Having a Riot

“You’re a hater, you’re a hater, you’re a hate hate hater!”

This would be my hateful pastiche of the criticism that “conservatives” receive when they mess with the self-conceits of “liberals.” Not all of the time, of course; sometimes it goes on for pages. As a general rule, it should all be ignored. They only want you to shut up and die, and the best response is to continue speaking.

Humor is good, when they’re getting a little loud: it stings them like holy water. I have just read a long piece by James Martin, SJ, the glib amateur theologian in America magazine, entitled, “Theology and Hate.” He is freaking because, on Twitter, Ross Douthat called his friend Antonio Spadaro, SJ, a “sophist.” Which struck me as just a glancing blow. As Douthat actually put it: “Is ‘spadaro’ Italian for ‘sophist’?”

Better yet he called the editor of La Civiltà Cattolica a “moustache-twirling cartoon Jesuit villain,” which had me giggling convulsively. Again, let me confess (hateful creature that I am), that I found this merely playful. Much worse things could be said about Spadaro.

They are odd, these liberals. They step into the boxing ring with brass knuckles, then express shock because, “Somebody punched me!”

And as for poor Massimo Faggioli, the “well-respected Church historian” (by his own perverse faction), I gather Douthat did not even mention the gentleman in the course of some Twitter pillow fight. But whatever it was, the shoe fit so well, that Martin imputed a charge of heresy against him.

“That is an extremely serious accusation and in this case unfounded,” Martin parried, borborygmatically in the same medium. But while I would be happy enough to pitchfork the hay, the truth is that the Catholic Church hasn’t burnt anyone at the stake, for years now.

Perhaps that’s why things are going to hell. To my reasonably secure knowledge, heresy is now preached casually from the pulpit, most Sundays in a Catholic church near you.

The storm in the bell jar began, most readers will know, with a recent column by Douthat in the New York Times entitled, “The Plot to Change Catholicism.” It was about the maneuvering, by the pope himself in recent Family Synods, to advance the Kasperite scheme to permit communion for the divorced and remarried.

“The Church’s teaching that marriage is indissoluble has already been pushed close to the breaking point by this pope’s new expedited annulment process; going all the way to communion without annulment would just break it,” Douthat opined.

This, according to my email inbox, is the view of almost every “conservative” in Christendom, and the only surprise is that it was published by the Grey Lady of Gomorrah. But Ross Douthat is, after all, their token conservative, a position whose vexations I recall from my own history as the token conservative in a “mainstream” Canadian newspaper – a position something like General Custer’s.

Ross Douthat

Douthat’s piece attracted an “open letter,” from an A-list of mutually admiring, progressive, academic Catholics, that read very much like a petition to the New York Times to get rid of the guy. He was arraigned, among other crimes, for not having a Ph.D. in theology.

The most side-splitting line was, “Accusing other members of the Catholic Church of heresy, sometimes subtly, sometimes openly, is serious business that can have serious consequences for those so accused.” This underhand accusation of McCarthyism was so obviously McCarthyite itself.

For the truth is, there are NO consequences at all to being accused of heresy today, or for uttering heresy, as the thirty-five signers should know perfectly well. The heat may pass both ways, between “right” and “left” in public fora, but in Rome at the moment, maintaining Church doctrine would seem more likely to endanger one’s livelihood. In American academia, it is almost suicidal.

My own experience, as not only a token conservative columnist, but a “social conservative,” and a practicing Catholic on top of that, is not fondly remembered. Quite literally hundreds of such complaints were lodged against me by leftists, exploiting formal complaints procedures that kept my newspaper-chain bosses, as well as me, tied up in knots. We endured years of daily headaches, formally replying to frivolous accusations. Finally I was offered a generous buy-out, if I would just go away.

Which is to say, I know this game from the inside: the “progressive” tactics for muzzling the discordant voice. Yet throughout I was sustained by the knowledge that I was often speaking for the disenfranchised: the many readers who thanked me for expressing basic truths that have been anathematized by the guardians of our brave new world.

Moreover, you cannot know that you have hit the target until those guardians howl. And there is a quiet satisfaction in watching the nest crumple, much though the hornets may sting.

As the Pope Emeritus confided to at least one visitor, “When what I have said is not criticized, I must examine my conscience.”

And here is the joke: that those neo-ultramontanists, saying, “How dare you criticize the pope!” were so very free in criticizing his more orthodox predecessors.

Meanwhile, Germaine Greer is now getting the treatment in international media. She pointed to the fact that a “trangendered” person is not really a woman. She did so politely, but also firmly, and I was especially amused to watch a BBC interview with her in which the journalist essentially rephrased the question, “How dare you?” – about one dozen times.

Among radical feminists, I have long had a soft spot for Ms Greer. She is unique in her intelligence, her graceful English style, and the genuine independence of her thinking. It was about time the shriekie sisters disowned her.

In my experience, you can’t start a riot by saying something new or strange. If you want to bring the house down, you say something everyone secretly knows to be true.

My love to both Douthat and Greer for doing it.

David Warren is a former editor of the Idler magazine and columnist in Canadian newspapers. He has extensive experience in the Near and Far East. His blog, Essays in Idleness, is now to be found at: davidwarrenonline.com.