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.