... as an exhortation to charity and calm discussion works, or is meant to work. But Fr. James Martin, S.J., gives it a try:
"Taliban Catholicism" is John Allen's description of web-based McCarthyism on the rise in the Catholic blogosphere.
He then links to the AP piece I remarked upon yesterday that reports on how certain "conservative" Catholic blogs are viewed as harsh and negative in tone because they liken liberals to women-mutilating Islamicist radicals and ultra-right-wing Red Scare Commie hunters. Oh, wait. I guess it isn't the conservatives who are using that language. Well, it's all very confusing, isn't it?
I've e-mailed and talked on the phone a couple of times with Fr. Martin, and I like him. He's a smart, well-spoken, and thoughtful man, and a talented writer as well. Which is why his use of such language puzzles me, especially since it undermines many of the points he makes further in his post. I won't look at each one, but do want to comment on this statement, which is apparently made about those in Catholic blogdom that Fr. Martin describes as "inquisitorial bloggers" and "attack-bloggers" of the left, right, and middle:
Third, the focus of their blogs is almost risibly narrow. Here are the sole topics of interest, in the order in which they cause foaming at the mouth (or on the keyboard): homosexuality, abortion, women's ordination, birth control, liturgical abuses and the exercise of church authority. Is this really the sum total of what makes us Catholic?
Well, I think it is fair to say (and I say it with all seriousness), that, for example, for Andrew Sullivan it really is almost all about homosexuality, and for Sister Joan Chittister it is about women's ordination, and for nearly everyone at National "Catholic" Reporter it is all about questioning and rejecting Church authority. Of course, "liberal" bloggers don't generally complain about liturgical abuse (since they are often so busy fomenting and actualizing such abuses), so I suspect Fr. Martin is, in fact, more focused on bloggers on the "right" (goodness, I really do dislike those terms).
But, to his question: "Is this really the sum total of what makes us Catholic?"
This is misleading to the degree that it suggests that because Blogger Bob focuses on, say, the issue of homosexuality it means that Bob is not interested in or knows nothing about the Trinity, Jesus Christ, the Cross, the Church, and the Sacraments. Put another way, there are numerous Catholic blogs out there that don't address controversial topics, but instead focus on spirituality, devotions, prayer, the Saints, and so forth. Does it mean those bloggers aren't concerned about controversial, hot button topics of great moral import? I doubt it; my guess is that it means those folks feel called to focus on certain issues and topics. So also with those bloggers who focus on the issues listed by Fr. Martin.
The fact is, it's hard to deny the vital importance of these topics, for at least a couple of reasons. First, they are points of serious contention among Catholics, and they have been used over the past few decades to confuse many, mislead others, and to compromise the faith of many more.
Secondly, at an even more fundamental level, these topics do indeed directly touch on what it means to be a Catholic because they are closely rooted in and related to what it means to be human and to have a right relationship with God, which is, of course, the heart of being Catholic. Just yesterday I was teaching my five-year-old son from the Baltimore Catechism, and together we read the following: "Why did God make us? God made us to show forth His goodness and to share with us His everlasting happiness in heaven." And: "What must we do to gain the happiness of heaven? To gain the happiness of heaven we must know, love, and serve God in this world." And when you skip ahead a bit, you read that mortal sin "is a grevious offense against the law of God" and that it is called "mortal" because "it deprives the sinner of sanctifying grace, the supernatural life of the soul."
If we take Church teaching seriously, and if we believe that sin is real and should be avoided, then we should also recognize that homosexual acts, the use of contraceptives, abortion, abuse of the sacraments, and the rejection of Church authority by Catholics are objectively grave sins. And all of these hot button topics have to do with right order and right relationship—with our nature, with our fellow man, with the Church, and with God. Homosexual acts are a perversion of sexuality, which is a gift from God intended for marriage; abortion is the murder of unborn innocents; women's ordination is a direct rejection of Christ's teaching about the priesthood; liturgical abuse involves a renunciation of proper worship of God; denial of Church authority is ultimately a denial of Christ himself. Put in a positive way, concern for these issues is a properly Catholic concern because we are made to know ourselves, to love our neighbor, to love the Church, and to know, love, worship, and serve God.
The fact is, if a person is in mortal sin, he is in danger of losing his soul—and the salvation of souls is at the heart of what it means to be Catholic, for, as the Catechism states in the first paragraph, "God, infinitely perfect and blessed in himself, in a plan of sheer goodness freely created man to make him share in his own blessed life. For this reason, at every time and in every place, God draws close to man. He calls man to seek him, to know him, to love him with all his strength. He calls together all men, scattered and divided by sin, into the unity of his family, the Church. To accomplish this, when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son as Redeemer and Saviour. In his Son and through him, he invites men to become, in the Holy Spirit, his adopted children and thus heirs of his blessed life."
If this isn't clear, one must wonder, "Why not?" Is there a denial of these facts? Or is there a failure to take them seriously?
Fr. Martin writes that the focus of certain blogs on these serious and very real dangers is "almost risibly narrow"; that is, such focus is ludicrous and even laughable. Since when is sin a laughing matter? I know he doesn't mean it in that way, but I would suggest that when taking sin seriously is considered a fault among Catholics, then Catholics probably have a serious sin problem, beginning with a failure to either name the sin or face up to its existence. Perhaps there is a concern that a focus on such matters betrays a certain judgmental narrow-mindedness. Perhaps. But being narrow is not always a fault. On the contrary, a proper narrowmindedness is at the service of liberating narrowgatedness, something Jesus spoke of in rather stark fashion:
Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few. (Matt. 7:13-14).
And, yes, quarreling, jealousy, anger, selfishness, slander, gossip, conceit, and disorder (2 Cor. 12:20) are sinful as well. There is, unfortunately, more than enough failings and sin to go around. I think that Fr. Martin and I agree that more charity, maturity, honesty, integrity, and humilty are needed on Catholic blogs. But, really, don't we need more of those qualities in every Catholic heart, parish, chancellery, sacristy, home, classroom, and office? Is it only blogs that attack? That go on witch hunts? Back stab? Condescend? Bait? Mock? Smirk? Slander? Snarl?
Could it be that this focus on blogs is almost risibly narrow?
UPDATE (Oct. 27, 2010): Fr. James Martin, S.J., praises the AP piece and then laments the "web-based McCarthyism" that he claims is rambant in Catholic blogdom. Here is my response.