Padre Paul’s Ponderings: Do We Know What We are Outraged About?

I have to admit, one of the things that has annoyed me in recent years is how it seems
once a week now, a story emerges where one group of people is apparently upset or
outraged over something. The media reports on a few people being angry, and then it
seems to take on a life of its own and snowball so you get the impression that everyone
is angry. However, my sense is most people aren’t really that outraged as often as the
media might make it seem. They are more concerned their daily lives. True outrage
would come when they see a grave act of injustice; I think of 9/11 in my own lifetime for
instance, a horrific event that outraged and united a country to take a stand against evil.

Now don’t get me wrong, sometimes there are things to be outraged about. Anger can
be quite justifiable. Jesus is angry when He sees merchants being oblivious to the
sacredness of the Temple which is why He overturns the tables and chairs and cries out
to stop turning His Father’s house into a marketplace. And tragically, we have seen
apathy too and a lack of outrage in the world at times. For instance, I recently read how
with the attitudes of the world in the 1930s, if Hitler had not invaded Poland but simply
focused on murdering the Jewish people in Germany, the world likely would not have
intervened at all. And in more modern times, we have also seen a lack of moral outrage
from things such as racism and sexism to abortion.

The point is that sometimes being angry about something in the greater world or even
among our family and friends is warranted. Apathy and lack of caring is a big problem.
But so too is being overly-offended by something too. So what is a person to do?

For starters, I think it’s important to remember that just as we have mortal and venial
sins, we also have degrees of things in the world that are morally wrong. For instance,
in recent weeks, there has been a lot of news coverage about the Governor of Virginia,
Robert Northam.

He recently made comments on third trimester abortions, saying in cases of severe
deformity that were a child born they would be kept comfortable and “The infant would
be resuscitated if that’s what the mother and the family desired, and then a discussion
would ensue between the physicians and the mother.” With respect to proposed
legislation in Virginia, there is a bill that is under consideration that actually eliminates
the requirement that two other physicians certify that a third trimester abortion is
necessary to prevent the woman’s death or impairment of her mental or physical health,
as well as the need to find that any such impairment to the woman’s health would be
substantial and irremediable. And then in New York, abortion laws were recently
expanded to allow the abortionist to end a child’s life so long as the abortionist makes a
“reasonable and good-faith judgment” that abortion will protect the woman’s health.
While supporters of these pieces of legislation would contend that third trimester
abortions are rare and that they would be done only if a child were severely deformed or
the mother’s health were in danger, the states say otherwise. A 2013 study of abortions
after the 20th week of pregnancy indicated that “most women seeking later terminations
are not doing so for reasons of fetal anomaly or life endangerment.” There are an estimated 12,000 abortions after week 20 in the United States; that’s higher than the
annual number of guy homicides each year. But, I ask myself, where is the outrage over
that?

The thing of it is though is these abortion comments and bills did not receive a ton of
coverage. What did was a photo from 1984 where the future governor may have been in
blackface, a KKK hood, or none of the above as the story and his memory of the party
changed. There were calls for his resignation from many in his own party; however it
seems at least at the time of this writing that he will be staying on.

I think we can all agree wearing a KKK hood at a party, or wearing black face, really
isn’t appropriate and is insensitive. It’s wrong. That’s clear.

But here’s what I found a bit perplexing: there was far less outrage over the liberalizing
of laws to kill unborn children then there was from a photo taken at a party in 1984 that
was just discovered.

So which is the greater moral evil here?

I use this case as just one example. The point is there are degrees of moral gravity.
Whatever it is that crops up, we should know the issue, ask ourselves what does the
Church teach on it, and respond appropriately. With respect to the photo, were I in
Virginia and a supporter of someone who had been in the photo, I’d want to know was it
taken recently or long ago? Has the person changed? What do their beliefs represent
now?

Second, we also have to know the facts of the story too. We’ve seen time and time
again how a story gets people riled up and leads them to rush to judgment, sometimes
getting the facts wrong and in the process destroying a person’s reputation. If you are
outraged about something that seems offensive, make sure it’s a factual story first!

But third, we also have to remember people do change. Can we be outraged over a
sin? Yes. But what if a person says “I made a mistake, I’ve learned from it.”? We must
remember that it’s easy to get outraged about things that come to light, and in the day of
social media it’s easy for a person’s past to come back and bite them. But are we open
to people changing? When things come to light, we also need to be open to recognizing
that people can change. As I’ve said before, if all moments of your life were on tape,
how would that look if someone took a few minutes or even seconds and that now
defined you?

Lastly, as I said we must be people of action too. As someone who has always been
fond of history, I’ve often wondered why there was at times such a lack of outrage at
various points. Today, how can so many say “I’m against abortion and would never
consider it, but who am I to tell someone what to do with their body?” There are indeed
things that should make us angry, but the anger needs to lead to action.

My gut tells me that while a quick read of media outlets might make it seem like
everyone is offended, as I said my sense is most people aren’t, and some that do get
offended don’t get offended at the right things. Hearing confessions now for 12 years
and going to confession for about 33 years now, I can assure you we all do things we
aren’t proud of. God wasn’t offended though by our sinfulness; He chose to act and
become one of us and suffer and die for us all.

Outrage has it’s place – but hopefully it always leads to change, where we are angry at
some of the things we do and some of the things that others do, but do not wallow in
shame or anger, but use God’s grace to replace hate with love, despair with hope, and
anger with peace. Shouting on social media may be all well and fine, but far better is
conversion and learning from mistakes we make and recognizing evil so it can lead to
true conversion and change.

God’s blessings to you this week,

Fr. Paul