We’re All Bad Catholics, Especially Me

We’re All Bad Catholics, Especially Me November 20, 2015

And that is under discussion over at the Register.

Speaking of which, one of my readers writes me a loving Christian rebuke that spoke to my conscience, so I thought I’d run it and respond.

I hope one day to meet you and hear you speak in person, as I have grown to rely on your writing and clarity in times of doubt. I can’t thank you enough for opening my heart and eyes to the traps that have been set on the Left and (more importantly) the Right to defy Mother Church.

But I have to say something to you about the above-referenced post and your comments within the combox of it.

You will surely enter Heaven before me as Christ says in Matthew 21, but you will make it there in spite of your combox comments. Not because of them.

There is no excuse for what Governor Christie is saying, nor is there one for Mr. Trump. But you, Mr. Shea, are called to be perfect, as our Heavenly Father is perfect.

Even the pagans do as you are doing in the comboxes here. You will be liable to the Sanhedrin for these words. The wrath of a man does not accomplish the righteousness of God.

There is no debate about it. Christ does not permit what you are doing here. Do you disagree? People more than respect your opinion. They look up to you.

I had initially posted this as its own comment in the combox, but deleted it within 10 minutes in favor of privately emailing you. I hope you will take it as a token of good faith that I mean to address you as a fellow sinner on the journey, not as one who is more righteous. For those who saw what I wrote within those 10 minutes after I posted but before I deleted it, I do apologize.

Again, I am not perfect and I know you don’t claim to be. And I do not excuse the words of the right. But I still felt I had to say this to you. If I have spoken too harshly, I apologize.

Let me start with a good old fashioned “Mea maxima culpa”. I think my reader is right. I have been surly and angry. I honestly do not know how to respond to the shameful cowardice and appeasement of Daesh that has dominated conservative Christian policy and discourse, so I fall into anger and have been quite nasty to a number of readers. I apologize, but I also confess that I am stymied at how to address anybody who gives the slightest excuses for this stuff–much less actively promotes it in the teeth of reality.

No. I’m not saying people are bad for being frightened by terrorists. But I am saying that we have choices. One is to not make excuses for leaders who are afraid of toddlers by spewing nonsense about child bombers sneaking through the extremely thorough vetting process.

Another is to stop repeating the lie that this vetting process is not, in fact, very thorough.

Another is to stop denying the fact that this baseless project of ginning up fear of refugees is, in fact, the strategy of a conservative leadership that has, for its own gain, chosen to completely cooperate with ISIS by treating refugees as threats instead of what they are: natural allies. The simple fact is, hostility to refugees is a yuuuuuuuge vote-getter on the right, as shown by the fact that the leader of the GOP field is giving the nod to burning the first amendment for Muslims–and that this has given him yet another bump in the polls. Likewise, Cruz has called for a total (and baseless) halt to accepting Syrian refugees, Carson has shamefully called them “rabid dogs”, and Rick Santorum has shamefully demanded that even Christian refugees be denied entry.

All of this gutless, disgusting, self-serving cowardice and contempt for the least of these in their hour of need makes me extremely angry, it is true. St. Thomas tells me that “if one is angry in accordance with right reason, one’s anger is deserving of praise.” I see nothing about the stuff above that is not worthy of anger.

And yet, I think that my reader has a point that my anger is not helping and is alienating potential allies. Thing is: I don’t know what to do about that. I honestly don’t. I wish I did, but I don’t. So I’m in the awkward position of wishing to repent, but not having any idea what that is supposed to look like. I am, frankly, sick and tired of excuses for all the stuff above, as I am sick of

reading Catholics spouting stupid memes about “If you had one M&M in a bowl of 100 would you eat any?” and

sweeping declarations that all Muslims want us dead and

utter refusals to look at information that shows how the refugee entry process works and

foolish repetitions of the lie that “liberals just want to let in everybody!” and

dumb conspiracy theories about Muslim Obama’s plan to destroy America and

foolish demands to know why Shia, Christian and Yazidi don’t move to Saudi Arabia, the epicenter of the ideology that wants to kill them and

grand pronouncements about our “civilizational struggle” that clearly suggest that we need to declare war on 1.6 billion innocent people and

closely reasoned biblical arguments from Real Christians proving with geometric logic that we have no obligation to help foreigners because they are not our neighbors according to some technical definition of some Hebrew word and

people demanding to know why “military aged males” are “running away” instead of “staying and fighting” (heedless of the fact that there is no “Good Guy Army” to join and the winner will either be the Butcher Assad or the Monsters ISIS or one of the Radical Muslim lunatics and

people demanding that “military aged males” be handed guns to go somewhere and fight for somebody, while simultaneously screaming that the people they want to hand guns to want to kill us all and should never be armed and

endless pictures of knights, paladins and Crusaders, demonstrating that Real Christians love to kill Muslims and don’t go for all that wussy peace crap from our Commie Pope and gay bishops.

I am besieged with this and much more insane junk all. day. long. It comes almost entirely from one political subculture and one only: conservative Catholics who hate Muslims, hate this pope, hate the bishops, hate the council, hate most of the Church, hate “liberals”, and hate me. It is only my faith in the Holy Spirit as the soul of the Church that keeps me from running off screaming into the night at the sheer ugliness and cowardice of the Greatest Catholics of All Time.

So when I hear “Your anger is making it hard for me to hear you”, what *I* tend to hear is self-pitying narcissism from people inclined to makes excuses for all of the above, not people who can see my point, but are just put off by my vehemence in fending off the assault. Result: I am unnecessarily hostile to people who don’t really mean ill. Folks like the guy who wrote the note above. That makes me feel ashamed of myself. So: mea culpa, not only to him but others in my comboxes.

I wish I had a better grip on how to deal with the immense tide of Crazy coming from so many people right now. Another reader writes:

Here is what I would like you to consider. Are your writings elevating our discourse? Are you contributing to the growth of understanding and enlightenment? Or do your writings infuriate people and cause them to obstinately defend their untenable positions? I can tell you from personal observation that the way you go about your work contributes in a small way to the level of anger and obstnate defense of foolish and immoral positions in our country. I would like to see you use your immense talents (and I freely admit that you are far more talented as a writer than I am) to invite people to growth rather than provoking them to anger. Please consider this plea.

I honestly don’t know how to answer that question, since I also hear from people who tell me they are forced to confront the lies they’ve believed and promoted, or they feel encouraged and less alone in the midst of the Crazy. Just yesterday I got a piece of samizdat from a fellow conservative (yes, I still consider myself one since I like to conserve things–though “conservatism” not longer does) saying, “I don’t recognize my fellow “conservatives” anymore. They are turning into crazed, rabid bigots. THAT scares me.”

I can’t argue with that. So my strong inclination is to say to legion of anti-abortion-but-not-prolife conservatives defending the morally grotesque–whether it’s torture or spitting in the faces of five year old “terrorists”–“I don’t *cause* you to defend untenable positions. You *choose* to do that–and lecture other people about Personal Responsibility”.

Can you see the dilemma I face? I honestly don’t know how to navigate in a world of postmodern conservative insanity that is constantly seducing Good Christians into morally appalling positions they seriously believe are compatible with the Faith.

So I wind up getting angry, being aware it *does* turn off decent people, but also being aware that it has helped other people and is, in party, something that Thomas tells me I’m *supposed* to be angry about: something he would condemn me for if I were *not* angry.

All of which is to say, Sorry for the mess. I am still under construction and I don’t have the blueprints available to know what the Architect is up to. I apologize for offending any person of good will, particularly my readers above, who both seem to me to be good people on the side of the angels. I ask your prayers that I get more light and become less of a jerk.

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  • Your vulnerability here is appreciated, Mark. “Be angry and sin not” comes to mind. How do you do that? IMHO, I think you just did.

  • kathleen S.

    Keep doing what you are doing Mark. You have opened my eyes on a number of issues, and I thank you for that.

  • Alma Peregrina

    Very good. Kudos for one excelent post. I have also, for a long time, been on the shoes of anger against anyone that disagreed with me on matters of abortion and social justice. Then I noticed that I wasn’t changing any minds. So… why proceed? All I was doing was damaging my soul.

    Just like you aren’t forced to correct all the ills in the world, you’re also not forced to convert everyone else. And just like you’re not forced to vote for a *less evil* party, but only to safeguard your conscience, in the same way you don’t have to be effective (as the World views effectiveness), but to safeguard your soul. It kinda soothed me to learn that, because it removed a lot of pressure from my back.

    Jesus didn’t convince everybody (or the majority of people)… so why would we?

  • Good for you, Mark; you are in my prayers. And, for what it’s worth, I’d have an even harder time reigning in my temper than you, which is why I don’t blog about politics and religion. 🙂

  • Dave G.

    Nicely said. However, I’ve seen you post this before. Especially about how you’re simply a work in progress, and dealing with the vile things that define ministry (it’s not you, it’s any time you are in service to the Gospel), sometimes sends you over. It reminds me of what a fellow in one of my churches used to tell me. Going into ministry and being shocked by the conflict is like joining the marines and being shocked by the conflict. It’s what it is. But you must be patient with those to whom you are ministering. And that’s what people are: your ministry. That is not an option. To help me in those times when I wanted to get people and shake them, I always remembered Matthew 18:21 ff. It’s one of the things that helps keeps me in line in my better times, even when I see things written that make me want to let fly with both barrels. It sure can’t hurt.

    • Alma Peregrina

      “You must be patient with those to whom you are ministering.”

      And since, as you’ve said, Mark has posted this before and he (quite rightly) says that he knows he has some problems with dealing with his comboxes, then his detractors should be patient with him, just like they should be with anyone struggling with a particular sin and constantly falling.

      Going into Mark’s blog and being shocked by the conflict, as many do, is like going to the marines… oh, you get my drift. 😉

      • Dave G.

        I’m never shocked by the conflict on the blog. I’m often disappointing with the direction the blog has gone. If you’ve been coming here for more than ten years, you’ll know that some of this would never have been allowed in the early days. And for good reason. Unfortunately, some of what Mark says would not have been allowed by Mark. False accusations and personal attacks were a no-no. Attack ideas and statements all day long. But an accusation or personal attack would get you banned in three warnings.

        As for the struggles, that’s all fine and good. But everyone struggles. It’s not for us – especially if we are ministers of the Gospel – to conclude our struggles are just the kind we need to be prayerfully considerate of, but those who may be wrong over there are worthy of the Wrath. Hence Matthew 18.

        • Maggie Goff

          I’ve been around as long as you have, Dave, and I agree with you 100%, although sometimes I do have to take breaks as it’s sometimes allowing myself “to be led into temptation.”

  • Humana

    You don’t argue or discuss. You call people names, shove them into ideological boxes of your own making and mock. Perhaps the first step would be to stop using those little monikkers that make up the bulk of every statement of yours in a (purported) argument…”Greatest Catholic of All Times” Etc. Perhaps even a conscious choice about word usage would force you into a more reasonable mindset. And then actually trying to meet someone’s argument with reason and evidence.

    • sez

      Keep the monikers! They enlighten and amuse.

  • Reader Yesterday

    God bless you, Mark. Thanks for hanging in there and continuing to be a work in progress with the rest of us! We follow the same Master and His service is freedom. I will keep you in my prayers, especially that Our Lord grant you some measure of peace. We are all, all of us, blind, offensive doomed creatures except for the redemption won for us by Jesus.

  • anna lisa

    Mark, you’re adorable cuz u remind me of my Dad.

    My Dad was a lover not a hater. If you put the topic above the clouds he would expound passionately. If you attached the subject to people–like my best friend, and her family (Muslims) all of his rhetoric went out the window.

    He adored her. But when I called him out for all his “religion of peace” grumblings he’d defend himself by saying. “She’s a bad Muslim.”

    I’d sort of stare him down and tell him “And we are bad Catholics.”

    • LFM

      Only, if Catholics were better Catholics, as it is now defined, we’d probably be nicer to be around, if annoying to the less devout. If your friend and her family were better Muslims as some people now define it (and ISIS’s quarrel with other Muslims is partly about that definition), then they might be very problematic to live with at close quarters.

  • anna lisa

    Oh, and you make me laugh, even when you say slightly awful things. Don’t you get free points for that? Mothers of sometimes awful teenagers need some comic relief.

  • Alleluiamaranatha

    Hate no one, keep informed and in all things prayer!

    Know your sources: http://linkis.com/conservativetribune.com/RhB5Z

  • Ronald King

    People get angry when they feel powerless and meaningless along with a few other reminders of being nothing. I am included in that group.

  • “foolish demands to know why Shia, Christian and Yazidi don’t move to
    Saudi Arabia, the epicenter of the ideology that wants to kill them and”

    You know of someone who said those groups should move to SA? New one on me.

    • Marthe Lépine

      I have seen several such demands on line, but it could have been in the cbc.ca comboxes. However, if I was able to see them on that site, it is quite reasonable to assume that Mark has seen or heard similar demands. This and a demand that all those able-bodied young men remain in their own countries in order to fight.

      • You can find any sort of comment or demand if you look for it. I don’t think that give anyone the right to say: Everyone who disagrees with me says….whatever sounds irrational enough to paint their opponents as screwballs.

        Governor Christie is not my governor and in any case he doesn’t speak for me or for people in New Jersey either.

        Many people here in the States are fed up with being treated arrogantly as if they has no say in things that affect their lives. That’s why 51 governors and a majority in Congress oppose the official refugee policy.

        Local authorities are not even notified when refugees are to appear in their jurisdictions – they just appear, and they are supposed to fund and find resources for them.

  • tj.nelson

    I like you so much – you are so good – but not without faults – I check in almost every day to get your take on things – I appreciate your candor and honesty and insight. You are a good man – a good Catholic. You’re sane and your commentary, though robust, is helpful.

  • AnsonEddy

    As to Aquinas condemning you for moral apathy should you not be roused to righteous anger, I have a pretty good feeling this isn’t something you really need to expend a lot of energy worrying about anymore than a person whose besetting sin is gluttony needs to spend a lot of time worrying about the moral implications of undernourishing oneself. Rest assured and be consoled by the fact that emotional underreaction is probably not in your case going to be the sin that condemns you to hell.

  • BigBlueWave

    I offer some quotes from the saints about Anger as light on your situation:


  • Mark, I thank you for this post, and I would like to apologize myself to you for the times I’ve lost my own cool. I don’t want to pile on, but I’d like to just make two remarks hope you might take into consideration as you explore more effective funnels for you righteous anger.

    [what *I* tend to hear is self-pitying narcissism from people inclined to
    makes excuses for all of the above, not people who can see my point,
    but are just put off by my vehemence in fending off the assault.]

    This is probably what is most frustrating. Even if you do a better job of recognizing the difference, you’re still engaging in generalizing your audience.

    It’s not just people who agree with you and people who are self-pitying narcissists. There’s a third group, people genuinely mistaken in their logic/beliefs.

    And more importantly a thousand more groups, people who disagree somewhat.

    I tend to agree with a lot of what you say, but want to dig into the nuance or debate a finer point. I end up being met with dismissive name calling. It would be helpful to not feel like there are always only two sides to an issue: Total agreement with Mark, or horrible-conservative-wacko-advocate-of-evil-pope-hating-narcissist.

    [something that Thomas tells me I’m *supposed* to be angry about]

    Supposed to be angry doesn’t translate to ok to hurl insults. I don’t think a lot of the snarky generalizations and name calling help slice into the issues with the knife of clarity, angry or not.

  • Marthe Lépine

    Mark, may I offer some practical advice? As an aspiring writer, and a professional translator for several years, I found that anything I write or translate turns out much better when I am able to take the time to leave it aside at least overnight and only then do a final editing. In that way, with a fresher mind, it becomes possible to improve grammar and spelling, of course, but also to find better expressions and better ways to say things, including finding a more appropriate tone if necessary. It would probably also allow strong emotions to calm down somewhat and get expressed in a less challenging way. I realize that posts are usually written on the spur of the moment, but for more challenging subjects, it might be a good idea to just slow down and post them the next day. I don’t know if this suggestion helps, but I thought it was a good idea to share it.

  • sancho

    Don’t beat yourself up, Mark. People who don’t agonize over their own shortcomings (can anyone ever imagine that Donald Trump or the pharisaic rad trads have ever agonized over their behavior as you demonstrate in this post) are blinded by pride. You’re making a public examination of conscience in all sincerity. You are a great member of the body of Christ. By God’s grace, keep up the good fight. You and I (though I don’t have my act quite together yet) are sharing in the sufferings of Christ. Remember Romans 8 and 1st Peter. Don’t let discouragement overcome; that is exactly what Satan wants. This blog has helped me and many other people. God bless.

  • Sue Korlan

    Go for others to God before going for God to others. And try to find alternatives to the crazy extremes. For instance, I read in the last month or so that the UN had run out of money to provide food for the refugees in Lebanon and Jordan. So making charitable donations to organizations you trust that are earmarked for the refugees in those 2 countries could really help these people without putting anyone at risk.

  • Josh

    FWIW, from this fairly-regular reader and infrequent commenter, I find myself in both camps: I have definitely rethought some important political issues and the assumptions I had about them almost entirely thanks to reading your blog and I think you can be an asshole. (Takes one to know one, so I’m not here to pull the speck out of your eye.) If I was given the choice between 1) your blog as it is–political commentary with a sometimes “uncharitable” tone and 2) your blog without political commentary and an always charitable tone, I would not hesitate in choosing #1.

    PS. I gave Matthew 21 a quick read (your reader wrote “You will surely enter Heaven before me as Christ says in Matthew 21”) and the only mention I saw about an ordering of people going into heaven was verse 31 “Jesus said to them, ‘Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you.'” How hilarious is that! Somehow I don’t think the reader meant it as a backhanded compliment, but that’s a hall-of-famer.

  • Cindy

    “…I also hear from people who tell me they are forced to confront the lies
    they’ve believed and promoted, or they feel encouraged and less alone
    in the midst of the Crazy.”

    This is true. I was one of these a few years ago. When I first came across your writing, I had just found my faith and was trying to connect with others and learn more about our Church’s interaction with the world. I was one of those that appreciated your input and wrote to you telling you how you opened my eyes. However, in all sincerity, since then my opinion of your writing has changed. The more I have traveled on the faith journey, the more I wonder how you manage to increase in holiness while simultaneously talking to people the way you do, cause I can’t. I don’t know how to talk to people like you do, and not also think I’m better than they are while doing it. I don’t know how to be so certain of the superiority of my position over someone else’ without justifying my behavior which may be less than the perfection Our Lord calls me to.

    On the other hand, there is the impact your writing has on your readers. You probably will not hear much complaint from those who share your views/opinions. That does not necessarily mean your writing is of benefit to them, especially if you’re wrong about what you’re saying and/or if they are suffering from the same sins you and I are suffering from. You haven’t asked my opinion but I’ll give it to you.

    I honestly believe, you’ll advance in holiness faster and therefore do more for the glory of God by abandoning online blogging. Again, this is not just a criticism of you, but a general problem, although you are an easy one to spot. I think having a mic (blog) creates the illusion I must have an opinion and I must share it and I’m doing a service in doing so. This may be more of an American problem, but having blogs amplifies it. For goodness sake, I’ll never forget a blog post from a sister about pastries and an elementary attempt to somehow write something worth reading that had to do with the Faith. It was ridiculous but demonstrated that too many Catholics are online gracing the world with their opinions, meanderings, audible thoughts, etc. That is not good for anyone. Let’s cultivate more personal interaction. And now I’ll go grace my kids with my opinions, jijij. God bless you.