All in the family
Hateful religious posts do away with dignity
By Susanne Janssen
Recently, I came across a website that saddened me. It harassed a leader, it called an official a liar, and not just once or twice, several times, and without offering any justification for such accusations. Actually, to me it seemed that its goal was to create fear, division, and a campaign against that leader.
No, this wasn’t a political website. It was Catholic; the mentioned leader was the pope.
I have witnessed so many steps toward unity in the Catholic Church, but such a tirade made me think for a moment that maybe unity isn’t possible — how could I believe and work for a more united world if my home, the Church, is so deeply divided?
However, my second thought was that yes, the Church is clearly made up of human beings, but it is also divine, and God is stronger than our flaws as he has showed us throughout history.
Even with that trust, though, the fact that these kinds of websites and media outlets exist still troubles me. Not so much because people have very different opinions about Pope Francis, about the ways to live out one’s faith today, or thoughts that certain authors publish. That is part of our intellectual freedom and diversity, and a constructive element in a democracy.
It’s the style that disturbs me. It was harassing those who have certain views, refusing to consider the other point of view or trying to counter with another perspective, and not respecting the person’s dignity.
In general, as a society, there’s general difficulty with talking to one another. We are so fueled by emotions: people are angry, nostalgic, convinced, anxious and fearful. It seems we have forgotten how to discuss and argue amicably, how to have an intellectual discourse that can enrich our thoughts.
I asked myself how I am affected by social media hype. Do I only look for affirmation of my opinion? Am I ready to question my opinion?
Recently, in conversation with someone from my homeland (Germany), I realized that we grew up very differently. What I held as a treasure, my friend saw as a nuisance. The politicians I liked were suspect to her. And she didn’t find humor in a joke I shared.
However, I realized that our relationship meant more to me than expounding on my ideas. Could it be that I have to get out of my bubble to understand why she thinks so differently?
I remembered that even in the early church the Apostles had to face this dilemma. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “For it has been reported to me… that there are quarrels among you, my brothers and sisters. What I mean is that each of you says, ‘I belong to Paul,’ or ‘I belong to Apollos,’ or ‘I belong to Cephas,’ or ‘I belong to Christ.’ Has Christ been divided?” (1 Cor 1:11-12).
It could help to think of the Church as a family (and just like in a family, there are sorrows and joys). In my family, some uncles have very different opinions from mine. Even my brother has values that differ from mine. I felt some of my parents’ convictions were outdated, while others are dear and important to me. How much more does that apply to the Church?
Jesus ate with sinners, like the tax collector Matthew, and conversed with prostitutes. He loved them. Who would be Matthew today? For some, he might be a gay person they never talked to … for others the Muslim refugee they fear … or the couple living together before getting married … or the parishioner who loves the Tridentine Mass in Latin… or the woman who does not want to welcome immigrants — just to offer a few examples. Each one of us has their own “Matthew” who triggers that reaction in us that makes the other seem too difficult to accept.
I’m aware that this is not an easy task, and I often fall short. However, it comes down to cultivating the ability to tolerate different ideas. If I can tolerate one view, can I do so with the opposite? And if not, why not?
The Church’s teaching is wide-ranging. And even if its moral values are clear, it’s also clear that, as human beings, we will not always be able to live up to those values. They are an ideal we should aim at with determination, but Jesus himself in the Gospel showed us what to do when people fall short: love, not condemn, one another.
Excluding those who think differently is exactly the goal of hate posts on social media. They divide “us” from “them,” those who consider themselves right from those who are thought to be wrong. Labels and colors can change, but this attitude poisons all sides. And what is at stake — if we don’t overcome this — is one of the most important things we have in the Church: unity, the unity of the people of God.
So why don’t we start to talk with each other again? On September 20, in a general audience, Pope Francis said, “Work for peace among people, and do not listen to the voice of those who spread hate and discord. Do not listen to these voices. As different as they are from each other, human beings were created to live together. In conflicts, be patient: one day you will discover that each person is the custodian of a fragment of truth.”
If we can re-learn to converse respectfully, talk with each other and learn from one another, we will have accomplished a lot.
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