6 October 2015

Dodgy and Iffy

"The Synod Fathers also considered the possibility of allowing genocide. Various synod fathers insisted on maintaining the the present discipline, because of ... Others proposed a more individualised approach, permitting genocide in certain situations and with certain well-defined conditions ... The subject needs to be thoroughly examined, bearing in mind the distinction between ... " etc. etc..

Thus Paragraph 122 of the Base Document of the Synod, reproducing Paragraph 52 of the document produced at last year's synod. Except, of course, that for genocide read  admission of remarried divorcees to the Sacraments.

I made the change, not because I regard genocide as being on an ethical level with admitting adulterers to Holy Communion, but to illustrate the rhetorical tricks being employed. We are all interested in rhetoric, aren't we? So here we go.

(1) The order of subjects. Maintaining the present discipline comes first, and is followed by Changing it. This is the trick of the Implied BUT.  First of all, you get out of the way the option which you wish to play down; then you follow it with your own preferred option. "Some board members think that you have worked here for fifty years and deserve to be retained in employment; others suggest a more nuanced approach to the moral obligations the firm has towards you ...". There's no doubt which side the speaker is on. You only have to reverse the order in which the alternatives are spelt out to see my point.

(2) Option 1 is laid out in 35 words; Option 2 in 101 words. Surprise!!! Option 2 is deployed with a (dubiously relevant) quotation from the Catechism; one wonders why no mention was made of the vast Magisterial back-up to Option 1.

(3) "The subject needs to be thoroughly examined ...". This is the trick of suppressing actual mention of who it is that has some view ... the Elision of Agency. It is often done by the use of passive or impersonal ("It is felt that ...") constructions. Just ask yourself: Is this sentence the view of the Committee which drafted the text? Or of the 2014 Synod as a whole? Is it what all the 2014 fathers unanimously agreed? Pull the other one! In fact, it is clearly part of the views of those advocating change. But it is given a lofty dignity by the grammatical structure. Not "We think it needs to be examined"; not "Kasper and his chums think it needs to be examined"; not even "Most fathers think it needs to be examined". Just "It needs to be examined"!

It is surprising what you can get away with if you avoid allowing your grammar to give away who is actually advocating what. Make it sound as if what you're saying is so obvious as to be above contradiction.

 It is has become clear to me, from reading this document and analysing its sleights of hand, that, embedded at the heart of the synodical process, are profoundly corrupt operators who are prepared to use any dodge they can lay their hands on, to pervert and to skew the deliberations of the fathers.

It doesn't suggest to me that they are particularly keen to take the risk of leaving it to the Holy Spirit to guide the Synod, despite all the Holy Father's fine talk about Synods being Protected Spaces for the Spirit.

Footnote: If anybody's interested ... this sort of close analysis of a text to see what games are really being played was a speciality of Dr Eric Mascall, a great Anglican Catholic theologian who had enjoyed a Mathematical education which included formal logic. He used to make mincemeat of the documents of Lambeth Conferences. He is part of the Patrimony which is our contribution to the life of the Universal Church.


GOR said...

Very perceptive, Father, and other examples abound. The use of the impersonal absolves the author from personal responsibility or ownership. “It is said…” “People say…” “Studies show…” all evince an air of authority, respectability…and deniability.

It puts me in mind of the scheming Francis Urquhart in “House of Cards” looking into the camera and piously proclaiming: “You might very well think that. I could not possibly comment.”

fxr2 said...

Thank you, Father. Your insight is always refreshing!


Deacon Augustine said...

Absolutely right, Fr. It is a devious manipulation of grammar to give a superficial appearance of balance with the real aim of skewing the imperative towards one particular desired outcome. In sales and marketing lingo the technique is known as "Everything before the "but" is b---s--t."

Next time somebody tries to sell you insurance, finance, political messages etc., it can be quite revealing to see how often the technique is deployed.

Little Black Sambo said...

Lord Somebody in a P.G. Wodehouse novel sends for the butler and says, "This glass has become broken".
When a doctor had badly let down a patient, and the patient later remonstrated, the receptionist said, "There was regret about that here".
"Falling pregnant" is similar: no human agency is involved.

ContSlÊibhe said...

Fr, where can we read Dr Mascall's critiques of the above mentioned Lambeth Conference papers?

Donna Bethell said...

And, on this side of the pond, the immortal Watergate observation: "Mistakes were made."