Monday 10th December 2018

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Beware Of Charity That Is Not True

October 10, 2018 Frontpage No Comments


By the time this reaches you, I suspect l’affaire Kavanaugh will have reached its dénouement, which is a fancy French word for saying it we can all go back to watching football.
Many of my friends on the left have challenged me, not so much for my defense of Justice Brett Kavanaugh as for my defense of due process and a presumption of innocence before guilt is ascertained — which, to many of those same friends, might as well be a defense of Kavanaugh sine qua non.
The challenge brought up by the #MeToo movement bears remarkable similarities to the efforts by faithful Catholics to bring to light the sexual abuse scandal within the Catholic Church in America. The distinction is that Catholics within the Church have been seeking due process, whereas the outsiders attacking Kavanaugh have unfortunately determined that Kavanaugh must be a stand-in for every allegation or act of sexual assault.
We should be clear on one item, however. The political left in this country doesn’t hate Brett Kavanaugh because they believe the allegations; they believe the allegations because they hate Brett Kavanaugh.
Nor should we be unaware of the reason — the sole reason — why the political left in this country hates Kavanaugh with such a passionate intensity as to throw due process overboard. In short, Kavanaugh presents a threat to the only sacrament the political left in this nation holds dear: abortion.
In contrast, those of us struggling with the sexual abuse scandal within the Catholic Church are doing so not from a wellspring of contempt, but from one of genuine Christian charity. In other words, we emphasize this point because the scandal presents a threat to the one sacrament Catholics hold most dear: the Eucharist.
St. Francis de Sales offers a maxim that is true in cases such as these: “Truth that is not charitable proceeds from a charity that is not true.” An apt warning for those of us who feel the temptation toward anger at men such as former cardinal Theodore McCarrick and those who enabled him — Donald Cardinal Wuerl among them.
Yet as Catholics temper their own feelings with an eye toward charity, one is hard pressed to find such a sentiment among those who are destroying Kavanaugh’s reputation while his family (and his own daughters) helplessly watch.
This is not to say that Dr. Christine Blasey Ford is to be disbelieved on the basis of her testimony. One might very well argue that her sentiments are true while her evidence is faulty; one may even choose to believe or disbelieve her.
What is problematic here is a twofold problem of what we are being asked to believe as a public: 1) that every accuser must be believed, and 2) that even should the evidence extend beyond the credible, we should have empathy for the accusers and the movement.
The first point can be dismissed in toto. Hearsay is not evidence. Yet the second point contains a play on words that is not easily detected but worth exploring.
The word empathy stems from the Greek word pathos — in short, to feel suffering, and in contrast with two other Greek concepts of rhetoric: ethos (ethics or character) and logos (from which we get logic and dialogue). These three elements are what Aristotle believed constituted good argumentation in his book On Rhetoric.
But it is curious to learn that empathy is a rather new word. In fact, it is a nineteenth-century neologism from the German Erfuhlung — literally meaning “on feeling.”
Empathy is an interesting spot for #MeToo to place the argument, if for no other reason than the scandal within the Church has seen a great deal of emphasis placed on ethos or over-rationalization regarding the sexual abuse scandal, one that protected the “Velvet Mafia” first and the victims a rather distant second.
Yet the hard truth is that we are not called to come from a place of empathy or ethics (or even logic). In the final analysis, these are not even virtues — but rhetorical devices. Our cardinal virtues are as follows: Faith, Hope, and Charity . . . and the greatest of these? Well . . . you know the verse (1 Cor. 13).
What is interesting here is that, while there are correlations between these three rhetorical devices and three virtues, there are also three words the Greeks used for love: eros (physical), philos (mental), and agapos (spirit). If God is Love, and God is the logos become Flesh (John 1), then it is entirely appropriate to reconcile pathos with eros; ethos with philos; logos with agapos — or more appropriately, logic and dialogue as tools to allow the virtue of charity to become kairos (or present).
Thus we should be on guard against “a charity that is not true” in the words of St. Francis de Sales. In short, appeals to empathy and rationalization — while apt in a sense — only present a third of the argument, and perhaps the least important third.
Consider likewise that this appeal toward consideration — and of dialogue — is the only means to combat what the philosopher cum political theorist Hannah Arendt would term as the banality of evil, a concept she observed during the trial of Adolf Eichmann in 1961. This dialogue from charity is the only sort of “thinking” that conditions us against the vulgarities of the world, or worse, the overreaction into either “believe all women” (empathy) or “I will not speak” (rationalization).
This call to consider and pray deeply on such matters with a charity that stems from truth is indeed not just a call to conscience, but a call to discernment. Such an act ultimately requires judgment and a willingness to choose and solicit the good over what is evil and vulgar.
To this point, Arendt offers us encouragement: “If you say to yourself in such matters: who am I to judge? — you are already lost.” Poignant words, indeed.
Kavanaugh’s fate will be well determined by the time this reaches your hands. The fate of the American hierarchy remains to be demonstrated. Yet between the tactics of “empathy” and mob justice via social media and the circled wagons huddled around the 2018 Synod on Youth, we should all be cautious of a charity that isn’t true.

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Keep your eyes on the Magisterial parliament (read: Synod) in Rome these coming weeks. Whenever a German cardinal speaks of renewal, my hand reaches for my Roman Missal (1962 version).

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I’ve been speaking to a good number of fund-raisers in Catholic circles and the complaint is nearly unanimous — Catholics haven’t simply stopped giving to the Church in recent weeks, but they are starting to stop giving to Catholic charities (the good ones) — pro-life organizations, and so forth.
This might be the time to redouble your efforts to charities and publications who you know are on the side of the angels. If you’ll remember the call to donate $10/mo to your favorite Catholic charities, now would be a great time to renew that call.

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Pope Francis has asked the Catholic faithful to join him in praying the rosary every day and conclude it with Pope Leo XIII’s prayer to St. Michael the Archangel. Faithful readers of The Wanderer are more than likely already exercising their spiritual concealed carry permits, but it is a useful reminder that we should all attend this call carefully — and pray for the conversion and softening of hearts in Rome and elsewhere.

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Questions? Comments? Brilliant thoughts? Please feel free to send any correspondence for First Teachers to Shaun Kenney, c/o First Teachers, 5289 Venable Road, Kents Store, VA 23084 — or if it is easier, simply send me an e-mail with First Teachers in the subject line to:

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