Pod people: Catholic oath story goes full Godwin

Last week, I wrote about the Washington Post‘s horror that a local Roman Catholic diocese was asking its Sunday School teachers to affirm their Catholicism.

The story, which was put on the front page of the paper provoked quite a bit of reaction against the Arlington Diocese or the Post itself. I earlier critiqued some of the more obvious problems with the story. For instance, for a story all about this ghastly, terrifying profession of faith, the newspaper quoted only four substantial words from it. And the words didn’t really tell us what we needed to know to determine whether such a profession of faith was shocking or not.

It turned out that the profession of faith asked for a fairly minimal Roman Catholic commitment. In addition to the Apostles’ Creed, there was some language about the Magisterium. While the documents weren’t online when I first wrote about the story, they ended up on the site later in the day after various internet sleuths had figured out, roughly, what the profession of faith included.

While online platforms enable the sharing of such information, it’s also important to put more info in the actual copy of the story, too.

On this week’s Crossroads, host Todd Wilken and I discussed this story and some of the underlying assumptions that go into crafting a story in which it’s major news that a religious organization would expect its religious teachers to publicly profess the teachings of the religion.

The reporter who covered the story took some heat for ending her story with a comparison of the oath to Nazi Germany. She defended herself by saying she doesn’t weed out powerful anecdotes. I joked with her that my only concern was that the Nazi reference was just too subtle for readers.

Another religion writer thought it interesting, though, that when a Roman Catholic bishop compared some opponents of a measure he supported to Nazis, he took major heat. The comparison alone generated major national coverage. The headline in the Post, in fact, was “Pennsylvania Catholic bishop criticized for Hitler comment.”

Elizabeth Scalia tweeted:

As Per WaPo, if a bishop alludes to Nazis he’s an idiot. And if anyone listens to a bishop, he’s a Nazi.

Again, I understand that if you’re trying to convey that asking your Sunday School teachers to publicly profess the teachings of your religion is somehow nefarious, a Nazi reference for the kicker is great. But I do think that if you’re going to let someone compare this to Nazism (on the grounds that it’s simply a powerful anecdote, no more and no less) than at the very least you should let someone who supports the Christian tradition of professions of faith respond to the comparison.

We also discussed my coverage of the public relations firm that is simultaneously succeeding in getting two seemingly contradictory campaigns into major papers: that supporting the fight for religious liberty is too partisan and that a bus tour for a few nuns fighting a Republican-passed budget is awesome and not partisan in the slightest.

Again, the Crossroads podcast can be found here.

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  • sari

    Personally, I think the Nazi analogy is overused and, when used, usually inappropriate. Perhaps the right thing would be for journalists and the public to retire it.

  • Jonathan

    Amen, sari, Amen!

  • http://markbyron.typepad.com/main/ Mark Byron

    One off-used line in the Blogosphere is “the person who first references the Nazis in a debate is in the process of losing.” I think that fits here.

  • Deacon Michael D. Harmon

    “Godwin’s Law” is roughly, “If any online discussion continues long enough, one of the commenters will make a reference to Nazism.” The debate reference cited above is often called the First Corollary to Godwin’s Law.

  • corday_d_armont

    Maybe Godwin really has some application here, check out this summery of Nazism against current trends in our executive branch:

    National SOCIALIST German Workers Party (in German: Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei), The term Nazi is German and stems from Nationalsozialist. Nazism is a variety of Fascism which is a subset of Progressive Socialism which started around the turn of the 20th century in the United States. Fascism is derived from the Latin word fascis, meaning “bundle” implying strength through unity.

    The first fascist movements emerged in Italy around World War I, Germany only got started in the post World War I period (chronology is the reason that the Nazis are called fascist not the other way around).

    National Socialism / Fascism is a form of state socialism that rejects the idea of personal freedom for service to the state and the common good. Its purposes to promote an economy that would serve the nation and the whole country like an extended family under the leadership of the state. That leadership is usually embodied in the person of a single paternalistic father figure, a supreme leader.

    National Socialism / Fascism is opposed to uncontrolled capitalism because of the components of capitalism that it sees as working against the national interest. National Socialism / Fascism wants to provide greater efficiency in the economy on behalf of the proletariat by having an authoritarian rational ruling elite develop a hierarchical technocratic state.

    Communism focuses on class struggle while fascist want to eliminate class struggle (Eine Volks!) and focus on nationalistic and racial struggle instead, but the totalitarian nature of both and the socialist concept of the state providing for all the needs of the people and controlling everything for their own good is common to both.

    Communism advocates state ownership of all means of production while National Socialism / Fascism requires that the capitalists serve the people through state
    control and direction. The result is crony capitalism under state direction.

    Crony Capitalism under state direction married to Progressive Socialism, supreme leader, authoritarian rational ruling elite…. Hum-mm!!!!


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