“A Function of the Ferocity”

I see St Blog’s is going through its occasional “Why Are We So Mean?” examen, with both left and right participating. Plus some trying to stay above the fray. I think the pleas are becoming slightly more earnest and heartfelt as the years roll by.

As a critic of cultural exceptionalism, I can’t embrace the notion that Catholic manners are getting worse or better. People are people. The anonymity afforded us on the internet encourages a bit more aggression in how we relate to other anonymous people. New anonymons are always popping up. The overall level of behavior and charity stays the same.

What is happening on the net in Catholic circles? Lots of bloggers have retired over the past decade and taken some in their commentariats with them. Lots of new bloggers have emerged to stick a nose, a head, or even a middle finger above the waves. The difference today might be that some of us have been writing for years, and a few of us have even found the blogging medium an opportunity for growth, maturity, and a little refinement in our attitudes toward people who disagree with us.

The St Blog’s spectrum today widens beyond the self-styled orthodox. You can find most any brand of Catholicism online today. That’s an opportunity for dialogue, if one wishes. It’s also a sign that the sky is falling, so it’s time to be even more secure within the walls of one’s own cadre of like-minded thinkers. In other words, circle the wagons–the unbelievers are here! I note with amusement that after years of practice on liberals, conservatives often set upon their own. Instead of Apollos and Paul, they plant the flag around personalities like Fr Corapi or concepts like TOB.

I’ll confess that by and large, I’m not a joiner. I never felt totally at home within self-selected liberal groups in the 80′s. I feel less at home rubbing shoulders with conservative Catholics who’ve blogged since the turn of the century. I realize that my long practice of posting only when I have something contrary to say gives the impression I don’t have anything good to say about some of my ideological opposites. Is that my problem? I suppose it is. But I’m inclined to waste too much of my day pointing out my “better” idea as it is–how can I justify adding to the chorus of “Oh, how bad it is that Catholics are persecuted/sidelined/misunderstood/great/happy/ …”

At the dotCommonweal thread linked above, Barbara’s comment struck me the deepest:

(I)t has been a flaw of religious argumentation going back to the Inquisition, the Thirty Years War and probably all wars nominally inspired by religious difference back to the beginning of time: when you can’t argue about something that is based in rational principle it is often the case that your best chance at winning is simply a function of the ferocity of your views — your authenticity becomes a function of your intransigence and not your ability to persuade from reason.

When reason is used as a “weapon” to counter views stated from authority, the response is to double down on the rigid application of authority. This is why, as quoted above, it’s possible to find a similar kind of nastiness among the early church fathers, Augustine, and no doubt others.

Two things.

Sitting in front of a computer or smart phone is not a very active stance with which to engage the world. No wonder the fight instinct encourages us to be ferocious in nudging our way to the top of the hill and plant our flag.

As I began my lectio divina journey in the book of Judges, immediately confronting a tale of military defeat and the lament of a conquered leader in having his thumbs and big toes cut off as he had done to others, I could not just sit and swallow that violence uncritically. Even if the author seemed to entirely approve in attributing a grudging recognition of God from the vanquished Canaanite.

I’m not prepared to erase saints off the list for being intemperate. But then again, I don’t have to swallow their schtick head, body, and tail either. If I’m going to call out Catholic bloggers for being wrong, wrong, wrong, why would Thomas More, Augustine, or anyone else be exempted from assessment? Am I going to be banned from heaven as a troll if I do it? Doubtful.

What do I glean from all this? I think I need another day or two of introspection, but I have to examine my own ferocity. And, I think, maintain my skepticism when anybody, saint, Bible author, blogger, and even friend, suggests that it’s okay to shout someone down, cut off a thumb, or otherwise go against the grain of Christ.

A lot of you readers surf more widely than I do. What do you see? Will the latest crop of bloggers be fruitful and exceptional in their struggle against ferocity? Am I faltering on cynical soil here?

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About catholicsensibility

Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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2 Responses to “A Function of the Ferocity”

  1. David D. says:

    I actually think that when compared to other blogs dealing with inherently disputatious subjects, the tone of St. Blogs is, by and large, reasonably civil. As Catholics, even the most argumentative and ideological among us seem to recognize that telling the other side to “go to hell” is simply not an option.

  2. crystal says:

    I’ve just started visiting the blog of a Catholic academic and author and I was surprised at the level of antagonism and competition generated between him and another blogger who negatively reviewed one of his books. I guess few are immune to ferocity :)

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