“It was not what you did that damned you; it was what you were.”
Peter Baehr wrote an interesting article at Mercatornet about his research into unmasking. He begins by musing, “Whatever happened to principled disagreement?” Unmasking is a technique that undermines this. “When people unmask they claim to rip off a disguise, revealing the true beneath the feigned or imaginary. Two kinds of unmasking are prominent in Western societies. The first, aimed at persons or groups, claims to expose enmity, conspiracy and hypocrisy. The second, directed at ideas, claims to expose false-consciousness and illusion.” He puts it even more succinctly when he says, “It was not what you did that damned you; it was what you were.”
The example I most frequently encounter relates to religion. Because an idea is supported by (and most often originated in) Catholic teaching, it must be disregarded. Someone may make an argument that has no basis in theology whatsoever, yet unmaskers will retort, “Well, that is just your religious views!” Usually it’s when they have no logical response to the argument.
This happens frequently in the assisted suicide debate. I recently wrote a letter to the editor of the Worcester Telegram and Gazette in which I describe various dangers of legalization. Dr. Clive responded with a letter of his own in which he wrote, “Clearly, much of the opposition to MAID is religious and philosophical. While I understand and respect the right of anyone to be personally opposed to MAID, it is wrong for them to impose their views upon others who merely wish some control over the circumstances of their own imminent death.” Unmasked! I am really just a religious zealot trying to impose my views on the world! Pay no attention to what she wrote! Rev. Donato Infante III revealed the fallacies of Dr. Clive’s arguments.
This unmasking is not limited to this local debate but has been employed in countless articles and comment boxes related to assisted suicide. Simply because the Catholic Church agrees with a certain idea does not make it a religious issue nor something to be discounted.
From changing the language and definitions, to looking at only at one aspect of an issue, to censoring opposition views, to unmasking, disagreement has no principles. This is because those in disagreement are not trying to convince each other, but working to sway legislators and voters by means other than a thorough discussion of an issue. These tactics have become so ubiquitous that we no longer realize we are employing them–or being influenced by them–until someone points out just how silly they are. Religious unmasking is a way of diminishing the influence of the Catholic Church or any individual who identifies with it when one cannot make a reasoned and persuasive counterargument.
Read all of John Baehr’s article to avoid falling into the error of unmasking.