Some weeks ago, I did some protestantial hooting about an upcoming encyclical from the pope on global warming. According to an informed source, my post has apparently caused some ongoing consternation among some of our Catholic friends. Although I have promised a handsome apology if it turns out the pope actually thinks that global warming is a boatload of hooey, some think this is inconsistent on my part. Since I don’t want to cause any unnecessary heartburn, here is a brief explanation.
What if, the argument goes, someone said that they read some newspaper account saying Wilson is a racist, and they believed it. But, they say, if proof to the contrary is produced, they promise to apologize handsomely, just like me apologizing to the pope. Isn’t that the same situation as my comments about the pope? No, but it is at least a reasonable question. What is the difference then?
The article I was using as the basis for my comments was a positive article, favorably citing the pope for his courage in coming out for the environment. Now it is possible that the pope takes the same view of global warming that I do, to wit that the whole whipped-up frenzy is a bunch of statist malarkey, and this positive article was running in an attempt to pressure the pope, to get him back into line somehow. If that turns out to be the case, my apology to the pope (and I hope he takes my call!) would be for that — but not for accepting a slander about him.
To make the situations parallel, suppose someone wanted to pressure me in the direction of the Approved Multiculturalism, and so the resultant newspaper article did not accuse me of racism, but rather praised me for my recently announced and broad-minded decision to celebrate Kwanzaa this year instead of Christmas. This was a courageous move on Wilson’s part, the paper said, sure to irritate his former neo-confederate cronies, and so forth. Now if someone believed this article praising me (falsely), that would be quite a different thing than accepting a slanderous accusation.
Now it is true that I accepted a newspaper account praising the pope for bringing his influence to bear on the crisis of global warming. If that turns out to be a false report, and the pope would actually be insulted by the idea that he was so foolish as to believe that global warming was a real crisis, then I will apologize to him for accepting that praise offered by the newspaper, which in reality was an insult.
I am a Protestant to the back teeth, but that doesn’t make Pius XII “Hitler’s pope.” When people bring their slanders about such things, Proverbs 18:17 applies regardless of whether I am Protestant or not. I should not pass the evil report on, and then try to get off the hook by promising to apologize if it turns out to be false. But if I read a newspaper article that says that the pope dedicated a shrine to the Black Madonna somewhere in Europe, and I accept this report, I am not receiving a slander “without checking,” even if I consider shrines to Black Madonnas a very bad thing. Now this doesn’t make the report necessarily true, but it does mean that it is not slander for me to accept it.
Many of us get information from Drudge. When I read there that Gore was given the Nobel Prize, I didn’t have to go check the truth of the report myself. If I read there that Britany got married again, there is nothing wrong with just accepting the report. But when I read that Sen. Craig was accused of soliciting sexual favors in an airport restroom, and he denied it, I didn’t have any business accepting the news accounts until I saw Craig’s guilty plea. The same reticence does not have to apply if I were to read a positive article about an out-of-the-closet homosexual in Congress. What Craig takes as slander, Barney Frank would not.
Now suppose your local newspaper had a special “Gay Pride” edition, highlighting all the important homosexuals in your area. Suppose further that they had a special sidebar feature on somebody, but they put the wrong photo and name in the article, and suppose further that you read it, and think to yourself — “Huh. I didn’t know that Mayor Smith was gay.” The report was erroneous, and apologies are called for, especially from the paper, but it would not be receiving a slander for me to think (for 24 hours or so) that Mayor Smith was a homosexual. My basis for thinking so would be the same as for thinking Elton John is.
So, bringing this full circle, I would be insulted if someone accused me of believing in the global warming hype. But I would not be slandered if someone believed that of me based on a positive report about me in a newspaper. Once my stern letter to the editor appeared, and the person who believed falsely that I was so foolish apologized to me for thinking I was capable of doing that, I would be glad to accept the apology — especially if it were offered handsomely.