What is the *Matter* with Me Anyway?

A reader complains (not for the first time) that when the Right sins, I blast the Right, but when the Left sins, I say “A pox on both their houses.”  Why do I do that?  I’m sort of surprised by the question, since I should think it would be obvious: it’s because I primarily regard myself as a person of the Right.

I know my audience’s biases and refuse to affirm my tribe in its easy sense of superiority to liberals.  None of my readers is going to fall for a HuffPo piece on the glory of abortion or gay “marriage”.  But they are *very* likely to fall for a Right Wing Noise Machine piece on the genius and goodness of lying and tempting people to mortal sin in the prolife cause, or the glories of torture, or our need to expand our wars to bring DemocracyWhiskeySexy to the world.  Last year, it was not too likely to hear somebody in my audience express doubts about the brilliance of Ayn Rand and Paul Ryan’s theories on “Maker and Takers”, or Rick Santorum’s cheers for murdering civilians as “wonderful”. Each year, I can reliably count on my readers to lecture me on the moral splendors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Each time it comes up, I can count on my readers to tell me why the Church is wrong and benighted third world crapholes and the Red Chinese and a North Korean psychopath are right about the death penalty. When the Pope gets lectured on his need to get in line by Forbes, my readers are likely to cheer for Forbes, as they cheered for Romney and for Ryan against the evil 47% of Takers. 

In short, my goal is to uphold a Catholic worldview against the cafeteria Catholicism *I* encounter, not to reinforce the easy and casual tendency of Faithful Conservative Catholics to excommunicate “CINOs” among Those People Over There. (By the way, as a point of clarity, I don’t believe in laypeople running around demanding excommunications, and so though I am critical of various ideas and practices, I have never urged that those who cherish them be kicked out of the Church.  However, many of the people I have criticized *do* believe strongly in kicking their enemies out of the Church and so have assumed that when I disagree with them, I am saying they are “not real Catholics” and should be kicked out.  This is called “projection”.)

I am not a prophet, but I do think we have a duty to emulate the prophetic tradition in Scripture since we are called by our baptism to be Prophet, Priest, and King.  What is striking about every prophet from Samuel to Jesus is that they do not spend nearly as much time chewing out Israel’s enemies as they do telling Israel to listen to the revelation they have received and quit imitating the Gentiles (hence their distinct lack of popularity and tendency to get thrown down wells and sawn in two).  Even when they do chew out Israel’s enemies, they often use such chewouts as a launch pad for saying, “If the stupid pagans, who don’t know any better, are bad, don’t even get me started on Israel, which has the law given by God himself and therefore has no excuse!”  Jesus, in exactly the same vein, reserves his harshest words, not for the pagan enemies of Israel, but for those Jews who are, theologically, most like him. Jesus has a few rough words for the Sadducees. He has basically no rough words for the poor and weak.   It is the Pharisees–who believe in angels and the resurrection of the dead, and practice the works of prayer, fasting and almgiving, and who have valiantly sought to protect their Jewish heritage from syncretism and absorption by pagan culture–it is these people who Jesus is hardest on because they should have known better, but could not imagine the possibility that they were wrong after having been right about such important matters.  Result: it all culminates in the invective of Matthew 23, not in a tirade against the stupid pagan Romans and their brutal, oppressive, idolatrous ways.

Why?  Because like the rest of the prophets, Jesus knows that we need not fear those who kill the body, but rather that we should fear the death of the soul.  The Right has been and remains right about a lot.  It was right about the Commies.  It was right about abortion, and euthanasia and the other non-negotiables.  But it has increasingly managed to be wrong about more and more things and to consistently assume that any criticism of that wrongness is heresy proceeding from bad faith–all while assuming that those it determines to be CINOs need to be kicked out of the Church.  It has, with amazing frequency, managed to not merely be wrong, but *hugely* wrong on obvious issues ranging from Maciel to unjust war and torture, to lying and tempting to grave sin, to accusing Corapi’s bishop of being part of a gay cabal vs. a Living Saint, to insisting that there is some moral obligation before God to vote for men like McCain and Romney, to chewing out Simcha Fisher as a “pro-sodomite, pro-abort” for saying that Holocaust Denialism is evil, to nodding thoughtfully as a George Weigel shreds Caritas in Veritate or Forbes lectures Francis on his need to not criticize the effects of capitalism in the Third World, to circling the wagons for a bishop who brainlessly put a priest in contact with children after he had promised to have no further contact with them.

I am a Catholic first and an American very much second.  I believe that patriotism (not nationalism and not party loyalty) is the duty of every citizen because I believe in the second greatest commandment: Love your neighbor as yourself.  Patriotism is simply the second commandment extended to one’s borders.  It is the healthy love of home.  But I also know it is the second greatest commandment and that the first commandment is to love the Lord your God.  To love oneself properly is to hold oneself up to the scrutiny of the law and the healing grace of Christ for every place the X ray of the law reveals sin.  To love one’s neighbor as oneself is to obey the prophetic injunction given Ezekiel to warn when one’s country and one’s people are embracing sins that will destroy them.  Over the past ten years, I have–to my great surprise–learned that exactly the same moral heresy–consequentialism–is equally beloved among my own tribe as among the pro-aborts who casually blew off the Church’s teaching on the Pelvic Issues with prattle about “conscience”.  I have discovered that the strategy among my own tribe is to instead invoke “prudential judgement” as the code word for blowing off Church teaching on a wide menu of questions beyond the Non-Negotiables. It comes down to an approach to Church teaching best summed up as “Opposition to abortion taketh away the sins of the world.” Does a pol beat the drum for bombing the hell out of Iran? No problem! It’s a prudential judgment and therefore we have no moral responsibility to question whether the slaughter of hundreds of thousands more people would be a sin. The pol advocating the war wears a Precious Feet pin, so his cheerleading for war is okay.

My purpose here is simple: to try to get Catholics who ought to know better and who are so ready to excommunicate CINOs among Those People over There to close their own cafeteria and put the Church’s guidance first, even on matters that are not dogmatic. I want to introduce the startling concept that the Church’s moral guidance is normative, even when it is not absolutely binding. I want to suggest that tribal shibboleths and folk hero worship are not sufficient substitutes for exercising common sense, even when our Folk Hero really humiliates Planned Parenthood by unethical means, or tells us lying and torturing for the greater good is fine, or instructs us that you can do evil and good may come of it.

I don’t expect a reader of the National Catholic Reporter to care what the Church teaches.  I don’t expect a HuffPo reader to listen to the Magisterium.  I do expect a self-proclaimed Faithful Conservative Catholic to do that.  And when such people–for years–spend their time coming up with rationales for tempting people to murder, or making excuses for torture, or denouncing Christ’s poor as “parasites”–all while demanding the excommunication of people they have decided are impure CINOs, I think it my duty to say, “If the salt has lost its savor, wherewith shall it be salted?” and “The measure you use will be measured to you.”

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  • Stephen Sparrow

    Thanks Mark, very well and passionately put.

  • Dan C

    Two quibbles:

    The “love your neighbor” commandment was not the second greatest commandment but was a clear part of the greatest commandment, with this affirmed by Christ Himself.

    Then the natural question becomes “who is my neighbor?” It was the answer, as plotted out by the under-appreciated Luke that told a story in which the man who taught who is one’s neighbor was a foreign heretic in the eyes of the Jewish audience- a Samaritan. Not that a Jew deigned to provide charity to a Samaritan, but the Samaritan (and this was the insulting part of the story to Jesus’s listeners) more than the cultic leaders of offical Judaism who could as quickly recite the Greatest Commandment as the questioner of this Lucan passage, schooled all of Judaism as to how one is to love out that commandment.

    Jesus’s greatest commandment has nothing (and everything) to do with nations and borders. This commandment recognizes no borders in Jesus’s telling, and incorporating patriotism as a “greatest commandment” matter may unfortunately lead folks into rank ordering humans by certain priorities: clan first, foreigners last, etc. Such was the calculation of all who passed the victim in the story.

  • Bill

    No, it is the second greatest commandment. Latria supersedes all. Love of neighbor is not equal. Though it is greater than all holocausts.

    • Andy, Bad Person

      “You did it for me.” – Jesus

      • Bill

        You should love the Lord with all your heart, all your mind, all your mind, and all your soul. This is the first, and greatest commandment.

        The second is like it.

        Too many ignore the second entirely. Others conflate the two and turn the Church into, as Francis said, a kind of NGO.

        • Dan C

          This is insanity. This is a Francis quote out of context only used by conservatives. The most likely way most folks will know Jesus is through others and serving others. Most folks will not know him in the Catholic Church, or in the Eucharist. The way most of us know Jesus usually is through the Matthew 25 “escape clause.” This will be how the planet is converted. Not by cleaning up the translations at Mass to create long convoluted sentences.

          The Church is nowhere close to an NGO. It is only the culture warriors that find any traction in that comment.

          • Allan

            “Not by cleaning up the translations at Mass to create long convoluted sentences.”
            Seriously, Dan? Still fighting that war? If you find the new wording of the Mass too confusing, maybe you are out of your depth commenting on topics such as this.
            If worship of God is not important enough to worry about getting it right (and the Mass is the highest form of worship we have), then helping the poor really isn’t all that important either. First things first. If you want to denigrate the most important thing, then the thing that follows also loses importance. And no, Francis’s quote was not taken out of context. That is exactly what he is saying.

          • Newp Ort

            Picard? Are you freaking kidding me, you’re really gonna pick Picard!?

          • Sara_TMS_again

            Francis’ point was that without the Cross, the Church is nothing but a pious NGO. In other words, neither piety nor doing good is enough: you have to recognise that Christ has redeemed us by the cross, and that we are also called to take up the cross in imitation of and witness to Christ.

  • Maolsheachlann

    Yeah! I think this is one of your best posts ever. I heard soft but stirring orchestral music as I read it. Seriously, though, well put.

  • Andy, Bad Person

    This could have been written by me.

    You know, if I was a good writer.

  • Andy

    I only wish I had written this – it is one of the clearest pieces you have written that explains why you are a Catholic – and why being a Catholic requires practice, practice, practice, prayer, and non-judgmentalism.

  • jmt

    you forgot to mention your deep & abiding sense of humility….. come, holy spirit

    • chezami

      I have very little humility. And this has what to do with the fact that we are baptized prophet, priest and king and have the duty to live out our baptism?

      • Newp Ort

        Well at least you are humbly admitting your lack of humility.

  • Jack Quirk

    The real divide is between Utilitarianism and belief in the Natural Law. A conservative Utilitarian is just a Utilitarian. What’s more, someone who is advocating a deep and radical change in social organization (such as suddenly abolishing the social safety net) is not a conservative.

    • ivan_the_mad

      Bang on the mark, Jack. I find it useful to define things in terms of the status quo. Revolutionaries want to define a new status quo. Conservatives want in large part to maintain the status quo while introducing change and reform very gradually and in accord with prudence. The sudden abolishment of the social safety net is antithetical to a stable social order and therefore ought to be as well to conservatives.

      “Liberals and radicals, the conservative says, are imprudent: for they
      dash at their objectives without giving much heed to the risk of new
      abuses worse than the evils they hope to sweep away. As John Randolph of
      Roanoke put it, Providence moves slowly, but the devil always hurries.” — Russell Kirk, Ten Conservative Principles

  • ivan_the_mad

    Good on yer, mate! This is both righteous and rousing, which is to say prophetic!

  • Todd

    As a Catholic with a similar position on the Left, I can relate. Well done.

  • Knight Hospitaller

    I’m not a regular reader, so I come to this somewhat objectively. In all charity, while you make many good points, this article mainly strikes me as an exercise in pride and self-righteousness.

    • Imp the Vladaler

      I don’t know where you could possibly get the idea that comparing oneself to the Old Testament prophets and Christ in the context of an internet debate on domestic American politics could come across as self-righteous.

      • AnsonEddy

        Oh no. Now you’ve done it. The fanboys will be by any second to declare you “butthurt”.

        • Newp Ort

          But today you ain’t even mad.

      • Chesire11

        Actually, I thought that the whole point of calling ourselves “Christian” was to proclaim the necessity that we imitate Christ (sounds kind of familiar, I seem to recall a book by that title…) Mark wasn’t saying he IS like the prophets or Christ, but that he is trying to emulate them, which is a thoroughly appropriate exercise in humility.

      • Andy, Bad Person

        Uh, oh, better slap your parish priest next time he baptizes a baby, anointing him priest, prophet, and king as a member of Christ’s body.

        • Imp the Vladaler

          “Dancing away my hunger pains,
          moving my feet so my stomach don’t hurt.
          I’m kinda like Jesus, but not in a sacrilegious way.”
          -Homer Simpson

          • Andy, Bad Person

            So, I defend the Church using her teachings, her documents, and her liturgy, and you’ve got…Homer Simpson? Nice talking with you.

            • Imp the Vladaler

              I treated your sarcasm with as much engagement as it deserved. When you’re ready to stow the sarcasm and have a big-boy conversation, I’ll be open to engaging you on that level.

              I also don’t see why you think you were defending the Church. The Church wasn’t under attack. You were defending Mark Shea, who is not the Bride of Christ.

              • Andy, Bad Person

                You came in here sniping that Mark was self-righteous, because he made comparisons with Christ and OT prophets. You didn’t engage a single point, just as you have not engaged in a single one of my points. Mark, like all Christians, is baptized in the the body of Christ, so yes, has some share in Christ’s priesthood, prophecy, and kingship. If you have an objection to that other than condescending bullshit, I’d be glad to hear it.

  • Dave G.

    Here’s my thing. Mark, good article on the main point: Be a Catholic American, not an American Catholic. However, here’s my beef. I am a regular reader. Going on what? Eight years now? Seven? And I have to be honest, most of your commenters don’t say the things you say they say. Take the election. The majority of comments were by folks who were with you: screw both parties and vote independent or don’t vote at all. There were a couple clearly willing to vote Obama. Most who said they were going with the GOP didn’t proclaim no other god but Romney and Paul Ryan was his prophet. Most had no problems listing the many problems they had with Romney. Yet you continue to act as if most of your readers were cheering on unbridled capitalism, screwing the 47%, and condemning to hell anyone who disagreed. They may have disagreed with you, but not in the way you present it. Some might have. There might have been a couple who make the off the wall comments. But the majority? Nope. Not saying there are none who do so. But on your blog, if it’s done at all, it’s as small a sampling as you can get. So explaining why you do something based on things I’m not seeing runs into problems, IMO, unless you know things from emails or other sources that I’m unaware of.

    • Imp the Vladaler

      Isn’t that backwards? Shouldn’t you be an American Catholic, in the sense that “Catholic” is the noun, it’s what you are, and American is just an adjective? I know what you want to say here, but I think you’re expressing it backwards.

      I agree, though, that the litany of righty sins that Mark has listed don’t come close to place in any one individual. I don’t even think someone embarrassing like Sean Hannity lives up to Mark’s strawman. That’s why it’s irritating to see Mark go after The Right as if it’s a monolith, as if those who haven’t come around on the issue of torture also *necessarily* say “screw the poor,” “I <3 Ayn Rand," "Bill Donohue for Pope," "execute molesting priests," and "the bishops are all wet on Medjugorje." As far as I can tell, even Nancy Pelosi doesn't get that treatment: she's rightly criticized for her scandalous dissent on abortion, but she isn't accused of subscribing to every heresy on the left.

      • Momof11

        Catholic American, because the adjective modifies the noun. I am an American, a Catholic American. I am a Catholic…I do not want my Catholicism modified by my Americanism. While nouns and verbs are the backbone of writing, adjectives and adverbs are more powerful as they modify the nouns and verbs, giving them more precise meaning. Therefore, Catholic should be a stand alone noun or else be used as the modifier.

        • Imp the Vladaler

          The nouns describe your essence. I am a man first, a tall man second. My maleness is not modified in any way by my tallness. “Tall” simply describes me. It doesn’t change my essence. I would be just as much a man if I were shorter.

          Strip away the adjectives from a sentence and you still have a sentence. Strip away the nouns and you have nothing.

          What are we predominantly here in the west? Catholic Romans, or Roman Catholics? In the east, are they Catholic Chadeans, or Chaldean Catholics?

      • Dave G.

        It was just an off the cuff. Meaning try not to put country loyalties (or anything else for that matter) before the faith. Easier said than done of course, but that’s the goal.

    • I’ve been reading Mark for years, too, and I have seen what he describes, what you think is exaggeration. I suspect because of human and internet vagaries it changes thread by thread, but I can recall several specific threads in the last year or so where the overwhelming number of comments were from people who put the GOP, conservative (or “conservative”) principles, nationalism, covert racism, or their own interests above Catholic principles and teachings.

      (I suspect, too, that I am inherently more liberal than you are, Dave G., and so our own biases may affect how we perceive other commentators.)

      • Imp the Vladaler

        The point is not that there aren’t heresies on the right; it’s that they don’t all exist in this “Faithful Conservative Catholic” bogeyman Mark has invented. If Mark posts about capital punishment, he’s going to get some righty dissenters on that issue. Same with torture, economics, or episcopal behavior. So over time, you’ve probably seen righty dissenters on any given issue. That doesn’t mean that any particular righty Catholic is this bogeyman.

        • Well, no, I have not started a spreadsheet to keep track of who’s embracing which righty heresy, but I have noticed that certain names pop up again and again in support of those heresies. Which makes me think there really are Catholics out there who match the “‘Faithful Conservative Catholic’ bogeyman” you refer to (and I happen to know some in real life). Of course there are others who don’t on various points.

          I don’t think it is necessary for Mark to qualify each and every post with a statement about how there are some people who embrace all these heresies, and some who only embrace a few, and some who are well-meaning but in error, and so on. That gets tedious after a while, and I feel like I’ve seen enough of Mark’s writing to understand what he’s getting at. Just as, whenever he makes a comment about feminists supporting whatever, I don’t feel the need every single time to jump up and down saying “not all feminists are like this!” Or when he adds to his reasons to homeschool, I don’t feel I must right that instant defend the lovely and dedicated public school teachers who teach my children.

          • Imp the Vladaler

            I’m certain that it’s annoying for you, as a feminist and public-school mom, to painted with a broad brush. But what you don’t have to put up with from Mark are gratuitous throat-clearing criticisms of feminists, public schools, or the left as a whole when he decides to go after someone on the right.

            • chezami

              Yes. Whenever I speak of broad trends in a subculture that can be seen every time you log on to mass media or the internet, always remember that my comments are directed right at *you*, Mary Smith of 123 Elm Street, Springfield, USA. It’s you. You *personally* have in mind. I love tarring you with a broad brush.


              • Imp the Vladaler

                Ah, I get it: when you criticize “The Thing That Used to be Conservatism,” or “Faithful Conservative Catholics,” you’re not criticizing anyone in particular. You’re tilting at this amorphous cloud of broad subcultural trends out there on the internet that doesn’t have any particular agency or identity.

                The Irish are a bunch of violent drunks. But don’t take offense. I couldn’t possibly be talking about you. I’m talking about the True Scotsm– I mean, Irishmen.

                • Chesire11

                  I think that is unfair. It is entirely appropriate to criticize real and troubling trends within a community. For example, I wouldn’t denounce all Americans as hopeless epicureans, yet I think it is entirely fitting to criticize the shallow, materialism and accompanying reductionist treatment of the human person that has infected American culture. That is something altogether different from personal attack, or the stereotyping of an entire community.

                  Mark is policing his own “tribe” just as I try to police my own more liberal “tribe” on left-center political blogs (you can tell what a popular guy I am!)

                  • Imp the Vladaler

                    Maybe you and Mark shouldn’t have “tribes”? When has “tribal,” in the context of politics, ever been a compliment?

                    • Chesire11

                      I think you are missing the point. I used the term “tribe” because American politics is just that – tribal. It shouldn’t be so, but it is. Politically, I tend toward the center-left, therefore, I attack the tribalism in that segment of the political spectrum because that is where my efforts will be most effective, and most difficult to dismiss.

            • I think you missed my point, Imp. I’m *not* annoyed, because I know Mark’s writing well enough to distinguish between 1) hyperbole, 2) speaking broadly to address a particular trend, and 3) actually criticizing every single person in a particular group. I’ll speak up if I’m unsure, or if I think a critical distinction is being lost. But in general, I try to give him (and everyone else) the benefit of the doubt.

              • Imp the Vladaler

                Mmm. You’re right. I did read that part incorrectly. But that highlights my point: you’re probably not annoyed because you don’t often get the gratuitous broad-brush treatment that the right regularly gets.

                I would, however, pay good money for your charism of discernment of when Mark is serious and when he’s just being hyperbolic.

        • Newp Ort

          I called butthurt and double butthurt on many of yesterday’s conservative commenters. So to be fair, I’ll say it: Mark is butthurt.

          And who wouldn’t be after being repeatedly accused of not being a true catholic, or not loving babies enough or being an Obama supporter for having the gall to defend the magisterium, or claim that GOP bullcrap is in fact bullcrap.

          This butthurt causes him to sometimes unfairly lump together all the righter than right accusers, when in fact they are often motivated by their one favorite bugaboo.

          But the dude is only human. And Mark and his variously nutty critics (often themselves quite butthurt) suffer from the unfortunate human tendency to save their sharpest barbs for those most like them but with the smallest differences. Same way that runners and cylists gaze upon each other with disdain (and both think triathletes should make up their damn minds) while society in general sees them all as a bunch of masochistic fitness nuts.

          • Newp Ort

            Oh yeah and I guess I shoulda removed the butthurt from myown eye first. Full disclosure I once left the comboxes for a number of months on the heels of a curse laden tirade over….well I can’t even remember, it was that important.

            But today I ain’t even mad.

      • Dave G.

        I don’t know how liberal you are. But while years ago it would be safe to say that most (not all, most) of Mark’s regulars were to the Right, that’s clearly not the case now. There are some, of various stripes who lean to the more conservative. But few on this blog say the things mentioned above. I can’t say I’ve read every comment in every post. But when it came to the Romney topic, I saw few do much other than say ‘wish it was anyone else because here are my problems with him, but here’s why I’ll still vote for him.’ Most tended to go along with Mark and dismiss both parties, preferring other independent candidates (with Ron Paul getting many kudos). Those who did get their dander up sometimes did so in reaction to how Mark framed the issue, which will happen. Saying things a certain way can generate a certain style of response.

    • Newp Ort

      I agree that there weren’t many comboxers on Mark’s blog trying to proclaim R/R as being completely in tune with the magisterium. But whenever Mark criticized R/R, you could always count on someone to say Catholics are practically obligated to vote for R/R because if you don’t you are giving a vote to BO(false). Also you could count on any criticism of R/R to bring idiotic responses like “so are you saying we should vote for Obama!?” and the even dumber “you cant be catholic and pro-choice, Mark!”

      Also Mark was usually criticizing wrongheaded reasons to vote R/R, instead of praising those who knew R/R sucked but were going to eat the Mitt sandwich because they thought him the least shitty candidate, because you don’t correct the already correct.

      • Dave G.

        There were no doubt some who went overboard. Though in fairness, sometimes the most heated exchanges were brought on by how Mark framed the issue in the first place. I’ve often said that Mark’s blog is one part theology seminar, one part episode of Laugh-In, and one part roller derby. In those more derby moments, when the post appears (even if it wasn’t intended) to frame the topic in ‘this is what Real Catholics do, and this is what dumb people who don’t care about the Church do’, there was often, shall we say, some pretty colorful responses. The over the top comments weren’t always provoked, but sometimes they were. But in the end, the majority of commenters were clearly no longer of the hardcore ‘for the GOP!’ types, most either disdaining both parties for independents, or supporting particular candidates (Ron Paul did quite well among most comments during the last couple cycles).

    • Dave G.’s comment is basically my take on this type of overstatement and imbalance. Catholics who vote for the better of two imperfect candidates rarely think of their choice as sacrosanct. It’s just the best choice at the time. Voting is a process, the results of which moves a nation in one direction or another. It’s not some type of irrefrangible oath.

      Besides, if we were really focused on the sins of our own tribe as the prophets of old were, we would be mostly concerned about Catholics who are pro-abortion like Nancy Pelosi and less concerned about pro-abortion non-Catholics like Sen. Joseph Lieberman. But it’s possible that Lieberman is a bigger problem on the issue at this point. Our mandate should be to fight against evil and error wherever we find it and not to endlessly weigh culpability based on our own perceptions of who should know better. And we should do so thoughtfully and strategically, not mindlessly, to ensure the most effective outcomes.

  • Imp the Vladaler

    Mark, I know that you’ve crafted your blog persona in the image of Jesus
    the Annoying Shepherd, and there is a place for that. That’s why, in
    noting your “pox on both their houses” approach, I said that the
    criticisms of it aren’t entirely fair. It’s right to pull the beam out of your own eye first – or out of your brother’s or friend’s eye – before you take on the mote in a stranger’s or enemy’s.

    But if you can’t see what’s wrong with calling the right your “tribe” and analogizing the right to Israel and the left to “stupid pagans,” well, I don’t know what to say to you. Lefties in America aren’t lost-cause Baal-worshippers. There are heresies that lefty Catholics commit on issues other than abortion (the Popes have criticized far-left economics just as they have criticized far-right economics), and there are lefty Catholics who are good on abortion but bad on other stuff. Writing them off as not being worthy of correction – or acting as if they don’t need correction as long as they haven’t gone so far as to give a thumbs-up (as many on the left do) to abortion, sodomy, and torture – are huge mistakes.

    Nor do I know how to respond to your absurd denial that no one who reads your blog could ever be convinced that abortion is okay under some limited circumstances (severe fetal deformities, significant risk to maternal health), or that same-sex marriage might be acceptable as a civil institution, even if the Church never gives an inch on sanctifying such relationships. You don’t think that any faithful Catholic could ever, in a moment of fear, given in to the siren call of abortion? You do have leftist readers. You’re not in the temple with the Pharisees.

    • Dan C

      There is clearly talking points that get released. Acton gives some out. One of them is that welfare and government-supported anything or changing the tax rate from 35% to 39% on the highest tax bracket is indulging the sin of envy. That was a routine comment from Joe Carter on First Things, as well as any number of routine visitors to the Archbolds, for example.

      Rick Garnett at Mirror of Justice, along with other prominent bloggers tried to float the idea that got repeated that Ryan had long abandoned a minor flirtation with Ayn Rand, while Ryan really had given a speech at the Heritage Foundation 9 months earlier that would be the symphonic main theme to the “47%” moocher refrain. The entire talk was pure Rand with “makers and takers.” The right largely ignored shout-downs from the left on these blatantly incorrect aspects of propaganda, but it paid attention to members of its tribe.

      I think you need to study the blog more to pay attention to the anti-abortion postings, the anti-contraceptive postings, and the anti-gay marriage postings. However, the faith is more than the pelvic obsessions, and Mark comments on these matters too.

      • Imp the Vladaler

        Yes, Catholics on the political right sometimes misapply and/or ignore Church teaching. I’m not seeing how what you’ve written here responds to what I wrote. Could you please clarify?

        Edit: A polite request for clarification of a point gets a downvote. Weird. Whoever you are, you’re a sociopath.

        • jimmccrea

          Orthotoxic sociopath is more like it.

  • Gene in Philly

    Huh? I see the Reporter, I regularly read HuffPo, I am a Catholic and I DO care what the church says. I just think the careerist bishops are no bettr than I in discerning the Spirit’s intentions in politics, economics, and some other fields. I care, I truly do, but let us reason together. Every aside from Dolan, or Chaput, or even Francis, is not nfallible truth for the ages. Get over yourselves. I also feel totally unwelcome in the local RC churches: and those silly sermons (referring to EWTN no less) only make my discomfort profound. (I mean, Really; have you SEEN those fools?) I can always find the tabernacle and I hope it’s Guest also still believes in me. Amen.

    • Imp the Vladaler

      Not you, Gene. True Scotsmen.

      I just think the careerist bishops are no bettr than I in discerning the Spirit’s intentions in politics, economics, and some other fields.

      A quibble: I think the successors to the Apostles (particularly when speaking in concert) generally have a better grasp of what the Holy Spirit wants than the laity. What they do not necessarily have is a superior grasp of facts. So, for example, they can tell us that we have an obligation to use public institutions to assist the alien, orphan, and widow. That doesn’t tell us much about the form that public assistance should or must take.

  • johnnysc

    “My purpose here is simple: to try to get Catholics who ought to know
    better and who are so ready to excommunicate CINOs among Those People
    over There to close their own cafeteria and put the Church’s guidance
    first, even on matters that are not dogmatic. ‘

    Thanks Mark ….I didn’t always get it (you) and you pissed me off a few times but I’m getting there (re Catholic American) thanks partly to you. Appreciate it man.

  • jimmccrea

    “I don’t expect a reader of the National Catholic Reporter to care what the Church teaches. ” Hubristic balderdash!

    • chezami

      Do you have some evidence that NCR readers care what the Church teaches when it get in the way of their vews on the Pelvic Issues, or their contempt for the heirarchy? Because I have lots of evidence that NCR readers firmly consign the Church’s teaching to oblivion when it get in the way of their perfectly liberal bourgeois prejudices.

      • jimmccrea

        Oh, yes! We all know how faithful you orthotoxic theocons are when it comes to something you don’t like. You call it being “Pprudential.”

        As I said above: you are guilty of hubristic balderdash.

        • chezami

          You’re new here, aren’t you?

          • jimmccrea

            Only flitting by. From what I have seen and read, I won’t waste any further time.

            Bye bye, now!

          • Elastico

            Jimmy Mac is a self-righteous, anti-Hierarchy flame thrower on the NCR chat boards.

            • chezami

              So I gather.

  • Jeff Kantor

    “it is these people who Jesus is hardest on because they should
    have known better, but could not imagine the possibility that they were
    wrong after having been right about such important matters.”

    Reminds me of Mark Shea! :p

    • chezami

      It would be helpful if, instead of merely running up and spitting in my eye and running off again, you could specify what you think I am wrong about. It’s not like I haven’t offered many a mea culpa on this blog;

      • Jeff Kantor

        Mark, do you notice that use irony and sarcasm and make all sorts of negative comments and biting witticisms about your opponents? Are you “spitting in their eyes”?

        But this is how you deal with people. Making an ironic comment is “spitting in your eye”. Going off and tending to life is “running away”. Having a different approach to prudential judgments is a “gambit”.

        That’s something I think you are wrong about! Or at least if you are going to use such rhetoric on others you shouldn’t get your back up when others use it on you. Turnabout is fair play, as Pope Gregory VII wrote.

  • Jeff Kantor

    You can introduce the idea that the Church’s moral teaching is normative even when it is not binding without being mocking and ironic and assuming that those who question, say, whether Paul VI’s avid endorsement of the United Nations might be wise haven’t ALSO thought about it long and hard.

    It’s awfully hard to read this piece without it coming across as Mark Shea saying, “I’m a whole lot better Catholic than you lot because I understand it all so much better than you do and I take it seriously, unlike SOME people I could name.”

    Of course it’s possible that the Church’s “slow to war” attitude about, say, Iraq or Iran is wiser and more Christlike than that of some conservative Republicans. On the other hand, the Church can be wrong about war too—there is nothing wrong with regarding the Crusades as a big mistake. Do you think it would have been evil to pipe up in the face of councils and popes at the time and say, maybe this is not the best way to go?

    Naturally if you strike the prophetic pose about stuff like this, people will think you don’t respect them as fellow Catholics. Because it sure seems that you don’t.

    In the end, prudential judgments are, in fact, PRUDENTIAL JUDGMENTS. You may, in fact, be right when the Church is wrong.

    Which means that you can’t deal with people who disagree by caricaturing them and handing out snappy one-line putdowns. You have to listen. And respond in charity.

    The attitude of the Church since Vatican Two has been one of dialogue rather than confrontation. You don’t have to dialogue all the time. But it’s something I don’t think I have EVER seen from you. I’ve seen you debate. More often I’ve seen you refute–by your own lights–in tones of high dudgeon.

    And I’ve seen you chat in friendly manner with those you agree with.

    But I’ve NEVER seen you dialogue with someone you disagree with in terms of mutual respect.

    • chezami

      ? When have I ever so much as mentioned Paul VI’s thoughts on the UN?

      As to your offense when I criticize the prudential judgment gambit, it’s exactly the same thing one hears from those who reject the Church’s teaching on contraception: “You think you are so damn holy.” Um no. I just think I don’t have the right to edit the faith to suit me. I sin against the Church’s teaching all the time.

      Appeals to “the Church has erred in prudential judgments before” are fine. Sometimes it’s our duty to say “You are screwing up in your handling of abusive priests.” But as a general rule, disregard for the Church’s teaching on, say, the death penalty, torture, and war has not–let us not kid ourselves–proceeded from anything like a serious engagement with the Church’s teaching.

      If you have never ever seen any attempt by me to dialogue, then I have to conclude that you either cannot read or you have skimmed so lightly or so dismissively that there is hardly any point in trying to talk further.

      • Jeff Kantor

        Here’s HOPING you don’t see the comment you just wrote as an attempt to dialogue! :p If so, it’s a fail.

        No, Shea, the Church’s teaching on contraception is NOT a prudential judgment. The Church’s statements about Iran and Iraq of course ARE.

        Now, did you REALLY think that I brought up Paul VI and the UN because I thought you had mentioned it? Or because I didn’t notice that you hadn’t? Or is your opening just a “gambit”?

        I mention it as an example of prudential judgment in a Church document by a Pope. I mention it because it seems like there is a ghost of a chance that you or your readers might see more clearly by way of an egregious example like that that a prudential judgment in a teaching document should be listened to with respect but may be heartily disagreed with.

        And this is an example of the kind of thing I object to. I TOO think very seriously about how to approach Church teaching, even prudential judgments. I recognize full well that my own prejudices and opinions may make me deaf to something I should hear.

        I read and ponder the Church’s social teaching and talk about it with friends and others and wonder how I can fit it together with what I think I understand about economics and still be docile to the Church.

        But that involves asking myself questions like: How much deference should I give what Paul VI says about the UN? What are the implications of the Church’s past failures in matters of war such as the Crusades?

        When I pose such questions to you, you ignore them and speak of “gambits”. Which is, unfortunately, typical.

        The piece is brilliant writing, as usual. But the substance is wanting. Shea the (un)Prophet, who modestly disclaims the title while striking the attitude because he needs must! He’s a Christian! Just like Jeremiah was.

        Introducing us Gambiteers to the notion that we should listen to the Church, even when we don’t have to agree with her. I could give you a hug! No one has ever loved me SO much. :p

        Here is a great opportunity to show me your stuff. Instead of just assuring me that you dialogue just great. I bring up two examples: UN now; Crusades then. They are examples relevant to your thesis about prudential judgment.

        Can we strongly disagree with Paul about the UN now? Could we have strongly disagreed with the Church about the Crusades then? Or would those be “gambits” in your view?

  • Name

    Hi Mark, I love what you have written here. Please stick to your convictions and do not let the opposition silence you. You take on the hard conversations with an amazing zeal. Sometimes you’re a little too harsh for my taste, but the truth you speak comes through clearly and forcefully. Your answers to the objections are very helpful for those willing to listen. I can tell it is an intense love of Christ and his Church that motivates you.

  • Jeff Kantor

    I notice over on Jimmy Akin’s blog that he gives a very balanced presentation of the question of whether one can lie or not from within the Catholic tradition. No one is called names. The evidence for both sides is presented and Akin points out that both sides hold permissible views.

    Does that make him a Gambiteer?

  • Sara_TMS_again

    I know that your use of the phrase ‘I don’t expect a reader of the National Catholic Reporter to care what the Church teaches’ is there for the purposes of making your case, but I do want to record that there are readers of the NCR who do care about what the Church teaches. If you are a person of the Right who aims to criticise the Right when it ignores or abandons Catholic doctrine, the same is true of some of us on the Left, when our fellow-lefties suddenly start arguing that we don’t have to believe Jesus was actually God, or that the Catholic Church is actually the Church Jesus founded, or that there’s any such thing as morality, or that any choices we make as human beings actually matter.

    • chezami

      Granted. But the obvious editorial stance of the Reporter is “Screw the Church’s teaching on the Pelvic issues, women’s ordination, and the usual menu of Progressive dissent.”