Tuesday, February 20, 2007

The Perils of Accurately Representing an Opponent's Positions

First of all, I've said before that I'm all in favor of dialing down the rhetoric for our disputes with Mark. I thought that both Victor and I have made this fairly clear. Heck, I'm even willing to send him books free of charge so that he can actually learn something about the evil neocons that he so vehemently (and ignorantly) disagrees with from the horse's mouth. As I said repeatedly, I don't consider Mark an enemy but nor do I feel that it is the pinnacle of disrespect to have a forum in which you can respond when someone repeatedly and consistently misrepresents you.

There's a discussion going on in the combox as to whether or not Victor and I are justified in our accusation that Mark has lied about our positions. As more than one individual has noted, we are extending a lot more charity to him than he has either to us or the Bush administration. To illustrate this, let me note his explanation for how the entire American political system works:
And they [religious conservatives] have been exploited and used by the beltway pros, the Karl Roves, the Dick Cheneys, the various consummate professionals and millionaires who make up the culture of DC and who differ from their consummate professional multimillionaire Democrat opponents, so far as I can make out, primarily in terms of which vast pools of political innocence they prefer to exploit with empty promises and cynical contempt.

The evidence that Mark cites to support this assertion is the "failure" of the religious right to adequately criticize the administration on the war in Iraq (that some of them might not adhere to Just War doctrine or might, shockingly as it seems, consider the war in Iraq to be a Just War has escaped him), their "quasi-idolatry of the Prez" (as I'm sure was apparent when Harriet Myers was nominated for the Supreme Court - also didn't Mark defend a group of hard-core evangelical Christians' reverence for Bush on the grounds that they were just trying to follow the old tradition of honoring the man they consider to be God's annointed or something similar to that?), "the weird conflation of GOP corporate values and culture with the Kingdom of Heaven," though it isn't apparent to me how his picture demonstrates this. If I recall, Ralph Reed favorably quotes Pius XI in Active Faith on the need for both subsidiary and limited government. But I am getting ahead of myself, since the standard of proof that Mark uses to demonstrate the deception and cynicism of the entire American political system (and what does that say for supporting democracy at home, one wonders?) is considerably lower than what we are willing to grant him. I'm not doing this as some kind of self-righteous chest-thumping, but rather to help readers understand the problems inherent in why Victor or myself exercise a little less restraint in using the term "lie" when Mark willfully misrepresents our positions.

Speaking of which:
But that said, let's not kid ourselves, shall we? The *main* reason this is even an issue is because the Bush Administration has pushed for and is practicing torture. Nobody was making excuses for it, or writing articles in the right wing press justifying it and laughing it off till it became clear that the Bush Administration was *doing* it and was determined to go on doing it. In previous wars, we have not seen Americans urged to accept and justify torture. In this war, we have. Catholics, to be sure, may contribute specifically theological attempts to justify torture in the interest of "preserving the indefectibility of the Church" as Chris Fotos put it. But what drives the discussion is the need of the Right for justifying Bush policy since the outbreak of the GWOT.

While it could be argued that Mark is reasoning from the particular to the general here (and if this is again supposed to be insinuation that I am Chris Fotos, I must once again state that I am not and do not plan to be), I don't think it's too much of a stretch to read this as applying to us. And if Mark gets too incensed by our use of the term liar to describe him, he might want to be more careful about using his charism of telepathy to assert the real motives of Victor and myself.

He has done this repeatedly (and not just to us, as I believe he also asserted that Chris Fotos was some kind of rad-trad because he dared to criticize Mark's view of Veritas Splendor) and we have both refrained from responding in kind by, for example, arguing that his criticism of torture is due entirely to the Iraq war, his stated animosity towards Bush, or his desire to see the Democrats win politically. Now I think that all three of those claims would be smears and I don't think that it would be that terribly hard for him to extend the same courtesy towards Victor or myself. If our arguments are as twisted and vile as he claims, then what is lost in accurately representing them in order to refute them. Dave Armstrong does this repeatedly, and his ability to argue convincingly while assuming the best possible motives of his opponents was one of the things that helped along with the Holy Spirit to lead me towards converting to Catholicism.

Mark then proceeds to argue:
In the same way, one *could* put forward some sort of abstract theological justification for slavery (it was, after all, tolerated by the Apostle Paul). But, oddly, nobody is pouring out elaborate arguments for slavery and declaring that if we do not all accept the defensibility of slavery we are endangering the "indefectibility of the Church." Nobody is saying that the condemnation of slavery by the Church is "slavery phariseeism" or laboring to show that there are situations in which it would be a good thing to reinsitute slavery. We don't find sustained efforts to show that slavery is really quite compatible with Catholic teaching, nor to demonstrate that Dignitatis Humanae or Veritatis Splendor can basically be ignored or discounted in their condemnations of slavery. Why?

Because there is no driving political agenda that has suddenly made excuse-making for slavery a theological premium. Because, in short, the political situation is not imposing itself on the teaching of the Church in such a way as to make some Catholics want to accomodate the Church's teaching to the needs of the powers that be.

Actually, if Mark actually bothered to read both our arguments what Cardinal Dulles and others have had to say about slavery, he might be surprised to learn that my view on torture is almost exactly like that which Cardinal Dulles and others have argued with regard to the Church teaching on slavery. Among those who hold to this view are Dave Armstrong and Jimmy Akin, for instance. That doesn't mean that either of them have a desire to revive the practice of slavery, no more than Victor or I have to see anyone tortured. Clarifying theology (assuming Mark can decouple it from politics for a moment) is quite different from wanting to revive practice, but Mark has wrapped his political arguments under the banner not only of theology (I don't have a problem of this) but of what I think is a very bad theological argument at that. So I argue theology rather than politics, because at least to me one flows naturally from the other and not the other way around. Mark, near as I can tell, can't even conceive of such a scenario where anyone would disagree with him except for the basest of political motives and so he lumps me in that category.

The failure, it would seem to me, is one of his own imagination.

Anywho, I really wasn't planning to type this much because like Victor, I take no particular joy in posting about Mark Shea. However, if he is going to continue to willfully misrepresent our positions to fit his own paradigm of how we must, I don't think Victor or myself is going that far out of the way to set the record straight on the subject.


Christopher Fotos said...

and if this is again supposed to be insinuation that I am Chris Fotos, I must once again state that I am not and do not plan to be

Yes, there was that strange post a while back where Mark arrived here and started addressing Torq as Chris. Something Mark can do since he isn't banned here. I could say something now about obsessostalkers, but that would be wrong.

I don't have much more to add at the moment, other than to observe that this is about the fourth time that Mark has publicly assailed me, secure in the knowledge I cannot defend myself in front of his large audience. And as I said before, this is somewhat less than admirable. On the bright side I am being associated with Fr Harrison, a theologian in good standing who has been a model of charity, erudition, and systematic argument.

I wonder at this self-congratulatory message:

Both Fr. Harrison, for instance, and Chris Fotos, for example, apparently have the notion they are guarding something essential to the deposit of faith by making excuses for torture and prisoner abuse. I think this preposterous, but I have acknowledged it.

Yeah.....if you count as acknowledging it making the statement that I've identified dueling magisteriums between which we must choose, which I'm not. But sure, in that context, he acknowledged it. And other than promoting Harrison's line of argument as a plausible way to reconcile the past and the present, I would be interested to get a citation from Mark in which I "make excuses for torture and prisoner abuse."

I do envy the man's confidence, lecturing a theologian about "the notion" the poor guy mistakenly acquired about tensions between past and present language on torture.

Christopher Fotos said...

Noting what Shawn and then Victor say at the end of the last thread:

I second what Shawn said. So today will probably mark my last public word on Shea for a while (the "goat-blowing exception" from above duly noted.

I'll add that's a good example to follow. So me too.

Anonymous said...


Mr. Shea, in reading your latest diatribe against your "enemies," let me ask this:

How do you sleep at night without the use of powerful tranquilizers?

You publicly demand that authorities "treat prisoners humanely" -- many of whom would like nothing more than to murder and maim the innocent -- yet you regularly heap gratuitous abuse on innocent people who have the audacity to disagree with you. You engage in vile personal attacks, deliberately misrepresent people's arguments and arbitrarily ban people who refuse to knuckle under.

You engage in such bullying behavior yet, when called on it, you hide behind a facade of victimization, as if you did nothing to deserve the demand for such accountability.

You publically decry "obsessostalker" blogs when you spent the better part of four years stalking me on any and every Catholic blog that I patronized. You deliberately brought up argumentative non-sequiturs to draw me into flame wars that would get me banned (which was your ultimate strategy). You tried to generate a campaign to prevent a conservative blog from publishing my work.

This is not the behavior of somebody who claims to love God and serve Christ. This is the behavior of a self-appointed Big Brother of Catholic Apologetics who views the Catholic blogosphere as his own personal Oceania, who has made it his life's mission to silence and render as non-persons anybody who exhibits tendencies toward "ThoughtCrime" as defined by Big Brother Shea.

The only reason I can give for why you engage in such behavior is that you are, at heart, a bully. And bullies, at heart, are fundamentally insecure people. You must have such a fundamental sense of inferiority, of worthlessness, of uselessness that you must bully others to make yourself feel like a real man.

It's one thing for a teenager to engage in that kind of behavior. It's quite another for a middle-aged man with a family to do so, and to do so as a matter of course.

I don't know what kind of personal, emotional, psychological, marital, familial, physical or sexual problems you have and I don't care. All I know is that neither I nor Victor Morton nor Chris Blosser nor Greg Mockeridge nor Andy Nowicki nor anybody else who has ever responded on this blog is responsible for them. Nor are those parties able to help you.

You are responsible for your problems. And only you can help you.

Get some spiritual direction. Get some individual or marital counseling. Get a personal trainer. Do whatever you need to do to confront and resolve your problems.

Most of all, start looking in the mirror and start being honest with yourself. Stop viewing your "enemies" as the problem and stop viewing Catholic "apologetics" as a way to run and hide from them.

You can start by making a public apology on your blog for your obsessive, venal cruelty toward me. You can apologize for obsessively stalking me throughout Catholic blogdom. You can apologize for using your credibility to try and shut me down. You can vow publicly that you won't engage in such behavior again.

That is what a real Christian would do. That is what a real man would do.

Otherwise, if you pursue your usual brand of infantile bullying, you will someday infuriate the wrong target, somebody who has no use for scruples, Christian or otherwise -- somebody who will make it his business to hunt you down and kick your ass until you have no more ass, or much of anything else, left to kick.

Do you really, really want to find yourself in that position?

Don't worry; it won't be me. You're not worth a plane ticket to Seattle and you're definitely not worth jail time.

BTW, do you fear God, Shea? Do you think that God likes bullies, Shea? Do you think God will ignore the fact that you regularly take His name in vain to engage in your campaigns of personal vindictiveness and baiting? Do you think that your "Catholic" facade will save you from a holy, righteous God Who places no such value in denominational facades?

Now, I'm sure you'll react by saying that I'm "St. Blog's Resident Advocate of All Things Evil." Go ahead. All you'll be doing is proving that I'm right ... and that you're nothing but a miserable silouette of a man who isn't worth three micrograms of dessicated cockroach droppings.

You can do that. You can do what you have been doing. You can continue to offend God.

Or, you can change.

If you make an honest attempt to stop behaving like an infantile jerk, you will earn the legitimate respect of people. If you continue with your current ways, you will destroy your credibility and yourself, and you will earn damnation from God.

It's up to you.

Victor said...

Good on ya, Joe.

Anonymous said...


Well, Victor, I just sent my lastest post to The Man Himself. Let's see if his concilatory is real or is as valuable as pre-Saddam Iraqi dinars.

Phillip said...

I shall take the advice also and refrain from further comments unless gross violations of justice occur on Mark's blog. Have a fruitful Lent all.

Christopher said...

Likewise, Phillip. Blessed and fruitful Lent to all.

Victor said...

I just sent my lastest post to The Man Himself.

Not good on ya, Joe.

It's one thing to vent. Another to send your ventings.

Anonymous said...


Well, Victor, knowing how freqently Shea reads this blog, he would have seen it, anyway. So why send it to him in the first place? Well, *somebody's* got to put the fear of God (literally) into the man...

roger h. said...

Yes Mark, the CfF Star Chamber has spared no expense in creating this special website.

Frank said...

wow roger h, just like Powerpoint. neato.

Anonymous said...

You know, when I first clicked on that link to roger's special website, I had the sound off on my computer, and when I saw the animation, I was amused to think it was accompanied by the audio from http://kenknowswhereyoulive.ytmnd.com

And then I turned on the speaker, and it was. Should I be amused or sad?

frank sales said...

Am I missing something, or has Amy deleted the link to Mark Shea from her Holy Blogs of Obligation list?

Andy Nowicki said...

Good sleuthing Frank! I checked, and you are right. Makes one say "Hmmmmmm...."

Phillip said...

He does seem to be getting more bizarre. Just look at his most recent Cheney post.

Back to my lenten fast.

roger h. said...

Amy moved Shea's blog over to her "Other Great Blogs" list. Sort of a demotion, I suppose.

Couldn't agree with you more about that Cheney post Phillip. Clearly, Mark was just looking for any excuse to slam the veep.