Prophetic Rhetoric in Cyberspace–A Question
Here’s my question. Who is Cardinal Stafford’s audience–and by extension, the audience of others who use prophetic rhetoric?
Whom does prophetic rhetoric convince? Whom is it meant to convince? Is it meant to strengthen the will of those who already agree? Is it meant to convince those who don’t agree? If so, how effective is it at the task?
My own hypothesis is that the rhetoric of prophetic indictment functions best to confirm those already committed to a cause, rather than to convert the uncommitted. It shores up those whose commitment may be flagging, those who are discouraged –gives them the strength to fight on. It doesn’t do well in convincing the unconvinced –in converting the opponent, that is to say. To the opponent, prophetic rhetoric just seems like insults.
My guess, therefore, is that Cardinal Stafford gave his talk to an immediate audience which was in large agreement with him –an audience who was discouraged about the election results. Prophetic rhetoric was used to shore up flagging spirits among pro-lifers, to convince them of the importance of fighting on.
It’s the reproduction of the talk outside that context that created the problem. The same thing, it seems, happened to the priest from South Carolina, who told Catholics who voted for Obama they had to go to confession. Strictly speaking, he was addressing his own parish–not the rest of us. But the rest of us sure heard about him.
So how should public figures think about the use of prophetic rhetoric in an era where they can’t be sure that their remarks won’t be you-tubed all over the world the next day?
On the one hand, I am (as most people who read this blog know) no fan of over-enthusiasm for prophetic rhetoric. On the other hand, I don’t want to see a world where all the of the rhetoric has been gently homogenized so as not to be startling, let alone offensive, to anyone. We don’t want to Kraft macaroni-and-cheesify our public discourse, either.