"Stop. . . . What do you mean by ‘wildness’ and what grounds do you have for not expecting it?"

C. S. Lewis was fully introduced to Socratic Logic by his tutor, W. T. Kirkpatrick (aka “the Great Knock” in Surprised by Joy). When they met the first time, Lewis made a comment about the “wildness” of the scenery, to which Kirkpatrick immediately replied with the above questions.

While the emotional tone of my posts (and more importantly, my comments on some blogs) may seem otherwise, one of my primary goals is to get people to think logically (and to correct any inconsistencies, poor premises, etc., in their thought). Obviously, I’m also into morality and the pursuit of sanctity, but I believe the three go hand-in-hand. When it comes to, say, disputes with other Catholics, I usually get frustrated with their basing their Catholicism on the wrong principles.

If used properly, threaded discussions on blogs, bulletin boards and listservs would be perfect venues for Socratic discussion. However, as they are used, any attempts at Socratic logic usually break down, so it becomes the venue of buzzwords, extremely truncated arguments, and emoting.

However, the interesting thing is, when people are emoting, they usually express what they *really* think. The problem is getting them to understand the connection to what they really think.

How a person can say both, “You should never have had kids” *and* “I love your kids” is mind-boggling.

Thus, I need to learn to be more like “the Great Knock,” simply asking that question that headlines this column.

One of the criticisms Jesus levels against the Pharissees is “straining the gnat but swallowing the camel” (Mt 23:24), making a big deal about the less important aspects of the Law while ignoring what’s most important. It really gets my goat when people who say “live and let live” or “don’t force your morality on others” when it comes to objective moral issues turn around and criticize people for subjective matters like personal style.

A disagreement with someone who is roughly a peer, especially when the criticism is stated constructively, can be discussed constructively. Pride gets in the way when the person making the criticism has absolutely no grounds for making that judgement, yet that is precisely when logic should be coming in full force.

Several examples have come up this weekend, inspiring this post. A busybody old lady in line for a Christmas event started critiquing the way we had our children dressed, then proceeded to adjust their clothes. Then assuming that we must be poor, dumb hicks because a) our children weren’t dressed to her standards, b) I was in a wheelchair and c) we have three out-of-the-womb kids 4 & under, proceeded to tell us how we needed to put Gianna in Head Start.

“Do you know anything about Head Start?” She asked. I felt like saying, “Yes. I know that the only long-term studies of Head Start show that children in Head Start are far more likely to wind up juvenile delinquints than their socioeconomic and racial peers, whereas time spent with parents is the number one deciding factor in a young child’s future success in school. As it happens, we’re homeschooling, and our four-year-old is already working at kindergarten level.”

Instead, I just ignored her, turned to Allie, and started loudly quizzing her on her math, phonics and catechism for a minute or two. When the woman was out of range, we shared our infuriation with her rudeness and presumption.

But that brings up another inconsistency in the Fertility Police. On the one hand, people with big families are accused of using up too many natural resources, but on the other hand, their criticized for living too simply.

Couple/Family A has 10 kids who live in a 3 bedroom house built in 1900, eat very simple meals, operate a family farm, and all the kids wear homemade clothes. They homeschool, saving the gas that would be spent carting the kids to and from school, among other things. They dont’ go shopping regularly, except to buy necessities, and it’s usually one parent that does the shopping with one or two kids. They eat at home. They have friends they socialize with. They have one TV (with a DVD player for _Veggietales_), one computer, and that’s it. The kids read books, play muisical instruments, do art projects and play real games. They are alotted some time for computer games, but they do not have any console machines. They don’t really travel a lot, except to visit extended family, who criticize them for not visiting enough. Dad drives an old 1989 Corolla to work, and they carry the kids around in a beaten-up 15 passenger van.
They’re all happy with their lives and their relationships, and their relationships with God. A couple of the kids grow up to be priests and religious. A couple go into the military. A couple become farmers like their parents. The others get advanced degrees and become successful professionals. One or two daughters get advanced degrees just to give up their careers to be moms. Most of the kids grow up to be active in Church and in community service.

Meanwhile, Couple/Family B has two “perfectly planned” kids. They live in a 3000 square foot house in a gated community. They drive their two perfectly planned kids around in SUVs, travelling to a) school, b) sports and other activities, c) three jobs between the two parents, d) daycare, e) the Mall, f) fast food (with the wrappers that get thrown out), etc. Not to mention mom and dad’s trips to their respective therapists, because they’re both “depressed.” When they are home, the kids spend all their time watching DVDs and playing video games. They have closets full of toys they don’t play with, just as their parents have closets full of clothes, gadgets and exercise equipment they don’t use. Every week, the kids “need” new “stuff” to keep up with the latest fashions. Every year, they go on expensive vacations around the country. The son grows up to be a pothead living with his parents at 30, while the daughter grows up to carry on with a string of punks, having abortions and other trials, until she finally decides she’s a lesbian. The parents lament not having grandchildren but console themselves with their jetsetting retirement. Then they start to wonder, at 60, who will care for them.

One day, at some point when the kids are still young, the two families cross paths. Each couple regards the other with a sort of pity.

Couple A believes very strongly that contraception is intrinsically evil, and is eroding the foundation of our society. However, neither one would say such a thing to Couple B outside the context of an intellectual discussion, and without Couple B bringing it up first. They would take for granted that there are many reasons couples only have two children, and maybe the B’s became naturally infertile after the birth of their daughter.

Meanwhile, the B’s have no problem in walking up to the A’s and saying, “Haven’t you heard of birth control?” or “Are they all yours?” “Well, we only have two children because we believe in protecting the environment. Your children are all wearing such old, worn out clothes. our children have all the latest fashions!”

Kirkpatrick’s question, rephrased, becomes simply, “Who are you to judge?” “What grounds do you have for making that assessment?”

Each couple’s pity is based upon the assumption that the other family must be extremely unhappy. As it happens, Couple A are quite right in their assessment of Family B. In reality, family B are very unhappy, evinced by the parents’ being in counseling and the ultimate fates of the children.
Despite their protestations of helping the environment, the B’s waste a great deal of oil, trees and other natural resources on their pursuit of frivolous things they think will make them “happy,” because they define happiness in terms of material possessions, quick thrills and social status.

On the other hand, Couple B judge Family A according to their own superficial standards, assuming that anyone living without their kind opulence *must* be unhappy. Yet, Family A, by abandoning the quest for happiness through social status and material prosperity in favor of a living relationships with themselves, others and, most importantly, God, have actually found true happiness.

Mary and I get criticized by the “family B’s” in our extended families, as well as people who don’t even rise to Family B’s level of material prosperty, yet still live materialistic lives.

And yet, when we examine our own situations, the things we’re most displeased with are the aspects of our lives where we approximate “Family B.”

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5 responses to “"Stop. . . . What do you mean by ‘wildness’ and what grounds do you have for not expecting it?"

  1. Was that woman being rude and presumptous? Yes, but what she was suggesting may have been the only lifestyle she knew. I doubt that your performance did much to change her mind. Turning your back on her, rudely ignoring her, and loudly showing her up sounds to me like no more than an elaborate form of the playground bully comeback.

    They will know we are Christians by our love.

    If we return rudeness with kindness, politeness, and courtesy, even in the most trying situations, we model a more consistent ethic to our children.

    Of course, we can’t all be perfect all the time, but we are called to try.

  2. To Anonymous,
    Who are you? You sure do act like you know my husband. I don’t think there could have been anything to change it. We were just speechless b/c it came out of nowhere. What were we supposed to say? We were polite. We said thanks for the socks, listend to what she said, smiled our biggest fake smile, and went back to amusing our kids through an extra 20 minute wait.
    She was rude. Ever heard “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say it at all.” Perhaps you could learn from that, too. Isn’t it rude leaving such presumptious comments on my husband’s blog w/out having the guts to say who you are?

  3. John C. Hathaway

    Hmm, usually when I do confront people, I’m told that the “Christian thing to do” is say nothing.

    Obviously, you have no idea what it is to be disabled (or poor, for that matter) and put up with the prejudicial attitudes “healthy,” “normal” people have.

  4. m, your account is different from John’s:

    “I just ignored her, turned to Allie, and started loudly quizzing her on her math, phonics and catechism for a minute or two.”

    I only had this description of his dealings with the woman to go by. The way he states it above is different from yours:

    “We were polite. We said thanks for the socks, listened to what she said, smiled our biggest fake smile, and went back to amusing our kids through an extra 20 minute wait.”

    If he had described it the way you did, I would have gotten a completely different impression of the incident in question. So which is it? What really happened?

    Perhaps the wording of my comment was somewhat uncharitable, and if so, then I apologize. My point was that joyfully loving those who mistreat us is being Christ to the world.

    John, we are all given different crosses by God to bear lovingly in the footsteps of Christ. Some, like your own, are more obvious to the outside observer – disability, poverty, prejudice. Others are hidden and secret – personal battles with grave temptations, committment to unloving relationships, scrupulosity, etc. Does one have to have experience with the same cross as another to understand human suffering?

    From reading your website and your blog, I’d say that your family is incredibly blessed. Is it better to be poor, or to have an unloving wife? Is it better to be disabled, or to have a spouse who feeds your children on hatred? Is it better to be the subject of prejudice, or abuse?

    Posting about your sufferings on your blog reads like “sackcloth and ashes.” Why not tell us more about your wonderful family?

  5. John C. Hathaway

    Thanks for your reply, although it would be nice if you didn’t post anonymously. I welcome contribution, but would like to know whom I’m hearing from.

    The answer to your question is that my blog is not about my family, as such. It’s not a blog for “happy family stories.” It’s a blog about fighting the Culture of Death. It’s a blog about spiritul warfare, eugenics, ethical medical research and the rights of the unborn and the disabled.

    In this case, my essay was about how people make stupid, superficial judgements of people without any logical foundation or thinking what they’re saying.

    The story about the woman at the train was supposed to illustrate both that fact and an example of inadequacy of response, where a more Socratic response should have been called for. But the woman proved far too annoying.

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