The shooting spree that took place this week in Arizona has awakened in me a deep conviction that I have had since my teen years when I was in a Roman Catholic seminary in formation for the priesthood. It was there that I heard for the first time the proposition that the behavior of the priest must be above reproach to the degree that even the “weakest” among the members of the faithful would not be induced into immoral or even, unbecoming behavior. This rule of clerical behavior was given to us based on the admonition of St. Paul to the Corinthians, in his first letter to them, chapter 8.
In more general terms and as a definition of what I mean by “scandal of the weak” I put before you you the following definition:
SCANDAL OF THE WEAK:
Disedifying morally weak persons by permissible conduct. Circumstances determine the duty in charity to avoid giving scandal to the weak. The existence of such a duty is clear from the teaching of St. Paul, who would not eat meat that had been offered to idols lest he scandalize the weaker brethren. He warned the early Christians not to rationalize their conduct but to follow his example, lest "by sinning in this way against our brothers and injuring their weak consciences, it would be Christ against whom you sinned" (I Corinthians 8:12). This obligation in charity is such that one may licitly refrain from fulfilling even a grave positive precept that is not necessary for salvation in order to prevent serious scandal to the weak. Behind the obligation is the mandate of selfless love that seeks not only to help another in obvious need but also by self-restraint to protect another from spiritual harm.
(All items in this dictionary are from Fr. John Hardon's Modern Catholic Dictionary, © Eternal Life. Used with permission. Taken from Catholic Culture.org)
For those of you who do not believe in the Bible as a whole; those who don’t believe in the Christian part of the Bible, I offer this generally accepted, verifiable analogy of fact.
In an epidemic, or a pandemic, it is the weak (the very young and the old) who suffer most and who generally die first. Those who are more likely to withstand the ravages of the illness do all they can to protect those who are most susceptible to be damaged. In fact, in such cases behavior that is perfectly legal will in many cases not be exhibited in order to maintain peace and tranquility in the afflicted community. I once lived in a community that was being ravaged by El Tor (a kind of cholera). Everyone was warned to boil all water, even water that was not destined for drinking or for the kitchen. Some of the people had access to bottled water from the Coca Cola trucks, but they would boil that water too so that even (especially, I might say) the less initiated into the ways of the world would not be shocked and perhaps induced to not boil all the water that they had to use.
I submit to you then that the same type of behavior should be practiced by us all when we speak in the public arena. It is clear to me that some will not agree. I have already heard some say that they are sure that this event in Arizona will be “demagogued” (sic) by some. The perpetrator of this act is a lunatic who has taken to understanding political speech in his own way. This understanding that he gave to what he heard and read was away from the metaphorical meaning that was in the mind of the speakers and/or writers. The people who uttered or wrote these words are therefore not culpable for the actions of the attacker.
I am sure that we are going to hear this line of reasoning aplenty as the days go by.
This is the thinking of people who equate their moral life with the exercise of their civil law rights. The freedom of speech is really a wonderful thing. But any defined freedom, even this one, is not infinite in its reach. It is never permitted to use a freedom to do evil or to induce others into doing evil. The level of violent political speech, both on the literal side and the metaphorical side has escalated in the past twenty-four months. There can be no denial of that fact. The examples abound. It is time that we recognize that we have to tone it down because it is not morally correct. It is an abuse of the freedom of speech.
I say this because it does indeed induce the “weak” into acting immorally. The purveyors of such speech cannot hide behind the fact that they have the freedom to say what they want. In fact, they do not have that freedom when it becomes clear that the mode of speech that they employ is dangerous for the common welfare. No one is free to inundate the weak with speech that can influence them and cause them to act in a nefarious way. Those who persist in using speech with violent pictures cannot exculpate themselves from the effects of what they have put out into the community atmosphere under the guise of freedom of speech.
It is not morally correct to hide behind the notion that the vast majority of the population understands what is being said, in metaphor and in literal meaning. It is not always permissible to use the words that are deemed to be the most powerful for the moment. Morality is not a democratic concept. If what is done or said is dangerous for one person, even if not for the many, it must be withheld from those who would be adversely impacted by it for the welfare of the community.
I have said my piece. I am convinced that I am right, even though there will be those who will disagree. It matters not. I will bring this conviction of mine all the way to the grave. Whether I go today or tomorrow or next year. Stop your foolishness, already!