Thursday, October 09, 2008

Catholic "Traditionalists" Are Conscientiously Monitoring "Angry, Pharisaical" Types in Their Ranks / Amiable Phone Discussion with a "Traditionalist"


Catholic "traditionalists" clearly have a huge image problem, rightly or wrongly, and the more thoughtful among them are quite concerned about it. "Traditionalists" are widely perceived as angry, extremely judgmental, uncharitable; downright Pharisaical. Most of those who are of this sort ar e actually in a different category: the radical catholic reactionaries (RadCathRs). But there is a lot of social overlap between the two groups.

Now, any social group has its well-behaved folks and renegades and shoot-from-the-hip types. As a sociology major in college, I'm well aware of that. It's tough for an outside observer to say what percentage of any given group might be regarded as examples of the behavior in question.

That said, I have recently been commented upon in a most uncharitable fashion by many people on a forum which calls itself the largest "traditionalist" discussion board on the Internet. I tried to reply rationally, but soon I fell into the huge mud pit and started throwing the mud pies back (as is completely "natural" in such a situation, if not always ethically justified). At length I issued an apology and retraction, and removed the entire "documentary" thread from my website. This was well received by several people on the forum: even by some of my strong critics.

The only heartening aspect of the whole sordid affair was that both site owners (one of whom had called me a "crank" earlier on) and a few other people (mostly women: how illuminating; I've often observed how women do far better at this Internet stuff than men do) showed themselves fair-minded enough to speak out against all the personal attacks and "anti-arguments" (i.e., comments that purport to be rational arguments but are no such thing). People have to live and die by the words they put out on the Internet.

Slanderous, judgmental, ad hominem words and purely personal, mindless attacks are by no means unique to "traditionalists" or RadCathRs. These are endemic all over the Internet (and Christians of all stripes are some of the worst offenders; it's a disgrace), which is why I ditched all participation on bulletin boards five years ago (save for the one I now moderate myself, at the Coming Home Network, where no personal attacks are allowed, and where we all carry on like actual Christian human beings).

Formerly in this very post I had documented the negative and flat-out stupid things that were written, and stated that if they took this garbage off of their site, I would reciprocate.The co-owner of the forum: in my opinion, a person of considerable intelligence, class, fairness, and Catholic charitability (judging by her standing up to some of the more outrageous attacks on my person, on her board), wrote in the attack thread:
I'd love to have a conversation with Dave Armstrong or Mark Shea, for ex. -- to sit around and have a few beers and talk like Christians for once. Or have an e-mail exchange or a yack session on the phone. I think they'd be surprised.
I replied that "I'd be more than happy to talk on the phone . . . I was always one to try to build bridges. It's my ecumenical nature." We did so yesterday, for about two hours. It was a delightful, perfectly amiable exchange, that did a world of good, I think, in the attempt to build more bridges of understanding between mainstream "traditionalists" and those of us who simply call ourselves "orthodox Catholics" (if we must clarify the perfectly acceptable description of "Catholic").

Prior to that time, she had decided to remove the ridiculous attack thread. For this, I give her the very highest accolades and kudos, not because of my personal "honor" or alleged "enormous ego" or whatever (which my critics will, of course, immediately assume is why I would be happy), but simply because it was the right thing to do. Period. It doesn't matter if I am the recipient of the mindless personal insults, or a fellow "traditionalist" or RadCathR or Gerry Matatics or the Man in the Moon. It was unethical and a disgrace (and apparently, even against board rules). It's a matter of ethical principle. And that is why I am extremely happy that she took it down.

Furthermore, I know she will catch a lot of flak for doing it, and will be inevitably accused of compromise and consorting with "enemies" and so forth, so I appreciate her principled action all the more, because she shows that she will do the right thing even when it might be very controversial and cause her to be personally attacked as well. That's a rare quality in anyone these days, and I am absolutely delighted to see a person of such principle. What a breath of fresh air and bright spot in an otherwise ugly, hideous manifestation of ludicrous, juvenile behavior.

One of the things I asked her about was her opinion as to what percentage of self-described "traditionalists" (as opposed to RadCathRs) fell into the category of the overly angry, judgmental types (that she is fed up with every bit as much as I am). She estimated it at 15%. I have no reason to doubt her word on that. I replied that in my experience online, it seemed like maybe 90% of the RadCathRs that I have encountered were of this obnoxious sort.

I think this is one of the phenomena of the Internet that we often observe: the more extreme and unbalanced types in any given group tend to dominate and be more visible, for some reason. I've had very similar experience with Eastern Orthodox Christians online. The ones who are active seemed to overwhelmingly be anti-Catholic, yet I have repeatedly been told by Orthodox that this mentality is a rather small minority among Orthodox in "real life."

Likewise, critiques of Catholicism from Protestants online tend to be from an anti-Catholic perspective, whereas I know for a fact (from my own personal experience in this sub-group) that anti-Catholic Protestants are but a small minority of Protestants, and even of evangelical Protestants.

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