The Beast Advances Part II
by Kevin O’Brien
It occurred to me what the thread is, not only in people arguing unreasonably on the internet, but on a number of things we encounter in our lives.
The thread is Bad Faith.
When a fellow becomes a Facebook “friend” only to post a nasty and superficial attack upon the Catholic Church on my Facebook “wall”, and then runs away when I point out the fallacies of his argument, he is not arguing in Good Faith. When a teen-aged punk uses profanity on my youtube combox in an effort to claim that God is an immoral monster, he is not arguing in Good Faith. When an unemployed transvestite rails against those filthy men who define things in life like gender, the oppressive males who believe in the outmoded Western notion of the law of non-contradiction, he is not arguing in Good Faith. Almost anyone you engage in debate who defends torture these days is not really open to reasoned arguments against torture from either a theological or a moral perspective; they are simply trying to rationalize their position and placate their fear. Indeed, every torture supporter I have yet to engage is simply not arguing in Good Faith – though it may take a few hours to figure this out.
What do I mean by this? I don’t mean that these people are arguing poorly or stupidly or in a bigoted or wrong-headed way. I mean that they are not arguing at all.
To argue is to engage in a discourse of reason, through which the parties attempt to discover which party is closer to the truth. Now even in arguments of Good Faith, people can become heated and their logic can be faulty and their ability to communicate imperfect, but a Good Faith argument is an argument where all of the parties are indeed open to discovering the truth, either by convincing the opponent of the wrongness of his position, or by being convinced of the wrongness of one’s own.
But I find myself frustrated on the internet because I defend my own faith and attacks upon it presuming that those attacking it are attacking in Good Faith and will be open to reasoned rebuttals.
That’s right, ha!
But then, if you think about it so much of what we see in life has to do with people approaching things in Bad Faith. I had actors who were supposed to be helping us evangelize through drama, but who had no interest in evangelizing and only wanted paid work. I often negotiate with clients who poor-mouth me, not because they really can’t afford our services but because they’re simply jerking us around. And, believe it or not, there are women who show an interest in famous Catholic actors not because they really like them but simply because they want to get them in their famous Catholic bedroom. These are all examples of people dealing in Bad Faith.
And then there are the people who operate in Good Faith, but who are so incompetent that they appear to be operating in Bad Faith, like a client who books you and intends to return your contract and promote your show, but who simply never does either.
And then there are the people who argue in Good Faith, but who take more pride in scoring petty victories in argumentation than in an honest search for the truth; though if they can subdue their own competitive streaks, they indeed will be open to hearing a reasoned case.
Now why, in all of these things, do we use the terms Good Faith and Bad Faith? Does any of this really have to do with Faith, that is to say the grace of Faith, theological faith in God?
I have just recorded for Ignatius Press Audio Books a brilliant sermon by John Henry Newman on the relation between Faith and Works. What Newman says (and I may in fact expand on this in another post) is that Faith is the gateway, and the works that follow Faith are the works of co-operation with the Spirit dwelling in us, the gift of the Spirit purchased for us by Christ’s passion, and given to us once we assent to the grace of Faith, and therefore are Good Works leading to sanctification, sanctification being the prerequisite of life in Heaven; whereas bad works are those performed before passing through the gateway of Faith, works which are of the unregenerate man only, works which have no divine co-operation, and are therefore unavailing, such as the dead works of the Law of which St. Paul speaks. Newman says both St. Paul and St. James are right: Works without Faith are dead; Faith without Works is dead; we are saved by both, our living Faith being the prerequisite for fruitful Works, Works which, inspired by the Spirit of Faith, become meritorious in God’s eyes.
And the same is true on the natural level. Theologically meritorious works aside, let’s speak simply of the works men do, inspired or not – works considered from a merely human and temporal perspective.
All human things done in Bad Faith, which is to say without one’s heart being in the right place, are wrong, even from a social point of view and not a spiritual one. In other words, things done for ulterior motives, done in some degree malevolently and not benevolently, done without the honesty and integrity and earnestness they deserve – things not done in Good Faith – are in some way or another always wrong and hurtful.
And we can see that if a person exhibits Good Faith in anything, it is much easier to cut this person some slack. If, for example, a student writes an essay that is poorly written, but shows an honest effort, the essay being the disappointing product of a genuine attempt, a Good Faith attempt, we are liable to praise this more than a shoddy essay, or even a fairly good essay, written by a student off-handedly or lazily or dishonestly, the result of a Bad Faith attempt.
And when it comes to Faith, there are Good Faith attempts to approach Faith and Bad Faith attempts to approach Faith. If a person really desires to understand the Gospel, but honestly struggles with Church scandal, shocking things in Scripture, the bad behavior of Christians, or the unwillingness to renounce sin, I think any of us would be willing to talk to such a person at length, for as long as it took to elucidate the truth.
But when a person is only playing games, ringing your doorbell and running, throwing sticks and stones and throwing about nasty names, and simply spewing venom, then I think it’s time to shake the dust off of our feet as a witness against him.
But we must be careful. I myself was a nasty little Bad Faith brat at one time, a vehement proponent of atheism and a vocal hater of the Church.
And yet it was not until I began to approach the whole issue of God – and life itself – in Good Faith that things began to change, and the gift of True Faith was eventually given to me.
So, in conclusion, I think we must assume everyone we meet is dealing in Good Faith, until he or she shows evidence to the contrary, at which point we need to exercise some prudence and wisdom about the ways of this world and the miserable darkness of the human heart.