Is it too late? Are we “past” civility? – UPDATED

I meant to link to this piece by Lisa Hendey yesterday, but the day got away from me. In it, she is asking if it is possible to eliminate political vitriol online?

Isn’t it our right as Americans to employ our rights to freedom of speech to say what we feel? Yes, certainly. And yet, I’m also cognizant that my presence — and yours — in venues like Facebook and Twitter is a component of the New Evangelization. When my non-Catholic friends (for whom I am perhaps the only Catholic they will ever know) see me launch into a diatribe about Candidate X, they form a perception not only about me and my political beliefs, but about my Church as well. In my passion for my position, I may unwittingly act in a fashion that lacks the charity and diligence to which I am called.

It’s a serious problem for Christians, and one I struggle with, myself, mostly because I just get so damned frustrated with the double standards employed by the mainstream media that I begin “writing while Irish”, and that’s never a good thing.

Lisa offers a useful prayer to use before going into social media. I can tell you that when I am praying the way I’m supposed to be, I have less stomach for flinging vitriol and more patience with it when it’s flung in my direction.

We are in the midst of something new, in America. And yes, it’s unsettling. Some are saying it’s more than unsettling.

The issue of civility and the idea that “decent people can disagree and still be decent people” is one this blog has both promoted and wrestled with for 7 years, and this has been true for at least 6 years:

There is a terrible toxicity to our political and social exchanges – there is little real thought and lots of shrieking going on, lots of noise, little real discourse and precious little honesty. There is no way to debate because – no matter which side tries to get serious – a well-thought-out discourse is immediately shot down by the other side with a one-line-sneer, usually a specious one, that distorts or misdirects and never allows a thought to go forward.

Engaging, these days involves a delicate balancing act, and one that becomes more challenging every day. When I look back at some of my posts from 2005 or so, I scald at how uncharitable I was — I can see, when looking through the archives, how prayer (and especially, I am convinced, the Liturgy of the Hours) has slowly, slowly turned me from a far-left perspective to an over-corrected far-right perspective to one that is determined to be no-party-only-Catholic, and yet — especially when I watch double-standards fly by, my sense of justice is flicked and I still manage to light a fuse.

We all must do better with civility, and remember that God can see us, all the time, but it is a matter of balance. In the urge toward civility, we must not allow ourselves to be stricken dumb by the soft-tyranny of “be nice”. Because of Justice, some things must be said. But it is how they are said that, in the end, matters to our society and our souls.

The truth is, the chances of convincing anyone online of changing their minds about anything are slim-to-nil, so all we can do is guard our own souls and try not to dishonor Christ with our behavior.

Balancing is no easy thing. And when what has been great appears to be tumbling around us, it is always, always, time to remember that God takes a much longer view of things than we do.

Once upon a time 6 million Jews were burned in German ovens.

Once upon a time, a Gallic government was tumbled and churches turned into secular temples and psalm-chanting nuns were guillotined for the offense of being psalm-chanting nuns.

Once upon a time Rome entertained itself with lions and Christians.

Once upon a time, the Incarnate Word submitted to torture and death at the hands of his own creation.

And at that time, “the world” was forever conquered.

We too easily forget that, and allow ourselves to be sucked into an illusion that our time is the most important time ever in the history of the world, that our lights are the brightest, our philosophies are the wisest. Until it all gets swept away, and another generation falls for the same lie.

Terrible things happen; nations and civilizations fall and are restructured, and no peoples ever believe it is meant to happen on their watch. But “who has known the mind of the Lord, so as to counsel him?” But we have the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:16). Or we are supposed to try to put that on, anyway.

It is not easy. I was recently part of an online dust-up that occurred even though those of us participating were trying desperately to be “civil” and charitable to each other. All hell finally broke lose, because we have reached a point, now, where our formerly “shared realities” have been throat-slit to the “Dictatorship of Relativism” our good pope called-out in 2005. Reality is now a mere concept, and ever-changing.

And that is the way of the worldly word, not of heaven. And Christians are not supposed to belong to the worldly world, because we know it is not all there is.

I have lately taken to committing Psalm 90 to memory, especially its beginning; it is a reminder to go on, that nothing is static, and that God’s hands are in all things. I need to say it every day, and then move forward:

O Lord, you have been our refuge
from one generation to the next.
Before the mountains were born
or the earth or the world brought forth,
you are God, without beginning or end.

You turn men back to dust
and say: “Go back, sons of men.”
To your eyes a thousand years
are like yesterday, come and gone,
no more than a watch in the night.

You sweep men away like a dream,
like the grass which springs up in the morning.
In the morning it springs up and flowers:
by evening it withers and fades.

“A thousand ages in your sight are as an evening past…” My great hope is that they will be the last words from my dying lips; the acknowledgement that my life has been nothing but a passing moment in God’s sight, but a moment aligned with his mercy.

UPDATE: Thomas L. McDonald has a piece on the Knights of Columbus and their move for civility

Related: Staring into the Empty Tomb

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About Elizabeth Scalia