Why we get angry at other Catholics who don’t know what we know
Catholic social media is a strange place to dwell. A few weeks ago, about 70 percent of my feed was taken up with Catholics explaining that, no matter what the department stores say, Christmas is not over yet. It goes until Epiphany or until the Baptism of the Lord or until Candlemas—but it is not over yet!
The remaining 30 percent of my friends were irritably complaining that we all already know Christmas is not over yet, so can everyone please stop talking about it?
I can already predict the next spasm on the Catholic internet: The majority will be folks who are astonished to find that Ash Wednesday falls on Valentine’s Day this year—and then a second onslaught of folks will howl that we already know this, so why don’t you shut up already?
As a reformed howler, I have a thing or two to say about this phenomenon, wherein people who know things are angry at people who do not know things. It is one of the least Catholic ways to behave on the internet. Here’s why.
I have a thing or two to say about this phenomenon, wherein people who know things are angry at people who do not know things.
Christ’s disciples spent their lives—and gave their lives, often in gruesome ways—spreading the good news of Christ. Four of them (not one but four!) wrote down the story of Jesus’ life. They went and told people over and over and over again what had happened and what will happen. They went back and told the people they had already told that they needed to remember the things they told them last time. Check out the epistles, written to Christian communities that had already been catechised: Half of these letters have the very distinct air of a fifth-grade teacher whose class has no idea how to do long division even though they just spent the entire month on it, but darn it, she will go ahead and tell them again because that is what she is here for.
That is what we are all here for. If we know something good, we have to tell it over and over and over again because God knows we needed to hear it more than once ourselves.
Haven’t you noticed that we say the same prayers every week at Mass? And that the rosary and Divine Mercy chaplet are incessant returns to the same vital ideas, over and over and over again? Repetition, yes. Vain, no.
If we know something good, we have to tell it over and over and over again because God knows we needed to hear it more than once ourselves.
There is a lesson here, and we can apply it not only to prayer and preaching but to our entire lives, including our online lives. We should never shame someone for not knowing something. We should never roll our eyes at someone who is not positioned to hear the things we hear every day.
It is true that the same topics tend to come up over and over again online. In my circles, these topics are modesty, sex and marriage, the education of children and medical ethics. If you spend time online, you can easily name your own crowd’s set of pet topics that keep bobbing to the surface and never completely go away.
This is partly because people like to chase controversy. People bring up the same thing again because they know it will get them lots of attention, just like it did the last 40 times they brought it up.
We should never roll our eyes at someone who is not positioned to hear the things we hear every day.
But the other reason these topics are perennial is that the audience is constantly changing. What may be old and tired and settled for me is new and interesting and important for someone else. If I am too burnt out on some particular topic of discussion, I do not have to participate; but I try to keep my heavy sighs to myself because there are readers and thinkers out there who are (surprise!) not me. And they need to hear good information on the topic without being blamed or shamed for not already knowing it.
I have a friend who has been explaining natural family planning to skeptics for as long as there has been social media. She explains to scoffers that there really is a scientific basis for tracking fertility; she explains to progressive sneerers that the system is not inherently misogynistic; and she explains to conservative critics that periodic abstinence is not just another form of contraception that should only be used if you are literally in a concentration camp. She explains these things over and over and over again because there is always someone new who needs to know what she knows. I have never seen her lose her temper, and I have never seen her behave as if ignorance is stupidity.
We will all continue to learn, if we let ourselves, until the day we die—and then our true education begins.
This is what Christ did and continues to do.
Rather than growing more impatient and irate and frustrated with each repetition, my friend has taken a tedious job as the opportunity to hone her responses to be as articulate, efficient and compassionate as possible.
It is something we should all aspire to, no matter what our political or cultural leanings. Traditionalists tend to shame people for not having grown up with the same bedrock beliefs that they have grown up with; progressives tend to shame people for not having been exposed to the same broadening experiences they have been exposed to. In neither case is shaming helpful.
If we know or understand something important, the Christlike response is an eagerness to share, not irritation or frustration that the sharing has not already occurred. We should share it as joyfully and humbly as we can, grateful that someone taught it to us or that someone revealed it to us or that we were capable of understanding it.
I sometimes let myself believe I know a thing or two. But in truth, my heart and brain are a vast echoing well of empty space waiting to be filled up with the knowledge and understanding I still sorely lack. This is the human condition. We will all continue to learn, if we let ourselves, until the day we die—and then our true education begins.