Something discussed in our recent Council of Advice meeting inspired me to write on the subject of shrillness on the part of many polemicists seeking to defend their convictions and win others over to them. One Council member regretted having used the word liberal as expressing a position against shrillness. I suggested using the word tolerant in that context, because liberal means different things to different people and points of view. We in the ACC are not liberals (relativism, indifference, etc.) but we are on the whole tolerant.
I have the impression in our polarised times that we are going back to an era like the 1920’s and 30’s when discussion was no longer possible. It is us and them, black and white, might is right, no quarter to the enemy. That era bred Mussolini and Hitler, a cruel totalitarian ideology without pity or tolerance designed to improve mankind, but which slaughtered millions for no reason other than their race or creed. The post-Communist world observes the genocide perpetrated against Christianity in the Middle-East and says nothing. Shrillness on one side and only our silence for an answer. What can we do but pray? It is a good question. We do care, but we are impotent faced with the looming monster.
The Muslims burning churches and slaughtering the innocent in Syria seem to believe they are doing it for God and truth. Hitler made the same claim eighty years ago. Many conservative Christians do not advocate killing people, but would – if they received authority to do so – would curb the liberty of others through laws and policing.
Between Islamic murderers and fanatical Christians, we find that these people are unable to reason. They have rejected both empathy and reason. When we find shrillness, it can only indicate an underlying fragility of their belief in truth and the spiritual. We ourselves have to learn from those people. We are tempted to build up strong positions against other creeds and faiths. Instead of looking at the positive things all Christians do, we seek to show up what is wrong with them and why they should “convert” to our “one true” camp. Insofar as we give way to this temptation, we discredit our own cause. I was so happy that during our meeting between the ACC Bishop in England and we his clergy and laity, we had a consensus that shrillness was not the way – but mature dialogue and empathy.
We are Catholics (even through Catholics in communion with Rome might dispute that fact). Our faith is calm, reasoned and experienced and rooted in the Scriptures and Tradition. We are called to discuss and debate points of doctrine, but always in the respect of the other “side”. We have both to believe in truth and practice tolerance. I have always expressed the idea that we need to be calm and kind. If we are shrill, we must be overreacting from the lack of credibility of what we believe in, from the shakiness of what can easily be refuted by the opponent.
One thing that has attracted me to the ACC is its maturity which comes from having been through suffering the experience of human conflict and sin. I am impressed by the calmness of our Archbishop and Bishops (which is not to say that there are occasional problems that need to be sorted out). We are no more perfect than anyone else, but we have learned lessons.
We must combat shrillness in ourselves and others. Truth has no fear of being challenged and discussed. We need to learn to let go and broaden our minds. We can do that through going out into the world and making the effort to understand what is going on. There is the old fable about the Sack of Constantinople in 1453 that theologians were discussing the gender of the angels whilst the Muslims were doing what they are doing today in Syria – burning churches and cutting priests’ throats. Christianity is challenged by greater realities than what any of us would care to imagine. Our shrillness only serves to fuel the arguments of the real enemy.
Just bear it in mind and think about it. It will make the difference between our survival or our annihilation.