UST institute calls for renewal of civil discourse

| November 11, 2016 | 3 Comments

The Catholic Church cannot remain silent in the wake of negativity from the recent presidential campaigns, the University of St. Thomas’ Institute for Catholicism and Citizenship stated Nov. 10.

The institute called election season, “one of the most divisive and dispiriting presidential campaign seasons in recent memory. The vitriol, boorishness and even violence that marred this race were a far cry from civil debate, personal decorum and honest disagreement that characterize democratic politics at its best.”

The institute was referring to negative campaign ads, public statements and exchanges in debates that characterized much of each presidential candidate’s campaign, spilling over into citizen discourse.

Referencing Vatican II document “Gaudium et spes,” the institute said the Church “believes it can contribute greatly toward making the human family and its history more human.”

“Pope Francis has memorably described the Church as a ‘field hospital,’ called not to inflict or deepen, but to mend the divisions of civil society,” it stated. “Central to this mission — which no political development can abrogate — are the corporal works for mercy, above all welcoming the stranger and clothing the naked.”

The institute also referenced Pope Francis’ Oct. 26 general audience message, where he said “it is precisely in the measure to which we open ourselves to others that life becomes fruitful, society regains peace and people recover their full dignity.”

The institution said that American Catholics played a role in the “cheapening of our public discourse.”  “Indeed, many of us failed to resist the temptation to contribute to it, whether in our personal conversations, through social media, or in other ways, both public and private. Of such words and deeds, which are unbecoming of us as citizens, both of the United States and even more so of the Kingdom of God, we are all called to repent.”

Pledging to do its part, the Institute of Citizenship and Catholicism said it will utilize its programs to promote the healing of divisions, improve civil discourse and building up respect for human dignity, and asked the public to join them.

The Institute for Catholicism and Citizenship is part of the university’s theology department. Its mission is to engage the Catholic intellectual tradition, particularly Catholic social thought, to offer a locus for the deepening of dialogue on the subject.

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  • Paula Ruddy

    I applaud the Institute for Catholicism and Citizenship in its promotion of civil political discourse. I hope that means promotion of calm reasoning together rather than polite acceptance of assertions without a basis in evidence or logic. Just as “anything goes” is not acceptable in moral conduct, “anything goes” in rational discourse is not acceptable either. Perhaps the Institute could provide conversation participants for the comments in the Catholic Spirit. That could help us to heal divisions with calm reasoning.

    • Charles C.

      Dear Paula,

      Hello, again. And once more I largely agree with you. I assume you don’t want to eliminate passion from discussions, I’m perfectly willing to hear “I hate Trump,” or “I hate Hillary;” after all, we are emotional creatures and not reasoning machines.

      We may have to be careful not to swing from the extreme of campaign rhetoric to a world where beliefs and assertions must be based entirely in logic and evidence. “Love exists,” “God exists,” “my feelings are hurt,” “I think you are mean,” are all statements made without a basis in logic regardless of their truth.

      But you are quite correct that excessive passion poisons the well of discussion. As you bring this up in a political context, what would you suggest from here on in this country? Shall we continue to go back in time, saying that Candidate X said this about women, or Candidate Y said this about Catholics? Might it be better to start from right now, when the shock of the election has had five days to be tempered?

      Shall we criticize and reject the statements of both Trump and Clinton, and their supporters, from today on? Or do we take the approach which claims current objectionable comments from one side are justified because of past objectionable comments from the other side?

      As much as I dislike Trump (and it’s a lot), he has been “Presidential” since his election and his followers, for the most part, have kept their gloating to an low level. However the news is full of stories of violence, hatred, and unfounded assertions coming from Clinton supporters. How do we deal with this?

  • Charles C.

    On Thursday (the 18th) president Obama gave a press conference in Berlin. He was asked about the anti-Trump riots and demonstrations. As reported in The Daily Mail (UK):

    “In a snub of pleas made by President-elect Trump´s camp
    to put an end to the unrest, President Obama told a press conference in
    Berlin he had no intention of quietening the crowds.”

    So much for civil discourse. There can only be a dialogue if two or more people are willing to talk. Trump has told his supporters not to do anything violent or illegal, but Obama won’t.

    All righty, then. What do you say when one side is beating people up and the other side wants peaceful discussion? Good luck there, Institute.