Needless to say, religious people can be guilty of the same thing, which brings me to my other example. As my longtime readers know, Mark Shea is what you get when you marry the letter of Catholicism to the spirit and style of New Atheist polemic. Take your average rant from one of Coyne’s or P. Z. Myers’ teenage combox dwellers and replace the shrill and superficial secularist content with some shrill and superficial theology, and you essentially have your typical Shea blog post or Facebook entry. Very different targets, but the same venom. Though at one time he devoted his efforts to writing helpful works of popular apologetics, Shea has in recent years become utterly obsessed with left-wing politics, and with demonizing any of his fellow Catholics who do not share his politics. And unlike Coyne, he is no longer even occasionally interesting. He has a little bag of talking points, epithets, and caricatures he’s mostly borrowed from others (“Right Wing Noise Machine,” “Christianist,” etc., Always All In Caps) and robotically pulls one or two out of the bag and flings them at whichever person is the object of his hatred on any particular day. Snore.
However, one of Shea’s stock epithets is very curious, and the occasion for my commentary here. Shea frequently accuses the conservative and traditionalist Catholics he so intensely dislikes of regarding themselves as the “Greatest Catholics of All Time.” This is a very strange accusation. I cannot think of a single conservative or traditionalist Catholic who can plausibly be said to take such an attitude toward himself or his fellows. On the contrary, conservative and traditionalist Catholics tend if anything to have a rather low opinion of contemporary Catholics, including themselves. They tend to think that even the most orthodox and devout Catholics of today simply don’t come close to measuring up to the heroic figures of Church history. When they complain about the low state of the Church and the heterodoxy and cowardice of so many churchmen, they often suggest that contemporary Catholics – including, again, conservative and traditionalist Catholics themselves – are simply getting the bishops they deserve, and suffering divine punishment for their sins.
By contrast, Shea and other left-wing Catholics tend to take the view that the contemporary Church has much deeper moral understanding than the Church of the past did. In particular, they hold that the views expressed by Pope Francis and other contemporary churchmen on topics like capital punishment, torture, religious liberty, interreligious dialogue, divorce and remarriage, feminism, homosexuality, social justice, etc. reflect a deeper understanding of the demands of the Gospel, and of the dignity of the human person, than was possessed by churchmen of the past. When modern popes and other churchmen apologize for the sins of the historical Church, or suggest (as Pope Francis has) that churchmen of the past had “a mentality more legalistic than Christian” and a “concern for preserving power and material wealth” that “prevented a deeper understanding of the Gospel,” these progressive Catholics applaud, and regard such actions as evidence that today’s Church has matured morally, spiritually, and doctrinally.
In short, if anyone is plausibly accused of thinking that contemporary Catholics are the “Greatest Catholics of All Time,” it is Shea and Catholics of like mind. Like Coyne, Shea is criticizing people he dislikes for an attitude that in other contexts he takes himself, and approves of in others.
What explains such incoherence? The answer is that hatred blinds the intellect. More precisely, and as I discussed in a blog post on wrath and its daughters, anger that is excessive or otherwise disordered has as one of its byproducts what Aquinas calls “clamor” or “disorderly and confused speech.” Anger has the function of prodding us to make things right when in some way they are not – when there is some injustice to be redressed, some error to be corrected, or what have you. When guided by reason, anger can result in coherent speech and action, but in a wrathful person anger comes to dominate reason, and he lashes out incoherently. If he’s frenzied enough, he may even lash out with a condemnation he would in other contexts regard as a commendation.
I agree. Go here to read the rest. I have always thought that in saner times in the life of the Church my function within the Church would be to serve as a bad example.