Charity Criticism and the Catechism
If you have ever engaged in an online debate forum, whether it be catholic or otherwise, you have undoubtedly heard someone bring up charity concerning how we must conduct ourselves towards others. Some argue that charity is often a crutch people will use to escape the substance of controversial issues in debates. In contrast, some also argue that there is a great lack of charity present, especially regarding issues that affect people personally. It’s challenging to figure out where the line actually is and let pride or our own personal bias get in the way of discernment. Therefore, it is crucially important that we as Catholics understand where the line is and how it can be applied, especially in the context of modern day online debates which have become so prevalent. At the end of the day, our goals as Catholics are to bring ourselves and as many other people to heaven as we can. Thus, we must know and understand how to debate properly and in the right manner.
When it comes to arguments, there are two important considerations.
Firstly is the substance of the argument.
The substance of the argument is essentially what you are arguing or the basis from which you conclude. For example, if you were to defend church teaching on abortion, the substance of your argument would be that life begins at conception; therefore, abortion is ending an innocent life, making it immoral. This makes certain topics extremely easy to resolve on the substance level. When it comes to the most controversial issues, church teaching is crystal clear and leaves no room for debate. St.Paul characterizes charity as “it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right.” (CCC 1825) In other words, when it comes to church teaching, it can never be wrong to defend objective moral truth. Simple stating the truth can never conflict with charity as charity must be oriented towards the good. As St.Pope Pius X so aptly puts it, “Whilst Jesus was kind to sinners and to those who went astray, He did not respect their false ideas, however sincere they might have appeared. He loved them all, but He instructed them to convert them and save them.” So, what about the grey area? What about topics where church teaching leaves open the possibility for theological opinion? Sometimes the Catechism does not spell out exactly what the correct belief is on a particular issue. In these situations, one must tread carefully and above all look to tradition and the saints for guidance. As a general rule, if you argue for something that no saint or pope has ever supported, it’s probably a sign that there is little to no basis in the argument. Like all issues, our pursuit of the truth must be out of a desire for the good. Pride or vanity must play no part in your desire to convince people; otherwise, it is doomed to be tainted. “The practice of all the virtues is animated and inspired by charity, which “binds everything together in perfect harmony”;105 it is the form of the virtues; it articulates and orders them among themselves; it is the source and the goal of their Christian practice. Charity upholds and purifies our human ability to love, and raises it to the supernatural perfection of divine love.” (CCC 1827)
Secondly is the manner or form in which you conduct the arguments.
Here is where lots of things get tricky as oftentimes, and especially online, we don’t know other people’s experiences and relationships with a particular issue. In the modern world, where many are so passionately invested in what they believe is virtually impossible to avoid emotional interference in argumentation. This makes it extremely important to go about yourself in the right way to receive a broader audience. This does not mean that you twist church teaching to make everyone feel more comfortable with their offenses. As stated above, we can never compromise when it comes to church teaching. It means that our tone and wording can be fundamental in convincing those who otherwise would be completely turned off to church teaching. Nowhere is this more evident than on the topic of human sexuality. In a world where many are so enslaved to their passions, it seems virtually impossible to convince certain groups. In moments like these, we must remember that the “love” we must show to others isn’t a secular love based on pleasure that our bodies feel but rather a love of Christ and all the good that God has given us. Love is not something left to be interpreted by our culture or the times but rather through the divinely revealed law. “Fruit of the Spirit and fullness of the Law, charity keeps the commandments of God and his Christ: Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love.” (CCC 1824) It is equally imperative that we recognize the innate human dignity of each person. To treat each person like a robot that you plug arguments into does yourself a disservice as we must take personal experience into account if we are to convince people. For example, if you overheard a young man speaking negatively about Catholicism and know he was a victim of sexual abuse at a priest’s hands, your approach should differ from if you know that not to be the case. Personal experience and especially traumatic experiences, shape the way people view issues. We must consider when we are debating whether it be typing out a comment on Facebook or talking with a close family member. Our manor oftentimes is just as important as the substance with regards to whether we can convince others.
Charity and the truth always go hand in hand. One cannot twist the truth and be charitable, and one cannot properly defend the truth while being uncharitable. We as Catholics must always strive to bring the truth of Christ to others but to do so, we must make sure our intentions are rightly ordered, and we argue for the right reasons. “And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.” – Mark 16:15
Yours in Christ