Saturday, July 10, 2010
I could not find a particular article anywhere on a certain news site. The search was becoming exasperrating as I filtered through the archives and came up with nothing. Then it dawned on me that I had made a comment when the article came out. Now I smiled ruefully. Doing a Google search on my username would likely bring up the article on which I had commented.

In Scripture, we are told :
But I say unto you, that every idle word that men shall speak, they shall render an account for it in the day of judgment. (Matthew 12:36)

Well, whether a believer or not, one is delivered a sharp taste of that judgement anytime he puts his username into the Google search engine. Every stupid political argument I engaged in on youtube (those never go anywhere, best never to start one), every silly gush I had ever made concerning a work of less than great art on a message board, and any superficial comment I made on a news board (I did find that article by the way) all line up to condemn me as the record of my words unfold before my eyes.

For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned.
(Matthew 12:36) Yes, I am sweating a little whilst pondering those words.

Now does this mean that one ought not to argue or debate? By all means, no, as He who spoke the words cited above did a great deal of both. But one must always mind charity while preserving clarity when he engages in discussion, especially on sensitive topics. Even if the argument is a matter of life and death--a true war of words--the rules of war ought to be kept in mind.

Yet, the gangrene of the modern world has corrupted many of the beautiful limbs of Western civilization. One of the most assaulted is chivalry. Not simply gallantry towards women, chivalry is the idea that there is a code of conduct even for those living the naturally brutal occupation of a soldier, the tempering of the strong arm with respect for the weak. To put right above might.

This is a concept that the modern world has attempted to strangle with all its parvenu might.
It stands to reason then that the same age that has brought us the Blitzkrieg, 'collateral damage,' and abortion on demand has lost the courtly manners proceeding from the ethical principles they have relinquished.

How could we expect otherwise?
Now while scrolling over the results in my search for the article I later found, I saw an old entry of mine on the great blog Rorate Caeli had come under fire. I remembered that over the weekend, the blog had temporarily rescinded the ability for readers to comment in disappointment over the lack of civilized, charitable, and Christian conduct in the posts. I felt a little queasy, wondering if something I had said had contributed to that decision and so decided to read the thread regarding what I had posted.

I did re-read my post and then read the angry rejoinder. My first reaction was to be completely abashed. After all, one cannot hear someone's tone of voice in their writings, and text can often be misinterpreted. I read my words again and chided myself for not having proofread it. It really was a clumsy piece and one that could have been misread as was clearly the case.

I thought I would respond with a clarification and an apology, but decided to read the article I had commented upon first. Reading it again, I relaxed somewhat. Taken in context, what I had said was not as bad as this man had made it out to be. I then read his comment again and noted for the first time how short he was.

Not only that, he had not even tried to figure out what I said. Anyone who knows me will observe that I tend to split hairs over bad metaphors, but at least I recognize a metaphor when it is used. This poster had not made that effort. I don't like rewarding rudeness, so I decided to post a clarification without an apology. Our Lord called out the synogogue's guard for striking Him, so it would not be un-Christlike for anyone to do the same when addressing unseemly or uncharitable behaviour.

Yet, as I scrolled further down the page, I noted that the whole thing had spun completely out of control and this man had been impolite to many people who had attempted to answer him in further posts he had made. In the end, I decided to leave the whole thing alone. This incident may indeed have prompted the temporary moratorium on posting on one of my favourite blogs. I groaned. What a scandal for such a thread to appear on one of the finest Catholic blogs on the Internet!

My clumsy words had come back to haunt me. Lack of deliberation had led to breach of manners. Whatever happened to rational discourse?

That is the happiest conversation where there is no competition, no vanity, but a calm, quiet interchange of sentiments. _Samuel Johnson

Now to be fair to the postmodern world, not everyone in the past was well versed in how to argue, or even to appreciate a balanced argument when one was offered. There were those who discoursed rudely, and there were those who did not appreciate fighting in a sportsmanlike fashion, but wanted no fighting at all:

I'll retract anything sooner than be reasoned with. Where were we before you began your arguments? _Mrs. Gaskell (via 'Miss Browning' in the delicious novel Wives and Daughters)

But I do not argue that the people of bygone eras are better than the people of today. I never have and never will. As Pope Benedict XVI has observed, each generation of man is mankind newly born. It will have its own character to mould and its own struggles to uphold, abandon, or crush the traditions of the previous generation. Man himself is not in decline, as the Greeks argued, but his mores in this particular epoch are.

If a great many men were boors in the colonial period, every one at least acknowledged they were boors. If the topics of discussion touched on the crass or vulgar, it was recognized that those speaking were being crass and vulgar. If principles were violated, at least there were principles.

Now one reads the words of intellectuals, hears the reports of journalists and is overwhelmed by the ad hominem observations, the disconnected red herrings, the broad, sweeping statements masked in statistics, and the tortuous presumption of post hoc reasoning. Those that are reasonable are often so subdued that they cannot even make themselves heard in our oafish age. They maintain too chill a persona, as if to compensate for the appetitive arguments of the opposing side. One need only compare the fumbling, emotional Barack Obama with the succinct, but cold, Alan Keyes to have the perfect illustration of what oration has become in the modern age.

Where is the twin flame of fiery conviction and cold logic? Where has fled the wit wed with reason of St. Thomas More? Where now the bombastic but logical syllogims of Patrick Henry? Where may one find orators such as those who were so great in Rome that their enemies could only kill them in answer to their speeches? For the greater part, all of these have passed away, and one must keep one's sentiments to himself , except on those rare occasions where he may dispute with an individual that rather enjoys a good fight.


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Warsaw, Poland
Domine, spero quia mundum vicisti. Lord, I trust that Thou hast overcome the world. Panie, ufam, żeś pokonał świat.
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