Friday, May 30, 2014

Blogging and The Closing of the Catholic Mind

*Warning:  Due to some of the language quoted herein, reader discretion is advised*

As everyone knows, I haven't been blogging in awhile.  I still write a lot for Catholic Lane and Catholic Exchange, and the material and traffic have never been better.  Since I've been doing that, blogging has taken a back seat.  I never wanted to end things entirely.  I figured sometimes I might have something interesting to say on this blog.

Recent events have caused me to reconsider this position.  This will be the final post of Common Sense Catholicism.  I won't delete this blog, so if people want to see the archives, they can still see it.  Nor will I be done with writing.  I will still be putting out 2-4 articles a month between Catholic Lane and Catholic Exchange.  I'll still be @CatholicSmark on Twitter, so feel free to follow me.  Yet I see no point to continue blogging.  While I have a lot of respect for many bloggers, I feel the blogosphere to be a net negative to the Catholic Faith.  It's behavior is scandalous.  It is frequently an occasion of sin.  Its comboxes are cesspools of mortal sin.  It is the epitome of Francis' "self-referential Church."  Far from leading to a deepening of the faith, it has led to a corrosion of it.

Everyone long knows my criticism of the professional Catholic circut.  But what pushed me over the edge?  What put me over the edge was the latest dustup reported by Hilary White over at LifeSiteNews.  In it, the Pope concelebrated Mass with (and kissed the hand) of a dissident priest known for his promotion of homosexuality.  This wasn't the big story however.

Once it was reported, Catholic Blogger Simcha Fisher said the following:

Two sentences that make me turn on my bullshit detector: ones that start, “Guess what Pope Francis just did?” and ones that start, “According to LifeSiteNews . . . “
Let's start off with the obvious: 

1.) Why on earth is one of the biggest Catholic bloggers talking in such a way?  I get the whole speaking informally and keeping it real.  My Facebook page is full of wrestling talk, and finding ways to work wrestling gimmicks into my links and writing.  I'm not a stoic philosopher.  Yet I don't sit there and say "this turns on my bullshit detector."

Why?  Because I try to act civilized.  It would not look good upon Catholic Lane or Catholic Exchange if one of their writers is dropping F-bombs or other profanities in public.  While everyone curses, nobody should be proud of it.  An unregulated tongue is a vice, not a virtue.   Simcha Fisher is an adult.  If her child went to a priest and said "what you just said activated my bullshit detector" chances are it wouldn't end well.  Even if the priest was making up a bunch of nonsense, there is something called respect.  It's clear Fisher doesn't have respect for those she disagrees with, even though they are fellow Catholics in communion with her.  She might not like Hilary White.  Yet when she acts that way towards a Catholic in communion with her, she has sinned.

2.)  In stating that the reporting was "bullshit" (her words, not mine), she is calling Hilary White a liar.  There's just one problem with this:  the event described actually did happen.  Nowhere did she report an error of fact.  At least, nowhere has anyone actually proven it to be wrong.  We know for a fact Francis met with this priest.  The priest's words have been quoted accurately.  If there's a discrepancy, it's on the role of the priest, not Ms. White. 

Faced with this fact, Fisher and others could have said "my bad, it happened, but your interpretation of it is wrong."  Instead, they said the issue was LifeSite is running a story from a biased reporter, and they were right to reject the story that turned out to be true, because LifeSite is not to be trusted ever.  To this I can only reply:


Can they prove when the story became unreliable?

LifeSiteNews was not the ones who broke the story.  Local Italian media did.  The Priest himself also described the event on Facebook.  This was picked up by other bloggers, who then alerted LifeSiteNews to the story.  At every point along the way, the original sources were available. Yet because Ms. White and others hold undesirable views, they are to be held as automatically suspect, even when the facts bear them out.  And don't you dare admit they got one right! 

This reminds me of what is currently impacting the Republican Party in America.  In the runup to the 2012 Presidential election, most Republicans were certain that not only was Mitt Romney going to win, he was going to win in a landslide.  Various news organizations were reporting that the polling was telling a different story:  President Obama had a narrowly decisive lead in almost every battleground state, and this would put him over 300 Electoral Votes.  Their response?  The polls were rigged.  They were the "lamestream media."  The reporters were biased against truth.

Sound familiar? 

This was the result of an echo chamber.  The actions of our blogger friends were the result of an insular echo chamber.  Not once was it considered that Hilary White was capable of telling the truth.  The worst of motives were automatically assumed about her.  When reality turned out to be a cruel mistress, they amped up the attacks in hoping nobody would notice that they had just gotten got.

What Spin Occurred?

Go ahead and read the work.  It's more a less a piece of straight journalism.  Nowhere does it say "Francis was wrong because X."  It reported what happened, gave quotes from someone involved, and gave background on what happened.  There's no there there.

Instead, we have to infer the meaning between the lines, unskew the reporting as it were, so we can find out what it really means.  Again, this is precisely what people living in the conservative echo chamber did.  They even had a website,, which gave the "real meaning" of the polls, and showed why Romney would win 360 Electoral Votes. 
How is this not rank hypocrisy?

The critics assume that implicit in White's reporting is an implicit attempt to show that Francis implicitly did this because he implicitly endorses homosexuality or dissident priests.  When the blogosphere says we need to get to the "real story" behind White's reporting, aren't they doing what they claim she is doing?  What makes Simcha Fisher's unskewing the message right, and White's unskewing the message wrong?  Both are allegedly extrapolating on a lot of unknown data to come to untenable conclusions.    How is this profitable spiritually?

Wait a minute. What do you think about the incident?

For what its worth, I believe the following:

  • The Event Clearly Happened
  • Francis' motive and intent is not readily apparent
  • Guessing charitably, I can come to a conclusion that doesn't speak ill of Francis
  • That being said, the execution and fall out could have been handled better
Yet what I say doesn't really matter here.  This is judgement call of legitimate debate.  People are objecting "they act as if the Pope has done something wrong", as if a Pope doing something wrong is inconceivable.  This is the worst caricature Protestants portray of Catholics as automatons who think whatever the Pope does is the best thing ever.  St. John Paul II in 1984 viewed traditionalists as a "problem to solve", and that was awesome.  He reversed course in 1988, recognizing that traditionalists had "lawful aspirations" which should be accommodated instead of swept away, and that was also awesome.  Roughly two decades later, Benedict repudiated the earlier idea that traditionalists were a problem to solve, and you guessed it, that was also awesome.  It is quite possible to believe those lawful aspirations should have been accommodated from day one.

Now that I've exhaustively laid out the facts, I don't want people to think I'm only singling out one faction here.  Everyone knows I've long been a critic of the insular nature of traditionalism, especially traditionalist blogs and social media.  Anyone who has read me over the last 13 years  knows this.  This insular echo chamber exists everywhere within the blogosphere.  Yet here is the ugly truth nobody wants to confront.  By its very nature, the Catholic blogosphere is an insular echo chamber.

 The way the Catholic blogosphere is designed is so that you will never have to get any news you don't want to.  Blogs typically link only with blogs they agree with.  Patheos in particular is mostly an insular community:  they spend time congratulating each other in front of a mostly friendly audience.  Very rarely do people link to an alternative viewpoint, because a lot of times that alternative viewpoint is spiritually dangerous.  Other times the pretense of spiritual danger is used to stigmatize those with opposing viewpoints which are permissible, in direct contradiction to Benedict XV's Ad Beatissimi Apostolorum:

As regards matters in which without harm to faith or discipline-in the absence of any authoritative intervention of the Apostolic See- there is room for divergent opinions, it is clearly the right of everyone to express and defend his own opinion. But in such discussions no expressions should be used which might constitute serious breaches of charity; let each one freely defend his own opinion, but let it be done with due moderation, so that no one should consider himself entitled to affix on those who merely do not agree with his ideas the stigma of disloyalty to faith or to discipline.
How often does any corner of the blogosphere practice this?

Why is this happening? 

Whether we like it or not, the Catholic Church, especially in America, is undergoing an institutional collapse.  This collapse did not happen as a result of splendid leadership.  While some of it was out of the control of Church leaders, many of the declines the Church in America faces were conscious choices that had the opposite result of what was predicted.  When an institution collapses, a power vacuum occurs.  As nature abhors a vacuum, various personalities will attempt to undertake the mantle of authority.  Since none of them are strong enough to provide centralized leadership (as the leaders themselves are normally products of the culture behind such a collapse), what you typically get is the equivalent of commentator warlords who carve up their own little niche kingdom.

In their kingdom, they are the guardians of orthodoxy.  They will tell their subjects what is true, and what isn't.  They will also remind them (in ways subtle and not so) that without them, it's a pretty scary world out there.  If you don't have their commentary, you have to get it from themThey will lie to you.  In Simcha Fisher's words, they must be suspected of bullshit.  It's why Fisher warns her readers to stay away from traditionalists, because if you hang out around them long enough, you're going to find rank Anti-Semitism.  This was a vicious slander and something no doubt surprising to the overwhelming majority of traditionalists who have never encountered Anti-Semitism in their ranks.  If Fisher actually spent any amount of time in traditionalist communities before this nasty insult, she never would have said it.  Yet in her kingdom, they have an evil underbelly, whereas her kingdom is the kingdom of the pure.  She'll object to high heaven over this, and I'm sure she didn't mean it in this sense.  Yet her words caused real damage.  Most of her readers don't know many traditionalists, since everyone hangs in their own faction and seldom interacts with the other.  So what they heard is to stay away, because they have a serious anti-semitism problem.

This tendency towards warlordism is especially tempting for the blogosphere.  Most Catholics don't read blogs.  The ones who read blogs are normally hyper-educated individuals with a lot of free time.  The people who write blogs are normally hyper-educated individuals with a lot of free time.  When hyper educated individual is praised by hyper educated individuals as someone being used by God to shine light into darkness, there's a real chance a feedback loop will occur.  That feedback loop is really hard to kick.  If there's one thing warlordism enforces, it's that you don't go outside unless you are being kicked out of the enclave.

To make sure we stay in the enclave, we need to have our needs provided for, and our fears confirmed.  As there are some benefits discussed elsewhere in this essay, let's briefly talk about the fears.  Since hyper-educated people will frequently disagree, it becomes impossible for them to disagree unless one of them isn't really that educated. From there, they are part of the dreaded other, to be treated with suspicion. In many trad circles, there is still a suspicion of dealing with catholics in the ordinary form, and vice versa. We often paint each other with the most extreme caricatures. If we got out more, we'd understand what nonsense they are.

What I have just described I call outrage porn.    Everything becomes a source of outrage.  It isn't a minor disagreement.  Instead, it "sets off the bullshit detector."  Those who attend the Ordinary Form aren't Catholic, they are part of "Novusordoism."  Small disputes become world wars.  You have to do this.  If you stopped for one moment and self-reflected, you would go "wait, why am I doing this?"  Just as people need harder and harder doses of pornography to get their "fix", people need more and more outrage to sustain their cause.  Just like porn, the longer you are around it, the quicker your soul is rotted.

What's the Real Problem?

Defenders of this status quo will call it a lot of things.  Rod Dreher calls it "The Benedict Option."  A certain traditionalist magazine believes they are "The Remnant chosen by grace" while the rest of the Church falls sway to "Neo-Catholicism."  Others will say this is just sorting and the free market at work, and who am I to condemn people making a living?

Pope Francis called it something else.  He called it "The Self-Referential Church."  When we descend into warlordism, we are too busy trying to defend our little fiefdoms, and only give glory to members of the same tribe.  That's not the Catholic Church.  The Catholic Church is meant to share Christ with the world, and shine Christ's glory, not that of the warlords.  According to my Catholic Exchange colleague Ben Mann, this is a fate worse than persecution
But the erosion and breakdown of relationships – within the Christian community, and between the Church and the world – is already a fact. Unchecked, it will destroy faith in a way that persecution cannot. 
The worst outcome is not for us to suffer: that has happened before, and the Beatitudes tell us how to regard it. The worst outcome is for us to fail to love one another, and the world, in a meaningful and transformative way. A blessing rests upon those persecuted; it does not rest upon those who fail to love.

How Can This Be Fixed?

To be honest, I have no clue.  The easiest way to fix this is to force yourself to submit to the judgement of another before posting.  Preferably a spiritual director. I've got a wild hunch that if Simcha Fisher consulted a spiritual director before stating the story was "bullshit", the director would have pumped the brakes.  If most trad bloggers consulted a spiritual director before posting the latest sky is falling narrative about Francis, they could mail out their editorial content on index cards.  There's something raw and unfiltered about the blogosphere.  If you remove the raw and unfiltered manner of things, it ceases to be the blogosphere.

Another way would be to not turn blogging into a career where you depend on money generated by blogging to live your lifestyle.  That's just asking for trouble.  You will run into "publish or perish", and people will normally go to pretty extreme lengths to perpetuate their lifestyle, even if it is ultimately counterproductive.  Yet is not the worker worth his hire?  Even if they are warlords, warlords do provide security and stability to their subjects.  People learn a lot from the guardians of orthodoxy, and rightly so.  Most bloggers are hyper-educated individuals with a drive to share that knowledge with others.

A final idea might be to swear off of every polemic in blogging and social media.  Be the Bo Dallas of the blogosphere.  Spend your time only writing about spiritual instruction and how to grow in holiness.  In other words, be a spiritual director.  Yet why would readers want an imitation spiritual director when they can have the real thing?  Besides, a blog established with the express intent of avoiding controversy will not generate traffic.  If you want to make it big in blogging, chances are the exact opposite will happen.

In the end, perhaps an all of the above approach is required.  Submit all posting to the review of others.  Keep it a hobby, not a career, and avoid polemics entirely.  If we did this, the blogosphere would be a lot better.  Yet it would also be a lot smaller.  One thing I know for sure:  after today, it will have one less blog.


So you've made it through all the way to the end.  You sat through 3,000 words.  Congratulations!  Maybe some of what I said you nodded your head with.  Perhaps you clenched a fist.  In imitation of Ms. Fisher, you might have even let go some lovely profanity.  If you made it this far, chances are you are asking one thing:  what's the point of this rant?

In the end, the only point is that I'm done blogging.  This served to give my explanation for why I'm done blogging.  This is my pipe bomb.  I followed the advice I laid out above, and I found that my blogging became pointless.  So I devoted energies to Catholic Lane recruiting diverse talent, and becoming part of that diverse talent over at Catholic Exchange.  I'm sure I'll eventually get bored and drop a lengthy pipe bomb about my days as a writer doing essays.  Don't worry Michael, we're cool.  You'll be Paul Heyman [1] in my promo.

Will a lot of people read this?  Who knows.  This is a pretty inactive corner of the blogosphere nowadays, and in the end, I'm just another spoke on the wheel.  There will be better bloggers than myself who will inevitably come along.  I just hope they see this and take these words to heart.

That's right, in all I've written, I haven't completely abandoned hope that the blogosphere can be saved.  There are blogs I love, and I will continue to love.  I recruit them to write for Catholic Lane, and they do great work.  Yet at the same time, I fear we have reached critical mass in the douchebaggery of the Catholic blogosphere.  The big question is which faction passed critical mass the fastest?  Trads?  The Patheos crew?  The charismatics?  The insert your favorite Marian apparition here clique?  A case can be made for all of them.  If you haven't found your way in these factions yet, don't.  If you have, get out of them.  You can maintain your identity without being part of a faction.  I'm a traditionalist and will always be a traditionalist.  Yet I'm not part of the traditionalist uber alles brigade. 

As for me, I've got other work to do. My writers are trads, charismatics, and just about every charism in between.  If you do good work, I want to do good work with you.  I had a good run on this blog.  I re-established myself as a man of decent respect and did things trads aren't supposed to be allowed to do. I had some good fights, but more importantly, I learned a ton and made even better friendships.

So this isn't goodbye from writing period.  That will likely come in 5 years.  But this is the end of an era of my writing life and life as a Catholic.  I'm not a blogger anymore.  I'm just an ordinary writer and editor again.  Everyone have fun in the blogosphere, and will the last blogger please turn off the lights on the way out?

Thursday, March 6, 2014

The Reform of the Reform Grows Up

Lots of people have been talking about the Reform of the Reform lately.  Some think its "dead."  I think its actually just beginning,  except now with something nobody anticipated:  the best vehicle of liturgical reform is the Extraordinary Form.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Is Traditionalism a Fad?

A lot of controversy was generated by remarks believed to be uttered by the Holy Father, who is alleged to have viewed devotion to the Latin Mass, especially among the young, as a "fad" which will pass with time.  Whether or not the Holy Father made those remarks, they are common enough that many believe this.

Why is traditionalism such a hit with the young?  Why is the demographic for the Latin Mass skewing so far to young families, when it was believed (even during the promulgation of Summorum Pontificum!) that it would be a rarity mainly to be focused on older people?

That's what I look at today at Catholic Lane, providing a (very brief!) history of the traditionalist movement through official Church documents (The 1984 indult, Ecclesia Dei, then Summorum Pontificum) mixed with my own personal experiences, and no doubt the experiences of several other young traditionalists.

The short version:  It is up to each and every individual traditionalist to see to it that this devotion isn't a fad.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

New Project at Catholic Lane on the Wednesday General Audiences of Pope Francis

Catholic Lane willl be starting something new. Every week (with a slight delay so we can do the material) we will be covering the Wednesday General Audience of Pope Francis. I'd like to tenatively get some interest here, so here are some rough guidelines:

1.) 500-750 word limit.

2.) Focus on only 2-3 points made from the general audience. These are short, so if all we do is repeat the points the pope made, everyone can go to the Vatican Website for that.

3.) The more Scripture and Church Fathers you can incorporate while making it still sound like original material, the better.

4.) The ideal goal is for 3-4 writers to do this, so it would only be a once a month thing. Yet if more people sign up, we can have a different work schedule!

Over the next few days we will be publishing the first installment, so this should give you a better idea of what things should look like. If you are interested, feel free to respond here, or via email at kmtierney at gmailDOTcom or via Twitter @CatholicSmark

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

How Not to Refute Sola Scriptura

The latest installment of the Bad Evangelist Club is up and running over at Catholic Lane.  In it we look at a popular argument Catholic Apologists use to refute Sola Scriptura, and why it might not be the great argument some say it is.

Before anyone says anything, yes, I'm aware a man about to be canonized a saint made this argument.  No, that doesn't change anything.  We have a Magesterium for a reason, and that's because sometimes even holy saints say things which aren't strong arguments or sometimes just wrong.  Everyone should know this by now, so moving on!

Friday, January 31, 2014

St. Pius X and the "Church of Nice"

That's the subject of my latest column at Catholic Lane today.  The term "church of nice" has been made popular by Michael Voris of ChurchMilitantTV.  It is a clever marketing gimmick (as is most of his work), but like most marketing gimmicks, it really lacks substance.  It is even more lacking when you compare the attitude he promotes to the attitude the saints and popes advise us to take.

Criticizing bad policy and bad prelates isn't the issue.  It is how you are doing it.  And quite frankly, they are doing it wrong.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Why the Modesty Debate is Horrible, and How I'm Trying to Change It

If there's one topic I've cared to debate in Catholic circles, it is the subject of modesty.  We don't think the subject of modesty through.  We argue about the length of swimsuits and dresses, about whether or not men are lust-filled monsters by virtue of being men or whether they are molded that way.  This debate is a traffic and combox magnet, but it's probably one of the least productive debates around.

Over at Catholic Exchange today, I try to change that.  In the first of a multi-part series, I focus on how immodesty begins in the heart.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Why Priests Should Celebrate the Extraordinary Form

Today at Catholic Lane, I make a call for priests to celebrate the Extraordinary Form.  There are lots of priests who think that since a Latin Mass is being celebrated in their reason, "traditionalists needs are being met" so they really don't have to get involved.  I hope they become involved not for our sake, but the sake of their vocation.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Blog Update and New Projects at Catholic Lane

With the baby coming up in February, I find myself having less and less time to do blogging.  As a result, this blog will see a real decrease in posting, even more than it already has.  I'm asking people to subscribe via the button on the right so they can receive posts by email.  If you write for Catholic Lane, please subscribe, as I will frequently announce projects on this blog.

Speaking of which, time for another project!

Far too often Catholics don't know their Church Fathers.  When they do, it is talking points for an apologetics argument.  Knowing the Greek meaning of "presides in charity" in the thought of St. Ignatius is a cool nugget to have (hint, it proves the papacy in the early church), but it is kind of limited in telling you how to best live your life as a Christian trying to follow the Gospel.  That's what I want to fix.

After Lent, we will be tackling a different work by a Church Father per month.  For example, June might be where we discuss St. Ignatius' aforementioned Epistle to the Romans.  The writer would provide short commentaries (or maybe a 1,000 word short essay) a few times a month to help us understand how this writer teaches us to live the Gospel. 

As always, the rule of Pius X will be strictly enforced.  What is the rule of Pius X?  I've quoted it so many times, I've simply made it a rule.  When talking about how to teach Christian doctrine, St. Pius X stated the following in Acerbo Nimis:

The task of the catechist is to take up one or other of the truths of faith or of Christian morality and then explain it in all its parts; and since amendment of life is the chief aim of his instruction, the catechist must needs make a comparison between what God commands us to do and what is our actual conduct. After this, he will use examples appropriately taken from the Holy Scriptures, Church history, and the lives of the saints -- thus moving his hearers and clearly pointing out to them how they are to regulate their own conduct. He should, in conclusion, earnestly exhort all present to dread and avoid vice and to practice virtue.
If anyone is interested in this, please let me know.  As always, you can find me on Twitter @CatholicSmark if you have any questions, or the other ways of contacting me listed on this blog.

Kevin Tierney
Associate Editor, Learn and Live the Faith
Catholic Lane

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas to All!

I still have some ideas for this blog that don't involve Catholic Lane or Catholic Exchange, I promise! It's just I can't get to them at the time. :) I just wanted to wish everyone a Merry Christmas. I penned the following Reflection on the Christmas Season over at Catholic Lane. I really think it is valuable for those who only attend Church occasionally. Consider giving it to them.