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Culture Wars and the Challenge to Listen With Curiosity

April 26, 20235 min read

Culture Wars and the Challenge to Listen With Curiosity

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Excerpt from Being Human Podcast Episode #123: Fake Science and Real Compassion

Although I don’t watch TV often, I recently had some downtime (which also doesn't happen very often!) and decided I wanted to veg out a bit. While perusing through the streaming channels for documentaries, I thought it might be interesting to find a show that would teach me how “the other side” thinks. 

I landed on a talk show hosted by Jon Stewart (who I think it’s safe to say represents a fairly relativistic, liberal, culturally progressive perspective). 

As it turns out, this particular episode was on transgenderism and among those being interviewed on the show were medical doctors as well as parents of kids who had gone through so called “gender transition.”

While watching, I challenged myself to listen with curiosity - to really try to understand the mindset of those with belief systems radically different from mine. Listening with empathy allows all of us to understand each other better.

Underneath all the layers of deceit and confusion and terrible argumentation, I was able to hear a deep compassion and a desire to alleviate suffering. 

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In the midst of the rhetoric, a theme emerged: “We don’t want kids to suffer. We don't want suicides. We don't want bullying. We don't want kids to feel left out and ostracized.” 

That was something I can obviously understand! It struck me that we're all in this together.

Amid the polarity and the polemics in the argumentation, at the end of the day, we could agree that suicides, bullying, and the suffering of children are issues that need our attention, things we want to decrease if not eradicate!

What dawned on me was how easy it is to dismiss one another. (I watched as Jon Stewart totally bulldozed the one representative of the alternative viewpoint in a part of the show).

If we - all of us - don't take time to listen, to enter into conversation with one another, then we don't get an opportunity to really hear what someone is saying in the first place, which results in battles where we're arguing against things that are not even being said.

I feel very strongly about calling evil what it is. It’s imperative that we pay attention to the direction of organizational and cultural movements and find the courage to call out evil when we see it. 

In my profession, I see organizational movements in the secular field of psychology and mental health driving strongly and quickly in the direction of evil, and I’m compelled to do what I can to bring those evils to light.   

But that is not to say that any one person involved is evil. 

There may be individuals doing evil things. But each and every person has dignity, is made in the image of God, and is deserving of reverence as such. 

It's somewhat easy to just become an activist, or a revolutionary - to go all in on one side while villainizing and dismissing anyone holding to beliefs of the opposing side. (Which is exactly what we see happening on both sides of our modern day culture wars.) 

What’s rare is actually having the courage to hold both positions at once: to be able to fight for a cause, stand up for a belief system, stand up for what is true, good and beautiful… while at the same time being able to step into the world of the other side and see the persons that are there. This both/and is an essential quality of the Catholic position. 

We are living in a particularly dark time in history, and as we enter into the conflict/ dialogue/ battle/ fight - however we want to call it - we need to hold fast to what we have been taught through Christ about the greatness of our human vocation.

Jesus has revealed our own path to us: He has called us to follow Him. As Pope St. John Paul II reminds us in Gaudium et Spes, Christ “fully reveals man to man himself and makes his supreme calling clear.”

We see in Jesus someone who was adamantly opposed to, and ultimately killed by, the cultural norms He was living within and speaking out against. And yet it was Jesus who said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” 

It was Jesus who was willing to listen to the individual person, and it didn't matter if it was a Roman guard, one of the Pharisees, or any one of the group He was adamantly against. 

When it came to the individual, He was willing to listen in love to understand where they were coming from. Even as He was being crucified on the cross, that is the model that He gave us. 

So, Christians, that is our call: To stand up for the truth, even to the point of death, all the while loving until the end; to let ourselves be crucified and poured out, and therefore joined to our God who overcomes death.  All of that, in the name of love, and in the process with Him, through Him, and in Him, who is love.

 For more on this topic: Being Human Podcast Episode #123: Fake Science and Real Compassion 

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