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Taylor Swift and Thomas Aquinas

It may have been a quiet week in Lake Wobegon, but it has been quite the week or at least quite the weekend in the Catholic blogosphere. I am going to go all Taylor Swift on you right now and declare that I will never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever try to carry on a serious discussion in a Facebook com box again! It was horrific. I saw my work taken out of context, misrepresented and posted in a Facebook status update with the specific intention of demonstrating how stupid some readers are. Fans and friends of the poster hopped right in like sharks after chum. They heaped sarcasm on top of ridicule without even knowing if the statement offered was true or having any way of seeing it in context. I thought if I put a face and a link to the source of the statement so it could be read in context it would tame the venom. Nope. It rained down ever harder. I suppose I can now invoke another Taylor Swift song.

We complain about political campaigns taking half-truths and sound bites and twisting them into false issues. As I witnessed this weekend, it is not just politicians who do this. We do it to each other all the time. We gossip and sensationalize an issue because we thinks it gives us an air of authority. We exaggerate offenses because victimhood brings us sympathy. Out of pride we dig our heels in and deny that we could possibly be wrong about anything or our opponents could possibly be right about anything.

Here's where Thomas Aquinas comes in. In his work Summa Theologica he argues all the significant principles of Christianity as understood in the 13th century. His format is instructive. Before he launches in to a defense of his position, he voices the position of the opposition. He takes great pains to accurately and completely delineate their premises and conclusions. He even provides cogent arguments for why such conclusions could be drawn. Thomas Aquinas would never demonize his opponent and dismiss their opinions with a "Well that is just a stupid person talking". Only after he had demonstrated that he understood the opposition would he begin to refute their position. Imagine how civil our society would be if every time there was a disagreement both sides accorded each other that level of respect.

I have a long-term project simmering on the back burner that I may just have to move up to a higher priority. I am hoping to develop some guidelines for discussing Catholic health care ethics in every day settings like over a cup of coffee or at the Thanksgiving table. We need to be able to evangelize during these informal but teachable moments without driving a wedge between us and them. This weekend's experience demonstrates how difficult that can be but also how terribly necessary it is to learn to converse on controversial topics with kindness, charity, truth and respect.


Rosemary Bogdan said…
Nice post, Denise. I agree. That was strange. The venom that is expressed online is really alarming. I really like your long term project idea. And may we all learn from St. Thomas Aquinas.

What's with all the touchy people? I really didn't get the intensity, the defensiveness. We're talking about the same exchange, right? Something wrong with respectfully disagreeing?
Denise Hunnell said…
Yes, Rosemary, it is the same exchange. Since it is Lent I will just say, "Bless her heart."

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