Debate: Calling People “Fools” (vs. Dr. Dawn Eden Goldstein)

Debate: Calling People “Fools” (vs. Dr. Dawn Eden Goldstein) July 29, 2019

From a public thread on my Facebook page. Dawn’s words will be in blue.

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I appreciate your theological points very much but refrain from sharing your posts because you use polemic insults such as “blowhard fools.”

That was my strongest language, reserved for a person who richly deserves it (Chris Ferrara). I could give literally scores of examples as to why I think that. He has childishly and unjustly insulted my good friend and your associate, Bob Fastiggi, among countless others. So there is plenty of warrant for use of the term (“fool” being quite biblical) for him. But out of respect for you and your fine work, and taking your point, I’ll remove it from the article.

I also use “reactionaries” but I very meticulously define that elsewhere as a category that goes far beyond traditionalism. I use it precisely to differentiate legitimate traditionalists who are tarred in wrongful association with the reactionaries.

Thanks. If we’re talking about what’s biblical, don’t forget Matthew 5:22.

I don’t forget it, Dawn. I’m glad you brought that up, as I have written about it: twice. The passage has to be interpreted and examined more closely. And when we do that, it turns out that it is not an absolute prohibition: anymore than “turn the other cheek” is (St. Paul didn’t do that at his trial).

Both Jesus and Paul use “fool” several times, and Scripture tells us to imitate them. The word for “fool” in Matthew 5:22 is moros and Jesus used it on two other occasions:

Matthew 23:17, 19 (RSV) You blind fools! [moros] For which is greater, the gold or the temple that has made the gold sacred? . . . [19] You blind men! [moros] For which is greater, the gift or the altar that makes the gift sacred?

Matthew 25:2-3, 8 Five of them were foolish [moros], and five were wise. [3] For when the foolish [moros] took their lamps, they took no oil with them; . . . [8] And the foolish [moros] said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’

St. Paul used another word usually translated as “fool” at least five times. “Fools” are also referred to 135 times in the Old Testament.

Because of this, I don’t hold the view that use of the word “fool” is absolutely prohibited, and so I use it, but reserve it (usually) for extreme cases. It’s a very biblical word, and we can use it, when justified, just as David, Solomon, Jesus, and Paul did.

Chris Ferrara, for those unfamiliar with him, has severely trashed Vatican II, the ordinary form Mass, Pope St. John Paul II, and derisively refers to orthodox Catholics as “neo-Catholics” (which term he popularized, after Gerry Matatics coined it). Bashing popes is nothing new with him.

That is a biblical “fool” if anyone is.

Jesus and Paul are careful not to use ad hominems. They use the words “fool” or “foolish” to describe types of people (the rich man of the parable who stores up goods is a type, not an actual person) and not to slander individuals. We need to be careful not to cherry-pick verses while ignoring the numerous exhortations to charity and admonitions against misuse of the tongue.

Besides, love your enemy and all that.

The Pharisees were quite real, and Jesus used the term of them. In Paul’s five usages, real men were involved (and a whole church, too):

Galatians 3:1, 3 O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified? . . . [3] Are you so foolish? Having begun with the Spirit, are you now ending with the flesh?

If the use was absolutely wrong, Jesus couldn’t have done that, nor Paul, and Jesus couldn’t and wouldn’t have used it even in a parable.

Also, given the constant use of “fool” in the wisdom literature, it’s simply impossible to say that we must never use the word. If someone actually is a [biblical] fool, it’s not slander to refer to him as one. It’s the truth. It’s a needed rebuke.

Yeah, I’m all for charity, and I am widely regarded (based on feedback I receive) as a charitable apologist, who refrains from needless personal attacks and insults and simply lays out my case. I’m not perfect, but I can say with assurance that I am not characterized (as a character trait) by being free with slander and insults and “evil speaking.” I’m with you: I condemn that all the time and seek to (imperfectly) model a better way in my demeanor.

Once all the biblical data is taken into consideration, it seems very clear to me that there is indeed a time and a place to use strong language and to issue rebukes, with biblical support. We mustn’t slander, and we must have compelling rationale to do so. I say it is all abundantly there in Chris Ferrara’s case.

It comes down to specific application. Was it justified, in describing him or not? I say it was. You disagree. But I’m saying that if we are allowed to call anyone a fool at all, that he is a prime candidate to be a recipient of it, based on his relentless attacks on Catholic teaching, popes, ecumenical councils, and orthodox Catholics.

I do agree, though, that the description was best left out of my paper, because people not knowing the background would conclude that it was harsh and a “personal attack” (or, possibly that my apologetics writing is habitually characterized by undue polemics, which is untrue).

You just proved my point. Jesus rebuked Pharisees as a group; he did not single out an individual and call him a fool. Likewise, the Wisdom literature refers to types; it singles out no individual for ridicule.

If you say to a group (Pharisees or Galatians): “you are fools” I don’t see any ethical distinction between that and saying it to an individual. If it’s wrong to call an individual that, then it would be even more wrong to classify a whole group as such, no?

St. Paul (like the prophets) does single out individuals for strong rebuke or condemnation:

1 Timothy 1:19-20 (RSV) . . . By rejecting conscience, certain persons have made shipwreck of their faith, [20] among them Hymenae’us and Alexander, whom I have delivered to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme.

2 Timothy 4:14-15 Alexander the coppersmith did me great harm; the Lord will requite him for his deeds. [15] Beware of him yourself, for he strongly opposed our message.

2 Timothy 2:16-18 Avoid such godless chatter, for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness, [17] and their talk will eat its way like gangrene. Among them are Hymenae’us and Phile’tus, [18] who have swerved from the truth by holding that the resurrection is past already. They are upsetting the faith of some.

1 Corinthians 5:1-5 It is actually reported that there is immorality among you, and of a kind that is not found even among pagans; for a man is living with his father’s wife. [2] And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you. [3] For though absent in body I am present in spirit, and as if present, I have already pronounced judgment [4] in the name of the Lord Jesus on the man who has done such a thing. When you are assembled, and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, [5] you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.

Are you saying that he could not possibly have also called such men “fools”: as he did with the Galatians and as Jesus did with the Pharisees?

Calling a group that holds a particular opinion “fools” makes it clearer that one is condemning an opinion and not a person.

I think there is that aspect, but also it can be seen that when Paul calls the Galatians foolish, or Jesus the Pharisees, they basically mean most in the group, so it is a multiplication of calling one person that; therefore worse. That’s a long way from supposedly not being allowed to call anyone fools or foolish.

My point stands that it is not a good Christian witness to call an individual a name such as fool.

I believe the Bible provides more than enough information to suggest that there are times to do so. It should be relatively rare, but still. If Jesus and Paul did it, what more evidence do we need? Then people say, “you’re not Paul,” etc. Never said I was, but he said that we were to imitate him.

But you’ve shown that Jesus and Paul did not call individuals fools.

And I have been contending that I see no difference. It would be like having five children who all got into some trouble (each one at the same time). So if the parent says to all, “you fools!” that’s ethically the same as saying it to any individual child.

That’s how it is in Matthew 23. 22:41 states: “Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them a question,” That’s how the encounter started. We don’t know how many there were. It could have been just three or four, for all we know. Sometimes the text says there were just one or two challenging Him.

But why does it matter? He’s still talking to real people, directly; not just using “fool” in a parable. So when He says, “You blind fools” in Matthew 23:17 I don’t see how it makes any difference whatever how many of them there are. If there were three, He was rebuking three; if six, six. What’s the difference?

If this is your main argument for maintaining the point that we can never call anyone a fool, I think it’s a weak stance (biblically speaking), with all due respect. Then I showed how Paul said very strong, rebuking things about named individuals, which is essentially the same thing.

I think because this sort of thing is abused all the time, that many want to throw the baby out with the bathwater. People do abuse and insult so much, that when one makes a legitimate rebuke that is fully warranted, it gets lumped into the verbal abuse that goes on all the time.

St. Paul rebuked particular things about named individuals, but he did not call them a name. When Jesus or Paul speaks of “fools,” it is always in the plural to emphasize that they are criticizing foolish ideas and are not labeling individuals. You are not imitating Paul when you call an individual a fool.

Paul said very harsh things about individuals, as I have shown. He said that Hymenae’us and Alexander were “rejecting conscience” and had “made shipwreck of their faith” and were blaspheming. He said about Hymenae’us and Phile’tus, that they were guilty of “godless chatter” that would “lead people into more and more ungodliness” and that such “talk” would “eat its way like gangrene.”

All of that is much harsher than my simple “blowhard fool.” All “blowhard” means is “a person who blusters and boasts in an unpleasant way.” Big wow. Ferrara does that more than almost anyone I have ever seen in 21 years online. You have to see it to believe it. If you haven’t, then I think you should, to understand why he richly deserves being called that.

Moreover, if you are correct, then it would be permissible if I referred to a group rather than Ferrara personally. So all I would have had to say to be “biblical” and “Pauline” would be, “The Remnant is a bunch of blowhard fools.” I don’t see any distinction there. Now I would be calling an entire group that, rather than just one. I wouldn’t even do that regarding the Remnant. But I have lots of experience with Ferrara, and he is the one trashing the pope and often leading the charge.

Jesus called Herod a “fox” (Lk 13:32). Was that singling out an individual for what you call “ridicule”?

He is making a claim against Herod’s supposed authority to kill him: Herod is a small fry and doesn’t have the ability to carry out his threat.  [see related article]

How is that relevant to what we are discussing? The dispute is whether an individuals can be called derogatory names. I have proven that they can, and that Jesus and Paul both did it.

It is relevant. Jesus and Paul criticized individuals’ behavior. The terms they used were very specific and identified attitudes that were problematic. They did not call individuals by generalized, schoolyard names. They did not throw stones at individuals so as to dismiss them and, in effect, poison the well.

“Fool” is one of the terms they used. I don’t “poison the well” with Ferrara. I have engaged in lengthy point-by-point rebuttals of his material: notably regarding the pope’s document on the environment.

His reply was to say that my website (my old Blogspot one) had a low ranking, so that I was not worth his time talking to. That is poisoning the well and ad hominem. He did the same, in his attack against you yourself and Dr. Fastiggi:

The authors know full well that pursuant to Amoris Laetitia (AL) Francis wishes the bishops to admit public adulterers in “second marriages” to the sacraments while continuing their adulterous relations during an ill-defined, open-ended “process of discernment.”

Knowing all of this full well, Fastiggi and Goldstein dishonestly reduce the incontrovertible evidence that Francis has approved and orchestrated a catastrophic practical break with the Magisterium . . .

Having stated their patently dishonest premise, which allows them to ignore reality, Fastiggi and Goldstein then proceed to their false conclusion, which also ignores reality: . . .

. . . Francis . . . is undeniably promoting the heterodox reading of AL they pretend, for purposes of their dishonest argument, he has not approved.

. . . their shifty polemic . . .

. . . the Magisterium that Francis is so clearly acting to subvert.

. . . a wayward Roman Pontiff observes the chaotic scene he himself has created, winking and nodding his approval, which they pretend not to see.

Fastiggi and Goldstein are not defending the Faith. They are defending Francis, no matter what he says or does. But this is only in keeping with the neo-Catholic defense of novelty as paramount. That defense requires them to be legalists and latter-day Pharisees, harping on the law while ignoring—or, if necessary, misrepresenting—the facts. And it is precisely the legalism of latter-day Pharisees that has made possible the auto-demolition of the Church over the past fifty years: Obey without question, for authority has spoken (or so it is claimed). Deny the evidence of reason and even the evidence of your senses if what they tell you interferes with your blind obedience.

Fastiggi and Goldstein are foot soldiers of a Leviathan Church in which the dictates of Hobbes’s “mortal god,” the earthly ruler of the commonwealth, take precedence over the dictates of the Immortal God in heaven and positive law trumps divine law.

Fastiggi and Goldstein do not understand that this is their function in the present state of the Church because the narrative to which they have committed themselves—an unwavering defense of novelty in the name of authority—does not permit them to understand it. They think they are defending the Faith, but in reality they are defending its dissolution.

Dr. Fastiggi showed heroic restraint and charity in his reply. This is one of the many reasons why I admire him so much. But it’s not impermissible to sometimes call someone a “fool”: since Jesus and Paul did, and per all my biblical reasoning above.

I think a lot of people have been hurt by abusive name-calling, and that’s unfortunate. My desire and motivation is not to do that at all. Occasionally (as I understand the biblical view), a strong rebuke is necessary and warranted.

Like everyone else, I’m not perfect in language or behavior. It’s that much more difficult to be in perfect control when engaged in dialogues and debates in the course of apologetics, which can get heated. I try my best to always be charitable in my writings.

You can have the last word. It’s been an honor to dialogue with you, Dawn. Blessed new year to ya!

You are contradicting yourself, as you earlier admitted that Jesus and Paul did not label individuals as fools.

That said, I appreciate your kind words to me, and I’m glad for the heart that you have to defend Catholic teaching.

Also, and sorry to pile on comments, it’s good that you understand that name-calling can be hurtful. I too am not perfect and am trying to make reparation for the years I spent name-calling on blogs and social media.

Fair enough. I said you had the last word. Love & blessings!

Love and blessings to you too! That’s a good last word to have. 

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Addendum (7-29-19):

Jesus portrays “God” calling one person a “fool” in one of His parables:

Luke 12:20 But God said to him, `Fool! This night your soul is required of you; and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’

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(originally on 12-17-17)

Photo credit: King Lear and the Fool in the Storm (c. 1851), by William Dyce (1806-1864) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]

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