As y’all know, I’ve been pretty silent these last few weeks.
I certainly haven’t forgotten this dialogue space, and I’ve missed it. But Life and Adulting and Reality are making a valiant effort to kill me, I’m convinced of it. (Whom does one contact when these entities are making violent attempts against one’s life? Why isn’t that covered in Adulting 101? Actually, why isn’t there an Adulting 101?)
In the midst of this attempt on my life and sanity by illusive and invisible entities, I’ve craved the release of writing, and yet I have far too many thoughts to write anything coherent. I’m tempted to call it “Writer’s Block” but I don’t think I can. It’s more like writer’s idea orgy. How does a person select a topic to begin when everyone is so lovely and seductive?
For example, I’m working on a piece right now about how Catholic Institutions and families keep getting their education on consent so wrong wrong wrong. (But it’s proving logistically difficult, since I’m trying to make it a panel discussion between myself and three eloquent FUS alumnae friends, all of whom have full time jobs, and one of whom just headed to Ireland. It’s fine. I’m not jealous. Not at all.)
Anyhow, this topic, consent, is especially important to me this week, since Jenn Morson’s striking and powerful article was released on Monday by the National Catholic Reporter exposing my school, Franciscan University of Steubenville, for grossly neglecting numerous sexual assault cases over the last decade. Watching the fallout from this article unfold has caused a level 5 tornado of emotions to spin and spin and spin within me.
I’m so consoled by and proud for my many fellow students who have spoken up for these victims and acknowledged that our much beloved university can and should and must do better.
And I’m simultaneously so disturbed and disheartened by my many fellow Catholics—classmates, alumnae, and otherwise—who have attacked the article and the victims within it as “shoddy journalism” rather than choosing to grapple with this painful and loathsome truth: the Church and its institutions have often failed to protect the vulnerable, choosing instead to believe the narratives of the aggressors and to victim-blame those who were already harmed to the core of their beings.
I understand why so many leave this precious Church when this is the example so many of her sons and daughters set. I myself struggle not to join them in a mass exodus of this fallen, wounded Church when I see how many of her representatives choose to ignore the pain of the suffering, either blaming them for it, or inflicting it on them once again by heartlessly fetishizing it: “This suffering is your chance to kiss the face of Jesus, because he loves you so much.”
Job’s friends, indeed.
No. So many times, no. Yes, there is value in suffering. I know this well. And I am grateful for this teaching. But when we as Christ’s followers choose to glorify suffering itself rather than alleviate it or help bear the crushing loads of our fellow sufferers … then, we have fully lost sight of the Beatitudes. Of every act of compassion and healing Christ worked during his time here. Of the bloody, grotesque beauty and value of the Crucifixion, the ultimate example of brother taking and bearing suffering for brother.
Philosophy and Ignorance
On Thursday night I stumbled into a fascinating discussion of sin, malice, and ignorance between two philosophy major friends of mine. They were trying to piece out a particularly convoluted paragraph of Aquinas’s Summa. I’m not sure how I integrated into this discussion, as I am well known for my dislike of most philosophers, especially Thomas. (Honestly, I’m finding I probably like Thomas quite a bit; it’s most Thomists I can’t stomach. I suspect he can’t either.)
Thomas seemed to be claiming that all sin was due to ignorance, and my philosopher friends couldn’t make sense of this. Normally one hears that sin is a result of ignorance or malice. How could all sin involve ignorance? And why wouldn’t the ignorance erase the culpability of the sin?
Through my love of Plato I helped them see that the answer lies in the Church’s understanding of invincible (helpless) ignorance versus vincible (willful) ignorance. (I also helped them realize that the problem with piecing out the particular paragraph they were stuck on was that the translator had placed colons after three consecutive clauses where he should have used semicolons, and this was causing great syntactic confusion. Plus, the second to last clause used so many negatives that it became very difficult to piece out the actual meaning. We eventually got to it, though. Grammar and language wins the day!)
Vincible Ignorance and Malice
The point is, Aquinas seemed to be saying that where there is vincible (willful) ignorance, there is also an element of malice and hostility. I tried (I hope successfully?) to explain that this is in keeping with Catholic moral theology: the Church teaches that invincible (helpless) ignorance lessens or removes one’s guilt for a sin. This is when one is ignorant of the evil one commits as being evil, through no fault of one’s own.
But vincible (willful) ignorance is the sinner’s fault. This is because he or she had opportunities to learn the truth, and yet opposed or rejected them. And this week I have seen countless examples of the way ignorance is clung to not only willingly, but even maliciously and with so much hostility.
The Truth will set you free—but first it will make you miserable.
When the truth challenges us, makes us question ourselves or those we respect, be they individuals or institutions, we fight it. It’s terrifying. I get it.
But then we are to blame for the evil we commit in our ignorance. And this is the case with the racists who’ve appeared in the pro-life movement this week. And this is the case with the rape-apologists and victim-blamers this week, who have denounced the stories and experiences of victims in favor of their own comfortable ideas about modesty, about gender binaries, and about the immaculate nature of fallen, human institutions.