Woke Is The New PC

I have a great deal of time for ensuring the civil discourse is both courteous and beneficial. The whole point of engaging in civil discourse, by which I mean conversations in the public domain about matters of public interest, is to foster mutual understanding, the sharing of ideas, and, ultimately, seeking the betterment of civil society. Such a high minded ideal is, of course, not shared by everyone, but that does not deter me, nor should it deter others, from doing what we can to encourage and promote good civil discourse, and, and the flip side, to call out pour examples of the same when they can be clearly identified.

And so to the primary thrust of this particular column.

One of things that I find increasingly destructive of good civil discourse is the use of categories to dismiss other participants without the need to engage with the ideas or positions that are attempting to put forward. This phenomenon, which for lack of a better description, I like to call ‘categorisation error’, essentially amounts to an ad hominem argument, that is, focussing on the speaker, writer or other communicator, rather than on the substance of what is being put forward in what the individual is saying, writing, or otherwise seeking to communicate.

By way of example, consider the way the word ‘woke’ is often deployed to describe a particular group of people who are, as the word is usually defined, “alert to injustice in society, especially racism”. It is a word that has found its way into common usage in recent time especially in light of particular issues. It is also a word that is used by some interlocutors, those who could be described as having more conservative social and political views, to refer to those considered to be political opponents.

And it is used, often, as a means of dismissing those so described, i.e. those people are ‘woke’, and therefore we do not have to respond to anything they have to say or engage in further conversation with them.

To be clear, this is not a phenomenon that is restricted to only one part of the broader civil spectrum. It is not something we see only on the left of the political spectrum nor only on the right of the same spectrum. Consider, for example, the use of the word, ‘reactionary’ – often used by those on the left of the political spectrum about those on the right of that same spectrum. It is, like the descriptor ‘woke’, used to dismiss a certain group of people as unworthy of being engaged with for the very reason that they are of a group known labelled as ‘reactionary’.

The phenomenon is more universal than that, however, symptomatic, I believe, of a larger problem. And that problem as about the fear, or lack of good intent if I am being generous, to engage with ideas which may be completely foreign to one’s own worldview, lest that same worldview might be shaken and brought down. In much of what could broadly be described as civil discourse in our contemporary society, there is a desire to maintain one’s own worldview at all costs. It is a phenomenon that has grown in more recent times, particularly in the partisan political arena, where there seems to be a penchant for ‘oppositionalism’, i.e. opposition for the sake of opposition, rather than a preparedness to engage in dialogue and discourse that seeks to serve the common good of the state and its citizens. It is symptomatic of a ‘win at all costs’ mentality that serves the cult of the individual more than the human relationships that are at the foundation of civil society.

I suspect that, at least in partisan political circles, that the phenomenon has as much to do with the developing ‘cult of personality’ that is at the heart of many partisan political campaigns in contemporary societies. The lionisation of the individual politician, or nascent demagogue, so that every utterance that comes from their lips is deemed to be unchallengeable or incontrovertibly true, and opponents are dismissed by the use of labels such as woke or reactionary, or others depending on the person who wishes to apply them to their opponents. The use of labels – woke, reactionary, liberal, conservative, progressive, or any other one – has only one purpose, and that is to provide a basis for refusing to engage in civil discourse, to engage with ideas that might not be immediately attractive, and to fortify one’s own position lest it is challenged and brought crumbling down.

And who suffers as a result of the advent of this phenomenon? We all do. Ideas go unexplored because they have been dismissed through the application of a label. Political opponents are demonised because they are likewise labelled. And all the while the society we are supposed to be building together becomes more fractured, more tribal, more divided. Instead of moving forward together for the common good, we expend energy building barriers between each other that thwart the seeking of that very thing.

But it is not yet too late to rescue civil discourse. It is not yet too late to change the way we engage with other people – even those we might fundamentally disagree with. All it takes is a little bit of effort on everyone’s part.

All it takes is some basic human respect and cordiality, and a preparedness to recognise that civil discourse should be exactly that.

Homilies: Solemnity of All Saints

My homily for the Solemnity of All Saints as preached during the 5.30 pm Saturday Evening Mass from Sacred Heart Cathedral, Hamilton.

The readings proclaimed were Apocalypse 7:2-4, 9-14; 1 John 3:1-3; Matthew 5:1-12..

“The Saints are not just those whom we acknowledge in our liturgical calendar across the year. We are all created and called to be the ‘Saints of God’, those whom God has chosen and called to be in a close and righteous relationship with God. Thousands of generations of Saints have gone before us; a thousand more generation may come after us. But we are called to live out our lives struggling to be that which God has called us to be – God’s Saints.”

Homilies: 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

My homily for the 30thSunday in Ordinary Time, Year A as preached during the 5 pm Mass from Sacred Heart Cathedral, Hamilton.

The readings proclaimed were Exodus 22:20-26; 1 Thessalonians 1:5-10; Matthew 22:34-40.

“Having being loved by God – profoundly and completely – we are called to love our neighbour not for our sake but for theirs. To love another is to be prepared to sacrifice something of ourselves for the sake of the other – just as God loved us enough to send his Son to live as one like us, and to suffer and die for our sake, and to rise that we might have life eternal.”

Homily for the Perpetual Day of Remembrance

“The life and death of each of us has its influence on others”, Paul tells the Church of Rome in our Second Reading today.

It is a reality, a truth, that the Church of Maitland-Newcastle – that we – have learnt over the last twenty-five years or more, and a reality and a truth that we need to hold in our present each and every day.

On this Perpetual Day of Remembrance, we, as Church, are called to remember those of our brothers and sisters who have been harmed – abused – by some members of our Church, and who were further harmed by the callous disregard of others who placed the reputation of the Church above the lives and safety of innocents.

We have had the light of truth, the light of Christ, shone into some very dark corners through the offices of commissions of inquiry, criminal trials, and the brave testimony of survivors. We have been confronted with irrefutable evidence of actions perpetrated by members of the Church – some of whom we may have previously admired – and we have heard of the enduring cost to survivors who live with the impact of their abuse on a daily basis.

We have heard the stories of those who support their loved ones living with the aftermath of abuse, and who suffer alongside them each and every day.

We have also heard the stories of those who could not endure and who have chosen their own time of encounter with a merciful God.

The stories of those who have been abused and harmed, the stories of those who walk that journey with survivors, the stories of those who have had their innocence stolen, had a direct influence on us.

Their pain, their anger, their loss should and must spur us on to change, to a conversion of heart and mind.

This task, of course, is not something Christians should be afraid of; conversion is at the very heart of what it means to be a faithful follower of Jesus. The difference now, however, is that the conversion we are called to is not just a personal one, but a conversion of the whole Church.

And the conversion we are called to is about recognising that crimes have been committed, that harm was compounded by a callous disregard for the victims and survivors of abuse, that victims and survivors were not believed when they were brave enough to come forward.

The conversion we are called to is about ensuring that those who have been harmed are supported and assisted, that we face the truth of our past with honesty, that we commit ourselves to ensuring that we do all that we can to make our Church, our communities, places where children and the vulnerable are safe.

We cannot change the past, nor can we ignore it. We cannot pretend that some members of our Church did not abuse children, nor can we abrogate our responsibility to provide redress in ways that are meaningful.

We can, and we must, do all in our power to ensure that the story of our Church’s past is not repeated in our present or our future, that we listen to victims and survivors of the past, and that we listen to the children of today in ways that we failed to do in the past.

The conversion required of the Church – of us – is to realign ourselves with the teachings of Jesus, to acknowledge our failures and seek forgiveness, and to demonstrate our commitment to survivors and victims. Only when we can do that, only we can likewise say that the safety of our children and our vulnerable are priorities, can we say that we walk in the light of Christ.

This Perpetual Day of Remembrance is part of how we can go about that task of conversion. But it is not just about this day. The real change will be seen in how we value our children and our vulnerable, how we address the shameful parts of our history, how we support those who have been harmed and abused, and how we ensure that our future life focuses not on the reputation of the Church but on the safety of its members – on the safety of all its members and not just a privileged elite.

Our task of conversion, however, is not a once-off activity. It is not as simple as just putting safeguarding measures in place and complying with externally set standards, of having robust policies and procedures. At the very heart of the task of conversion is the perpetual commitment to remember what was so that we never again slip back, that we change our hearts and minds not just our external practices.

In Search of the Champion Bishop

This best describes a “champion” model of pastoral leadership. Many Catholics today, including myself, prefer to sit on the sidelines of social media and put our collective support, “likes,” and retweets behind those bishops who are outspoken in opposing our political and cultural enemies. We rally behind bishops who speak truth to power and put their reputations and careers on the line in order to give the laity the sense that they have a dog in the fight. We’re not really looking to bishops to help or teach us; in fact, it increasingly appears we don’t want to actually learn anything from the bishops. Instead, we want the bishops to be on the vanguard so we can play the part of the barrier guard, shooting down anyone who dares to abandon their post. We want bishops who seem larger than life and serve as avatars of divine wrath battling the forces of Satan on Earth. Their humanity looks pathetically frail in contrast.

The champion bishop model, of course, is an understanding that gets Church teaching completely backward. The bishops are not politicians or policymakers. They do not have more than one vote nor are they talking with our friends and neighbors about the Good News. They are not confronting the casual racism we see in our workplaces nor feeding the homeless we come across in our daily lives. They aren’t teaching our children or reforming parish ministries. They can’t make that difficult call to our estranged family member for us nor are they pressuring companies in our investment portfolios to be more supportive of working families. We expect our bishops to do the heavy lifting, but when it comes to “doing” what Jesus asks, we often find ourselves passing the buck. The laity is responsible for this failure. 

Some News

It may come as a bit of a surprise to some, but I have decided to move away from updating my WordPress site – doohan.id.au – in favour of making my Facebook account the primary means of sharing my book reviews, my homilies, and my occasional other offerings.

I am not, however, abandoning doohan.id.au completely. This will remain the place where I write longer form articles and reflections, but which will then be shared to Facebook. The website will also serve as an ‘online archive’ of my past offerings, searchable using the option to the side.

If you would like to stay up to date with things I am thinking and writing about, you’ll now have to go to my Facebook account. I hope to see you there at some point…