Friday, December 29, 2006

Western Values and Catholicism

I like to read the writings and opinions of those I disagree with because I think that it gives an excellent insight into why such people believe what they do. For this reason some time ago I developed the habit of reading some US conservative Catholic blogs, which tended to be more articulate and reflective that their US conservative Protestant equivalents - for example, they are much less happy about the administration's views on torture.

Nevertheless sometimes I am reminded of just how true it is that what is extreme over here can become mainstream over there. This article is one such example.

It is written by one of the bloggers I visit, who seems very popular with the conservative Catholic audience. Indeed his views are extremely common among what is known over the pond as the right wing. So it is worth taking a moment to observe quite how wrong he is.

Mr. Shea begins his attack on Western values by lamenting the lack of a proper name for 9/11. It is an incredibly weak opening gambit, and just shows how desperate he is to prove his pre-formed biases. You can interpret the lack of name in a number of ways. For me, it has always spoken of the darkness Americans connect to that day. It is something which must not be named, because to name it would be to tame it. By keeping it a date it remains a real part of our time and forces us to think about why it is important every time it is mentioned. Of course, it could just be that there is no suibtable name for it. "Twin Towers Day" sounds too twee, and "World Trade Centre Day" too long winded. Notably, Mr. Shea does not even make suggestions. It is a non-argument.

His point about the difference in attitudes towards mockery of Islam and mockery of Christianity is well-taken, yet he gives no idea as to his solution. Somehow I doubt his is the answer of Tony Blair and others, who increasingly seek to prohibit speech offensive to all religions. I also fear it would be asking too much for him to endorse the most sensible solution and allow all such mockery, responding with biting civility. After all, the Catholic Church has long promoted the view that "error has no rights"...

Then we have this wonderful titbit: "If babies are God's way of saying he thinks the world should continue, then contraception is man's way of saying it should end." Of course as a Catholic, Mr. Shea is likely to despise contraception. However to link it to a dislike of children is so stupidly simplistic one can barely help but laugh. For most it is a way of putting off children until a better time - not only a better time for ourselves (for Mr. Shea detests such selfish preferences) but a time when we are better able to care for such offspring. Some indeed do prefer not to have children, and Mr. Shea would clearly wish for them to have no choice. This is of course very interesting given that celebacy is required among Catholic priests (unless they have converted from being Protestant priests). Clearly it is okay for some to forego children, but not others.

There is not the space nor the resolve to go into his simplistic points on euthanasia and abortion in great detail. It need only be pointed out that Mr. Shea is almost incapable of imagining that anyone would support euthanasia other than "to relieve the comfortable of the burden of the most helpless". On this issue he is spectacularly uncharitable and uninformed.

He then goes on about the secularisation of Veggie Tales on TV. I agree that it is a shame that such censoring goes on, but Mr. Shea is a fool if he believes that it is politicking rather than a cynical attempt to get the most viewers interested. All this shows is a decline in interest for religious programming, at least among NBC watchers. Mixed in with this is another gem: "...the deathless secular faith in democratic capitalism's power to heal and redeem that has served us so well in Iraq". Given the fact that Bush seems to believe the Iraq invasion to have been ordered by God, a more ironic statement would be difficult to find.

And then we come to the FOX newsman who, to save his own life, converted or pretended to convert to Islam, something Mr. Shea decries as gutless (while being charitable enough to accept how difficult it would be to make the other decision). Now this is a matter of personal faith, but I think that Mr. Shea aptly shows the ugliness which lies at the heart of his beliefs. Through his actions, the man saved a father for his children and a husband for his wife. I believe that most sane people would have done the same. Instead, what Mr. Shea would have is a martyr. He cares less about life than about faith, and decries the fact that 'Western values' disagree. My apologies, Mr. Shea, for belonging to a culture which supports people staying alive. He was not forced to kill people or even harm them, only to profess a different faith (probably with his fingers crossed behind his back). By damning his for his decision, Mr. Shea shows that his stance has more in common with "the core beliefs of our mortal enemies" (charitably hoping that he means extremists and not just all Muslims) that he might be comfortable to admit.

So what are the Western Values which Mr. Shea dismisses as "a tepid commitment to My Personal Truth of the Moment"? They are primarily something he seems completely unable to comprehend - a protection of our ability to come to our own conclusions. A commitment to self-determination and freedom to think and believe what we want. A determination to prevent the self-righteous from imposing their beliefs on others. Mr. Shea seems to implicitly have a grudging admiration for the absolute beliefs of 'the other side' and thinks that anything else (like free thought) cannot possibly survive such an assault. I think history has proven, slowly and painfully but surely, that this is not true. The power of the human spirit to assert itself and its understandings is more powerful than the ability of others to suppress it. Mr. Shea may believe that error has no rights, but I rejoice in the fact that our flawed but admirable society gives rights to his errors and protects us from the narrow-mindedness he espouses.

1 comment:

Liam said...


I saw one of your commnets on Mark's blog and was curious to see more of your writings. You make a lot of interesting points in this post , but I think you sometimes miss the big picture. You seem to be treating Mark's article as a philosophical proof rather than a criticism of Western decadence. This is a major mistake.

While I'm sure he's pleased you're reading his work, you aren't his target audience, the Church. Catholics have different concepts of Mystery, Freedom, and Authority from moderns and postmoderns. These paradigms are assumed in his readership, which is why it appears to you that Mark is wholly unaware of your opinions.

I like to read the writings and opinions of those I disagree with because I think that it gives an excellent insight into why such people believe what they do.

If this is true, you should read Marks' apologetics instead of his punditry. My favorite apologetics website is You should also read the giants on whose shoulders Mark sits. The Bible, the Early Church Fathers, Dostoevsky, Chesterton, C.S.Lewis, John Paul II, and Benedict the XVI all give excellent explanations of Catholic thinking which will be more edifying and will give you real insight into Catholic thought.

In the mean time, give Mark more credit. Being a convert he is well versed on issues from both sides of the table. He knows how people who disagree with him think. He is assuming that the people he is writing to are not them.