Two website pieces on “Catholic must-reads” caught my attention yesterday: they are not entirely unconnected, I think. The first was the suggestion by “a reluctant sinner” (I couldn’t find the author’s name on his blog) that there should be a guild of Catholic bloggers.
The first question that occurs to me is this: what would be such a blog’s general complexion? There have been, from “liberal” quarters (note the inverted commas) dark grumblings about the “Catholic blogosphere” as being irredeemably reactionary (incidentally, there’s a word that could do with a bit of reclaiming: what’s wrong with reacting against undesirable developments?).
The other piece (on the website Thoughts from an Oasis in French Catholicism) is a protest by its writer, Jane Mossendew, against such reactionaries calling themselves by the liberal insult “Taliban Catholic” (an illiberal term invented by the normally moderate and genuinely liberal commentator John L Allen of the National Catholic Distorter – sorry, Reporter).
This is how Miss or Mrs Mossendew (how I wish I were called “Mossendew” rather than “Oddie”) puts it: “Now stop it you lot! A joke’s a joke among friends, but you are using the phrase more than the people who coined it as a tasteless, even spiteful insult to orthodox Catholics. If we’re not careful ‘Taliban Catholic’ risks entry in a future Oxford Dictionary as follows: ‘American journalistic phrase coined circa 2010, descriptive of orthodox Catholics (defunct). One who supported the papacy of Benedict XVI. Accepted by traditional Catholics as an estimate of their rigid, repressive and inhumane position’.”
John Allen, to be fair, isn’t himself entirely happy about having invented the term. This is how he explains himself. At a university meeting in Dallas, he spoke of the existence of two polarities in Catholic opinion: “On the one extreme lies what my friend and colleague George Weigel correctly terms ‘Catholicism Lite,’ meaning a watered-down, sold-out form of secularised religiosity, Catholic in name only. On the other is what I call ‘Taliban Catholicism’, meaning a distorted, angry form of the faith that knows only how to excoriate, condemn, and smash the TV sets of the modern world.’
“Some in the audience chuckled, but others weren’t so amused. One younger faculty member rose during the Q&A period to offer a thoughtful, and heartfelt, challenge:
” ‘To say things with clarity is not to be the Catholic Taliban,’ she said, adding that she found the phrase ‘profoundly offensive.’
” ‘There are no suicide bombers in the Catholic church,’ she said, ‘but we have had an epidemic of Catholicism Lite for the last 30 years.’ Younger Catholics, she insisted, should not be dismissed as fanatics simply because they seek ‘fidelity and clarity’.”
Quite right, in my opinion. But how come the term became so quickly accepted as an apt and permissible jibe by anti-orthodox Catholics? I suspect that, ironically, it’s a kind of back-handed tribute; the Taliban, after all, is turning out to be pretty effective: all the military might of the American-led operation in Afghanistan hasn’t smashed it yet. The Taliban has kept up with modern tactics and armaments, just as it’s the orthodox counter-revolution in the Church, rather than its enemies, who have most effectively seized the opportunities of the blogosphere.
Which brings me back to the two pieces I began by discussing.
I was right about the probable complexion of the proposed new guild of Catholic bloggers: Thoughts from an Oasis in French Catholicism, which has now declared itself in support of the guild, describes itself as “An Oasis in French, English and Welsh Catholicism.… dedicated to the support of His Holiness Benedict XVI through prayer-based apostolic action. Traditional Roman Catholic and loyally obedient to his authority as Successor of Peter”; and according to “reluctant sinner” himself (or herself), the proposed guild now has the support of Fr Tim Finigan: enough said.
Now: back to this apparently strange phenomenon, of some Catholic counter revolutionaries adopting the insult “Taliban Catholic” as a badge of honour. The trouble is that that would be taken as implying that we actually agree with the Taliban on some very nasty ideas, like forbidding the education of girls and the employment (and general liberation) of women. There are far too many aggressive secularist slurs against the Catholic Church for its supposed suppression of women for the joke to be even remotely funny: too many idiotic suggestions within the Church, too, that this is precisely what’s implied by an all-male priesthood.
If a liberal insult is to be adopted, I wouldn’t mind being called a “reactionary” because of its widespread use against people who, in Jane Mossendew’s formulation, are “loyally obedient to [Pope Benedict’s] authority as Successor of Peter” (it’s necessary to add that last pro-papal qualification, since not all those who would describe themselves as “traditional Roman Catholics” actually believe in being “loyally obedient to his authority”. And the trouble with that, I suppose, is that they’re more reactionary than I am: I just react against so-called liberals (and particularly against their illiberality); but some reactionaries react against papal authority as well. It’s all very confusing. What about distinguishing between single and double reactionaries? Alternatively, let’s call the whole thing off.
Meanwhile, the guild appears to be gathering support. It certainly has mine: there are great possibilities here. It’s already come up, I suggest, against one possible snag: that as so far conceived it seems, on the face of, it to go against the very nature of the blogosphere.
It all seems to be being conceived as a distinctly earth-bound and national rather than, like the blogosphere, operating supra-nationally in cyberspace: “The proposed Guild for Catholic Bloggers,” says “reluctant sinner”, “would need active members and a few officers – chair, secretary and treasurer – so would have to be limited to those bloggers from this country (UK), or those able to travel to Britain … The Guild might also wish to find a president, and a chaplain to celebrate its annual Mass”.
All that “chair, secretary and treasurer” stuff (not “chair”, please) seems a bit bureaucratic, maybe. Maybe not. I really don’t want to be unhelpful, I write tentatively: but couldn’t something be thought up so that the whole thing would operate essentially in cyberspace? Masses could be said internationally, in different countries: there could even be online meetings of a sort. As for officers, they could – if still thought necessary – be suggested and voted for online.
Don’t ask me how, I’m no nerd: but there must be Catholic nerds out there who could make sensible suggestions about how, technically, it might all be organised. I end uncertainly: this needs more thought, from as many people as possible. Thus, inconclusively, ends this post; not with a bang but with queries to which I have no answers.