of confession is interpreted as if it were a promotion of rape.

    Maybe I’m still not taking the right tact. I prayed for help to come up with responses that were productive before I decided whether or not to even engage in the discussion, but I’m really at a loss how to participate in such conversations.

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