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Monday, February 08, 2010

Shut Up, He Explained

Years ago, pro-aborts came up with an ingenious argument that makes them look like saints while forcing their critics into silence:

"I don't believe in forcing my opinions on others."

It's the pro-abort version of, "I would like to nominate myself for the Humblest Person of the Year Award."

If the individual spouting the line didn't believe in forcing his opinions on others, then why am I being lectured about how to treat others? Why is he forcing his opinion on me?

The line is nothing but a gilded claim to victim status and one-upmanship combined into one concise phrase. "I don't want to listen to you. I'm so much holier and better than you. I have higher standards. Would you just shut up?" If the speaker were honest, he would say this instead.

Unfortunately, it is less concise, and the speaker would look like a pompous ass if he did.
So, from a strategic standpoint, the pro-abort argument is really much more satisfying.

It's a real shame when Catholics get involved in similar lines of reasoning. I've already pointed out Catholics like Mark Shea who are partial to this argument, and I've noted that it is also a favorite of the defenders of Chris West.

That's sad.
But it's really disappointing when a Catholic bishop engages in it.

Take, for instance, John Allen's applause when Bishop Kevin Farrell of Dallas used essentially this argument to defend his style of episcopal leadership:

"We need to be self-critical and realize that no one of us has the only approach to Catholicism," Farrell said. (His address was published in Origins in August). "Honest debate, not confrontation -- true dialogue where we seek to understand the other, not facile condemnation -- should be the overarching way we move forward."

"The word 'heretic' has been reserved for precious few people in our Catholic tradition," Farrell said, rejecting what he called "verbal fratricide" and a tendency to become "smug, dismissive and righteous" about the Catholic intellectual tradition.

"No theologian, or professor or pope, has ever had or ever will have all the answers to what it means to be authentically and fully Catholic," Farrell said.

Now, how a bishop chooses to lead a diocese is his own business. I am not qualified to tell him that he's right or wrong, although I do have the canonical right to offer an opinion on what it looks like to the man in the pew. Indeed, I even have a duty to do so.

But, if I am to take Bishop Farrell at his word, isn't it incumbent on me to help him engage in a little self-criticism? Then let's!

First, I don't remember seeing his sentiment laid out in any Magisterial document. Not one. Certainly we see Scripture say that we should always be prepared to give a defense of the Faith, but always in gentleness and reverence. There are LOTS of Magisterial documents that put forth that sentiment.

But that's not what Bishop Farrell says. He doesn't say that we should be gentle and reverent when defending the Faith or living it out. He says "No one of us has the only approach to Catholicism."

Now, pardon me Bishop, but what the heck does THAT mean? Does it mean that many different orthodox spiritualities are available to the orthodox Catholic: Franciscan vs. Dominican vs. Carmelite vs.... well, you get the picture? If so, then who would argue with that? It's a strawman to say that anyone would.

Does he mean to say that, given several options on how to proceed in specific situations, there is often room for differences in prudential judgement? Again, who argues against this proposition? I don't think I've ever met anyone who did.

He wants "honest debate not confrontation."

Is he engaged in honest debate by setting up straw men?

And, leaving the straw aside for the moment, isn't THAT a prudential decision? Who determines what is "honest dialogue" versus "confrontation"? I've been engaged in honest dialogue with other people which third parties thought were confrontations - both of us had to set the mistaken party straight and point out that we were just having a strenuous discussion.

I've been engaged in dialogues with other people that were the very picture of decorum but were not at all honest, and then been congratulated on how well everyone in the situation had handled it.

But leave THAT aside and let's just look at confrontation. What, exactly, is wrong with confrontation? Confrontation has a long history in the Catholic Faith, and no one familiar with her history would deny this.

The Crusades were built around very pointed confrontation, as was every military engagement with the Muslims. Who would you rather be? St. Louis, King of France, on Crusade against the Muslim, or Cardinal Richelieu, the man who made common cause with Muslims against other Catholics in order to advance the interests of France?

I will note only that the ecumenism Richelieu brought to the Catholic-Muslim engagement did not make him a candidate for sainthood, while St. Louis' armed confrontation against the Muslims did not detract from his.

Think of the numerous synods and ecumenical councils of the Church in which bishops confronted laymen, priests and bishops (mostly priests and bishops, btw), condemning them to exile, imprisonment and the burning of all their works. The bishops who condemned the heretics sure thought they had the answer to how to live the Catholic life, and they sure thought the persons they condemned as exiled heresiarchs did not.

Even the famously even-tempered Aquinas got fed up with his opponents when they tried to distort the Faith and his defenses. He's a doctor of the Church. And let's not even get started on whether every martyr of the Church was involved in dialogue or confrontation.

Indeed, if we went far enough back, we could even use the open, honest debate techniques that Jesus and His prophet, John the Baptist, modeled for us: "Blind guides! Blind hypocrites! You den of vipers! Who told YOU you could escape the coming destruction! Fools! You make your proselytes TWICE the sons of perdition that YOU are!"

Or would Bishop Farrell find John, Jesus and Paul distasteful? Did they engage in outmoded and condemned confrontation? Sadly, John the Baptist would not gain many modern bishops' approval. Heck, I've heard one Midwestern bishop tell a public audience that he wouldn't want St. Paul in his diocese - too confrontational.

But by ignoring these and many more examples that could be brought forward, aren't the good bishops being "smug, dismissive and righteous" about the Catholic tradition?

If "[n]o theologian, or professor or pope, has ever had or ever will have all the answers to what it means to be authentically and fully Catholic," (odd how he left bishops out of the list) then why should I pay any attention to Bishop Farrell's opinion on the matter? As he himself admits, he's likely to be wrong in his opinion.

If no one has the answer, then he doesn't have the answer.
If he doesn't have the answer, and doesn't have any confidence that an answer can be reached, then why talk with him at all?
If he's right, he's useless.
If he's wrong, he should be ignored.
So what is his point again?

The point of dialogue is to reach a conclusion from which a judgement can be made. It is not just to natter on endlessly. If I wanted endless, mindless chatter, I would turn on the television. Or read Richard McBrien.

So why would anyone say anything so mind-numbingly vapid as our good bishop did in this instance?

From a standard of basic logic, I don't know.
Don't ask me - talk to someone else.
I have no answer, nor any confidence that a reasonable answer can be provided.

But, if we throw basic logic aside and realize that he was just going for style points, the answer is a lot more clear. The good bishop prefers semantic fratricide, which is oh-so-much-better than verbal fratricide.... Or.... something.....

Now, as I say, he has the right to say that. He is bishop, after all. But even if he has the right to say it, I don't have to like the victim-saint combo that he gilds himself with as he does it. No one has all the right prudential answers... except him? Please. If you were Pope, I would at least consider the possibility before dismissing it as a violation of the Faith. As it is...

The great irony of the thing is this: John Allen, the man who applauds Bishop Ferrell's double-speak, emphasized the importance of striking a balance. How did Allen do this? Well, by personally condemning "Taliban Catholicism."


Now, Allen protests that such Catholics are present on the left and the right. What he doesn't do is demonstrate why confrontation is a problem. Everyone assumes, as if it is a commonly agreed idea, that confrontation is not good, condemnation is not good. And they will confront and condemn anyone who says otherwise. Got that?

We all like to judge others (heck, that's what this column is about, ain't it?) and we all like to think that we're the ones on the high ground.

As George C. Scott said in "Patton" - "Hell, yes, I'm a prima donna. I admit it! The thing I don't like about Monty (British General Montgomery) is that he's a prima donna and he WON'T admit it!"

I've always admired that attitude.
I prefer Patton's confrontation of the truth to a "dialogue" over mindless piffle.


Matheus F. Ticiani said...

Now, Allen protests that such Catholics are present on the left and the right.

I agree with him on that Steve, but did you notice the way he presents his case?:

...there's a right-wing form of Catholicism Lite that's just as watered-down and sold out to secularism as its kissing cousin on the left. In the States, it can take the form of a country club Republican Catholicism -- untroubled by the inequities of global free-market capitalism, quite at home with anti-immigrant rhetoric, the death penalty, and the use of armed force.

That is, unless I'm really stupid: according to him the right-wing "Talibans" get the over-the-top label for subscribing to ideas that, if I'm not mistaken, are not immoral per se (and curiously, the only item in the list that would be intrinsically immoral and to which some conservatives subscribe, the acceptance of torture, is absent from it).

The kind of stuff you see whenever liberal or otherwise misguided Catholics make half-baked attempts at "neutrality"...

Steve Kellmeyer said...

Exactly right. I failed to notice that.

Allen condemns prudential judgements he doesn't agree with, exactly like Bishop Farrell condemns prudential judgements HE doesn't agree with.

Peas in a pod.

I'm really, really tired of this pro-abort style argument being used by Catholics.

To Catholics who support this kind of rhetoric: Man up and grow a pair, would ya? (or is that too .... shudder... confrontational?)

Matheus F. Ticiani said...

Hey, I just realised I made a mistake on my prevous comment (I thought the Allen had ascribed the bolded traits to the "Talibans" when they were from the right-wing "Catholicism Lite"), But it made me take a look the darn thing again and I was again dumbfounded:

...there's a Taliban instinct on the Catholic left that can be just as noxious as its right-wing version. It generally includes paranoia about almost any exercise of authority in the church, coupled with derision of any attempt to defend traditional Catholic thought, speech or practice

According to him, the left "Taliban" also get a stronger label for defending minor errors, while the abortionists and the rest of the gang go to the other group...

I give up trying to understand his reasoning.

Steve Kellmeyer said...

I met him once, right before he was slated to give a talk on "Pope Benedict's Attitude Towards Islam."

I mentioned that this would be a pretty short talk, since the Pope had only been on the throne for about a year, and hadn't really said anything about Islam.

He replied that Ratzinger had said a lot about Islam.

I didn't say it aloud, but I was thinking that it doesn't matter what a cardinal says about a subject. Once he becomes Pope, his ideas on the subject often change radically as a result of his being lifted up to the office.

Later on, I predicted to a friend of mine that John Allen would actually say very little about Benedict's attitude towards Islam. In fact, he didn't. He just regaled the crowd with a bunch of stories about various cardinals.

John Allen has no formal training in theology. Like George Weigel, he just kind of lucked into a position that makes him an "authority" even though neither one of them really know very much about the Catholic Faith. The more I read either one of them, the less impressed I am.

DMofDOOM said...

Having attended the University of Dallas, but not being well acquainted with Bishop Farrell, I am not positive of this analysis, but here is what I am concerned has happened. The University of Dallas has a reputation of conservatism and orthodoxy; good so far. It attracts the same and those self-styled in the same manner, maybe even those who might be a little over the top; still fine here. The students are almost all young adults; well and fine. The problem, is that in some cases the combination derived may be some very young, very devout, Catholics, who may not be completely aware of all of the private pastoral counseling that goes on prior to the public declaration of a heretic. I could be wrong, they could all be leaving their offering at the altar to find their brother, and then eventually to find the bishop, and leaving the matter in the hands of the bishop and prayerfully waiting for the bishops pastoral judgement to be executed. Or, like I was at that age, they could be impatient, and not see things change in a month or a year, and be taking matters into their own, voices. I'm afraid that the bishop may have been attempting a pastoral admonishment to a specific audience, and that he may just be no Chrysostom.

From there, poor wording out of the bag, it is just possible that the thing has gotten out of control. Maybe I'll have to go see what the Other Bishop Kevin (we're in Fort Worth diocese with Bishop Vann) has been up to besides this. Up to now, I'd been hearing mostly good.

By-the-by, this is not at all to say that pastoral action should allow heresy to continue beyond what cannot be helped, just simply that the intention could have been spot-on, even if Bishop Farrell hasn't yet reached the seasoning of the wily old bishops whose every moves commend them for canonization.

Steve Kellmeyer said...

Hey, I LIKE Bishop Ferrell, and Bishop Vann. Both are ENORMOUS, VAST improvements over the two (dare I say it? Yes, I dare) incompetents who ruled before them.

But I ABSOLUTELY HATE the argument he used. It's not just pompous, it's damned stupid.

And then to have John Allen, of all people, praise it as high-brow, even-handed speech...

AAAaahhhhhh...... puhlease. I'm just tired to death of this particular pile of barnyard excrement. I wish people would move onto another rhetorical device that isn't so egregiously slimy.

Brendan said...

[Matheus F. Ticiani]: and curiously, the only item in the list that would be intrinsically immoral and to which some conservatives subscribe, the acceptance of torture, is absent from it

Nobody is condoning torture. Waterboarding is not torture.

Matheus F. Ticiani said...

Hey Brendan

That was my point regarding Allen's piece, you know. He left the most compelling argument for his "theory" out of it.
As for Thiessen, I've heard about him just very recently (I'm not even American, as you may know), and I wanted to see his interview on Raymond Arroyo, but managed to catch just a snippet of it; therefore I don't really feel comfortable having any opinion about him...(but if he subscribes to the "If it's used on your own troops it can't be torture"
crappy reasoning, I probably won't like him :)