My writing friend and I have started identifying a particularly painful genre of Catholic literature: Blarbage.
If you write, you’ve probably been guilty of it at one time or another. If you read widely from Catholic priests, bishops, and lay opinion-leaders, sooner or later you’ll stumble on it.
Let’s talk about what it is, how to identify it, and what to do when you encounter it.
- Verbose.* Not just lots of wordcount (guilty), but often a truckload of citations and fancy vocabulary when much simpler terms would better get the point across.
- Imprecise. Definitions are glossed over, important details are ignored, and nuances and clarifications are shunned altogether.
- Unclear. Even if you do make yourself read the whole thing, you don’t come away with a better understanding of the topic — you may not even really know what the speaker is trying to say.
- Emotional. Blarbage is all about feeling instead of thinking. It’s an emotional release pretending to be an essay or an argument.
Private journals, first drafts, and brainstorming exercises are the rightful homes of blarbage, and you should feel completely free to let the ink flow and get your muddled-mishmash of thoughts and feelings off your chest.
Furthermore, if you do a lot of writing (or speaking or teaching), every now and then you’re going to have an off day. You’ll not be as clear and concise as you should have been.
One time one of my writing students e-mailed me to check if I was okay, because I’d published an essay I never would have let pass from a student — and she was right! It was blarbage.
There was a whole chapter in The How-To that my editor sent back for a total re-write. I won’t say it was exactly blarbage? (Indeed, it was far too clear, alas.) But it was definitely a meteor shower of emotional fire, and it needed to be scrapped.
Summary: If you never write blarbage, you probably aren’t doing that much writing.
The Catholic Faith is Not Blarbage
Here’s the problem: There are certain teachers of the Catholic faith who pretty much spout blarbage all the time.
Some of them are in positions of authority, others are just laypeople with a wide following.
This is a problem because the Catholic Faith is not blarbage.
There are moments when we run up against theological mysteries, for sure. But you know what? You can just say: “This is something we mere humans don’t fully understand.”
There are likewise aspects of the faith that are, at least for now, open to some level of speculation. You can thus say, “This is an area where the Catholic faith allows a variety of possible beliefs.”
But even in these cases, there is no reason you can’t be clear about what you are trying to say. The Catholic faith is logical, rational, and clear. It’s not some gnostic mystery religion.
You may never be a very artistic writer or speaker, but you can definitely be straightforward and comprehensible.
What Does Blarbage Indicate?
When someone is spouting blarbage about the Catholic faith, one of several things is going on:
This person is traumatized. When really horrible things happen to you, it can mess you up.
Sometimes you see someone writing this off-the-wall stuff, like a giant emotional blizzard blocking all view of intellectual rigor. These people are publicly journaling their pain (even if it’s disguised as some other topic), and it’s big pain. Pray for them.
This person is suffering a cognitive impairment. It happens. Human brains are exquisitely vulnerable. Again: Pray.
This person is profiteering. Honestly I don’t think pure grifters do so much blarbage. They’re more into rage-baiting. But there are crossover elements, so you might mistake the two.
This person doesn’t understand the topic. Priests, professors, and catechists (among others) are often expected to know things they don’t.
In that case, some people say, “I don’t know, I’ll look it up.” Other people switch topics to teach something they do know instead, hoping you won’t mind the difference. But a portion will regretfully resort to blarbage.
This person wants the Catholic faith to be something it isn’t.
We’re two thousand years in. What Catholics Believe has been extensively developed and explained by thousands upon thousands of really good thinkers and writers. But all it takes is a quick skim through the Gospels and one thing is abundantly clear: Being Christian is a little daunting.
I mean, come on: “Take up your cross?” That’s an instrument of torture, guys. Please.
The Catholic faith tells us things that we very often don’t want to hear.
Catholic pundits and clergy are no different than anyone else — if we can find an easier way out, we’re sorely tempted to take it.
So, some of us focus on the topics we like and quietly skip the ones we don’t. Some of us reluctantly admit the Faith teaches those less-palatable bits. And some of us resort to blarbage.
What to Do If Your Priest or Bishop Spouts Blarbage
Blarbaging lay writers are easy to deal with: You can just ignore us.
The men who occupy the teaching office of the Church are another story. They have real authority. We are supposed to be listening to them.
What if their message is blarbage?
First of all, stay calm. The Holy Father, and/or the bishops in union with him, speaking ex cathedra making an infallible statement about a matter of faith or morals will not use blarbage. The Holy Spirit will protect us from that.
Everything else? The enemy is going to make an effort at sabotage.
Use prayer and those gifts of the Holy Spirit to counteract that sabotage:
- Learn the Catholic faith. It’s not too hard for you.
- Test the spirits, just like the Bible commands.
- Hold onto what is true and good.
Your priest and your bishop have been put in their office by God? But they aren’t God. They are mortal men, prone to ignorance like any of us, and prone to unremitting attacks of temptation that few of us non-clergy can imagine. The enemy hates them and will do anything to wreck them.
So pray for them. Pray for their protection and deliverance. Pray that they will teach the Truth and teach it well.
But if you see them spouting blarbage, recognize it for the error it is, and move on. You have twenty centuries of solid Catholic teaching to lean on for reference. You can sort out the wheat from the chaff.
It’s not hard. You just have to want to.
Photo: Raccoon in a garbage can in Prospect Park, by Rhododendrites, CC 4.0.
*There are a few Twitterati who produce remarkably concise snippets of blarbage. But they still meet the blah-blah-blah portion of the etymology in the sheer torrent of nonsense tweets they rain down on those who haven’t yet learned to use the mute feature.