Wednesday, June 20, 2007

The dangers of blogging

A little while ago, having an interest in Catholic social doctrine and following the example of several in the Catholic blogosphere (or more specifically, those affiliated with St. Blogs in one way or another), I posted a link to Vox Nova. After a month of looking through their posts I have to say that this is probably not a site you would want to go to if you were to look for authentic Church teaching. You'd be better off reading the primary sources that they make use of, most of which are available online, the encyclicals of the 19th and 20th century, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the Compendium of Social Doctrine of the Church, and so on.

Some of the contributors have academic credentials; it is clear that many of the other contributors are amateurs. If we were to go by the standards of academia, what sort of books and articles have they published? On the other hand, if we recognize that academia is filled with factions and that peer-review in itself is no guarantee of the quality of the work, then we have to rely on the judgment of those whom we trust. And so, what would orthodox Catholic philosophers and theologians, both "traditionalist" and non-traditionalist, make of this website?

Putting forth oneself as an authority is a rather dangerous thing to do, even if one believes one's self to be merely repeating the teaching of the Church. Proof-texting is not enough, and must be accompanied by summation and interpretation. If one is going to work as a theologian, one must give the context, and show how the text fits with other teachings of the Church, rather than looking at it in isolation.

Now Vox Nova presents itself as reflections and musings about Catholic social teaching. But the critical attitude that some of its contributors take towards other Catholics surprises me, and I'm used to this sort of thing, having seen the polemics that takes place in academia and in traditionalist and "neocath" circles. That sort of petty partisanship, which doesn't really add anything to the discussion or debate of a certain topic, can be an offense against charity.

From the statement of purpose:

Vox Nova is a response to the ecclesial mandate to promote the common good in every sphere of human existence. We come from varying backgrounds and carry diverse social outlooks, traversing a wide range of demographics and political sympathies. Vox Nova is free, to the furthest extent possible, from partisanship, nationalism and demagoguery, all of which banish intellectual honesty from rational discourse.

United in our Catholic, pro-person worldview, yet diverging in our socio-political opinions, we seek to provide informed commentary and rigorous debate on culture, society, politics and law, all while unwaveringly adhering to, and aptly applying the principles of Catholic doctrine. We are not intellectually wedded to any single political ideology. Following the example of the rich tradition of Catholic social doctrine from Pope Leo XIII to Pope Benedict XVI, we do not forge artificial blockades between "faith and morals" and "social judgments." We do not and will not filter Catholic doctrine and morality through contrived categories in order to morph our Catholic faith and practice into some ideologically acceptable form.

As far as I can see, the biggest theoretical weakness affecting the blog is a lack of a grasp of political philosophy, which is, like any part of philosophy, a handmaid to the service of theology--in this case "political theology". (What is also needed is a good understanding of the Natural Law and its precepts--and at least one member of Vox Nova clearly should refrain from speaking on these matters, despite having done so over at the Crunchy Con blog.) While it is probably true that there are Catholics whose understanding of the Faith has been distorted by the filters they have adopted as members of a political faction, one has to wonder about the attitude of those who are confident that they have the resources to save their fellow brothers and sisters in Christ from their errors but do it in such a haphazard way. I am not surprised that many Catholics who have engaged with some of the contributors on this or that point have walked away from the conversation, repulsed by their manner of speaking.

Also of concern is their apparent lack of awareness (shared by most Americans and their politicians) of many of the fundamental problems facing this country and its economic structure. While they recognize poverty and climate change, do they know about peak oil? Soil degradation? Diminishing water supplies? Destruction of local ecosystems? The precarious situation of the dollar? The Federal deficit? Central banking? The power of the corporations? I have yet to see someone advocate a strategy for relocalization--most appear to be supporters of the centralizing and consolidationist tendency of the modern nation-state, and one takes this even further, pushing for the U.N. to have a supranational authority. (And here one must understand the differing weights that are to be given to various statements from the popes.)

If someone believes he has something to teach, and the calling to do it, the Internet is an apostolate of last resort--publishing a well-written book would be higher, and teaching in a college or seminary would be number one. One should focus on the local, instead of presuming to address a large audience. I look forward to the day that the Internet loses its power. Though some say that in this spiritual desert, the Internet can be a powerful resource for those seeking wisdom and truth, do we not still have books? I would rather one pray for a teacher or master than rely too much on the Internet. It's more consonant with relocalization, and the Internet is problematic, for those concerned with the environment and with the use (or mis-use) or energy. Perhaps it is best that we not take the Internet too seriously as a tool of mass communication, being detached from our own writings and striving against any desire for a sense of self-importance.

The prayer and penance we do may be of greater use than the stab we take at writing or teaching.

As for Catholic apologists--there are many who have done good work, and have strengthened the faith of other Catholics, and brought converts to the Church. Nonetheless apologists who are not actually theologians need to humbly recognize their deficiencies and fight against the temptation to put themselves forth as authorities when they lack the appropriate competence.

While the appeal to authority has some place, one should be careful not to make one's self the definitive authority issuing some sort of ruling on the orthodoxy or heterodoxy of someone who disagrees with us. While it may be relatively easy to show that some errors are such, this is not the case with all, since the Church has not defined every error. Perhaps it would be better to conduct the discussion as a disputation, rather than as tribunal.

Having provided the link to Vox Nova on my blog, I do believe that I should write some sort of warning for those who do read it. I hope I have maintained the semblance of charity in this post, if not the spirit, but I know I can trust some of you to point out any problems you see with this post, and I will try to make the appropriate changes.

Should Catholics blog? by R.J. Stove



Iosue Andreas Sartorius said...

Great post.

This is one of the reasons I changed my blog's name to sound less "Catholic."

It is also one of the reasons I try not to offer too much original material on my blog. "I link, therefor I am."

Anonymous said...

This is a good reminder and helps me as I sort out the meaning and purpose of blogging, growing in disgust with my own pretensions as well as that of others. Very good post. Thank you.