When to Nuance--Ms. Schaivo's Lesson to Us

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Twice in recent days Mark at Minute Particulars has posted on the need for nuance. And I preface this with an apology to him if anything I say seems overly strong or harsh.

An excerpt from a recent post:

There is an understandable backlash at attempts to nuance situations that seem so utterly obvious. And, as I mentioned in the below post on partial-birth abortion, I know this backlash firsthand since I really don't see how anyone could find the doctor's words anything other than repulsive. What could possibly be nuanced here? What requires discussion? But I think such a reaction is simplistic and ultimately morally detrimental. Unless you think someone capable of this is the devil incarnate, there ought to be a way to express our moral concerns carefully and intelligently. Any hope of passing laws that will be upheld requires this; and, more to the point, any hope of converting hearts will fail without it.

And I don't have any real trouble with his point. My difficulty comes with the timing of nuancing. When we nuance someone to death we have created a far greater injustice than we can hope to rectify by our nuancing.

Nuancing has been horrendously abused by many post Vatican II reformers to support whatever the spin of the moment might happen to be. That in no way detracts from its importance; however, it does add a certain aura to the term and to the deed. Too many of us have been burned by "nuances" that have reinterpreted Church tradition and law out of existence. The Anglican Church is currently riven with nuance that basically is gutting Christian theology. Nuance has quite a disreputable patina.

Now, take this term that already has a certain weight and apply it to a situation which in itself is really not a case for a rocket scientist and the appearance you get is someone trying to justify the unjustifiable. Because I feel that I know Mark relatively well from his writing, I feel comfortable with the fact that this is not what he is trying to do. On the other hand, all of these arguments come back to us, and we find people saying, "Well Mr. Schaivo is her husband, and don't we believe in the sacramental nature of marriage." Our nuanced argument has just turned good Catholics who are fighting desperately to save a life into those who would overturn Catholic doctrine and sacraments.

The time to nuance our discussion is when Ms. Schaivo has been delivered from the army of Satan massed against her. We need to carefully consider all of the points that are under discussion, we need to thoroughly understand Church teaching and doctrine. But what we need more than anything else right now is straightforward, clear action, based on the circumstances here and now and not on hypotheticals and nuances that could result in a person's death

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I agree with your comments, Steven. She's not an abstract
"problem"; she still needs our vigilance and action. Letters,
e-mails, calls....as need arises.

Hi Steve, Do you think it matters who is talking to whom? Could someone in the background, for example, offer spiritual nuances to someone who is on the front line? Or could an expert in marriage (ie Greg) offer the community his opinion of the role of the sacrament of marriage while a lawyer (ie SAM) offers his take on the role of the courts? I don't think that nuanced conversation is opposed to straightforward action any more than the issue of the Sacrament of Marriage is in opposition to (or a distraction from) the dignity and beauty of life. Perhaps the answer lies in trying to be a servant to the will of God. He made us unique and he gave us so many gifts! I believe those gifts work together in a mysterious way. "Many gifts but one Spirit in Christ."

P.s, I also see how nuanced conversation can be a road block to the movement of the Holy Spirit, especially if Terri's dignity is undermined in the process.

Dear Mary H,

Please forgive me if this sounds harsher than I usually do. I find myself unaccountably more moved and more angered over this situation than I have been in a great many years. Perhaps it is the Holy Spirit finally provoking me to action on something I can understand, articulate, and believe in. Perhaps it is simply an overburden of awfulness care of the culture of death. At any rate, please don't read this as harsh, but as firm, resolute--strident but in charity (even if the words themselves do not convey that sense).

Your latter point is germane to my own. In addition, I don't think it matters who is talking to whom because the net result is undermining resolution, introducing doubt at a time when certainty is needed, and presenting a front to the world that is internally divided. These issues must be resolved, but they don't need resolution on the deathbed of an innocent. If nuancing provides fuel for the culture of death (which I believe it does--every nuance is pumped up to be revelation) then it is inappropriate at this time.

Please understand, I am not against carefully reasoned and considered discussion. I am not against ferreting out all the holes in our present plan. I am not against even deciding retroactively that perhaps this was not the wisest course. But, I am against anything that gets in the way of the present, critical presumption in favor of life.

I don't know enough to know all the subtleties that many people are talking about. But I do know enough that when I am in doubt, the doubt should always fall on the side of life.

So I think my disagreement is not with nuance, but with timing. Right now we need the morale, the unity, and the support of those in the front lines, without introducing tangential issues that can easily confuse and persuade those not inclined to think in these terms (i.e. Me, and I suspect many like me).

This is one of those occasions to set hand to plow and not look back--it is time to act worthily of the kingdom of heaven and leave the nuances for when we are fairly certain that we have won a lease on life for this poor woman.



Hi Steven,
I didn't find your response harsh. Though I'm surprised that you felt you had to choose your words carefully. When I gave my perspective, I thought I was helping.

Dear Mary H,

No, I didn't need to choose words carefully, and you were helping. I inadvertantly wrote something elsewhere that caused a good friend some measure of grief because I was so sloppy about what I was trying to convey. I did not wish to cause the same offense in this case. Please accept my apologies if I have offended--I'm trying very hard to be sensitive to everyone's feelings in the matter--even to those with whom I have more vigorous disagreements.



Oh, I see. No, You haven't offended me. However, I'm finding it difficult to comment to anyone about Terri Shiavo's case. It seems that everyone disagree with just about everything I say about it. So I apologize as well for jumping to the conclusions that you were not receptive to what I wrote.

I decided to comment here precisely because you have such a gentle approach and it seems as though you have a sincere desire for Christ. I look forward to reading more from you. In Christ, Mary


You are, as I think Tom of Disputations put it, the most polite blogger I've ever run across. I didn't think you were too harsh with me and I appreciate your response.


You done good, Steven.


I think we could all learn from your gentleness of soul--yours truly, above all.

In the matter, at hand, however, your cautionary note on the abuse of "nuance" is critical and should be shouted from the rooftops.

"Nuance," like "prudence," is an quintessential Catholic trait, but in the Church Dilettante these words have been transhipped (or morphed, if you prefer) to rationalize moral cowardice and compromise.

CURE's 22 years of combating euthanasia--not in political arenas or debating societies but in hospital and hospice execution chambers--lead me to concur with you entirely about the critical importance of timing.

Realism, which, as Cardinal Ratzinger reminds us, is often confused with cynicism, led me to expect that, given our fallen human nature, the the attention focused on Terri would be short-lived.

The real miracle, after all, is no so much that Gov. Bush, to his credit, responded to 40,000-plus calls but that Terri broke through the wall of apathy to inspire those calls.

I just didn't realize how short-lived. As I have written in comment boxes across the Parish, I am saddened to see how many St. Bloggers are spending more time justifying the imposition of death on victims "different" from Terri than on defending the lives of Terri, those like her, and, yes, those unlike her, who therefore need our help all the more.

CURE opposes all euthanasia without compromise or exception and at all times.

If that seems insufficiently "nuanced," so be it. As Someone once said, "Let your speech be yea, yea: no, no."

Keep saying the truth, Steven, gently but firmly, in season and out. May God grant us all the wisdom and fortitude--other noble Catholic traits--to do just that.

CURE would be honored to help anyone in fulfilling such a commitment to the defense of innocent life.

Director, Citizens United Resisting Euthanasia (CURE)



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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on October 28, 2003 11:00 AM.

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