Now and then I will state some opinion about something, or lose my temper, or tell a joke that offends somebody, or in some other way let people down. Then, I get an anguished letter from somebody telling me that because I don’t share their view on some matter of prudential judgment, or became exasperated at being called a liar, or was too blunt, or behaved like a jerk their view of me is in ruins and they just don’t think they can ever trust anything I will ever write ever again.
Seriously? Why did you believe me to be infallible much less impeccable? And what is the sense of whipsawing from some mysterious faith that I can’t be wrong to the equally mysterious faith that I can never be right, or that if I am not perpetually filled with the light of the Holy Spirit illumining each word I write with sacred wisdom from God I must be either deluded or a deceiver? Can’t somebody just be an average schlub who is right about some stuff, wrong about other stuff and not even sure about a lot of stuff?
I remember a few years back when Scott Hahn wrote something somewhere about some patristic sources who spoke of the Holy Spirit as a sort of divine principle of the feminine. (It shows up in, IIRC, St. Ephraim the Syrian and is, of course, traceable back through St. Paul speaking of the Wisdom (Sophia) of God and the book of Proverbs imaging Wisdom as a woman who worked at God side creating and ordering the universe (see Proverbs 8)). All perfectly orthodox stuff and compatible with the tradition.
However, the bomb throwers at the New Oxford Review got ahold of his musings about this and proceeded to go nuts with it, accusing him of all kinds of sinister New Age feminist agendas, claiming that he was portraying the Incarnation as a sort of lesbian menage a trois and other loopy fevered stuff. Their readers then went crazy as they had been instructed to do and panicked that he was a false prophet leading them astray, etc. All of a sudden, he started getting bales of “I used to trust you, but now I don’t think I ever can again. I am warning all my friends about you” mail.
This is part of what I’m talking about when I talk about the need to learn discernment and not simply whipsaw between hero worship and squinting fear and despair. In Scott’s case, he wasn’t even wrong. His view was well within the pale of orthodox theologizing (though he will happily concede other places, I reckon, where he has changed his views, as will I). But the reaction to him, like reactions I periodically get when I disagree with or offend people, seems to me to come out of some deep place of fear in his readers. Something like, “If this person is not absolutely right about everything, then he can’t be *safe*. What if he betrays me or lead me astray?” That profound fear of being *unsafe* hits me in the face when I get these kinds of reactions from readers or see them meted out to other people. Somehow, the hero became a signatory to some fan’s contract requiring him to be infallible or impeccable and when the hero failed to come through, he became a dangerous fraud.
Here’s reality: There are no super heroes. There are also no super villains. There are just us ordinary slobs trying to speak our minds as best we can in accord with the Tradition and to look at life in light of it. I screw up plenty. I’m abrasive. I go off half-cocked sometimes. Anger is a besetting sin of mine. I do not suffer fools gladly. I could go on and on. So could a good number of my readers.
Moral: test everything. Hold fast to what is good. Measure it against the teaching of the Church and embrace neither utter credulity nor total skepticism. Remember that all of us are flesh and blood and kinda dumb. Especially me. If I’ve offended you (and I know there are a lot of hands going up) I apologize. Mea culpa. I’m a jerk that way. Please forgive me. Let’s keep going forward.