But Mark, relying on imprimaturs and his own sense of things, responded by saying, "Why do we Catholics so often bayonet our own troops?"
In fact, Mark did exactly this to me ago during the Da Vinci Code flap a few years ago. In the course of those discussions, I pointed out that Carl Olsen and Sandra Miesel, both friends of Mark, were in error regarding their labelling of DVC as Gnostic. Subsequently, Mark not only wielded that "but we're on the side of the angels!" line like a sword, at least one Catholic magazine editor deliberately set me up so that Carl Olsen could beat me up in the pages of a Catholic magazine.
But, I'm not interested in re-hashing that old fight. What I am interested in is this idea of "shooting (or bayonetting) our own."
Consider: I am sure Mark Shea has said vitriolic things about Nancy Pelosi, Sam Brownback, Joe Biden, et. al. over the last few months.
Now, those people are all baptized Catholics. Why would Mark denigrate them? Why would he engage in "shooting our own"?
"Ah,"he may argue, "But they are NOT our own - they are flouting the teachings of the Church!" I agree. But a lot of people felt the same way about Christopher West. A lot of people feel that way about people Mark happens to like.
So, what's the difference between whaling on Nancy Pelosi and whaling on Sandra Miesel or Christopher West? They're all baptized Catholics!
When Mark rolled out his line on me, wasn't he shooting ME by using the line?
What was the difference between me and Sandra Miesel except Mark happened to like the latter's position (and the latter) more than the former's position?
This "bayonetting our own" line is just a variant of the old pro-abortion argument, "No one has a right to impose their morality on others." Well, what if my morality says I DO have that right? By telling me what to do, aren't you assuming that YOU have the right to force this arbitrary standard on me? If you REALLY felt that way, you would have to remain silent, recognizing that I may not share your sentiments.
So, if the argument is so stupid from a logical standpoint, why would anyone say it? Well, it serves three purposes:
- First, I get a chance to take the moral high ground - when I use the argument, I can pretend that I am serving a higher standard than grubby little you.
- Second, because you have just been "shamed" you will probably shut up. After all, how are you going to fight against these "higher morals" I have just revealed?
- Third, if I use that argument, I don't have to answer any of YOUR grubby little charges. I've attacked YOU, not your position.
This "shooting our own" gambit accomplishes precisely the same objectives. Mark is really just demonizing his opponent as someone who doesn't understand the Faith, while he places himself in the moral high ground of someone who understands every aspect, and is capable of judging behaviour. Best of all, he doesn't have to address any of the arguments brought forward. Indeed, as he himself points out, he doesn't even have to read the book or hear the talk that's being attacked. He generally rolls this argument out when
- he doesn't have a counter-argument and
- the person he intends to demonize is attacking someone he likes, as opposed to someone he doesn't.
Not necessarily, but he DOES like West's publisher.
In this case, Chris West is being published by Matt Pinto. Matt Pinto and Mark Shea go WAY back. In fact, Matt Pinto's Ascension Press, Tom Allen's Catholic Exchange (where Mark Shea is chief editor) and Alan Napleton's Catholic Marketing Network are all joined at the hip, from a business perspective. That is, they've done a fair bit of business together. Quite a lot, actually.
So, was Mark's defense of West a business decision? It doesn't have to be. People work together because they like each other and hold similar views. It could be Mark just wanted to cover Matt's back.
So, what Mark Shea really means here is, "I have some sympathy with the person being attacked or his position. I don't like the fact that you are engaging in a proxy attack on me by attacking my friend, who holds the same position." When seen in this light, the phrase "shooting our own" becomes La Cosa Nostra, to which those who Do Not Think Rightly are excluded.
The key question: who constitutes "our own"?
Different people are going to have different judgements about where, prudentially, the line should be drawn in various debates. I'm not saying there isn't an absolute standard. I'm just saying that a lot of us engage in self-serving spin, myself included.
So, the next time Mark Shea or any of his minions roll out that line about "let's not start shooting our own," ask them who they include in that "our own" category. And if you are included, ask them why they are attacking you by saying YOUR position is wrong.
If you aren't part of the group, why are they shooting you?
Because they don't like you as much as they like the other guy.
And they aren't honest enough to say it out loud.