Desperate for nuance

There’s a twitter war going on right now about a priest tweeting about women covering their shoulders at Mass. (I feel no need to link to it because the specifics aren’t the point.)

I find the tweet poorly stated and ill-advised. There are things that are best stated in long form, not in a tweet. If I was forced to give a thumbs up or down to the tweet, it would be a thumbs down. It lacked any nuance or tact.

But just as maddening are the reply tweets and blog posts. They too lack any nuance. They write as if covering shoulders is only about the shoulders and not the level of coverage of the torso as a whole. They write as if there is no nuance in the issue of distraction and men should be able to avoid being distracted by a woman no matter how she is dressed. They write as if there are no standards for men’s dress to ensure some level of modesty from them. They write as if a request for modesty in dress from women is mutually exclusive to the request that men control their behavior and their eyes. They act as if the Church can’t work on solving more than one problem at a time (specifically distracting with the issue of the priest abuse scandal).

And I’m not saying the above as if there isn’t some appropriate balance. There’s a spectrum of dress from the very modest to the down-right hyper sexual. I’d hope those defending the priest would recognize that there are times when some scrupulous person takes offense at appropriately modest clothing. We should be wary of making overly black-and-white statements in defense of modesty.

I’d also hope those objecting to the priest’s tweet would recognize that there is a point where immodesty is distracting to even the most chaste eyed man. Along those lines, I’d hope they’d be willing to discuss the idea that clothing standards have value even when the specifics can create arbitrary lines. It can both be true that there can be clothing that meets an arbitrary standard and be more immodest than one that does not, but also true that a semi-arbitrary standard can still have the effect of keeping clothing appropriately modest.

I’d love to be able to discuss the matter intelligently with others. I’d love to have a productive and valuable discussion about how to avoid the worst of both extremes. But I feel like any attempt to discuss the matter in a nuanced and mature way will get shouted down by both sides and nothing of value will be discussed in any depth.

And it’s not just this topic. It feels like just about any topic these days has become polarized and lacking in any middle ground. It seems that in just about any topic, any middle ground statement will be met with condemnation from both polarized extremes. Or (and this can sometimes be worse) it can be embraced by one side and viewed as part of the polarized discussion, despite the evenhanded words.

And thus I am desperate for some nuance in our world.

One Comment

  1. Clark Schumacher

    At the risk of displaying my ignorance in public I would like to comment on several points in your post. Oh how I share your wish for nuance and consideration for others opinions. Not just in the church but in so many walks of life there seems to be, as you stated, “no middle ground.” And yet through life experience I’ve learned that the middle ground between two extremes is often the “best”, or most correct. Not always, but often.

    This environment is contributed to by the social media such as Twitter and similar apps that lead to one firing off a thought before some due consideration to its effect on others. I’ve been guilty of this myself to some extent by email but it seems to happen even more on the instant communications available on smart phones. I think the best some of us can do is control our own urge to respond in kind when these types of communications appear, and when possible try to remind others to try and control their emotions. This behavior is damaging in government, the work place, even among families and yes, certainly within the church. Wish I had an answer!

    And, a comment about the original subject of the tweet, which I know wasn’t directly what you were addressing but: I’ve wondered about the sometimes lack of modest dress and even clothing that I personally don’t consider appropriate for church although I realize I’m old fashioned and “times change.” And I certainly wouldn’t presume to tell someone else how to dress; I guess that is up to their level of respect and consideration and their own conscience. Perhaps a Deacon or Priest could though, as you say, in a more considerate way than by twitter?

    On the subject of immodest dress, its not just about men controlling their thoughts (I find closing your eyes and saying a silent Hail Mary helps!) It is also distracting to some women; it bothers my wife more than it does me. And when it occurs by a male it is even more distracting!

    All of which brings me to a question: Is there any sort of dress code, or policy, or even suggestion, at St. Clare or elsewhere in the Church?

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