I… Just… Don’t…. Know if I Can Ever…. Trust…. You… Again

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.

"thanks. just what i expected a rightwinger to say."

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  • There should be a Catholic version of the board-game Operation, but called Orthodoxy. If you hit the tweezers off either the Liberalism side or the Legalism side, than a cardboard cardinal would spread open his purple capes dramatically and shout, “Anathema!”.

  • Or more likely, a comment box “cardinal”.

  • For me, Shea, the problem is that you lose your temper too often and use harsh words against people that disagree you.
    Solution: pray, before losing your temper or attacking someone.
    Besides that, forget the word “jerk”.

  • Thomas Tucker

    In other words: Grow up.

  • Brian

    I’m hurt. I feel weak at the knees and as if my whole world is vibrating and little bits of the ceiling are falling down. It’s just like The Pain That Makes It Hard To Live, but I have pills for that now.
    I thought I could trust you. I don’t know if I can ever read your blog again.
    I thought you were a Dark Lord. My kind of Dark Lord! Covering all the land in a second darkness, breeding races of evil, twisted beings what should not be, verbally eviscerating the foolish fools who stand in your way!
    But now you’re apologizing? Dark Lords don’t say Sorry, Mark.
    I’m leaving.
    Also, I think I’m Internet Pregnant with your Malice Baby.

    • “Also, I think I’m Internet Pregnant with your Malice Baby” – as if nobody’s every told Mark THAT before.

    • Mark Shea

      This post wins the Interwebz for the day, especially that last line.

  • Thomas Tucker

    @Brian: wicked sick.

  • I somewhat agree with Pedro Erik. But it’s not the temper or the harsh words, it’s the inconsistency. Was a time when the arguments could get heated and even harsh, as long as there were no personal insults or attacks aimed at other commenters. People who personally attacked other commenters were shown the door, so to speak. Even when someone who was clearly a friend would get personal, he was gently reminded to back off. That was the only reason I ever saw people get banned. That standard certainly has been loosened.

    But while that particular standard has changed, I’ve watched people get banned merely for persisting against your views. Twice in recent months I’ve watched people cut who did nothing other than disagree. I didn’t see insults or personal attacks. I didn’t see blaspheming God. I didn’t see anyone flipping the bird at Church teaching. They merely dug in their heels and disagreed, with no more abrasiveness than was thrown at them. Perhaps allowing more leeway in the realm of passionately defending views you disagree with might level the consistency field a bit. Given the well-known temptations and pitfalls of Christian apologetics, it certainly would be a safer road to travel. That’s just an observation on my part, take it for what it’s worth.

    • KM

      I’ve been an occasional reader of this site, and more recently a commenter. Here’s my take: Mark has been very open to the discussion of guns lately because that is what the nation is talking about. He’s allowed people on both sides to have their say even as the conversation got heated. But when the discussion devolved into talk of secession/revolution/insurrection, he (justifiably IMHO) had to nip it in the bud. The secession/revolution/insurrection talk threatened to drag down the entire conversation into dark places that has ruined other blogs I’ve read. Such talk begins to foment an anti-christian spirit of despair and anger, and could maybe inspire some unstable people to commit violence. Mark gave ample warnings to people to stop that kind of talk, but some people ignored his warning so he was forced to bring the conversation away from that. I’m grateful that he took control of the discussion. This is his own blog after all, and it is a Catholic blog that hopes to inspire and edify our spirits with Catholic teaching. I’ve learned a lot here.

      • I wasn’t even thinking of the secession subject. The two instances that came to my mind were before all the talk about secession. You can say ‘I’ll have none of that’ up front, and folks know where things stand. That’s different than the somewhat inconsistent application of the ban button in recent years. For my part, I prefer the old days when personal insults and personal attacks got you canned. Then, at least, you knew where not to go and what lines to avoid crossing, plus it kept everyone on an even playing field – good for everyone involved.

  • As a casual observer of your writing here and some other places, it seems the blog is where you like to safely “vent”, right? We all have those places (right or wrong). It could even be a silent place inside of us.

  • “joe”

    “the bomb throwers at the New Oxford Review”
    very good characterization

  • EdL

    You were my folk hero, and I just wanted to touch the hem of your garment and be healed. But then I noticed that you took a snarky tone with an exasperating reader and that truly challenged my hagiography of you. I was crushed and found that my life became rudderless. But now you are exhibiting great humility, so I’m back to reaching out for the hem of your garment. I’m bracing myself for the next pendulum swing.

    • Margaret

      Meh, I wrote him off a few days ago. He had some throwaway line about Chesterton not being infallible. ANATHEMA SIT!

    • Mark Shea

      Clearly, you have chosen the wise path.

  • Loud

    I beg to differ, there are some super vilians. You dontthink there are some here and there who lead astray on purpose? And plenty of super heros, the saints, at least, prove that. They arent perfect (something else the saints have proven) but heros of philosophy and theology, none the less. My favorite super hero? SHEEN! DUH duh da DA! SUPER BISHOP! God bless Servent of God Archbishop Fulton Sheen. But yes, disernment is the rule. 🙂

  • Kristen inDallas

    A song for you Mark,
    Because otherwise I type to much when I try to say something worthwhile. Also you can listen to it while you do other things. It’s about the human condition and superheroes and what not-

  • I think what Mark has been trying to say for a while now is that we should not treat human beings, whether Catholic clergy or laity, as saints until the Church has confirmed them to be Saints, i.e., canonized them. The Vorises, Corapis, and yes, even the Groeschels, Pavones and Barrons, are human beings, all flawed, who perhaps have been given special charisms, but can certainly err, and fall, just like us. They are NOT the teaching magisterium of the Church, and they have not been given the role to shepherd the Church. His discussion of the “cult of personality” is right on in my view. On the other hand, Mark, although I appreciate your candor about your anger, etc., you are in a position to greatly move people because of your devout faith, scholarly expertise and writing ability. But I find that way too often you fall victim to the lack of charity that you so often criticize. You often demonize, stereotype or label others instead of just meeting the arguments head on and rationally disputing them. You are flawed as we all are, but given your highly visible position, you are a model for others whether you want to be or not, in a way that most of us aren’t. Perhaps attempting to follow Blessed JPII’s guide of “truth with love” might help you.

    • Mark Shea

      Fair enough, Deacon.

  • CeilieDe2

    Mark, I appreciate your words, thank you. Keep up the good work.

    Incidentally, did you hear about how the BSA is trying to water down the membership requirements, by letting troops decide whether to exclude homosexuals or not?

  • Charlotte

    I appreciate Mark’s labels and stereotypes because they are often helpful in holding up a mirror to others in the hope that they will recognize themselves. I reject the notion that all stereotypes are bad or false. Some stereotypes exist because……they’re true.

    • KM

      Maybe because my background is in writing, I view Mark’s uses of stereotypes or labels in his writing as mere literary devices to make a point (sometimes humorous) or to help the reader question his/her allegiances. Certainly many of his articles have helped me examine my own “tribal” and political beliefs. This process has helped me grow in my Catholic faith even though this self-examination is painful.

    • The best person to hold a mirror up to is yourself. When I begin to think that it’s a great thing for me to hold the mirror up to others it might be time for me to consider Luke 18:11. In my life, I’ve found very few, if any, good uses for stereotypes because, inevitably, they lead to the above verse whether I plan on them doing so or not.

  • Confederate Papist

    Testing, testing…this thing on?


    I appreciate your words. I will admit you had me pretty torqued about a few things, but I guess that happens with friends.

    I will not go over the edge and get banned because I disagree with you on something…I see a lot of great value in what you write most of the time, especially in matters of our Holy Church…and I have learned, and thus changed some of my opinions (death penalty the most prominent) because of what you have written.

    What we do disagree on, will have to be what it will be and has nothing to do directly with the Magistrum, the Holy Father or anything along those lines.

  • I blame Ultramontanism.

  • Steve

    It goes beyond a mere blanket apology. It is not about your theology or personal judgement. Some of the things that you have publicly said about people, including me, while on some of your rants have bordered on slander. If you want to “keep going foward” then perhaps you might want to first consider changing course.