Monday, July 16, 2007

The Essence of the Debate ...

I've been watching the discussion between Mark Adams and Kathleen in the combox and felt compelled to weigh in.

The short answer is that Mark's entire approach on torture has been fairly incoherent. Depending on who is asking the questions, he has either a mixture of patronizing and willing to admit at least some flaws in his own arguments (his response to Akin) or ready to issue an anathema sit at the drop of a pin. It depends on who is asking the question and what his own knee-jerk emotional state is at the time - rather like how he shifts back and forth between whether Bush is a good man but fatally flawed leader or Nicholas II to Cheney's Rasputin. This shoot from the hip rhetorical style is something that infects his commentary on a number of levels as Victor and I have tried to note and document here on any number of occasions.

As for Mark's telepathy, he has been so good as to provide us with two recent examples.

In reply to question about the Coalition for Fog, he describes us as:
CfF=Coalition for Fog: a blog devoted to making as many excuses as possible for the Bush Administration policies of prisoner abuse and torture.

Oh, and to obsessing over this blog. You can Google them and see what I mean.

It is comments like this that are one of the reasons why I find Mark's outrage when he believes people have put words in his mouth to be so amusing. Neither Victor or I have weighed in much from a secular legal perspective on the topic of Bush administration's interrogation policies. Just because something is legal does not make moral and so on. Our primary problem has to do with Mark's horrid moral theology on this topic and his bombastic reactions whenever someone actually calls him on it. And while both Victor and I are politically conservative, neither of us are exactly what you would describe as die-hard supporters of the Bush administration.

Mark later writes:
Nobody will mistake Fr. O'Leary for an adulator of the current Pope, but I'm still not sure how this gets us closer to a meaning for NeoCath. O'Leary takes Fr. Brian Harrison, the Ratzinger Fan Club and various other fans of the Pope to task (rightly in my view) for somehow suddenly becoming extremely interested in trying to figure out a way to reconcile torture with the bleedin' obvious teaching of the Church, just at the moment when it was most convenient for supporters of President Bush's policies of torture and prisoner abuse. To a non-American, it's not really so mysterious why a bunch of American conservatives suddenly found it so extremely important to pretend that we should drop everything and ponder the need for a more nuanced and liberal interpretation of the Church's clear and unequivocal condemnation of torture as intrinsically immoral. And he's right that, in doing so, "Critics of Cardinal Ratzinger have done him much less damage than his fans."

I really don't regard our interpretation of Gaudium et Spes to be any more "liberal" than Cardinal Newman's take on the Syllabus of Errors. Certainly our view isn't something that the overwhelming majority of liberal theologians (self-described or otherwise) would endorse, so I'm not sure what the word means in this context except (surprise, surprise) as yet another attempt at ad hominem by Mark. I also don't think that it is nearly as apparent as he does that you have to be an American to accept this view of Gaudium et Spes, especially since in order to accept Mark's view you have to ignore the vast body of historical evidence that any number of Catholics and popes saw nothing contradictory between Catholic teaching and acts that would almost certainly be considered torture today. Now it is certainly true that Catholics and popes have done all kinds of nasty things over the centuries, but to accept Mark's view you have to argue that the Church not only stood by but even formalized procedures for an intrinsically immoral practice for centuries. I see to remember Our Lord's promise that the gates of hell would not prevail against His Church.

Now Mark argues that we wouldn't be having this argument if it weren't for the current debate over interrogation. I suppose that is true in the same sense that we wouldn't be having a debate about Catholic teaching and race if it weren't for the civil rights movement. Like it or not, the purpose of the Christian faith is to be relevant to the society around it. This is one of the reasons that Jesus gave for setting up the faith in the first place. As for the claim that we are deliberately twisting our views for craven political purposes, I think the onus is once again on him to put up or shut up here.

6 comments:

Donald R. McClarey said...

We wouldn't be having this debate in the form that it has taken if Mark hadn't decided that his position regarding torture was the Catholic position. Mark obviously became wedded to this position before he fully thought out all of its implications, "Gee, how does my take jibe with what the Church taught, and practiced, for almost a thousand years?", and he has been unwilling to crawl back off the precarious branch he is now perched on.

From a tactical point of view Mark's intervention has been no favor to Catholic opponents of current US policies regarding captured terrorists. Instead of focusing on what interrogation techniques are licit and what are not, something Mark adamantly refused to discuss, Mark single-handedly shifted the debate to whether the Church now teaches that torture is intrinsically evil and how that position fits with prior Church teaching and practice. Mark's postion in this area is a weak one as illustrated by his ultimate decision to cut off debate on this question on his blog and his recourse to bluster and fulminations instead of reasoned debate. Thus Mark shifted debate in Saint Blog's from a strong area for his anti-torture side, what techniques should from a Catholic viewpoint be considered illicit, I believe there are a whole host of techniques that most Catholics would condemn, to a weak area, torture is intrinsically evil, a proposition that I think most Catholics with any sense of history find deeply disturbing considering the history of the Church from about 950-1870.

Joseph D'Hippolito said...

Donald, Mark won't engage in the kind of discussion you wish because, like all-too-many converts to Catholicism over the past 30 years, they believe their faith begins and ends with JPII. Consequently, they have neither historical nor theological perspective. They remain adolescents, intellectually and spiritually; Mark is the perfect exemplar of this.

Christopher Fotos said...

Shea:

To a non-American, it's not really so mysterious why a bunch of American conservatives suddenly found it so extremely important to pretend that we should drop everything and ponder the need for a more nuanced and liberal interpretation of the Church's clear and unequivocal condemnation of torture as intrinsically immoral.

The day Mark started arguing along these lines--a good ways back now--was the day when it was no longer possible to rely on him as a Catholic apologist. He reached this point after the habits he developed in secular debates--ready, fire, aim--began to apply themselves in this difficult area. Because the teaching isn't clear and isn't unequivocal in the way he thinks it is; if anything the weight is on the other side of the scale.

So I have often scratched my head when people have defended his... tone by saying what a great apologist he is. Uh, no. At this point the only way to be confident he's on the right track, on any subject, is to consult other authorities and merely competent writers. Which ultimately makes him irrelevant, unless you're just going for style and enjoy the fireworks.

Phillip said...

Christopher,

I agree. At first I thought Mark was a great apologist and bought two of his books. As time goes on, it is clear that he is not an original thinker but merely good at consolidating the thoughts of others. This is fine when a topic has been very well thought out as is the case in many theological topics.
When there is a call to develop doctrine however, Mark quickly deteriorates into establishing himself as an expert (without any clear training in philosophy or theology to my knowledge)and then rhetorically insulting those who have legitimate objections to his views. Mostly this is based on his rather arrogant view that he is an expert on most (all?) things. This is hardly the sign of a good apologist.
This of course is part of the middle school personality he demonstrates repeatedly.
Mark, read that post from Tom of Disputations again. Then go to Confession.

kathleen said...

"So I have often scratched my head when people have defended his... tone by saying what a great apologist he is. Uh, no. At this point the only way to be confident he's on the right track, on any subject, is to consult other authorities...."

yup. to be a "good writer" or a "great apologist", it's not enough to write well -- one has to think well too.

Phillip said...

Though I think all one has to consider is the content of Mark's blog. It is mostly political at this point with little apologetics. He would disagree perhaps, but polemics is not apologetics.