Monday, December 19, 2005

70 x 7: Reconciliation With Stephen Hand

How good it is for brothers to dwell in unity! After some seven
months of acrimonious conflict and unedifying public exchanges
against each other, the webmaster of Traditional Catholic
Reflections
, and author Stephen Hand and myself actually talked on
the phone for two-and-a-half hours tonight (12-18-05), and managed to achieve
a seemingly complete and hopeful reconciliation, through simply
talking, explaining, listening, issuing mutual apologies, seeking
to understand where the other is coming from, etc.

It was a thoroughly enjoyable discussion, in my opinion, with no
difficulty whatsoever. Stephen is a very personable, friendly man,
and he seems to think favorably of my "real life" persona as well.
Within minutes we both noted how we sounded very different from
the perceived tone of our writing, and we totally agreed that the
Internet and its words-only mode of communication leads to all
sorts of difficulties, which are quite resolvable if only folks
would talk.

Stephen must be given the lion's share of the credit for offering
to talk on the phone back in May and again tonight. He suggested
it and gave me his phone number in an e-mail. For my part, I was
ready to engage a real human being on the phone, in a last-ditch
effort to achieve a breakthrough in the chilling, unedifying
mutual antipathy. I felt the time was right and ripe for a
"radical" solution to the mess we had (like Laurel and Hardy)
gotten ourselves into, so I did it without hesitation.

As we began talking, Stephen asked me why I was calling. I said
(paraphrase) "I wanted to cut through the crap and talk to a live
human being and try to get to the bottom of this thing and resolve
it." We just seemed to click after that and everything went
smoothly. Nor was it just small talk, by any means. After about 45
minutes or so of "past narrative" type discussion, we (somewhat
boldly) moved into talking about the war in Iraq, which was the
original cause of the conflict. We had no trouble whatsoever, even
though we continue to disagree. We listened to each other and
talked it through with perfect calm, dealing with many of the
major sub-issues.

I couldn't resist asking at that point, "now, if we can talk about
this issue so easily on the phone, why did it become such a big
stink back in May on the Internet, and get so personal?" Stephen
expressed to me his dismay at the fact that four people (myself,
and three others) whom he considered friends or at least friendly
acquaintances (as he strongly felt) "ganged up" on or "attacked"
him publicly by issuing our rebuke of how he was expressing his
opinions on the war and related issues like capital punishment.

Upon reflection, I agreed with him that we probably should have
approached him privately first, given our friendship, and that it
was wrong for me to add my name to such an effort which was bound
to put the recipient at an immediate disadvantage and to naturally
feel defensive. And so I apologized for that.

For his part, Stephen apologized for admittedly harsh remarks
concerning how I make a living as an apologist, and some issues
regarding fundraising and apologetic method and demeanor. He will
be dealing with those things in a public statement that he is
issuing simultaneous with this one, on his website. We had agreed
to do this by the end of the conversation.

We also agreed to both remove all past ugly papers and mentions of
each other, and to move past this, in order to exhibit a better
Christian witness and to be an example of how simply talking to
each other can achieve a breakthrough in communication in less
than three hours, that had sadly been lacking for seven months of
ugly typewritten conflict. We both acknowledged our part in the
intemperate, excessive language which has been the cause of much
confusion as well as hurt.

Near the end of our friendly talk I sought to build more bridges
by noting that I had more in common with his views than he might
have supposed; e.g., my predisposition towards Chesterton's
economic distributism, which is about as critical of capitalism as
it is of socialism. This surprised him quite a bit. We all tend to
put others in boxes, don't we? I know I am guilty of it too often,
and must remind myself that individuals can differ from the
sheep-like mold that is often offered to us in caricatured
portayals of what others believe.

That's about all that I would like to say on the matter at this
juncture. Stephen is welcome to post "dissenting" opinions on my
blog at any time, and he has stated that I could post an op-ed
piece on his website about the Iraqi War (which I will probably
do). This will allow those Christians who differ to discuss the
issues respectfully without it becoming personal, and without
anyone's Catholic or Christian commitment being questioned. I
would be delighted for such a discussion to occur on my blog at
any time.

I gratefully thank Stephen for exhibiting the love of Christ and a
wonderful spirit of reconciliation in our phone conversation.
Having been the recipient of much personal attack myself, from
others online (mostly anti-Catholics) I can't express how
refreshing and encouraging this turn of events is for me. I had
begun to think that Christians couldn't or wouldn't even do this
sort of thing anymore. I was becoming more cynical than I was
aware, I think. This shows me that we all need to be more "in real
life" to balance the Internet: especially when there is
misunderstanding.

Praise God for His tender mercies. I think both Stephen and I
needed a good dose of it at this time, and by God's grace we were
(despite both our past miserable failings) able to convey it to
each other, and to break through to a place where Christians ought
to be, no matter how much we may disagree on some things.

***************

Stephen's article on his Musings Page today, follows:

An Advent of New Beginnings: David Armstrong

It's quite amazing really how the Internet distorts, as well as communicates, reality in some instances. Since the spring I have been involved in an after hours argument with David Armstrong and some others over the Iraq war, the nature of apologetics since Vatican II, and what I have sometimes feared is the spectre of a creeping Jim and Tammy religion sneaking into the Catholic faith whereby religion becomes too aligned with personal financial entanglements. Inevitably some misunderstandings crept in based on partial information and oversight. Sunday, David and I talked for the first time, person to person, and at length on the phone about our differences and several important clarifications were made.

First, I should not have considered David's request for financial help for his work as any evidence of the Jim and Tammy syndrome, since David, I learned, has always depended on no more than a portion of his income from supporters for his work. Writing his popular books are also consuming much of his time these days. For the rest he has always worked like any husband and father.

Secondly, David has over 1,000 pages of apologetics at his website and so the sampling I have seen---mostly passionate back and forths on both sides with, as he emphasized, vehement anti-Catholics---does not represent the whole of his apologetics. I have not read his books for instance, nor seen many of the other dialogues on his website with more reasonable men and women which are friendly in spirit while remaining serious in thought.

David and I agree, I was surprised to learn, that, per Vatican II's ecumenical intentions, apologetics should aim for this good-spirited dialogue, presuming the good will of the other, and seeking to convey the attractiveness of Catholic truth; and that most apologetics should be an invitation to contemplate such Catholic truths. In fact he informed me he has given up debating with the hardened anti-Catholics for precisely the reasons that concerned me: because it seldom gets anywhere and tends to exhibit a certain acrimony after a time which is neither edifying nor fruitful. With those who are not anti-Catholic but who merely hold differences with the Catholic Church, David enjoys a much more tranquil and fruitful discussion on a regular basis.

When two people talk, as opposed to merely read each other via this curious phenomenon called the Internet, it is amazing how quickly acrimony morphs into understanding, good humor, and good-natured differences. Ah, the internet, that blessing and curse at the same time! Besides exchanging mutual apologies after all the facts were clarified in long discussion on both sides, I was, I must confess, shocked to hear a very reasonable and kind man at the other end discuss quite passionate matters in a way that did not incite discouragement or defensiveness and who was willing to give as well as take when it came to the debacle of a debate that need not have occurred at all if only we had talked together earlier. It was like having a holy brew with a fellow leprechaun who I learned was, poor lad, much older than I ever imagined based on the youthful photos of he and his beautiful wife, which I believe are recent (I never would have believed he was a day older than 35 or 36, though I shant give the sorry facts away). [I'm 47 LOL]

As for the Iraqi war, David and I recognize our differences, which are not insignificant; but they are differences of conscience over which we simply agree to disagree. David will write op-ed articles at TCR from time to time on issues he strongly disagrees with us on. Strong differences and even rhetorical liveliness need not be an impediment to good will and understanding. We have dusted off the foul lines and can see them much more clearly now. I am delighted for this Christmas present of "meeting" the real David Armstrong---I trust my bones in such matters and found no guile in this good man--- and for this my heart magnifies the Lord.

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