13 August 2010

OF PRINCESSES AND STREETFIGHTS ON THE CIRCUIT








- At that hour the disciples came to Jesus, saying: Who, do you think, is greater in the kingdom of heaven?
- Matthew 18:1






I like streetfights. Lots of fun; in an ideational way, that is. Nothing like those upper cuts, right hooks and broadsides that go into the forging of character and demonstration of truth. Not for everybody, that is true; but they do form a part of the history of the Church. They do. Really. Just read about some of the saints: "Like dogs they returned to their vomit", Athanasius wrote in reference to bishops Ursacius and Valens and their political machinations.[1] Quite vicious phraseology, many would contend. Now if the great saint were alive today and operating his own blog I would venture to say that, firstly, it would be named something like "Arian Abominations" or "Arian Vulgarians" or "Against the Arian Heretics and their Asinine Idiocies" (Athanasius was "perhaps, somewhat too unsparing in debate"[2]); and, secondly, that not a few orthodox Catholic readers of it would castigate him being as "uncharitable", "mean", "hateful", "not Christ-like" and so forth (judging by the various comments I have read in response to, let us just say, those more "intense" postings in the Catholic blogosphere). As Peter Hitchens (brother of atheist Christopher) said in a recent interview (H/T Lola): "If you don't like arguments and intellectual combat then don't join."[3] And this will inevitably involve severe language: "You brood of vipers",[4] said the Lord of History.

Thus we come to the subject of this analysis: Polemical streetfights.

Fair warning.


But I run too far ahead of myself. Some background and context first before we get to the guts.

On July 26 the canon lawyer Edward Peters, at his blog In the Light of the Law, issued a post defending his personal friend, Janet Smith, against the criticisms of Steve Kellmeyer (The Fifth Column, Notes on the Culture Wars). In one of his forum posts, Kellmeyer argued that Smith, a defender of Christopher's West interpretation of the "Theology of the Body",[5] was unqualified to teach at a Catholic seminary (Sacred Heart Seminary, Detroit, MI). As some of you may know, Kellmeyer is a polemicist who goes for the jugular and is a harsh, vehement critic of West. Peters used his expertise to disqualify Kellmeyer's argumentation, additionally writing that: "by personally attacking Janet Smith, Skellmeyer has done a disservice not only to Smith, obviously, but also to the other critics of Christopher West".

Now I am not going to address this matter from a canonical perspective as I am totally unqualified and thus out of my league. Moreover, Peters was recently appointed as Referendary of the Apostolic Signatura (news I was glad to hear), so he is now untouchable anyway. One thing is puzzling, however: Skellmeyer's post was originally issued on April 16, 2009, well over a year ago, and I wonder why Peters' post came out only just two weeks ago or so. Maybe something else is happening below the surface? But that's just pure speculation, as yours truly is just a cold blooded Canuck viewing things from afar. [CORRECTION: the post was made July 25/10, I was looking at the join date] Yet what makes this whole affair even more engaging is that, during the recent Theology of the Body Conference, Smith sent out a "tweet" stating that "The 1st thing we need to know is God is chasing us down like a lover. Every lover is a pathological stalker. God is a stalker".[6] One need not be a canon lawyer to understand that this declaration is just downright wrong, let alone disturbing.

For the record, I find the whole Christopher West TOB industry analogous to that past schoolgirl obsession with the Bay City Rollers. So far as I am concerned, West advocates a bizarre form of Manicheanism. But that's just my opinion stated bluntly. I'm allowed to do that... right? Or was that an "uncharitable" remark? Ooops, TH2 is jumping the gun. Anyhow, it was welcoming to read the corrective measures applied to West by Alice von Hildebrand (in an essay last month), and to hear about Dawn Eden's recently completed thesis.[7]

Okay. Now to the guts...

Once upon a time there were two Catholic polemicists. Archenemies to one another they were and the blogosphere was their battleground. One of them, the abovementioned Steve Kellmeyer, and the other, Mark Shea. In the particularity that is the orthodox Catholic blogosphere, Kellmeyer is the so-called "uncharitable", "vicious" underdog, whereas Shea is the darling megastar adored by many (more or less). Now I have been watching these two guys for some time from the sidelines and, whenever they have gone at it in the com boxes, I'll make a batch of popcorn, crank up By-Tor and the Snow Dog, and observe the engagement. Needless to say, the day after Peters did his post on Kellmeyer, Shea wrote a post entitled Steve Kellmeyer Just Keeps on Keeping On:
The Judge of all Mortal Flesh [i.e. Kellmeyer] decides to hold forth on some more cherished enemies, because he knows a thing or one about canon law and feels himself called by Self Most High to (yet again) attack and wantonly destroy somebody's reputation. Unfortunately, Ed Peters, an actual canon lawyer who knows what he's talking about, neatly, cleanly, and without fanfare, hands him his head.
The label for this post was "JERKS". You know, I now have this picture in my head of Shea (after reading Peters' post on Kellmeyer) performing cartwheels across the room whilst laughing in unmitigated joy: "He he he he he... I win. You like me. You really, really like me!" Accordingly, we have Princess No. 1.

Shea's glee was similarly echoed by Patrick Madrid. Two days after Peters' criticism Madrid typed a post with this title: Don't you ever feel like telling someone to shut up and sit down? After summarizing the situation and ascribing Kellmeyer's approach as "acrimonious", Madrid still "wish[ed] him all success". Conciliatory? Sure - and Cornelius Jansen is now a candidate for sainthood. Madrid here rings disingenuous because, firstly, Peters never told Kellmeyer to "shut up" (although Madrid said Peters "basically" did, "a much needed service", a linguistic escape hatch), secondly, using the phrase "shut up" is exactly the type of language to which Kellmeyer accused (i.e. hypocritical) and, thirdly, a large photo of Mr. Spock choking Dr. McCoy plasters the page. Shea's response was expected, Madrid's came out of left field, at least from my seat here in the bleachers. Accordingly, for the purpose of this analysis, I reluctantly designate the latter as Princess No. 2.

"But TH2, you verbose buffoon, at the outset you stated that severe language forms a part of polemical streetfighting. So shut up ya jerk".

Yes I did, and things are dished out roughly in these here parts as well (I certainly have no problem with "jerk" and "shut up" used in argumentation). I'll admit to being a jerk, but will not shut up because misdirection was not intended. The point being made here is that Princess No. 1 and Princess No. 2, both of whom comprise that (you know) clique of lay apologists doing the book/lecture/newspaper circuit, can ascribe someone as a "jerk" or tell them to "shut up", but - "charity" being their supposed norm - are not called out on being "uncharitable" or "acrimonious" themselves when employing such phraseology. Therefore, they are automatically excused from doing the very same thing they condemn and get off scot free. Why is that? Hmmm... I wonder. Why is it that Princess No. 1 and Princess No. 2 can get all hissy and pissy whereas others must remain happy and clappy, otherwise be damned with that dreaded word "uncharitable" (we'll return to Kellmeyer in a moment). At first glance, when Innocent Smith is pointing his gun down at you, he appears the villain. In the final analysis after the court proceedings, however, it is revealed that all his drollery was misinterpreted. He meant well. He is innocent. He is acquitted. Therefore all his hijinks are excused. It turns out that everyone else was wrong. They were jerks and should have just shut up in the first place.

So remember Catholic peoples: happy clappy.

Meanwhile back at the ranch there is Steve Kellmeyer (don't know the man from Adam). Yes, yes he is a fierce polemicist. No question about it. You don't want to meet this guy in some back alley and argue over how much Duns Scotus influenced Heidegger. Don't like the "tone"? So what? There is a righteous venom is his discourse that, not only do I find exhilarating to read, but is much needed in the blogosphere where too many Catholics are so afraid of being "uncharitable" (I'm starting to hate that now abused and frequently misapplied word). Regardless of this, his orthodoxy is unquestionable, he is like a one-man army of knowledge, and I have always found him to be right on the money in his variegated commentaries (by the way, Kellmeyer, if you are reading this, don't let it get to your head, ya punk). The evidence shows that an attempt is now being made to marginalize him, casting him as Public Enemy No. 1 in this pathetic melodrama. The emotional responses of his opponents to his harsh critiques overshadow the facts he presents. The public stature of a Shea or a Madrid (even with their merits, and I'm not condemning them absolutely) does not in the least mitigate these facts.

Basically, this post boils down to not so much a defence of Kellmeyer but as a warning. Cardinal Newman portentously spoke these words to a group of seminarians: "Dear Brothers, you are entering a world such as Christians have not known before." In the 21st century we have reached that horizon delineated by Newman and, unless you have been ignoring the headlines, paganistic nihilism is now near to total eclipse in modern society. The consummation of anti-Catholicism is not a pretty thing. Yes, the Holy Church is comprised of many personality types and uses various modes and methods to encounter the "spirit of the world". But if an effort is made to nullify that sector of persons who speak in a so-called "uncharitable" manner against the enemies of the Church, within and without, then an important organ is lost. For some reason unknown to me there has always been that group of Catholics appalled by, say, the "brutal polemics"[8] of Belloc. Why is that? Well, I'd rather have a Belloc or a St. Athanasius in the battlefield rather than some uptight princess, so easily slighted, void of the skin thick enough to take it like a man.


NOTES / REFERENCES

1. Quoted in H. Rahner, Church and State in Early Christianity (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1992), pp. 52-53. Originally published in 1961. Athanasius was making reference to 2 Peter 2:22 / Proverbs 26:11.

2. C. Clifford, "St. Athanasius", The Catholic Encyclopedia (New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1907), vol. 2. LINK

3. "An Interview with Peter Hitchens" / www.zonedervan.com

4. Matthew 3:7.

5. E.g. J.E. Smith, "Christopher West’s Work is 'Completely Sound,' says Dr. Janet Smith", Catholic Exchange, May 28, 2009. LINK Subnote that Mark Shea is the Senior Content Editor at this site.

6. As reported by Dawn Eden here at her blog The Dawn Patrol. Ms. Eden also records other bizarro "tweets" disseminated at the conference. For example, a Fr. Brian J. Bransfield wrote: "I am the best thing that ever happened to me". Later it was claimed his statement was taken out of context.

7.
See A. von Hildebrand, "Dietrich von Hildebrand, Catholic Philosopher, and Christopher West, Modern Enthusiast: Two Very Different Approaches to Love, Marriage and Sex", Catholic News Agency, July 2010. LINK J.H. Westen, "Christopher West and Company vs. 'Custody of the Eyes': Thesis argues West’s story of two bishops is misleading", LifeSite News, July 27, 2010. LINK Dawn Eden, author of The Thrill of the Chaste, is making her thesis available at the the CNA website. LINK Incidentally, Kellmeyer is mentioned in the acknowledgements.


8. J. Oliver, "Christopher Dawson: An Appreciation", In: C. Dawson, The Gods of Revolution (New York: Minerva Press, 1975), p. xiv. Cf. also J. Hitchcock, "Apologists - With Angst and Without", Crisis, March 1996, vol. 14, no. 3, pp. 34-38.


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20 comments:

LarryD said...

Well, you told me you were going to write a missive on the Catholic v. Catholic knock-down drag-out brouhaha atmosphere. And you did.

Even St. Jerome argued a bit with St Augustine (I'm not comparing either man to either saint, but just because the saints are saints, they didn't always act saintly, if you know what I mean).

Still - this sort of public one-upmanship doesn't advance anything. There is no defense of the Church or of Christ in this case - just a smack-down of one man's (badly thought out) opinion. A better approach, IMHO (and regarding this situation only), would have been for either apologist to merely cite Mr Peters article without any bluster and "nyah nyah nyah"-ish remarks, and let folks figure it out for themselves.

Personally, I'm at a loss regarding Dr Smith's description of God as a stalker. A stalker implies -0- benevolent intent. To me, a better word would have been wooer, or courter. He desires to love us for our own sake, not His. A stalker ultimately only has the fulfillment of his own selfish desires as his motive. I'm hoping that quote is out of context, or better explained elsewhere in her talk. She's normally quite well-spoken, but in this case, I think her analogy falls well short of the mark.

Good post. I hope we can still be friends.

Jerk. And I mean that charitably. LOL.

TH2 said...

Still friends, of course. And you are correct: I am a jerk.

Al said...

Here is my whole humble opinion about the whole thing.

1. Peters is right in the fact that Kellmeyer wrongly interpreted Canon law application.

2. Kellmeyer is absolutely wrong in his view about Ralph Martin. (Full disclosure requires me to admit that I have met Ralph Martin & was part of a group that brought him into DBQ several years ago to speak.)

3. Kellmeyer is right to have some concerns about Smith. God as lover is fine. It has solid scriptural basis. To use the term stalker is, as you say, very disturbing & wrong. However that doesn't automaticly disqualify her to be at Sacred Heart.

4. What I have heard 1sthand some years ago of West talking about the TOP sounded OK to me. However, since I haven't heard a lot, I will grant that criticism may be warrented. & if it comes from Alice von Hildebrand then, IMHO, attention MUST be paid to it.

5 Again have to admit I have met Patrick Madrid & have great respect for him. But Patrick Madrid is wrong in some of his reading of Peters. I don't think Peters simply told Kellmeyer to sit down & shut up. Peters simply said Kellmeyer is wrong in his reading of canon law. he never said Kellmeyer couldn't question what she said about TOB & West.

6. All this having been said, I agree that what you are saying is not a defense of Kellmeyer but a warning. There are times when being brutally polemic is needed. & I am sure there are those out there who would accuse you of being brutal at times. But, again IMHO, when you have been a "jerk" ; ), it has usually been justified.

7. While I try to be respectful, I also feel there are times that you have to go for the jugular. & in that I find a role model in St. Athanasius whom you so rightly hold up as an example.

8. On the other hand there is LarryD. His forte is humor. & he can wield it pretty brutally when need be.

LarryD said...

Al - On the other hand there is LarryD. His forte is humor. & he can wield it pretty brutally when need be.

That is the nicest thing anyone's ever said about me. *sniff*

TH2 said...

Al: You present valid points as per usual.

Anita Moore said...

Well if people can't handle tough-talking polemics, then what are they going to do about St. John Chrysostom, Doctor of the Church, who said that heretics need to be smitten in the face, and made to fear ever airing their heresies in public?

For that matter, what are they going to do about the Founder of the Faith Himself, Who had all sorts of choice names for His enemies? Seems to me I did a post about that once...

http://v-forvictory.blogspot.com/2009/09/encore-presentation-what-would-jesus.html

Anonymous said...

Several points:

1) The TOB is due for critiques and critical looks. The enthusiasm for it as a foundational Catholic worldview is bizarre.

2) I don't think anyone who has read Mark Shea is under the impression that he is all sweetness. I think there was even a blog personally dedicated to hating him for a while. I don't think anyone misses the fact that Patrick Madrid is an enthusiastic businessman. There's plenty of commentary along that score out there.

3) Kellmeyer has points to make, but is rapidly dissolving in a hot stew that seems to be made of rage and envy. He lost his parish job in February - for performance or because of budget-cuts, I don't know - but he did. He rages against self-promoters on the "Catholic circuit" but hasn't stop promoting himself and his $1000 speaking fee. He's still selling his books - admitting that Fr. Z's comments threads are a great way to promote his wares. He's got points, but he's kind of a tool.

4) He's also been making recent predictions that just don't seem to be coming true. He said that Dawn Eden would be excluded from Polite Catholic Company because of her critique. Hasn't happened. He bellows that Catholic Exchange won't be running critiques - they are. Perhaps they don't hit as closely as they should, but they are.

5) I don't think it's quite right to drum up a history of Shea V. Kellmeyer. When I did a search through Mark's blog, I found several posts being positive or neutral about Steve's work, pushing traffic his way.

"Steve Kellmeyer does some handy moral calculus"

http://www.skellmeyer.blogspot.com/2004_07_01_skellmeyer_archive.html#108930922215864349

"steve kellmeyer on indulgences"

http://markshea.blogspot.com/2003/10/steve-kellmeyer-on-indulgences-and-all.html

"steve kellmeyer has the right idea"

http://markshea.blogspot.com/2008/11/steve-kellmeyer-has-right-idea.html

Bad blood seems to have started in '06 when Kellmeyer took on Olson and Miesel's DVC book. Mark addresses that:

http://markshea.blogspot.com/2006/04/i-sometimes-suspect-that-catholics.html

But even then - the last positive link is from 2008, predating the 2006 kerfuffle.

I'm not a Mark Shea fan. He can write gracefully sometimes, but his blog arguments usually devolve into strawmen. But I don't think Kellmeyer is just a "tough talker." He *is* vicious. And Anita - The objects of his "tough talking" aren't heretics - atheists or Protestants. They're fellow Catholics - rivals - in Theology of the Body, apologetics, Da Vinci Code things - to put it bluntly. Sure, tough talk between Catholics to clarify is necessary and good, and there can be bruises, but Kellmeyer for the most part reserves *all* of his venom for fellow Catholics (and Muslims - but face to face on the latter? I don't know.)

Anita Moore said...

I was sticking up for St. Athanasius. I didn't even mention Kellmeyer.

TH2 said...

Anita: Another recent post of yours gave me food for thought, wherein you wrote: "God forgive me for all the times I have chosen to be nice, rather than to be charitable."
LINK: http://v-forvictory.blogspot.com/2010/08/niceness-versus-charity.html

The incessant accusation of a lack of "charity" is becoming a (specifically) Catholic form of political correctness.

Anonymous: "Hate" had nothing to do with the post. I identified two things herein: (1) a double standard and (2) a disturbing trend towards a reluctance of calling out error because for fear of being labeled "uncharitable". I cannot confirm your background info. on Kellmeyer as I simply do not know.

P. Button said...

I think that many accusations of lack of charity are distractions from the substance of what the accused party is really trying to say. I disagree with Kellmyer not because he is "uncharitible" but because I do not believe that Chris West is a heretic. I think West has some very silly ideas, but I don't think he has contradicted Church teaching in a major way. However, if I believed Kellmyer to be correct, I too would be "uncharitible" towards Christopher West.

TH2 said...

P.B. You said: I think that many accusations of lack of charity are distractions from the substance of what the accused party is really trying to say Bingo !

Al said...

Gee Larry, I didn't mean for you to get a little verklempt. I thought I was merely stating the obvious about how good a job you do using humor to make a point. :)

LarryD said...

Al - I put your quote in my sidebar under my "Kind Words From Kind Readers". I still get misty...

anon: And Anita - The objects of his "tough talking" aren't heretics - atheists or Protestants. They're fellow Catholics - rivals

Well, heretics started out as fellow Catholics, didn't they?

Steve Kellmeyer said...

Several remarks:

Your Anonymous poster (don't you LOVE anonymous posters? They are SO brave!) is wrong on the point of my pushing books or talks. I stopped trolling for speaking opportunities nearly a year ago and am now quoting people prices that nearly guarantee I won't get any in the future. I have found the speaking circuit is harmful for my family life.

Second, I don't promote my TOB book. I haven't given a TOB talk in probably two years, and haven't sent a promotional ad, e-mail, fax or other advert for it in at least that long. I've pulled all my TOB talks from my website.

Third, I didn't lose my parish job in February, I lost it in July - Anonymous seems to have bad info there. That's alright. I'm flexible. I made up the lost income in other ways. Thanks for your concern, Anonymous.

Fourth, I'm planning a post serializing Westian errors in an orderly fashion, possibly an e-document. I can show that he and or his followers deny that Catholic virtues are virtues at all, and deny the sacrament of marriage occurs with the formally correct exchange of vows. If denying a sacrament is not heresy, I don't know what is.

Five, Pat Madrid's comments were not ENTIRELY out of left field. He and Mark Shea are friends and have worked on several projects together. Also, Pat once completely shafted me on a book deal by lying to me about what he was going to do when I signed with his company. He managed to crash my book sales by 90%, and his publishing company followed up by taking my book entirely out of circulation for over a year during a peak money-making cycle, as it interfered with one of his books.

So, of course, he feels a need to find me "acrimonious" and has a vested interest in seeing me marginalized. God bless, Pat! At lea$t you alway$ know what his motive$ are.

Finally, you're too stinkin' perceptive for your own good. Yes, I'm a punk. But you say that like it's a bad thing! Talk to me, here - what's the problem?

TH2 said...

No problem here, Steve. It was said in tough, friendly fashion. I'm a punk, too, ya know.

Steve Kellmeyer said...

I know - that's what I like about you. :)

In re Mr. Anonymous, I am amused to see his comments. He seems to be cutting and pasting the same remarks into ANY article on TOB or about me everywhere he can find a place to put it.

Chris West obviously has a ton of time on his hands now that he's on sabbatical... :)

Steve Kellmeyer said...

BTW, Anita, I LOVE that Chrysostom quote!
I have already made plans to steal it for future use.

I *LOVE* being among fellow polemicists!
It's beginning to feel very 4th and 5th century...

veneremurcernui said...

I felt that the sudden attacks on Steve by Mark Shea, Patrick Madrid, and Carl Olsen, made within hours of each other and with cross-comments, had to be something more than mere coincidence. That, and the fact that I've seen Mark Shea very uncharitably (there's that word again) rip Fr. Eutenaur and others makes me find his claims of holy innocence rather difficult to accept.

I'll state up front, Mark Shea has never done much for me, and I know Steve personally, so I have a bias, but when I see Steve criticize Shea or West or Smith, it's about specific points. When I see Shea attack Kellmeyer, it's an assault on his entire character (Steve being a bitter, defeated, nearly psychotic man, apparently) with virtually no attempt to address any specific point Kellmeyer raises.

The seeming coordination of the posts attacking Steve, and the attempts to fundamentally discredit him, leads me to seriously question the motivations of those involved. Given that all parties involved also conduct significant professional dealings and seem to have a vested interest in discrediting Steve leads to many questions, in my mind.

This is one of several reasons I have recently decided to foreswear reading any 'contemporary' Catholic literature and focus on the lives and works of the great Saints.

Jordanes said...

"Second, I don't promote my TOB book."

Well, maybe not "promoted," but it's still in the carousel at the top of your weblog, Steve.

From what I can tell, your theological critiques of Christopher West's popularising of Theology of the Body are accurate. However, I think your style can be offputting and make it harder for a lot of people to hear what you're saying -- even though it usually makes for an entertaining read and an admirable evisceration (I confess that I not infrequently find Ann Coulter's field-dressing of the Left to be immensely entertaining, even though I'm aware her approach offends a lot of people . . . and I know you're a Coulter fan). There's a time and a place for stern polemic or blunt denunciation, which is not only acceptable but at times obligatory. Nevertheless, sometimes we can get to enjoy the thrusts and parries of debate a little too much (both the disputants and the audience), or sometimes we let anger or pride carry us away, so we need to take a breath or two and give some careful thought to how we reply (if we reply at all). I think embedded within Mark Shea's commentary, he does have a point in his criticisms of your approach to the West Mess . . . though, as you may recall, I also think it's a case of the pot calling the kettle black, and any fraternal correction should have been done privately, not published on the internet.

P. Button said...

Jordanes: Well said. (or typed)

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