Fr. Glenn: Working Toward The Better

By Fr. Glenn Jones:

A blessed Independence Day weekend/week to all of you! We are SOOO blessed to live in a nation such as ours, despite the various criticisms that we hear—from both externally and internally. I cannot help but to think of the poor people that live in dictatorial and oppressive regimes, and pray that they one day also live in the type of freedom that we enjoy daily. If things in our nation were nearly as bad as often portrayed, one would think that people would flee at the very idea of the U.S., and that there’d be a mass exodus brewing. But … no; quite the opposite. Even those who, at least on the surface, complain much and declare themselves as being very dissatisfied, seem quite content to remain. No doubt there’s always faults and problems that need to be addressed in any nation, but the U.S. still seems to be THE destination for a great many seeking new and better lives (LINK). If you find the unequivocally perfect society, please let us know.

One constant goad of division is the criticism that’s thrown about each and every day, like a continual dripping of water. Would it not be better to focus on critique rather than mere inflammatory criticism…to encourage improvement rather than to simply complain incessantly? Such is so very wearying to the mind and continual drag on the spirit—for both complainer and hearer. Pundits criticize, the media criticizes, everybody criticizes.

But if one criticizes, he should at least offer some realistic recommendations for improvement.

A good response when people merely complain and criticize is to ask them for a solution—a request I’ve found is often met with silence, or, alternatively, with more unhelpful criticism, often digressing into personal (ad hominem) attacks. Or there is the very unspecific plaint: “Somebody should DO something!”, to which some persons (ahem!) like to colloquially quip (at least mentally): “Well … are your legs broke?” Aren’t you somebody? “Oh … but I’m too busy!” So you think other people are not?  It’s easy and so falsely fulfilling to self-righteously toss a Molotov cocktail of criticism and then run away.  It’s a lot tougher to offer—or help work toward—viable solutions. To take a little literary license on an old saying: Don’t whine about the darkness unless you’re willing to light a candle.

For instance, there is today much talk of “systemic” problems with this or that, often with no specificity of truly universal (i.e., “systemic”) examples or realistic recommendations for improvement; rather, only vague and general criticism. Or, as the media often does, highlighting of isolated events as the norm rather than as isolated or infrequent aberrations or departures from the norm that they often are. And when public opinion is aroused, justice and righteousness can—and often does—fall victim to heightened emotion.

Well, any statistician or scientist can tell you that in group behavior there is always some extreme data points which should receive less consideration when looking at the normal behavior of the whole (remember the “bell curve”, or drawing graphs of data points in high school math?). A downpour in a desert does not a rain forest make.

Such is why it is so important to be honest, rational, analytical and (at least try to be) dispassionate in identifying problems—not selectively crafting events or issues to fit a pre-determined agenda, but really seeking truth. To be guided by every aberrant event is like navigating a ship by following each passing ship—you never get to where you want to go! All of us have likely “rushed to judgment” about various things, only to discover later our error, and that a poorly-informed initial solution based on prejudiced assumptions made things worse (this happens with unfounded suspicions in relationships all the time). Knee-jerk reactions, bare criticisms and accusations are a poor way to run anything, much less a nation which prides itself in at least attempting to move to an ever more just society. 

Essential to finding solutions is that freedom to be able to float ideas without fear of reprisal. Often it seems that those who criticize others for straying outside a narrow definition of “correct” thinking are simply fearful in having their own agendas proven erroneous. The Catholic Church is often still derided (even after centuries!) for squelching Galileo for his then radical proposals, and yet many want to squelch, oppress, and even physically attack those who even “tweet” a “wrong” idea. How does now calling for riots against those who depart from “correct” thinking differ from Mussolini’s fascists or Hitler’s brownshirts who did the very same? How many “Kristallnachts” has Portland and other cities endured over the last year?

The ability to speak openly is dear to the essence and survival of a free nation, of working out solutions, and even more so to the free exercise of religion. After all, we Christians know that Jesus’ own crucifixion was an attempt at “censorship” of His teaching and of His work. And yet His teaching has gone on to largely shape the world by His call to love God and to love neighbor. The rabbi Gamaliel’s observation to those who wanted to censure the apostles’ spread of Jesus’ gospel have been shown true in highest degree: “I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone; for if this plan or this undertaking is of men, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!” (Acts 5:38f) The cream—the best ideas will naturally rise … unless something artificially interferes. For real improvement, we—as always—can look to Christ, who exhorted His hearers in the Sermon on the Mount: “…whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them; for this is the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 7:12)

So … may God bless our nation and its people this Independence Day, and may you and your families be especially blessed in the renewal of your bonds in your gatherings with one another. Stay safe!

Rev. Glenn Jones is the Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe and former pastor of Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church in Los Alamos.

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