Earlier the New York TImes had an article Catholic Bloggers Aim to Purge Dissenter that I was tempted to comment on, but a lot of other Catholic bloggers have already spilled plenty of screen pixels on. As you would expect from an NYT article it is pretty much a totally negative piece of agenda journalism. The NYT never could bring itself to mention the purges of Stalin which killed a large multitude, but for conservative Catholic bloggers they find the term just fine. The article goes downhill from the headline.
So this article aptly criticized by many bloggers of course gets called a fine piece by Fr. James Martin of America Magazine. Now as someone who has hundreds of Catholic blogs in my RSS aggregator I get a pretty good sampling of what happens in the Catholic blogosphere. It is no surprise that blogs like people range the gamut and the range of charity in an post will also do the same. Generally though Catholic blogs that focus on punditry usually focus on dissent and bad theology. Personal attacks on people who dissent or advance bad theology I have found to be rather rare, though certainly some blogs are more prone to this than others – again blogs are remarkably like people. So I found the NYT piece to be rather silly and to be expected.
Fr. James Martin should get an Irony of the Week award for the following sentence.
Finally, many in the “Catholic Taliban,” as John Allen so bluntly puts it, seem devoid of any sense of Christian charity.
So Fr. Martin repeating John Allen’s term, which he has subsequently backed off from, and using his own term “web-based McCarthyism” is an example of Christian charity? “Hey you #*$(I@)%, be more civil.” Certainly we all fail at this at times and I guess I will have to work to model myself off of America Magazine wonderfully vicious writer Michael Sean Winters. Father Martin is so concerned about civility that he is associated with and writes for the Huffington Post the very mirror of Christian charity – well an inverse image at least.
Carl Olson in his reply to Fr. Martin’s post said “He’s a smart, well-spoken, and thoughtful man, and a talented writer as well.” I would agree with his assessment and I mostly enjoyed his book “My Life with the Saints” which I would recommend with only some very minor quibbles. Fr. Martin also identified himself as a Progressive when he was writing in the NYT during the Pope’s visit to the U.S.
Fr. Martin seems to have a problem with anonymous bloggers and commenters, though when it comes to anonymous bloggers within St. Blogs there are a very small minority. Though maybe he is thinking of Diogenes and his rather pointed commentary. Fr. Martin seems to forget there is good reason why some might go the anonymous route which is certainly not always cowardly as the charitable Fr. Martin contends. Some people work in situations where their employers might fire them for having a faithful Catholic worldview. Look at what happened in California when homosexual activists went after and got people fired for signing the petition supporting real marriage. Now as to anonymous commenters, well this is the internet and you don’t even know when somebody puts their real name in the first place. I for one would like to live in a troll-less world and peruse comment boxes full of thoughtful opinions – but comment boxes pretty much affirm the doctrine of original sin.
He also complains about the theological ability of “attack-bloggers”, another charitable term he uses. Certainly true to some extent, but you don’t need a degree to say that abortion is intrinsically evil. Most of the battles of today are not at the depth that required the earliest councils concerning Christology. Often though it is those that do indeed have degrees in theology that defend the indefensible so that you can vote for or support whoever you wanted to support anyway. Understanding “Though should not kill” does not take the theological depth of a St. Aquinas and it is an elitist argument to imply that it does. A deeper understanding of theology will serve everybody well, but the issues of the day just aren’t all that nuanced.
Third, the focus of their blogs is almost risibly narrow. Here are the sole topics of interest, in the order in which they cause foaming at the mouth (or on the keyboard): homosexuality, abortion, women’s ordination, birth control, liturgical abuses and the exercise of church authority. Is this really the sum total of what makes us Catholic?
So if people were blogging during the Council of Nicea would you be surprised if the prominent topic was the nature of Christ? Of if blogging during the Council of Trent that the topics concerned the Sacrifice of the Mass and the nature of the Priesthood. I for one would be quite glad to never have to blog on ” homosexuality, abortion, women’s ordination, birth control, liturgical abuses and the exercise of church authority” again. But these are the issues of the day and evil does not go away just because you want a faux civility. The toll of abortion worldwide is such a palpable evil that anyone who decries talking about it just doesn’t get that this is the slaughter of the innocents and a crime continuously calling out to Heaven. I guess Blessed Mother Teresa should have just chilled instead of talking about this issue. Everything he lists except liturgical abuses are intrinsic evils – isn’t that exactly what we should be writing about, praying about, and doing what we can to bring people to the truth and closer to God? Of course America Magazine does not really write about these topics, because it seems to be they are on the other side concerning them. Fr. Martin often blogs stories concerning homosexuality, but never the fact that homosexual acts are intrinsically evil. I remember once he wrote a couple of posts concerning some bishop who the press reported said that all homosexuals go to Hell. Now the charitable approach to such a story is to think that the bishop was misquoted as happens pretty much daily in the press. I expresses exactly this in his comment box and once again when he addressed the story again. Several days later the story was clarified showing that the bishop did not say what the story quoted him as saying and expressed what the Church actually teaches instead of the falsehood that all homosexuals go to Hell. Yet there was no followup post to this story and no apology for his slandering of the bishop. Fr. Martin talks about courage and yet it seems rather obvious what his feelings are about what the Church teaches on homosexual acts and yet he seems to dance around this – though certainly I would be happy to have misread him and to see him actually affirm the constant teaching of the Church on this.
Fourth, anonymous attacks drummed up by these bloggers often make their way, slowly but surely, to the offices of church leaders, where they can do real damage to real people with real jobs in Catholic schools and universities, parishes and chanceries. Church officials, often unsure of the veracity of the attacks, may try to play it safe by disciplining or even firing the target of the attack.
Examples please. Certainly some people have lost their jobs such as the USCCB staffer who was supporting John Kerry using USCCB computers during work. Having been involved with the Catholic Blogosphere since 2001 I can’t think of one example of a “anonymous attack” that resulted in such a situation. If anything even when somebody has been shown to dissent against Church teaching in a serious way nothing is done. I could almost wish Catholic bloggers had such power, that is if I wasn’t highly suspicious of power and how it is easily misused. The real world experience I have gathered is that in most cases Church officials ignore scandal until forced to act and not always even then. The idea that they have some hair-trigger response to a rumor mill in Catholic blogs is laughably not credible. As I said “Example please.”
Fifth, there seems is little apparent desire on the part of some of these watchdogs to speak to their targets. Rarely are the targets of ad hominem attacks contacted for any comment or explanation. And, in my experience, when you respond to some of these bloggers, while at times you will receive a thoughtful apology, or a revision on a blog, or you will agree to disagree in charity, most often than not you are met with even more invective and further hateful comments. After a while, you just find yourself give up.
Isn’t it Ad hominem to talk of attack bloggers, Taliban Catholicism, web-based McCarthyism? Seems like a rather personal attack to me concerning my pundit blogging friends. I also can not think of any of the top Catholic blogs that would not issue an apology if mistaken or had the facts wrong since they have done so in the past. I certainly have revised posts when I found I got something wrong.
Of course the common defense is that real charity is pointing out a “heresy,” which will damage the faithful. (As in, “It’s a good thing we burned Joan of Arc at the stake!”) Or they say that calls for charity just mask dissent. But fidelity and charity are not competing values. Or they argue that they’re just doing what Jesus did when he called Herod a “fox.” What they seem to forget is that they are not Jesus. Overall, while many of these bloggers certainly seem Catholic, they don’t seem particularly Christian
Again is the good Father trying for the Irony award? St. Joan of Arc was burned for what were really political reasons by clerics who put politics first. They had a political agenda in condemning this saint and they twisted theology to bring about the result – sound familiar? The targets of so many Catholic bloggers are again those who put something first before the faith whether it is party politics or something else. Certainly fidelity and charity are not competing values and fidelity requires charitably calling out dissent both for love of the dissenter and to prevent harm to others. Purges are not what I want or I believe others want. We talk of excommunication only as medicinal remedy to bring someone back to full Communion with the Church.
Oh and by the way that NYT article that Fr. Martin called a “fine piece.” In one part of the article it says that Catholic bloggers refer to the “National Catholic Reporter” as the “National Catholic Destroyer.” Strangely I have never read anybody actually saying this. Now the term “National Catholic Destroyer” has certainly been used as a play on words. Dale Price Googled the words “National Catholic Destroyer” and found the only hits were related to the NYT piece itself. Yes a fine piece that couldn’t even spend the time to get basic facts right.
One last point. I would certainly agree with Fr. Martin on some of the points that he made and that when a discussion becomes heated and charity is lost – too much is lost. We all need to take G.K. Chesterton as role model in his in that he could be great friends with people like George Bernard Shaw and H.G. Wells while also critiquing their views in his columns and his books. These men returned his friendship despite the fact that they knew is disagreed with them at a fundamental level. So pray for me that I might emulate the same in my life and my blog.
Tom at Disputations has a good critique of what Fr. Martin wrote and the original article.