Saturday, December 19, 2009

On Anonymity

I awoke this morning a free man: today is the first full day of Christmas vacation. I don't know who has been more excited about this holiday, me or the kids!

Having graded until late last night (after midnight), I was annoyed with myself that I woke up at 5:30 this morning and couldn't go back to sleep. I decided to put the time to good use, so I logged into YouTube and began answering an enormous backlog of emails I've received over the last few weeks. When I awoke I had nearly 500 messages; I've read nearly all of them and answered those that needed to be answered.

Many of the messages are expressions of gratitude for the tin whistle lessons. Others ask me for tips or advice on purchasing tin whistles, learning tunes, finding teachers, etc.. Not a few express how they've re-connected with their faith thanks to my Intermediate Lessons, where I try to draw a parallel between music and spirituality: we pray as we play. Some simply ask for prayers.

A few emails, however, are downright nasty. A few people have taken it upon themselves to save me from the "Whore of Babylon" (I take it that they mean the Catholic Church). Others imply that the fact that I am a seminarian instantly puts into questions my moral uprightness...apparently the fact that I have dedicated myself to the Gospel carries with it the assumption, for some people, that I am a sexual predator.

To a person, the cruel messages I have received have one thing in common: they are written anonymously. I think this is done for two reasons:

1. The authors are cowards. These are women and men who are content to judge others but do not present themselves for judgment. They linger in the shadows like terrorists and snipe out. They seem to feel themselves secure in their righteousness, but I beg to differ. Their unwillingness to disclose their identity shows a profound lack of integrity and indicates that they are writing out of a profoundly evil, deranged spirit.

I laugh when I read critical-yet-anonymous emails. They really can't be taken seriously. I read them, to be sure, but hit delete and move forward. They do not merit a response: if they can't take the time to sign a name, I haven't the time to engage with them.

2. The authors tend to be very stupid. I know, stupid is a strong word. But I don't know how else to put it. For instance, one message that was left anonymously said, "Mr. Duns, as a Jesuit novitiate you should know better than...". There are a few problems with this:
  1. I am a Jesuit scholastic. This means that I have publicly professed vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. I'm currently in the Regency stage of formation.
  2. I was once a Jesuit novice. During the first two years of Jesuit formation, one is a novice.
  3. I am not a building. The "novitiate" is the physical building in which the novices live. But one cannot quite be a novitiate any more than one can be an outhouse or convenience store.
Perhaps ignorant is a better adjective. Whatever appellation is applied to such individuals, we need only to understand that the meaning behind it is "not terribly bright."

As I write, I reckon that ignorant may be more appropriate. Not only are such anonymous cowards ignorant of Jesuit formation (which, admittedly, is a challenge to understand. But if you're going to use the nomenclature, you had better use it properly) and matters related to the Catholic Church - issues of ecclesiology, scripture, and moral theory - they are also ignorant of grammar. Many of the notes I receive are just long run-on screeds that lack internal coherence due to ignorance of grammar. I'm no grammar enforcer, but I'm one who appreciates nice writing.

Perhaps the reason people send anonymous letters or leave anonymous messages is that they are cowards who fear being exposed for being ignorant.

Your guess is as good as mine.

Please don't read this as a sign of anger or bitterness on my part. I find it kind of funny, really. I've only once posted something anonymously to a blog and I immediately regretted doing it and apologized for it. I find it much easier to be up-front about my views and stand by them.

I wouldn't be much of a witness to the Gospel if I dwelled in the shadows. I wonder if some of the self-professed Christians and Catholics who thrive on anonymous attacks realize that the anonymity they think preserves their identity really serves more to divulge their true character: ignorant cowards deserving of derision rather than serious engagement.

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