In Defense of Ben Seewald

In Defense of Ben Seewald July 26, 2014

No posting opinions on Facebook! (Bronwen Clune, Creative Commons)
No posting opinions on Facebook! (Bronwen Clune, Creative Commons)

It is a reflection of how badly addicted we have become to outrage porn—an expression I swore to myself I would never use—that anyone at all was outraged over what the nineteen-year-old boyfriend of Jessa Duggar had to say on Facebook about Catholicism. I read the excerpts published in the UK Daily Mail (here); later, I read the full post (here). I wasn’t outraged. I was bored. They certainly were no great reflection on the originality of Mr. Seewald, but they shouldn’t have been. He’s nineteen. He’s repeating what he has heard elsewhere: likely, from his pastor, his parents, and his friends; and what he’s repeating are ignorant clichés that have been repeated over and over and over again to the point of slumber. A Baptist teenager thinks that Catholics worship Mary. That’s an outrage? Who cares?

Now, all that might sound like an odd way to begin a defense of Mr. Seewald, but my point is this: If a nineteen-year-old kid, whose name anyone knows because he’s dating a Duggar, has to be driven to delete a silly Facebook post full of silly, unoriginal things, it is more than likely that the tendency to outrage over speech is going far too far. People are out there calling his boring remarks a “frothy diatribe” and a “rant” and calling him “the worst.”

Google the phrase “Ben Seewald Catholic” and you will find hit after hit of material like that.

“It’s demeaning, it’s condescending, and it turns my stomach” (here).

“Grow up boy” and “You are nothing more than a coward” (here).

One person went so far as to suggest that Mr. Seewald delete not just the offending post, but his entire Facebook page altogether. His very existence, I guess, is a threat to the pleasant order of things and the need to not be faced, ever, with someone who has a wrong opinion.

All that is a wee more foolish than any of the silliness coming from the keyboard of Ben Seewald. They’re called clichés, people. Why aren’t you yawning, or laughing, or moving on to the next story in the feed; or, better yet, patiently pointing out the errors of someone who’s not yet old enough to realize how cliché they are? Thus:

The Catholic Church does not “deify” Mary; indeed, it has gone out of its way to call that a heresy. (It’s called the Collyridian heresy, and Patrick Madrid has written about it here.) To say that the Catholic Church “deifies” Mary is only to show that you don’t have a clue what the Church says about Mary, possibly have never talked to actual Catholics about the subject, and should do a bit of personal investigation.

The Catholic Church does not teach that Mary did not need a Savior just because she was sinless. What it does say is that Mary was redeemed in advance, in anticipation of her vocation as Christ’s mother; so that she could truly pray, in the Magnificat, “My spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.” Luke 1:47 is no contradiction to Catholic teaching about Mary; indeed, Mary had all the more reason to rejoice.

Is saying things like that hard? Is it easier to express outrage than to give a reasoned response to a cliché from a nineteen-year-old? I’m not talking to Ben Seewald here, but to his outraged critics: Please grow up.

But what this whole episode of outrage porn is likely teaching Mr. Seewald is that he must be careful about expressing his opinions, lest he step on sensitive and easily-wounded toes. It’s not teaching him to express an opinion, engage with others of opposing points of view, encounter other arguments, and defend himself or, where necessary, even—gasp!—change his mind.

On this blog, I have had occasion to engage anti-Catholics such as John Bugay, James Swan, Alan Maricle (aka Rhology), TurretinFan, James White. The last thing I demand is that they take down their blogs or shut down their ministries. The Catholic Church has survived for 2000 years against greater challenges than they can possibly bring, and it certainly can survive a nineteen-year-old’s clichés. Bring it on.

But if I have any advice to give Mr. Seewald, it would be this:

1. Don’t take down your Facebook posts, whatever people say about them, unless you’re truly convinced you were out of line in the way you said something. I read your post, and I’m Catholic, and you weren’t.

2. Learn to develop a thick skin if you are going to post your opinions online. You will need it.

3. Say what you think and mean what you say and learn to defend it, but always be open-minded to other arguments. I have changed my mind about things many times since I was nineteen.

4. Even an extended fifteen minutes of fame will end and you will regain your anonymity. Don’t get addicted.

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