The Merrriam-Webster dictionary for “learners” defines subtlety this way:
a small detail that is usually important but not obvious
We seem to live in a world devoid to such things. We live in the world of the headline, and if that is really good maybe the lede, but almost never the story. Never has this been more obvious than in the reaction to the Masterpiece Cakeshop decision last week. People focused on the decision, but failed to note the ground rules established in the dicta, as the host pointed out repeatedly for several days.
David French, writing at NRO about a private business decision concerning the “Gay Pride” events of the weekend just past asked, “Moreover, isn’t it also bigoted to believe that a person is incapable of expressing disagreement with a person while also treating them with dignity and respect?” Think about the subtleties in that question. There is the apparently subtle distinction between a person and what they think about a thing. There is the apparently subtle distinction between intellectual disagreement and personal treatment.
Subtleties are important because in them lie the keys to compromise. Stripped of subtleties, an argument ceases to be an argument and becomes simply a contest of wills. We see this in so many of the cultural issues that face our nation today and in the last few decades.
But then maybe that is why we live in a world without subtlety because we live mostly in a world of wills – will born of desire. But when our desire defines our will rather than our will tame our desire is not avarice the result? We tend to limit our understanding of avarice to monetary gain but look around you, you see signs of avarice in people seeking everything from fame, to love to ‘likes” in social media. There is even avarice in the unfettered pursuit of morality. When the pursuit of morality becomes a quest for control rather than a desire for the good of the other (even if the other is lost in their own avarice) then it is reduced to its own type of avarice.
Avarice is consumptive, never productive; hence our inability to compromise for compromise demands both take – and give. Subtlety, compromise, even will, it seems have been consumed by our desire. This is where the Dennis Prager maxim, often quoted by the host, “Clarity before agreement,” becomes so vitally important. The culture wars are wars instead of discussions because we have been consumed by our desires – on both sides.
Back on Pentecost Sunday I wrote of the Holy Spirit as the power to overcome our animal nature and become fully human. If you have ever had a pet then you know animals are creatures of pure desire. When we allow our desire to consume us in the fashion that is so apparent in the culture wars; we are becoming more like animals – we are not “discovering our identity,” or “being true to ourselves” as so many would have us believe. Rather, when we allow ourselves to be consumed by our desires we are like rutting deer or preening peacocks.
Even Jesus found Himself sorely tempted to allow his desire to override His will. In the end He moved forward only by allowing His will to be subsumed by the will of His Father. If we live without outside, supernatural agency our desire will always overrun our will – we will be reduced to animals.
The Masterpiece Cakeshop decision this past week was an effort to forge a compromise. It is in fact a reasonable compromise in the current culture. Yet on both sides I have heard it derided, and when I hear the derision I see animals preening, posturing and strutting – not people driven for morality or justice or even identity, but the raw naked pursuit of desire.
Please – grasp the subtleties, seize the compromise – be more human than animal. The alternative is too ugly to contemplate.