Last night I found myself in an interesting situation. I was part of a panel presentation on young adults ministry, and young adults in the Catholic Church. There were four of us on the panel, representing three young adult groups in the area. However, early on in the presentation, two of the panel members identified themselves as “progressive,” which to them meant that they did not totally agree with the Catholic Church teaching on certain life issues, sexuality issues, and women’s ordination. Moreover, as the night progressed, more and more I got the message that, since I do agree with the Church’s teaching on those issues, they considered me backwards, judgmental, and generally a not-nice person whom they had no interest in knowing. This was based somewhat on what they said, but more on how they acted when I tried to be friendly with them before and after the panel.
I went home angry and frustrated for two reasons: first, because what they said made me realize that they don’t know what the Church actually teaches on many of those questions, only what they assume the Church teaches, because they’ve confused being Catholic with being Republican. For example, the Catholic Church does not teach that capital punishment is right, or even ok. Taking another human life, no matter how justified, is never ok. It says that if a particular government has no other way in which to protect its citizens from those who would harm them, then in certain circumstances it might be allowable. However, if the government does have means to protect its citizens (like, say, life imprisonment) without killing the offender, then capital punishment should not be used. They would know this if they ever bothered to look capital punishment up in the Catechism. However, the “progressive” people on the panel just assumed that, since Republicans are for the death penalty, then that must be what the Catholic Church teaches too. And so help me, John Boehner is not the Pope! Gah!
The second reason that this made me angry and frustrated was because these people do not know me at all. They don’t know my life, they don’t know my struggles, they don’t know the various varieties of crap I’ve had to wade through to make it to where I am today. Plus, they don’t know my beliefs, or my politics. Guess what? Just because I like Adoration doesn’t mean that I think the death penalty is ok. The fact that I actually know how to pray the Rosary (and like doing it) does not exclude a deep concern about social justice. (I mean, have you never heard my rant about how the right to private property is not absolute, based on the documents of Vatican II?) And for all that certain people talk about being in solidarity with the poor, guess who lives in the ghetto and actually has some real life experience of poverty? And you know what? I wish that last night were an exception to the rule, but generally in my life I have found that some of the most meanly intolerant, judgmental people I know are the most liberal. You want to be treated like a lowlife who doesn’t have two brain cells to rub together? Talk to that guy in the Che t-shirt who only eats raw food.
This is not to say that some of my conservative friends aren’t judgmental and unthinkingly intolerant too. There’s been too many times when I’m listening to a friend talk, they say something about homosexuals, and I think to myself, “Well, then, I’m never going to introduce you to my beloved gay family member.” But the majority of them will actually listen to what another person has to say before they make up their mind.
I think this is a sore issue with me because I feel like this happens to me a lot. I belong to a large, extremely Catholic family which tends to be very open about our faith. Consequently, there are a lot of people who assume that they know everything there is to know about me. I used to try to do things to shock people a little, make them actually respond to me as an individual instead of whatever stereotype of Devout Catholic Girl they’re carrying around in their head, but after a while it just got too tiring. It’s not just the people who assume they know my politics and personal beliefs, but the people with an overly romantic, rosy picture of how they think our family life must be. I had one guy seriously tell me that he thought my family must be just like the family of St. Therese of Lisieux (you know, the one where both parents are on their way to becoming canonized saints), and argued with me when I tried to tell him he was wrong.
I personally consider myself a pretty tolerant person. I have a lot of friends who believe very different things from me. I do my best to love them, and believe that they are doing their best to lead a good life, no matter what form that may take. I believe that God loves each of us, and is drawing us to Himself along many varied and unusual paths. If I can help someone along their path, I am happy to do that. However, it is not my job to be anybody’s savior. (That job’s already taken!) I don’t get to judge their sins, their lives, or their hearts. All I can do is love them the best that I know how. I just wish that other people would do the same for me.