Antagonism


Unapologetic Catholic posted a thoughtful essay last week. I resonated with the openness to other’s ideas and opinions, especially when they differ from my own. In a way, it can’t be helped. St Blog’s is full of 661 (as of today) folks whose opinions mostly lack congruence to my own. I suspect our attention to faith is a shared value. But that may be as far as it goes. When it comes to politics, ideology, literature, worship preferences, affiliations of sport … there’s where the “fun begins.

UC writes, “it is good to exchange ideas and identify disagreements when it’s done in a ‘disputations’ style. I can always learn a lot from different viewpoints.” Some friends are surprised I espouse this view. My wife once steered me away from evangelists on the front step by showing me the phone, hand over the mouth mic, and saying, “Your mother.” I excused myself, went inside to be greeted by a careful hang-up, “Sorry; I lied.”

Anita knows well I love a good degree of contention. It is the Easterner in my background. My gentle and sensible wife does not cope well in the rough-and-tumble aspects of competition, or even friendly insulting banter such as male members of my family engage in. Notably, my little brother. It’s all in good fun as we insult each other’s teams, tease the living daylights out of any child within earshot, and otherwise make rude comments about our hair (or lack thereof), beer bellies, music, computers, or anything else unlucky enough to sneak into the conversation.

Contention and/or competition is a seductive thing. For me it is, anyway. I was banned from a blog the other week. Was I right to accept it as a badge of honor? I told the person all that was needed was a request not to return or post. My other four banishments were all done publicly, almost like a playing of the last trump card … “I win the argument by banning you … ha ha ha ha ….” I realized, of course, that by telling them they should have just asked me to leave politely, I was using the guise of good manners to get one last counterpoint on board. (And it was such a good point, too: I would be honorable enough to just leave if asked, and not return.)

The host e-mailed me a few days later and we exchanged (rather politely) a few times. I withdrew a contentious remark after this host suggested private communication was more appropriate. “You’re no longer banned,” wrote the host.

I had intended to take some time off from blog-visiting, especially the more contentious ones, but sure enough, I found time on my hands yesterday. I got into trouble on two sites. I even went back to my friend’s site, at which, after a comment about a religious ed textbook, someone asked, “I thought Todd had been banned.”

I reassured the commenter, “I promised to be super polite from now on and not spill root beer on the Tridentine vestments.”

He replied, “Didn’t you think it would have been nice to warn us you were letting Todd back on? I mean, I like driving up to 7 Eleven at 11 PM to get antacid as much as the next guy, but it would’ve been better had I known in advance so I could’ve stocked up.”

And I wrote back, “Send me your address, I’ll spring for the Tums, gladly.”

And in retrospect I wonder, why was I so quick to be a smart-asp about it?

When I get contentious on CS, my visits go up about thirty percent. Maybe not a badge of honor, I’m thinking. There is a certain energy in contention. Sometimes it works. But more often than I realize, I wonder if it’s not such a good thing. There is also an energy in being in the minority; maybe that’s why I’ve embraced it in so many places.

Most people in the real world are neither conservative nor progressive, but silent. Blogs are more fun to the extent we have an exchange amonst the bold and the opinionated (like a soap title), and the silent are easy to ignore, for the only way for them to be “noticed” is to comment. I don’t find much energy in just reading blogs. I don’t visit ones without comment features very often. I do like to read; I just prefer books.

What started as a hobby of commenting on Catholic (mainly conservative) sites when I lived in small-town Iowa has evolved into something a bit more than I would have envisioned. But I still have to ask myself, “Does it do any good?” It takes time away from other writing I might do, or best yet, spending time in prayer or with my family.

Antagonism seems one of the roots of amateur apologists. Is it good that Catholics define themselves by the qualities of their opponents they criticize? You argue like a Protestant: is that supposed to be insulting?

I don’t suppose I have any solid answers. I distrust the spirit of antagonism, on the whole. I wonder if CS would be better off refocused on non-contentious topics. I’ve made about 2,000 words progress on my sf novel this week, and have two new musical ideas. Writing books and music is more in keeping with my idea of making a difference. I need to get to church, so for now, I’m leaving the topic hanging, to be continued a bit later.

Meanwhile, comments?

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About catholicsensibility

Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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