The Limitations of Listening

I was watching Marcus Grodi’s interview with Msgr. Steenson, the Ordinary of the Ordinariate of the Chair of St Peter the other morning, and Msgr Steenson observed that in the  Episcopal Church things went down the drain because whenever there was a controversial issue the leadership of the church urges everyone to “listen” to the experiences of those who were unhappy. The narrative was that the hierarchy of the church were cut off from “real people” that their “rules” alienated these “real people” and that by “listening” they would be able to respond with more sensitivity and care.

It all sounds very nice and cozy and caring. However, beneath this sweet exterior is a revolutionary agenda for the people the church hierarchy are to listen to are not just the poor, the homeless, the bereaved and dying–not just the immigrant and the victims of war and persecution, but we are also expected to “listen” to the women and  the homosexuals. There is a very subtle bit of chicanery going on here. Women and homosexuals are put into the same category as the poor, sick and needy, and the call is not just to listen to women and homosexuals, but to listen to a particular brand of women and homosexuals: the feminists and homosexualists.

I distinguish homosexualists from homosexuals because not all homosexuals wish to overturn the social order just as all women do not subscribe to feminism.

The fact of the matter is, it’s pretty hard not to listen to the feminists and homosexualists. They seem to have every channel on the mass media, every newspaper, magazine and radio station and they also seem to have taken control of the politicians and lobbyists not to mention the vast majority of our schools and college campuses. Furthermore, their voices are loud, insistent and often angry. Instead of listening could we have a break from listening for a time? Because to tell the truth, they’ve got their message across. We’ve already heard it.

What the nice folks mean when they say we should “listen” is that we should give in. I had the experience in the Anglican church once I was opposed to women’s ordination. They insisted that we “listen” the “listen again and listen some more.” They didn’t seem to get it that we had already listened and understood fully, but that we thought they were wrong.

What they really mean by saying we should “listen” is that we should submit to the tyranny of sentimentalism which demands that we change our moral teachings because we feel sorry for people. We should change our beliefs as a result of being bullied, and let’s be clear, there are two ways to bully someone–by being aggressive and negative, and by being a sweet as honey pie. It is religious people who specialize in the second form of bullying–and they do so with an especially manipulative and cunning form of bullying: by being nice to everyone. “How can you be so unkind!” they say as they  put on their hurt and “saddened” expression. “How can you be so judgmental!”

What they’re really doing is blackmailing you into going along with their agenda because we all know they are the ones who are really genuinely kind, loving and accepting. I don’t buy it. It’s a creepy con game, and I first recognized it when I was an Evangelical and was surrounded by those kind of folks who slap on a smile with their after shave in the morning and keep it pasted there for the rest of the day. They are there with their tyrannical artificial niceness just daring you to be Mr Grumpy so they can slap you down with a smile and skewer you with their “sadness.”

The “listening” game is one more tool in the toolbox of the tyranny of sentimentalism, and we should realize that sentimentalism is just another form of relativism. Msgr. Steenson went on to observe that the assumption behind all the “listening” was that personal experiences were more important than eternal truth. Behind this assumption is a heresy called “historicism” which treats the events of history and therefore the documents of history, as being merely socially determined.

For example, the New Testament, for the historicist, is merely a religious document from first century Judaism. It has interesting things to say about that time period and those people, but it has little to say to us, and it is certainly not authoritative. Likewise with the teachings of the Catholic Church. The moral teachings and dogmas were developed at a particular time for particular needs, but they are not relevant to us today. What is relevant for us today is our own experience. Our pain is what is important. Our experiences are all that is really valid. Thus all the need for “listening.”

OK. So I’m all for listening, but listening is a two way street. The sort of listening I’d like to recommend is that we all decide to listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit speaking to our age–that we listen to the voice of  the Holy Spirit speaking to us through Sacred Scripture. That we listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit speaking through the authoritative teachings of the Catholic Church. That we listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit speaking through our own successors of the Apostles.

I’m happy to listen to everybody else too, but if people don’t mind, I’ll compare what I hear from the man in the street to what I hear from Christ’s One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, and I don’t think it will be much of a contest which of the two I decide to obey.



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