Monday, July 8, 2013

Michael Voris, Dave Armstrong, and Catholic Derp

Over at his blog and Facebook, Dave Armstrong is offering a critique of popular Catholic evangelist Michael Voris, and some of his more stinging criticisms of much of what passes for Catholicism today.  I find myself agreeing overall with what Dave is saying:  Voris is writing checks with his mouth that can't possibly be balanced.  Yet I find the answers he is offering unsatisfactory.  Just to make things clear, I don't think there's necessarily a disagreement, I just want to go off my own way on this, and hopefully provide a better diagnosis.

I think that in today's Church many Catholics suffer from a derp infestation.  What is derp?  A useful summary is that derp is the tendency we humans have to believe things we want to believe, even (and especially if) it conflicts with the evidence.  When one listens to a lot of Mr. Voris (very sharply produced!) videos and speeches, one could be forgiven for thinking that things in the Church right now are worse than they've ever been, there's very little to celebrate in Catholicism today, and, the worst part, there isn't really anything you can do to improve things.  The world is going to suck, a new dark age is upon us, so time to just get ready to weather the storm.  Sure, you get the occasional statement of something different, but you see far too much of this in his productions.  A lot of other Catholic commentators suffer from their own flareups of derpitis, but we'll get back to them later, let's stick with the way Mr. Voris has presented things.

Mr. Voris also isn't the only one who does this.  A lot of Catholics do.  The only problem is that such a worldview is utterly inconsistent with objective reality.  If Pope Francis were to release an encyclical reaffirming the Churches opposition to homosexuality, is it likely a huge majority of the bishops would not only ignore it but actively lead resistance to it?  When Benedict promulgated his decree that the Latin Mass was something bishops must not only permit but treasure, did it lead to the schism liberal prelates were threatening?  When Pope John Paul II released an encyclical reaffirming the necessity of faith in Christ and that non-catholic communities weren't churches, did we see the largest bishops conference put out directives which made the encyclical a dead letter?  In all three instances, there was either no resistance, or a relatively weak one in the case of Summorum Pontificum.  If you read the popular commentary, things should have been a lot worse.

Why is this the case?  It goes beyond the classical example of people need to sex up stories to generate money.  Oh, that's going on, no doubt about it.  Yet it is something deeper.  Just a generation ago, a pope reaffirmed a clear aspect of Church teaching, and there was a widespread rebellion.  The issue was contraception, and the Pope was Paul VI.  All around the world, bishops not only obstructed the teaching, they publicly challenged it.  Through the 60's, 70's, 80's and even part of the 90's there was a chance this would happen again. In America you had men like Cardinals Law and Mahoney holding lots of power.  Cardinal Bernadin was busy watering down as much of the Catholic faith as he could, and Archbishop Gumbleton was using his voice as a bishop in a prominent diocese to back normalizing homosexuality.

Something has happened in the last forty years.  Things have improved.  We still have a looooonnnng way to go, but we aren't living in the age that rivaled the Arian Crisis.  Not anymore.  The crop of bishops are far better, even if they aren't perfect or even great.  There certainly are few contemporary rivals like Mahoney in power.  Yet when things happen, we reference that which stands out the most, and compare everything to it.  Or.... derp

I think people on all sides can meet in the middle here.  Everyone should be willing to outline the history I just did.  Nobody loses anything.  Sadly, I don't think it's conceded enough.  If we agree upon these facts, then we can move onto what the real crisis is in the Church today, which would be a lot more productive.

I'm not naive.  I know "it sucks, but it sucks less than it did, and it will likely continue to suck less and less if current trends continue" isn't going to be a popular message.  You certainly can't fund raise off of it.  To the casual observer, its also not a very optimistic message.  I think it can be.  Unlike truly dark days, there is some visible light, and we can work with that light to expand it.  If nothing else, we at least have a fighting chance with this outlook.  That sure beats fatalism and denialism.


  1. Outstanding! To this pessimist, you present a sound case for optimism.

  2. Excellent analysis. I too am noticing that the "dissenting generation" is getting older and less relevant.

  3. I don't really look at it as being "optimistic." I've never viewed myself an optimist, and part of the reason I've always been more or less a traditionalist is because I never bought the whole "new springtime" and "everything is awesome" stuff that a lot of the powers that be in American Catholicism were spinning. Yet as the article outlined, I don't like the pessimistic take either. I view my approach instead a realist approach. Big deal, so does everyone, but I try to actually outline the case for realism. It panics about some things, and is quite optimistic with the other.

    Personally, I find it troubling that most Catholics nowadays equate humble obedience to rules and the great benefits stability gives us as the equivalent of being a Pharisee, and that those who love tradition somehow oppose "simplicity" properly understood.

    But I think the demographic trends are a sign of confidence when it comes to my generation. Those who remain in the faith are a lot more creative and far more of workhorses than the previous generation in their orthodoxy and fidelity. That bodes very well. And we've never had the whole "christian culture" stuff, we grew up without it, so we are hungry to spread it. We are also the first generation that couldn't care less about Vatican II. (More on that in a future post.)

  4. I've done my part in "meet[ing] in the middle" by moving a little toward Voris insofar as I softened my stance some towards him in the last few days (as I announced on my FB page). I just removed one thread from Facebook that you linked to above, since it is now outdated.

    Voris is still far more pessimistic than I am and I am considerably more optimistic than you, but that's just it. We can co-exist with these differences. I continue to defend Catholic teachings as an apologist. Whether it's hunky-dory or Chicken Little or something in-between doesn't affect that.

    As I discussed with fellow local Jay McNally in the last few days, I'm not a journalist, so I don't cover all these "scandals" in the Church for the most part. Only so much time . . . And I'm not a "trad": folks who specialize in such things. :-) But I'm rock-solid orthodox.

    Nor is my head in the sand (the trad stereotype of the non-trad). Modernism is the greatest crisis in the history of the Church, etc. I get it. Solutions and causes (and the degree of the "problems") are where folks disagree.


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