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:
THAT JUST RAISES FURTHER QUESTIONS!
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.
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, unskewedpolls.com, which gave the "real meaning" of the polls, and showed why Romney would win 360 Electoral Votes.
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
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:
How often does any corner of the blogosphere practice this?
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.
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 them. They 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  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?
1.) That is, you will be the visionary who cut through the nonsense to take a chance on someone, but even your visionary attempt won't be enough. Wait, did I seriously go 3,000 words and only now introduce footnotes?