The past week has not been a pleasant one, but it has been a fruitful one. I won’t bore you with a lot of autobiography, but I will say that the Holy Spirit has been very busy, turning over some rocks in the heart that have nasty things living under them. And since some of them concern youse guys (who have been way more patient with me than I would be if I were reading me over the past several years) I think I owe some apologies.
You know how something can be right in front of your face and you can’t see it? That’s what it’s been for me this week and really for a good number of years. I’ve sensed that something is wrong, but not been able to really get it or know what to do about it. Partly I spent a lot of time thinking about the reaction to this piece, in which it was very plain that the issue for readers was simply that I had offended and angered a lot of people for a long time. But in many ways, the reactions to that piece just seemed to recapitulate a lot of reactions over the years. It seemed obvious to me that the problem was me, not my readers (since I don’t believe in conspiracy theories). My assumption is that when a random sample of people all report a very similar experience, that’s because they are reacting to something that is there, not conspiring to create an illusion of something that is not.
So there was that. There is also the fact that, over the past several years, I have engaged in a number of arguments on a number of questions that have brought to the surface some pretty deep rooted habits of soul. I have remarked on them in the past and tried to repent of them (sincerely, I might add, but of course the problem with besetting sins is that they are besetting: think about that sin you’ve confessed a hundred times and seem to make no progress with. Frustrating, ain’t it?)
Anyway, it all kind of came to a head this weekend on Sunday, starting at Mass. The hymn was, appropriately enough for Corpus Christi, “Taste and See”. As I was praying it just got more and more apparent to me that the message I’m getting back from so many quarters is, if you will, “You taste bitter”.
And I couldn’t argue with that. I do taste bitter. And for that I am deeply, profoundly sorry, because it is through my fault, through my fault, through my own most grievous fault that I do. I’ve become bitter in much of my interaction with people. And bitterness is a root that “defiles many” according to Hebrews. In my case, I think I have defiled quite a number of hearts who came here looking for the gospel and instead just got Mark Shea getting increasingly cynical and angry about all sorts of stuff. You can’t eat food, including food for the soul, that is bitter. My apologies to all to whom I have done this.
There’s more, so bear with me. I mentioned things living under the rocks. One of the things that lives under the rocks in my heart has been a deep and abiding fear, a kind of heart conviction about the universe that long predates any conscious relationship with God I formed as an adult (recall that I was no raised Chrisian). I’m not saying it’s a truth about the universe. I’m saying it’s something more like a broken bone in my soul that never knit right. And what it comes down to is a pattern of assuming that I am, at best, a tool of God, not a son of God and certainly not somebody God loves. And with that has been a fear that, at the end of the day, once my utility to God is spent I would be tossed away like a candy bar wrapper.
Observant readers will grasp that this has more than a little to do with my intensely strong reaction to the notion of using people as means to ends–as though the person himself is merely a tool. Hence my intense reactions to such questions as abortion, torture and the whole Live Action thing, all of which involve reducing people to things or means to an end.
But there’s a bitter irony in all that too. Because while I have been busy (for instance) arguing all that stuff here, I really saw this weekend that I have myself long had a habit of reducing other people to means to ends, depersonalizing them, and treating them with little or no respect. It works this way:
If I am arguing with somebody who seems to me to merely be in intellectual error (like somebody getting their sums wrong or having an honestly mistake idea) I will treat that one with respect. But when I feel as though I am engaged with somebody who is wilfully refusing to get the point, I will generally reach a point where I decide “Okay, you refuse to listen honestly or reply honestly, so I will henceforth respond to you only for the sake of those third party bystanders watching the conversation who will listen. You have just been reduced to a Thing: a means to the end of talking to them.”
In addition, my attitude toward Public Figures is much the same. I tend not to see them as human beings, but as sort of semi-fictional characters. People who don’t fully exist but who are In the News and therefore symbols or representatives of ideas.
The upshot is this: Irony of ironies, a friend asked me today if I had contacted Lila Rose. I said that I had contacted her organization–recently. He said, “Why didn’t you contact her at the start of the contretemps?” I had no answer. It had never occurred to me. Those familiar with the history of the controversy will recall that when it erupted, I basically was of the school that saw no big issue and said pretty much what most LA defenders say. It wasn’t till various readers, Dawn Eden among them, challenged me and I could not find a way to argue with them that I changed me mind. Honest, you can go back to the Register blog archives and watch the progression of my change of mind in February 2011. Anyway, as the conversation moved along, I was basically thinking on the fly and in public and as opposition to the change of mind increased, it never occurred to me to contact Lila Rose because, well, my argument was primarily with people talking about her and she was a public figure acting publicly like, say, a movie star or politician or philanthopist in the headlines. And so, instead of doing what Matthew 18 says and going privately and speaking in love, I simply treated her as though she wasn’t so much a person as a thing–a Figure in the Headlines and therefore a means to an end wherein I made some points about things I wanted to say to third parties I wanted to convince.
If you are noticing a certain irony (the more accurate term is “sinful hypocrisy”) in that, so have I. Because it has been right at the heart of my complaint about Live Action’s tactics. Physician, heal thyself. Next stop: confession. But first, this:
To Lila Rose (and all her associates and sundry supporters) my sincere apologies and contrition. I got so caught up in arguing about points I wanted to persuade people of that I completely failed to see you as human beings and reduced you to means to an end. It was a sin and all I can do is ask for forgiveness. In addition, as the argument has “hardened” (for want of a better word) I have let that bitter taste poison the conversation. It’s lost people who might otherwise have listened, which is my own stupid fault.
Finally, those patterns have played out repeatedly in other arguments over the years: take your pick, you guys know better than I do. Again, the point is not who was right or wrong about the point being argued, it’s that I have been wrong in the way that I argued, very often reducing people to means. Again, mea culpa.
There are undoubtedly more rocks to turn over, but that’s all I have worked out so far. Your prayers and forgiveness would be appreciated.
In future, I’m going to be trying to take the blog in different directions. Don’t know what that will look like, but I think it needs to happen.