Catholic Culture Podcasts
Catholic Culture Podcasts

How not to be persuasive

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | Oct 29, 2014

When I’m not busy reading and writing about Catholic affairs, I spend some of free time on local civic affairs. Recently a heated controversy has broken out in the town where we live, and I have played a small role in trying to resolve it. I’ll spare you the details, which are complicated and not terribly edifying, and not at all germane to the point I want to make here.

This past weekend, I received two messages from people who disagree with the position that I (and, I think, most of the people in town) have taken. It is the style of those messages, not the content, that you might find interesting.

Message #1 went something like this:

You are an idiot. Also you’re dishonest. No sane or honest person could take the position you have taken, because [argument X]. But I know you won’t change your stand—even though you know you’re wrong—because you’re hopelessly corrupt.

Message #2 was along these lines:

I admire the work you’ve done for the town, and I know that you want what you think is best. Since I usually agree with you, I was surprised to find that we disagree on this issue. Have you thought about [argument X]? Please consider this carefully; I’d like to have you on our side.

These two messages made the same essential point: argument X. But I found one message far more persuasive than the other. Can you guess which one? Right.

Now what does this have to do with Catholic affairs?

Some Catholics are convinced the Pope Francis favors the “Kasper proposal” and will make a determined effort to promote it during the coming year and at the 2015 meeting of the Synod. If that is the case—and I hope it is not, but I cannot exclude the possibility—then I would like to persuade him to change his mind. Meanwhile, since there are many other Catholics who have already embraced the Kasper proposal, I would like to change their minds as well. To do so, I am quite certain, arguments structured like Message #2 will be far more effective than those resembling Message #1.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at See full bio.

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  • Posted by: MWCooney - Feb. 27, 2017 2:44 PM ET USA

    The only persons conned are the faithful who continue to blindly follow a hierarchy that has been infiltrated and subverted by ideologies that are most hostile to the Church. And those hierarchies demand that the conned pay attention only to their own (the subversive hierarchy's) pronouncements, and not to bother investigating traditional, "rigid" viewpoints ... ironically, one of the key aspects of the "clericalism" that they so vociferously denounce. Many millstones are awaiting so many.

  • Posted by: claude-ccc2991 - Feb. 25, 2017 2:39 PM ET USA

    Some Bishops act more like termites than teachers. Agree with earlier points that many Bishops aren't being fooled in the least - they are leading the charge - and that CCHD is a left-wing community organizer's honey pot to which I stopped giving decades ago. Catholics need to seriously think of shifting more support toward Catholic entities that promote authentic faith, either by legitimate and undiluted works of mercy, or sound and unyielding defense of Catholic truth.

  • Posted by: rickt26170 - Feb. 24, 2017 6:03 PM ET USA

    OK: much of Church leadership doesn't like 21st century capitalism. (Neither did Trump voters - but that won't be credited.) And they want big changes. In the last century one political reality stands out - utopians urging fundamental socio-economic changes are absolutely required to outline the alternative road they seek. Left wing utopians went on a killing spree in the 20th century - and most would have liked the Modesto screed. So what does the Church want in words that have meaning?

  • Posted by: grateful1 - Feb. 24, 2017 11:51 AM ET USA

    Sadly, the bishops have not been "conned," "used," "exploited," or "suckered." The Modesto Statement reflects the views of many bishops, and they support it with eyes wide open. I stopped donating to the CCHD years ago, after pulling teeth to obtain a copy of their grantees--which, as I'd suspected, consisted of a variety of leftist front groups hostile to the Church's teachings, including her opposition to abortion. I later stopped giving to the USCCB as well, for the same reasons.

  • Posted by: feedback - Feb. 23, 2017 3:22 PM ET USA

    It's hard to figure out what was the actual goal of the Modesto meeting and Statement. But it certainly undermines the moral authority of the Catholic Church, especially with the involvement of heavyweight hierarchy.

  • Posted by: koinonia - Feb. 23, 2017 1:36 PM ET USA

    "Again I’m reminded of the First Rule of Poker Strategy: After 15 minutes at the table, if you haven’t yet identified the sucker, stand up and walk away; you’re the sucker." Unless the reality at the table is that there are no suckers.

  • Posted by: ElizabethD - Feb. 23, 2017 9:11 AM ET USA

    At least the angelic hierarchies escaped condemnation.