Friday, July 01, 2005

Another Letter to the Editor 

Back in late April, our diocesan paper ran a column of George Weigel's describing Pope Benedict's election as a sign that the "'progressive' project" was over. In his view, for forty years there has been a movement trying to foster a Catholicism of "how little can I believe?" ; and that movement is, in his view, mostly dead.

The following week, an adult faith formation director wrote a letter to the editor that was little more than five column inches of whining. She did not take Weigel to task for a mischaracterization of the word "progressive," nor demonstrate that the movement was still alive, nor address his argument at all. As near as I can tell, having skimmed his column and grown angry at Weigel and all those like him, she wrote a letter against what she thought he must really mean. She excoriated him for denying the legitimacy of anyone who questions any church practices, for rejecting Vatican II, and especially for being afraid.

Now anyone who's read the least bit of Weigel's writing knows that these charges don't stick at all. There are plenty of ways the letter-writer could have argued with Weigel; but to say that the author of The Courage to Be Catholic approves of all church practices, that Letters to a Young Catholic rejects Vatican II, or that Witness to Hope is the work of a man possessed by fear, is fanciful beyond measure.

So I wrote a letter to the editor gently (I hope) pointing out the enormous gaps between the letter-writer's accusations and Weigel's actual column. My chief point, however, was that the effectiveness of dialogue breaks down utterly when we merely glance at someone's words, decide what "side" he's on, presume we already know what he and his ilk think, and then respond to that rather than what he really said.

When I was studying literature in college, the good professors always insisted we stay close to the text before our eyes. This practice was not a chain restricting good discussion, but rather an anchor to reality. The same rule applies to homilies, newspaper columns, and blogs. Take what is actually said, attribute the best motives to the author consistent with what he wrote, and then respond in charity.

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