|"Against the spirit of the world, the Church takes up anew each day a struggle that is none other than the struggle for the world’s soul" (John Paul II, Crossing the Threshold of Hope).|
August 29, 2011. The Catholic Church has been a builder
of culture for over two millennia, and has faced different
forms of “culture war” throughout its long and battle-scarred history.
But perhaps never has the Church faced a challenge like
the “battle for the soul of the world” in the
For those with an interest in understanding the
roots and consequences of the cultural battle underway in today’s
world, we present The Battle for the Soul of the
World, by Fr Luis Garza, LC. Originally presented as a
series of lectures for university students attending a leadership conference,
it is offered here as a formation resource for teams
and individuals who will find the lecture notes to be
thought-provoking material for reflection and discussion.
The complete text with study
guide questions can be downloaded in PDF format here.
Part 2 of the 10-part series is presented below, and the
following parts will be published on the web site on
Manipulation of Society
society can be altered if one knows how to use
the levers of social change. However, to turn something good
into something bad, it is not enough simply to present
ideas; such influence requires resorting to manipulation. Manipulation makes something
bad seem good, not by appealing to reason but to
There are three battle tactics for using the
levers of social change, two ideological and one operational.
The first and most important tactic is based on
Hegel’s conception of dialectics as the driving force of history.
In Hegel’s view, everything happens through dialectics, which consists of
a conflict between thesis and antithesis, resulting in a synthesis.
Marx accepts this hypothesis but brings it down from the
world of ideas in to materialism. Thus, for Marxism, history
is the unfolding of dialectical materialism.
Marx’s followers always seek
social conflicts to stir up passions. They pit men against
women, rich against poor, Indians against Europeans, white people against
black people. However, the strategy only works if some kind
of utopia is promised as the end result (synthesis) of
the dispute between the two warring parties (thesis-antithesis). The perfect
historical example of this manipulation is real communism, which pitted
the proletariat against the bourgeoisie, claiming that the outcome would
be emancipation and freedom for the proletariat. This never came
to be. Instead, the aftermath was a ruthless and inhuman
The second tactic is a series of dialectics aimed
to persuade. For clarity’s sake, I offer a few examples:
- Dilemma: In a discussion a dilemma can be instigated
by absolutizing one of its elements. For example, you say
to a teenager, “You’re independent. How can you obey your
parents?” As we know, one can be both independent and
obedient to one’s parents. However, the first term is presented
as if it were exclusive.
- Language manipulation: Another form
of manipulation consists in the so-called “Operation Turtle,” which involves
using the same word but with a different meaning. The
concepts of family and marriage have suffered this manipulation. Today
there is much talk in Western society of different models
of the family, each of which insists that its meaning
must not be restricted. But in reality there is only
one concept of family. Manipulation also takes place through the
so-called “Operation Rejection,” which consists in rejecting an existing term
because of the strength of the concept behind it, which
does not allow it to be so easily manipulated. Thus,
since the term “sex” cannot be used to promote the
homosexual agenda, the use of the word “gender” was promoted
instead. After all, they could make the word “gender” fit
with the concept of a man attracted to other men,
- Deifying concepts: There are concepts, such as freedom,
democracy, tolerance, rights, etc., that for their inner value and
strength are untouchable. So, they are used in concert with
other ideas being promoted. How many times have we heard
phrases like this one? “You have to accept the rights
of homosexuals, including marriage rights. Otherwise, you are not being
- Conflating consensus and consent: When a group votes
in favor of something and chooses to do it, a
consensus is reached, but consent has not necessarily been given.
A majority vote does not create the goodness of the
thing voted for. Yet, democracy is used to decide whether
something is good or bad and to make other people
accept these decisions. It is as if we could democratically
decide the color of a shirt. John Paul II said
that “when democracy is not based on principles and on
what makes a person a human being (on natural laws),
it can be the worst tyranny.”
- Manipulation through ad
hominem attacks on one’s opponent instead of his ideas: such
tactics have denigrated the Catholic priest’s image, making it easier
to undermine whatever he says.
- Manipulation by feigning interest
in paving a middle road between two different points of
view but with the intention of proposing another compromise later
on: the typical case is the debate over euthanasia. Initially
there was talk of allowing it for those patients who
request death themselves. Now, there is talk of allowing guardians
to request the patient’s death. And we are starting to
see pressure to request euthanasia not only for elderly or
terminally ill patients, but also for children who have birth
defects but who are still capable of having a worthwhile
- Manipulation by labeling the opponent an extremist. Those
who manipulate always present themselves as the reasonable ones. Those
of us on the other side are the fundamentalists. They
are the center; we are the extreme.
Questions for Personal
Reflection or Group Discussion:
1. There are two main tactics presented in
this section: conflict and persuasion. Why is conflict an effective
tool for waging a culture war? What does it destroy
or distort in the minds and hearts of those who
get caught up in its “logic”?
2. What would you suggest
as a constructive alternative to conflict when passions are stirred
up on both sides?
3. What other examples of false dilemmas
can you give—in the pro-choice field, for example?
is the manipulation of language a subtle, yet powerful tactic?
What does it undermine?
5. What other terms and concepts have
been emptied of their content and/or changed to mean something
6. Why is the pseudo “middle road” approach particularly dangerous
and how have you seen it used?
7. Can you name
specific examples of ad hominem attacks or labeling an opponent
as an extremist?
8. What would you suggest as an
effective response to these strategies?