Intelligent Catholics Need to Stop Taking Far-Right Reactionaries Seriously

Intelligent Catholics Need to Stop Taking Far-Right Reactionaries Seriously June 4, 2018

Note: my title is NOT intended to convey a notion that we should simply ignore the very pernicious influence far-right reactionary Catholics have on the mainstream. The fact that they have banded together with the American Religious Right in their obsessive and deluded adulation of Donald Trump is sad proof that no, these are no longer just a “marginal fringe” of basement dwellers. Or, rather, that the marginal fringe has centralized itself.

And we do need to oppose this. But we also need to stop acting as though they have a point.

Whether it’s parishes canceling talks by Fr. James Martin, or feminist Catholic academics having their livelihoods threatened, or orthodox queer speakers being banned from Catholic schools, well-meaning but poorly-catechized Catholics are walking about under the impression that publications such as LifeSite and Church Militant are actually sane or reliable, and are letting shrill bullies on the outliers of ideology dictate to them.

One mistake they are making is thinking that “the world out there” is filled with unspeakable evil, and that it’s necessary to huddle in enclaves to protect ourselves. Once one takes up this notion – instead of remembering that evil is everywhere, and that into any walled garden it will come, and that goodness is to be found everywhere, also – the next step is to distrust everything “out there,” whether this means writing off all ordinary media as fake news, or sending one’s kids to bubble colleges lest they be exposed to anything so dastardly as, say, literary theory, or people explaining what those words in Shakespeare actually mean.

So, yes, I do know I have moles watching my page. It’s a little weird and creepy, especially when they say things like “find her and deal with her” (yes, I saw that one, you little freaks) or “line them up and shoot them” (the Ruse Special). It’s unhinged when they spend all their time screenshotting on one’s page, and genuinely alarming when they make up fake profiles of you.

I could probably take the time to figure out which of my “friends” is betraying me, but why bother? Because, while I do know too well that these people can cause harm, the fact remains that in the broader academic sense, and in the sense of Catholic identity, their viewpoint really does not matter. And if everyone would remember that, and make a point of inviting the victims of their bullying into genuine community, the bullies would cease to have so much power. The rest of us, who are in the know, can perhaps diminish their power by not ceasing to respond when they try to pin us down and get answers out of us.  There’s no need even to give them the added attention of mentioning them by name. We can take on their errors in a general sense, but engaging them directly gives them the mistaken notion that they have some kind of authority – and it might give bystanders the idea that we and they represent some equal binary of opposition. We should regard them as theological equivalents of flat-earthers.

There are many educated persons whose opinions I respect and whom, were they to say “you’re wrong on this point” I would take to heart. But when it comes to the reactionary right, their clamor is more a nuisance than anything else. It usually only becomes a problem when others, who ought to know better, begin to imagine that these are valid Catholic spokespersons, and not crackpots. Even if once in a while the crackpots have PhDs.

Of course, the hatred and fear of Pope Francis – who has not said anything out of line with the pre-existing tradition, no matter how desperately leftist Catholics may wish he would – is the inevitable fruit of all this.

For those who haven’t had the chance to get a solid education in Catholic thought – I mean, real Catholic thought, not a few pop theologians – a good rule of thumb, when looking at which current Catholic writers to take seriously, is an incredibly obvious one, for a Catholic:
Ask yourself: Do these people respect the pope? When they disagree with him, do they do so in the context of recognizing his validity as the successor of Peter, his dignity as a person, and his fundamental decency as a follower of Christ?

If not – run away. Run far away.

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