Addressing Angry Reactionaries In The Catholic Church

Addressing Angry Reactionaries In The Catholic Church September 20, 2019

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“I fear those who have such great fear of the Devil, more than I do the Devil himself.”
— Saint Teresa of Avila

Since reverting to Catholicism after spending 12 years as an Evangelical, I have fallen in love with the Church in a way I never thought was possible. Similar to my initial conversion experience as a teenager, there was a level of zeal and excitement within me I could not contain. I decided to start blogging as a means of channeling that zeal while simultaneously allowing myself to explore Catholic theology and culture more deeply. While blogging about my musings and experiences has become an enjoyable pastime for me, it had also become an opportunity for fellow Christians (including fellow Catholics) to contribute to the conversation.

As a Catholic blogger, I receive a lot of feedback in the comment boxes of my articles and in my inbox. Most times I’m willing to listen to and engage with people who have legitimate concerns with my writing, beliefs or train of thought. Albeit, whether or not people agree with my writing, the discussion usually either bears fruit or turns sour. In cases where people are seemingly more interested in engaging in sophistry or using me as a literary punching-bag, that’s when I either ignore them or (in worst cases) establish boundaries. I’ve found this tactic easy to practice in the digital world, but not so simple in the real world. Sometimes disagreements and heated conversations online translate into painfully awkward face-to-face confrontations in passing with people I know personally — especially if they happen to be friends of friends or go to the same parish as I do.

In just about every case of a specific ideological group, the most negative attributes of a select few are usually overblown and contribute to producing stereotypes. Not all Evangelicals are flag-worshiping white supremacists. Not all atheists are angry and hate Christians (and the majority of them do not worship Satan). In the case of the stereotypical angry Catholic, it’s embarrassing enough to say, “We’re not all like that!” yet still have to acknowledge that we share the same core theological beliefs as them.

How do we explain a toxic subculture of Catholicism to potential converts? I can attest from my own experiences that Protestants have similar angry, fundamentalist reactionaries within their own ranks. Protestant reactionary behavior is usually stemmed from how individuals interpret the Bible as their only source of authority — and some take that authority in different extremes while ignoring important key biblical teachings in their peripherals. It hearkens back to the very words of Jesus when he addressed the Pharisees about straining out gnats and swallowing camels (Matthew 23:24). Although radical Catholic reactionaries are a unique breed on their own, their problem is quite similar. Though in addition to interpreting their source of authority, their anger can also be stemmed from built-up frustration over ongoing liturgical and clerical abuses paired with external opposition.

To be fair, I fully sympathize with those who have been dealing with years of corruption within the hierarchy of the clergy and among laypeople. As I dig deeper into theological subjects while I blog, I find myself identifying more and more with the traditionalists — especially regarding the sacramental value of the Eucharist. I can only imagine how much a person’s confidence and hope in their church community can be worn down from watching what was once reverent become weathered down by secular, modernist thought and philosophy. With that in mind, I think it’s important to know that behind every angry reactionary may be painful past experiences that may have led them to think, feel and react as such.

As Proverbs 27:17 says, iron sharpens iron so one person sharpens another. I think it can also be argued that one person can wear out another. A blacksmith doesn’t strike a hot piece of metal on an anvil without thinking about how he will acquire the desired shape. Like blacksmithing, building people up to direct them towards God involves carefully considering the use of our language, such as tone.

A soft answer turns away wrath,
but a harsh word stirs up anger.
The tongue of the wise dispenses knowledge,
    but the mouths of fools pour out folly.
The eyes of the Lord are in every place,
    keeping watch on the evil and the good.
A gentle tongue is a tree of life,
    but perverseness in it breaks the spirit.

— Proverbs 15:1-4 RSV

As far as dealing with angry reactionaries, it takes an emotionally mature person with saintly patience to have a rational conversation with them – and sometimes, I don’t think I fit that description. And Scripture puts it plainly that the best way to deal with such people is to leave them be:

“I appeal to you, brethren, to take note of those who create dissensions and difficulties, in opposition to the doctrine which you have been taught; avoid them. For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by fair and flattering words they deceive the hearts of the simple-minded.”
— Romans 16:17-18 RSV

If there is so much joy in receiving the life of Christ in the Eucharist, it ought to be visibly shown through the words, emotions and actions of the very people who believe in it. Unfortunately, the typical demeanor of angry, radical reactionaries only displays the complete opposite. If being Catholic is so life-giving and fulfilling, in what way does chronic, angry exasperation convince any non-Catholic we supposedly live the fullness of Christian faith? Most atheists I’ve met who were formerly Christian left their familiar congregations simply because they grew tired of dealing with toxic behavior which was often associated with legalistic attitudes toward maintaining biblical practice. I’m also sure most conservatives can identify with being yelled at by a radical leftist for not subscribing to their ideology. I don’t think I’ve ever met a single person who had a change of mind or heart from being yelled at or verbally abused by someone of a different worldview. Similarly, responding to error with knee-jerk reactions or abusive language only makes a stronger case for people to consider atheism. There is very little that turns people off more than flippant, hostile anathematization by those who do it while misusing the label of ‘tradition.

There is much profound truth to Matthew 10:36 when it says, “…and a man’s foes will be those of his own household.” I’d be lying if I said I never considered atheism in light of my experiences with angry radicals in both Protestant and Catholic circles. I’m sure some probably wonder if the amount of harsh criticism I receive regularly as a Catholic blogger would eventually compel me to leave the Church altogether. The good news is, it’s nothing that I haven’t experienced before, and there are equally if not worse toxic reactionaries in places other than Christian communities. If we’re all on the same journey to Paradise, we might as well get used to each other.

The bad news for the reactionaries who aren’t thrilled with my work is, I love Jesus and His Church far too deeply to allow emotionally insecure, pharisaical bullying to push me away. And I love my non-Catholic friends far too much to sit back and allow angry reactionaries to be a roadblock for anyone who might consider pursuing the fullness of Catholic Christian faith.

Also check out my follow-up article: Clarifying The Meaning Of ‘Catholic Reactionary’

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