Wednesday, 22 September 2010

The electric fence of boo-word ideology

James Preece has blogged on Austen Ivereigh's interview with John Allen about Catholic Voices. In it Ivereigh has these extraordinary words to say:

We didn’t get an application from a Lefebvrite. We did get a few from what you would call the “Taliban Catholics,” who of course have become very vociferous on the blogosphere in the last few years. They’re very critical of the bishops for compromising too much with modernity and not promoting Catholic truth as they see it.

Preece has quite rightly mocked this cap by wearing it. [The following is a correction] He, after all, was allowed to, and then blocked from, attending Catholic Voices media training before anyone realised what was happening.

But I find Ivereigh's words signficant for another reason. They are all too redolent of the methodology which is used to bring down Catholic positions in the public square.

'Taliban Catholic' is an example of what John Humphreys calls a 'boo word'. You know exactly what this means as soon as it is said: if you wish instantly to condemn your interlocutor or a third party, you associate them with a handy 'boo word' - bigot, Nazi, fascist, Taliban - and PUFF! in the 24/7 wall-to-wall disinformational age in which we live, you have marked out your territory as surely as any mongrel with a cocked leg.

Better still, you have thrown out a kind of electric fence line which buzzes instantly when pressed against by those you want to herd. What else can Ivereigh's words mean? No blog I know of promotes Taliban values, but what better way to try to maginalise your adversary than by associating them with an enemy who is beyond the pale?

For what defines a 'Taliban Catholic' according to Ivereigh?

They’re very critical of the bishops for compromising too much with modernity and not promoting Catholic truth as they see it.

Ah, so that's what it is? I like the expression 'as they see it', for it is surely a misrepresentation, at least in many instances. It nicely covers over the fact that the CES's collaboration with the last government was a sell out on the rights of Catholic parents and on explicit guidance from Rome about the teaching of sexuality to children. 'As they see it' sets aside criticism of Bishop Kieran Conry who, when Professor Tina Beattie, [redacted] said that the Anglican ordination of women was prophetic, told Radio 4 he 'couldn't comment' on the possible future abandonment of the definitive Catholic teaching on the exclusively male priesthood. He couldn't comment? A man with an apostolic mission to pass on the faith and an oath sworn to adhere to it?

But I'm even more irritated here by the idea that the best way to characterise critics of compromise with modernity is to call them 'Taliban'. There are in fact a huge number of things associated with modernity that the Church will never compromise on. Is the Church, thereby, Taliban?

Actually, yes! This is the kind of language which I know adversaries of Catholicism are now using against simple, orthodox Catholics, not only against those with an axe to grind about bishops and their conferences.

Yes, one man's Catholic is another man's Taliban. That's something Ivereigh might like to think about when he is hung out to dry, like Edmund Adamus, for saying what none of the English bishops appear to have the nerve or the will to say.


JARay said...

In my old age...some might say dotage...I feel that one thing that I can do is to write letters to newspapers and sign protests and phone MPs. I see this as something which I can do, something which I want to do, because I have opinions and convictions just as much as anyone else has. I believe that I am serving my God when I write letters to my local Catholic newspaper in response to one individual who actually wrote that the Eucharist is not an object to be adored or venerated. Those were his actual words! The correspondence went on for several weeks and I was vindicated in the end, but I just could not allow a statement like that to be published without giving a robust response.

Mac McLernon said...

Once again, Ches, you have hit the nail on the head.

roveto ardente said...

Having been considered 'mujahideen' and 'taliban' for years now simply for being quite a 'mainstream' Catholic you might say, I agree entirely.

However, this has caused me to reflect many a time. If a reasonably observant, faithful, praying Catholic who might do 'funny' things(like abstaining from meat on a Friday or - odder than all - going to Mass during the week) is equated with a member of the 'taliban', what about those who feel called to take up their cross every day in religious life or the priesthood?

While praying for the bishops to be brave and, with the Pope, preach the Gospel "in its fullness", let's say an extra prayer for those who felt the first inklings of a vocational call last weekend. Seems like they'll need it!

GOR said...

Well, unsurprisingly, we learn that the term ‘Taliban Catholic’ originated here in the US with John Allen. We’re very much into labels here in the former colonies. John was probably thinking of the current Administration, one of whose departments (Homeland Security?) published a list of ‘suspected terrorists’ some time back. The list included many people who would be considered ‘of the Right’ (Tea Parties came in for special attention, unsurprisingly…) and caused much sturm und drang in the blogosphere.

I’m not happy with labels - though not innocent of their usage either – primarily because they are usually dismissive. “Oh, you’re XYZ, therefore…” End of discussion, no need for further interaction. But without further interaction or more balanced conversation we lose the opportunity to understand and perhaps to inform or be informed.

When I was a seminarian many years ago there was a fellow seminarian whose external actions and demeanor led me to label him ‘ultra-conservative’ (which was a bit rich as I was of a conservative bent myself!) and I routinely avoided interacting with him. After a time we were both thrown together as representatives on the then-nascent student organization at the Gregorian. We spoke a lot, got to know one another very well and became good friends – much to my chagrin at having been so dismissive of him, not to mention uncharitable.

Labels are meant to describe the contents, but we really don’t know the contents until we have experienced them.