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The Hijacking of the Catholic Mind

computer keyboardDear William,

In your last letter you expressed concern over fears a wave of polarization on the internet is hijacking the traditionalist movement, listing two individuals in particular.  Whether or not they are “traditionalists” (for reasons both have documented clear, they do not use the label, however they hold many views sympathetic to what your garden variety trad holds) is not something I’m terribly interested in.  While I might view some (or even a lot) of what they do as problematic, I also don’t think this phenomena has anything to do with traditionalism, and the real problem is something far deeper that needs to be explored.

Before we embark on said journey, I would like to say a few words about Fr. John Zuhlsdorf.  There are things he does I’m not a large fan of.  But I also don’t think his accomplishments should be minimized, such as his working at Ecclesia Dei, his lobbying bishops (and teaching people how to lobby bishops respectfully), as well as his constant exhortation towards traditionalists (and all Catholics) to maintain a joyful disposition, and to not lose sight of the bigger picture.  There also exists a place within the Catholic commentariat for those like Michael Voris.  He is a muckraker no doubt, but we need muckrakers.  We need people who are willing to cover stories that more “mainstream” Catholic sources will not touch.

All this being said, I’ve long had an incredibly negative view of the Catholic blogosphere, whether it be Fr. Z, Voris, the guys at Patheos, Catholic Answers, you name them, I’ve likely criticized them.  Whatever good they do is far outweighed by the bad they do, and I go into that bad in fairly explicit (and colorful!) detail in my goodbye to blogging last year.  Suffice to say, I try to make Catholic Lane the anti-blogosphere.  Sure, a lot of my writers are bloggers, but we take an approach (an approach they have built as much as I have) that looks at all the bad things of the blogosphere and then says “do something different.”  My problem isn’t with the bloggers you mentioned, my problem is with the nature of the blogosphere itself.

The blogosphere as it functions in Catholicism today is an adversarial system.  It’s a mirror of our polarized Church and polarized culture, where you have the Optimates on one side, and the populares on the other; and those populares (whoever they may be) are vile, evil sick beings who must be destroyed.  Engaging in argument and debate is not for the enrichment of the Church as a whole, but for one group of Catholics to stomp out another, even (and especially!) if such discussions have nothing to do with orthodoxy or heresy.

They don’t exist to win converts, they exist to play to their bases and shore up support.  That every blog is not like this, and some blogs are great is irrelevant to the greater point that the problem is real.  Yet if the problem is real, individuals will often limit the problem to those people over there.  What is needed is a transformation of the blogosphere, and that will only happen once bloggers are willing to start calling out their allies for the same sins their foes commit.  So far, this is the exception, not the rule.

So in conclusion to this brief letter, yes, I will agree with you a problem is present, even amongst those who otherwise do good work.  Yet that problem has little to do with traditionalism, and instead is a common problem in the blogosphere as a whole.  If the problem is common, that means the solution is also common.  The task for those who realize this is to educate their brethren about these dangers.  We will never get a perfect blogosphere, but one more self-aware is infinitely preferable.

[editor’s note: this letter is part of a series on the role of traditionalists within the Church today. Read the entire discussion here.]


Kevin Tierney is an Associate Editor of the Learn and Live the Faith Section at Catholic Lane.  He also blogs at http://commmonsensecatholicism.blogspot.com.  You may contact him on Facebook, Google+  or follow him on Twitter @CatholicSmark.
  • Shawn McElhinney

    [Engaging in argument and debate is not for the enrichment of the Church as a whole, but for one group of Catholics to stomp out another, even (and especially!) if such discussions have nothing to do with orthodoxy or heresy.

    They don’t exist to win converts, they exist to play to their bases and shore up support. That every blog is not like this, and some blogs are great is irrelevant to the greater point that the problem is real. Yet if the problem is real, individuals will often limit the problem to those people over there. What is needed is a transformation of the blogosphere, and that will only happen once bloggers are willing to start calling out their allies for the same sins their foes commit.]

    I have called for this for years…ironically using a blog at one time (and message board forums before that) to do it. As you are raising that flag also, I want to recognize and give you props for it…may your tribe increase!

  • Struble

    Catholic Answers is a great resource. Karl Keating and his staff are loyal Catholics whom I, for one, salute.

    • And I use their resource as well. But they’ve also gone out on a limb a few times and had to walk it back because they were playing orthodoxy cop and headhunting other Catholics when they really had no reason to be. (The “Radical Traditionlaism” Radio segment in 2013 that blew up in their faces is just one example.)

      They thrive off the adversarial mindset, and that holds back what is otherwise a fine apostolate. When you don’t have a boogeyman to kick around, you can’t succeed, so you gotta dream up new boogeymen. I just think it’s time to try a different approach, one less corrosive and less “us vs them” when the “them” is often faithful Catholics.

      • Florian

        It seems that, perhaps unwittingly, you are doing exactly what you say they are doing…

        • This might come as a shock but…..

          Maybe. There’s a message, and then there’s living up perfectly to that message. Maybe I don’t, doesn’t invalidate it as some of the critics elsewhere are implying.

          But since you made a direct charge (and one respectfully), I hope I can give a direct answer. Simply opposing someone is not adopting an adversarial mindset. When the body of work is defined by such opposition, that is where it happens.

          People are free to look at the body of work I’ve established over the last couple years as I’ve built my own little fiefdom. They’ll see it’s almost entirely non-confrontational and non-polemical, and while I always have my opinions about this or that organization, I normally don’t write them much.

          Now in the case of why I was angry at Catholic Answers for their “radtrad” show, whenever they covered the topic of traditionalism publicly, it was always with such a negative connotation, and almost always being covered by those with documented hostility (some of it even self-admitted) towards traditionalists of any stripe. That they had a few secretaries or guest radio hosts (not talking about anything that might make you realize you were listening to a trad) that were faithful trads was besides the point that they really did develop an adversarial relationship towards even faithful traditionalists in their public body of work.

          All that is two years ago now, and some of their bloggers still really have an extreme prejudice towards trads of any sort (they know who they are), and it’s not hypocritical to point that out. Sometimes you will have to cross swords with someone.

          The question is: does that define your work on that particular subject?

    • Florian

      I agree…one of the best on the web.

  • Honestly I think the Patheos Portal does a good job of mixing different types of blogs so that it is not such a mirror of the polarization.

    • Patheos is an interesting category. They have a very diverse set of pretty hard partisans, it’s just their partisanship covers a wide range of ideas. Mark Shea is incredibly partisan and adversarial, but he’s a very interesting blogger who is one of the sharpest thinkers in American Catholicism. But am I going to say with a straight face that he’s a model for how all bloggers should behave? I don’t think even he would adopt that view.

    • goral

      More like Patheos is mixed up. Mark Shea has thinner skin than Obama.
      They should have the COEXIST symbols as part of their banner. That one has the Cross at the end. If you leave out the Cross you can still say Coexisss, Rev. Wright style.
      It’s all jive and Shea is a catholic jiver.

    • Kevin & Goral – Thanks for the replies. I would say Mark Shea is in a class by himself, but I do not think in general partisan is the right word nor do I think the Patheos Catholic Portal as a whole can be characterized uniquely by Shea. I

      • If one of their writers had not set off a partisan storm by claiming that anything a source she disagrees with is “bull****” and warning her readers that ANY Latin mass chapel you go to is bound to have Anti-Semitism if you look hard enough, if that’s not partisan hackery, what is?

        There are some Patheos bloggers that are great. Dawn Eden was one of them. I actually like “Diary of a Wimpy Catholic” only for the humanity it shows, even if I disagree with him on a ton. but there’s a lot of polarized opinions, and polarized people flocking there for a reason. I don’t think Liz Scalia intentionally does that (she’s actually responded to some of my past criticisms with more grace than some of her bloggers in the way that only she can), but I think that’s the reality on the ground.