Wednesday, April 18, 2007

I definitely understand your point, Dave ...

Particularly where you write:
So it'll continue to go on indefinitely? Isn't there a point when it becomes overkill or unedifying or scandalous (Catholic against Catholic for months on end) or counterproductive, or some combination of the above?

That's what I truly wonder about. Okay; so you guys disagree on the torture thing, and related issues, and you think Mark is a big-mouth blowhard loose cannon. We get that. Is there nothing else that can be productively written about or have a blog devoted to?

I think that Victor and I have periodically written about other topics and that we are likely to continue to do so as the situation develops. However, I hope that you understand that our disagreements with Mark have now progressed far beyond the original issue of torture, which I don't think that I have explicitly brought up for some time now. He has made a number of claims over the course of the Lenten period alone that are, for lack of a better term, nothing short of crackpot and black helicopter. I don't think that these are theological errors (though they could easily lead to that), but I think you'll understand if I find it rather alarming to see someone expounding upon these views from the platform of a prominent Catholic dialogue.

To me, this is a secondary point even to Mark's hyperbolic rhetorical style - I would be equally alarmed by a Catholic apologist who argued that American democracy is basically a sham or that we are ruled by a conspiracy of millionaires who want to kill off the lower classes no matter what his rhetorical style. That Mark packages his socio-political views as being those of the Truly Faithful Catholic rather than his own peculiar synthesis of libertarianism, paleoconservatism, and more recently to a far lesser extent Marxism makes it all the more presumptuous and inflammatory, at least to me.
What good is accomplished? That is what I am wondering. It's fine to discuss legitimate issues but this thing has gone far beyond that. It involves far too much personal sniping back and forth, which is what is scandalous among Christians and fellow Catholics. Is there not a time when any good that could come from a discussion that has been beaten to death (any discussion), has been exhausted, and when it is time to move on?

In terms of the torture debate, I agree that we have probably reached that point with the exception of allowing ourselves to correct his repeated misrepresentation of our positions whenever he feels in the need of a straw man. As I said, if I were in Shawn's position and lived in Seattle, I would have been more than happy to meet with him in a respectful fashion and explain where he and I part ways and why I believe myself to be correct on these issues. On a secular political level, I have repeatedly offered to purchase multiple books for him in order to help him better understand the political views of his opponents in the hopes that he will refrain from his reckless style of argumentation against "neoconservativism." That was intended as a serious offer rather than sarcasm and those books are his any time he wants to ask for him. It was my hope that by adopting the Biblical standard of testing all and retaining that which was good that he would be able to recognize that neoconservatism in particular that he has all but explicitly linked with the section of the Catechism that refer to the rise of the antichrist (and conflated with libertarianism, but that is neither here nor there) is a lot more than the secular messianist project that he alleges it to be if you just read their own words.
I feel the same about the Sungenis issue, and have stated so (mostly at Against the Grain. I fully agree with his critics. He is dead-wrong. But what's the point of now three years or so, worth of public criticisms? Entire websites devoted to Sungenis' difficulties; several people seemingly devoting all or the lions' share of their energy and labor spent writing online, to Bob Sungenis . . . isn't there anything better they could do? I certainly think so.

Imagine if one of these folks died tonight and God asked them, "what have you been doing with the time that I have given you, with regard to ways to get out the message of Christianity?" And they say, "well, Lord, I've been writing against Bob Sungenis for three years." Does anyone seriously think that this would be very high on God's list of priorities of what a Christian could spend time doing, for years on end? I highly doubt it.

To be fair Dave, had Sungenis been allowed to carry on without reproach it would have done far worse to the Church. I think that both the apologetics movement and the Church in general are better off with Sungenis marginalized, though I continue to pray for him. The reason that I draw the parallel to St. Paul confronting St. Peter is that Mark is not a marginalized kook like Sungenis but is instead an extremely influential Catholic blogger who in my opinion is sinking further and further into some extremely bizarre views about how the world works. Moreover, he is increasingly adopting a pseudo-ultramontane view that holds that those who disagree with him are less than fully faithful to at least the ordinary Magisterium of the Church. At that point, I think we enter into the area of theological error and like St. Paul in Galatians I think that we have an obligation to try and correct it for the edification of his readers if not Mark himself.

As far as what we hope to accomplish, while I can't speak for Victor I myself want to prevent other Catholics from falling into the same theological errors that I believe Mark has because, particularly within the current domestic political context within which these errors are held, the likelihood of producing even greater scandal and division within the Body of Christ become even more likely. I would also argue that as part of our loyalty to the actual ordinary teaching Magisterium and how Pope Benedict has applied it to Europe that we have an obligation not to just write off Western civilization the way Mark did with that sickening prayer that the West and Dar al-Islam destroy one another. Long-term, I would also like to convince Mark himself of the errors on this score or at least reach the point where we can agree to disagree without having being subject to his periodic issuing of anathema sits. I don't see the latter occurring as long as this conversation occurs only online, however, because I do not think that the medium is helpful to that level of discourse.

I hope that this helps to answer Dave's question.

One other thing that I have said repeatedly (and will say again) is that I understand that there are people who comment here who have a lot bigger beef with Mark than Victor or myself. I hope that these same people also recognize that a lot of different people have a lot of different perspectives on how to tackle this issue. So while there are legitimate discussions to be had, I want those discussions to occur within the context of civil (if sometimes heated) conversation. I think Victor said pretty much the same thing in the combox the other day.


Dave Armstrong said...

Thanks for your thoughts.

To be fair Dave, had Sungenis been allowed to carry on without reproach it would have done far worse to the Church.

Of course, I never suggested that he shouldn't be reproached at all. I am objecting to two-three years of ongoing rebuke, with whole blogs and (from the looks of it) virtually entire lives and tremendous energy being devoted to the "anti-Sungenis" cause.

Some of the same people doing this have already squandered (in my opinion, having known them personally) tons of opportunities to do some very helpful apologetics and use of their considerable gifts in other areas, by becoming embroiled in the stupidity and separationism of so-called "traditionalism". Instead, they alternate between bashing popes and Bob Sungenis. It's a sad, very troubling waste of God's gifts.

But on my original point: it's not a disagreement over principle (anti-Semitism and goofy cosmology should be opposed) but prudence (how long and how much energy do we devote to rebuking manifest error, and what better use of our time is conceivable?).

The same analysis applies to this blog. As long as I have given you some food for thought and basis for at least pondering my observation, that's good.

And thanks, especially, for listening to my unsolicited advice without lashing out with insult. That's extremely refreshing and renews my hope in humanity.

Joseph D'Hippolito said...

Dave's legitimate concerns can be answered by this question: What will it take for Mark Shea to stop acting as if he is the sole legitimate Catholic authority on the war on terror, and abusing others in the process?

All the measures used so far -- blogging, deleting links, issuing public papers on Web sites -- have had, at best, limited effect. Why? Because Shea will not listen to anybody who is essentially equal to him, or who cannot do anything but offer rebukes that can't, by their very nature, provide punishment.

And punishment is what Shea needs. The man is out of control. Measures taken so far will not control him. It's time to try something else.

That something else is taking away his standing among Catholic apologists. Shea must realize that his behavior tarnishes not only those apologists who associate with him, but the faith as well.

Therefore, those apologists have a moral responsibility to confront Shea as a group, and tell him that, unless he stops bullying and smearing others, they will not publish or alude to any of his writings and they will not provide references for any Catholic group that wishes to invite him to speak -- and make good on that pledge. In fact, those apologists should actively discourage Catholic groups from inviting Shea.

It should be obvious at this point that Shea has no concern for basic human decency, let alone sound research or thought. It seems that the only thing he cares about is his apologetics "ministry." It's like a misbehaving child who's infatuated with a particular toy or a rebellious teen infatuated with a car or friends. Take the toy away or ground the teen, and the misbehaving party will change his behavior.

That's the only approach that will work with Shea, since he can't be trusted to rely on his own scruples.

If Sungenis can be marginalized for screwy theories, then so can (and should) Shea for his cruelity and lies.

Dave Armstrong said...

What do I do to stop YOU (and by extension, any non-apologist who populates the Internet) from saying idiotic things, Joseph? Do you publish books or do talks? Why don't you give me the address of where you work, so I can put pressure on your boss to threaten your livelihood if you don't refrain from your verbal inanities (including -- I know from my own experience with you --, lies about others) in public?

Or is it only apologists who have to be pure as the driven snow in their online verbiage, while their critics and everyone else can (potentially or actually) be total asses and accusing slanderers if they wish?

It seems like the only reasonably effective way to preserve intelligent, respectful discussion and quality control on the Internet with regard to most folks who don't write for a living, is to simply ban them if they become ridiculous and uncontrollably insulting.

I don't like that at all myself (as a great advocate of free speech and as much tolerance of diverse opinions as possible), and am always extremely reluctant to do it (I've only banned four people in three years, and all of them were devoted to relentless lying about me and impervious to any reasoning whatsoever), but what else could be done in such instances?

It's easy to call for boycotts when you are able to do so. I'm saying: what do we do when the other 99.9999% of the folks inhabiting the Internet become outrageous and beyond hope of reform?

Goose and gander . . .

Dave Armstrong said...

I wasn't, of course, meaning to imply that "99.9999%" of people on the Internet are outrageous. I meant, "when those who are members of this class of people who make up 99.9999% of Internet participants act incorrigibly unethically, what does one do (since a boycott is not possible)?"

Joseph D'Hippolito said...

Dave, there's are big differences between Shea and "99.9999 percent" of the people on the Internet, including myself.

First, Shea implies (if he doesn't claim outright) that his opinions constitute the only legitimate interpretation of Catholic doctrine concerning "torture," the war on terror, the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq and other subjects that touch those issues.

Second, though Shea might be speaking as an individual, his opinions carry extra weight with readers because of his stature as a respected Catholic apologist. Therefore, many people assume that he speaks for the faith on these issues.

Third, and most importantly, Mark has adopted smears, lies, personal attacks and obsessive campaigns of character assassination as a fundamental part of his repertoire. The most recent example is when he smeared Shawn McElhinney concerning Hiroshima and Nagasaki, a subject that was not germain to the topic and hand. Shea's sole purpose was to destroy the credibility of an opponent even before addressing that opponent's challenges.

This is so obvious that I wonder why it needs to be explained to an intelligent, eloquent person like you.

Besides, the fact that you have a public disagreement w/McElhinney is irrelevant to this discussion.

I don't expect apologists (Catholic or otherwise) to be simon-pure; I know better. I do, however, expect them to have enough respect for their profession -- if not for the faith they claim to profess and the God they claim to worship -- not to let one of their own number go off half-cocked and behave cruelly toward others.

I really suggest, Dave, that you stop over-reacting to my statements and take it upon yourself and encourage your professional peers to confront Shea with consequences that he will take seriously.

Joseph D'Hippolito said...

I should point out at this rate that the apologetics community should confront Shea not for the opinions he expresses but for the way he expresses them: with mininal research, logic or thought, and with a tremendous emphasis on insults, cruelty and general, all-around venality.

Dave, do you really want such a person representing your profession?

Anonymous said...

my feeling is that you two have a fair amount to offer in terms of setting out alternative Catholic views on various topics, and that being seen (rightly or wrongly) as playing two Ahabs to Mark Shea's Moby Dick could hamper your ability to reach people who need to hear those alternative views.

Treating Shea as the Instapundit of the positions you object to and distrust, a clearing house for links to people whose views need to be addressed, instead of someone whose own statements need to be quoted and refuted at endless length, over and over, would I think only add to your credibility.

Dave Armstrong said...

But you didn't answer my question (as usual):

"is it only apologists who have to be pure as the driven snow in their online verbiage, while their critics and everyone else can (potentially or actually) be total asses and accusing slanderers if they wish?"

"what do we do when the other 99.9999% of the folks inhabiting the Internet become outrageous and beyond hope of reform?"

I'm taking the principle you espouse (boycott folks and scream bloody murder till they reform and repent and become perfect angels) and widening it to all people (since sin is wrong no matter who does it).

I agree that apologists have a higher profile, and should therefore strive to behave according to the highest Christian standards, but it still remains true that every Christian is a witness, and every Christian who ventures out onto the Internet is in public territory, and every Christian is called to act ethically and righteously.

So how do we reform those people, when they screw up and become scandalous in their discourse or demeanor?

Or is it your view that only apologists should be subject to pressure, and social stigma when they fall short?

Mark Adams said...

Dave Armstrong,

I really don't see any point in engaging Joseph D'Hippolito. It only gives him another reason to continue posting comments. (Just my own unsolicited advice)

Joseph D'Hippolito said...

Dave, I'm no longer going to engage you on this topic. All you want to do is engage in hystrionics merely for the sake of fomenting a long, drawn-out debate that will serve no purpose.

I've made my position clear, which is that the Catholic apologetics community should offer sanctions against somebody who publicly smears and bullies others as a matter of course. If you can't see the morality of such an action, then you truly deserve pity.

Dave Armstrong said...

You're right, Mark (and Josiah). I just accepted Joseph's apology for past remarks at my expense on an earlier thread, then I came here, and see he is already insulting me again. So it is completely futile.

The guy is determined to take a negative, cynical, hostile view of me, no matter what I do. I'm an apologist, after all, and we are vile, dishonest creatures, according to some.

I'd be interested in hearing other opinions, though, on the general issue. I'll try not to take Joseph's bait again and be drawn into nonsense that only gets thrown back in my face.

Joseph D'Hippolito said...

Dave, my apology on the thread in question was sincere. The fact that I did not use the same language on this thread that I did on that one proves it!

You would be hard pressed to find any comment on this thread addressed to you that any rational person could consider personally insulting.

If you are not trying to engage in a long, drawn-out discussion that I believe would serve no purpose (as our other discussion have turned out to be), then what *are* you trying to do?

Shawn said...


In response to this comment of yours:

if I were in Shawn's position and lived in Seattle, I would have been more than happy to meet with him in a respectful fashion and explain where he and I part ways and why I believe myself to be correct on these issues.

There are a number of reasons for why I did not get together with Mark over these matters Victor. Most of them were noted in a private correspondence between Mark and myself when he emailed me on the matter. Since he did not have the decency to publicly represent me properly from those conversations, I have posted the entire correspondence HERE for those who are interested.


As far as Mark winning a "best social commentary" award and your criticisms of this, why is it okay to be critical of these things now David but back when I was originally critical of these things, that was somehow inappropriate???

Besides, he did not win that award in 2007, he was merely nominated as the banner he posted says.

You and I have been nominated for these kinds of awards in different categories and I did not post my "finalist" status for any of them or the "nominee" status nor to my knowledge did you do this.

Of course the very fact he would post a banner about being nominated for an award tells you a bit about what we are dealing with here with someone like Mark who obviously has a kind of pathalogical "need" for these sorts of "awards" for presumed "validation" in the absence of self confidence in one's own ability to articulate their views in a rational fashion.

Shawn said...

Sorry Torq, I meant to address the first part of that last posting to Victor not you.

Mea minima culpa.

Shawn said...

To you and not Victor I mean ;-)