I'm often stunned by the gross incivility displayed on both sides of any given debate. This was brought to mind this afternoon by the success of yet another ill-titled, conceivably ill-tempered Al Franken book, pumped up by various media interests to match the insidiously vitriolic and questionable accuracy of Ann Coulter. (She does not miraculously become correct if she happens to express many opinions with which I can agree. I have a bad track record as regards my opinions.) As much as I like to look at Ms. Coulter, I think that being in the same room with her (or with Mr. Franken) would likely be a most unpleasant experience.
Part of this is the human tendency to attribute only the most malign motives to anyone who opposes us. And I think this a mistake. For example, I think it a mistake to attribute malign motives to most people who support a limited right to abortion. They can be wrong and even wrong-headed without any intent to be malign.
It seems to me that the better part of any conversation would be to assume the motive of the conversant is basically driven by good-will. (Mr. da Fiesole has disagreed with me in the past on this, but his reasons did not persuade--it seems the better part of charity to start with the assumption that most people act out of good will or at least with no malignant motive until proven otherwise.) Only in this way may one truly address the issue at hand.
Now this leads to a second assumption, one in which I am more often than not truly disappointed. I assume that two disputants who are talking about a serious issue really seek the truth on the issue. That's not to say that anyone's mind will be changed in a sudden stroke, but rather both are seeking input to modify the worldview accordingly. It may not be input to modify the position they hold, but it may be a deeper understanding of why someone would hold the opposite opinion and what the implications of that may be. In many matters, it is unimportant ("Make it pink, Make it blue.) But in a great many issues to not seek the truth is great folly. However, many people see the ideas they hold as somehow personal possessions, and a challenge to those ideas is a personal affront--an attack on the integrity of the person. I recognize this tendency in myself, and often have to back away to consider what has been said and what it really means to the notions I hold. I take a great deal of time sometimes to assimilate new notions and change my mindset and behavior to accommodate them. It is better to take a short period to cool off and then realize that the idea is not part of the self--to relinquish a bad idea is to strengthen one's Christian armor. Truth is far more important than either my personal opinion or the possibility that I might seem foolish to some. Foolish or not, I need to listen and to try to understand, and to seek God's way--the truth in all things.
And so I know that neither Ms. Coulter (whose previous book I did read, and whose present book I made a stab at but found so full of the pestilence of ill-humor and self-righteousness, not to mention a generous dollop of vitriol, gossip, and acrimony) nor Mr. Franken (ditto, ditto, ditto--and add to it that like many for whom he writes toeing the party line is more important than truth) have much, if anything to say that will enlighten my perpetual darkness.
In fact, why should it surprise anyone that the Right lies or the left lies, or the news is slanted this way or that? It may be dismaying, but as we all learned long ago, every story is told from a point of view--there is no perfect objective point of view in the human realm. That, in part, is what the Fall is about. So why should we be surprised if we find that a reporter has obscured this point or that, or that they have told only half of the story. Anyone willing to believe anything printed in a newspaper or news magazine deserves the world view it is likely to give them.
If we seek the truth, then we should seek it in places where it dwells--in the heart of Jesus Christ, in the center of the Gospel, in the message of the ordinary and universal Magisterium, in the lives of the Saints, in prayer. Seeking the truth beyond these bounds is an endless, fruitless, and ultimately depressing, oppressing, and empty endeavor. Knowledge of truth apart from God is not knowledge at all, but opinion, for in Him resides the fullness of the truth, and all else is inconsequential.