For Once, I Agree with Steve Skojec (“Negativity”)

For Once, I Agree with Steve Skojec (“Negativity”) March 9, 2021

One Peter Five‘s Page Views Have Decreased by Two-Thirds Due Possibly to Highlighting More “Positive” Materials

It’s a rare occasion that I totally agree with a Steve Skojec article (since he is almost Exhibit #1 of a textbook radical Catholic reactionary), but as one who rejoices in 1) truth and 2) Christian unity, I’m happy to see it. Steve (head honcho at One Peter Five), recently wrote a piece called “Negativity is a Drug, And We’re Hooked” (3-5-21). He opined:

Social media is bad. The word “toxic” is overused, I suppose, but it’s also probably an understatement. We get online and we think we’re just going to read a few things or have a couple of interesting discussions, but the next thing we know, our blood starts boiling, we start throwing elbows, and maybe we even lob a few jabs below the belt.

I do it. I know I do it. I’m angry about so much that’s going on, and sometimes I just want a good scrap, so I dig in.

Ironically, this is the opposite of what I’m trying to do with the content here. I want it to be educational, enlightening, and encouraging.

But I have to admit, I’m frustrated.

Last night, I complained (on social media; where else?) about how we published a fantastic, moving, uplifting story about an incredible saint — St. Marianne Cope — who took the awful lives of lepers and turned them into something full of beauty and wonder, but that it only had 27 shares.

Meanwhile, my snarky post about Cardinal Wuerl getting millions of dollars in retirement hit 500 shares right out of the gate. . . .

But it had me up last night thinking about all of this stuff. About the fact that since I started trying to do a lot more St. Marianne Cope-type pieces and fewer Wuerl-type pieces, traffic on this website has dropped faster than Gavin Newsome’s approval rating. Whereas in 2018, at the height of all the Vigano revelations, we were getting somewhere between 25-30K pageviews a day, lately, we’re at fewer than 10K. In fact, we haven’t broken the 10K barrier in the past 30 days. Not even once. There could be several reasons for this, but traffic metrics over time tend to be a semi-reliable indicator about whether the content you’re producing is what your audience wants to consume.

This is utterly fascinating. Steve is nothing if not an angry, pessimistic, furious, doom-and-gloom, highly uncharitable ranter: particularly on his Twitter page, where he does little else, as I have thoroughly documented:

Steve Skojec: Mini-Pope & Oracle of Doom & Despair [4-20-20]

Apocalypse! Steve Skojec’s Pontifications vs. Vatican II [4-22-20]

Pseudo-Pope Skojo III Rebukes Real Pope Benedict XVI [5-9-20]

Pope Francis vs. the Gospel? Outrageous & Absurd Lies! (Anti-Catholic Protestant James White and Catholic Reactionary Steve Skojec Echo Each Other’s Gigantic Whoppers) [5-26-20]

Steve Skojec vs. Pope Francis: “Evil, the Devil’s Own, Deceiver, Destroyer, Monster, Heretic, Blasphemer, the Enemy Within, Bad Man, Hypocrite, Attacker of the Faithful, Pretender, Insincere, Unconverted” [6-23-20]

Steve Skojec’s De Facto Schism is Complete: By His Own Report [1-11-21]

Apparently, however, he is sincerely trying — to his credit — to now do something different on his website. I take him at his word. He does appear to let out his seemingly endless anger and fury on his “Mr. Hyde” Twitter page (which often gives one an impression of “late-at-night / half-drunk” ravings), and the (now increasing in frequency) amiable, good ol’ guy “Dr. Jekyll” stuff on his web page.

That said, what he writes above is of real interest, from a “religious sociology” perspective. I’ve long noted that an overall mindset of “negativity” and pope-bashing are all the rage and fashionable and chic as can be. People can’t wait to jump onto this bandwagon, because they want to be liked by their buddies and because people are sheep. Just today in a private Facebook PM I wrote, “The fashionable thing today is obviously pope-bashing.”

Twenty years ago, Catholic apologetics was reaching perhaps its peak popularity. It has since drastically declined and bitching and moaning ad nauseam about Pope Francis (for illegitimate and irrational reasons) is all the rage (pun half-intended).

I’ve been writing about the spiritual harmfulness and dead end of negativity and the pessimistic outlook for over twenty years (delighted to have Steve “on-board” at long last). Chapter two of my 2002 book,  Reflections on Radical Catholic Reactionaries was entitled, “Faith and Optimism vs. Pessimism.” Here are some excerpts:

Complaints, undue criticism, condemnation, disobedience, dissent, bickering, moaning and groaning, silly and self-important pontifications, whining, waxing eloquently cynical: that’s what we so often see in the reactionary movement. It’s extremely unseemly, unedifying, and unappealing.

It is denied that the reactionary position is characterized by an attitude of pessimism and lack of faith. “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matthew 12:34). One reads the sort of comments reactionaries habitually make, and one is more than justified in arriving at certain conclusions, if words mean anything at all. If individual proponents of these viewpoints happen to have a joyful heart, then they would do well to include some positive remarks in public also. How about an article once in a while like “What’s Good in the Church?”? A gloomy “quasi-defectibility” outlook is contrary to a truly Catholic faith in God’s guidance of His Church. Many reactionary writings do not convey this sort of hope and sunny optimism at all.

The alarmist reactionary rhetoric gets worse and worse, as with all conspiratorial schemes and theories trumped-up in order to explain things that people find themselves unable to comprehend or understand (therefore, they disobey and lose confidence in their ecclesiastical superiors). Like Job’s comforters, reactionaries fail to see that God is at work: though mysterious and inexplicable His ways may continue to be. A little reading of Church history (the bleak periods) might do wonders.

Faith and perseverance must enter in, in such troubled times in the Church. We need to understand that Church history repeatedly shows this pattern; that even the early Church had tremendous scandal and hypocrisy, and — above all — that the Church is indefectible. That’s why the orthodox Catholic remains forever an optimist. We readily acknowledge that modernism is rampant; we deny that it can ever overthrow the Church. One must have faith. reactionaries ought to read the book of Job. Tough times afflict the Church as well as the individual. It is to be expected. Why does that surprise reactionaries? Liberalism, heterodoxy, and unbelief are never surprising, but a Church that remains orthodox despite all is perpetually a delightful and heartening “surprise.” The glory of the Church (like that of the saints) is not that it has no problems, but that it always sees a way through the problems. It always conquers them. Heresy has no life of its own, so it always fails eventually, while the Church marches on (as in Chesterton’s marvelous reflections on “orthodoxy”). It does so because it is God’s own Church, and God cannot fail.

Reactionaryism is profoundly pessimistic, which is fitting for Buddhists, Hindus, or nihilists, but not Christians. So God has given up on His Church? Even our Lord Jesus had His Judas, and St. Paul had his Corinthian church. God saw fit to include in the ancestry of Jesus a harlot (Rahab) and a murderer and adulterer (David). There was no “golden era,” if by that one means a period without serious ecclesiastical problems. I think reactionaries continue to believe in original sin, and the world, the flesh, and the devil. The Church is to be reborn in the caves and backwaters of Pharisaical reactionary gatherings? I think not.

Things take time. The pessimist always concentrates on present miseries, while the optimist, idealist, or person exercising faith look at the good things that will come in the future, as the present decadent cycle comes to a close and the new revival starts to gradually pick up momentum. We need only look back at Church history to see what is coming next (excepting Christ’s return, of course). If the Second Coming isn’t imminent, then it is almost certain that major revival will come in this century.

The indefectibility of the Catholic Church and its divine protection from the Holy Spirit is our grounds (in faith) that things will get better, and are, in fact, not as bad as they seem in the first place (at the deepest, spiritual level). Joy rests on grounds other than circumstances. Joy comes from inner peace of the soul, by the grace of God, and a Christian can possess it even in a concentration camp, or with incurable cancer. The saints even truly embraced suffering with joy, as a privilege and honor and a way to help save souls. I am referring to the optimism of the eye of faith: the assurance that God knows what He is doing, and that history has a purpose: that all things are in His Providence, though He obviously doesn’t will all things in His perfect will. He allows bad things, and then uses them for His own purposes. The modernist crisis is no different than anything else; God uses it for His benevolent ends, and is not mocked. Doom-and-gloom and Chicken Little pessimism are contrary to faith and the true Catholic spirit.

I suspect that a lot of the reactionary analysis of the crisis in the Church comes down to temperament. Some people are of a state of mind and emotional make-up that they are naturally pessimists. They may struggle with depression or find it difficult to be of good cheer, with regard to day-to-day life. They might be going through any number of things that are legitimately troubling. Sensitive souls will be harmed and troubled more by evil and “things gone wrong” than less sensitive types. We mustn’t pretend that temperaments and personality types have no effect on our worldviews. They certainly do. Nevertheless, I think there are real, objectively measured grounds for optimism with regard to the Church situation, other than simply a feel-good delusion based on mere temperamental factors and circumstances.

But getting back to our immediate topic: the traffic at One Peter Five has declined by two-thirds in about two-and-a-half-years? And the reason Skojec offers is much more deliberate emphasis on “uplifting” stories like that of St. Marianne Cope? Is his analysis of the cause correct? I suspect that he is half-correct.

The indisputable fact is that negativity, pope-bashing, moaning about the Church and bishops, etc. will garner great interest and hits (as Skojec proves by noting the immediate impact of the Cardinal Wuerl article). That’s what we know for sure. Examples today are innumerable, so I need not even provide any here. So does it follow simply because Steve and One Peter Five have decided to actually put more emphasis on optimistic, uplifting material, that this is why they are losing hits?

Again, I think that is partially correct. My theory is that his page views are considerably declining not because people like “negative” material more than positive — which is true enough — but (more deeply) because the very raison d’être of the existence of One Peter Five is negativity and pope-bashing. People have visited there to read the “latest” in alleged, imaginary Pope Francis scandals and to despise and rant and rave against Catholics who don’t see everything in utterly dark, tragic tones as they do.

All the leading, most popular reactionary Catholic sites (e.g., The Remnant, Michael Voris’ Church Militantly Angry, Lifesite News, Rorate Caeli, Taylor Marshall’s video pontifications) are of this nature, because (to be a bit cynical) they know that doing so is 1) their distinctiveness over against other sites, and 2) what will bring in umpteen visitors and subscribers (which in turn generates good ol’ $$$). They view their mission to “save the Church” from Pope Francis, Vatican II et al, as of the utmost importance and necessity.

This theory may be true or not. I offer it as a long-time social media participant myself (website since 1997) and also as an amateur religious sociologist (my major in college was actually sociology). But whether it is true or not, Steve and the folks at 1P5 have a big and momentous decision to make:

1) keep producing positive and non-polemical, non-polarizing articles and see the page views continue to drop (but do it because it is right and edifying),

or

2) retain the formerly dominant negative emphasis and get plenty of people coming round.

That’s their choice, and to decide which route to go will require much internal discussion as to what is their essential self-conceived mission. Jesus said that “the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few” (Mt 7:14, RSV). And He also noted that “the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many” (Mt 7:13). And: “when the Son of man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (Lk 18:8). He told us to expect to be hated by “all” (Hebraic hyperbole, but still almost true) if we follow Him as we should, and to take up our cross of discipleship, and “Woe to you, when all men speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets” (Lk 6:26).

Steve knows all this. Christianity’s not a popularity contest. Thus, every Catholic apostolate has to decide for itself whether it will seek purely a “business model” or “Madison Avenue” approach and motivation, or a far less popular, go-against-the-grain “discipleship” orientation. Is the main goal is to be “popular” and appeal to the most people possible (which usually amounts to some sort of fundamental compromise of principle), or is it to follow Jesus and present the “narrow way” that He taught, no matter what personal and/or financial cost is involved?

I’m not saying that all business techniques and strategies are wrong, or that it’s a total “either/or” dichotomy. Not at all; I’m only noting that business and worldly “success” (meaning big numbers and big money) cannot be our ultimate allegiance, just as Jesus taught that riches could not be the ultimate allegiance of the rich young ruler. In order to follow Jesus, he had to give them up. The Bible is not against riches per se, but rather, riches (or any pet project or endeavor, for that matter) that have become a person’s idol.

Steve Skojec is onto something, and in my opinion, he is at a crossroads. He “knows too much.” If he follows his seeming “gut instinct” expressed in this article he will have to take a hit, business-wise, and lose many previous supporters (and will have to fight and endure much turmoil and misery to do so). But it would be the right thing to do. If he rejects this path, on the other hand, the opposite result will occur: lots of continuing visitors and enough income to keep on the path he has usually taken with 1P5, but eventual spiritual ruin and shipwreck, or at the very least, severe personal disenchantment and burnout.

His choice. This is a potentially momentous development to keep an eye on and to pray much about.

***

Photo credit: Anthony Parkes: narrow path around Grindslow Knoll, near Edale, Derbyshire, Great Britain [Geograph / CC BY-SA 2.0 license]

***

Summary: Steve Skojec of One Peter Five has expressed criticism of the emphasis on “negativity” and noted that his site’s page views have dropped quite a bit, presumably as a result of trying to be more positive. I draw out the implications of his analysis.

***

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