The Gritty Net

The internet is a rough-and-tumble place. Most of you know that. Especially sites touching on religion and politics. I appreciate bloggers who want their sites to be nice, pleasant places. I know a number of bloggers who have very strong opinions on things and who even communicate them to their readers on occasion. And they have relatively calm web sites. And some bloggers do not. I suspect the writer’s tone has something to do with it.

Opinionated people who write on religion and politics might realize that once in a while something will flare up. And people who write with gusto are probably singed somewhat more often. I’ve been reading, mainly among conservatives, a distrust on the notion of being polite and holding one’s tongue (or pen) on a difficult topic. Why should we, so the question goes, withhold the Truth from people who obviously don’t have it? Civility and charity are misplaced virtues, in the thinking of some.

I find it hard to believe I was the one stinkpot single-handedly responsible for shutting down the Anchoress’s comboxes this weekend. Though clearly I was the last straw. I’m not implying that the Anchoress is one of those people who advocate for truthiness, then bemoan when their commentariat starts looking like a flare star. But there’s a certain wisdom I recall from my parents who, while they had strong opinions on religion and politics, avoided the discussion of most anything on these topics.

Ms Scalia has an interesting observation about her blog:

I noticed things changed right about the time of the John Corapi debacle, and since then it has continued more unpleasant than pleasant around here, rather like the whole society.

I wasn’t a careful observer of this phenomenon. I know Mark Shea got poked a lot for not acceding to the echo chamber on this one. It struck me as sort of a schism within the Catholic Right. Fr Corapi was one of those rough-and-tumble guys. He called it like he saw it. His fans applauded. Others saw it a bit differently. Heretics, obviously.

I think that the momentum for rudeness has turned over the past several years. One aspect that hits me is a lack of trust among people. I know that when I’ve had moments where I’ve been able to give good advice or direction to an internet or parish foil, the tide usually turns. I don’t think we disagree any less about liturgy or politics or theology. But I think there’s a demonstrable good will. When I referred an internet friend who was a fresh move to Chicago to try St John Cantius, I received a nice email about a month or so later thanking me for helping his family find a “perfect” fit. One of my liberal friends tut-tutted, “Why did you send him there?”

Fr Corapi probably sparked the same response in people who disagreed about him. How can I trust someone who likes/hates him? The Catholic Right has had long practice in alienating the Left. Maybe they had the tools already sharpened. Maybe it was easy to engage in a form of cannibalism on former confreres. I know I’ve experienced it from the Left.

I certainly think national politics have evolved into an atmosphere of distrust. Leaked conspiracies, and suspicions have been part of the public arena seriously since Watergate. I don’t think the nation has recovered.

More from the Anchoress, and I agree her take on social media has been a marriage made in hell with the hermeneutic of suspicion:

I do think social media has a hand in the world becoming so angry, with every damn issue so quickly devolving into simplistic “you’re stupid,” “no, you’re evil” side-taking and ranting. I know I’ve indulged in it too much for my own good, even when I’ve tried not to, and increasingly, I am thinking that I want off that ride, even if it means turning the direction of the blog a little, because I don’t think it’s particularly good for me.

I can’t speak to the last diagnosis. That’s a discernment for the person in that situation. I do know that when genuine relationships are allowed to grow, that difference in philosophy tend to recede as part of the background and no longer remain the stars of the show. The challenge with the blogosphere is that the issues remain front-and-center, especially for people who are passionate about the Issues of the Day.

I don’t have the answers to the blogging questions. My readers and correspondents know I routinely examine this blog and my writing. No less than a half-dozen times I’ve discerned shutting the whole thing down. I’m not hooked into it enough so that I couldn’t call the whole thing off if my priorities changed. Or needed to change. This site escapes some bile because it doesn’t net the quantity of readers the big political and religion sites do. I think if I cut way back on faith formation and delved into liturgy and politics full-time, I could get swamped by spam and an angry minority, too. But other people do that routine so well–I ask myself: why be a copycat?

It’s a good time of year to take stock of the internet again. What’s going on that’s good? What’s a personal danger? Why are people such meanieheads?

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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12 Responses to The Gritty Net

  1. Bill Logan says:

    Why are people such meanieheads on the internet? I think it’s largely due to the mostly anonymous nature of conversation (this is the classic Penny Arcade theory). Even if someone does use their real name, you still have no idea who they are. This can make it difficult to treat them as an actual person.

  2. crystal says:

    I haven’t run across too many meanieheads but I think the people who are so mean aren’t made more so by the internet, but just given more opportunity to express their meaness through the internet. It’s almost like there’s a Lord of the Flies/high school kind of social dynamics given new life in adulthood through social media … yikes! :)

  3. Crystal (Watson?)
    Really? And in stark contrast to Bill’s apt observation, you haven’t run across Mssrs. Grady, Flynn and Ms. Burke at PTB?
    I’ll even allow as how they might perceive my own demeanor to be so caricatured. But folks do develop a presence of berating philosophical opponents primarily upon rhetorical disagreements, or minor points of grammar or misunderstood semantics and other picayune distractions so much that they become “serial meanieheads,” IMHO. We have ’em on the conservative side, named and unnamed. At a forum that was once quite vibrant and valuable, so many great contributors left because of trolls and meanieheads that only a shell of regulars remain, including an incredibly arrogant traddie who won’t ‘fess up as to motive or merit in their postings.
    Todd, it’s getting seriously disabling as perhaps Scalia is trying to intimate; so much so that, as you regularly point out, the gospels and Christ Himself are totally obscured. That is textbook tragedy in our “business.” And, I believe, potentially schismatic.

  4. Todd says:

    Charles, having inhabited many conservative sites for the past thirteen years, to be quite honest, I don’t see it getting any worse in the big picture. Perhaps what’s changing is that here and there, people are mixing it up on what would be for them “alternative” web sites.

    Speaking for myself, I haven’t had any trad try to get me fired in the past four years. And the last major bloodied exit from a Right site was about three years ago. One person’s daisy is another’s poison ivy, I suppose.

    I think part of the issue is trust, and from what I’ve seen, many of the conservatives don’t have it. Some tend eject the liberals or alienate them, then they turn cannibal over Fr Corapi or some other excuse for orthodoxy when certain cherished notions are bothered by free-thinkers.

    I would welcome a more open format, at least in part of the blogosphere. But except for Jeffrey on just a few occasions, nobody responds with enthusiasm to my overtures. To be cynical, I don’t think many people are ready for real civility. Thank heavens we can still get it in our live faith communities.

  5. So, the issue is trust then, amen. If we must be axiomatic about conservatives not having or more likely displaying that, might I ask in what trust are clergymen like Fr. Flynn and the seemingly whole Irish presbyterate, and the other (to my ears intolerant) protestants (old sense of the word) invested? It’s not all difficult to hear what they’re against, but it is exremely difficult to know what they’re for through the din and bombast of their victimazation polemic, rage and rhetoric.
    If there’s any WWJD present in their pushback and holy derision of the four-pillored RCC, it’s a Che/Boff/Berrigan politicized gospel, more about revolution than freedom through discipline, which like it or not, is central and core to our Christian calling. And which makes Fr. Barron a more credible witness than a Fr. Flynn or a bunch of Austrian clerics.
    I don’t know what portends for internet discourse.
    I’m thinking of a thesis in which I’ll propose that anyone who ever uses “I” as a subject noun and “like” as its verb within an argument or debate shall be immediately disqualified from the pool. That’s all I gots for now.

    • Todd says:

      I don’t know that I focus a whole lot on the particular negative individuals. I call them out, certainly. I don’t think there’s a whole lot of policing within the individual systems. in other words, there’s not much keeping up with the Joneses and the Flynns on their respective sites. I’ll admit that more often I get a request to lean on Jimmy than I do on FrMichael.

      As for “the din and bombast of their victimazation polemic, rage and rhetoric,” I’d say that substituting caricature for rage you’d have Jeffrey Tucker pretty well characterized. And I don’t find it hard to know what he stands for. The only problem is that the bombast gets headlining like the puppet show and chant is sort of like the billing for Spinal Tap.

      But like the PrayTell regulars, it’s hard to see how his manifesto will play in an ordinary parish. By the latest chant hymnal, attend the Colloquium, implement the propers, cross your fingers, and hope you don’t get fired. It looks more like substituting one set of gods for another in some sort of pagan musical chairs.

      And don’t get me wrong on that last sentence. I’m not touting my victim card or my rage. I just don’t see how it’s going to spread and deepen the Gospel, is all. In a way it’s easier to trot out an attempt at humor. I had to laugh this weekend with JT declaring the reporters are on the side of chanting the propers. I have no reason to disbelieve it. I just find the endorsement a little off-kilter. Cue Katie Couric chanting Ad te levavi …

      • I just don’t see how it’s going to spread and deepen the Gospel, is all.

        And, praise God, that is the nexus at which you and I meet and greet, my brother (and sister Crystal!) Todd.
        Riffing upon my revulsion at the “like” factor, any casual observer could see that Haas, Haugen and Hurd are out there inhabiting and exercizing the gospel as they understand it, and despite hardliner admonitions to the contrary, first doing no harm. So, you don’t like their music; don’t use it, speak against it if you must. But your not liking that or them personally does not give you a right to judge them. I’ve seen Jeffrey Tucker every year at CMAA events. I know of his actions as well as his words. Todd knows that how Jeffrey speaks one to one is substantially different than how he orates his gospel take in larger situations. But we have to try real HARD not to judge each other if in fact they’ve first done no harm.
        The individuals I regretably have mentioned in this thread didn’t demonstrate that ability before venting, and God help me I wish I did not feel in my heart that that was so.
        We need a breather, a mixer, an “aha” moment amid all this clatter and clutter; and it is to be found in the gospels first. And then, depending upon one’s inclination, either have the MR3 load lightened, or carry it as a cross into our moments of prayer and worship.

      • Liam says:


        Well, there’s a cluster of commenters at PTB from The Isles (to use the PC term) who all know each other and feel very free to get bitchy. Kinda reminds me of the mirror image of Rorate Caeli. My understanding is that Fr Ruff permits it not because he approves but because, while the internet is full of sites where traditionalist bitchiness is given free reign, it’s less accommodating of the mirror image, and he wants people to see what’s out there, as it were. Again, that’s my surmise from some comments of his I read in 2010. That said, Grady seems to be commenting less, and I as a progressive am grateful for it, because at times he’s like a Maurice Pinay of the erstwhile left.

  6. crystal says:

    Yes, Watson :)

    It’s not that I don’t come upon people who disagree with me, but just not that many who are really mean-spirited and abusive in a personal way, I guess. At PTB, the people who seems the worst are really not as bad as bad can get – no swaering, not much name-calling, no death threats :)

  7. Crystal, here’s my point-
    I’ve been deemed unqualified in liturgics, unable to grasp both large and small nuances of arguments, verbose (which is true, but beside the point when I have one) and a liar (not true) by the likes of “Fr.” Flynn at PTB. None of which matter a hoot and a holler whether my observations or opinions are of merit after I’ve uttered them. Is this behavior that reflects WWJD? Todd and I share a sort of mutual, fraternal DMZ where occasionally we commiserate over such excesses of calumny privately that sometimes includes philosophical peer group cannibalsim. So, he and I have done our homework. We’re in the vineyard, working and supervising, and doing our damnest to bring forth good fruit, (demonstrable) while muckrakers take their shots from the peanut gallery.
    I also can’t totally agree with your assessment that PTB is free of name-calling. I can name that tune in one note: Grady. Calling a reverend priest “Princess,” using an avatar unequivocally meant to demean a Prince of the church…
    Could also cite that the “name calling” takes the ironic masque coined by the disgraced VP Sprio Agnew: “Nattering nabobs of negativity.” If we’re not in the “Liturgy Country Club,” we’re rubes. It’s there to see in 20/20. And it’s something that AWR, should he want to restore authentic gospel charity and values to PTB, will need to address very soon.
    If the collective at PTB want to label me or anyone (Fr. McDonald comes to mind having endured more slings and arrows than anyone) a “maroon,” and declare us anathema, let them merely say so. But if they don’t have the cajones to just say “You’re not welcome here,” then they’re just as ineffective as the curial boogeymen they mock and deride.
    Death threats? Well, this isn’t the Oakland Raiders’ Fan Forum. But the death of civility, maybe. Todd rightly allows as how.

  8. crystal says:

    I do agree with you. I don’t read all the posts at PTB so I may have missed some of the latercations. I don’t know what works best for discouraging people from making abusive comments – calling them on what they’re doing, or ignoring them. It does seem very un-Christian.

  9. Known as 332 says:

    And Todd, if it’s me you’re referring to, we’re still happily making the 45 minute drive to St. John Cantius 7 years later (if not, excuse my arrogance!)

    As one who struggles to be a good Catholic, the backbone that first Our Lady of Good Counsel in KC, and later St. John Cantius in Chicago has helped keep me closer to the straight and narrow. (And you recommended both choices to me, Deo Gratias!)

    So 1 vote for bridge building!

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