Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Why Notre Dame is Important

There has been a lot of angry sentiments lately over the invitation of President Obama to speak at Notre Dame's commencement and receive an honorary doctorate. Pro-life individuals are upset because President Obama stands in direct and unapologetic opposition to Church teaching. Pro-choice people are upset because they can't understand what the big deal is and think that it is just to attack the president. If I may, I would like to offer a thought to those who feel that President Obama should be allowed to speak at commencement.

Imagine, if you will, that a local chapter of PETA is having their yearly banquet. It will be a time to recognize the work that has been accomplished recently and get excited about what is on the horizon. The banquet will have a keynote speaker and dedicate about one-third of their time to that speaker. The speaker is chosen purely at the discrestion of the chair of the banquet committee.

As the banquet nears, the keynote speaker is announced. It is a famous businessman, who is very popular and influential in the local area. His charismatic ways will get everyone excited and ready to do their best for next year. However, it is also well-known that he owns several food plants in the state, keeping animals in small pens and butchering them.

Naturally, several members of the PETA chapter, as well as some in the wider world of PETA, are upset about the choice of keynote speaker. They send notices to the committe chair that they don't like the selection because his views conflict with their own. The committee chair is unapologetic. He is very proud to have such a distinguished individual at their banquet and refuses to find someone else. Besides, this will be the perfect chance to show people that PETA is willing to have a dialog with people of differing viewpoints. He does not mention that no one else will be allowed to speak while the businessman is present.

Undeterred, the upset members put together a petition to show the committe chair that a lot of other people are angry about the selection too. Members of the national board voice their opinion too, but stop short of throwing out an otherwise very useful PETA organizer. Other people get angry at the first group because they think that it is an attempt to smear the popular businessman, who is even now saying that he wants more ethical treatment of animals. He hasn't done anything to change his operation, of course.

Now, back to the point. If this dispute seems ridiculous, that is only because of the double-standard with which we have learned to ignore. It is okay for people to demand that their view is respected. It is laudable to state your opinion clearly and often, even to the extent that someone is embarrassed or loses their job. That is, unless, your view is somehow connected to your faith. Then, you are marginalized and demonized for being "close-minded."

A few thoughts on acceptable behavior:
  • It is perfectly acceptable for an individual, or group, to express their dissatisfaction on any subject, provided they remain respectful.
  • It is perfectly acceptable to state that someone should not be given a platform to speak at an organization that has differences with that individual.
  • It is acceptable to declare that you are distancing yourself from an organization that is unable to determine whether it is more important to be popular or steadfast.
  • It is acceptable to boycott the event to demonstrate your displeasure.
  • It is NOT acceptable to stage demonstrations at the event itself. The person might stand against you in everything, but they are still due respect.
I hope that clears things up a bit. I recognize the analogy is not perfect, but if you wish to leave comments on it, please do. Also note that I am neither for or against the many aims of PETA.

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