There is something about the internet that people feel as if they get a following, they have become legitimate authorities and their voice is the voice of truth. While the internet does provide some good, because it allows the otherwise disenfranchised to speak, we must also remember why so many of these people are disenfranchised. They speak from their heart, it is true, but it is often a heart founded on ideology. This is true all over the net. Caution is important. I would even be the first to say this is true with what I write as much as what I find elsewhere — one should consider where I am coming from and determine how and why that means my own commentary and opinions are also incomplete and imperfect.
Of course, I think there are different standards of authority and intellectual acumen; I respect honest disagreement if it is shown to be based upon actual, reasonable engagement with the questions at hand. The problem is that so many who speak for Catholics on the net become virtual authorities; they come from an ideological background which tends to be rejected by the Church. More importantly, they lack the scholarly background, the study of diverse sources, to understand the full range of possible Catholic opinion: they think their “common sense” approach to the faith is the faith, just like Martin Luther did several centuries back. They do not understand what is “common” in the “common sense” tends to be cultural, and in the United States, that culture is of Protestant individualism. That this is the foundation by which many interpret and understand Catholic concerns is readily apparent when these same virtual authorities take on anyone, including the Vatican, with no respect for the real authority possessed by the ones they are criticizing.
There are many examples of this problem, but one recent one I’ve been following is the so-called Real Catholic TV. The irony behind the name should tell us much: the television station in question is a virtual, internet-only station; but, from what I’ve viewed, it has more credibility in defining itself as a television network than as Catholic commentary.
One of Real Catholic TV’s primary shows is The Vortex with Michael Voris. One can almost think this is a parody as soon as one sees how he places an S.T.B by his name. That’s his claim to authority? You can’t be serious? And yet, it seems, he is.
The show is basically an attack show, criticizing things he does not like, and using any and every rhetorical means possible. Often, that means employing one or more logical fallacy. Let us look to this example:
So, the US Catholic Bishops listen to someone who is a lesbian on the issue of labor and health care reform. The fact that she is a lesbian has nothing to do with the credibility or lack of credibility she possesses on the issue of health care and health care reform (it’s an ad homimen to point out she is a lesbian and use that as an argument against her health care views). Second, there is a kind of guilt by association going on here – the Catholic Bishops are criticized because of their association with a known lesbian.
While I can understand Pharisees using guilt by association, I find it difficult a Catholic ever would; it was one of the ways Jesus was attacked by his critics — he hung out with sinners! And yet, guilt by association is commonly used by Voris as his means to suggest scandal. His series against environmentalism begins with a scare tactic: many people who were communists have become environmentalist. So the movement is all communist because some in it might have been communist.
So we have him giving us this absurd conclusion that environmentalism is really some sort of communist plot, and it has found a way to have a malevolent influence on everyone — including the Vatican. It is clear he doesn’t want to go too far with his criticism of the Vatican, because it would open up too much of his American individualistic anti-authority core. Instead, he tries to treat it as if it is a concern with the Vatican, but a minor one in comparison to what is at the USCCB. This allows him to set up the USCCB as an easy target, though ignoring all the facts which would show how incredibly shallow his criticism of the USCCB is. He would do well to look through all the material by the recent Popes on the environment; he will see the concern of the USCCB, not his lack of concern, is in line with Catholic tradition as a whole, and though there might be some people in the movement who have done wrong, that does not dismiss the movement itself, just as any Christian sinning does not make the whole of Christianity false.
It’s easy to see how pathetic this commentator is. He talks about “the job” of the Church and reduces it, like a fundamentalist, to gnostic soteriology (one might wonder if that is the real reason he has no concern for the earth?!). He ignores that the Church has several roles and they are intricately connected; it’s work includes the healing of the world. The work of Jesus was, as with the Church, for the salvation of the world, we can all agree with that; but but salvation is holistic, and is meant to be the whole of the person (and the whole of the world). Would he go and ask Jesus, “Why do you care about the poor, why are you healing the sick? I thought your work was just to die!” Reductionism is always bad, but even worse when it is used to reduce the Church to some sort of mediation for gnostic salvation.
Of course, his understanding of many issues, and not just the samples I provided here, are quite bad. Sure, sometimes he is right; sometimes common sense is right. But he is often right without justification; he just asserts without explanation or credibility. Most of the time, he shows that he has not really engaged the issues he speaks about on his program; he only has pre-determined conclusions, and he will use them, without proof, to criticize anyone who disagrees with him and his virtual authority. Thus, when he said that there is no “shred of credible evidence” that there is a relationship between the use of carbon and the environment, one must wonder if he provides any credible evidence of this fact? No, not at all. At best he offers us “Climategate.” But scholarship requires more than this (even if some people were proven to have lied in one instance, that does not make everything they said a lie, nor the whole of the science limited to those few people; guilt by association and ad hominen once again are the means by which he argues — these people lied, therefore, the whole movement is a lie; so would he say Christianity is a lie when we can show various Christians have, throughout history, lied and made up false evidence? no? go figure). To get deal with the issues properly, he has to show he has done scholarly research; he would have to go through several studies (not merely criticisms he approves) and show his understanding of both sides of the issue before he himself can indicate his opinion has any authority to it whatsoever. He so far has not done that.
Funny enough, in a recent video, he criticizes the book Love Your Enemies because it is based upon “bad” scholarship. It “doesn’t show all the possible interpretations” and historical beliefs of Christians. What? And what about your claims about Jesus and the Temple? What scholarly studies have you done to see the various interpretations of the event? Did you know that many classical commentaries made it clear Jesus did violence to no man? Sorry Michael, with your STB, I don’t think you have yet figured out what scholarship is about.
And I fear Real Catholic TV is as bad a name for this enterprise as is possible; I’ve not seen any indication that it is real, it is Catholic, or it is television.