The second issue of Cardus's newest publication enterprise, Convivium, is off the press and Father de Souza's "Sea to Sea" column includes an account of a conversation he had with the late Father Richard John Neuhaus in 2008 regarding this project. De Souza tells us how Neuhaus not only encouraged this magazine project but also inspired its name.
Convivium might just have been Father Richard's favourite word. There are other candidates—winsome and egregious come to mind—but he loved that word, convivium. He was the only one I knew who used it in ordinary conversation but, of course, his conversations were rarely ordinary. "Convivium" strictly means "to live together," but it connotes a banquet or feast, indicating that a certain supply of rich food and fine wine are, if not required, at least desired.
The passage came to mind as over the past few days, I received an unusual flurry of emails regarding a column I had published in the Calgary Herald over the weekend. It was a satirical piece on the abortion debate in Canada and while some readers seemed to like it, a few expressed disappointment that I had used the satirical genre. To cite one, "All your points are good ones, but I think in the long run it is self-defeating, given Cardus' goals, to use sarcasm. While it was well done, you characterized the article as satire, but I perceived it as sarcasm, and sarcasm is a negative and extremely harmful manner of critiquing any point of view."
While I am not so post-modern in my perspective as to assert that readers are always right and the text says whatever they think it says, I accept the premise that sarcasm rarely advances one's cause. But let's, at least for the sake of argument, accept the column as the satire I intended. Would that have a place in a convivial debate, or does being winsome mean forswearing this genre?
Sometimes an unconventional way of making an argument is the only way of receiving a hearing. My guess is that when it comes to the abortion debate in Canada, there is very little meaningful dialogue taking place anywhere on the subject. In this context—in which those who have concerns about abortion had been very publicly told that the debate is over, that the public lacks interest in even giving counter-arguments a hearing—a conventional intervention would have been ignored. So I tried my hand at satire and found a newspaper willing to publish it. My hope was that by framing my case as a conversion story and apology, I might get a hearing from some who otherwise would bave ignored the piece.
Whether it achieved its objective is hard to measure although it did prompt more feedback, public and private, than most pieces I write. And just like a zinger at the supper table that makes a point, I don't think the occasional article of this sort negates Cardus' credibility as an organization dedicated to convivial conversation in the public square. To be sure, a steady diet of anything would get tiring and it remains true that the convivial social dinner table requires a respectful tone, appropriate sharing, and social grace. But it also requires honesty. And sometimes a bit of satirical wit, like a strong spice in an appropriate portion, contributes to the zest of the meal and perhaps even provides a bit of a bite that makes the meal more memorable.