Thursday, September 17, 2009

A Jarring Contrast

In a latest instance of Catholic bishops weighing in on health care outside the realm of official USCCB statement, Archbishop Donald Wuerl of Washington penned a September 16 piece for the Web site Politics Daily.

It's pretty straightforward -- he begins by stating that the moral dimension of health care should be remembered since it really is a moral issue that deals with life-and-death instances of meeting people's health needs. He then states that he sees consensus that it's wrong that so many are uninsured and that the U.S. system, for all its strength, really ought to be able to do better. He then describes at some length the extensive health care provided by the Catholic Church and Catholic teaching on how health care is a human right.

Building off of this, Archbishop Wuerl says the practical moral concerns for health care reform are that it defend the most vulnerable, such as the unborn by maintaining current restrictions on federal abortion funding and coverage, as well as preserving conscience protection. It should also, he asserts, not discriminate because of chronic illnesses, pre-existing conditions, employment or income. He also cites the need to cover "the least of these," referring to legal immigrants who reside her legally, work and pay taxes, but "risk being left out of health care reform."

He concludes by urging public, private and non-profit health care entities to work together for the greater good and prayerfully expresses hope for the challenge and opportunity faced by our lawmakers.

There wouldn't be much to add to this piece, except that it was published on the Internet, where anyone can add to a piece thanks to the comment field. Granted, this is far from new or unusual, but the comments drawn by Archbishop Wuerl's remarks were striking in their unpleasantness. One Twitter handle promoting the article even noted the "vicious anti-Catholic comments at the end."

This description is really an understatement, and a partial one at that. A sampling of the comments finds commenters calling people without health care the "lazy masses," many others saying that all immigrants, legal or illegal, should be barred from any health care assistance from the government, as well as numerous comments disparaging the Catholic Church, i.e. calling its leaders pedophiles.

The resulting queue of comments reads like a diatribe of hateful comments against the uninsured, immigrants and the Catholic Church and isn't improved upon by commenters responding to these points by calling the original commenters names and employing ever harsher and shriller tones.

The real irony in all of this is the jarring contrast between the body of comments and the content of Archbishop Wuerl's piece. By all accounts, Archbishop Wuerl is a gentleman, someone who wouldn't climb down and participate in a mud fight. The discussion generated by his story would be immeasurably improved if the commenters followed his lead and presented their points of agreement and disagreement in calm, reasoned tones. Instead, the points of his argument are passed over in favor of name-calling, questioning his motives, his authority and worse.

Even more discouraging is the nagging -- but unconfirmed -- suspicion that some comments are based on gut-level reactions to reading the article's title, "Health Care Reform a Moral Imperative, But Must Cover Immigrants, Too," maybe skimming the article and then dropping down to the comment field to unload.

A discouraged part of me asks, "Is it too much effort to try to digest what the Archbishop is trying to say before letting fly with a pre-formed opinion?" "Is it too much effort to exercise a little respect or restraint?" "Is it too much effort to be nice?"

Along with the general thoughts about incivility in the days of the blog, this put me in mind of a recent piece by John Allen that discusses, in part, how the Church is facing a culture that no longer pays it any special heed just because it's the Catholic Church. He refers to this as the decline of the "power distance index" of the Catholic Church. And one could argue this concept is reflected in the reception Archbishop Wuerl receives on the Internet, a hyper-democratic entity where no opinion is given any added weight or special deference.

Is this a high-tech example of what then-Cardinal Ratzinger meant by the dictatorship of relativism?


victor said...

People are angry, scared, and upset (and not without reason). How do you expect them to respond? In times such as these we need real leadership from the USCCB, not tongue-clucking and finger-wagging.

Chad Myers said...

"Is it too much effort to try to digest what the Archbishop is trying to say before letting fly with a pre-formed opinion?" "Is it too much effort to exercise a little respect or restraint?" "Is it too much effort to be nice?"

This is the Internet. It is too much to ask for civility.

ESPECIALLY for the Catholic Church. The popular media and popular celebrities have done an amazing job at discrediting and maligning the Catholic Church -- painting it with broad brushes and unfair criticisms which the Church humbly takes without so much as a simple defense.

Sadly, people don't seem to hate the Church so much because it's the Church, but what it represents: Giving up one's self and carrying a cross -- anathema to the "me first" hedonistic culture prevalent in the US today.

The mere thought of not using birth control is enough for most people (including Catholics) to completely dismiss (and therefore hate) the Church.

No one likes to be reminded of their inequities and sins and that's precisely what following Christ is all about.

Chad Myers said...

One other thing, to Victor's point: Perhaps if the Catholic Church were more of a beacon of hope and a stark contrast to the culture, more people would be drawn to it and the hatred of those outside would be more obvious and easier to identify.

Perhaps if the USCCB were worried more about saving souls, increasing the holiness of the flock instead of engaging in secular populist politics.

We won't be able to heal everyone any time soon, but we can at least save their souls. Put an end to all the terrible liturgical abuses, heresies being preached from the pulpits. Restore proper respect for the Eucharist instead of constantly undermining it and speak boldly and profoundly on life issues instead of dodging them or speaking in platitudes.

Take the politicians, leaders, and popular influencers to task for their complicity or outright furtherment of the Culture of Death.

Take concrete action against popular "Catholics" in Government like Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi, Kathleen Sebelius who mock, defame, and scandalize the Church with their frequent repetition of untruths and outright heresies.

No one takes the Church seriously because, after all, the Church in America doesn't seem to take itself seriously.

Why would outsiders think any different when we haven't really done anything to give them cause for doubt.

Jason said...

This article makes a great case for enabling "Comment Moderation" to dam the flow of vitriol.

People may be angry, fearful, or ignorant about health care reform, but that is no excuse to post worthless comments.

"Free speech" -- even the hyper/anonymous version available through the Internet -- may be a "right," but we all must remember that with this right also comes the responsibility to communicate in a way that somehow contributes to the debate in a meaningful way. Groundless, hate-filled ranting is a waste of everyone's time, and has no place in a democracy.