Dante of Divine Comedy fame wrote “The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who, in time of great moral crisis, maintain their NEUTRALITY.”
Edmund Burke, the noted British Parliamentarian, wrote “the easiest way for evil to succeed is for good men to do nothing.” (or say nothing?)
Elie Weisel, the Jewish teller of tales and Concentration camp survivor, wrote “Silence in the face of oppression helps only the oppressor.”
Jesus, the Lord and Master of all sternly reminds us that the “lukewarm” are nauseous to Him ---- a fairly clear implication that serious Christians must take a position on crucial moral problems. Pope Benedict XVI wrote, in 1985, with great lament about those Catholic leaders who teach with “studied ambiguity” when presenting the basic teachings of Catholicism. I am uncomfortably reminded of Yale’s Stephen Carter with his definition of Integrity: the person of integrity must be willing, if necessary, to verbalize his values regardless of consequences. What kind of Christian and masculine responsibility falls on me or on anyone else who seeks God’s approval and one’s own self respect when we speak of clarity of personal stance?
Yet, in Eccl. 3,7, we are told that there is “a time to be silent and a time to speak…” Even the great and brave Thomas More, confronted by legally astute accusers seeking his very life for his refusal to endorse his King’s unruly libidinous behaviors, faltered and hedged and ducked their attacks. He tried, in his own skillful and juridically experienced manner, every way to protect his life-- principally by appealing to the age old legal axiom: TACET, CONSENSIT! Freely translated, this means—“By silence, one gives consent.” Of course, ultimately he was forced to verbalize his position and to face the brutal consequence of openness–his own de-capitation. Sometimes, even saints waffle when facing fearsome possibilities.. Nevertheless we, generally, do interpret one’s silence on a serious issue to be an agreement with the stated proposition at hand.
Perhaps, sometimes, silence is golden. Perhaps, it is prudent and helpful to be quiet in a specific circumstance.. But, sometimes, silence is cowardice. Most of us have seen and, sometimes, even experienced the self condemnation and dislike which comes with “being cowed.” I know that I SHOULD speak, but I do not! Why do I not--even when my own inner cowardice or inertia sickens me, psychically and morally?
Legitimate silence aside, why do we fear to speak up or disagree or confront? What are we REALLY afraid of? How can one possibly understand the “wimp” reaction? Is it that one fears rejection of others? Does one have some kind of unresolved Oedipal conflict whereby he still unconsciously fears retaliation from his parent? Is it that I am never allowed to be in disagreement? Is it all right to be disapproved? Must I always say “yes” to another’s opinion and viewpoint? Is it all right to be the Odd Man Out? Must every one like me? Do I not have a right, as a child of the good God, to think my own thoughts and reach my own conclusions and live by them as I see fit?
The questions are rhetorical and the answers obvious. Yet for many of us it IS a difficulty to speak up when facing evil or wrong or power even though we can get nauseated and revolted with sycophantic, bootlicking “yes men” who seek career advancement or temporary “lollipops” from those deemed powerful and bountiful!
Is it the profound fear of exclusion and social shunning which terrorizes me? I recall the once popular little book -- JONATHON LIVINGSTON SEAGULL -- which details the inner life of a rebellious bird who pulls off from the “herd” because he cannot “fly” with the others in THEIR manner. He seeks his own way, suffers the loss of his past and pursues what for him is authentic. Applied to human experience this can happen only if the person truly believes in his own values and convictions. Hence, Stephen Carter’s suggestion that –first of all—one must know clearly what is authentic and real for him. Secondly, one must live in accord with the inner convictions and lastly one MUST be integral enough to verbalize such values.
I recall a specific example from my years in South Africa under the iniquitous social system called Apartheid. Helen Sussman, a white member of the Parliament, represented the Non-European population of the country (i.e. any one who was NOT white). While I basically disagreed with her Communistic tinge, I admired her fearless insistence on the right to disagree with the overwhelming majority of politicians with whom she served. She was derided, shunned, isolated and mocked. Never did she falter. It was HER own honest view which she persistently articulated as the Political voice of the disenfranchised. Whether she was politically right or wrong is incidental to this paper. It is her integrity which is at issue.
Integrity has to insist that sometimes THERE ARE NOT TWO SIDES to an issue. The grisly Nazi Shoah has one side---an evil one. The rationalization/ justification that Germany needed a “Pure” race is inherently evil and wrong. Fancy talk cannot cover the core rot of this “Plan”. Slavery is always wrong, regardless of the urgent pleas of a growing economy of the South. No one can own someone else. Only God owns us. Same-sex marriage, similarly is evil since it “covers over” inherently sinful behavior with the ambiguous plea for “right to love” and “tolerance.” The argument that NAMBLA, a movement to legitimize sexual relations between adult men and little boys, should be accepted because “it would help boys to mature sexually in a healthy manner”, is inherently evil because it would destroy children almost beyond repair. When a couple perform pseudo sexual copulation in the vestibule of St. Patrick’s Cathedral with the justification that the First Amendment protects their “demonstration”, there is no other side. Such behavior, besides being lewd and offensive in se, is also inherently evil.
The contention of this paper is simply this: integrity shrieks that such patent evil be called by its name! Euphemisms must be exposed as Masks covering over what really “is”. To be silent lest one become unpopular is base. Whether or not Pope Pius XII, in his alleged silence in World War II was strategically wise is strongly debated. Perhaps his silence helped save many lives but today it would appear that “speaking the speech plainly” is appropriate. “Studied ambiguity” should be avoided.
The world is filled with and knee deep with the people-pleasing population. We see all around us, amid the oases of healthy and self-respecting people, the hypocrite who says what he does not believe or denies what he does believe. A prime example is the “with it” Catholic who, needing acceptance by the “right” people, wishes to appear sophisticated to the Georgetown/UN crowd and who joins in the chorus of criticisms and putdowns of the Church—who sneers at the notion that abortion is evil, exalts the “right” of homosexuals to marry and enthusiastically endorses moral relativism and who loudly proclaims to all that HE is a Catholic and was once an altar boy, and perhaps even thought of entering the seminary.. In fact, he is, as was stated in a recent NEW YORKER article, gradually becoming a non-Catholic who happens to go to Mass.
Actually, the person so described is a hypocrite. If he is that faithful Catholic he describes, he has the obligation (as pointed out by Archbishop Chaput of Denver in the May 2005 issue of the Catholic Eye) to speak the truth of soul IF HE IS ASKED!!! If his criticisms and disagreements with BASIC Catholic teaching are what he really believes then, he should resign from the Church instead of pretending to be the devout believer. In either case, he is behaving with deceit. Nor can his behavior be called legitimate dissent (which is appropriate and necessary) since he departs from what is ESSENTIAL to the Catholic position where dissent is Inappropriate. These “Catholics”, of course, might follow an honored family tradition of public worship. Let us pray that there is a sincere spiritual motivation impelling them. Keeping a “nice” public persona, carrying Bibles exiting Churches on Sunday mornings might even have a “bump” upwards in the polls. Particularly if media people are present. Nevertheless, by their SILENCE they show, at least, a disloyalty and, perhaps, a disbelief in basic Catholic teaching. Helen Sussman was not a hypocrite even if “off course” on spiritual matters.
These “Catholics” are, in the street term, “phonies” and from my point of view sadly lacking in Integrity.
Jesus teaches that he who publicly acknowledges Him before the world will be acknowledged before the Father in Heaven. And, conversely and even frighteningly, those who DENY Him before the world will be denied before the Father. But would I be shouting at the wind if I verbalize my own true convictions? Does it matter to any one? Does it help anything? What do I gain other than derision and unpopularity?
In a large meeting of Catholic religious personnel held in New Mexico, convening the day after the November 2004 presidential election, the first two speakers publicly expressed their “depression” at the outcome and deeply lamented the behavior of those Catholic Bishops who dared to try to influence the Catholic vote. They wished that our leaders had kept silent and not made their own values known. Many heads nodded in vigorous agreement.
This writer, as the third speaker, to the contrary, expressed his own euphoria at the outcome, announcing that he had made a Novena ending the day before the actual election aimed at the victory of the “right” candidate. His euphoria included the defeat of a so-called Catholic Senator, the Democratic leader, who had directed legislation uncongenial to Catholic convictions and values. Further, he applauded the bravery and the leadership of those Catholic Bishops who had the moral courage to clarify and publish the guide lines for a true Catholic conscience.
Many of these “Catholic” leaders (mostly self described as Liberal or progressive) looked at me AGHAST, mouths agape, wide-eyed, unbelieving. My expressed views were foreign to their taste and certainly I was considered Neanderthal. But apart from the complex causation of such widely different world views, can we assess the effect of such openness in a public forum? There is very little, if any, change in the thinking of others. The REAL value is within oneself, in the very soul of the one who dares to exercise integrity. Was it not the Bard of Avon who urged: “Above all, to thine own self be true”? It is in the Court of one’s own soul that the meaningful judgment is given. I must face myself ultimately since I can run from me only so long! Yet, obviously, IN THE FINAL analysis, only God’s view of us is what really matters.
So now I ask myself what can “they” do to any of us, if we preface our view with the honest prefix “From my point of view” or “It seems to me” or “It strikes me this way”? Cannot one can learn to disagree without being disagreeable? Perhaps, recourse to the Holy Spirit is the one practical way to handle this very human dilemma. When to speak and when to be silent. It can be a puzzlement. Let us pray for such light and courage. Without it, we probably would profoundly dislike ourselves----in which case, one might ask: Is life worth living? Heaven forbid. Does God make junk? Life is meant to be enjoyed. So, loosen my tongue, O Lord, and give me the courage to speak Your truth with humility, openness and compassion. Take from me fear and brutality. Help me to see that I can be wrong but also that I can be right and with Your help, my brave, if frightened, speech will not only help me but hopefully others of Your children.