A suggestion for R.R. Reno at First Things

A suggestion for R.R. Reno at First Things September 30, 2015

Mr. Reno:  Though I applaud your decision to give Maureen Mullarkey’s pope-hating blog the well-deserved ax, I think it is important to note that the level of sheer malice and batshit crazy in the comboxes announcing he ouster at First Things is, like the popularity of Donald Trump among the wreckage of what was once conservatism, an indictment of the catechesis that conservatives have been getting from their manufacturers of thought and opinion over the last decade.

First Things–like the editors of National Review and the talking hairdos at FOX who have spent all summer trying to figure out how to stop the Trumpkin Frankenstein base–have nobody to blame but themselves for the creation of that demographic. That Mullarkeys and similar lunatics have been given a forum and treated as voices to be taken seriously at all in conservative media is what has helped foster the subculture that is now roaring and frothing in that combox, as well as banging at the doors of National Review like zombies assaulting a shopping mall.  The sheer atavistic nuttiness on display among the Francis-haters in that First Things combox and elsewhere is the fruit of an Americanized and highly edited pseudo-gospel that FT and other conservative media has worked hard to promote. And that process goes back well before Francis.

I hope, please God, the Francis-hate is dying out since it is too chaotic and unfocused beyond rage at Francis and a few libertarian sacred cows and militarist slogans to accomplish much.  Indeed, a sign of hope for me is the number of Catholics of conservative bent who have written me to say that one fruit of the papal visit has been to reveal to even conservative sympathizers how deeply anti-Catholic American “conservatism” has show itself to be in many sectors.

So I think FT has a cleanup job to do here beyond axing Mullarkey.  The Party of Personal Responsibility has spent all summer simultaneously saying things like “Trump is just saying what we’re all thinking” and then trying to lay blame for the Monster it created (that is, the base of Trump supporters) on some kind of Democrat conspiracy.  They need to face the fact that this Frankenstein base of blind guides supporting a racist misogynist pro-abort is nobody’s fault but their own.

Likewise, sane conservative Catholics need to stop coddling those twisting themselves in pretzels of hatred and defiance for a pope who has done and said nothing heterodox, all in defiance of the Church’s social doctrine need to repent or they need to be repudiated by Catholics of good will.  It would be a nice bonus if sane conservatives beyond FT also pressured the nuts to repent smearing a good man as an accomplice to murder (which is what “Che Guevara’s Pope” means) in their zeal to declare their non serviam to the gospel.  But the person of Francis is less crucial than the office of Peter and it doesn’t do to ask too much of hard hearts all at once.  But the bottom line is, the enemies of Peter need to take responsibility for their actions, repent, and believe the good news–and those who have hitherto enabled them should take responsibility for the fact that they did not spring up like topsies overnight but have been cultivated for a good long time. That cultivation must end.

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  • Mike Petrik

    Splinter, meet beam.

  • If you want to see the other spectrum of crazy, read the comments of John Allen’s piece at Crux on the Pope’s visit with Kim Davis.

    • Dan13

      Or the commentators on Michael Sean Winters’ blog for that matter.

    • Mike Petrik

      Fire John Allen!

      • chezami

        Inability to tell the difference between John Allen and somebody who calls Francis Che Guevara’s Pope is but one mark of why contemporary conservatism is deranged.

        • Mike Petrik

          I think that any reasonable person can appreciate the difference between JA’s measured opinion-writing versus MM’s caustic exaggerations. One sheds light, the other heat. But assigning the blame for nutty FT comboxers to FT is as sensible as assigning the blame for nutty Crux comboxers to Crux, which is not sensible at all. Next you will trying to assign the blame for your caustic exaggerations and us poor comboxers!

          • Stu

            It’s my fault.

          • David

            I don’t know about Crux or John Allen, but you’d have to show that John Allen’s writing is the cause for the existence of a *like-minded demographic* in order for that application of logic to work. The fact that the crazies in the comment box are those who *disagree* with what Allen wrote doesn’t help your point.

            I don’t even think Mark was making a grand observation of writers and the readers, anyway; just what the nature of that causation is on the particular website First Things.

    • Mike Petrik

      Obviously, Crux has nobody to blame but itself for the creation of that demographic.

  • When is patheos gonna give you the axe for your comservative-hating blog?

    Mark seriously, it would be so easy to get your point across without all the rage.

    Also the Francis bashing from the noncatholic right is not a recent FOX/Trump phenomenon. It is a Reformation phenomenon that has thrived for over 500 years. Don’t expect it to die out any time soon.

    • chezami

      Historically, protestant pope bashing was done by Protestant, not by the Greatest Catholics of All Time.

      • You and I must not run in the same circles. Take a look at the comments under Matt Walsh’s post about his recent Papal article for Blaze. This isn’t Catholics criticizing the pope.


        • Marthe Lépine

          What do you mean? You and Mark not running in the same circles? I have read some of Maureen’s posts, and she does claim to be a Catholic. I have managed to find and read her latest offensive post, and it is a scandal, in the correct sense of the word, while some of the blogs I discovered when I “Googled” her name are certainly claiming to be “orthodox” catholics, and they were praising her. This is the “American Reformed Catholic Church”, and they are moving steadily away from the Catholic Church Jesus founded with Peter at the helm.

          • I’m not super familiar withher, but yes looking at her blog it is rather bad. But this post uses Maureen to launch into a rant slamming politically conservative Catholics wholesale, especially any who criticize Francis. Here’s my issue with that (note this does not describe me!):

            Imagine a catholic who feels free market capitalism is the best economic system in which to do good, disagrees with Francis on just about everything nonspiritual in Ladauto Si, thinks Francis speaks in a rash, vague, difficult to parse manner that often sounds very misleading, thinks such style has done a great deal of PR damage to the Church, occasionally says so, thinks Francis is dead wrong on economics, thinks he misses a lot of opportunities to talk about abortion, and feels voting republican is the best option in this country.

            Such a Catholic may be dead wrong on a lot of that, but so far I have described NOTHING heterodox, heretical, or objectively sinful about their views. Yet this blog continues to lump such a person into a group of antipapist, dissenting, poor-hating, unorthodox Catholics. The example Catholic may or may not be heterodox, but you can’t know and it is wrong to assume the worst.

            TLDR: If Mark had stopped at applauding the canning of Maureen, this would be a fine post. Instead he used it to launch another tirade of heretic accusations toward anyone who disagrees with him politically.

            • David

              “Such a Catholic may be dead wrong on a lot of that, but so far I have described NOTHING heterodox, heretical, or objectively sinful about their views.”

              Voting Democrat and playing in traffic isn’t heterodox, hetetical, or objectively sinful either; but I think you’d say that those things aren’t things one should do.

              • Quite possibly so. But constantly ranting and chewing out anyone who does so with zero charity and lumping them in by association with people who actually are heterodox is also something you shouldn’t do.

                • David

                  “But constantly ranting and chewing out anyone who does so with zero charity…”

                  No. Mark isn’t combating those who want to legitimately exercise different *prudiential judgements*. I talked about this before.

                  As long as you continue to overlook this, you’ll continue to stick up for the wrong crowd of people.

                  • I’m not sticking up for anyone. I have a a rather committed Catholic friend who’s dislike of Francis is frustrating and and upsetting. I don’t support his perspective. I don’t stand up for his expression of such opinion. But I don’t publicly spew nastiness and unfair generalizations toward him either.

                    If you think simply saying Mark’s tone isn’t unbecoming and uncharitable makes it so or that simply saying he doesn’t throw a lot of confused but earnest Catholics under the bus with sweeping generalization makes it so, then I guess we just can’t really agree.

                    • David

                      You can always debate the *tone* if you wish to. The generalizations however, *aren’t* invalid. The diseased ideologies harbored by many Catholics in America is now out in the open, and, Mark Shea’s responses or not, these ideologies are rearing their ugly heads. Earnesty is irrelevant; eugenicists can act “in earnest”.

                    • [Earnesty is irrelevant; eugenicists can act “in earnest”.]

                      From the context of my post, it is obvious I was talking about earnest in conjunction with orthodox view, but perhaps incorrect politics. This is exactly what I’m sick of the complete mis-characterization of what someone else says in the worst light and then the condemnation by association with spooky ideas like eugenics. I have no disagreements with Mark on dogma, and I share his frustration with death penalty support and his horror of much of our military tactics.

                      But you cannot deny that he has lately used this to generalize about politically conservative Catholics constantly. They are invalid.

                    • David

                      “This is exactly what I’m sick of the complete mis-characterization of what someone else says in the worst light and then the condemnation by association with spooky ideas like eugenics.”

                      The example was used simply to show the fallaciousness of appealing to earnesty to defend an action. You don’t have to post about Catholics “earnestly” doing something.

                      You keep talking about politics. If you’re referring to *legitimate* applications of prudential judgements by a government, I’m telling you again that Mark isn’t addressing that. I’ve talked about this at length elsewhere on this site, so I’ll refrain from rehashing those arguments here.

                    • Dave you and I are in no disagreement about the viewpoint Mark opposes. I understand. And I don’t disagree with Mark. At All. I just don’t think he addresses those people very well and his posts tend to assume the worst about anyone guilty by association. And I have a real problem with tone. We are obviously not going to agree on this point, so there’s that.

  • Dan13

    I read Mr. Reno’s interview with America magazine’s website and was pleasantly surprised by his responses.

    However, I think the Evangelicals and Catholics together thing has to be strongly reexamined. Quite frankly, conservative Protestants do not have the same theological emphasis on social justice that we Catholics do (with the *possible* exception of conservative Methodists). Maybe the problem is the concepts of conservative Protestantism, particularly some Neo-Calvinist assumptions, are seeping into the thought process of some conservative Catholics. It is to the point where they agree with conservative Protestants over the center-left orthodox Catholics.

    So maybe it is time to ditch First Things altogether as a failed experiment and maintain intellectual distance from the Protestants.

    • ivan_the_mad

      “conservative Protestants do not have the same theological emphasis on social justice” Definitely, that whole sola fidei error, among others.

      There’s also the emphasis on apophatic theology and nature as corrupt, which led directly to the Hobbsian / Lockean view of man’s natural state as individuals in conflict, thence to the emphasis of individual rights over community. Small wonder we now have the wrongs of same-sex “marriage” and abortion. Maybe First Things isn’t the only failed experiment.

      • Stu

        “Maybe First Things isn’t the only failed experiment.”

        The USA?

        • Mike Petrik

          One of the many great things about the USA is that if one would rather be a citizen elsewhere, the USA will not stop him. The only people I see leaving are anti-US eccentrics like Joseph and a small (but increasing) number of very wealthy ingrates.

          It is doubtful that a confessional state can govern effectively in a pluralistic society, and even if it could it is doubtful that such governance would not adversely effect the confession itself. This is a fallen world, and no type of government will yield perfect justice, but overall the record of constitutional republics is pretty good when evaluated against actual existing (or pre-existing) alternatives, as opposed to interesting and naive hypotheticals.

          There is no heaven on earth, and the folks who insist on trying to make it otherwise usually serve to aggravate the divide.

          I don’t think FT is a failed experiment at all, and find the notion amusing. Same with the USA, except more so.

          • Joseph

            They don’t make it easy, Mikey. I don’t want to give up my citizenship, I want the US to change… unfortunately, people like you aren’t helping… only hurting.
            I don’t *hate* the US. I’m a son of the US. But she’s a meth addict with an alcohol problem. She spends all the money her kids give her for more drugs. She tells me all of the time (every 2 – 4 years) that things are gonna change, she’s gonna get some help, she’s gonna stop using. But the time comes and I catch her giving some stranger a blow job for more drug money.
            Yeah, she’s my mom, that US. I don’t hate her, but I’m f*ckin’ pissed off. She’s a habitual liar. It doesn’t help when there are people like you ignoring it when she does shit like incite uprisings all over the Middle East and Eastern Europe and funds, arms, and supports terrorists. The same ones who basically gang raped her from behind on 9/11.

            • Mike petrik

              Did I mention he’s eccentric?

              • Marthe Lépine

                Not at all, he is not eccentric, he is just using his eyes to see and his ears to hear, like Jesus suggested.

            • bill

              Perhaps, but it doesn’t make him a liar…

              • bill

                Reply is to Mike petrik

                • Mike Petrik

                  I never suggested he was a liar, but it would be a lie to suggest that I did.

            • It’s funny that the answer to this problem would be a reduction of federal power, yet so many Catholics bafflingly would like a king (aka total federal power). Yeah Yeah Yeah, “confessional state”, I don’t buy it.

              If the country ran the way it was supposed to, the fed gov would only be concerned with protecting the nation and protecting freedoms. Meanwhile states and communities could work to fix social problems. The fed gov doesn’t work the way it was designed to, but to blame the design for the implementation and then jump from there to defending a return to monarchy, which is simply an exacerbation of all the problems the US has is a joke.

              • Alma Peregrina

                “yet so many Catholics bafflingly would like a king (aka total federal power).

                This is false. You’re confusing monarchy with absolute monarchy.

                Constitutional monarchies nowadays don’t give much power to their kings – just look at England or the Netherlands or Spain and tell me how much power their royal family has or how much opressed their peoples are.

                And in feudal monarchies the king was a primum inter pares with his nobles, and had courts where every stratum of society was represented.

                • I understand monarchy systems. Its just so far from reality that the Catholic circles I often find advocating it feel like nothing more than wishful escapism to cope with not wanting to fix the republic we live in.

                  • Alma Peregrina

                    Some thoughts:
                    1) If you stick to an aristotelian worldview, the political system is not as important as the virtue of the ruling people. So, a monarchy (good + 1 person) will always be better than an ochlocracy (bad + majority). Just like a democracy (good + majority) will always be better than a tyranny (bad + 1 person).

                    Maybe those guys you’re talking about will think that the current political system (an ochlocracy at their eyes) doesn’t need saving, but only to be substituted by a catholic monarchy.

                    Just think about it… would you rather be ruled by King David or by President Obama (or Bush, you pick)?

                    You may challenge the naïvety of those catholics, since a monarchy will not be automatically virtuous, but there’s a point in not *fixing* corrupt political systems if we can establish better ones from scratch.

                    This is even more accurate if you look at History… decadent political systems almost never reform, they get replaced.
                    2) Speaking of History, it would be interesting to know where the roots of american catholic monarchism lie.

                    If you look at Europe, monarchies are historically connected to Catholicism and monarchism to a reaction against Enlightenment’s republican anticlericalism.

                    This is true for my country, Portugal, where a constitutional confessional monarchy was replaced by a republic in 1910, that heavily persecuted catholics and instituted anticlerical policies, until they got replaced by a “catholic” reactionary totalitarianism in the 1920’s.

                    Spain mimics Portugal’s historical path on those years. France has the French Revolution and the monarchist vendéen.

                    (The only exception I can think of is irish republican catholic’s reaction to english monarchist protestants).

                    So, american monarchists, being traditionalists, maybe were heavily influenced by european traditionalists and monarchism just passed through osmosis.

                    As for me, even though I’m a monarchist, because I think it’s the political system that fits better for my country, would never, EVER, advocate a monarchy for the USA. Your mindset is intrinsecally republican, you would never fit in a monarchy.
                    3) If we look at Church doctrine, there’s lots of wiggling space to promote monarchy.

                    However, if we get biblical, maybe not so.

                    If you remember Samuel, he, in the name of God, tried to dissuade the israelites from instituting a monarchy, claiming that the current political system at the time was better (1 Sam 8:4-18).

                    And which was that political system? A system based on the rule of the Law (Torah), interpreted by a set of judges, chosen from the more virtuous of the land.

                    So, if you define a Republic (as you should) as a regime that revolves around a constitution and if you define the Torah as a constitution (a very lose definition, I admit)… then you get that the most christian system is a republican one… albeit a confessional and non-presidential one.

                    So you can always argue that to those catholic monarchists you find. 😉

              • Stu

                Read the links I provided above about a monarchy especially the one about regalism.

              • Joseph

                All systems of government will result in human slavery and utilitarianism if separated from Christ. That’s the problem. I don’t think it matters which we choose.

          • bill

            Being a better principle compared X doesn’t mean that that principle isn’t still significantly flawed. Nor is figuring out which principle is the best course of action to take some kind of falsifiable science experiment.

            You’re right, there’s no heaven on earth. That fact doesn’t excuse you from fulfilling your moral and spiritual responsibilities, and that includes governments.

          • Stu

            Indeed, there is much good left in the States. But given it’s founding principles as outlined by Ivan, I don’t believe that run will last forever. We are a liberal, protestant nation and that simply cannot sustain.

            Would I prefer a confessional state (and monarchy)? Yes. But that would have to be a product of a Catholic society. It couldn’t be imposed. We have to change from within and that will take changing hearts and minds.

            • Artevelde

              It would no doubt make sense that a Catholic society results in a confessional state. Why a monarchy though?

              • Stu

                That is a long question and answer. Maybe it is because I am a “Stuart”. 🙂

                Would it be lazy for me to refer you to a link?


                I’m not going to say that a monarchy is the ONLY solution. It’s just one that I think is better. But I also don’t think it could just be imposed. In other words, just slapping a King down on the USA would not bring some manner of utopia.

                • Artevelde

                  I’ll have to agree with Mr. Deneen’s comment below the linked article. Although it’s a fine analysis of the illnesses that plague representative democracy, it fails to provide any arguments as to why monarchy is the preferred alternative. Degenerate societies produce degenerate systems. I don’t see any particular difference between an elected official no longer seeking for what is right because he only counts votes and a monarch failing to do so because he only has eyes and ears for his mistresses. Of course, if you’re French, you have the dubious benefit of being ruled by someone who is guilty on both counts.

            • Mike Petrik

              Stu, I certainly accept the possibility that a Catholic confessional state could work in a Catholic society.

              And Bill, I agree that all good Catholics work should work toward creating that Catholic society every day.

        • KL

          I’d say rather the entire Enlightenment project of constructing a system of ethics and civil society deliberately divorced and distinct from that of the Church. The U.S.A. is explicitly a child of that project.

          • Artevelde

            There never was a system not divorced and distinct from the Church, not in the West, not since Theodosius. If some want to argue that Germanic chiefdoms, feudalism or absolute monarchy by definition make for a more Christian society, be my guest. I won’t agree. The best we ever got is Canossa, that is, the Church at crucial points could at least safeguard its autonomy, even if it failed at wholly transforming the world.

            • KL

              I fear you have misunderstood my meaning. My point was not about the reality of political/governing systems. It was that a primary and explicit goal of many Enlightenment thinkers re: ethics and political philosophy was to construct a framework for civil society that was not in any way based on the Church’s theological anthropology. In essence, they tried to find a way to support the same conclusion as the Church (e.g. the same set of ethical values, rights, and obligations that were initially defined by Christianity) without accepting, and in fact often explicitly denying, her premises. Those philosophical efforts are built into the framework of the United States’ governing documents and national ethos. The deconstructive project of postmodernity is now realizing what the Church has long known — you simply can’t reach the same conclusions as the Church when you deny her premises. The assumptions that Descartes, Kant, Locke, Mill, Hume, Smith, and all the rest used to scaffold their philosophies actually lead inevitably to radically divergent conclusions. As a result, we are witnessing radical divergence of the contemporary Western/U.S. ethos and mindset from the theological anthropology and social teaching of the Church. But that was always going to be the case, because the Enlightenment ethical project itself was ultimately a failure.

              • Artevelde

                I think we both misunderstand each other, KL. I don’t disagree with either your post or with your answer to mine. I merely wonder to what practical conclusions, if any at all, this analysis could possibly lead.

                • KL

                  Gotcha. I apologize for my confusion! Yes, that is the big question. What now? MacIntyre wonders this, too, in After Virtue, and that wondering has provoked some interesting thought experiments, e.g. the Benedict Option. In an increasingly globalized world, can we create intentional communities (physically isolated or not) that retain the values of the Faith, not secular tropes? Regardless of the route taken, addressing the issue will take serious thought, work, prayer, and probably sacrifice. Are we willing to take on the challenge?

                  I don’t wish to come across too pessimistically here, but I do think Western Christians have a significant task in front of them that we’ve tried to ignore for too long. (Whatever your opinion of Latin American liberation theology, at least it was a sincere attempt to address such issues.) All the more reason to avoid infighting, backbiting, and division among the Body of Christ, and instead to build community in charity and respect.

    • Edwin Woodruff Tait

      I don’t think “intellectual distance from the Protestants” is the answer (I say this as someone who has trouble converting to Catholicism precisely because I don’t want to maintain distance of any kind from Protestantism). But how about engaging with a broader spectrum of Protestants and dropping the toxic idea that ideologically conservative Protestants are somehow better than ideologically liberal Catholics. A lot of the younger, “emergent” or “post-conservative” evangelicals are fumbling toward something like a Catholic view of social teaching, but they need guidance, especially on abortion and issues of sexuality. They often throw conservative views on these thing overboard in an overreaction to right-wing politics. Catholics have the sanity and perspective to provide some stability and balance to these folks.

      • Alma Peregrina

        I don’t think intellectual distance is *ever* the answer. We should intellectualy engage every branch of religion (or lack thereof), use what is good and drop what is bad.

  • P Johnston

    Regarding Mark’s comment “The sheer atavistic nuttiness on display among the Francis-haters in that First Things combox and elsewhere is the fruit of an Americanized fake gospel that FT … has worked hard to promote.” So comments at the First Things site are the responsibility of the editors who encouraged the commentors? And they should feel responsible for them?
    I contrast that with these words: “all entries in comments boxes are solely the responsibility of the person writing the comment. I take no responsibility for comments left on my blog,” I may be inviting permanent banishment from this blog for this, but this seems a pretty clear violation of the principle of treating others as you want them to treat you.

    No body is perfect, but I submit, taken as a whole, the influence of First Things has been a very positive one. This is, of course, a Protestant Evangelical speaking, but I think they’ve done a great job making the Roman Catholic theological and social heritage winsome and even beautiful for a broad audience. In an American (church) culture where so many leaders have an attitude “I’m great and everybody else is a loser,” First Things has done a lot to tear down the walls that divide Christians.

    Which, I hasten to add, is also how I’ve experienced your blog over all the years I’ve been reading it. And I would hate to lose that experience.

    • chezami

      One need not say that First Things has not done all kinds of good work in order to say that here, in encouraging its readers to takes seriously the ravings of people like Maureen Mullarkey for so long, it dropped the ball. The reality is that the people foaming and ranting in the comboxes there are modernist agents trying to make First Things readers look crazy, just as Trumpkins are not Democrat agents provocateur trying to make Republicans look crazy. They are First Things readers, and the reason they are acting the way they are is that they have been formed by a conservative Catholic culture wedded to American Movement Conservatism that has taught them it is just fine to speak of the pope this way and to spit on the Catholic Church when it gets in the way of their ideological commitments. Giving people like Mullarkey a forum to preach that “gospel” is no small part of the reason this blowback is happening. Axing her was a good start. But pushing back against the mindset needs to continue. I think First Things has the integrity to do that.

      • Craig Payne

        I think you left out a “not” before modernist. That does change the meaning of the sentence. A lot, in fact.

      • Sue Korlan

        I doubt most First Things readers have that mindset. I also think Mullarkey had an occasional excellent article on art, which is probably why she was allowed in originally. But she also was furious that John and John Paul were canonized, at which point I started being very wary of her. I’m a long term FT reader and I don’t think they have trained people to be rude or to hate the Pope. On Laudato Sii they said we needed to obey the theological points, even if the science was wrong. Basically, I find them to be very thoughtful and respectful of others. It’s also possible that some of the ruder comments were from Mullarkey ‘ s friends.

  • Alma Peregrina

    Pope Francis at least acomplished this… he put at plain sight something that was terribly wrong with Catholicism in general (and american catholicism in particular) and that was disguised as orthodoxy. Even if for no other thing, Papa Frank has the merit of having diagnosed a really hidden cancer…

    • Stu

      Americanism still lives?

  • Stu

    If we are going to come to conclusions based upon the venom expressed by what amounts to a small group of people (relatively speaking) in comboxes then I think we are misleading ourselves. Not only is it not a representative sample of people, it doesn’t take much to post things (low effort) and people usually are quite often apt to post when they are angry.

    And the Internet is open to everyone. Commenters at the National Catholic Reporter are no more indicative of the Church than the commenters are at First Things or wherever.

    • chezami

      We in the Patheosee blogisterium are just terrible that way.

      • Stu

        You wear it well.

  • Re_Actor

    I think FT has a cleanup job to do here beyond axing Mullarkey.

    That’s a pretty vague “suggestion”. What specifically did you have in mind — a FT combox purge of all the malicious, batshit crazy, lunatic, roaring, frothing, atavistically nutty, militarist, racist, misogynist Peter-hating zombies?

    • KL

      I don’t see any suggestion here to cleanse the combox. Rather, I read Mark’s point as an observation that the climate in the combox is the result of a particular emphasis and way of approaching the Church and the Pope that FT has helped to foster (though it is not, of course, solely responsible for it). Any attempt to improve combox discussions will take a concerted and deliberate effort to reshape both the tone and content of the writing at FT and other conservative Catholic fora.

      • Re_Actor

        I see, thanks. I apologise if I misread Mark’s post.

        I remember reading a combox comment (I forget where, perhaps at The American Catholic blog) which suggested an intriguing thought experiment. What would it take for “Francis-haters” to admit they were wrong and that the current Pope “has done and said nothing heterodox”? What could Francis do or say to effect that conversion? Conversely, what would it take for the Franbois to admit they were wrong and that the current Pope’s words and actions are seriously problematic?

        [Edit: That is to say, each individual Francis-hater and Franboi should ask themselves the question.]

        • bill

          The first question is entirely legitimate. The second question is a loaded question.

          • To be specific: “heterodox” has coherent definition, and one can reasonably ask whether Pope Francis has said/done anything heterodox. So far as I can tell, he has not.

            On the other hand, “seriously problematic” is vague and probably subjective (serious to whom? problematic to whom?). For example, I certainly wish that Pope Francis had phrased some of his statements differently, exactly because his phrasing has sometimes made it easy to misinterpret him. However, these are also times I’ve fruitfully re-examined my own understanding of doctrine, and strengthened my ability to articulate it. Is this a problem? For some, not for others. Is it serious? Maybe, maybe not. It’s not a question that one can actually answer definitively, so it’s not something “Franboi” have to “admit”.

            • bill

              Right. Thanks.

            • Re_Actor

              Fair enough. How about this: The Second Vatican Council inaugurated a new phase in Catholic relations with the non-Catholic world. Instead of anathemas or coercion, the medicine of mercy would be employed. The Church would engage in respectful dialogue with the world and seek constructive collaboration with all people of good will in building a more just and peaceful society. The emphasis would be on presenting the positive content of the Faith winningly, all the while focusing on things held in common rather than points of contention. Pope Francis has not only been faithful to this approach, he has turned the volume up to 11.

              If you are a reactionary rad trad, what would persuade you to reconsider your opposition to this new approach — to stop worrying and love Pope Francis? If you are a fervent neo-Catholic, what would cause you to have second thoughts about its efficacy?

        • chezami

          I have no interest in “cleansing comboxes”. I’m simply pointing out what those comboxes in fact reveal about the readership of FTs and saying that these people are not part of a modernist plot to make conservative Catholics look deranged and anti-Catholic. They are people who regard themselves as the last Real Catholics on Earth–making conservative Catholics look bad. They didn’t get their intellectual formation from the Reporter. They got if from a steady diet of Movement Conservative and conservative Catholic sources and it has not served them well, as their atrocious words and behavior is making very clear.

          • Stu

            “They didn’t get their intellectual formation from the Reporter. They got if from a steady diet of Movement Conservative and conservative Catholic sources and it has not served them well, as their atrocious words and behavior is making very clear.”

            Guess what. We can agree on that. At least enough to move forward.

            From there, the question is what to do? I don’t believe fighting fire with fire will work. We can trade invective with them all day to no avail. If we can used the apologetics approach in charity to our protestant brethren, why can’t we do the same with our Catholic brethren? Why shouldn’t we? What would Pope Francis do (not including if you are the Mayor of Rome)?

      • Sue Korlan

        Anyone who regularly reads FT knows that there is nothing wrong with either the tone or the content of its material. Mullarkey was one of 2 people not connected to the organization who were allowed to post on it. She was very good when she limited herself to art, which she did at first. After that she got worse and worse. I’m glad she’s gone.

  • petey

    i just read some of those comments.
    why did i do that?

    • Stu

      Because we all like to see crazy town from time to time. Go over to the National Catholic Reporter to get some balance in the other direction of silly.

      • chezami

        And I have no doubt that you would affirm that, apart from a few nuts in the comboxes, the Reporter and its readers are a *haven* of sane orthodoxy and fidelity to the Church’s teaching.

        • Stu

          I don’t believe many of their ideas are “sane”. Nor are Mullarkey’s for that matter. But, I’m not going to call them crazy people. I think they are misguided and sincere. But misguided. Heck, I even got a whole slew of posts deleted over at NCR for simply quoting Pope Francis to support my assertions. Even so, I actually believe I could share a beer with MSW.

          I have one friend who is prone to believe some wild ass conspiracy theories both about the Pope and everything else. He really doesn’t noodle things through when he see stories on things like JADE HELM, etc. And he sometimes calls me with his concerns. And they are sincere concerns albeit “off” to say the least. So what to do? Tell him what a whack job he is or “talk him down?” Do I berate him for believing that shit or point him to better sources in a gentle manner?

          Isn’t that what we should be doing in the greater scheme? Are not many of the Catholics in America, who are infected with Lockean thinking, in need of our help?

        • http://ncronline.org/blogs/ncr-today/francis-again-rejects-women-priests-without-specific-reasoning

          Over a thousand comments and the overwhelming majority support women’s ordination, but you dismiss it as a few nuts in the combox, not as reflective of the readership of NCR.

          Meanwhile, only roughly half the comments in the FT editorial about Maureen are negative and you say:

          “I’m simply pointing out what those comboxes in fact reveal about the readership of FTs”

          How is it that “nuts in the combox” of one site are reflective of it’s readership, and not the other?

          If you want to draw lines between the combox, the readership, and the implications of the site for one, you have to do it for the other. Your bias is astonishing.

          • David

            It bears repeating, but you and others are missing the logic of the argument Mark presented. I had a post about this below.

          • chezami

            You’re badly misreading me. Try again.

            • Would you care to clarify? I quoted you exactly. If your comment about NCR being a haven for fidelity, was sarcastic I certainly have no idea what you’re getting at. I read your post several times and if you do find it so, you are clearly bias and applying a different standard to certain site because of their politics.

              • Stu

                Mark’s point, I believe, is that just like NCR itself professes some nutty stuff that encourages craziness in the combox, First Things has also done such. One can certainly connect the dots like that, but I don’t believe it is so easy.

                I say more than anything, Internet comboxes bring out the crazy shit a great part on their own. It’s anonymous and accessible. For instance, before they started charging I would routinely take part in the comboxes at the Washington Post. You get all kinds of nuttiness there on both sides of the spectrum. It’s the nature of the forum. Even Mark’s comboxes attract some extreme stuff at times. It is what it is.

                Question remains, how do you respond? I don’t think you can shout down or berate “crazy.”

                • Andy

                  I think that engaging in conversation is the way to go, not that I can do it at all well. It is so difficult not go what the hell is wrong with you? Where is your brian, up your ass? That doesn’t work, even it makes me feel better for the moment, but after the fact I feel like an idiot.
                  THe internet encourages this behavior – the “crazies” can find those who agree with them and feel safe; we non-crazies can find the same and feel secure. I often thought that not allowing comments might be an appropriate response, but I do believe that we need to hear from all folks. SO I return to engagement – a skill I need to practice and and improve in.

                  • Stu

                    We all can go for the jugular at times. I certainly have before as many will remind me whenever I bring up this point. It’s when it becomes routine that we need to step back and ask “what are we trying to achieve?” And that’s not to say that we don’t have to “hit” back from time-to-time in our rhetoric.

                    But, if we stress going after ideas instead of people I think we would all be better off.

                    • Andy

                      I agree.

                • I don’t understand how you drae that conclusion. First mark explicitly wrote the combox nuts as NOT indicative of the writer of readership in his first NCR comment. Elsewhere he made the clear and exact opposite claim about FT. Unless one was a joke thatni missed.

                  Next, the ratio of openly heretical comments in NCR and FT are not comparable. You have to really drown all rational thinking to make those apples and apples.

                  Finally, Mark continues to ambiguously conflate political leanings he disagrees with and criticism of the Popes style with heterodox conservative in order to unscrupulously make the latter group seem larger than it is so he can justify his wholesale attacks on anyone Republican

                  • Stu

                    I think that you if you look through the lens of Mark possibly being a scorned Republican, that it may make some sense.

                    • Yes I see that lens. Can’t he bury the hatchet without burning down the house?

                    • Joseph

                      I think that once you realise the hypocrisy of the Right (who stakes the claim of being guided by Christianity) as a person who used to identify with the Right, then when you try to reasonably speak about this hypocrisy to others on the Right who trample on your pearls then turn and tear you to pieces, it tends to make one totally disdain what they once were. Sort of like growing up an anti-Catholic then becoming Catholic. Looking back, you’re sort of totally repulsed at the things you said and did as an anti-Catholic.
                      I’m softening up to the anti-Catholic Protestant viewpoint as it’s been about 10 years since I came into the Catholic Church (though that has been difficult over the past few days after the Pope’s visit to the US), but I’ve only come to the realisation within the last 6 or 7 years or so of the Right’s hypocrisy and false image of Christ (antichrist) that they hold up as their guide. So, I’m still sort of pissed off. Perhaps in time I’ll be able to bury the hatchet myself. But I can totally relate to Mark’s frustration… totally. I think Stu said it accurately in a sense. It’s being a scorned Republican that makes it all the more irritating.

                    • Stu

                      Why be pissed? Move on. I have and I’m happier for it.

                      Let me ask you this as someone who was also an anti-Catholic protestant. Do you think ill of those who you knew who are still protestant? Do you interact with them?

                      I’m grateful to Our Lady for pulling me out of all of that but at the same time I wonder “why me” when there are many others who are good people in my family who remain outside of the formal bounds of the Church. Seems like my task now is to give them both example and when able education on the fullness of Truth.

                      Further seems that we could do the same with many “conservatives” without all of the “urine and vinegar” on how bad and evil they are.

                    • jaybird1951

                      Yes, but his rhetoric when discussing conservatives and especially Fox News is often so over-the-top that one is tempted to just ignore or dismiss it. He feels free to make some pretty insulting comments about people at Fox and yet he told us years ago that doesn’t even watch TV. I do watch some of the evening lineup (but not Hannity) and find Mark’s comments at times ignorant.

                    • Stu

                      Well, I do agree that he runs that risk. Mark does a lot of collateral damage with some of his rhetoric that in the end I think undermines his message.

                • Sue Korlan

                  As a regular FT reader, I don’t find that FT encourages craziness in the comboxes. It’s an ecumenical site so I certainly don’t agree with every article, but it is usually intellectually sound.

    • Alma Peregrina

      Poor, poor child.

  • Cbalducc

    Catholicism – love it or leave it. It is as simple and difficult as that.

    • chezami

      No. It’s not.

    • Stu

      Interestingly, one of the people instrumental to my conversion and acceptance into the Church was a fallen-away Catholic.

    • Alma Peregrina

      Catholicism – we both love it *AND* leave it, all the time. It is as simple and confusing as that.

  • Michael Humpherys

    The single most memorable moment of my temptation to leave the Church was in seminary when two seminarians fought viciously over the correct way to hold a candle at a Latin High Mass. In that moment by nothing but the grace of God, I recalled that where the Church is there too is Christ. Things like this remind me of that.
    The next in a time of falling into despair after being rejected by the Dominicans for a second time, an old man simply told me, “Let Jesus be enough.” If He is not enough, we will never be satisfied. Not by money, power, sex, religious life, married life, single life, calumany, hatred, lust, greed, temperance, courage, prudence, truth, wisdom… nothing. Let Jesus be enough. Love the Lord Your God and your neighbor as yourself.

    • Eve Fisher

      This. Over and over again. Thank you.

  • Cbalducc

    How ironic is it that some people who style themselves as faithful, traditional Catholics are in agreement with those on the Protestant fringe that the Pope is the Anti-Christ.
    Of course the comment explosion on First Things, as on any other website, can’t be taken as representative of American Catholics as a whole.

    • PeadarKropotkin

      You’re quite right! But these people are not genuine Catholics; they worship the American protestant right-wing and get 100% of their doctrines from Rupert Murdoch and Fox “News”. They worship the almighty dollar and dismiss traditional Catholic moral teaching (particularly the Church’s compassion towards the poor and vulnerable) as communism. Why do they even pretend to follow Christ when they despise his message? Did Jesus side with the wealthy and the powerful against the weakest and most vulnerable in society? No! These people actively oppose the teaching of Christ; they are hypocrites and should be ashamed to call themselves followers of Christ.

      • Joseph

        I think we should avoid the label *not genuine* Catholics. They went through all of the Sacraments of Initiation. They are, in fact, Catholics, regardless of how they behave. They’ve fallen for a particular ideology versus the teachings of their own Church, but so have those on the “Left”. That doesn’t make them any less Catholic. It’s not like the indelible mark rubs off because of the choices you make. We aren’t Protestants who will claim that such a person was *never Christian to begin with* and are bound for hell. Leave those condemnations to the Protestants who sit on the judgement seat of God.

      • Sue Korlan

        You rather obviously don’t read First Things, which has its fair share of attacks on American elites for pushing immoral behavior on the poor, which destroys the social fabric of their communities. The rich get married and the poor don’t. Among other issues they’ve discussed.

  • AquinasMan

    What I was blind to was the kind of rigidity that Francis warned against over and over. Yes, rules. Obviously. Yes, doctrine, dogma, tradition, and Scripture. Yes, yes, yes.

    But Christ was both Law and Redeemer. I wanted a Christ that was only Law, without considering His right to perform miracles on the Sabbath. I wanted a mercy that was only due to those who can quote Thomas Aquinas and the Council of Trent and point out the differences between the Novus Ordo and the Extraordinary Form. I wanted a Christ that had the goats and the sheep sorted out in the combox. I wanted a Christ that needed ME to tell Him everything wrong with His Body and tell HIM what HE needs to do to fix it.

    I’ve come to realize there’s a difference between retaining the moral certainty of souls in hell, versus the spiritual pride of wanting to know that hell is teeming with everyone who skipped Mass on Sunday. Maybe they’re there. Could very well be. But like the commentator who advised minimum age earners to stop having children, it was the sentiment that made me guilty. My sentiment, I suddenly realized, was “thank God I’m not in danger of eternal damnation like those people are.” Pharisee, indeed.

    I am grateful that God gave me the gift understanding the dogmas, doctrines, and Traditions of the Church. I am excited that this visit from the pope has awoken in me the motivation to hopefully marry that gift to a servant heart, and I want to get there quick.

    Thank you, God.

    • Alma Peregrina

      Thank God, indeed. 🙂

    • Joseph

      I think we all have gone through that. I was an anti-Catholic who’s reason dominated my will to avoid the Catholic Church altogether. When I converted, I was filled with neophyte zeal, some of which was carried over from what I was *supposed to* feel as a Protestant back when I was a kid. That combination had it’s good and bad points. But the bad ones were really bad, just like you described.
      Thank God that I’ve come around and that he softened me up. Christ is not only Just but He’s also merciful. And I am admittedly too much of a sinner to condemn anyone. Me? Pure of heart? Not a chance.
      That’s actually what I like about this blog. I’ve followed Mark for many years and I always seem to be literally right behind him in his transition in thought. I like his snarky barbs and can relate because I don’t like the person I used to be… entirely. I wish I prayed as much as I did after conversion and read as much… but that’s about it.

  • Alexander

    Does anyone remember when Mark used to issue “Episcopal Spine Alerts” — rightfully noting when bishops stood up to defend the full Catholic faith — and when he wanted more from our bishops than merely not “doing and saying anything heterodox”?

    I agree that some critics of Francis have gone too far (sometimes way too far). But Mark’s unwillingness to countenance almost any criticism of Francis (and his indignation at FT for what people say about Francis in comboxes) is also way offbase.

    • chezami

      Because calling the Holy Father a Stalinist and Che Guevara’s Pope is just polite conversation and friendly disagreement. The epic cluelessness and lack of discernment of the Reactionary right marches on

      • Alexander

        Mark — I agree that those are vile attacks on the Pope, and I agree with the firing of Mullarkey. But going to the opposite extreme and admitting no valid criticism of the Pope doesn’t help, but rather, paradoxically, fans the flames.