Of Rabble Rousers, Crystal Gazers and the Internet

Steve Kellmeyer ruffles some feathers  here and here.

I am not sure how far he is to be taken literally in terms of the faithful’s right to lodge their concerns to their pastors.  On the other hand, he makes a simple and valid point that most of us have come to give way too much importance to the way we think the Church ought to be instead of fostering the unity of the Church by not habitually and publicly contradicting our pastors and undermining their authority.  Catholic orthodoxy/traditionalism has pretty effectively aped the rabble rousing progressives and felt banner wavers of the 60’s and 70’s.

The internet and social media, now a part of the fabric of our lives, seems to carry with it the assumption that somehow all of our opinions are important all the time.  The digital age also validates the idea that we can say anything we want and then slough off responsibility for having said it.

The internet is a quicksand of cultural exibitionism and voyeurism.  We Catholics have been suckered into it in the name of all that is holy.

In the comments on the post at the second link, Steve makes the observation that the real reason why the postconcilar crisis occurred was because the preconciliar Church was actually quite weak.  One of Steve’s objectors say this appears to be post hoc ergo propter hoc, but the same can be said of the opposite argument—the more frequent one—that the preconciliar Church was strong and that the Council simply wrecked everything.

A more complex answer is probably the a more accurate one: there were preconciliar weaknesses, as well as the unrealistic optimism of the 60’s concurring with the sexual revolution, and the consequent disastrous implementation of the Council under the influence of ideologues who were able to throw off the fetters.  These created a perfect storm.

A theology professor of mine made the astute remark that within the Church, the simple answers sound the best, but are usually wrong.  A theological example of this is the doctrine of the hypostatic union.  Nestorianism is simple and easy to understand: two persons, two natures, one indwells in the other.  The Council of Ephesus is far more complex and difficult to understand: two distinct natures (one fully divine, the other fully human), but only one divine person, with no human person whatsoever.

Ephesus was right.  Nestorius was wrong.  The truth is not always simple.

Historical narratives are probably even more susceptible to such oversimplification, because they describe the particular and concrete, which are quasi-infinite.  A historical cause and effect creates a ripple, which multiplies causes and effects exponentially.

Furthermore, we do not even know what we do not know.  This is also a endemic problem on the Internet.  Bloggers treat a few facts that they cobbled together like these were a compendium on the nature of everything.

Simple answers are appealing and convincing, especially in the wonderful world of search engines, viral causes and comboxes.  We effectively sell our Catholic pontifications in sound bites, tweets, instagrams and blog posts, because that is the way contraception, abortion, same sex marriage and gender relativism has been foisted so successfully on the public.

Today evangelical genius consists in the ice bucket challenge.

I would suggest that we try to resolve our difficulties by having recourse to the living magisterium, but that would be too ultramontane.

There is one simple idea in the Church, a mystical one, which resolves all the complexities and anomalies.

But what do I know? Never mind.

12 thoughts on “Of Rabble Rousers, Crystal Gazers and the Internet

  1. But what is “habitual?” And what is “contradicting?” In the case Kellmeyer mentions, a pastor willy-nilly undid a pretty massive artistic rennovation on the parish, and replaced it with….. nothing. It’s pretty tough not to call this an iconoclastic overreach, but okay, we won’t call a spade a spade. Even from a non-religious standpoint, from an artistic and cultural standpoint, that’s pretty awful.

    Is it really the position that Catholics cannot protest such a decision, or say to others they really don’t like it? Or that they can’t organize other Catholics to show solidarity in opposing the changes, either out of getting the pastor to respond to the requests of the congregation, or, being blunt, is it always wrong to shame someone into doing the right thing? Sometimes you give the jar of sugar to someone out of persistence.

    Nobody is saying you have to call the guy a heretic, a modernist, or this or that. But the main problem with Kellmeyer’s reasoning is it never onces actually relies on Church teaching or Church law. Church law does give people the right to raise their voices about this, and sometimes, the clerics in power aren’t going to like it.

    How does the system advocated avoid becoming the clericalist “pay, pray, obey and for crying out loud shut up!” Far better to just point out the obvious, if you are going to speak, don’t be a jerk, and don’t make sweeping conclusions, and realize you aren’t infallible or the Magesterium, even if you do have a right to speak, the powers that be have a right to ignore you.

    • Kevin,

      I was responsible for the design of our friary chapel in Griswold which was the reverse of iconoclasm, and I agree that what Fr. Z. reports is repugnant. However, the clericalism you refer to works both ways.

      Some new priest has a better idea and brings in the storm troopers. It is a familiar narrative and It is not a vice reserved to the iconoclast.

      Neither side has what it takes to solve the real problem, which is an inadequate human and pastoral formation. It might not be as much theology problem as it is stupidity and oneupmanship problem.

      Hooray for Vatican II!—not that many care to actually implement it (again, on either side).

      Furthermore, the larger point of Kellmeyer is precisely correct. Who cares what some reader in Europe, Africa, Asia or California thinks about what is happening in Our Savior in NYC, and why should he even know about it? Let those who are actually affected by the situation do something effective rather than the internet jury sit in judgment to satisfy their own self-righteousness and indulge their outrage. I am just observing how much of the Internet is way too much froth and hot air for no good reason.

      But it is none of my business, really. People can do what they want.

      I still say we have been suckers to the banality, superficiality and oversimplifications of the Internet.

      If more people actually prayed and obeyed we would have far less problems. But thanks to the progressives and reactionaries one is either “this” or “that” and one must fall on his sword for his cause. The fact is that very many on both sides of these issues don’t pray and obey. They moan and whine and agitate. Constantly.

      None of the clericalists pray and obey. They line up behind their man in black loaded to the teeth or they use him, if he should be so naive, as a shill to push their agenda.

      Just to be clear: I have the progressive clerics to thank for being in the position of having to argue in this way. It is a nightmare. But it is not strictly a theological problem, because I do not percieve a wholly superior and non-clericalist attitude among the counterrevolutionaries. It is a human and pastoral question. It is about a kind of intelligence that in many cases neither side shows the slightest interest in cultivating.

      But I am barking at the moon. Just ignore me.

  2. “Furthermore, we do not even know what we do not know.”

    That is the crux of the entire problem. I am as guilty of this as anyone else. We are all convinced that we have perfect understanding of everything, and all the problems would be solved if everyone would just see it the way we do and take our advice. Yet, we see just a tiny portion and understand so very little. It’s like an ant telling Einstein the theory of relativity.

    One of the most beautiful aspects of the Catholic Church and of being Catholic is that we know that no matter how bad we humans mess up on this earth, Our Lord will make it all come out just the way it should. We should always be in prayer that Church hierarchy will follow the will of Our Lord. But it is not up to us to stand in judgment and correct them everytime we think they are wrong.

    I always think of the example in the Old Testament when King David was taking the Ark of the Covenant back to Jerusalem after recapturing it from the Philistines. God told them that no one is to touch the ark. The ark started to fall off the cart, and one of those guiding it, Uzzah, put his hand out to steady it. He was immediately struck dead.

    The lesson? God doesn’t need our help. He is fully capable of setting things straight. Our Lord doesn’t need me to tell the hierarchy of the church how to run things. That is the job of the Holy Spirit.

    Fr. Angelo, I think your last suggestion is one of the best I have ever read: “I would suggest that we try to resolve our difficulties by having recourse to the living magisterium,” Far better to be “too ultramontane” than to be in schism, which is where I fear many are headed to.

    • Mary,

      I know from direct experience how it is that people who have no idea what they are talking about thread together partial information and draw plausible conclusions that have no relation to reality. The internet cycle (read, react, type, submit, self-congratulate, repeat) is the virtual equivalent of smoking dope.

    • Just how is orthodoxy being attacked? Saints painted on a pole are orthodoxy? I have been to Our Savior Church, and personally I never thought the paintings were all that great. But even if they were great works of art, the Pastor of a church has a right to make decisions concerning his own church. I had the same reaction when I read Father Z’s post – what business is it of his what another pastor does in his own church? And how is this connected to the fact that Fr. Rutler’s current church may be closed?

      We don’t know any of the facts behind this story. We don’t know what led this priest to paint over the pictures. Thanks to Father Z pushing this story in such a negative way, we are led to assume the worst of the priest. Is that really Christian thing to do?

      Trying to tie these two unrelated facts together would seem to have one purpose – to incite people.

      What has that to do with orthodoxy?

  3. People are rightfully justified in being upset at some of Kellmeyer’s remarks. One of his posts is a perfect example of what is lamented here: he complains about people allegedly over-stepping their bounds in criticizing others, yet this is done by publicly claiming someone is saying things for the purpose of making money and their mission has little to do with the Faith. Gee, that’s not rash judgment, gossip, calumny, detraction, is it? Likewise, one could ask what business is it of Kellmeyer what Fr. Z wants to say or do?

    • Chris,

      Fair enough, but there is a difference. If one blogs and has a comment section it behooves him to generate a measure of controversy. One invites it and benefits by it. It is the very nature of the thing. This is both its beauty and deformity.

      I suppose I am as guilty as anyone else, but in this post the media itself is the news.

      There is a real difference between the reportage of the facts by responsible trained and honest journalists (a rarity) and blogging. The “we report you decide” of Rorate Caeli is bogus, and anyone with a modicum of sincerity knows this. I would never pretend to be just a “reporter.”

      I think we bloggers do well to point out our warts, so that people are clear that they should not take us all that too seriously. That should be especially true when we purport to be the authority on something or the stand up guy who says what no one else will say, and then generate as much content for our brand as possible, all the while managing the information and our image by over-controlling the comment section.

      This is a worthy internet discussion, though I don’t pretend for a second to be an objective, disinterested journalist. Frequent reality checks are in order for us bloggers.

      The democratization of information is a wonderful thing, but the culture of the blogosphere is a wormy apple.

  4. ” Who cares what some reader in Europe, Africa, Asia or California thinks about what is happening in Our Savior in NYC, and why should he even know about it?” On the other hand, why shouldn’t he know about it? And mightn’t how much one cares what he thinks be properly motivated by the content of his expression of it? Isn’t that the right level of taking us seriously?

    (I do like Charles Williams’s imagery of ‘hierachic and republican’: there are not only hierarchies of office or of expertise and experience, but also the ‘republican’ phenomenon of ‘shifting hierarchies’ where the inexperienced non-professional layman can see and say something better than his ‘hierarchically superior’ conversation partner. How often have I not learned things from students who have read little Shakespeare, compared with me, for example?)

    Happily ,a lot of the culture of the blogosphere – in my experience, quite regularly at Fr. Z’s, or Monsignor Pope’s among other places, as with your thoughtful self, for three examples – is just good conversation (whether one is active contributor or passive audience).

    • David,

      I am unambiguously ambivalent about the blogosphere.

      I agree with your second paragraph, I just speculate about the relative assets and liabilities of the globalization of local news and the substitution of editorializing for hard news.

      I am not suggesting any moral norms in the matter, just commenting on the phenomenon and suggesting that there are some liabilities.

  5. Pingback: The FI Internet Problem Illustrated | Mary Victrix

  6. “Furthermore, we do not even know what we do not know.”

    This is so very true. The internet is a collection of decontextualized information. Often this is mistaken for knowledge, but it is rather more like data. Thank you, Father, for pointing this out.

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