Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Communists and Catholics

Many, many years ago, when I was an undergrad at Syracuse University (and we know how long ago that was), I was in a conversation about some proposed social policy with a friend of mine, and she said, “We shouldn’t do it. That’s what Communists do.”

I was stunned beyond words. Really. The words only came to me hours later, too late to do the discussion any good. Basically, she had decided that a particular policy was bad, not on its own merits, or the lack thereof, but simply because the Communists did it; and if the Communists did it, then it had to be bad.

I ran into a similar situation 20 years later. A friend of mine was the pastor of a small Lutheran church in Pennsylvania, and when she mentioned a few of the liturgical changes she wanted to make, someone objected, saying, “But that’s what Catholics do!”

Once again, an idea was being objected to not on its own merits, but because of who it was associated with. Because whether or not the idea was good, it was associated with “the enemy.”

I wanted to say to my friend at SU, “Communists feed their children too, should we stop doing that?” Similarly, I said to my pastor friend “Catholics sing hymns, and pray too, does this person think we should cut those from the liturgy?”

The simple, and annoying, fact is that too often too many of us reject a perfectly good, practical, and useful, idea because it comes from somewhere else. Because it’s associated with “those other people” that we have some sort of ideological difference with. We seem to be afraid that if we admit that “those people” might have a point about one thing, then we’ll have to admit to them being right about everything.

I thought of this when I saw a billboard along the I-90 that said “Repeal Obamacare.” The sentiment isn’t what bothered me, I’ve heard plenty of people argue against it for one reason or another. What bothered me was the presentation. The billboard had yellow letters on a red background, and the “C” in “care” was the old Soviet hammer and sickle.

It seemed to me that whoever was behind this billboard was against “Obamacare” for the same reason that my friend  was against whatever social policy we were arguing about many years ago. It wasn’t about whether or not it was a good idea. It wasn’t about whether or not it was practical. It wasn’t about whether or not it was the best thing for all of us in the long run. It was about not being like the Communists.

It’s worth noting that no less of an “anti-Communist” than Richard Nixon believed that we needed to do something about our healthcare system, and that we needed to try to find a way to make it affordable for everyone. And before some of you go off on me for praising RMN, it’s also worth noting that many historians agree that if it weren’t for that one spectacular mistake with Watergate, he would’ve gone down as one of the 10 best presidents. Funny how we let the one horrible thing someone did taint all the good they did before, isn’t it?

But really, this isn’t about healthcare at all. Not this time, at least. For now it’s about Communists and Catholics…or any other group that you may have had long-standing ideological differences with. It’s one thing to not agree with a group’s ideology, but it’s quite another to refuse to even consider any of their ideas, or even to put our own twist on them.

After all, it’s worth remembering that the very Interstate Highway System I was traveling on when I saw that billboard were based on the Autobahn…something created by the Nazis.

And we definitely don't want to be like them.


  1. Fun fact: the Catholic Mass just changed for the first time since Vatican II switched the Mass to English. It's crazy--for years you have this notion that *this is how it is done and it is sacred* and then the translations are changed and the parts of the Mass I could recite even if you woke me up in the middle of the night and asked me are not the same.

    "Peace be with you." "And also with you." No more. Now, "And also with your spirit."

    Goes to show that even Catholics can, on occasion, revise their notions based on new evidence. And by gum, if the Catholics can change, I think the rest of us can stand to be a little more tolerant of considering ideas that don't follow the party lines.

    There was a great section in The Daily Show's _America, the Book_ about running for office. It was a chart that was a handy guide to what your stances should be for everything based on any one belief you held. Something like, "Thinking of running for office? If you think women should have the right to choose, congratulations! You also think health care should be socialized, marijuana should be legal, and gays should be allowed to marry. Do you embrace the right to bear arms? No need to think further! You also are against abortion, think discounted school lunches are fleecing the system, and believe there should be mandatory, Christian prayer in all schools."

    Thanks for offering a nod to notion of thoughtful opinion forming. It is rare.

  2. When arguing a point people often will use a logical fallacy. Here is a website that lists a lot of them! I bet you will find several that correspond.


    Just a little tip from your friendly neighborhood Philosopher...