In our Catholic tradition we have been taught to abide by our own convictions, and not be swayed by public opinion. Who cares what others think, so long as I remain true to myself and my beliefs? There’s a lot to be said for that position. It speaks of strength of character and of withstanding any weakness that might betray our own ideals. Any type of betrayal has always been especially looked down upon, and even despised.
Yet, on careful reflection, we have to admit that, were it not for the influence of others on us, we would be in rather deplorable shape. Starting with our family, especially our parents, and moving on to our teachers, our Pastors, our friends, the media, especially the social media dominating our lives, and the reading material that engages us, we have to admit that we are not products of our own native endowments and creativity. Rather, we are, in large part, reflections of the multiple influences that wash over us daily. So, even if we pride ourselves on our own integrity, we should be honest enough to admit that we are not totally “self-made” men or women. We are composites of self and others.
And, even as this is true of our own individual selves, it is equally true of corporate groups or bodies, such as our court system. We value the role that the judicial system plays in society, and regard it as about as fair and equitable an arbiter of differences of opinion as we can find anywhere in society. Any suspicion that our court system is biased or subject to corrupt influences would be disconcerting. Yet, even in so noble an institution, we know that judges, at their various levels, can be opinionated, and that their opinions can, in turn, be subject to outside influences. We hear of judges, even of the US Supreme Court, voicing opinions about supporting or changing a law in view of the role that public opinion plays regarding the law. This is especially evident when the justices decide to change a long-standing law. We note this to be the case with regard to the use of marijuana as a recreational activity, or the unsustainability of capital punishment as a legitimate way of controlling crime, or of abortion as an acceptable way of dealing with unwanted pregnancies, or of homosexual unions as being legitimately recognized as valid marriages in American society, etc. Public opinion in these matters has changed.
So,when we ask, “who cares what others think?”, we begin to see that a lot of us care. And yet, despite these examples mentioned, we still harbor the deepest convictions that we have to be people of conviction, and of strong opinions, about what is acceptable or unacceptable. This is especially so with parents accompanying their children to adulthood. They need those “house rules” that let a child know there is a line in the sand that is not to be disregarded. And we know that, within our Catholic faith, there are some non-negotiables that have remained so over the centuries. Many of these are rooted in the ten commandments.
The value of human life lies at the heart of the church’s efforts regarding capital punishment or abortion or war. The sacredness of marriage links to her position on divorce and remarriage, or on adultery, or on the role of fertility in marriage. The significance of private property underlies her position on labor and capital, on poverty and wealth, on the common good and universal access to it. And though it is true that many refinements and clarifications have taken place over the centuries on the church’s position in these areas, we recognize an underlying conviction that is impervious to changing opinions.
This supports our deeply held convictions that accommodating to what others think can be a betrayal of our true selves, as God has made us. When push comes to shove, we might repeat Martin Luther: “Here I stand.”