Back, But Super Busy

The thing about road trips is that work and correspondence keep piling up like snow while you are gone. Which is to say, “I know people want to hear about the debate and all that, but I have to write two study guides and plow through my mail (80 emails!) and get other stuff combobulated. So I will try to get to it in the next few day but it may have to wait till next week. Meanwhile, I have already front-loaded a bunch of stuff to run each day for the next few day (before I went to Minneapolis) so that will have to do.”

I will say that I am very grateful to the Argument of the Month Club for graciously inviting me and to Michael Voris for good debate. The turnout, I’m told, was somewhere between 500-600, which is a real sign of hope to me: Over 500 Catholic men who care enough about the Faith that they crammed themselves, standing room only, into Church basement to deliberate how best to serve the Church! Fantastic! Wonderful!

As to “Who won?” the last person you should ever ask that question is me. I can’t see the wood for the trees and there are going to be 600 opinions (more than that when the debate is posted on line). If you want my worthless personal opinion, I think I won, of course. I wouldn’t have argued the position I did if I did not think it the true one. I think I won not because it was me arguing, but because it was me regurgitating with dull unoriginality the basic teaching of the Church, namely that the way to meet the crisis in the Church is prayer, fasting, almsgiving, and the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. Since this is basically the teaching of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount and Matthew 25, distilled through the Tradition of the Church, I don’t see how it’s possible to really argue against that since to do so is to argue against Jesus Christ, not me. The only real issue is “Did I argue it well or did I argue it poorly?” That, I have only the sketchiest notions since it basically comes down to “If they aren’t learning, you aren’t teaching.” If people agreed or were persuaded of my point, then I’ll call that a win. If not, not. But since I have no idea what 600 guys concluded the outcome of the debate to be, that one will be known only to God, I reckon. Dale Ahlquist thought I did fine, as did a small group of folks I chatted with, but that’s a pretty small sample. Still, I’ll take was rah rahs I can get and declare, “Dale Ahlquist is just and wise.” So that settles that, I guess.

I really don’t have time to give the full blow-by-blow right now though. So call this the Cliff’s Notes for the present. I’ll try to give a fuller account in a few days. Now, I’m glad to be home. And I am grateful to the Ahlquist family for letting me sponge off them. If you haven’t done so, do consider joining the American Chesterton Society. What a gift those guys are.

Oh, and one final thing: thanks to Michael Matt of the Remnant for just being a classy gentleman. We spoke on the phone a couple of weeks ago and I liked him and I like him even better when we met in person. So I just wanted to be sure to mention that since (I’m not clear on the org chart) he seems to be one of the principal drivers behind AOTM. Kudos for a really group of guys!

More later!

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  • vox borealis

    namely that the way to meet the crisis in the Church is prayer, fasting, almsgiving, and the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.

    Indeed. I have no idea what, then, Voris argued, but from what I have seen of his productions, one of his main points is that few in the Church hierarchy are willing to admit openly that there *is* a crisis in the Church. Hence they appear unwilling to meet it in any way. From that perspective, admitting that there is a crisis is a necessary first step. After that, it’s simply a matter of methods.

    • Pappy

      That particular point, dealt with the proper response of the laity to the crisis in the church. The actual point was something along the lines “are prayer, fasting and alms-giving, combined with the corporal and spiritual works of mercy the proper response of the laity in the crisis”. Mr Shea argued in the affirmative, Mr Voris in the negative.

      • vox borealis

        I’m not sure how Voris could argue in the negative—unless it was for argument’s sake—since prayer, fasting, almsgiving, corporal works of mercy and spiritual works of mercy combine to cover an enormous amount of activity.

        For example, spiritual works of mercy include instructing the ignorant and admonishing sinners. I would argue that the Vortex (as one case) falls clearly under those activities and could be considered at least attempts at spiritual works of mercy.

        Now we can debate if such are good attempts at spiritual works of mercy (it could be argued that the Vortex series, for example, does not demonstrate enough patience or provide enough comfort). But that is my point: the *real* debate is not whether there is a crisis–there is. Nor is it whether the laity should perform spiritual and material works of mercy. Of course they should. Nor whether the laity should pray—I’m sure Voris and Mark agree on that point and themselves are prayerful individuals.

        Rather, the debate is over the specific application of particular activities that fall under the traditional role of the laity. When to admonish, and how? How patient is patient enough? When to instruct, and how? What form should spiritual comfort take? and so on.

        THAT’s the discussion.

        • Stu

          That is the debate and I still really can’t see why it is a

          Both men admonish wrongdoers.

          Both men talk about mercy.

          Both men also sometimes go to an extreme in the former.

          Same coin, different sides.

          • vox borealis



        • DJ Wambeke

          Voris was clear that he was on board with the principles. He was only arguing in the “negative” in the sense that he thought the formulation “too vague”. In his estimation it allowed too much room to gloss over the requirement to call out error where one sees it.

          • chezami

            Except that “Admonishing the sinner” is one of the works of mercy.

            • Stu

              But is that the crux of being “too vague”? Nowadays, you have people who have shortened Matthew 7 to just being “Don’t judge”. Quite often whenever someone might say that “x is wrong” you are confronted with “Don’t Judge. Jesus says, “Don’t Judge.””

              Now admittedly, how you go about admonishing others is very important as well. In fact, it’s extremely important and Matthew 7 does tell us that we also need our” ducks in a row.” But still, it does seem like people want to downplay the importance of admonishing the sinner.

              • chezami

                Bah. Voris attempted to complain that prayer, fasting, almgiving and the works of mercy were “too vague” (and here he got in the sneer “like Vatican II”). Precisely my difficulty here is that so much of what he does is not admonishing sinners. It is expressing rage and often (as last niight) accusing innocent people like Fr. Robert Barron of being sinners and ginning up a mob against them. Poison.

                • Stu

                  Well, I think that’s the challenge of “admonishing the sinner”. Effectiveness is sometimes in the eyes of the beholder and honestly it isn’t always easy. What seems right in approach to one guy isn’t appreciated by another. For instance, I think some of your writings against so-called reactionaries or traditionalists come across as rage and ginning up a mob as well.

                  Now that could be dismissed as “tu quoque” on your part but it is how I see it and that’s why I think you two guys are cut from the same cloth, warts and all. Fortunately, the “all” outweighs the “warts” on both of you.

                  • chezami

                    The video will be up soon enough and you can judge for yourself. I thought the attacks on Fr. Barron were way out of line and totally off topic. But they were more or less of a piece with the outpouring of diffuse anger with no constructive proposal that was pretty much the whole of his argument.

                  • Pappy

                    “I think you two guys are cut from the same cloth, warts and all”,

                    Stu, based on Tuesday night’s debate, I agree with that.

                • Christine Niles

                  I know exactly what Michael Voris argued at the debate last night, and it was NOT that Fr. Barron is a “sinner,” nor has he any desire to “gin up a mob” against him.

                  Will your mischaracterizations never end? Is your position so very weak that you MUST make up things and put words in Voris’s mouth? Do you not recall that the debate was taped and everyone can go and listen for themselves to hear exactly what was said?

                  • chezami

                    Christine; I’m perfectly aware the whole thing was taped and I stand by my characterization of what Voris did. He told half truths about Fr. Barron’s speculative remarks on hell (remarks based on Pope Benedict’s own speculations) and suggested that he was denying thereby the Church’s teaching on hell. That. is. false. He insinuated he was sinfully trimming the teaching of the Church in his forthcoming videos due to the fact that the videos don’t touch on “hot button” (read ‘pelvic’) issues. Of course, he never mentioned what the videos are about. Are they dealing with the Church Fathers? The Church’s history during Viking Raids? Who knows? I don’t, because Voris never said. There are a million things the videos might be about that would not be germane to the pelvic issues. But Michael went ahead and portrayed him as a coward afraid to teach the fullness of the Faith. It was low and cheap demagoguery and he owes Fr. Barron an apology. What will likely happen instead is that the mob will take the hint from the videos and go attack Fr. Barron as a false teacher who denies the Church’s teaching on hell and is afraid to discuss the church’s moral teaching (something he has discusses a zillion times). Since you are so concerned about the pope’s “scandalous” remarks, perhaps you should remove the log from your own eye.

                    • DJ Wambeke

                      I didn’t appreciate Voris’ double-swipe (heretic + weakling) at Fr Barron either.

                      On the “not preaching enough on pelvic issues” front, though wrong, Voris seemed to be genuinely motivated for the welfare of souls. He mentioned the vision of hell the children at Fatima received and the warning that sins of the flesh were the cause of so many of those soul’s demise.

                      As he said that, though, while simultaneously implying that Fr. Barron teaches heresy (forgetting, as you note, that it’s the view of Benedict as well), I kept thinking to myself of your frequent remark, Mark, that when you came into the church you were a little surprised to find that Catholics didn’t worship Mary, though some of them seem to think she’s the Pope….

                • Pappy

                  Mark, I didn’t get the sense that he really believed they were too vague. He said as much when he started his argument. His aside “like Vatican II”, was for the sake of example – I’m sure we can all recall instances of people claiming that SVC said something but the text is quite clear that it didn’t mean that. That is why his argument of “vaguesness” was so weak — it was something that he didn’t really believe.

                  Dale Ahlquist once has to stand in for “Professor Hippie Dippie” who failed to show up for a debate on Just War. He took the argument against the existence of something called “Just War” and he gave a good presentation (his focus was based on the idea that the true cost of war prevented either side from claiming ‘success’). But I certainly can’t see that Mr. Ahlquist really believes that there exists no such thing as “Just War”.

                  I didn’t stay for the whole panel discussion, so I don’t know what was said about Fr. Barron.

  • Pappy

    I’ll agree that Mark won the debate, but if you polled those in attendance, I’d bet the results would be close. But this wasn’t due to any deficiency in Mark’s presentation. Both speakers make excellent points all through the debate, however the tipping point, in my opinion was the response to the question on

    prayer, fasting, alms-giving combined with the spiritual & corporal works of mercy.

    Mark had the “pro” side, and with the aid of recent books, presented an fine response on the tradition of the church relying on these in the midst of crises

    (by the way I loved your opening analogy of “white water rafting”). Michael, for the sake of the debate took the “anti” side and argued from the incredibly weak position

    that these things are “vague” (he even used air quotes). So on the basis of that
    position, I consider you to have won the debate. In my opinion, the responses to the other debate points were very evenly matched, both in oratory skill, fervor, intellectual content and consistency with Church Teaching.

    One of your most notable remarks, “I believe and profess all that the holy Catholic Church believes, teaches, and proclaims to be revealed by God.”
    was very well done. Having worked in RCIA for 20 years, I really appreciated that and I think framed your situation for those in the room who weren’t familiar with you or your writings.

    However, your refusal to engage in arm wrestling with Fr. Eckert was a faux pas in Minnesota manly etiquette 😉 (To be fair, 3 of the 4 panelists declined the offer, only the smallest guy took him up and was easily routed — Fr is/was military chaplain and a man of compact strength)

  • DJ Wambeke

    I’m honestly not sure who “won” the debate. (I came in agreeing with Shea and left agreeing with Shea, for what its worth.) At times it descended into WAY too much “you said this about me! Oh yeah, well YOU said THIS about me!!!” personal invective. At one point Voris had Shea completely on the ropes. But that was more a matter of assertiveness than of substance. No one in that room, based solely on the evidence presented in the debate, should have left thinking they knew who was more “at fault” in the matter. (I’m afraid many may have, however.)

    Unlike the debate, I found the panel discussion later in the evening much more enlightening. The differences between the approaches of the four presenters were clear, but were explored in a manner befitting men who are brothers in Christ. There was a real sense of unity despite their differences. So all in all it ended well, especially with the closing prayer from all 500+ of us men offered for the Holy Father.

    This was my first encounter with Michael Matt, and I’ll agree with Mark – he’s a classy guy. I only knew him from reading the Remnant, and shame on me for half expecting him to be a crank.

    One final thought: This was my first AOTM club event. I know I’m a complete panzy, but I just don’t get the whole “let’s work these guys up into a frenzy so we can have a cage match” vibe that permeates the place. I know it’s all tongue in cheek, but still…. blegh.

    • Pappy

      I’ve been attending AOTM for over 3 years now. One of the appeals to men (admittedly hyped to the point of parody) is that this is a group of “manly” men.

      • DJ Wambeke

        “this is a group of ‘manly’ men.”
        Well, there you go. In any gathering, I’m usually the dweeb in the corner with his nose in a book, hence my distast for that kind of vibe! :-)
        I do like a good debate, however, so long as the participants have a shared desire to pursue the truth, and not simply score rhetorical points against each other. Thus my satisfaction with the panel discussion….

    • Pappy

      In regards to the “cage match” references, I think it is because some of the recent debates, weren’t really debates at all. A non-Catholic Christian co-worker who has come a couple to times was very disappointed with debate portion of the evening from last year. He, and I think many others
      (not to exclude myself) were looking for an actual debate.

  • ivan_the_mad

    “If you haven’t done so, do consider joining the American Chesterton Society. What a gift those guys are.”

    Seconded. Gilbert Magazine is the best magazine in the world :)

  • tj.nelson

    I think the group was started and is organized by Kent Wuchterl.

  • Stu

    For what it’s worth, we are starting a similar group in the Norfolk, Virginia Area with our first event on 22 October. Dr. William Marshner of Christendom College will be our first guest and the topic will be Luther’s Rebellion. So if you are in the area, please come out. We are adopting Kent’s model because, quite frankly, it’s a good one.

    You can register here:

    On 17 December, we are having our second quest which will be
    Dale Ahlquist and he will be speaking about “The Trouble with Catholic Social

  • dcrews

    First, let me say it was a pleasure having the opportunity to see you in person. I thought you did very well in what can only be considered as a ‘hostile’ environment. I have been going to these monthly meetings for the past five years and this was by far the most biased crowd I have ever seen. You made great points and held your own during the evening. Well done!
    Unfortunately, people today have no patience. Everything has to be done NOW! Christ was the most patient man who ever lived. If we are to emulate him, we also must learn to be patient. We have all the tools needed to handle any ‘crisis’ in the Church. We simply need to learn how to use them most effectively.
    Keep up to good work!

    • Pappy

      “most biased crowd I have ever seen”

      Really ??!

      More biased than when the fundamentalist from Colorado mocked the pope, encyclicals, and the catechism, and rebuked those in attendance because “where I come from men bring their bibles to church” ?

      More biased when a certain gentlemen mocked church teaching against all sorts of sexual perversions and even Dale Ahlquist (this particular gentleman’s opponent) warned that he would walk out if the “booing” continued ?

      I not sure if you are engaging in hyperbole, you don’t really get to as many of these meetings as you imply, or that you simply don’t remember these very clearly.

      Now before others begin to thing that Argument of the Month is something to be avoided. Let me just say that it a great apostolate. It is one of the few things I can invite my non-Catholic friends to and they’ll actually be excited about attending. One of the purposes of of AOTM is revive the notion that men can get together and have an actual argument(debate) about something and walk away without hating their opponent. Is it for everyone, no ? But as Mark said, if you can get 600 men to cram into a church basement and be excited about living out their Catholic faith, something must be right about it.

  • Dan C

    Here is a substantive criticism of Fr. barron: because he focuses on the glory of the Church so extensively, and the meeting of Christ in this Mystical Body of Christ, he is poorly preparing the faithful for what is likely to be a far different emphasis of where the proper place the lay are to meet Christ in the 21st century: the poor. I suspect this is the focus of Francis. Such an approach differs from previous popes- this pope has extensive experience with the poor, and the price that was paid by siding with the poor

    If someone wanted to argue about Fr. Barron, and critique him, this would be the only substamtive position. Choosing some random comments in one corner of his corpus is a bit trivial. Fr. Barron has a tremendous corpus, which focuses on Christ in the Church.

    As such, however, he seems profoundly inexpereinced at the relationship of Christ in the poor. As a teacher, I think he should be focsuing on that- to prepare his students for Framcis’s likely message.

    Here is a legitimate approach to a critical appraisal of Fr. Barron’s teachings. This could be argued up or down. Focusing and condemning someone on the same speculative points raised over the past two thousand years is somewhat….odd.

  • Catherine D.

    Wasn’t Mr. Matt a class act? I bet he was. Wish I could’ve been there. I wasn’t allowed. I really wish you guys could be friends.