Q&A with Steve Dawson (Part 2)

Q&A with Steve Dawson (Part 2) August 15, 2012

Welcome to part two of my Q&A with Steve Dawson of the St. Paul Street Evangelization project.  You can read part one here.

What are some of the most common questions/responses you get?

It’s really not the norm that we’re getting people with really tough questions. We get apologetic questions, such as “Why do you worship Mary,” or all these real Protestant issues. More often, if people are presenting a challenge to us, it’s about a moral issue, or some sort of scandal.

People bring up the priest scandal, for example. We have a good response for that. … I’ll go and discuss this with them, and they can understand it, usually, if they’re reasonable. Ninety percent of the time they’ll sit there and they’ll nod their heads, and say “OK, thank you.”

When I do talk to a Protestant about, you know, “Why do you pray to the saints?” and I give the stock response to that, sometimes they understand, and sometimes they just reject it, out of hand. What we always are able to do is make them understand that we don’t just believe these things because the Church tells us to. There’s good, reasonable explanations for them.

Most of the time we talk to Protestants, we’re not converting them on the spot. We’re giving them reasonable explanations of what we believe, and we’re just planting seeds. They walk away understanding what we’re saying a little bit better. We give them literature so that they can follow up, and I’ll usually give them my phone number, so that they can call me with their questions after they look at the literature and the other resources that I give them.

Many times I talk to Catholics who have fallen away from the faith, but they don’t understand that they have. I’d say one of the greatest successes that we have is bringing Catholics back in, making them understand that they need to go to Mass, they need to have a relationship with God, a better relationship with God.

Every person’s a little bit different. The conversations that we’re having out there are not usually very deep. They’re just kind of on the surface, we’re just talking to people about God, about His Church. Most people don’t have huge objections. They just don’t understand. They’re living in the culture. I don’t know how to better put that.

One of the things we’re going to start doing — actually, this weekend we’re going to start — is writing down the different questions that we’re getting, after the person leaves, so that we can come up with a list and then we can actually have those available so that we can look at them and know them well enough, and the answers to the questions we’re getting off them, and learn more about them.

“What is Catholic truth?” is probably the most common question because our signs say “Catholic Truth” on them. … Each person’s a little different. We’re not seeing the same questions over and over again.

I’d say that we have only a couple of conversations a day where somebody has a specific question that they have come over to ask us.


What are some of the most challenging questions?

I’d say the most challenging is when an active homosexual comes up and asks us why we are “trying to restrict their rights.” When these people do not have a foundational understanding of God and the moral law … well, we have pamphlets and literature on it, but … it’s hard to explain. That’s the hardest for me, and they do come up.

One of the things that happens when an active homosexual comes up and talks to us is, well, general. We’ll try to explain, we’ll try to get to the root of it, go back and try to talk about Jesus and God and work our way to that if they have time. But if they are not willing to listen to all that, we’ll just tell them what the Church’s teaching is on that and why we believe it, and that the Church doesn’t hate them.

We try to have the discussion but sometimes they just refuse to have the discussion.

We’re not called to hate. We’re called to love you. But at the same time God loves you so much that he doesn’t want to leave you where you’re at. He wants to bring you to a higher morality, because it’s better for you.

At the end of the conversation, they’re always surprised that we don’t hate them. From what the media tells them, they believe that Christians hate, that they’re big haters, that they hate homosexuals. I let them know: I have friends who are homosexual, I don’t hate homosexuals. I just try to explain the Church’s teaching on it.

It’s hard because they believe that we hate them, you know what I mean? And they are seeing the teaching of the Church as being something that’s hateful and they don’t understand it and it doesn’t make sense. It really isn’t. There is that whole Theology of the Body. I mean, the pamphlets that we have start to get into it, but to really get into the teaching of the Church you have to get pretty deep. It’s hard to explain the teaching of the Church in two minutes, which is all we have, sometimes.

I don’t know what makes it so hard. I mean, I do it, and when I’m talking each conversation about it is a little bit different. I don’t have a set answer for that situation. Personally, that’s the hardest one, I think.


Do you and your team share personal doubts and struggles or do you focus on giving visitors pointers to Church teaching?

I do use personal experience with people. I think it’s one of the most effective things that I do, which is give my personal testimony, which involved struggles, my journey, my [practical] atheism to the beginning of my conversion, and the search, and my coming into faith.

I don’t go into current personal doubts, because they’re not very prevalent, and I don’t think they’re important to the conversation. Most Catholics, even the saints, had personal doubts and struggles that they have to work through, that they have to grow through. I would be surely happy to address that if it was coming up in conversation, if somebody was having a personal doubt or struggle, I would definitely go to my personal experience and discuss that. Because we’re meeting every person where they’re at, we have to connect with them. It’s absolutely of vital importance to share personal experiences. I think that’s more effective than just spewing doctrine, 100 percent.

My personal belief: If you’re just going to go out there and just dictate the Church’s teachings on something, I’m telling you you’re not going to be effective. You need to be personable, you need to relate your personal experiences.


Does your team drill on body language and rhetoric as well as content?

Right now, we’re not drilling. The team we have is pretty good. I can see some drilling in the future, [but] it is, kind of, trial by fire. The more you’re out there, the better you get.

What we’re doing on the national level is we’re giving the local groups the resources to be able to do training for apologetics. We plan on making videos on evangelization, conversation tips. We’re open to doing any of that sort of thing. I would like to do a video on body language, on what makes a good conversation, and have those available for the local groups.

At the same time we’re following the 40 Days for Life model. We’re going to provide the resources, but since each local group has different needs, it’ll be up to them to implement the best strategies, the best program, for their local group.

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  • leahlibresco

    As you can probably guess from my last question, I think people who are doing outreach of any kind should probably spend a little time with a speech and movement coach (or a theatre grad student). It’s not a matter of manipulating your audience, so much as avoiding any non-content-related signals that would prompt your interlocutor to walk away from a conversation.

    I thought it was interesting that the most challenging question cited is about homosexuality and not evidence for God. I guess it’s because this is where the outputs of Catholic theology seem most jarringly out of sync with modern moral intuitions.

    • Ted Seeber

      They’re in Portland, Oregon, where a few years back (OK, a decade back) liberal Catholics were suddenly labeled as bigots and haters by a radical gay marriage agenda group. I am not surprised by that question being the hardest to deal with in this area at all; I go to a parish where that issue is the most divisive one we deal with internal to our congregation.

      And I certainly would NOT consider the Multnomah County Board a “modern moral institution” by any means- they just wanted the uptick in business that came from stepping outside of their legal authority and legalizing gay marriage for a while. Neither would I consider Basic Rights Oregon a modern moral institution, since their intent is to tear down and destroy all morality (they’re also for legalizing prostitution and sex trafficking, as well as having past success with promoting nude dancing).

    • Steve Dawson

      I recognized your point when asked the question about drilling. I think it is a good point and something that we will address on the national level. I used to do a lot of sidewalk counseling in front of abortion clinics and we took classes on body language, tone, along with how we speak to people. Because of my experience talking to people out on the streets, it didn’t occur to me that others who have not had this training might benefit from it. At the local level I plan on lining up some talks on these subjects for our team. I will record them and offer them at the national level. Then the local groups can take what they learn and drill on it. The hard part is finding the right person to give the talks. If I need to fly someone in I would be willing. I would appreciate any suggestions on who I should get.

    • People don’t take questions of a personal God as personally as questions about their person. Evangelization is about the personal touch, if nothing else, and the questions of family, and love, and sex, and a lover are at the very core of even the most secular, modernist, immanentist life. This matters to folks; talking to someone not a Christian, the notion of God is an abstraction to entertain for a while, without practical effects at first.

      Or, to take it another way, it’s as you’ve said: What would you say to someone to get them to break up their family? And what would you say to their face?

  • TimL

    The only question I have about this whole thing is this…. how tall are you?
    I’m guessing 5’11.

    • leahlibresco

      This is apropos of nothing enough to make me wonder if it’s spam. Clarify in the next few hours TimL, or away it goes.

      • TimL

        I can assure you it’s not spam. Or, at least try to assure. Being assured is your part of the dance.

        I only ask because everytime I see an interview it seems like you’re pretty tall. So just mild curiousity.

        Convert to Catholicism myself (2005-2006). The only reason why I even became interested in Catholicism is that my friends and family that were already of some Christian denomination: Faith Free Evangelicals, Presbyterians, WELS Lutheran (wife is still a WELS Lutheran… and tall too!!).

        As soon as I mentioned to them that I was considering myself a Christian they were all very happy (my wife, fiance at the time, was happy regardless). There was a church I was starting to attend called “Holy Innocents”. The question would come up “oh, what church are you attending!!” (all happy). I’d reply “Holy Innocents” (not even getting all of the denominational differences at the time). They’d question, “what’s that?” (guess it didn’t sound like too typical of an evangelical church) and I would come back with, “Some Catholic Church down the road”. And then…. “ooohhh… no no no…. do you know what Catholics believe!!!???”

        And I didn’t. I didn’t know it at that level.
        I wasn’t all of that interested still in the issue.

        But then my wife and I had to do some pre-marriage prep dealy with her WELS Church (my wife was never critical with me going to a Catholic Church…. she was just happy I was changing in almost every imaginable way). Her pastor asked if I was a member of the WELS or if some other denomination. I said something like “I might be Catholic… but I’m not certain yet”. And in rapid fire manner he started with “How could Mary have been immaculately conceived if she refered to Jesus as her savior??” (I think I remember that one word for word). Or, “what if I poisoned a Communion wafer… and then the priest…” on and on.

        I wasn’t as offended as I was curious. So then I started reading up on the issue. And slowly…. viola!!

        And in closing.
        I’m not spam and I won’t be treated like some mollycoddled schoolmarm. 8^D

        • leahlibresco

          Merci for the clarification. Sadly, I’m not tall (5’6″), but I’m glad to hear I come off that way! It must be the schoolmarm in me.

          • Mary

            What is a mollycoddled schoolmarm and how do I know if I am one? I’m 5’4″ so Leah, you seem tall to me…

    • kenneth

      “Sons of Scotland, I am William Wallace”…………..
      “William Wallace is Seven Feet Tall!” 🙂

      Gratuitous increases in reported height are a good sign that your star is rising, so to speak!
      When you get to full cultural icon status, you can expect your own version of Chuck Norris jokes!

      “Leah Libresco counted to infinity. Twice!”
      “There is no theory of evolution. Just a list of animals Leah Libresco allows to live”!

  • Brian

    It;s awfully nice his church loves us homosexuals so much they are working against our very rights in the United States. I can just feel the love from here.

    I’m sorry but would it not be better to “rend unto Caesar what is Caesar’s” and leave anything about gay marriage to the government? This, admittedly, nice man may love me, but the work of his church is far far away from healthy love.

    • Ted Seeber

      Depends on your definition of “rights”. The way I see it, the church is working against “wrongs”.

    • KL

      Well, the premise implied in your question (namely, “Marriage is Caesar’s”) is precisely the argument that is at issue. Is marriage a sacramental institution that is spiritually good for human individuals and communities? Or is it a purely civil category? If the former, marriage is God’s; if the latter, it’s Caesar’s. But one can’t blithely assert that marriage is purely civil in nature and assume that everyone else in the discussion shares that premise.

      • Is marriage a sacramental institution that is spiritually good for human individuals and communities? Or is it a purely civil category? It’s both, of course (though I think the clause “that is spiritually good for human individuals and communities” is misplaced, as it implies that only the spiritual kind is good for you). I struggle to understand why this elemental fact (IT’S BOTH) is so difficult for people to grasp, because it seems like such a simple solution. Churches do (and should) have control over defining their spiritual version of marriage, including who can marry and under what conditions. Religions have always done this; IMHO it’s part of maintaining control over their adherents, though other opinions may differ. The state, when defining the civil version, needs to adhere to constitutional basics like equal treatment under the law and non-discrimination, neither of which are required of religions. (While religions have the right to discriminate, it does not of course follow that they are right to do so…) So if the state chooses to define the civil version of marriage differently from how one particular religion does, it doesn’t damage or threaten any of the many spiritual versions out there.

    • Depends on the definition of love, too, and how or whether truth plays a role in love.

  • John

    I’m sorry Brian, but when you say “rights” are you talking about previously enjoyed rights that Catholics are taking away, or previously unheard of rights that you now insist exist? And if the latter, can you really declare “they’re taking away my rights” is accurate vs. “they disagree with my claim of rights”?

    If the right in question is to be married, and the definition of the word “marriage” is not itself the thing being argued over then no one is denying you the right to marry someone of the opposite sex. The argument is over the definition of the word, “marriage”. You assert that the word has no definite meaning and to insist it does is “hate” rather than “disagreement”. We assert that, no, the word does have a definite meaning that distinguishes it from dozens of other sexual coupling and liaisons, and that consequently the whole debate is about this claimed power to re-define words.

    Because last time I checked Heterosexuals or Catholics haven’t been claiming the right to go around re-defining words and then forcing these new definitions on the rest of the population via the power of the courts or federal bureacuracy.

    Take the word “truck”. A truck is legally and technically different from a “car” and yet both have an engine and 4 wheels. If I wanted to get around the MPG regulations or some tax code by redefining my truck to “car” and insisted on my right to transmogrify reality to suit my purposes…. I suppose I could do it, but it wouldn’t be a common right or power employed by fellow citizens.

    You pointing out that Truck and Car are not interchangable terms wouldn’t be a viceral hatred of my mode of transport as much as a stubborn refusal to deny a distinction out of fear of my wrath.

    • Niemand

      A truck is legally and technically different from a “car” and yet both have an engine and 4 wheels. If I wanted to get around the MPG regulations or some tax code by redefining my truck to “car” and insisted on my right to transmogrify reality to suit my purposes…. I suppose I could do it, but it wouldn’t be a common right or power employed by fellow citizens.

      Cough. SUVs.

      • Ted Seeber

        Which are legally defined as trucks, being over 6000 lbs GVW

        • Depends on the state. In California, GVW determines nothing but weight fees, and if it’s a commercial vehicle. (Commercial vehicles are not defined by GVW but by the capacity to haul or their being used for a commercial purpose.)

    • Slow Learner

      ” The argument is over the definition of the word, “marriage””
      Which is hardly invariant through history; after all a generation ago there was no such thing as rape within marriage in the UK at least, as well as many other societies.
      Defining marriage as implying constant consent as against individual consent being required to sexual acts even within marriage is a very clear difference, and one that has emerged very recently. Unless you are in favour of rape, you should probably approve of this re-definition of marriage, at which point since the definition of marriage is clearly not timeless we can discuss altering it further.

      • Ted Seeber

        It may not be invariant in your religion, but it is in mine, and redefining it is intolerant hatred.

        • Val

          “It may not be invariant in your religion, but it is in mine, and redefining it is intolerant hatred.”

          So what?

          • Ted Seeber

            Exactly. So what? If you’re going to become a bigot to fight bigotry, then I for one reserve the right to consider you a complete nut job worthy of no respect whatsoever.

          • Val

            But I don’t care if you’re a bigot. Really. It’s just not my problem. All I require is your non-interference.

          • Marriage being a cornerstone of society and civilization, there’s a lot at stake. It is the interference on the part of SSM advocates that we object to.

      • It is so close to invariant that it is a species of hair-splitting to deny it. If marriage means anything, it means man and woman. If it can even be called the same institution, it means man and woman. This is the defining attribute of marriage, across cultures.

    • The question of whether something like marriage equality is about working for rights that already exist (by which logic you could say that an anti-gay marriage campaigner is “seeking to deny you your rights”) or is about creating new rights and definitions is complicated. To what degree can we refer to the existence of “rights” before they are encoded in the law? Were the “rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” created by their appearance in the Declaration of Independence or are they natural rights that the law is only coming to fully acknowledge? (The “inalienable” and “self-evident” language would seem to point towards the latter in the mind of the Founders).

      Questions of definition are just a fraught as those of rights. The nature of supposedly “set” legal categories have changed dramatically in US law over the past 200 years. Legal scholar Ariela J Gross’s book “What Blood Won’t Tell: A History of Race on Trial in America” explores how radically definitions of what legally constitutes “race” have changed since the formation of the republic. Which terms are “interchangeable”—particularly in terms of legal rights—is not something static, but something that changes with society and with the law.

      Notably, these questions of definition currently *do* involve Catholicism. One of the main contentions in the varied lawsuits over the HHS contraception mandate is what it means for an organization to be “Catholic” (to a degree that it could enjoy the same legal exemptions as a church)—does a Catholic organization have to be made up solely of Catholics or can it involve other folks? The entire reason why the case is in the courts is that the answer isn’t immediately clear. Is there already a “set” definition of a Catholic organization? If the courts decide that Catholic organizations are only those that serve Catholics, does that mean that criterion is the end-all-be-all definition of “Catholic organizations”?

  • Slow Learner

    “People bring up the priest scandal, for example. We have a good response for that”
    Could he share that with the rest of the class please? Because I haven’t seen any good response to that yet, only denial, or stating that no matter what has been done with the connivance of the hierarchy, the Catholic Church is still more moral than anyone else, neither of which is exactly convincing.

    • Ted Seeber

      I actually wrote a blog post on a part that is rocking Oregon just today:

      • Slow Learner

        Sorry, I don’t see the relevance – you don’t discuss the crimes of the hierarchy (as shown in the case of Mgr William Lynn, for example) at all. And whatever the failings of individuals in positions of authority, it is the connivance of the hierarchy that is most damning of the institution.

        • Ted Seeber

          What part of “Clericalism is indeed a heresy, but it seems in Oregon at least, the combination of the Archdiocese Bankruptcy and Americanist Liberalism as a result of the Clergy Sex Abuse Scandals has now destroyed *ANY* false respect for the priesthood when the priest is not worthy of it. This in and of itself is a good thing- our Church may be a hierarchy, but sometimes the people holding the office are not worthy of the office.” did you fail to understand? Is it the separation of the person in the office from the teaching authority of the office itself that is confusing you?

          • What part of that super-long, slightly obtuse section of an external blog post did we fail to understand?

          • Ted Seeber

            Yep. I want to know where I went wrong with my obtuseness so I can do better next time. Because sure-as-shooting, some clericalist WILL sin again.

          • OK. Happy to oblige:

            1. For a quote, it’s super-long.
            2. It’s from a personal, external blog post you seemed to require someone to read, which
            3. Didn’t have a direct connection, or didn’t seem to.

            As far as obtuseness, let’s try to parse the sentence:

            I. Clericalism is indeed a heresy, but
            it seems
            (in Oregon at least,)
            the combination of
            1. the Archdiocese Bankruptcy and
            2. Americanist Liberalism
            as a result of
            1. the Clergy Sex Abuse Scandals
            has now destroyed
            1. *ANY* false respect for the priesthood when
            a. the priest is not worthy of it.

            II. This in and of itself is a good thing-
            our Church may be a hierarchy, but
            the people holding the office are not worthy of the office.”

            Not every phrase seems to follow from the former, and each pulls in such arcane, seemingly unrelated threads, that it would take more explanation and smaller words to get the point across. This is a very wide broadside, and it is “obtuse” to suppose someone would both

            1. Read/understand what you meant, and
            2. Select that nugget you singled out.

            Nothing personal, of course, but you did ask.

    • Steve Dawson

      There are probably several ways to go about dealing with the priest sexual abuse scandal that would be effective out on the streets. Here is how the question most often comes up: “What do you think about the Priest sexual abuse scandal in your church?” or “If your Church is so true, then why is it so full of scandals, like with pedophile priests and all that is going on over there at the Vatican.”

      My response is always different depending on the person or the exact question but it usually goes something like this:

      I hear you, the sexual abuse scandal that we see so often on the media saddens me and makes me mad. These men, who should be a light to to the world and be protectors our children have abused their God given authority and should be held accountable for their actions and should be removed from their positions of authority. Yet, we know that the sins of men within the Church do not prove the Church false. Even if the pope were a wicked man, and we have had some very unholy popes, this proves nothing about the Divine nature of the Church that Christ established. Lets look at Judas. He was a thief and a wicked man who had evil in his heart. He betrayed Jesus and had him killed. Did the early Christians believe that the sin of this man Judas meant that Christianity was false? Of course not. In fact, Jesus told us in Mathew 13 that the enemy would sow evil seeds in the Church and the weeds would grow with the wheat. The Church will contain good men and bad men until the end of time. You see, when someone enters the Church, God does not at that moment take away the free will of a man and make him incapable of sin. If he did so, then members of the church would become robots and incapable of love. Yes, He calls all to holiness, but He never forces Himself upon us like a rapist. So when Jesus said that the Gates of Hell would not prevail against the Church, He was not stating that individuals within the Church would be free from sin. He is merely stating that the Church would never officially teach error in areas of Faith and Morals. And we see that this is true even to this day.

      That is the way I go about handling this and it is usually very effective. Also, I have made a conscious decision to avoid talking to much about the fact that the media has a bias against the Catholic Church and overstates the prevalence of cases such as this. If I am talking to a non-Christian I will usually also go on to state the fact that there are statistically more sexual abuse cases in the public school system and other secular institutions than there are in the Church. I will then ask if that therefore means that the School System itself should be abolished? Usually they see the point.

      • kenneth

        Anyone who sees your point on this matter doesn’t grasp the scope and nature of the abuse scandal. The issue is not the fact that priests are not sinless creatures by virtue of ordination. The issue is not the 2% or whatever number you care to believe are the minority of priests who abuse.

        The issue is the fact that bishops actively enabled this behavior 100% of the time they were confronted with it. They never once, well into present times, did the right thing when they thought no one was looking. They aided and abetted abuse to a degree that can only be described as organized crime. Theses men – Christ’s officer corps on Earth, we’re told, consistently lacked the moral courage or vision to discern what their own faith tells them is one of the vilest acts of grave evil humans are capable of committing.

        Child rape is not like some fine shade of Rabbinic law where scholars dither over what the meaning of “is” is in the text. This is the one act for which Jesus supposedly prescribed summary execution. The bishops, out of cowardice and institutional convenience, downgraded this capital crime of sin down to a parking ticket.

        As I said, it was not the personal failings of a few men. It was a culture that selected and rewarded utter amorality. It is a culture that to this minute, shows no sign at all of reforming in any meaningful way. There is no sense of real contrition, no personal accountability, no indication that they would do the right thing if they weren’t being watched. They are still covering up and getting caught, and prosecutors are finally going after them personally.

        One can always argue that these men are aberrations and not true reflections of the underlying theology, but most of us judge a tree by the fruit it bears. I get those people who say they’re not in it for the leadership and that the real church lies elsewhere, but I cannot imagine why anyone would accept the moral instruction of amoral men or worse, pledge their personal fealty to them as doctrine would seem to require.

        You and other Catholic apologists also might want to dispense with the argument that secular abuse is worse. For one thing, the science behind that is not sound. More importantly, it’s a huge appeal to moral relativism.

        • Steve Dawson

          Any Catholic priest, bishop, or even pope who takes part in or covers up the priest scandal is committing a grave moral evil and contributing to scandal in the Church. If each case we can prove that this has occurred, these men need to be removed from their authority and punished by secular authorities. Yet, this does not prove anything. Again, the weeds will grow with the wheat. We will always have sinners in the Church, even in high ranking offices. God does not remove their free will when a person gets promoted to a high office in the Church. My previous explanation still stands.

          In response with your suggestion that we dispense with the argument that secular abuse is worse, I believe you were missing my point. I was not trying to say that because the abuse is higher in other institutions then we can excuse abuse within our own. No, all abuse of this nature is evil and needs to be addressed. What I was merely trying to suggest is that it does not make logical sense to say that there is a problem with an institution in itself because people within it choose to sin. My point was that sexual abuse happens in the public school system at rates higher than in the Catholic Church (if you disagree with this stat I would like to see your data). Does this mean that the public school system itself is evil or that we should condemn it? Of course not.

          Most people that we deal with on the streets get it what we are trying to say. Remember, we only have a few seconds to respond to some people. What we say works. Now what I sense in your response is something far deeper than a view that the Church is proved to be wrong because of the priest scandal. I suspect that you are either not Christian or if you are, you do not believe Christ established a visible Church. Either way, it matters little if I can convince you that the priest scandal proves nothing about the Church. In order for us to have a productive conversation we would need to get to deeper issues. Do you believe in God? Christianity? Etcetera. Dealing with the priest scandal itself would not get you and I very far. But, in that case, out on the street, if you were unwilling to dialogue on these deeper issues, we would just have to do the best that we have in the short period of time that we are given.

          Finally, if you are willing to dialogue further about these issues, I know of several facebook groups that have members that focus on combating attacks on Catholicism. They deal with all sorts from atheists to muslims to anti-catholic Christians. It is not my ministry to perform apologetics online. Writing is not my strong point and typing is even worse for me. This response has already taken me at least 10 minutes. With that, I will leave you all. God bless and good night.

          • kenneth

            Yes, weeds will grow with the wheat, but when they grow to the virtual exclusion of the wheat, it’s time to consider deeper problems with the soil or underlying agricultural methods. Yes men in high office can sin as personal failing, but this was and is a leadership culture that reinforces and accepts the worst sin as the standard of pastoral care.

            Something much deeper than individual sin is afoot here, whether it is the underlying truth of the theology, or more likely, an organization that has badly lost its way. Sometimes a crop of bad apples is bad luck. Sometimes the whole tree is too diseased to retain or came from defective rootstock. Such possibilities need to be considered whether the system in question is the Church, or public education or any Fortune 500 company.

            I would agree that the presence of abusers in public schools is not enough to condemn public education as a whole, but if it turns out the entire leadership culture rewards and reinforces that abuse, then the enterprise should be torn down and reconstituted at whatever level is necessary. Individual public schools are regularly reconstituted in this way. When there is systemic, long term failure, usually academic, all of the leadership and sometimes all of the staff are fired and the whole thing is built from the ground up.

            The Church has never undertaken to analyze its own system or culture. Everything is fine, they say. The whole thing has been put off on individual priests, a liberal media who never liked them anyway, and dozens of no-fault “mistakes were made” corporate apologies issued. Men like that have no organic credibility or authority to serve as moral teachers, regardless of whatever titles and apostolic authority they lay claim to.

            The assertion that secular abuse happens at significantly higher rates all seems to derive from the Shakeshaft study of 2004. The Shakeshaft report is based on such shabby methodology that its conclusions are virtually worthless. It cites lots and lots of things, but draws its data from a tiny handful of studies which themselves have so little comparable empiracal data that Shakeshaft didn’t even bother attempting a proper meta-analysis. The main study Shakeshaft draws upon, the one from which you get a rate of abuse of 9.6% , is even shakier.

            It was conducted by an organization with a feminist agenda which basically asked students if they had ever experienced anything unwelcome in their school careers. That included a huge range of things like inappropriate jokes or comments and unwelcome conduct from other students as well as teachers. It was a survey about harassment, not abuse. I’m not excusing schools that permit a hostile atmosphere, but I hope we can all agree that dirty jokes and student-on-student lewd behavior is not even in the same league as serial rape of a youngster by staff.

          • kenneth

            To clarify where I am coming from, I am former Catholic turned Pagan for reasons that have nothing to do with the abuse scandal. I am where I am as the result of 20 years of discernment and a personal calling. I am not looking for ways back through the exit door, nor am I looking to draw anyone else out of Catholicism. The abuse issue has nothing to do with whether I would be Catholic or not, but it does impact what level of respect I hold for the Church as a moral force in the world. Having covered abuse stories extensively as a journalist, I have a very good understanding of the dynamics at play and it really sticks in my craw when apologists say institutional abuse has nothing to do with anything in the institution that produced it.

          • Ted Seeber

            When 1% of the field is weeds, and 99% is wheat, I have a problem claiming that the weeds have overtaken the wheat, regardless of the rest of Kenneth’s argument.

        • Ted Seeber

          “The issue is the fact that bishops actively enabled this behavior 100% of the time they were confronted with it”

          That’s a false statment. Some Bishops did enable the behavior, yes. MOST at the very least sent the abuser off into areas where he couldn’t molest children, whether that be therapy, the cloister, or assignment to remote adult-only communities. A few even ended up calling the secular authorities over the issue. And today, since 2002, the *absolute* standard is to call the secular authorities *first*, and deal with the canonical stuff later.

          But the same argument goes for the Bishops that goes for the priests- there is NOTHING in being ordained a Bishop that prevents a man from sinning.

          • carlosthedwarf

            And why did they not turn the abusers over to the authorities?

    • To be fair, this was excised when editing the interview for space reasons. (Full disclosure: I actually got Mr. Dawson on the phone and asked the questions, and the interview went about 45 minutes.)

      • Slow Learner

        Fair enough, and Mr Dawson was good enough to pop up and explain a bit further himself; it just struck me as odd to cut it there.

        Having seen his answer though, I don’t think he begins to approach the core of the question. The objection (to my mind) is not that the Catholic Church is imperfect and staffed by imperfect men. It is the fact that an organisation which is supposedly a moral authority has not merely had immoral members (as this is expected in any large organisation), nor merely had men in authority act poorly (again, certain to happen in a large organisation), but has routinely, in case after case, decided that crimes are to be covered up rather than reported to the appropriate authorities, that the victims are to be kept silent, and that the perpetrators are to be moved elsewhere so that they can start again.
        I still don’t see how the Catholic Church can claim any authority to speak on moral issues on this basis, of having clearly and consistently made the outright WRONG decision, on an issue where the right answer should be obvious.

        • Things are even more complicated than that. For example, families, by and large, asked that things be kept quiet. Also, how often did these things really come up, given that those involved were really a small number of repeat offenders? Things to consider.

          So far as moral authority — well, moral authority is not something gained or lost by behavior. Credibility, maybe. But the authority is more objective than that, being that it relies on the office one holds and not what you do with it.

        • Ted Seeber

          ” but has routinely, in case after case, decided that crimes are to be covered up rather than reported to the appropriate authorities, that the victims are to be kept silent, and that the perpetrators are to be moved elsewhere so that they can start again.”

          I can cite an equal number of cases where the appropriate authorities were called, where the perpetrators were stripped of their faculties, and sent off to live in cloisters. But of course, the New York Times never reports on those.

          I consider letting ambition harm children (which is the real crime, as you put it) to be downright awful. But it’s expected from a time in America when even public school boards acted that way.

          • Ted: I would be interested in that list.

          • kenneth

            In very extensive reading on the matter dating back to the late 90s, I have not come across a single case where suspected abusers were reported to police in a timely fashion and at the initiative of church authorities. That doesn’t mean it never happened, but it clearly was not the norm. There were, in fact, written directives and policies in place into recent times which specifically barred clergy and others from reporting such abuse to the police, upon pain of excommunication. The practice of sending suspects “off to cloisters” usually amounted to nothing more than aiding and abetting fugitives from justice. A great many of these men were unsupervised.

          • Ted Seeber

            I’ll do a blog posting on that list someday, don’t have the time to compile it this week.

            But I’m interested in Kenneth’s response, since there is little difference between a cloistered monk in a monastery cell under a vow of silence and a prisoner in a state run jail, how removing these men from public life can possibly be construed as ” aiding and abetting fugitives from justice”. Isn’t a central component to being a fugitive from justice actually being able to re-offend?

            Now if you’re talking about the regulations that kept people from talking about what were essentially personnel meetings that could harm the victims if they became public knowledge, how is that any different than practically every other institution on the planet?

  • leahlibresco

    I can see this is quickly going to become a gay marriage thread, so I’m adminning-up and reserving this thread for discussion of the tactical question I was most interested in after running the Q&A.

    Regardless of whether Catholics are right about gay marriage (civil or otherwise), what’s the appropriate, most charitable way to respond to the question, if you have a marvelous proof, but the conversation is not wide enough to contain it?

    Dawson seems to be saying that he just tries to communicate that he holds his position in good faith — that it’s not rooted in rancor or hatred. Can you do better in two minutes? Should knowing that fact change a non-Catholic’s estimate of how likely Catholicism is to be true at all? If the prohibition is too hard to defend without getting the interlocutor to accept some natural law stuff, should you just say that upfront, and acknowledge that the answer is unsatisfying?

    This is basically a question about when and how one can use the Courtier’s Reply appropriately.

    Seriously, you have every other thread to discuss the role of the State in marriage, or whether gay relationships are harmful. This thread is only for discussing the ethics and efficacy of different debate tactics.

    • Niemand

      Given that I came away from his explanation repulsed and convinced that he hated GLBT people, I’d say that almost any other approach would be more effective. To me he comes off as the worst sort of disgusting creep who can’t even acknowledge his own bigotry.

      Quite a lot of my family is Catholic and I’m far from thinking that Catholics are immoral people in general, but Dawson seems to be doing his best to convince me otherwise.

      • Ted Seeber

        “To me he comes off as the worst sort of disgusting creep who can’t even acknowledge his own bigotry.”

        Funny, that’s how many on the homosexual side of the gay marriage debate come off to me as well. Except instead of disgusting creeps, I say “Good people so immersed in their own sin that they can’t even acknowledge their own bigotry”.

        Do you see the difference?

      • So can you name some of the approaches that would be more effective?

        • Niemand

          No. Honestly, I tried. I don’t think it’s possible because it’s a counterfactual and really you’re not going to convince someone of something blatantly untrue and against their currently held beliefs in 2 minutes.

          I’d ditch the whole thing and talk about God’s love for 2 minutes.

          • So if you can’t name any better approach, would you like to take back the statement that “almost any other approach would be more effective”?

      • Steve Dawson

        I am sorry that you are offended by anything that was said. It was in no way meant to be offensive. The Church teaches that we need to love all men regardless of race, creed, sexual orientation, etc. That being said, sometimes love involves speaking the truth, no matter how unpopular it may be, rather than just being nice. Love is desiring the best thing for the other person. The Church teaches that following the natural moral law is what is best for each person, both in this life and in the next. If I believed with all my heart that a person who rejected God and his teachings on issues of sexuality has temporal and eternal consequences such as everlasting hell, would it be love to not share that belief with you? If you were walking towards a cliff blindfolded, would I love you if I didn’t at least try to stop you from falling off? You can choose to disagree with me and the Church on Her teachings, but to state that we believe them out of hatred is incorrect. I pray that one day that you look more deeply into why the Church teaches what She does on homosexuality. The Church has written often on this which are available for anyone who has a desire to look at them. Sadly, all too often people reject the teaching without giving it a chance. God bless you on your journey towards eternity.

        Also, it may be of note that there is a bit of a typo in that question. What is written is: “But if we’re not willing to listen to all that, we’ll just tell them what the Church’s teaching is…”. It should state: “But if they are not willing to listen to all that…” Thanks.

        • Steve Dawson

          To be more clear about the typo I was referring to. In the interview itself above, in the question in which I talk about homosexuality, I stated that ” if we’re not willing to listen to all that, we’ll just tell them what the Church’s teaching is…”.

          I want to make it clear, we are always willing to listen. If we do not listen we will not have productive conversations. What was actually said, or at least I meant to say was that if a person we are in conversation with us is not willing to listen to the larger points we are trying to make, and just wants a short quick answer to their question, then we will try to answer it the best we can in a short amount of time and give them material to look at later. Thanks.

          • Steve Dawson

            Looks like Leah fixed the typo in the article above. Thanks Leah.

          • Val

            What you don’t appear to grasp, Steve, is that some of us just don’t care. It’s not that we’re not “willing to listen,” it’s that we’ve heard it all our lives and you bring no news. Your premises are based on a perspective of ‘truth’ that is so far removed from our reality that you may as well be speaking Dolphin. It’s irrelevant, pure and simple, and our main objection is the insistence that if only we heard it the right way, we’d fall in place and agree that our society should be founded on your principles.

            As for “hate”… I could just as easily say that I don’t hate Catholics at all (and in fact this is true), but that my own truth tells me that the Catholic worldview is not only wrong but ‘sinful’ and that Catholic behavior is intrinsically disordered. There’s nothing wrong with feeling Catholic about things, but my own teachings require that I pray that you eventually learn the error of your ways.

            Got it yet? And I’m not really being as facetious as I may appear.

            Lastly… what’s your opinion on how the Church is handling American nuns?

          • Ted Seeber

            Val, if you have heard it all your life and still don’t understand love the sinner, hate the sin- or that homosexuality is in and of itself harmful to all who engage in it- then I have to question if you have really bothered to listen at all.

          • Val

            “…homosexuality is in and of itself harmful to all who engage in it- then I have to question if you have really bothered to listen at all.”

            It isn’t. (Is so! Is not! Is so! Is not!)
            And so on. And the only way you’d ever believe that anyone had ever “listened” is if they conceded their reality to your own.

            Of course, you’d say the same about them (me), and we’re in the same stalemate as that which keeps either of us from really caring about each others’ perceptions of “hate” and “bigotry.”

            And so the likes of you and I will always remain severely at odds. Personally, I’m OK with that. I only hope that people like poor Steve Dawson have a clearer idea of the real issue as a result.

          • It’s not that we’re not “willing to listen,” it’s that we’ve heard it all our lives and you bring no news.

            I understand that there’s a lot of text there, and that I only know this because I’m working with Steve, but the whole approach of SPSE is to avoid forcing people to pay attention. Nobody is approached who isn’t already coming our way. You are free to walk right by, if you have your heart set on it.

            Hope this helps.

          • Ted Seeber

            Val, there aren’t multiple realities based on personal preferences. There is only ONE reality. If you can’t handle that, then don’t pretend to be objective at all, or that your opinion should have any weight with those who have evidence on their side.

            It isn’t my reality. There is only one reality and nobody owns it. There is only the courage to go where the evidence leads vs where emotionalism leads.

        • Niemand

          Love is desiring the best thing for the other person.

          I quite agree with you on that. But I don’t see how what you’re doing can possibly be seen as desiring the best for the other person. I’ve said this before, but not while you were here. Either there is no afterlife and no god and you’ve tortured people, denied them the basic human right to form a family, threatened to kidnap their children (to be fair, I think that may be a Protestant organization’s plan), denied them the right to see their spouse in the hospital when they are sick and receive death benefits, etc, for absolutely nothing.

          Alternately, maybe there is a god and an afterlife. Are you sure it’s your god? What if when you die you find Pan very upset that you rejected one of the forms of love he offered? What good have you done then-you’ve only made more people subject to his wrath. Finally, suppose the universe works approximately the way the Bible describes. There’s a couple of vague references in the Bible seeming to disapprove of men having sex with men. To my knowledge, there’s absolutely nothing about women having sex with women. What there definitely is is a lot of statements about it being God’s right to judge, not humanities.

          Do you follow “Judge not lest ye be judged?”

          • Ted Seeber

            If I wasn’t sure my God was right, I wouldn’t be Catholic.

          • Do you follow “Judge not lest ye be judged?”

            Sure. And the rest of it, too.

            2 For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. Mk. 4.24
            3 And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?
            4 Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye?
            5 Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.
            6 Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you.

            Notably, this is part of a larger discourse which follows the same pattern a few times, as it is followed by: “Ask, and it shall be given you …”

          • Either there is no afterlife and no god and you’ve tortured people, denied them the basic human right to form a family, threatened to kidnap their children

            Is this a Reverse Pascal’s Wager?

            If there is no afterlife, I will have no opportunity to feel remorse. For your statement to make any rhetorical sense, you’ll have to admit the afterlife while denying God, whose law proceeds from the nature of Himself.

        • Love is desiring the best thing for the other person Yes, but who are you, or I, or anyone to decide what’s best for another person?

      • Part of the problem is the format; the printed word does not do justice to a man speaking off the cuff.

        With Steve’s permission, I could provide the audio. His sympathy is quite palpable.

    • Ted Seeber

      I do not think it is possible in two minutes. I’m to the point that while I don’t believe the hatred is coming from the Catholic side at all, there is so much hate coming from the homosexual side of the debate that the situation has become impossible.

      • Alan

        Yes, it is often the case that the person who sees all the bad feelings emanating from the other side is the one looking at the situation honestly…

        • Ted Seeber

          I don’t see Catholics (or even Christians) painting swastikas on the door to Basic Rights Oregon, or throwing stones through stained glass windows- but both happened at my *very liberal* parish where most parishioners support Civil Unions and a separation of Church and State on marriage, which is now defined as a hate crime and bigotry against gays.

      • I feel the need to point out that the Catholic side and the gay side (if any two such convoluted creatures ever could exist) are not the only sides in the debate. Gay people take A LOT of heat from A LOT of people generally calling themselves Christian.

        (Nods to the Moderator) That means that even so much as stating the Catholic Church’s position will inevitably bring in A LOT of baggage (much of which hasn’t been earned by the Catholic Church). I think a more effective rhetorical approach would be ignoring what the Catholic Church teaches altogether until a more positive foundation has been laid. Emphasize that Catholics are called to love everyone, that the bullying faced by gay people is completely wrong, and that Catholics should do more to protect the people Mother Theresa labelled “Friends of Jesus.” Eventually, you will need to get into what the Catholic Church teaches about morality, but I really think the air needs to be cleared before that conversation can happen productively. (And if you don’t believe me, consider Niemand’s reaction above).

        I think Catholics do themselves a great disservice by failing to acknowledge the very real abuse that gay people often take at the hands of other “Traditional Marriage” proponents.

        • I agree if that is an option, but here we are talking of a situation where that is the question asked. And then I think just ignoring the asked question and answering a different one won’t go down well either.

          But then politicians do precisely that because it does work, so maybe I’m atypical in finding that really annoying.

          • No, there probably are a lot of people who would find it annoying. But the kind of people who will push you on it are probably already looking for an argument.

          • Kristen inDallas

            I agree, I find evasive answers annoying (from politicians too) but then I’m also not the type to ask a question packaged with so many assumptions (try not to anyway, I tend to ignore people that get under my skin as I don’t really like unnesesary confrontation/drama). However, the people that go out of their way to ask that kind of question are coming at it with a lot of untreated wounds whether from Christians or from homophobia at large. Those wounds need to be treated first, with love and comraderie. RL is right, nothing good will come unless you go there first.

    • Please, people, listen to the lady.

    • I agree with Ted on the time limitation. Questions of sexual ethics—and any other topic where extensive philosophical background and a priori have to be established—are not something that can be tackled in two minutes. The situation is made all the more fraught by how politically explosive the issue of gay rights is (hence the hijacking of the comments in that direction, by myself & others [mea culpa]).

      If I were in Steve’s position (and of his positions), I’d say something to this effect: “I totally understand why you think that the Church hates you—the popular portrayal of the Church’s position and even its portrayal by some Catholics would lead anyone to think that. However, the Church’s position on homosexuality is much more complex than that and is rooted in a long tradition of thinking about love, sacrifice, and the body that I can’t do justice to here.”

      Then, I’d shift away from the intricacies of the Church’s position and towards some facts that might actually *surprise* the listener, like that the church recognizes that sexual orientation is usually immutable and is not a “choice” and that the bishops issued an appeal to parents of GLBTQ youth to never reject or cut off contact with their children because they were GLBTQ or because of disagreements with how they expressed that sexuality. If the person I was talking to was open to it, I’d offer a copy of the USCCB’s pastoral letter “Always Our Children,” which is more concerned with pragmatic issues facing GLBTQ Catholics and their families than with the nitty-gritty of church teaching on sexuality. Lastly, I’d get what I believed to be the *best* material explaining the Church’s teaching on sexuality—even if it was a full book—but only offer it to an individual if they specifically expressed a desire to study the Church’s teaching on the subject in more detail.

      Of course, if it *really* was me, I’d just confess that I hadn’t reconciled my own thinking/feelings with the teachings of the Church, but it sounds like Steve wouldn’t be inclined to bring personal struggles with doctrine into the conversation.

      • As Mr. Dawson said:

        I would be surely happy to address that if it was coming up in conversation, if somebody was having a personal doubt or struggle, I would definitely go to my personal experience and discuss that. Because we’re meeting every person where they’re at, we have to connect with them. It’s absolutely of vital importance to share personal experiences. I think that’s more effective than just spewing doctrine, 100 percent.

        • Yes, but Steve says that he would only bring it up if “doubts” came up in conversation (which seems to imply that it would only come up in conversation with another Catholic). This suggests that he wouldn’t *immediately* go to present doubts and that he would only be inclined to do so if he was talking to a fellow Catholic and if “doubting” came up in conversation—though I could be misreading that. And, granted, I should have phrased my final sentence more carefully, I didn’t mean to suggest that Steve would *never* talk about personal struggles (I also don’t know if Steve’s points of struggle are the same as mine).

          • Steve Dawson

            I often use my personal testimony which includes my personal struggles with Church teachings in discussions that I am having on the streets. When you stated that: “I’d just confess that I hadn’t reconciled my own thinking/feelings with the teachings of the Church, but it sounds like Steve wouldn’t be inclined to bring personal struggles with doctrine into the conversation.” Yes absolutely I agree with this type of honesty with people on the street. I often say similar things. What I do not do is go into detail about personal doubts about the faith that I currently have unless it comes up in conversation. Like I would not generally say that sometimes I think to myself “what if their is no God!” The reason why I don’t bring it up is that everyone has these little thoughts and they have no substance. Even the greatest saints have had these thoughts. Now, if the conversation led to that I would talk about it. But I would say that having these thoughts does not mean that you are losing your faith. These thoughts are natural and all Christians have them from time to time. They may come from our own minds, or they could be a temptation. Either way, it is usually not important to bring these doubts up in conversation.

          • Steve Dawson

            I was not clear enough. When I said: “I often use my personal testimony which includes my personal struggles with Church teachings in discussions that I am having on the streets.” This is in regards to my struggles with Church teachings that I had as opposed to current struggles. Currently, I believe everything that the Church officially teaches and do not struggle with those teachings any longer. But I will discuss my journey to this point. The rest of what I said above stands.

          • Steve, thanks for the clarification—I didn’t mean to put words in your mouth about what you do/don’t do, and I totally understand that this would be a “play it by ear” situation.

            I think that the foregrounding of doubts/struggles/etc. is also a matter of one’s personal style of talking about their faith. For me, when I first began thinking seriously about whether I should become a Catholic, having Catholics share their personal doubts and struggles was really helpful for me and played a big role in my decision to (start) taking the plunge. Similarly, I find that when I’m talking to my friends and family about my own plans to become a Catholic, I find that it relaxes the situation if I confess that I’m not 100% comfortable with everything right now. I don’t think that that’s the only “right” way to have a conversation about the faith—but it is the most comfortable form for me.

    • I never tried this in real life, so it may be bunk, but maybe it would help to mention that structural sin on the straight side does add to the burden and make it even harder to live a celibate gay life in the church.

      Apart from the fact that we should admit our faults anyway, that might also help making the “we don’t hate you” message more plausible. Admitting where we do suck might help avoiding the impression that our doctrine is there to lampshade that suckage. Of course fleshing that out would push the two-minute limit.

      • Considering that Steven Greydanus’ unfinished take on “Who’s to blame for gay marriage” stretches so far to 10 parts —

      • KL

        I heartily second this. An acknowledgement of the failings of heterosexual marriage and sexuality is very important for the sake of consistency and transparency.

        • Actually I meant that Christianity and even Catholicism as an actual social system doesn’t quite deliver on the “They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.”-part. For example, worries like this one shouldn’t be justified but are.

          The “and heterosexuals are doing their best to undermine marriage too” part is also true, but not what I had in mind.

          • KL

            Gotcha! The Ubiquitous colored my reading of your comment, shame on me. But I heartily second your intended point, as well.

            Taken together, I think the effective point is that the evangelist’s task is to remove the pointing finger and emphasize that we live in a fallen world. We all struggle with our personal demons, and we all fall. When we can 1) recognize our own failures and 2) hold ourselves accountable for them and admit responsibility for the pain and hurt that we have caused, and only then, can we start to have a true dialogue with those who have struggled with being hurt and in pain.

        • Better yet, it’s necessary for truth.

      • Ted Seeber

        Don’t know if the response would do any good- but when I’m having that kind of discussion, I do try to bring up the mess the secular world has *already made* out of civil marriage. I just want to win the word back for the sacrament- and I think the best way to do that would be to get rid of ALL laws using the same word as the sacrament. Civil Unions for all! Heterosexual, homosexaul, pseudosexual, polygamous. There are lots of family types that aren’t in my religion, but under separation of Church and State, they deserve recognition too!

        • Because imply grave sin, you shouldn’t be so gleeful about it. Laws affect people, you know.

          If it’s simply an issue of property sharing, well, I could dig that for two little old widowers who have moved in together and are mutual means of support. If it were appropriated for “gay marriage,” though, it would still foster a grave moral evil, in your own words. It would be wrong to express support for even this “compromise.” The only solution that would work would be a wide re-evangelization of the culture, engaging hearts and minds that folks are open to Christ.

          Anything else is a stopgap which will, in the long run, very seriously exacerbate the problem.

    • KL

      Should knowing that fact change a non-Catholic’s estimate of how likely Catholicism is to be true at all?

      In the sense that I am generally willing to estimate a person’s position as more likely to be true if she is a reasonable, clear-headed, and at least marginally compassionate person rather than one who bases opinions upon reactionary thinking and entrenched prejudices, yes. It’s a slight advantage, but a significant one, I think.

      I do think that acknowledging that one’s argument is based upon some essential premises is important, because it saves a LOT of time in the long run. I’ve had hours-long arguments (and not the fun kind, though I’ve had those too) with friends that eventually boiled down to a foundational premise that one party accepted and the other denied. If we’d started there, we could have either 1) considered the premise itself on its merits, though often they were so axiomatic in terms of worldview that there was little else to break apart, or 2) simply recognized that no ideological resolution was likely to come of it at that moment, shaken hands, and gone off get dinner.

      If, on the other hand, your interlocutor does accept your fundamental premise when presented, then you have the exciting task of performing some deductive logic and producing some conclusions. What often happens then is that your interlocutor doubles back and denies the premise after all, but at the very least you’ve demonstrated that P –> Q, and if they want P they’ll have to take Q as well.

      • MumbleMumble

        I like that approach. So instead of presenting the initial topic, you present the base of the idea? That seems much more efficient. What do you think is the basic foundation that has to be agreed upon for a gay-marriage/homosexuality debate, for example?

        • KL

          That’s a tough one, as there are several different possible starting points from the Catholic point of view, at least. I suppose that I would probably settle on the general concept of natural law (facts about the natural world as it is can provide insight into its telos and purpose) and, as something of a corollary, the centrality of embodiment to the human experience (we are material beings, and therefore what we do and experience in and through our bodies has spiritual significance). If my interlocutor rejected either of those propositions, our discussion wouldn’t be able to go very far.

          • MumbleMumble

            I think that makes sense. Where I seem to disagree with the anti-gay-marriage crowd (or pro-traditional marriage crowd) is typically in the concept and meaning of natural law. I might also include civil law as a starting point, since I view the two as separate issues (although not everyone does).
            But if I’m not going to agree with somebody on immorality as determined by natural law, then there is no way either of us is convincing the other of anything in under two minutes.

          • KL

            Good point, and I agree. E.g., ought civil law to enshrine the social contract mutually agreed upon by its subjects (in a liberal democracy/republic), or ought it to reflect objective truths regarding human flourishing? Different answers will lead to very different opinions on the place and purpose of government and civil law.

      • Thing of it is, with a “take folks as they are” approach, SPSE isn’t able to do that, by design, except when folks areobviously up to the challenge of axiom-level arguments. Otherwise, answering this question:

        “Why do you hate me and want to deny me my civil rights?”

        with this one

        “Can we speak of humanity as possessing a nature, or at least human beings as having a telos? And what role should this play in law?”

        will, justifiably, feel like something of a cop out. Better to start, more often with not, with a “cooling of the heads” than a “meeting of the minds,” to paraphrase Steve (not-Dawson) below.

        Your approach will work; just not, I think, widely.

        • KL

          Point taken. And, upon further reflection, a “base principles” approach is unlikely to get far enough under Leah’s two-minute rule, anyway. I’ve found it to be helpful in conversations where both parties had the luxury of time, but an encounter on the street is a different animal. I also think Steve (!Dawson) has an excellent response.

    • Steve

      It’s fair to say that Mr. Dawson is coming from a position of true concern for the homosexuals due to his beliefs, and not from some sort of ‘carrying pitchforks & lighting torches to run queer people out of town’ stance. There doesn’t appear to be any sort of deliberate animosity in his approach to this discussion.

      I’d imagine you’d have a hard time selling anything to someone on the street with a ballparked maximum attention span of 2 minutes, though I don’t think the time span or the ‘man on the street’ aspect here is why there might be challenges in viewpoint conversion, or even a legitimate consideration that results in a no-sale so to speak. Spending that 2 minutes conveying that you’re coming from an honest good faith position of concern rather than a rabid position of hatred might the best tactic to accomplish anything, even if it’s just a cooling of the minds rather than a meeting of them.

      I wouldn’t expect any sort of cooling of the minds to result in a net gain on converts for either viewpoint. This isn’t to say it can’t lead to some sort of progress. Civility has a higher likely hood of conveying understanding rather than conversion, though I don’t see how it might convince someone that there’s some sort of higher truth there. The whole discussion is a bit of the old impossible force meeting an immovable object. Each side is looking for concessions & conversions, when perhaps they should probably agree to disagree and instead begin a good faith discussion on the optimal way for dealing with this like adults.

      I’m not sure how the Courtier’s Reply fits into this discussion.

      • Think she was trying to say something about when to tell people they would understand more if they took such-and-such steps.

        Agreed, and cheerfully, about the importance of the cooling of the minds.

      • I appreciate you response here. I would like to point something out that may or may not need pointing out. When Leah asked the question about what questions were the most difficult for me to have, I mentioned the questions that surrounded the teaching of the Church on homosexuality. What makes these questions extremely difficult to deal with is that the people asking them almost never want to have deep in depth conversations and they typically do end up lasting a maximum of two minutes. Yet I want to point out that these conversations, while they are the most difficult, are also relatively rare. What we are dealing with far more often are people who have other questions about the faith. Every time we go out we have many good, productive, and lengthy conversations with people about God, about the Church, about its teachings. We talk to atheists, protestants, fallen away Catholics, practicing Catholics, and others. I would say that our “successes” come from these productive conversations. As The Ubiquitous said, we do not force anyone to talk to us or even to listen to us. For this reason, most of the people who approach us are open to at least some dialogue that goes beyond the conversations which are the focus of most of the comments to this interview. The reason why I mention this at all is that one could get a sense that all we do out there is defend the Church from people who are violently opposed to Her or Her teachings. No, this is not the norm. Yet it happens and we try to deal with each circumstance as it comes up in the most charitable way we know how. Thank you everyone for all your comments. God bless you all.


    • Iota

      > Can you do better in two minutes?

      Steve’s approach might actually work with the people who come up and talk to him much more than one that I’d personally use, so mine isn’t ‘better’ – I assume it would be ‘different’

      I think there are at least three different questions hidden in the Catholics-versus-homosexuals problem here. Depending on which one the person would actually be asking, I think I’d have to explain something else.

      They might actually be asking about my emotions towards them, in which case I think I’d try to explain I don’t ‘hate’ them, because hate is actually a very strong emotion I can’t even feel towards a stranger who has done me no wrong (not because I’m so swell as a Catholic – it would simply be absurd to me personally)

      I’d probably NOT try to explain I ‘love’ them, because:
      (1) lots of people associate love with a love-of-friends and I really can’t (personally) love a stranger in this way just as much as I can’t hate them.
      (2) what my belief system demands is a love that expresses itself in doing good things for you, even if I don’t feel any emotions. A love-in-actions. And this implies that the person should probably come away from the discussion with a feeling of being respected, treated charitably and politely without me having to tell them that is what I’m doing. If they go away with the impression that I’m a hateful bigot this either means: (1) I failed to act properly, (2) that my actions were ‘right’ but the person’s understanding of what love means was different, (3) they have a completely different value system. In all those cases saying I ‘love’ them probably doesn’t improve things, at this point.

      The second potential question is: why I want to influence their civil rights/what right do I have to do that.

      Answer: Because democracy demands that I act politically on what I believe to be right. I’m just as much obliged to vote in agreement with my conscience as a pacifist or a ‘green’ is. And given how life works, all decisions I make potentially influence other people (even when I decide whether to buy myself a box of chocolates or donate to a charity…). You can’t avoid this effect in politics – if you create a welfare healthcare system, this means there will be freeloaders and people who foot the bill for them, and some inefficiency in treatment for economic reasons, possibly leading to the deaths of people who would have afforded better healthcare were it completely private, whereas if you don’t it means some people will die of preventable diseases simply because they had no means to buy treatment, for example. We all collectively exercise that kind of influence simply because we live in a democracy and there’s no way to opt-out.

      I happen to believe that, insofar as ‘marriage’ is a construct in secular law, it is part of this political decision-making process. (I have no right to either try to define marriage in religious contexts and I also have no right to e.g. create a Hetero-Orthodoxy Police that goes around checking if people are in same- or other-sex relationships.)

      Importantly, all people in a democracy have the same right and duty to act in accordance with what they believe, including when they believe the exact reverse of what I do. So, for example, if someone responded to me the way Val did to Steve here I’d nod and say they’d have a right to do all that.

      The third possible question is whether I’d want this or that person to ‘convert’ and what makes me think (1) that I’m right and (2) that what they are doing or believe is wrong. This is a whole other kettle of fish. At present I don’t think it’s explainable without some form of natural law argument (if you want people to be on board with the ethics, without the metaphysics) or full-blown religious conversion. Neither of which have much chance of being wildly successful in 2 minutes (barring some sort of spectacular miracle). The best I think I could honestly say is: ‘I could try to explain why I think that but you will probably find this argument silly, for a number of reasons, some of which I think I can predict, It will take a few minutes at least, and I don’t expect you to change your opinions, when I finish – still interested?”

  • Claude

    Dawson seems to be saying that he just tries to communicate that he holds his position in good faith — that it’s not rooted in rancor or hatred.

    So Dawson’s patronizing is in good faith, big deal. And is the Church’s position really so “deep” that it can’t be summarized to the very person identified as morally dubious because of it? “The Church thinks God thinks you’re depraved for being born gay but it’s too nuanced to explain just now.” Really?

    • “The Church thinks God thinks you’re depraved for being born gay but it’s too nuanced to explain just now.”

      Fixing the comment …

      “The Church teaches that homosexual inclinations are wrong, and also a trial, and that you as a person deserve the same respect and are made in the image of God. This may look contradictory, but please understand that getting into detail about this takes a long time.”

      … done. This is a fair representation of what Dawson said, and therefore must be what you meant.

      I heartily agree that this is, in fact, dissatisfying. What can we do about it? Leave the current issue aside for a moment. It already takes more than two minutes to explain, in rough sketch, the A-T conception of a soul, which is relatively easy as A-T conceptions go. Back to the sexual issues, remember that this is a little more complicated than that. Not much, but enough.

      Now, toss in the passions that rule these “gay marriage” arguments and fill every single combox, and the soreness and sensitivity and often justifiable frustration on all sides, and the rabid politicization which rules the undertones and overtones that might not even be meant, the accusations and jealousies and hatreds and, sometimes, even genuine bigotry — though you wouldn’t know it from the excessive accusation.

      Given this reality, could you explain anything in two minutes? Anything at all?

      It’s great that you’re worried about the impact on persons. Really it is. But because we’re dealing with these persons, we do have to be sensitive and empathetic — and honest.

      So when asked about the Church’s teaching, we must say precisely what it is, gently and firmly:

      1. You, like everyone else, are made in the image of God. This, rather than what you do, defines your worth.
      2. Because you are made in the image of God, you deserve respect. This means we must tell you the truth:
      3. Like all unmarried men and women, you are called to chastity. Because homosexual inclinations are wrong, this may be a trial in a way most folks are incapable of understanding. Know that there is hope, though, because …
      4. Christ has suffered far worse, and if nobody else knows what you’re going through He does. Better yet, He loves you.

      It’s sad that so much thought needs to go into telling the truth. There’s always the temptation to game the comment, to mine it for troll food, to play to win the argument. But winning only the argument loses the person.

      Truth in love is the ancient formula. If only it came more naturally to myself and others …

      • This may be hairsplitting, but I was under the impression (and I could be mistaken) that the Church held that same-sex sexual activity was wrong, not that “homosexual inclinations” in and of themselves were wrong/sinful.

        • Steve Dawson

          This is correct. I am sure that Ubiquitous just mis-spoke.

        • In my zeal to dumb something down to fitting in two minutes, I probably dumbed it down too far. Which sort of proves the point of this thread.

      • Val

        What’s sad is your certainty that your list qualifies as truth, rather than merely ideology.

        • Ted Seeber

          And that goes into a whole other argument on the meaning of the word “Truth”. Because for the informed Catholic, NOTHING IN THAT LIST IS MERE IDEOLOGY.

          • Val

            He says, unironically prefacing his non-ideological shouting with the relevant modifier.

          • Ted Seeber

            Of informed Catholic? That is an ideological term, to be sure. To be an informed Catholic, it means instead of taking your conscience based on willy-nilly emotions or experiences, you’ve actually bothered to look into what the church teaches, why, and what happened to other cultures that did not follow what the Church teaches.

            I fully agree that is ideological. But the truths learned from such a study are observation, not ideology.

        • What do you mean, “merely ideology?”

          • I’d note that the preceding sentence set the tone:

            “So when asked about the Church’s teaching, we must say precisely what it is, gently and firmly:”

            If the bolded portion is what you’d substitute with “ideology,” your definition is a little mixed-up, but your criticism certainly would follow. It also seems to become toothless. What is, exactly, the problem with being a Catholic and believing these things?

            Suppose you were a vegan because it was healthier for the human body. Would you believe that this proposition …

            Vegan lifestyles are healthier.

            … is true? Or would you, as you would have me do, say aloud that this proposition is merely ideology and that you do not actually believe it to be true?

          • Val

            What a wonderfullly trivial analogy.

            I take it you’ve never come across an ideological, evangelical vegetarian.

          • Not sure I understand. Explain?

    • Ted Seeber

      The Church doesn’t think you’re depraved for being born gay at all. So you’ve started out with a view of Catholic Teaching that isn’t Catholic teaching. But to refute that point, you have to go into all sorts of other stuff, like biology, definitions of words (“disordered” does not mean what you think it does), 6500 years worth of experimental data, and the history of the Punic Wars. And that’s just for starters of what I can think of off the top of my head for reasons why your statement is wrong.

      • Claude

        Meaning surely is slippery in this theological soup of floating signifiers. Forgive me for suspecting you of either sophistry or parody.

        • Ted Seeber

          Meaning is only slippery for the lazy in these matters- one can delve into the definitions if one wishes, they aren’t copyrighted and with the advent of the internet, vatican.va is a wonderful website full of (the last time I looked) the last 900 years worth of the debate.

          • Claude

            Hey you, defender of the faith, you should be able to answer simple questions with simple answers instead of patronizing your audience with pedantry and evasion.

            The Punic Wars, funniest thing I heard all week.

  • Claude

    I appreciate your response, though I’m a bit flabbergasted by it. I stand by my description of the Church’s posture toward homosexuals. You do realize the irony of insisting on chastity for non-married people to those to whom you would deny marriage, while sidestepping the matter of why, exactly, their “homosexual inclinations” are immoral.

    You fishers of men will have to do better than that.

    • If someone asks, we’ll tell them. Thing is, this whole thread is predicated on a two-minute pitch. Consider:

      I appreciate your response, though I’m a bit flabbergasted by it.

      10 to 30 seconds.

      I stand by my description of the Church’s posture toward homosexuals.

      10 to 30 seconds.

      You do realize the irony of insisting on chastity for non-married people

      Ask for clarification, a little back and forth. Call it a solid minute, minimum.

      to those to whom you would deny marriage,

      Ask for clarification, rabbit trail about what marriage is more than fidelity or monogamy, impassioned argument and frustration, and never getting to the main point anyway. Five minutes wasted, and without closure.

      while sidestepping the matter of why, exactly, their “homosexual inclinations” are immoral.

      Which also takes a long time. For the time being, remember that Leah asked that this question be saved for a different thread. (For example, half of her blog posts and 75 percent of the comments take one side or the other.) I’d be surprised if it could be easily explained in less than five minutes, complete with prebuttals for the most common objections, and that’s assuming a completely disinterested party with no followups.

      You fishers of men will have to do better than that.

      We’re happy to provide. But it takes more than two minutes. Meanwhile, the sun’s out, and you were really wanting to get to the frozen yogurt stand, and you have movie tickets anyway.

      • Analagous to the Internet: You cannot count on someone to read a long block of text.

    • Ted Seeber

      Why should I expect you to change your bigotry against the Church based on anything said on the Internet?

  • Claude

    Leigh’s question concerned tactics, and if the issue involves explaining the Church’s position on homosexuality to interested passersby then there really is no way around the question of sinfulness, is there? So the tactic appears to be, besides assurances that “we don’t hate you,” appeal to authority and obscurantism. Not exactly a slam dunk for an institution with precious little moral authority left in the tank. But our gay brothers and sisters can take heart; time is on their side. And after all,

    For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.

    • … but if you have a problem, take it to the Church.

      Also, moral authority is not reliant on a person’s actions but his office.

      Also, this in no way constitutes an appeal to authority.

      • Claude

        My last point was that the Church’s sanction is superfluous. And what? This is one reason why I left–being disinclined to surrender moral discernment to an “office.”

        So the St. Paul Street Evangelization Project’s facebook page avows its commitment to battling “grave moral evils” like “homosexual marriage.” Well there’s your answer, under two minutes. The Project then appeals for donations. Think I’ll send my money to Nuns on a Bus instead.

        • Ted Seeber

          Grave moral evil doesn’t mean what you think it means. But you seem to think the authority of the office rests on faith rather than reason, so I’m not surprised that you’d misconstrue the words grave moral evil to mean something they don’t.

          • Claude

            OK, let’s hear it. If “grave moral evil” doesn’t mean what it explicitly means, what does it mean?
            If you were alluding to apostolic authority by the “authority of the office,” kindly skip that part.

          • Well, “grave moral evil” is another accurate way to describe the proposition of homosexual marriage. It isn’t going to be what we say to strangers, though, but friends, who have already come to this conclusion. In mixed company, however, it adds more heat than light, so the use of this phrase should be avoided.

          • Ted Seeber

            Once again, you can’t learn what it means without several years worth of theology courses. You aren’t going to get that in a combox debate. You just aren’t.

            A grave moral evil is just something somebody does that hurts themselves as much as it hurts others. But to understand why it is grave, why it is disordered requires understanding the whole system of sin, not just the parts you liked to read about.

          • Claude

            A grave moral evil is just something somebody does that hurts themselves as much as it hurts others.

            Doh! How could I, or any other English language speaker, ever think “grave moral evil” means “grave moral evil”? It turns out to be so much more abstract, once you’re inside baseball for “several years.”

            Perhaps the St. Paul evangelists should add a disclaimer to their site: “Trust me, don’t even ask.”

    • Ted Seeber

      Since when is “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in their midst” NOT an appeal to authority?

      And in fact, can you give me an argument, about any topic you choose, that isn’t ultimately an appeal to authority?

      • Claude

        Seriously? Of course you can make an argument that doesn’t depend on an appeal to authority.

        But you’re right. I think Jesus is a greater moral authority than the Catholic Church.

        • Well, yes. But how does Jesus act? Through the Church. To use an image, hands grasp better than gloves.

        • Ted Seeber

          I’ve yet to see ANYBODY make an argument on ANY subject that doesn’t refer to an authority.

          You can’t. I can’t. At the very least, any conversation we have will be dependent upon the moral authority of Oxford. Or Miriam Webster.

          Communication of any sort (not just argument, but any sort) requires an authority to define the terms.

          • Claude

            This is pedantry; peace out, Ted Seeber!

  • John

    As far as “tactics” – when it’s “in person” the first and most important thing (at least for me) is to say a quick and quiet ‘sotto voce’ prayer for inspiration, light, and peace. Any time the topic has to do with powerful emotions like sex or a compulsion that someone is trying to justify, the conversation walks on a knife edge of tension.

    The second thing is to focus on body language, posture, tone. It might help to welcome the person to sit, perhaps offer some food or ask that we move the conversation to a venue where it’s quiet and we can get a bite to eat…. whatever will allow us time and the personal space to focus but also treat each other as human beings rather than ‘totems’ of “the other side”.

    Third thing is to establish some sort of common ground. Jesus only quoted from the Torah when discussing things with the Sadducees. He quoted the Prophets when speaking with Pharisees, and he spoke in logic and metaphysics when speaking to the Greeks (“unless a seed falls to the earth and dies, it remains just a seed” – Greek philosophy and metaphysics being founded on the search for the “arjeh” origin/seed of being, and an accounting for both change and enduring identity within change). So taking his lead, unless we have a common basis for discussing morals we’ll just talk past each other.

    For example, to agree that love means seeking the good of the other….and that “the good” that the other subjectively thinks she needs may be different from the good that she objectively needs…. so for example, we all know cases when good friends might want something, think it’s good for them, but we know it’s not. Like drinking and driving or smoking.

    Us disagreeing with a friend about what is good for them is not “hatred” for them or fear of their being happy. It’s just “disagreement” about what is in fact, good.

    Once a homosexual (or other person with whom we disagree) can agree that disagreement happens all the time between friends and that this disagreement is not the same thing as murderous hatred, we can proceed with a dispute over sexuality and what is or is not “healthy” and how we can or cannot come to know objective states of reality.

    • This is probably the best post so far, and probably the only relevant one.

  • What if the Catholic evangelist states that the Catholic Church’s understanding of marriage is a hybrid of sacramental and legal definitions, such that any legal definition of marriage defined by the state, is seen by the Catholic Church as also having some degree of sacramental force? Thus, even a state marriage would have to follow general religious and broadly Catholic principles (e.g., natural law) in order to be supported by the Catholic Church. Then the evangelist can say that the U.S. is currently debating exactly how marriage should be defined by the state, and if that debate concludes with a legal definition not consistent with Catholic doctrine, then the Catholic Church would accept that conclusion as the valid result of the democratic, republican process. (Now, whether the Catholic Church would actually simply accept that conclusion is an open question, but not really directly relevant to the question at hand.)

    • I find this unclear.

      • At one time, the Catholic Church, and most Christian churches, taught that the human body was created directly by God, from the dust of the ground, that the origin of the human body was a result of *both* divine direct intervention and the existence of material substance that the Divine shaped. This might be seen as analogous to the Catholic Church teaching that the legal, secular institution of marriage actually has both secular and religious elements.

        However, now that the theory of evolution has been overwhelmingly supported by geological, genetic, and paleontological evidence, the Church no longer sees the need to suppose a divine direct intervention in the appearance of the first human body. The Church can now allow the belief that the first human body was the result of an eons-long process of biological evolution, while keeping the idea of divine direct intervention as the explanation for the existence of the non-physical, human soul.

        Now, apply this to the legal realm. It might soon be the case that the American legal system will acknowledge same-sex marriage, regionally and nationally. In such a scenario, the Church would no longer need to view all secular marriages as involving both secular and religious/natural law elements. Instead, the Church could now see marriages in the U.S. as devoid of religious elements, and thus outside of its arena of concern.

        In short, the Catholic evangelical, if asked about this issue of same-sex marriage, can point to the Church having drawn a distinction between body and soul, and having had that distinction be the means by which evolution is acknowledged as an allowable belief; and the Catholic evangelical could posit that, potentially, the Church may one day draw a distinction, not simply between the secular and religious institutions of marriage, but between the secular and religious elements that the Church currently imposes upon, and injects into, the secular institution of marriage.

        • I was with you until paragraph three.

          Instead, the Church could now see marriages in the U.S. as devoid of religious elements, and thus outside of its arena of concern.

          Sin is never outside the Church’s arena of concern.

          • kenneth

            Those of us not in the Church will never accept the use of the state to enforce its religious doctrine on the rest of us. This is not the Papal States or Saudi Arabia, and it never will be.

          • I agree. Sin is never outside the concern of the Catholic Church. However, the active engagement within the U.S. legal apparatus in trying to make a particular sin (e.g. adultery) “illegal”, is not necessarily something the Church need engage in. To state that the Church is inherently antagonistic towards allowing the legality of a secular definition of same-sex marriage, is not a good debate tactic, in my opinion.

          • This is getting far, far afield of Leah’s requirements. Oy. Apparently, it needs to be said:

            I. Here’s the trouble: Laws teach morality. In the words of Sec. Clinton, they have a “teaching effect.” Proof:

            Ever argue with a software pirate? Tell him stealing is wrong, and he’ll go off on how not all things which are illegal should be. Folks connect what is legal with what is permissible.

            II. States actively opposing the natural law will crumble. Proof:

            1. Societies and governments are for the governance of people.
            2. Good governments and societies are founded on at this this one point: an accurate sense what people are.
            3. The natural law, by definition, derives from what people are. Q <- P.
            4. Therefore, governments and societies which are in direct conflict with the natural law will be in direct conflict with what people are.
            5. Therefore, these societies and governments are inherently poor governments.
            6. Because they are not founded in solid principles regarding the human person, they will be inadequate for the human person, and they will crumble.

            For the good of the state, and for the good of the governed, man's laws should not be in conflict with the natural law.

          • (By the way, natural law may be in dispute when arguing with other parties. Because the Church takes it as axiomatic, though, there is no argument that it should be used to govern her behavior.)

          • If the link works, here’s what may be evidence supporting Contention I. Specifically:

            But why is [stealing] wrong? Because it’s illegal.

            Explicit connection was made between a thing being legal or not and a thing being wrong or not, and the principle that legality bestows morality is almost certainly implied here.

  • jose

    You guys are talking about natural law as if it existed.

    • Very helpful. This will definitely move things forward.

      • … It’s an incredibly important point, though.

        If someone you’re talking to in the street doesn’t believe in God or the idea of a “natural law”, you’re never going to convince them that homosexual marriage is evil. Not in two minutes, not in two hours, not in two lifetimes. The argument assumes a religious premise. We live in a secular society. There is no logical reason why a certain sect of believers should be able to impose their moral beliefs on a secular society. I know this thread is about debate tactics, but all I can see is that the debate is inherently pointless. There is no way to debate the outcomes of ‘natural law’ without first convincing your debating partner that such a thing exists – i.e., you’d have to convert them first. And you’re not going to convert someone in a two-minute conversation on the street. So why bother making the attempt?

        P.S. Apologies for being totally off-topic, but I still can’t figure out if Leah actually believes in God, or is just labelling herself Catholic out of some kind of weird moral convenience. I keep reading the blog in the hope it will be explained, but sadly I don’t think I can keep reading for much longer, as some of the conversations (polite though they are on the surface) turn my stomach. 🙁

        • MumbleMumble

          Re: the P.S.
          Agree, and agree.

        • Claude

          Yes, exactly.

          A gay person approaches and says, “Steve Dawson, why do you persecute me?”

          If Dawson is honest, he will say, “Mother Church decrees homosexual marriage to be a grave moral evil.”

          But of course, he won’t say that. He will dissimulate.

          But–Dawson protests that he spends little time defending the Church from those who “violently” (wow) oppose her teaching. It’s just as well.

        • KL

          Natural law theory is not predicated upon religious tenets, and plenty of non-religious thinkers have and do take it seriously. Modern Catholicism takes it particularly seriously, but one need not have any faith to do so. All liberal democracy, in fact, is inextricably rooted in the fundamental assumptions of natural law.

        • We’d be happy to have a debating partner so to make an argument for the natural law. Here’s the problem: Folks don’t stick around on a hot sunny day.

        • as some of the conversations (polite though they are on the surface) turn my stomach.

          Why do these conversations turn your stomach?

          P.S. All the Internet is, is surface. (For that matter, all polite can be, is surface.) Don’t assume the worst about a debating partner just because he’s sending the wrong ones and zeroes through a series of tubes. Verbal cues are largely unconscious, and double so for the written word.

          • It turns my stomach because people have put such an incredible amount of intellectual effort into justifying weird prejudices. (Obviously, this is just my personal opinion. It turns my stomach in the same way the smell of brussel sprouts does.)

            I mean, I’ve read comments saying things like “in order to understand Natural Law, you first have to be an expert in Aristotle and theoretical metaphysics” (paraphrased). But why?

            If I said that to understand the existence of leprechauns, you first had to familiarise yourself with all the academic writings of Leprechaun Natural Law Theory, would you bother doing the readings? Or would you apply basic Occam’s Razor, and go with the simpler explanation – that Leprechauns are a mythical race invented by human beings?

            Sorry, I’m not being very clear here. Basically what disturbs me is that people will engage in these ridiculously extensive, convoluted justifications to reach their desired conclusions (that they have the right to define marriage according to their religion and impose that right on wider society), when a much less complicated (but equally as logical) approach leads to the simple conclusion that gay marriage does not cause harm to anybody, thus it passes the Golden Rule, thus there is no reason to make it legally possible.

            As a side note I definitely don’t believe that Churches should be forced to perform marriages that contradict their religious standpoint. This is for two reasons: 1) It would be a clear violation of religious freedom, and 2) It would make religion seem far more progressive than it actually is. I actually have a little bit of respect for conservative Catholics; at least they don’t try to pretend that their faith is progressive and gay-friendly. They don’t edit or hand-wave away all the nasty parts of their Bibles. I’m just not sure why any gay couple would WANT a religious marriage, all things considered. Why would you want to cement your marriage under an institution that finds you “fundamentally disordered”? If it were me, I would find that quite de-humanising.

            To revert for a moment to debate tactics, how would a Catholic answer (in the “two minutes on the street” scenario), the fact that homosexual behaviour has been extensively observed in other animals? Is this also ‘unnatural’? Why would God create animals to be unnatural (if that’s even possible?) If this behaviour is natural in other animals, why not in homo sapiens?

            Apologies for the fragmented comment, I probably shouldn’t post this late at night but I’ve been chewing over these ideas all day…

        • Val

          It’s a lost cause, Jennifer. I presume that Leah is not a hypocrite and has put a lot of thought into her decision to publically announce her conversion. There are many choices she could have made but – I suspect partly because of her love of argument as a form, at which educated Catholics excel – she has tacitly bought into the entire apparatus of arrogance, evangelism and repression which we so well displayed in these comment threads. She needn’t take any actual stands of her own, because the fishbowl she’s taken as her own does a fine job of it. Whatever thoughts she may have ever had as an alleged atheist regarding reproductive justice, civil rights for sexual minorities, the value of women in a modern society, etc., have been abrogated *by conscious choice*. What we have seen is the way it is.

          And with that, I do wash my hands. Have fun with your culture war, folks. You’ve recruited a smart, if amoral, cookie. Good luck to you.

          You’ll still lose.

          • Val

            Typo: “we so well” should be “is so well.”

          • Of course I’m hoping Leah can resolve her remaining difficulties with Catholicism for the obvious reasons. But I have to admit another reason for hoping so is that if she finds she can’t go through with it in good conscience and has to announce another switch, everyone whose attention is now fading might return again.

            (B.t.w. Leah, if that happens, I obviously would be sad, but I wouldn’t think worse of you. I think most of your other Catholic readers would see it the same way. And the atheists would gladly take you back. I’m not recommending you switch back, just noting you’re not as trapped as it might seem.)

      • jose

        Thank you. Nobody was saying it and in my opinion you’re doing the analogous of discussing whether we should be peaceful with the martians or rather we should unite with the venusians against them. That is how you sound to somebody who doesn’t share your faith in your underlying ideas. You should take that into account when planning your tactics.

  • John

    Natural law? You don’t think natural law exists? OK, then explain to us how the Declaration of Independence works, exactly? On what grounds did the colonists have to break their oaths of allegiance to their legitimate king by rebelling?

    For that matter, on what grounds does anyone or anygroup have to challenge an existing law as ‘bad’? Unless you are claiming that the positive law is unjust against a higher measure or higher, objective standard of justice, you can’t intelligibly make such a claim.

    • The only kind of ‘natural law’ that I can see is the application of the Golden Rule – as long as it doesn’t cause harm to anybody, then you are free to do whatever the hell you want. I would guess that perhaps the religious argument could be that someone who engages in homosexual acts is ‘harming their soul’, or something, but as secular society has no reason or obligation to give any legal credence to the concept of a supernatural soul, this isn’t really an issue. I think that repressing naturally occurring, healthy sexual appetites is more likely to be ‘harmful’ than fulfilling them. Repression often seems to make sexual urges come out in weird, inappropriate ways.

      As I’m not American I won’t pretend to have vast quantities of knowledge about the Declaration of Independence. However, as far as I can tell, the grounds of the colonists for breaking their oath to their king was that their king was breaking the Golden Rule by restricting their religious freedom. Laws are “bad” if they prevent an individual from exercising their freedom when the expression of that freedom would not cause harm to anybody. The only reason to create legal restrictions on a person’s freedom is if the expression of that freedom causes harm. The legal prevention of gay marriage is “bad” (just as the prevention of interracial marriages was bad), as it restricts freedom for no good reason – gay sex / interracial sex is not harming anybody.

      If one held the personal belief (on religious or any other grounds) that gay sex WAS harmful, then one would be free to NOT engage in gay sex and to not have a homosexual marriage. Presto! Nobody is harmed, society is as free and non-restrictive as possible, everyone is happy. Easy!

  • Gerry

    I must be reading bad news sources – when was the shooting at HRC?

  • I don’t know if Steve is still taking questions, but I wondered if they’ve had a passerby ask for an explanation of the discrepancy between the doctrinal infallibility of the pope and the extraordinary fallibility of some of the men that have held that office, particularly since it wasn’t defined until the 19th century by which time there was a lot of historical evidence to the contrary.

    • Good question. Here’s an illustration, paraphrased from memory from Keating’s Catholicism and Fundamentalism.

      If the Pope were infallible on matters of trigonometry as well as faith and morals — note the limitation of “faith and morals” — and he sat down to take the trig exam, how many questions, out of 20, would the Holy Spirit force him to get completely right?

      Answer: None. If the Pope didn’t do his homework, he could have a blank sheet of paper. He is not forced to answer every question. He is prevented from teaching error, by virtue of his office.

      Interestingly, if when he wrote his name at the top of the paper he wrote “Joseph Ratzinger” and not “Pope Benedict XVI” or its Latin equivalent, he could start writing an essay on involvement of aliens in the American Civil War right in the middle of a cosine.

      Hope this helps.

      • True. However, the historical evidence of moral fallibility is pretty plentiful, too.//

  • Tati

    I’m one of those wayward catholics who two months ago returned to the Catholic faith after 30+ years sprinkled here and there with visits to the Episcopal, Lutheran and Protestant churches – there was a failed conversion attempt by the Mormons. I look forward to attending Mass; not in the Gee, aren’t I a good person and I hope this gives me a ticket out of hell intention. But, an inner feeling of belonging – returning home and I’m at peace feeling. I look forward to the road back and relish the journey.

  • John

    Natural law is the ground on which the Golden Rule is based…. and is much wider than “do unto others as you’d have them do unto you”.

    It is the human reading of what “ought to be” based on “what is”. Given human nature, there is a right way and lots of wrong ways for human beings to conduct their affairs. The whole point of history is to learn the right ways and avoid the wrong ways based on results.

    Thus to talk of Natural Law, one is drawing on history for proof, not pie-in-the-sky theory ala Kant or Rouseau. Aristotle didn’t just opine that humans are social creatures…he CONCLUDED IT based on all his study of all available Greek and Barbarian cultures.

    Likewise the distinction between what is a virtue and what is a vice is not a question of raw will and whim but a conclusion based on observation of many generations of people in different circumstances and conditions.

    A Phenomenological analysis of human history then leads us to conclude that certain actions invariably tend to the good or ill of individuals and the groups they belong to and groups they interact with.

    This leads us to conclude that a single human nature exists which we all share (proven by conceptual language, blood, dna, universal appreciation for music, etc.) And this also leads us to conclude that while a diversity of individuals and groups exist, by and large there’s a specific range of behavior and ideation beyond which individuals and groups are harmed and become harmful to others. Seeing this play out in others’ lives and across the centuries helps provide a reality check to our OWN biases and subjective desires (which we consider ‘good’ or ‘good for us’). If we couldn’t learn from the experience of other human beings, if we thought each individual or culture was a nature unto themselves, we’d reap anarchy and chaos.

    Some actions are harmful in the long run, others on the short run based not on our whim, will-to-power, opinion, popular opinion or status of positive law. But thanks to human nature.

    Ergo, smoking may kill you regardless of its legal status or your opinion about it. It may kill some people faster and others slower, but it’s “bad for you” in the long run. In the short run tobacco has all sorts of “positives” going for it of course. So in terms of morality its a cost/benefit analysis.

    Until modern times, where autonomous individuals could not long live isolated from their families, extended families and general society, sex was fraught with risks; pregnancy for women and STDs for everyone – STDs that had no cure and no mitigating balms. So the cost/benefit analysis made a lot more sense to conclude: we’d better be careful with this powerful stimulus.

    Today’s society allows individuals so much anonymity and autonomy that a promiscuous swinging lifestyle with hundreds if not thousands of partners over a lifespan of 40 years is not only possible, it’s regularly becoming normal if not considered “ideal”. Modern medicine and state wealth transfers have obviated the need for family, marriage and local community involvement in any individual’s life. Thus the “cost” of behaving as a hedon has come down and the ‘benefits’ seem almost unthinkable to live without.

    But human nature hasn’t changed. Sex is powerful. It brings emotional, psychological and physiological consequences to women and men. Depression, image issues, addictions, self-destructive urges…. there are consequences for our actions even if we subjectively think it’s all OK. Pregnancy and childbirth are still happening but now without the benefit of a matrix of family, marriage and close neighborly support. And STDs continue to explode and increasingly are defying our latest medical cures or mitigations…. so the costs were only temporarily suspended. Human nature is reasserting itself.

    One can defy nature and live as though there is no “Natural Law” but one can not escape the predictable consequences of such irrational choices….the costs will come due.

    So what’s the harm with pan-hedonism? If not STDs in your own body and a darkening of the intellect such that you become less and less concerned with the costs to your health….. there’s the social costs due to a breakdown in marriage, fidelity, parenting of children, raising of the next generation of serious adults….. which leads to social unrest and ultimately war as more and more people live willfully but not wisely, claiming vice is virtue and subjective ‘feels good’ is all that matters.

    We see this happening even among those gay activists who began 25 years ago begging to live and let live….only to now be demanding unconditional surrender of anyone who does not completely agree with everything they think is right and just. Completely predictable – which is why many people resisted as they did and do….. denying natural law means denying human nature and substituting willfulness in the place of reason in the drivers seat of our actions. Rather than accept what is and respect others, we say “but I want it so it’s good for me”.

    Let others point to harm from certain actions – and those who want them will say “I don’t care” (about costs) and then assert “there are no costs except your opposition, so if I get rid of your opposition, I’ll have all the benefit and no downside!” We see this in spoiled kids and adults and it never ends well.

    To deny a human nature is to deny the premise of both international rights and international law based on reason and devolve everything to “because I want it”; might makes it right. And when you have any number of people who believe their willing something to be so makes it right for them….. say goodbye to the Golden rule and hello to open warfare.

    You may disagree with this assessment and think that the LGBTQ lobby merely wants acceptance as equals. But if so, why isn’t this happening anywhere they’ve gained power and set up official Diversity Czars empowered to ferret out dissenters and heretics?

    You may think I’m wrong about the darkening of the intellect. But if so, why do LGBTQ folk consistently fail to distinguish between disagreement and murderous hatred? If they are otherwise healthy if not intellectually superior….why, when confronted with those who disagree with their claims of being perfectly healthy do we get spontaneous emotional outbursts and conflating the current disagreement with every “bully” who ever physically harmed them or verbally abused them? Why the inability to realize that EVERYONE has been bullied by someone else, based on the whimsy of children or natural difference (too tall, too short, too fat, too thin, glasses or long hair, freckles or tan, different ethnicity, different socio-economic status….)

    Rather than realize that EVERYONE has had the same experiences and yet we grew up and have come to believe that the Law ought to be based on reason and reason points to a basic right way to live and interact with one another….. which pre-exists the positive laws we establish and insofar as it’s rooted in our very humanity also pre-exists our whim and will-to-power….. those who reject the natural law concept must conclude disagreement is solely a question of malice, apparently, never sincere disagreement based on other readings of reality.

    • Most of your post seems to be a big “citation needed” claim on how the 21st century is awful and traditional societal structures have broken down. Have you considered that traditional societal structures weren’t necessarily a good thing for everybody in the first place? That perhaps they privileged some groups over others?

      Why does Natural Law need to be “wider” than the Golden Rule? Could you give an example of a Natural Law that can’t be condensed down to the Golden Rule?

      Quote: “Sex is powerful. It brings emotional, psychological and physiological consequences to women and men. Depression, image issues, addictions, self-destructive urges…. ”

      … I’m sorry, but what the heck kind of sex have you been having?! And where is your proof of these claims? Sex could possibily have these consequences in some situations and for some people, granted, but there is no reason to assume this as a general rule for everyone. What logical reason is there for consensual sex between two healthy, happy adults to lead to depression, for example?