Catholic Culture Solidarity
Catholic Culture Solidarity

Back to the Future in Ireland

By Dr. Jeff Mirus ( bio - articles - email ) | Jan 30, 2012

I doubt things have deteriorated quite enough for this to go anywhere, but the logic of a recent hate crime complaint in Ireland is intriguing. Humanist John Colgan argued that a recent homily of Bishop Philip Boyce of Raphoe constituted a hate crime under an act passed in 1989.

Before I point out what is so interesting about this particular case, let me first acknowledge that the interplay of opposing factions in any culture is complex and varied. When groups disagree on fundamental issues, they naturally view any advance of the values of their opponents as a threat to, and therefore an attack on, their own values. Further, when people experience an effort to dismiss, weaken or marginalize their fundamental values, they naturally feel that they themselves are under attack.

This is a psychological reality, for our values are an important component of who we are. But it is also a situation which can be unreasonably exploited to gain purchase in today’s culture wars. The classic case is the coining of the word “homophobia”. It is now assumed broadly throughout Western culture that if someone opposes homosexual activity and the gay lifestyle, it is not because he judges homosexual acts to be wrong or dangerous but because he fears and hates all persons who experience same-sex attraction. This has immense rhetorical value for the gay and lesbian agenda because it changes the issue from a moral argument, which is presumably debatable, to a personal attack, which is presumably not.

It is useful to note, moreover, that when two groups battle each other’s ideas, the perception of being under attack is not necessarily limited to one side. Both sides may feel attacked at the same time, resulting in a mutual casting of blame, and an effort to use the emotional fallout to rally the faithful to defend the cause. This is normal, and we should be very much surprised if it were not the case. In fact, if it were not the case, we would presume that one side or the other did not really care very much about its own values.

Now what is interesting about John Colgan’s complaint is not that he accuses Bishop Boyce of saying specific hateful things about secularists, but that he apparently thinks it is a hate crime, first, to prefer Catholic values and, second, to observe that the Church is under attack by those who work to diminish the influence of those values. Thus Colgan’s complaint singles out two sentences in Bishop Boyce’s homily as especially hateful:

  1. The Preference: “[T]he distinguishing mark of Christian believers is the fact they have a future; it is not that they know all the details that await them, but they know in general terms that their life will not end in emptiness.”
  2. The Observation: The Church in Ireland is being “attacked from outside by the arrows of a secular and godless culture.”

This is very much like accusing a man of a hate crime because, while being mocked and denounced in the local bar for proclaiming his wife the most beautiful woman in the world, he has the temerity to notice that he is being abused. Ah, but Mr. Colgan probes beyond the obvious! He knows that this man who loves his wife really hates everyone who does not love her. If he did not hate them, he would not feel their abuse. Hence to point out the abuse is an admission of hate and even an incitement to hate.

Moreover, Mr. Colgan, who sees more clearly than other men, perceives immediately that anyone who claims to be the victim of an attack is really inciting an attack. In fact, he is almost certainly inciting the very attack to which he has called attention. That this is so may be proved by the logical principle of ante hoc ergo propter hoc (“before this therefore because of this”). In other words, because the attack came before it was noticed, therefore the attack must have been caused by being observed.

Or is it just barely possible that Bishop Boyce is right? Perhaps Mr. Colgan had no choice but to logically invert the passage of time. Perhaps, as a self-proclaimed Humanist, Mr. Colgan has no future.

Jeffrey Mirus holds a Ph.D. in intellectual history from Princeton University. A co-founder of Christendom College, he also pioneered Catholic Internet services. He is the founder of Trinity Communications and See full bio.

Sound Off! supporters weigh in.

All comments are moderated. To lighten our editing burden, only current donors are allowed to Sound Off. If you are a current donor, log in to see the comment form; otherwise please support our work, and Sound Off!

Show 1 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: wolfdavef3415 - Jan. 30, 2012 9:38 PM ET USA

    "I doubt things have deteriorated quite enough for this to go anywhere..." This is how I felt about the gross violations of the First Amendment we are now seeing. I wouldn't rest on my laurels here. Imagine. The Church silenced in America and Ireland. Who's next? Rome? I can honestly say, Dr. Mirus, that I disagree with my quoted sentiment. I agree with your, as usual, surgical assessment of the claim itself, but those to whom it was forwarded to do not inspire the greatest hope.