When the language of love falls on ears that do not hear

When the language of love falls on ears that do not hear Billie Piper as Fanny Price in ITV’s 2007 adaptation of Mansfield Park.

“It’s funny, I haven’t seen any outcry from ‘pro-life’ organisations about the treatment of children at the border,” observed author and columnist Jessica Valenti last week on her @jessicavalenti Twitter account. It was, she claimed, almost as though such organisations couldn’t care less about “actual babies”.

Retweeted over 70,000 times, it’s worth reflecting on in light of Scott Alexander’s celebrated and lengthy September 2014 slatestarcodex.com blogpost ‘I can tolerate anything except the outgroup’, which considers how modernity allows us to live alongside each other while inhabiting different moral and social universes.

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Sure, there are those who call themselves pro-life and have been silent or even supportive in the face of the Trump regime’s sundering of families and incarceration of children, but if you look at, for instance, Mike Lewis’s ‘Raymond Arroyo: Party over Faith’ piece at wherepeteris.com, you’ll get a useful rundown on how such individuals are defying Catholic teaching – and indeed common decency.

Immigration isn’t always a simple issue, of course, so it was refreshing to read Matthew Walther write in ‘Confessions of a former immigration hawk’ at theweek.com of how he has changed his mind over the years.

The possibility of a better life for oneself and one’s family should be recognised as the foundation of all decent human relations, he points out, praising how Jeb Bush observed in 2014 that entering the US illegally was more often than not an “act of love”.

“To risk one’s own well-being in order to provide better for one’s family really is an act of love, whatever else it may be,” he admits. “There are any number of reasonable views one might take about American immigration policy, but the idea that we should respond to acts of love with legalese and cages is so unspeakably vicious that it cannot be countenanced. I am glad that I can now say this without prevarication.”

Catholics are by no means the only pro-lifers to have challenged what’s gone on on the US’s southern border, of course. Religion News Service reporter Jack Jenkins has tweeted from his @jackmjenkins account a thread of over 40 tweets detailing faith groups and faith leaders who have condemned either the Trump administration’s policy towards families or Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ claim that the Bible supports the enforcement of this policy.

His thread includes groups ranging from the US Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Southern Baptist Convention to individuals as diverse as longtime Trump support Franklin Graham and the Episcopal Church’s Bishop Michael Curry.

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Readers might remember Bishop Curry for his sermon at the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, which, curiously, doesn’t seem to have done much to help British viewers understand Christianity.

Over at premierchristianity.com, statistician and Anglican priest Rev. Peter Ould analyses a poll that considered the sermon’s impact, noting that just 12% of viewers felt the bishop’s words helped them understand Christianity, with regular churchgoers being far more likely to have got something from the sermon than other viewers.

If religious illiteracy can render eloquent sermons incomprehensible, it shouldn’t be a surprise that, as Rev. Ould observes, “evangelism in our communities can be as much a cross-cultural mission as going overseas”.

Not that such incomprension is new. Even two centuries ago, Jane Austen mapped out in Mansfield Park just how two people could speak on different planes while ostensibly talking the same language, incapable of communicating “even the most basic ideas about how to live a good life”, as Haley Stewart puts it in a wonderful essay at churchlife.nd.edu.

Bearing the curiously clunky title ‘Alasdair MacIntyre reads Jane Austen reading her Late Modern reader’, it beautifully shows how Austen understood what the philosopher MacIntyre would spell out in the 1980s: we may draw from a common well of moral language, but it has been centuries since we have agreed on what our words mean.

Incapable as we can be of understanding each other, is it surprising that we should find it so easy to think the worst of those with whom we disagree?

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