Archives‎ > ‎

Let the Dogma Live Loudly In Us! - September 2017

posted Sep 27, 2017, 5:59 PM by RSO The Fenwick Review   [ updated Sep 27, 2017, 6:00 PM ]
By Claude Hanley '18

Last week, the social left’s disdain for people of faith rediscovered one of its most eloquent witnesses.  Amy Coney Barrett, a Catholic law Professor at Notre Dame and nominee to the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, faced sharp questioning over her religious beliefs at her confirmation hearing.  Senator Dick Durbin (D., Illinois) demanded to know whether she considered herself “an orthodox Catholic.” Senator Diane Feinstein (D., California) went further.  Implying that Barrett’s religious faith would prevent her from serving effectively, Feinstein declared, “The dogma lives loudly in you.  And that’s a concern.”  The two senators make an effective example of a process now well underway in this country -- the gradual exclusion of social conservatives and people of faith from the public square.  In pursuit of this goal, the rhetoric of “hatred” and “bigotry” has been one of the social left’s most effective tools.
In his essay, Abuse of Language, Abuse of Power, the philosopher Josef Pieper argues that language has two purposes: to express the truth, and to communicate it to someone. The two are fundamentally linked: if a speaker does not tell the truth, he fails to communicate at all.  There is precisely nothing to communicate.  If the content is knowingly false, it is nothing, devoid of meaning. Deceit transforms communication into obfuscation.  But words, even false words, have consequences.  Through a lie, we hoodwink the other person to act in a certain way, to keep silent, or to think as we would have them think.  Lies makes others the unwitting implements of our will. Divorced from truth, language becomes purely a tool of power.  In support of a political agenda -- and it almost always is -this sort of speech is a profound threat to any shared intellectual, religious, or political life.  It is in precisely these terms that we must understand the accusations “hatred” and “-phobia” so favored by the social left.
An example will illustrate the point.  We have all heard the term “homophobia” employed in any discussion of sexual morality, most likely lobbed at an observant Catholic or Evangelical Protestant.  Frequently, it accompanies an array of other lovely, communicative, dialogue-friendly terms: “hateful bigot,” “judgmental Pharisee,” “ignorance,” et cetera.  There are different terms for different topics: “Anti-choicer” for the pro-life crowd, “Islamophobe” for anyone who votes Republican, and so on.  Pick a cultural norm, imagine what you’d call a person who transgressed it, and the point is clear.
These examples all share a few common properties.  In each case, the accuser pretends to know the heart or mind of the person who holds the offensive view.  I know, for instance, that the “homophobe” actively detests gay people, and would very much like to see them chemically castrated -- even if I only met him five minutes ago, and he has done nothing but make an innocuous moral statement.  He is, by definition, a stranger to me -- and yet, I know him well enough to comment on his motivations and emotions, and to lecture him about the true reason he believes what he believes.  In short, all of these terms are used not in response to the expression of an actual emotion, but in response to a (usually “conservative”) moral or political belief. There is no ground for the accusation to be true or not; it relies instead on an assumption, often self-serving, about a person’s interior life.  Ultimately, the claim these terms make is either unverifiable or manifestly false -but that hardly matters. The accusation is not, however, an inconsequential one.  “Homophobe,” “Islamophobe,” “sexist” and all the rest do not express an idea in terms which allow for discussion and response.  Instead, they act as rhetorical bludgeons, meant to intimidate, discredit, and ultimately silence the other side.  When we call people "homophobes,” whatever they say is immediately discredited.

Their ideas are rooted in an irrational hatred of other people.  Hatred is bad.  Therefore, the ideas are bad.  We can ignore them.  Hatredlanguage imposes a remarkable skew on any discussion -- one person is forced to defend both an idea and his own character, while the other has merely to make accusations.  In this fashion, any argument about a major social or moral issue may be short-circuited before it even begins -- not by superior argument, but by superior sophistry.
Branding a social or ethical position “hatred” or “-phobia” discredits the idea before it can be rationally evaluated.  The most terrifying consequences of such a strategy then become clear.  The accusation of bigotry does not rest with the individual; instead, it contaminates the entire system of belief from which the offender speaks.  Hence, a Roman Catholic’s opposition to abortion makes the entire religion “sexist” and “anti-choice.”  And as a result, any Roman Catholic is discredited in the public eye before his or her arguments can even be heard.  No matter whether people of faith argue on biological, philosophical, or constitutional grounds, the political claims will be readily dismissed as “theological,” and the people will be written off as “bigots.”
That is not to say, of course, that legitimate examples of racism, homophobia, hatred and all the rest do not exist.  The violence in Charlottesville and the attack on the Pulse nightclub attest to that.  Instead, the problem is that the semantic range of the term “hateful bigot” is progressively expanding.  We may truly describe the staff of the Daily Stormer as hateful bigots: as a matter of principle, they support ethnic cleansing.  To describe
Christians in the same terms because they dissent from cultural orthodoxy on sex, abortion, and other issues does not express any sort of truth. It merely advances a particular social agenda -- the attempt to expel people of faith from the public square.  Feinstein merely attests to the success this movement has enjoyed.

Senator Feinstein does not imagine a world without dogma; she imagines a world without any dogma but hers.   Whoever of us relies on accusations of hatred to win debates -whoever abuses language to silence people of faith -- builds up toward that same world. For all Americans, religious or not, this is troubling. The work of theologian and cultural critic R.R. Reno is insightful.  Faith, he argues, is one of the few elements of human life explicitly directed towards higher things, beyond the control of the state and the world.  It gives us the courage to resist expansion of both the state and the market, and to scorn the demands of a government that thinks itself all powerful. It motivates us also to defy injustice, to raise up the poor and promote solidarity.  In American society, people of faith are perhaps the best defence that freedom and solidarity possess.  Reno writes, “What’s inscribed on our hearts strengthens our spines.”  We live loudly in the world because the dogma lives in us.