In Catholic doctrine one is supposed to hate the sin and love the sinner. This can be a distinction without a difference if the "sin" is to be something (a Jew, a homosexual, even a divorcée) rather than to do something.
The piece begins with a striking passage of Orwell’s projected review of Brideshead Revisited—left unfinished at Orwell’s death in 1949.
Within the last few decades, in countries like Britain or the United States, the literary intelligentsia has grown large enough to constitute a world in itself. One important result of this is that the opinions which a writer feels frightened of expressing are not those which are disapproved of by society as a whole. To a great extent, what is still loosely thought of as heterodoxy has become orthodoxy. It is nonsense to pretend, for instance, that at this date there is something daring and original in proclaiming yourself an anarchist, an atheist, a pacifist, etc. The daring thing, or at any rate the unfashionable thing, is to believe in God or to approve of the capitalist system. In 1895, when Oscar Wilde was jailed, it must have needed very considerable moral courage to defend homosexuality. Today it would need no courage at all: today the equivalent action would be, perhaps, to defend antisemitism. But this example that I have chosen immediately reminds one of something else—namely, that one cannot judge the value of an opinion simply by the amount of courage that is required in holding it.
But rather because we see here a particularly handsome instance of in-group shift at mid-toggle. How many other times in history might we have said, with Orwell, that what is still loosely thought of as heterodoxy has become orthodoxy? And gone on to note how alliances, access, power, and the rest have shifted accordingly? The rats jumping ship as it sinks, the old guard manfully staying aboard. The recalibration of all values, the refashioning of the old foundational myths; dragons, once the epitome of evil, wrath and greed incarnate, aren't so bad after all, we just never took the time to understand them, nurture them, know them on their own terms, let them bear us up on their backs to face the true evil, which is that great dragon who uses his power to oppress and enslave, not because he is a dragon but simply, I suppose, because he can—to recite the story of How to Train Your Dragon, which we who have kids might have been trapped in the room to watch at some point or other. In other words, there is nothing more evil than exercising the natural right of the stronger.
Without for a moment setting aside that there are real and significant, even decidable, distinctions that set caste against caste: can we not also say that today's orthodoxy and today's heterodoxy, today's in-group and today's out-group, that these are mutually creating and sustaining to the extent that we stay at the level of the polemical, holding that persons are for the sake of arguments and not vice-versa?
But there is no polemics without persons: "And yet we are promoters of the culture of encounter", the pope told the bishops, "Dialogue is our method, not as a shrewd strategy but out of fidelity to the One who never wearies of visiting the marketplace, even at the eleventh hour, to propose his offer of love." Or as he had previously put it in Cuba:
There is a kind of “service” which truly “serves”, yet we need to be careful not to be tempted by another kind of service, a “service” which is “self-serving”. There is a way to go about serving which is interested in only helping “my people”, “our people”. This service always leaves “your people” outside, and gives rise to a process of exclusion.
But here's the strange thing, one I'd say that is being played out even now in the course of the Synod: we can't assert the primacy of encounter over polemics without simultaneously taking sides in that polemical dispute. For secularism, deprived as it is of a natural hierarchy of beings, and of the insight that all being arises from a relationship of love (i.e. the Trinity), simply does not have the resources to make of the encounter anything but a serotonin event or some such nugatoriality, nor can it give good reasons not avoid those encounters without the promise of a certain chemical bouquet, unless they be of grimmest necessity. Which is to make an instrument of the them, to make an us and a them, and a polemical divide. Whatever its frequent appeals to inclusivity, the ineradicable subjective moment of secularism cannot fail to divide (or, to quote Ross Douthat, "...its view of the cosmos — a purposeless, purely physical universe, in which human life is accidental, human history directionless, and human consciousness probably an illusion — is at odds with its general political and moral posture (liberal, egalitarian, right-based, progressive) in ways that make the entire world-picture ripe for reassessment or renovation").
And so we must side with those who know more than the polemical, we pick the trench that knows no trenches, and acknowledge that person and polemics are not so separate after all, if person is to precede polemics. Yes, Francis made great overtures as the reconciler and healer, but he only could do so on a worldview upon which reconciliation and healing are real possibilities.
Apart from its customary appeal to resentment, it's for such reasons that I reject a lot the talk of religious liberty. It is the nature of in-groups to shift, for today's in's to be tomorrow's out's--which guarantees that there will always be a beleaguered minority, or more precisely a minority which can make itself out to be beleaguered even if it's not. For one thing, this trivializes such groups out there that are genuinely beleaguered. But, moreover, without a deeper context of the purpose of polemics as rooted in people and being for the sake of people--whose very personhood is the inherent good--then in-group toggles themselves, qua in-group struggles, are bound to endless self-perpetuation, and are at bottom no more than expressions of the natural right of the stronger. To lead with polemics, whatever side you take, is to play into the modernist instrumentalization of persons.