I was surfing a bit this afternoon, visiting blogs and following links I haven’t seen in weeks or months. I wasn’t aware about all this hullabaloo about Mark Shea. People seem really yanked off about him. Lots of people.

Fr Brian Stanley, who used to poke in here now and then:

I sadly place him with other blogs I used to read regularly: Andrew Sullivan, the Cafeteria is Closed, Amy Welborn, Dominic Bettinelli. I’m not so sure that it is that they are the only ones who have changed — although I think they have changed. But I know I have changed, too — I hope the change is growth.

Unlike Fr Stanley, I’ve never had much ideological congruence with these people he mentions. I’ve always found them to be a bit on tilt, but that’s likely because I disagree with them and they with me. No change there as far as I can tell.

One of Mark’s characteristics is that he’s come to division with his detractors on torture and the incompetence of the Republicans. Like some progressive hangers-on in the Catholic blogosphere, he d0esn’t mind going toe to toe with them. And he does it a lot. And he’s provocative about it. I don’t know what it does to his hit count on his site, but he sure knows what buttons to push and the people come out of the woodwork almost on cue. Somebody suggested he’s angry. I don’t see it. I think he’s laughing at it all. But maybe I’m wrong; laughing is what I would do.

It’s been several years since the Catholic blogging community bloomed after 9/11 and the bishops’ cover-up scandal. I don’t know that these bloggers have changed. Fr Stanley is right: some readers have changed. But most haven’t. And what I see directed at Mark is very similar to what has been written about me and other progressives who inhabit discussion forums and blog threads.

“You’re angry!” That’s the common accusation I read. It’s hard to accept that kind of input from people one knows and trusts. On the net it seems to be untrue more often than true. What people really seem to be saying is, “You’re different!”

And for some, that’s an even harsher accusation. It also happens to be true far more often than the other diagnosis.

9/11 and the bishops have spawned a branch of the Culture of Complaint many of us see in our parishes. If somebody like Mark didn’t change his tune, I suspect that dissatisfied and frustrated readers would find somebody new about whom to complain. It’s a mob mentality: no change there.


About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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4 Responses to Blogabout

  1. Liam says:

    Mark has the pricked conscience of one who feels he was had, and he’s eager to prick the excesses of his former fellow-travellers.(Now, why would I like that?)

    It’s a tricky business managing the ego in such a situation, and the egoes of the fellow-travellers make that trickiness mighty tempting. One has to be very careful when employing the rhetorical parlor trick of over-argument. It’s used far too often at St Blog’s. and has lost its effectiveness to the point that it becomes more of a display of self-righteouness rather than a sincere effort at persuasion. It really needs to be use either as a transparent moment of humor or reserved for grave situations where it is likely to provoke a thoughtful pause among a significant portion of the audience. Mark often met this last criterion.

    While I don’t mean this in a ulitarian way, I’ve said before that I think that Mark’s bleats on the torture issue have been the most significant episode of provocative teaching moments at St Blog’s in the past few years. That’s not to say he was flawless in that regard. But he’s brought about a change I never thought I’d see 4 years ago.

  2. There’s a very good article in the current Atlantic Monthly (could be by Andrew Sullivan, can’t find my issue) about the perils and thrills that accompany the whitewater that is “blogging.”
    I haven’t read much Shea, tho’ I caught the flap about the rumors of interrogation at 25,000 feet uproar at Creative Minority.
    I do know that Gerald Augustinus’ blogs seemed to have simply imploded over what, Prop.8 or a sincere challenge to existential orthodoxy, who knows? But I know from personal experience that there is real risk from many corners, no matter how pure one’s heart or intentions may be, when laying it all out there.

  3. Sherry Weddell says:

    As I already wrote over at Against the Grain:

    Speaking as a close friend and someone who has known Mark very, very well for over two decades (we entered the Church together at the same Mass, I’m godmother to his eldest son, etc.), I can tell you that in real life he is one of the warmest, sweetest, most hospitable, hail fellow-well-met guys you will ever encounter.

    There is a huge gap between real life Mark and his blog persona. The blog seems to pull out a manner that I have never seen him display in real life and relationships.

    His best stuff, that which is most like the man that his family and friends know and love, is in his books and talks.

    Liam – I’ve mentioned your observation on the torture issue before to Mark and he found it very encouraging. I do think he has done a very important service there – even thought his language is often intemperate. Speaking from experience, I know how very, very tiring it is to repeat your basic arguments over and over and how easily it can evoke testiness. And when your commenters are hasty and nasty in response, it easily escalates.

    I’m not trying to excuse Mark’s broadsides. He and another close friend have talked to him about it before. Just to say that if that is all one knows of him – you hardly know him at all.

    Sherry Weddell | Homepage | 12.08.08 – 7:26 pm | #

  4. Liam says:


    Well put, as always. Blog (and combox) personas are not necessarily indicative of in-person personas for anyone!

    As Mark surely knows, over-argument normally carries its own punishment. I tend to harp, intemperately on occasion of course, about it myself.

    I should also note that, in addition to the torture issue, what’s been amazing has been the shift in what used to be the dominant tone of the once-perennial Hiroshima/Nagasaki Flame Wars. And I think the two shifts are deeply related. And I think the word needs to be shared with some Catholic progressives who are rather in the dark about it (I try to do my bit in that regard). I see a lot more in common among Catholic progressives and conservatives on just war / torture issues than with the middle than was the case 5 years ago.

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