There is a very interesting debate going on among some of my favorite blogging dames. Danielle Bean (here) and Erin Manning (here and here) are discussing some of the issues surrounding family planning. Actually they are discussing how some of the issues surrounding family planning are discussed. I find this fascinating in that words are so key to proper understanding, but understanding is also very key to words.
I know that probably did not make much sense. Sometimes when we speak or write we assume that the words we use are properly and easily understood by others. When an apparent disconnect arises, it can be very frustrating. Just the other day, I wrote a post about eschatology. In the combox I got a lil’ grumpy because I felt as if my “obvious” points were being repeatedly missed. Matthew reminded me that people did not understand the words I was using in the same way that I meant them. I then told Matthew that he is an idiot and to leave me alone. However, when I went back the next day an re-read my post and the comments, I realized that he was actually right. Hey, even a broken clock is right twice a day.
Anyway, due to my own familiarity with the subject about which I was writing, I realized that I was using words in a way in which they would not be properly understood. I assumed context would clarify, but it was actually lazy writing on my part. When I referred simply to “eschatology” I should have made the distinction between universal or cosmic eschatology and personal or individual eschatology. I thought that the context would make it clear but I was wrong. So me and my combox buddies talked past each other for a while even though we were using the same words.
This brings me back to the discussion about how to discuss family planning and the use of one simple and easily understood phrase, “open to life” We all know what that means, don’t we? Well, don’t we?
Does to be “open to life” mean “Have as many babies as humanly possible?” or that even NFP is bad? Does spacing children or waiting make you less “open to life” even if you are not using illicit means? Conversely, does having another child when your resources (define that one, I dare you) are already strained mean that you are not family planning, just reproducing? Does trusting God when with another when others think it is irresponsible mean you are not a good parent to those children already in your care?
Point is, “open to life” means different things to different people. Add to this the deep emotion people feel on this topic and it is very easy for people to talk past each other even though they are using the same words. Further exacerbating this discussion, and many many many discussions all over the Catholic blogsophere, are those who always think that they are more Catholic than you. It doesn’t matter where you come down on an issue, there is always somebody more Catholic than you ready to tell you what you are doing wrong and why you should be shopping for a time share in hell. I just love those guys.
Anyway, this is all just a long way of saying that I learned and important lesson this week. Next time when I am frustrated that otherwise smart people are missing my point, I will try to step back and look at my terms. Chances are, we are not speaking the same language.
As for what “open to life” really means, I certainly know the correct answer. However, I am not saying anything because when men speak on this subject, we are absolutely guaranteed to be misunderstood.