Friday, April 12, 2013

Anti-Semitism and a Chance for Unity: Guest Post by Jeffrey Stuart

Kevin's note:  At my request, Jeffrey Stuart wrote the following.  My thoughts tend to line up with his almost perfectly on the matter.  We want the same thing as many of our friends across the way want.  We just propose a different way of getting to it.

Anti-Semitism. Holocaust denial. Not very good things in the slightest. For a Catholic, the former is to deny our spiritual roots. The later simply shows a lack of historical knowledge. So up front, allow me to condemn those views outright. And for individuals that hold such views, they are either ignorant or possessed with a hateful streak, both of which warrant fraternal correction and prayer. But to be clear, let me say again, I condemn both of those viewpoints.

 Now obviously, within the small microcosm of the real world known as the Catholic Blogosphere, there has been a dustup of late regarding such misguided notions. Certainly pointing out such bad ideas is a good thing. Nothing like sunshine to disinfect what may otherwise fester and grow. And in that regard, all of the attention given to those bad ideas is warranted and welcome.

But what is troubling is how this issue continues to be presented by some Catholic bloggers as something for only so-called “Traditional Catholics” to address. Instead of rightfully attacking the bad ideas and thoughts, these bloggers have instead made it an issue associated (wrongly I might add) with only a small group within the entire Catholic Church. So the tone of their message is, “You traditionalists really need to get your house in order and stop being so sensitive that we are pointing it out to you” Implicit in this message is an “us” vs.“them” outlook.  It isn't.   Instead it should be, “Hey FELLOW Catholics, anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial are bad things and WE all should speak out these wrong-headed ideas. The former approach clouds the overall message because it becomes an issue of “who” and often in a unintentional, tribalistic broad-brush manner. The latter creates a more unified front because it becomes an issue of “what.” And in this case, the overwhelming majority of Catholics are flat out against the “what.” In short, in fighting the good fight more is to be gained by focusing on the ideas and not the people. 

Pope Benedict XVI in his last Mass spoke out about the division in the Church and how it was disfiguring. Confronting injustices like anti-Semitism or Holocaust denial don’t create such divisions. In fact, speaking out against them should be unifying. But how we go about doing such things can be divisive and I think we have seen just that. Time to reconceptualize the approach with the end game in mind and priority at achieving results. And in this case, it should be a chorus of all Catholics condemning the bad notions of anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial. I don't think our current trajectory is getting us any closer to achieving that goal.


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  2. I think you are being a bit more careful with your distinctions than others are being. I know that some of them mean just as you do, yet they aren't careful with those distinctions. The mere inclusion of the word "online" I'd wager is actually a pretty big deal, and goes a long way towards identifying a proper way to respond to the issue.

    Sometimes things can impact one person/group more than another, but I think everyone has a lot to benefit from a Catholic blogosphere that is purged of this crap. Speaking from a purely cold pragmatic standpoint, since a very small percentage of Catholics are involved in these kind of things online (as spectators or participatants), and since in my parish (and the ones I've been around) this kind of stuff is maybe 2-3% of the people there (which to be honest probably isn't that much of a divergence from your average parish), I don't think many will respond to the whole idea that this will impact them, unless of course they are bloggers.

    Far better to focus on the point Anti-Semitism is a problem even if it doesn't "impact" us, and the reasons why have to do with traditionalists (more or less) reforming the way they engage in evangelization to the overall world, which of course also includes the blogosphere.

    That's for us to handle, but it's part of an overall goal, not a "us vs. them" mechanic that sometimes gets put out there either because of malice or (more likely) lack of precision when tempers flare. Us as in traditionalists contributing to the issue in our own special way.

  3. I believe Kevin is correct in recognizing the importance of the “online” distinction. It’s huge and I applaud it. But Dave, you also say “that 90% of the time Holocaust revisionism / anti-Semitism rears its ugly head (online) it seems to be from the radtrads.” Let’s delve into that experience a bit more as well.

    First, unless there is some quantifiable data, the “90%” metric is really a way of saying “a lot” or “most.” I’m sure you would agree that is more accurate and if that is your experience, I am in no place to doubt that. But in relating our personal experiences, we do have to consider our setting as well. Is there something about our way of doing things or our environment that makes us more prone to seeing a certain sub-segment of a population a disproportionate amount of the time? I know if I were to spend more time on the websites for the National Catholic Reporter, Commonweal, America, The Tablet, etc, I would certainly encounter a greater number of heterodox viewpoints. Just goes with the turf. Likewise, if I go to a site like RC, I am assured of seeing another distinct segment of viewpoints (mostly cranky people). In both cases, it’s where people of this mindset tend to congregate. But that doesn’t mean they are representative of the greater community. Further, by your nature of being an advertised Catholic apologist online, you are guaranteed to see people disagreeing with you. That’s your business. It’s like putting up a sign in the Wild West that states, “Fastest Gun in Town.” People come gunning for you. So again, you will see a select segment of people. Now take that a step further, like Dawn Eden did or like Mark Shea does on a regular basis. Write something critical of that small segment and you will absolutely get a storm of them coming your way. And Mark knows this. That’s why he sometime labels certain posts with the word “bait.” So we have to be careful in coming to conclusions based solely on our personal experience.

    Now let me move into another point that I have brought up before with you and that is the topic of “messaging.” In some of our past discussions, you have taken umbrage with some of my comments and wrongly assumed that I have some sort of “issue” with apologists and/or that I don’t understand your craft. I think both were unfortunate assumptions. I don’t bring this up to cause more conflict but rather establish my bona fides. First, my bookshelf is loaded with books from apologists (including some of yours). So clearly is I had an issue with any of you, I would not give you the fruit from the sweat of my brow. Instead, I use such resources to get smart. Second, I actually have experience evangelizing to people with success. In fact, I have been in a position where priests actively send certain people my way. Third, I have experience in writing. While I can be a lazy proofreader, some of my time in the military (when not flying) was spent writing high-level position papers on behalf of the Secretary of the Navy for use with the White House staff. I’m confident that I know what it takes to write a book but I also know myself well enough that I don’t have the discipline to do it. So my hat goes off to anyone who completes such a task. And lastly, I am currently employed as a consultant providing strategic planning and communications support. I do messaging full time for my clients. And in that capacity, I can absolutely affirm that one can be correct in what they are saying, and completely blow it with poor delivery. That is what is happening here in dustup.

  4. continued...

    We all want the same thing. That is, we want anti-Semitism to be stomped out. So what is the best way to achieve this goal? Well, you have to consider your audience. Supposedly that audience is Traditional Catholics based upon the aforementioned (and disputed) belief that we have this problem to a greater extent than everyone else. If that is the case (again, I dispute that belief completely), consider how a Traditional Catholic receives that message on say, “Catholic and Enjoying It”; especially if that person has likely never experienced such things at their parish, doesn’t know about the RC blog or Mr. Gonzalez, etc. When they read “anti-Semitic Traditionalist” they see “TRADITIONALIST.” When they read “Radical Traditionalist” they see “TRADITIONALIST.” When they read “sane and happy Traditionalist” they see TRADITIONALIST and wonder why such a modifier is needed. In short, they are lost in terms of messaging because they are now fixated on the identity rabbit hole. That’s a missed opportunity to build the coalition against anti-Semitism within the greater Catholic community. That’s why all of this labeling that goes on within the Church is so destructive. We are forcing people to pick sides and focus on that instead of the actual beliefs.

    You go on further to say that your “immediate concern is for Rorate Caeli to renounce Gonzalez as a respectable source. I think we can all agree to that, no?” We do agree. That would be great, but I also think that it isn’t realistic. It’s not their style and given the climate, they are more likely to dig in especially with continued frontal assaults by other bloggers. (BTW, that’s what I meant by “rhetorical trench warfare.” It’s both sides simply coming at each other head-on, over and over again.) We need to change tactics. It would be much better to simply offer a better alternative to what they are selling and slowly amass everyone to a better way of thinking. When you go negative on them, it only serves to fuel their internal fire. You can’t win against that with the current strategy.

    That’s why we need to be addressing BAD IDEAS only and focus on those IDEAS instead of people. It keeps their identify out of the debates AND it plays to YOUR strengths which is the Catholic Truth. Don’t lose your message in the noise.

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  9. Nobody is calling for a "tea and crumpets" discussion here Dave. I humbly suggest you re-read what people wrote.

  10. Let’s consider a few more things and let’s clarify. From an objective communications standpoint, the events of the last week in the Catholic blogosphere have been a train wreck. Lots of churn, lots of insults, and lots of positions stated, but not much was achieved. It would be wrong to send another train down that line and hope that the outcome would be different.

    Communication can be difficult sometimes. Even more so on the Internet where fidelity is lost. The key is to deliver a message that the recipient will actually hear. This DOESN”T mean compromising the message and it ISN”T a call for “mushy” language or watering down the overall point. It’s about realizing that your audience can focus on parts of your message that aren’t relevant to the overall discussion (Though being polite and measured is absolutely essential. As a Naval Officer, I have on a few occasions counseled wayward 20-something Sailors (“shitbirds”) in a calm, polite and measured manner and still brought them to tears.)

    Real world example. Business unit within an organization launches a plan to transition to an application-based framework for all IT development. This architecture will eliminate the need for redundant hardware systems and create an environment where new features can be added quickly depending on the business case. It’s the industry standard (think of your smartphone) and really a no-brainer. But in introducing this plan to the overall organization, the business unit puts into it’s messaging items related to how this approach will allow them to reorganize internally. Guess which part of the message that everyone keyed on? The new application framework? Hardly. Instead, they focused on the internal reorganization because they inferred that it would affect their own organization. Initiative failed and had to be re-launched at a later date but this time in a focused manner. Lesson, people will focus on the part of your message that is personal.

    Identity is a powerful motivator. In fact, the Democrat Party has learned this to their advantage. They love Identity Politics because they know that people will focus more on identity than the actual issue. (GOP does it too, but they aren’t as good at it. And actually, they walk into avoidable holes at times.) That’s why we want to avoid making it and “us” vs. “them” affair. It’s a no-win situation for everyone. Instead, we want to stay on message, which in this case is “Anti-Semitism is wrong (especially for Catholics) and Holocaust denial is just plain bad history.” No need to make it personal and risk giving members of your audience an excuse to take you down a rabbit hole. And having a concerted effort by a group of bloggers is a good thing in this as well. In fact, more people offering a consistent message is great. But again, stick on message of correcting the BAD IDEA, not falling into Identity politics.


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