At some point along the way in America’s culture wars the fear card became commonplace. Perhaps no other camp has used it to such astounding advantage as the so-called “gay rights movement.” By dominating the nature of the discussion and the acceptable (or unacceptable) terms on which it would be carried out, homosexualists eliminated all principled opposition with one word: homophobia. A man can no longer say with a straight face that homosexual acts are immoral; he must rather confess that is afraid of gays, lesbians, bisexuals, transgenders, etc.
That this tactic would be used within the morally vacuous world of liberal politics is unfortunate, but not surprising. Reason took a backseat long ago to ideology. Discourse has been displaced by artless screaming matches and all hope for a common moral grammar appears to be lost. What is unsettling — though, again, not surprising — is that the fear card has made its way outside of secular politics and into the Catholic Church. Belittling, if not jettisoning altogether, the doctrinal, theological, and philosophical heritage of the Church, an increasingly vocal camp of Catholics of various ages and commitments have taken to freighting their opponents with accusations of acting out of fear and fear alone. According to this gross distortion of reality, it is not possible for a Catholic to be genuinely concerned that the Synod on the Family is misleading souls and challenging infallible dogmas; it is only possible for them to fear “dialogue,” “the pastoral,” and “bringing the Church in touch with the needs of the contemporary world.” Similarly, when it comes to the Holy Father, Pope Francis, any criticism formulated or questions raised is now taken as uncharitable dissent motivated not by a thoroughgoing assessment of the Sovereign Pontiff’s words and deeds, but rather by — you guessed it — fear.
The most recent, high-profile attempt at playing the fear card came from Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig — a matter I have already discussed here and here. Joining Ms. Bruenig is Andrew Haines, editor of Ethika Politika. In two recent articles, “Who’s Really at War with Pope Francis?” and “Don’t Fear Franciscan Dialogue,” Haines has made Francis’s critics out to be sub-rational, doctrine-obsessed fear mongers who, inter alia, have failed “to give less heed to color commentary and pay [their] entire attention to the moment we’re actually in.” The Pope, according to Haines (relying on Bruenig), is taking a “dialogical approach,” an approach which represents a “bloody game”; it is not “simple and pristine,” though apparently there are “rules.”
What are these rules? Haines does not really clarify, and maybe there is no sincere way to clarify them. For at the end of the day Francis’s critics are nothing more than “those whose fascination with intellectual purity remains unchecked,” or so says Haines. In an earlier age these people would have been thought of as those who are desirous of the truth and, in their zeal to conform their minds to reality, would need to exhibit great courage in the face of accusations, misdirection, and error. Today they are simply the dust which must be kicked off the boots on that perilous journey for the Church which began more than 50 years ago.