Was Vox Nova Ahead of its Time?

Was Vox Nova Ahead of its Time? August 7, 2014

I was reading a post by Sam Rocha over at Patheos, which talked a bit about Vox Nova. Sam was once a contributor, and an excellent one at that. In this new piece, he notes that the thorny of right-wing cafeteria Catholicism has developed a new twist – the very people who once held themselves as paragons of fidelity and orthodoxy suddenly feel free to lash out against Pope Francis and his teachings.

In his post, Sam talks a little bit about the history of Vox Nova in this context. Vox Nova came into being in the Spring of 2007, founded by a small-but-dedicated group of Catholics who sought to create a “new voice”, to change the dialogue and challenge the increasing-dominant equation of (true) theological orthodoxy with (false) political orthodoxy.  As Sam put it, we were “sick and tired of Weigel, Novak, and other culture warriors dominating the Catholic conversation in the public square.. We were trying to force American conservatism to admit its political (neo)liberalism”.

In that sense, I think that it is fair to say that Vox Nova was ahead of its time. We channeled Pope Francis long before Pope Francis. The pope, through his words and actions, is undermining the right-liberal edifice of straw that we sought to constantly challenge. These people are forced to make a choice: between the harmonious and consistent body of authentic Catholic teaching, or the Frankenstein’s monster they have clumsily constructed for themselves – orthodox but exaggerated positions on life, marriage, and sexuality; combined with an ugly hodge-podge of heterodox free market zealotry, crass materialism, and America-first nationalism.

Yet here’s the irony: Pope Francis didn’t change “the smallest letter or the smallest part of a letter” of Catholic social teaching. The pope at the time of Vox Nova’s founding, Benedict XVI, said exactly the same things about the economy. Yet he was safely ignored on these issues. The likes of George Weigel peddled a false gospel – that John Paul II’s Centesimus Annus abrogated much of the previous corpus of Catholic social teaching and instead baptized the current state of advanced capitalism. In a sense, Weigel was advancing a hermeneutic of rupture, not of continuity – which in itself highlights the enormous internal contradictions in his position. These contradictions were ripped wide open by Pope Francis, for two reasons. First, he speaks in much plainer language than Pope Benedict. While I believe Caritas in Veritate is one of strongest documents in the entire corpus of Catholic social teaching, its punch is all too easily absorbed by its dense theological language. Second, Francis is re-emphasizing the seamless garment, how all strands of Catholic moral teaching have the same anthropological root – and that root is in the person of Christ, not the liberal Enlightenment. For Francis, what ties it all together is the “throwaway culture”. For Francis, we should not be over-emphasizing teachings on abortion and marriage to the detriment of teachings on economic justice and environmental stewardship.

With the risk of sounding smug, I think it’s fair to say that Vox Nova made these kinds of arguments back when the American Catholic blogosphere was overwhelmingly dominated by the right-liberal Weigelian consensus. We argued constantly that the cafeteria on the right is no better than the cafeteria on the left, and that the idea of prudential judgment was not some sort of “get out of jail free” card. We argued that too many American Catholics sought to drive a hard wedge between teachings of life, marriage, and sexuality on one hand; and economic teachings of justice on the other. We tried hard to point to some of the glaring inconsistencies: they vigorously opposed the self-ownership behind the libertarian tendencies on the left while endorsing the self-ownership behind the libertarian tendencies on the right; they prioritized the good over the right in some spheres and the right over the good in others; their starting point was the negative freedom of Locke rather than the positive freedom of Christianity; they connected rights to duties in certain areas and disconnected them in others; they insisted on the importance of faith in the public square but at the same time prioritized private virtue and the reduction of religion to private ethics; and they downplayed the universal salvific message of Christ to accommodate some forms of American exceptionalism, an act of willing accommodation to the American Calvinist legacy.

For all of this, Vox Nova was not popular. In fact, it was viciously attacked by some – in part for sounding like Pope Francis! Part of it is straightforward – when you constantly call out peoples’ inconsistencies, you don’t make too many friends! But there is a deeper reason for the discomfort, I believe. What Vox Nova did was undermine a key narrative of our friends on the liberal Catholic right: the argument that, as Brett Salkeld put it, there are two types of Catholics – “orthodox” (good) and “liberal” (bad). For the liberal Catholic right, theological orthodoxy was twinned with political orthodoxy to the Republican party. A leading exponent of this position was Thomas Peters. Catholics who claimed to be orthodox across the entire spectrum made people like Peters highly uncomfortable. As Peters himself once said, somewhat defensively: “for any liberal Catholic who claims orthodox Catholics are being ‘cafeteria Catholics’ on questions of economics, they should pledge publicly that they fully, 100% support the Church’s teaching on life, marriage and contraception right now. Then we’ll talk. If not, we simply don’t share the same basic commitments to being fully Catholic.” To which Brett responded: “Does Thomas Peters know that I exist?”. I don’t know the answer to that question, but I do know that for people like Peters, “being fully Catholic” has a rather crimped and blinkered meaning.

Let’s be honest, though – I’m not proud of everything we did at Vox Nova. We were too often haughty and arrogant, myself included. We got far too personal at times, resorting to un-Christian insults and petty putdowns. I myself opted too readily for clever rhetorical quips over genuine opportunities for charitable encounter and engagement. If we prefigured some of Pope Francis’ teachings and emphasis, we were light years away from him in tone. He would not have approved. And in an effort to distance ourselves from the pathologies of Catholic Republicans and force some sense of balance and proportion, some of us  – especially me  – were too eager to jump on the partisan bandwagon on the other side. For while I still believe that the current Democrats offer a more compelling vision of the common good than current Republicans, I also realize that the Democrats are sinking deeper and deeper into the putrid mire of left libertarianism – caring more about abortion, same-sex marriage, and marijuana legalization than the traditional Catholic concerns for the poor and the wage earner.

So in a real sense, Vox Nova failed. The original vision failed. Part of its legacy is a legacy of acrimony – with other Catholic bloggers and commentators, and among the contributors ourselves. I am probably the last of the original contributors standing.

But here’s the good news: today, Vox Nova is no longer a lone voice. The positions we espoused are becoming increasingly mainstream, and is being given a huge boost by Pope Francis. We have some great new blogs, such as Millennial and Catholic Moral Theology, bringing a new generation of top-notch Catholic voices to the debate, with the perfect balance of erudition, consistency, and charity. Consistent Catholics like Michael Sean Winters have earned huge respect and a huge reach. So what’s the future for Vox Nova in all of this? To be honest, I’m not really sure. But I will say one thing: as long as people like George Weigel continue making indefensible and inconsistent arguments, somebody needs to keep countering them!

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  • Kelly

    Vox Nova strikes me as a sinking ship. I cannot, in a succinct way, articulate its problems. Perhaps my inability to do so, if shared, explains the sinking status of VN.

    I think that VN needs rebranding. At the very least, I see need for VN to evidence a more concerted effort to live up to its excellently-stated desire to “speak to the world from the heart of the Church”.

    One of the interesting things about the papacy of Francis is the way in which public conversation, about controversial matters, has occurred. I appreciate that VN has reactionary origins but I wonder, though, whether there might be better ways in which VN could facilitate conversation about controversial matters. There are some intelligent commenters here and I wonder whether there are ways in which their skills and abilities could be better utilized. Sometimes Catholics can revere the same principles but apply them really differently. What would it be like if Vox Nova were able to hold in conversation those against whom they, perhaps, originally arose in reaction?

    The posts here, which generate controversy, often have a very specific thesis. They are not “Catholic thought”. They are the attempts of, hopefully, conscientious Catholics to speak to the world from the heart of the Church. Those with whom I might disagree might be no less conscientious in that regard even if they have arrived at a conclusion different than I.

    A thought: Why not, once in a while, instead of one post with one thesis, have one thesis with two authors; someone defending that thesis and someone opposing it. This could be time consuming to coordinate, but I see immediate benefit in building better rapport with other Catholics from others places of blogging. The comments section, even, could be reserved to those two authors who, over a period of time, could work toward better understanding.

    A more direct and consistent focus could be an asset as well. I think giving this website some predictability would be of value to readers. To have, for example, every Sunday, a reflection on the Gospel would be good. To have predictable output (a post every Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday, for example) would be an asset. To be diverse – posting about a papal speech, an “Ask the Theologian” post, a homily, a book or movie or music review, a reflection on a personal experience or encounter – will help attract a diverse body of readers. To invite voices from other Christian and religious communities – to have a Jewish person, for example, pen a post on ways in Christian preachers “bear false witness” against Judaism when preaching about ritual purity or outcasts in first century Judaism – would be great.

    I want to see Vox Nova thrive. My words, I hope, can be read in that light.

    • Ronald King

      Kelly, I think you could return to begin the process which you’ve suggested. Vox Nova continues to be a major source of alternative thought and reflection for understanding our faith in relationship with the culture.

  • Thanks for this, MM. It was an honor to write at Vox Nova during the period when this shift began to occur in a decisive way. I had first encountered VN as a member of the neoliberal/neoconservative cohort; in fact, my first forays into these comboxes was to do battle with the writers here. But over time I began to see the sense that you and others were making. I was challenged to acknowledge that I had allowed my partisan and ideological commitments to overwhelm both the witness of the Gospel and the teaching of the Church, especially her social doctrine. Though older than all of you, I had a lot to learn. Vox Nova was an agent of transformation for me, and for that I’m grateful.

  • Brian Martin

    I appreciate Vox Nova because even in vociferous disagreement, the level of rancor and disrespect frequently found elsewhere is absent. While Kelly has some good points, I am not sure I would agree with the categorization of it being a “sinking ship”.

  • Cojuanco

    I just want to make a distinction, if only to preserve someone’s good name: the Thomas Peters referred to and criticized here is likely Thomas Peters the Younger, as opposed to Thomas Peters the Elder, who seems largely to confine himself to musing on canon law academically. The Younger is the polemicist.

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

      You are pretty much correct: in my experience most of our interactions were with TP Jr. His father did put in one appearance here when comments he made about permanent deacons being required to be continent went viral.

    • Mercedes-Rollin Jungle Robba


      Dere be no Thomas Liva’ Lips Peters de Elder man! Is coo’ bro. De sucka’ who ya’ say “seems largely to confine himself to musing on canon law” be EDWARD man! Sheesh. Lop some boogie bro. Fo’ some sucka so concerned about preservin’ de “good name” uh anotha sucka’ ya’ would think some uh yo’ attenshun would be directin’ t’preservin’ de ACTUAL name uh da sucka’.

      In Christ.

  • Agellius

    I first encountered Vox Nova through Kelly Wilson, whom I used to follow at another blog. At first I found it rather outrageously partisan. It took a while for me to realize where it was really coming from.

    Although I often defended the Republican side, it wasn’t because I was a died-in-the-wool righty, but because I perceived the attacks on it to be unjust. I had already begun the process of having my previous political allegiances shaken to the root. VN often correctly pointed out that conservatives were really liberals, in the classical sense. They didn’t seem to realize that contemporary political liberals are every bit as liberal in that sense. Personally, I was more in the way of damning the whole project of liberal democracy.

    But seeing as how we are pretty well stuck in our current political paradigm, VN has helped me to be less judgmental towards Catholic Democrats. VN’s contributors and commenters, for the most part, have been smart and well-informed enough, and evidently decent enough, to convince me that they hold their positions in good faith. And it has to be a good thing for Catholics who disagree with each other, to grant each other at least that much, in mutual charity.

  • Mark VA

    Vox Nova, in my view, has partially evolved and partially remained constant, since its inception a few years ago.

    The constant parts, as I see them, are:

    (a) The academic “grad school” flavor of the place, where the young and literate angst finds its, often eloquent, expression;

    (b) The left of center, social justice lens on many issues affecting the Church;

    (c) Karl Marx is still on your banner 😉

    The evolved parts, in my opinion, are:

    (a) Gradual softening of its initial polemical edge – imagine the current post’s style of discussion multiplied by five or six in scope;

    (b) Addition of mature and experienced voices, which added gravitas and better logical scrutiny to the issues at hand.

    To sum it up, I find Vox Nova enjoyable, and wish it well. As a left of center Catholic site, I see it as friendly to those of us who are more right of center, or tradition minded, Catholics. The overall result is often an interesting, informative, polite, and insightful discussion.

    Job well done, Vox Nova!

  • I thought for sure I was reading a good bye post as I was getting to the end. I’m happy to see that you are continuing.

    I think it has been the better part of 4 years since I have had anything to contribute here. I think every contributor here except one has left voluntarily – obviously not speaking to anything since I left. For better or worse, many thought of Vox Nova as an enforced orthodoxy. The truth of course is that the blog was highly decentralized. In as much as there was a unified vision – and while I think there was one, its breadth was exaggerated – I think it did reflect a Catholic sensibility.

    May everyone enjoy Christ’s peace.

  • I’ve read this post several times, and the comments. too. I don’t understand the comments by Kelly about a “sinking ship” and by Mark Gordon about “when this shift began to occur in a decisive way”. What has changed? What has shifted? Morning Minion’s post was about the history of Vox-Nova and its place in the blogosphere. There was nothing about a change in outlook, polemical stance, or anything like that. I’m not saying there wasn’t a change; I don’t follow closely enough to know. But if there was, what was it?

  • I’ve read this post several times, and the comments. too. I don’t understand the comments by Kelly about a “sinking ship” and by Mark Gordon about “when this shift began to occur in a decisive way”. What has changed? What has shifted? Morning Minion’s post was about the history of Vox-Nova and its place in the blogosphere. There was nothing about a change in outlook, polemical stance, or anything like that. I’m not saying there wasn’t a change; I don’t follow closely enough to know. But if there was, what was it?

  • To answer the title question, I think VN may have been necessary at a certain time, but adjusted too late.

    It seems absurd today to think that the likes of George Weigel is leading American Catholics toward an era of dominance of neoconservative thought, but it was a bit more plausible around 2004, when George W. Bush has just won re-election over the Cathoic John Kerry, in spite of him starting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and bringing torture back, buoyed by “values voters” and bishops and other Catholic groups by publishing voters’ guides stressing non-negotiable issues.

    But by 2008, when Barack Obama swept to an easy election with plenty of support from Catholics, it seemed apparent we were not on the brink of a Catholics neoconservative takeover. There were plenty of voices saying that Republicans were terrible hypocrites; I didn’t see the need for another channel of Democratic Party talking points sprinked with occasional quotes from a saints and encyclicals. We didn’t need VN’s help to bring Sarah Palin down.

    And I think that has been my fundamental disagreement — VN’s contributors saw themselves as standing athwart a massive current of Catholic thought threatening to sweep up everyone in its path; I tended it to see as standing with the dominant culture, one that wasn’t any better, and confirming the beliefs of those coming from there.

    This is the type of thing that has led to my general disengagement from politics and macro issues. In 2008, I was curious to see if one could support Democratic polcies while supporting Catholic values with integrity. Vox Nova did not provide a useful counter-example.

    So, today, I think more in terms of micro-evangelization. I don’t think the world needs to hear about how Politician A is cum, or read a defense of her from this charge. More than that it needs to hear about God’s love. This is more suited to one-on-one conversations than thundering blog posts. I don’t do a good enough job of it, but that’s where my focus is now.

    • Dante Aligheri

      I agree with you to an extent – namely, that the staying power of Weigelian, FOX-variety neoconservatism on a national-scale, even among Catholics, was illusory.

      However, many of the American Catholics who self-identify as Catholic and attend Mass and influence politics by allying with the Religious Right and thus make the active currents of the perception of Catholics to the rest of the world and the political world do belong to the Weigelian ‘Right’ and represent a critical minority. In other words, many (not all as VN itself demonstrates) of those who most proudly identify with political Catholicism and are seen by the media do belong with the Right. It is those – who like to see themselves as thinking “with the Church” – that Vox Nova can hope to reach by showing the Church does not think with Weigel and the Right on all issues. To that extent, response to Sarah Palin and the libertarians is useful.

      That being said, the Democratic Left as currently constituted is also unpalatable for Catholicism, itself being the child of the classical liberal and post-modern concensus. However, limited only to my personal observations from life and not sociological data by any means, Catholics who identify with the Left (until Pope Francis – that is) do not generally use “thinking with the Church” as a talking point to bludgeon opponents since they know they are not. The Church’s outreach to them then exists more in saying here are issues we agree upon and here’s where we think you’ve gone wrong. And here’s why. Not to say such a dialogue is successful.

  • Roger

    I occasionally read and comment on this blog. I would like to see a more balanced approach to Catholicism. It seems many of the commentators are more interested in attacking the George Weigel types (who I typically agree with) and traditional Catholics in general than anything else.

    Trust me folks, now’s not the time to be squabbling over right or left wing Catholicism – we should all be united in praying for Catholics and other Christians being slaughtered by the vile cult known as islam. Our energy and outrage should be directed to that, and not “the other side of Catholicism.”

    Also, when someone references the National (not so) Catholic Reporter or any other left leaning blog, I tend to take it with a grain of salt.

    That said, I hope this blog continues – its always important to see what the other guys are saying about you.

    • Islam is a religion with many distinctions, not a “cult.” As Pope Francis said, true Islam promotes peace. The ideologues in the US and the extremist militants in the Middle East would like to make Islam univocal with violent traditions within its history, ignoring any other tradition as treating them as some sort of “false Islam.” While the militants are Muslims, not all of Islam is militant.

      I wish people would read Christian history the way they read Islamic history. Looking for all the negatives, all the violence, all the persecutions engaged by Christians. Wait, some have — usually the “New Atheists” which are routinely rejected for their simplistic representation of Christianity. When you understand this, you can understand why the simplistic representation of Islam is false (consider, as many verses you can get from the Koran, universalizing out of context, to promote violence, you can get many more from the Bible, especially if you universalize them out of context as well).

      To think with the Church is to think with the Church in regards to other religions. For Islam, it means to follow through with this basic foundation:

      The Church regards with esteem also the Moslems. They adore the one God, living and subsisting in Himself; merciful and all- powerful, the Creator of heaven and earth,(5) who has spoken to men; they take pains to submit wholeheartedly to even His inscrutable decrees, just as Abraham, with whom the faith of Islam takes pleasure in linking itself, submitted to God. Though they do not acknowledge Jesus as God, they revere Him as a prophet. They also honor Mary, His virgin Mother; at times they even call on her with devotion. In addition, they await the day of judgment when God will render their deserts to all those who have been raised up from the dead. Finally, they value the moral life and worship God especially through prayer, almsgiving and fasting.

      Since in the course of centuries not a few quarrels and hostilities have arisen between Christians and Moslems, this sacred synod urges all to forget the past and to work sincerely for mutual understanding and to preserve as well as to promote together for the benefit of all mankind social justice and moral welfare, as well as peace and freedom.

      When I see Islam described as a “cult,” and only a polemical approach to Islam, reducing it to only the evil done by some Muslims, I see the Church’s thinking is not embrace. The Church always looks for the good and tries to use it to unite truth with truth. The other approach, which fails to do this, seems to follow the “total depravity” notion of Protestants in regards to humanity and the human search for truth. This is entirely out of accord with the Church. Yes, there are a lot of evil thoughts within the Islamic tradition, but as Torquemada shows, it’s not just Islam.

  • Kelly

    Hi Brian Martin,

    I could be wrong about VN being a “sinking ship”. I do not think that I am though. I still have access to the backroom and that allows me to observe a substantial downtick in site hits. Pick a random day in, say, May: On the same day, say, three years before, VN was eliciting twice as many hits.

    While it is not all about the numbers, the numbers point to something worthy of attention. In my opinion, over the last couple of years, persons of substantial weight – Mark Gordon, for example – have left this site and little has been accomplished in the replacing of these voices. More recently, Kyle Cupp left VN. His departure creates another void which persons here have not succeeded in filling. Of those that remain, some rely heavily on injections of energy (but these injections tend to be irregular). Others have familial responsibilities or “day-jobs”. All of this has left VN in a depleted state and, I believe, the numbers bear out that reality.

    Less people read here, I think, because less interesting content appears here and less interesting content appears here, I think, because so few people are writing. While the numbers suggest a respectable last couple of months – ones still well below what VN has been, mind you – I feel this is owed more to the shot of energy certain contributors have experienced and that cannot be, I feel, a long-term solution.

    My thinking would lean toward putting VN on hiatus. I would suggest a post identifying that nothing new will appear until, for example, 1 January. During that time, work could be done to settle upon a list of contributors, identify expectations about output, and develop an administrative mechanism to get things done behind the scenes. The consultation of readers here could be sought. Eight contributors, with a one post per month expectation, if coordinated properly, could amount to one post every Monday and Thursday, for example. That seems a reasonable output to me. A goal could be to search out eight possible contributors. Twelve would be even better. Lots could be done. Little is being.

    MM, you raise a question about the future of VN. That motivates my comment and, if you feel this distracts from how you intended the question, I am happy to let the matter rest.

    • Brian Martin

      Kelly, I am assuming that this is the same Kelly who used to be a contributor. I remember when I first found Vox Nova, and started commenting. The things that drew me in then, keep me coming back. That is the quality of the discussion. I know that you (if it is the same Kelly) struggled with comments going off on side topics. I remember your patience with me when we disagreed. I submitted a guest post that was published, and another that was not…I was told that it was because no one had checked the email where it was sent, and when you saw it, it was no longer a current news topic…which was an appropriate decision, because the commentary was related to a specific event. That was a suggestion to me that things were not as smooth as they had been. But a sinking ship? I pray that it is just a lull in activity, because I believe that my knowledge and my faith have grown because of discussions here.

      • Kelly

        Brian, I am glad that you have had a good experience at VN. Others, also, have expressed something similar. My interest, though, is how your quality of experience might be extended to persons previously unreached. Instead of having one happy Brian … why not have five or ten?

        The persons expressing satisfaction, right now, are ones who tuned in in the past when there was something more worthy of satisfaction. Those “good days” combined with the mediocrity of the present still average into something pleasant. As to whether persons dropping by today – for the first time – would feel compelled to remain and would, eventually, share your quality of experience … I am doubtful. Hence my interest in the question posed by MM about the future of VN.

        If you question my identification of VN as a sinking ship, can you point me to something other than “the numbers” – the number of contributors, number of posts, number of visitors, number of views … – that should factor into my assessment?

        • brian martin

          Kelly, Perhaps it is my long term experience as a near daily reader of this little corner of the web that leads me to disagree. I have no access to the numbers etc. I only have, as you say, my positive experience and the fact that I look at it daily. I enjoy the discussions. But I cannot dispute much if any of your assertions. Could there be improvements? Yup. Would more contributors help with that? Possibly? Would more frequent posts help? Possibly. It depends on what the goal is. If the goal is continuing to provide a place for relatively reasoned dialogue that if fairly free of overt disrespect and maintains a semblance of intelligence, that is one thing. If the goal is to ratchet up the intellectual level so that only theology students can understand the dialogue, that is another. If the goal is to attract as many people as possible, that also changes the equation. It seems that it is about striking a balance. I guess I am hoping the present situation represents a lull rather than a sinking.

  • Mike McG…

    “Let’s be honest, though – I’m not proud of everything we did at Vox Nova. We were too often haughty and arrogant, myself included. We got far too personal at times, resorting to un-Christian insults and petty putdowns. I myself opted too readily for clever rhetorical quips over genuine opportunities for charitable encounter and engagement. If we prefigured some of Pope Francis’ teachings and emphasis, we were light years away from him in tone.””

    Thank you, MM. It is facile to identity polarizing tone and content when in comes from ‘them.’ It is disarming to acknowledge that it sometimes comes from ‘us’ and courageous to own that, upon occasion, it has come from ‘me.’

    I was a regular reader of VN and I made the occasional comment. I make rare visits these days but I am so glad that I saw this post.

    VN held such promise to me. I really thought it could be a place where casualties and refugees from the interminable Catholic culture wars could gather, disassemble the ramparts, and share from the heart. There have been some memorable departures from type over the years but they have been difficult to sustain.

    Why? I think there are multiple reasons:

    We humans, the vast majority of we seven billion, are profoundly tribal. The evidence from social psychology is overwhelming. We are wired for ‘we’ and ‘they,’ not for tolerance of ambiguity.

    We say we like diversity. In fact, many of us do like diversity…around demographic characteristic. But across the ideological spectrum we tend to resist *moral* diversity. Jon Haidt is eloquent on this topic: “Social psychologists have come to similar conclusions. An enormous body of research demonstrates the importance of similarity, particularly shared attitudes, for interpersonal attraction and cooperation, Interacting with people who hold dissimilar attitudes raises skin conductance levels, providing a visceral cue that may damage further interactions. Disagreements that challenge one’s cultural and moral worldview lead to desires for ostracism and punishment. Byrne et al. (1975, p.206) noted that ‘the response to the threat raised by disagreement is to denigrate those who disagree; not only are they rejected, but they are also seen as lacking in intelligence, knowledge, morality, and psychological adjustment.’” (Differentiating Diversities: Moral Diversity is Not Like Other Kinds, Haidt and Hom. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, Vol. 33, Issue 1, pp. 1-36, January 2003. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1559-1816.2003.tb02071.x/abstract

    We, many of us, are wounded and we perceive the wounds to be disproportionately inflicted by ‘them’ and we need to protect ‘us’ from ‘them.’ The Public Conversations Project makes this point effectively: “Being aligned with one group offers benefits. It gives one a socially validated place to stand while speaking and it offers the unswerving support of like-minded people. It also exacts costs. It portrays opponents as a single-minded and malevolent gang. In the face of such frightening and unified adversaries, one’s own group must be unified, strong, and certain. To be loyal to that group, one must suppress many uncertainties, morally complicated personal experiences, inner value conflicts, and differences between oneself and one’s allies. Complexity and authenticity are sacrificed to the demands of presenting a unified front to the opponent. A dominant discourse of antagonism is self-perpetuating. Win-lose exchanges create losers who feel they must retaliate to regain lost respect, integrity, and security, and winners who fear to lose disputed territory won at great cost.” (From Stuck Debate to New Conversation on Controversial Issues: A Report from the Public Conversations Project, http://www.publicconversations.org.)

    We are limited by the medium in which we communicate, by the lack of eye contact. Nobody I know talks to people in person like people ‘talk’ to each other in blogdom. Sad, isn’t it?

    Finally, if we are really honest, we fall prey to loathing those who espouse points of view that challenge our deepest convictions. Michael Rubens writes of a certain ‘loving to loathe’ that lingers in our darker selves. “I like to loathe people…(W)hen I read their blogs I sigh contentedly and say, ahhh, it is now morally permissible for me to loathe this person…I don’t think that the lesson is that we’re all basically the same and everyone is wonderful and let’s hug…What I’m hoping the lesson is: People are complex and can hold different views and still be moral actors…Maybe you already grasp that concept, because you have good friends or loving relatives with beliefs that are wildly divergent from your own. But I tend to think my experience is more typical: I lived in a little bubble surrounded by people who think more or less like me. And when I considered people with opposing viewpoints I would turn into a fabulist, concocting an entire narrative of who they were and what they were like — and what they were like was yucko. Because I was not really interacting with them. I just thought I was, because, hey, look, there they are on the TV, or there’s that guy’s post in the comments section. But that stuff doesn’t count. Meeting people counts. Talking counts.”
    (Michael Rubens, http://www.salon.com/2012/04/27/the_daily_show_guide_to_my_enemies/)

    One of the greatest conceits of Catholic blogdom, in my opinion, is that culture warriors are all of one persuasion. Thanks again to MM for opening up a discussion that is far more complex and nuanced.

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  • Nancy D.