Fight All Error: An Open Letter to All Catholic Bloggers and Publishers

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“Fight all error, but do it with good humor, patience, kindness and love. Harshness will damage your own soul and spoil the best cause.”
-St. John Cantius

“A culture of encounter demands that we be ready not only to give, but also to receive. Media can help us greatly in this, especially nowadays, when the networks of human communication have made unprecedented advances. The Internet, in particular, offers immense possibilities for encounter and solidarity. This is something truly good, a gift from God.”

-Pope Francis, 1/28/14

In the above quote, Pope Francis notes the power of the internet to join people together. While many today engage in collective hand-wringing over the negative effects of technology, our pope has instead taken the optimistic road. Lauding the internet’s ability to bring us closer together, it can also lead us to become a tighter-knit community.

But while there is great potential for unity through the world, there is also the potential for abuse and unchecked aggression. Anyone who has run afoul of pro-abortion-choicers on Facebook or in the comment boxes of bloggers knows how vicious the commentary can get. Profanity can run rampant, along with personal attacks against one’s intelligence, physical characteristics and familial connections. In extreme cases, one finds threats to one’s own health and family tossed off as casually as a classroom insult or a sports-based debate riposte.

More distressing is the number of Catholic media figures that are sinking to this level. Reports and personal experience stories are mounting of vulgarity, bullying, personal attacks and other forms of unacceptable behavior emerging from Catholic bloggers and their fans in the web-culture. Ironically, these attacks rarely center around the traditional ‘hot button’ issues of abortion, or even mid-level issues like ordaining women to the priesthood. More often today, Catholics are finding themselves the target of verbal abuse, ‘unfriending’ and banning from blogging boards for disagreeing with Catholic bloggers on peripheral issues like water-boarding, lying to save unborn children, or giving a $15 per hour minimum wage.

Indeed, another part of this disturbing, emerging trend is the tendency of some Catholic bloggers to pronounce others as ‘not-Catholic’ if they have the ‘wrong’ opinions on these issues. Such bloggers equate detractors with pro-abortion choice Catholics, or Catholics who hold outright heretical views. Ironic, considering that virtually all heresy is an attempt to usurp the rightful authority of the Church, and Catholic bloggers who declare others as ‘un-Catholics’ are claiming an authority reserved for the Church alone.

It is true that some people who post in the comment boxes of a blog will not be convinced by anything a blogger or commentator will say. It is also understandable that some ‘combox’ posters can be frustrating to deal with.

But a Catholic blogger must be above the fray that characterizes most internet debates today. Realize: You are not, in the end, only trying to convince the person you are arguing with. You are also trying to convince the bystander who is only reading. In your commentary and answers to your detractors, you are also witnessing to the bystanders who may be on the fence with regards to the Church, and an uncharitable comment could easily knock them off into the wrong side.

Karl Keating noted in his classic work Catholicism and Fundamentalism that to bring others into the Church, one must argue to explain, not to win. Catholic converts and apologists like Jennifer Fulwieler noted in one of her recent speeches that she moved from atheism to Catholicism in part because of the pithy arguments for God, Christ and the Church that she saw in the comment boxes on the internet from Catholics. The arguments, meaning the logical constructs that explained and defended the belief system, managed to bring her into the fold. Not the prolific use of personal attacks, name-calling, profanity or summary and unlawful excommunication pronouncements.

St. John Cantus’ quote from the beginning of this column has ever-more significance in a world where one’s stray comments can reach a greater audience than any in human history. I am not claiming to be perfect in this regard. But I do recognize unacceptable behavior in myself as well as others. I also recognize that one can be aggressive in the defense of the Faith without being abusive. It is a fine line to walk, and some people make it difficult to maintain. But this doesn’t give anyone the excuse to willfully use language that will upset and scandalize others.

The information age gives Catholics a golden opportunity to evangelize and bring the message of Christ and His Church to all people, from our separated Protestant brethren to those who disdain all faiths as superstition. Those of us involved in Catholic media, be it blogging, book writing, or arguing on Facebook, have a responsibility to use methods effective at bringing others into the fold, rather than driving them from it. We may refuse to put up with abuse, but must take care that we do not become abusive ourselves. We may refuse to compromise with points the Church has spoken definitively on, but as the face of the Church to others we must portray her as the strong and beautiful Bride of Christ, not a wicked stepmother who beats her children for minor infractions.

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12 thoughts on “Fight All Error: An Open Letter to All Catholic Bloggers and Publishers”

  1. Pingback: On John McNichol’s ‘Open Letter to All’ Catholic Bloggers | Lisa Graas

  2. Nice post. Gentle. I might add to whisper a prayer for the other before posting. It keeps me from a quick retort and reminds me of the dignity of the personhood of the other.

  3. I generally agree with many of the points discussed in the article. Toleration, patience and love are sure good and must be there, but we cannot ignore core issues such as abortion, divorce, premarital sex etc when the so called Catholic bloggers or writers extol them as something modern and anti-conservative. We should uphold the Catholic teachings all the time.

  4. One strategy you can use is to simply correct factual misstatements. That way, you are simply correcting the factual record, not getting into value judgments or whose opinion is right. . Those who want to throw stones at the church almost always have their facts wrong in many ways, and it is easy to get a quote from a Pope, the Catechism, etc to show them they are wrong.

    This upsets them to no end, so they usually end up calling you names of one sort or the other. Then they try to change the subject. But the point is made, the other commenters have seen the truth, and the public debate is advanced.

  5. Pingback: Demystifying the Pope Francis Enigma via BigPulpit.com

  6. Has anyone figured out how to talk to homosexuals who are angry with the Church for not agreeing with their life-style, but who are blogging on Catholic sites? Whenever I try to discuss or talk about why the Church teaches what it does most of my comments are flagged and deleted. As of right now, I am no longer answering their questions and simply praying for them. Just seems pointless. I don’t run into this except online.

  7. Patti Maguire Armstrong

    It will be the Holy Spirit that opens hearts and minds and gives us the words. It’s baffling how what often seems like a powerful argument, falls on deaf ears. Prayer is a big part of writing.

  8. I agree one hundred percent with the article, here comes the “BUT”, remember that no matter what you say, OR HOW YOU SAY IT, there is a very good chance that you will be absolutely rejected by your “catholic” Family, friends and Clergy!

  9. A useful rule of thumb I’ve used is based on my understanding of the “judge not” quote from Jesus– basically: this standard they’re suggesting for me, do they live it? This standard I’m upset with them for violating, do I follow it? Not perfectly, but reasonably?
    By the time I’ve fussed that over, I’m usually calm enough to tell if they’re upset with me because I’m not agreeing, or because I’m hurting them; then if I’m hurting them, am I trying to hurt them, or is it just a needful side-effect of trying to do good?

    Example: A relative was very hurt that I pointed out that hormonal birth control caused miscarriage by failure to implant, even though it was right there on the box; she’s got a solid understanding of biology, and didn’t want to believe it. But it was rather important and I was pretty sure she hadn’t really understood it. In contrast, arguing with her about why the Church teaches against sex outside of marriage is wrong isn’t going to work, because there isn’t a similar foundation to get her to listen.

    Sad thing is, I read this expecting a rather different article– all too often, the urging boils down to “be nice and do what I want.” Glad I read it anyways, and thank you for writing it.

    1. Foxfier, with all due respect, Donald once said to me (a commenter) on his blog, and I’m paraphrasing- “Foxfier will fix you up”. I’m sure you’ve recognised this in the past, but on a number of occasions your replies back to me and others were bordering on bullying and highly offensive.
      I don’t find that you have taken that tone lately with anyone. But in the past I have been at the receiving end of your sharp knife. I never did get an apology. Only a simple- that’s how Foxfier roles…

      I hope you recognise my comment to you as constructive, as I would hope I would recognise criticism as constructive when it is given too me.

      I hope I haven’t fuelled anything, because this isn’t my intention- I was surprised to see your name in the comment section agreeing. That’s all. And felt I needed to say this to you in light of this article.

      Anyhow, don’t “get back” at me the next time I comment on Donald’s blog. Because I’ll kindly remind you how helpful you found this article..,

      Great commentary John. You need to republish this every few weeks IMHO.

    2. You accuse me of both bullying and being vindictive; perhaps you should consider that if Donald thought you would benefit from listening, strongly enough to actually suggest it you might want to consider doing so rather than taking offense and attacking the person it was suggested you listen to?

      Donald has uses similar phrasing several times, when someone has been so ill-informed that it will take a lot of effort– from themselves and others– to dig them out. I am kind of known for taking an interest in odd questions and poking at them to find out more, then providing facts– which are notoriously not subject to persuasion or urges to be nice. With citations and an eye to reasonably objective sources.

      Being shown that you have been spreading a falsehood generally is rather painful, especially if you got it from someone that you trust. The pain of that correction has to be balanced against the harm done to others if it is not corrected, especially in a relatively permanent environment like text. Some people have the same response to even the existence of those who will challenge them, or even ask where they got their idea from.

  10. Excellent points. Well done! The only thing I would add is to affirm where you can and find common ground. It helps keep me from loosing my cool. And to ask for clarity always. Sometimes what one means doesn’t quite come across in typed words.

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