[UPDATED, see below]
The snippy back and forth that’s been going on between Mark Shea and Tom McKenna bums me out. I can’t recap the situation since I’ve only glanced at those posts lest I get a headache, but it seems that Shea is more politically liberal and McKenna is more conservative so they disagree about a lot of the hot topics of today (torture and Saddam’s execution to name a couple). This post by Shea and this one by McKenna are two examples.
I know it’s really not that big of a deal, but it’s something I’m sensitive to because of my own conversion process. Back when I had first opened my mind to the idea of Christianity but hadn’t made much progress other than not outright loathing all things Christian anymore, I came across a really contentious discussion between Christians and atheists on some blog. I was about to move on since it was the same old debate about God’s existence that we’ve all heard a zillion times before, but just as I was about to click away something caught my attention.
The thread had degenerated into personal attacks and general nastiness, with the striking exception of three people. Three of the commentors in the debate maintained a calm, charitable tone despite the fact that every response they gave was met with hostility and ad hominem attacks. They made their points firmly but with grace and kindness and even a bit of light humor sometimes. Even at a glance their writing stood out. You could have covered up the names of the commentors and still easily picked out the posts by these three individuals.
I just didn’t know what to make of this. I was intrigued. Had these guys been smoking something that they could be so calm in such a contentious debate? The way they presented their arguments was so reasonable and refreshing that I took a moment to actually read them. I saw that they were in the pro-Christian camp, and it hit me that this is that whole “love your neighbor” and “be kind to others” thing that Christians were supposed to do. I hadn’t seen a lot of that in practice in my life and couldn’t help but feel inspired to watch it in action. In most cases it seemed that these guys were probably better-educated and smarter than most of their attackers; yet they had the humility, restraint and generosity to keep the can of intellectual whoop-ass closed throughout the conversation.
For the first time, I opened my eyes to the good side of Christianity. I’d spent so much of my life fixating on every Christian hypocrite out there that I’d never bothered to notice that there were a lot of truly Christ-like people too. And as I lurked silently as the debate progressed I thought, “Man, when this works, it works.” These Christians had something going on that the others didn’t. [I didn’t notice this at the time but I later realized that at least two of them were Catholic.]
After reading through that debate that day I started to notice other good Christians, and good things about Christianity. My journey began to pick up steam.
As for the Shea/McKenna debate, it’s not so much that I think they did anything wrong or anything I wouldn’t do (Lord knows both of them have more Holy Spirit goin’ on in their little fingers than I do in my whole body on a good day), but that they missed a chance to go above and beyond. A lot of us brand new converts look up to people like them, and their sites are high-profile enough that I’m sure plenty of atheists and agnostics check in now and then. I doubt anyone was particularly bothered or had their opinion changed about Church teaching either way based on those posts. But if, however, one or both of them had gone the very difficult route of responding with kindness and humility to the posts that criticized them, it might have woken some people up and made them rethink some of their ideas about Catholics and Christians.
UPDATE: Just came across this post by an anonymous troll on McKenna’s blog: “I love seeing you fools at one another’s throats. None of you has any influence outside a relative handful of busybodies and crackpots…it’s going to be great watching you bigots and sycophants implode.”
I know very little about the Church compared to many Catholics. But I do know this: as someone who spent her whole life outside (waaaay outside) the Church, I see very clearly how much we’re all in this together. Despite their differences, Shea and McKenna have one big thing in common: they are hated by a lot of people because they are Catholic. Many, many other people like Anon are out there who hate the Church and its people and couldn’t care less about differing views on Vatican politics so long as we all fail.
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