Trigger Warnings Are Offensive

Elizabeth Scalia directed me to a story about Columbia University students who are offended by Ovid’s The Metamorphoses, because Generation Participation Trophy never gets tired of tryIng to slap a bike helmet and elbow pads on civilization.

The poor little snowflakes are claiming that ancient classics like Ovid’s retelling of The Rape of Persephone triggered a rape victim, and that the professor was insensitive to her complaints. They don’t bother to say what she wanted (probably a pass on finishing an assignment: these are college students we’re talking about) or what he was supposed to do.

By the way, we translated The Metamorphoses from the Latin in ninth grade. Apparently 1980s high-school freshmen were made of tougher stuff than the little buttercups wandering college campuses today.

Here’s what a group of them had to say:

Ovid’s “Metamorphoses” is a fixture of Lit Hum, but like so many texts in the Western canon, it contains triggering and offensive material that marginalizes student identities in the classroom. These texts, wrought with histories and narratives of exclusion and oppression, can be difficult to read and discuss as a survivor, a person of color, or a student from a low-income background.

The BS is strong with this one.

Note the nonsense buzzwords and the attacks on “the Western canon,” which were going on when I was in college 30 years ago. What the current generation has done is pathologize the canon so that it’s seen not merely as “racist” or “imperialist” or “sexist,” but as physically and mentally harmful. It’s a scam, and they make it clear that it’s a scam by extending it from victims of real and horrific sexual violence (“survivors” in their cushiony patois) to “a person of color, or a student from a low-income background.”

Rembrandt, Rape of Prosperina

Rembrandt, Rape of Prosperina

By doing this, they extend the pathology from genuine trauma to include race and class as well. They are saying that race and class are themselves implicitly traumatic and need to be approached as one would a true mental illness. They’re saying that being non-white or poor is a kind of disability that requires special accommodations. Am I the only person who sees that as grossly offensive?

Here’s the deeper problem: triggering is a real thing in mental illness and trauma. A trigger can lead to serious psychological and physiological effects, trawling up memories that haven’t been properly dealt with and leading to anxiety attacks. Anyone who understands anxiety knows this to be true.

However, a victim of violence who is triggered so easily and frequently is suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and needs serious counseling and medication. If they try to assiduously avoid any and all potential triggers, then they are not engaged in healing. They are engaged in avoidance. Indeed, avoiding “triggers” is a way of avoiding coming to grips with the problem, which has the effect of worsening the PTSD.

The answer is not to reshape the public square to accommodate them, because literally anything (a color, a smell) can be a trigger. Trigger warnings exist only to claim public victim status and reshape the debate. Where sexual violence is the issue, they are working hand-in-hand with the myth of the “rape epidemic” as a way of demonizing men to serve a political agenda. (Rates of sexual violence have plummeted over the past two decades. There is no epidemic.)

Trigger warnings are not an outgrowth of a real healing process that shows concern for someone who is suffering, but rather a way for the individual (and their ideological clique) to assert control and declare autonomy and self-importance. Generations of people suffering serious trauma, from things like war and ethnic cleansing, managed to integrate themselves into society without being swaddled in a bubble-wrap of warnings and accommodations. This attempt to neuter the college campus and remove anything difficult or offensive is just the latest front in the war of identity politics, and they trivialize the real struggles of those who suffer from psychological problems.

My other writing about mental illness can be found here.

Are You A Welcome Light?

There’s a prayer in the Divine Office that asks

Teach us to work for the good of all,
whether the time is right or not;
make your Church a welcome light for
the whole human family.

Am I a welcoming light? When I speak and write and teach about the Church, do I draw people in, or push them away?

Wikimedia commons

Wikimedia commons

I listen to a lot of presentations to Catholics with children in religious education. Many of those Catholics aren’t serious about, or even practicing, their faith. The speakers try to present a reason for re-engaging that faith, and though their points are correct, the tone often is flat and even off-putting. There’s nothing to draw people in to the life and joy of the gospel, which can only really be lived in its fullness in the Church. If I was not already a regular mass-goer, little in those presentations would convince me to show up on Sunday.

We are commanded to always be prepared to give a reason for our joy, but do we? Do we even feel the joy? Do we know our reasons? When we speak of our faith, is it a lived thing of hope and goodness, or simply another American ideological splinter group?

The internet once seemed to be full of grand possibility for evangelization and faith formation. It certainly helped me make friends, develop my prayer life, and deepen my understand of the faith by interactions with knowledgeable people. There’s still a lot of that out there. Fr. Barron, Jimmy Akin, Scott Hahn, and many others continue to be welcoming light for many: firm and orthodox in their teaching, but radiating peace and joy in the truth of the faith.

But the divisions in the American church become stark and aggressive in the amplifying environment of the internet. Every parish has their cranks, but now those cranks set up blogs and attract thousands of readers who flock to read insults and invective. Pride leads both dissidents and traditionalists into ego-driven acts of exclusion.

We hold our truths in a tension that doesn’t sit well on any ideological spectrum. There may be truth in the particulars of a rant against, for example, the gay agenda or the use of torture, but what is the total effect of that rant?

The truth serves a purpose, which is to lead others to it. Jesus himself was told “This is a hard truth; who can hear it?” The goal is to have those who listen embrace the completeness of the truth. Some truths are hard, and they don’t get any easier by wrapping them in euphemism.

And, of course, they cannot compromised.

But the real distinction isn’t a matter of whether what you’re saying is right or wrong. If we’re saying something that conforms to the teaching of the Church, then it is always right. The question is whether it is effective or ineffective.

This instantly raises another question: effective for what?

Obviously, everyone has their own reason for writing or speaking about the faith in public. Some are working through their own doubts and troubles, some are evangelizing, some are teaching or defending, some are just expressing their joy at a life in Christ. There is certainly no shortage of error in the world and the Church that needs to be confronted and corrected lest it lead others into error. But there is a fine line between addressing something that needs to be corrected, and just wallowing in hatred and fear. And fear has become the dominant emotion of way too many public Catholics.

Imagine, for a moment, that you are the only Catholic a person will encounter, either in real life or in something you’ve written or shared on the internet.

Will that person, who either knows nothing of the faith or has fallen away, see the Church as something of power and truth and love and happiness in what you say or do or share?

I’m not asking if they’ll agree with you. Since people in the modern world are conditioned to accept lies as truth, persuasion is another, more difficult matter. I’m asking if that person will see the light of Christ shine through you in spite of, or perhaps even because of, your expression of a hard truth.

When Jesus was confronted over his “hard saying,” he replied that his words were full of spirit and life. Ours must be as well.

The first step in being a Christian is to repent and believe in the Gospel. Neither of those things is easy, and there may be years of struggle hidden in that little word “and” before people succeed. Conversion is a process, and those of us who are further along in the journey need to find the most effective ways to accompany those still in the dark woods or on the rocky path.

We need to let the spirit and life of Christ shine through us, so we can be a light others will want to follow.