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Charity and truth in political discourse

The elections are over. While it is tempting to delve immediately into an analysis of the outcome, there is a larger problem that requires attention. The problem concerns the state of our political discourse, which I witnessed during our election season and continue to witness post-election. This problem of our discourse transcends politics and cuts straight to the heart of the human person.

To be precise, our culture has a tendency to quickly assert conclusions with little semblance of argumentation. As a remedy, our culture is in dire need of charity in truth in our political discourse.

 

PROBLEM: ASSERTING CONCLUSIONS

The reality is that we live in a soundbite world. Tweets have to be written in fewer than 140 words. Status updates in a newsfeed need to be readable within the scroll of a mouse. Online videos have to establish their main point within seconds before they lose their audience to the next thing. Talk shows, radio broadcasts and newscasts typically assemble point-counterpoint productions that last minutes, at most.

This style of discourse, if you can call it discourse, rarely allows a person to make much of an argument. Instead, the messenger usually asserts as many conclusions as possible in a short period of time, hoping the conclusions will emotionally resonate with listeners.

This method of engagement has implications on our larger political discourse.

Rather than structuring claims in the form of an argument that naturally leads to a conclusion, we simply assert a conclusion. We offer scant, if any, evidence for support. And, when our opponents disagree with our conclusion, they do the same in return. In the end, we tend to bicker over who is right without ever analyzing and evaluating why either of us is right.

A brief example: When Michael Rose-Ivey decided to take a knee during the national anthem of a Husker football game, he created a statewide controversy reflective of a nationwide controversy. Reactions abounded. Some asserted he was wrong to kneel. Others asserted he was within his rights to kneel.

Very few, it seemed, argued (provided reasons) why his actions were right or wrong. What followed was a lack of understanding or any meeting of the minds between the arguing parties.

Instead of a robust public discourse on the issue of kneeling and the meaning of the national anthem, most conversations could be categorized as two folks talking past each other while asserting conclusions.

Many similar examples could be identified.

In the end, asserting conclusions diminishes robust public discourse. Inevitably, the poisoned fruit of this truncated form of communication is division, which is the work of the evil one. Division is antithetical to the search for meaning and truth.

 

REMEDY: CHARITY IN TRUTH

In his encyclical, Charity in Truth, Pope Benedict XVI recognizes that "charity is at the heart of the church’s social doctrine." It is the social doctrine of the faith – rooted in the person of Jesus Christ – which calls us to pursue the common good through politics. To this end, charity must be at the heart of our politics. But, as Pope Benedict notes: charity can never be without truth. So, our practice of charity must be in the light of truth.

It is truth, as Pope Benedict continues, that allows us to "come together in the assessment of the value and substance of things." Truth creates "communication and communion" as it "opens and unites our minds." Truth also assists us in recognizing the essential need for Christian values to build a "good society and for true integral human development."

Public discourse – conducted in charity and truth – does not call for the mere assertion of conclusions that fail to assess the truth of things in the world. It calls for charity in order to be guided by the love of God, the one who calls us to love of neighbor. It also calls for truth, which seeks to enter into dialogue and foster an authentic search for truth.

Through charity in truth, society can begin to foster and experience a communication that enables communion and, it is in communion that we are set free. Pray for robust, reasonable, political discourse in our culture.

 

 

Tom Venzor is executive director of the Nebraska Catholic Conference, with headquarters in Lincoln. Contact him at tvenzor@necatholic.org.

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