I don’t actually know who Audrey Assad is. This certainly isn’t her fault. I’m sure she’s a wonderful person. I’m just a weird old fogey who doesn’t follow many popular music figures. When I heard she was leaving the Catholic Church, I was sorry and muttered a prayer for her and moved on, but I didn’t think it was really any of my business. I still don’t. This post isn’t about her, it’s about somebody else. And since he is figuratively in the next cubicle from me at the same network of Catholic blogs, he actually is my business.
I would like to apologize for my Patheos colleague, Dave Armstrong. Today, Dave has decided to appropriate Assad’s religious choices for his own nasty, patronizing, gaslighting blog post where he chides her for having read too much Buddhist thought and not having read enough of his tiresome apologetics books. He doesn’t know Audrey, he just decided to do a line-by-line critique of her public statement and pump it full of his own pompous assumptions about her motivations and her supposed ignorance.
It’s repulsive to me that Dave would do this to somebody who has been very vulnerable with us about the place she’s in on her religious journey. I’m particularly annoyed by his disdain for Buddhism and his assumption that it would lead people away from the Catholic faith. One of my dear friends from Columbus actually converted to Catholicism through her study of Buddhism at the local dojo. All religion is the search for truth and the Holy Spirit is not proud.
I’m also disgusted by the bit where he accuses Assad of not reading enough apologetics or using enough objective reasoning. There’s no way he could have known that from her statement. It’s a red herring to say that everyone who takes a different spiritual path than you do must not have thought and studied as hard as you have. Some very knowledgeable and well-read people have rejected Christianity before. I don’t agree with their conclusions, but not having enough fancy book-learning is not their problem.
But I am especially offended at how Armstrong coldly dismisses Assad about her statement that she suffered panic at the thought of receiving the Eucharist. He sneers that she ought to get therapy even though she says she was already in therapy. And then he moves on to chide her to “withstand the world, the flesh, and the devil,” thus getting a dig in at her mental state while in the same paragraph accusing her of having a demonic rather than a mental health problem. Actually, a lot of Catholics have panic and trauma associated with the Eucharist, whether they end up leaving the Faith or not. The cause of this is usually a spiritually abusive catechesis. I love the Eucharist but I grew up with spiritually abusive catechesis myself, as I’ve talked about before, and I used to have bad OCD about receiving the Eucharist because I was afraid I might accidentally drop it or leave crumbs, or even be guilty of a mortal sin that I’d just forgotten when I went up to receive. Sometimes I still don’t receive Communion on Sundays, but I’m making progress. The thing to do when someone is having so much pain is to show empathy and compassion, not gaslight them.
Dave is always doing things like this. He likes to kick people when they’re down. He doesn’t follow the example of Jesus Christ, Who had harsh words for those who were complacent but compassion for the suffering. We know that God shall not break the bruised reed or quench the smoldering wick, but the grand tradition of Catholic Apologists seems to be to go out looking for bruised reeds so they can make fun of them to advertise their books. You’re supposed to punch up, not down, but apologists punch down.
Am I good at not breaking bruised reeds? No, I’m not, and for the times I’ve been cruel I am embarrassed and sincerely apologize. But that doesn’t mean that I’m excused from speaking out when someone else is being a bully.
Thankfully, Ms. Assad seems to be taking Dave’s nonsense in stride and is publicly laughing at him, but I’m still sorry she had to see this. And I’m sorry to everyone else who had to see it as well.
Dave fancies himself a new Chesterton and has nicknames for everybody he despises; when he goes after me, he calls me “Proud Mary.” One afternoon he completely misunderstood something I said and thought I was making fun of him when I hadn’t had him in mind, and he wrote something like two thousand words on social media calling me “Proud Mary” and trying to insult me to soothe his wounded dignity for the imagined slight. Another time he went after me, total strangers were tagging me in threads making reference to it, sometimes sending me friend requests so they could laugh at me for his rant, and I felt so harried I blocked a lot of them. I’m sure he’s already reading this and planning his six-volume harassing rebuttal, so I’m going to get off social media and do something else this afternoon. But I don’t tolerate bullies, so I wanted to put my oar in and say something before things get out of hand.
You are not supposed to mock and gaslight people who suffer from panic. You are not supposed to pooh pooh people who left the faith for not reading enough apologetics. The apologetics industry, at this stage of the game, is a gentlemen’s club of grouchy old codgers who don’t care about actual souls but just want to score points in an argument. The way to win souls to our Faith is to love them and to show some compassion. Apologists don’t do that.
I apologize for the apologist. He ought to be ashamed.
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