Thursday, 7 October 2010

Error and Outrage in the Bonkersphere: a theory

I have to be careful what I define as 'the Bonkersphere'! It's what happens to the blogosphere when it goes mad!

But, really, I'm nearly at a loss to know what to say about the trouble going on over at St Mary Magdalen and Fr Mildew. Apparently, Monsignor Basil Loftus, a columnist for The Catholic Times, has had enough of being called a heretic, or having it hinted at that he might be a heretic, or seeing his name discussed in relationship to heresy. And he has threatened legal action against Fr Ray Blake and Fr Michael Clifton if they don't stop it! Fr Blake says he never said it, even if comments on his blog tend in that direction. Fr Clifton is correcting certain blog articles, though I'm sure he still thinks the same thing as he ever did. On the Feast of the Most Holy Rosary, I find myself inevitably drawn to anyone attempting to crush heresy in the Church. But, as the Wicked Witch of the West says, 'these things must be done very caaaaaarrrrreeefullllllyyy'. Let's not fall into some kind of playground, partisan assembly.

Fr Ray is, I think, an innocent party in the matter; caught in the crossfire more than anything else. Fr Clifton must carry more responsibility, especially since he regularly labels Monsignor Loftus 'Lofty' or 'Basil Brush Lofty'. I don't see exactly how this helps. As for Monsignor Loftus, I would have thought a man so proud of the achievements of Vatican II would have been more sensitive to the scriptural injunction of Saint Paul not to take disputes betwee brothers before the civil courts. It's one thing to be insensed. It's quite another to be insensible.

This spat illustrates two of the deep wounds which Yours Truly happens to think afflict the Church at the moment: the first is the banality of error, and the second is the banality of outrage.


The banality of error is a sin against truth. Under the reign of individual expressiveness, the principle of individual sincerity has reached such ludicrous proportions that there seems to be a common habit of collective eye-closing to the punctured tyre of doctrine. Sometimes, this is manifested not in sloppiness about doctrine itself, so much as by sloppiness about doctrine in the concrete life of the Church. I read recently the text of a blessing given to an ecumenical team of university chaplains which talked about their working 'in the Lord's vineyard'. Well, I have no doubt that God is not hampered in the means he uses, though his choice of certain means (the visible Church) is already a sign of what he does. But to speak like this about parallel ministries is equivocation of the highest kind. Any minister for whom the doctrine of the Eucharist (which makes the Church and which is confected by the Church) is a dead letter is more likely to be damaging the vineyard than labouring in it.

What Monsignor Loftus's opinions are I have little idea. I have read some of his articles but without a text to hand - and I can find none on the internet right now - I can hardly even begin to comment. I simply remember his recent letter in The Tablet about the possiblity of abortion in a case where an expectant mother's life is under threat. There he wrote:

Is a victim allowed to take the life of an aggressor in order to save his or her own life, even if the agressor had not formed, or had been unable to form, an aggressive intent? If so, would not a foetus whose objective aggression was threatening the mother's life, be in the same moral/legal position as an unwitting aggressor , or an aggressive child or mentally defective adult?

I'm not sure what shocks me more: the crystal-clear logic or the overreaching vacuity dressed up as moral argument ... unless Monsignor Loftus is actually suggesting that we stand in the same life-giving relationship to a mad attacker as a mother to her unborn child. This is a kind of methodology which is able to wear scholastic clothes as a veil for wild conclusions that are closer to sophistry than to wisdom.

The second wound I see here is the banality of outrage. I've spoken about this before. Passion and rage seem to be the default mode of hard conservatives and traditionalists alike. But it unsights us spectacularly. Which poet was it who wrote that 'we can hit and miss like pride' (no prizes there, and he's only a poet to some)? The antidote to lack of care for the truth is not outrage at that lack of care. Outrage is only a mode; it is not a method. And when it is treated as a method, it is a dangerous tool.

I'm working on a theory here that goes something like this. Modern religious discourses are not peaceable like Christianity, but passive-aggressive like Relativism (even when they are not in themselves relativist). That is why reaction to them must not resort to the aggressive potential of our fallen condition, but to the truth in charity of the Christian condition. Of course relativism and aggression are kissing cousins; there is no outrage like a liberal scorned.

Let me restate the case: our fallen condition tends to violence which is only perfectly healed by Christ. The false cures, on the other hand, follow one of two paths: the first is the channelling of aggression through ritual (and this is found in paganism and some secular religions) and the second is the repression of aggression through fuzzy Christianity. You know what I mean by fuzzy Christianity; we see it all the time. In the name of charity we are asked to lay down our arms, and forbidden to pick them up again when it is clear we are in danger. This results in the kind of deeply absurd churchmanship which tries to impose silence on those who object to Masses for openly defiant homosexuals.

The challenge of meeting the second false cure (the fuzzy Christianity) is not to rebut it with the first false cure (aggression through ritual) but with Christ: doing the truth in charity.

And everything else is of the Bonkersphere.


Jeff said...

I long for a post you once wrote on World War One and some Catholic soldiers who were executed....

Ches said...

I'm recovering information from a crashed hard drive and hope to post that again soon, Jeff.