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Friday, May 22, 2009

Shooting Shea's Own

Mark Shea recently expressed frustration about the Catholic outcry over Christopher West's appearance on ABC's Nightline. In that 7-minute video, Chris said some amazingly silly things.

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.
It's pure ad hominem attack, and it's sleazy.

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.
Now, does Mark Shea like Chris West?
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.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Talking With An Obama Supporter

Barack Obama at Notre Dame: " ... [on abortion] I didn't change my position, but I did tell my staff to change the words on my website... that's when we discover at least the possibility of common ground.... [because we know] the views of the two camps are irreconcilable."

I sent the advertisements for my book, Debunking Obama's First 100 Days, to several thousand people a few days ago.

This was one response:

ObamaCatholic: Get a life!

Me: Feeling a little guilty, are we?

ObamaCatholic: No. Just tired of slander and gossip. Both are sinful behavior.

Me: Indeed. That's why everything about that bastard (and he is, you know - his mother wasn't married when she conceived him), is documented in the book.

ObamaCatholic: Wow! You leave me breathless. You have a great day!

Me: I'll have a great day the minute he leaves office. Until then, we all just pray for deliverance from evil.

ObamaCatholic: And I'll have a great day the minute you take me off your email list! Please do not reply. Thank you.

Me: I will make sure that I don't.

ObamaCatholic: You just did.

Me: Oh my heavens! But you Obama supporters are always interested in dialogue, right? So, being open-minded and willing to seek common ground, as you are, that isn't a problem.

As The One stated in his Notre Dame address, sure, our positions are irreconcilable - you think he's cool, I think he's a lying bastard - but that shouldn't prevent us from dialoguing and seeking common ground.

How about we agree that he's a really cool, lying bastard?
I'm trying to be like you and engage in dialogue.
Except you didn't want dialogue.

Contemplating it later, I reflected that, perhaps this could be another point for our dialogue? Our positions are irreconcilable - you don't want dialogue, I do - but we should seek common ground. How about I keep talking and you just shut up and listen?

No wonder it's so much fun being an ObamaCatholic!
I feel a pull to the Dark Side...

Monday, May 18, 2009

The Wedge

George Weigel is now insisting that Obama's speech is intended to separate Catholics from their bishops, driving a wedge between them. Weigel's concept is so popular, it has even hit the secular blogs. There's only one problem.

George Weigel is wrong.

Obama is not driving a wedge between Catholics and their bishops, rather, he's taking advantage of a pre-existing wedge between Catholics and their bishops, a wedge the bishops themselves created. Much as it pains me to agree with anyone from America magazine, Fr. Reese hit the nail on the head: no one is listening to the Catholic bishops, and they haven't been listening for a very long time.

But, Reese is also wrong - the bishops didn't lose their credibility during the sex abuse crisis. They lost it long before that crisis began. Indeed, part of the reason the bishops covered over the sex abuse crisis is precisely because most Catholics paid no attention to them as it was, and they couldn't afford to look like even greater idiots than they already had done.

As Joseph Bottum pointed out in his First Things article last week, the bishops stopped leading over 40 years ago. Today, as in the time of the Arian heresy, the faithful lead and the bishops follow as best they can. I go into much greater detail (if only because I have more space to explain it), in my book Designed to Fail: Catholic Education in America, but here's the thumbnail of the problem: when chemical contraception became possible, the American bishops became docile. They agreed to Lyndon Baines Johnson's suggestion that they shut the hell up on contraception in exchange for him conducting a war on poverty. So, while they were allowed to be in opposition to abortion, they would not speak a public word against the root cause of abortion, contraception. As I pointed out in 2004, they have kept that promise for over forty years, and still adhere to it today.

In fact, they liked LBJ's deal so much, many of them are still in the political tank. Out of over 200 bishops in the United States, less than 80 publicly made statements that were clearly in opposition to Obama's election. A different group of less than 80 bishops publicly made statements that were clearly in opposition to his speaking at Notre Dame. As points out, at least one bishop publicly came out in favor of Obama's Notre Dame speech.

Weigel could just as easily have argued that Obama is trying to drive a wedge between two groups of Catholic bishops, and he would have been just as right (or, in this case, just as wrong).

In fact, there is already a divide in this country, and it is due precisely to the American bishops themselves. The American Catholic bishops caved back in 1968. They stopped teaching the Faith in order to satisfy American politicians. When they stopped teaching Catholic doctrine in exchange for political favors, Catholics stopped listening to them.

Today, nobody really cares what America's Catholic bishops think. After all, how many Catholics in your parish have read any doctrinal encyclical from their own bishop within the last five years, apart from perhaps an instruction on how to avoid the swine flu? How many even know that their bishops produce doctrinal encyclicals?

And of those few faithful who have read those encyclicals, the writing generally hasn't improved their view of the bishops. What orthodox Catholic was not entirely ashamed of the USCCB's Always Our Children instruction on how to affirm homosexual identity? What of the frankly diosbedient attitude displayed in their instructions concerning Holy Thursday's liturgy? Or the most recent embarrassment, their attempt to instruct married couples in how to put spice back into their marriage? I literally know only a half-dozen people who have even visited the USCCB-sponsored website on marriage. Of those who have, everyone has been embarrassed by the juvenile attitude of some aspect of it.

The "Obama at Notre Dame" event will not drive a wedge between Catholics and their bishops, because the separations are already there, but it does highlight the problem bishops have in communicating with their flock. For instance, at least one Catholic friend of mine is of the opinion that some of the bishops who spoke against Obama at Notre Dame weren't really opposed, they were just jumping on the bandwagon because (a) they knew it would make no difference anyway - Obama and Jenkins would do what they wanted, and (b) it made them look good to the orthodox crowd in the diocese, the only ones who actually feel an obligation to pay any attention to the bishop. A bishop using this cynical ploy could then continue to allow abuses of the liturgy or silence on points of Catholic doctrine, while gaining points for orthodoxy in reference to Barack Obama's murderous attitude and legacy.

Is this really what is happening in certain dioceses?
I don't know.
But I will bet my whole bank account that if it is, you'll never hear George Weigel say it.

Update: A reader pointed out a very salient fact -
"I think the bishops' failure to teach goes a little further back that 1968. Try 1945. On March 10th of that year the 20th US Army Airforce attacked Tokyo with three hundred B-29's. The incendiaries they dropped started a fire storm that killed 100,000 people in six hours, the greatest loss of life in that time span in all of recorded history. Owing to the fact that all men of anything like military age were away, the victims were mostly women, children and the aged. The general who ordered the attack, Curtis E. Lemay admitted later that if Japan had won the war he would have been tried and executed as a war criminal. His candor was not reflected by a single American bishop. Granted, many historical elements contributed to this silence. Still, it's nothing to brag about."

I agree with the addendum. As I point out in the book, Catholic bishops in this country have had a long history of political collusion with the American (as opposed to the Catholic) concepts of various aspects of life, including ideas on how to handle:
  • slavery (American bishops were silent while the Vatican opposed it),
  • just war (see above),
  • voting issues (American bishops emphasized individual conscience instead of informing yourself on Catholic teaching),
  • contraception and abortion (see above and the book).

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Shrink to Win Works

Peggy Noonan, bless her heart, doesn't get it.

She argues that the Republican party needs to become a "big tent" if it is to successfully combat the Democrats. She argues that kicking people out is no way to become popular. She is wrong in every respect.

"Shrink to Win" is a marvelously effective strategy, used constantly throughout history. Lenin followed this course when he named his party "the Bolsheviks", which means "the majority", even though they were NEVER a majority prior to their takeover of power. He wrote "Better Smaller, But Better" - a screed with insisted that a small party was more effective than a large one.

Hitler and Stalin did the same, restricting party membership for the same reason Lenin did - to maintain ideological purity. Napoleon pointed out that firmness of purpose is to numbers of troops as three is to one.

Every successful leader recognizes that force of purpose makes more difference than force of numbers. A small group of people with a single purpose accomplishes more than a large group of people whose motivations are diffused and obscure.

Barack Obama understands this. He has surrounded himself with fellow travelers, people who think exactly as he do on every issue. That's how he has managed to ram through so much in such a short period of time. He tells everyone what they want to hear, but he does only what he wants to do. He makes sure those in positions of power think exactly as he does.

The masses don't matter - they can be manipulated to run in any direction.
They won't buck the system because they rate their families, their obligations to relatives and friends, higher than they do the harm that would accrue to them by bucking the system. "If I just keep my head down, I can keep my family/friends/myself safe, and we can ride this out."

That kind of attitude is exactly what dictators love.
A dictator doesn't give a damn about family, friends, anyone. All of these are thrown overboard in pursuit of what matters: power.

Normal people protect people. That's their priority: saving people from immediate harm. Unfortunately, operating for the short term protection from harm often opens everyone up to long-term harm.

Dictators, on the other hand, protect power from entangling ties with people.
If everyone around you believes that power's the thing, then you will get and hold power.

Oh, yes, Peggy, Shrink to Win works.
Just look up.