Saturday, August 05, 2006

Some Core Problems With Apologetics Methodology:
(Musings of the Webmaster at Rerum Novarum)

[Prefatory Note: While I do not always concur with the viewpoints enunciated in the guest editorials at this weblog; nonetheless, Greg Mockeridge's just-posted guest editorial is one I concur with enough to make its positions virtually my own. (The purpose of the linked epilogual threads added by this editor adequately attest to this by the way.) That substance of the problems he sketches out in that writing (along with others of a less-recent vintage) have had me pondering for some time over what is at the root of the fragmentation that we have seen in the apologetics community on peripheral issues. The purpose of this paper will be to deal with the latter in a reasonably comprehensive yet brief fashion by setting forth a hypothesis or potential theory I have long held on the matter which only reached full crystallization in my mind in recent months. -ISM]

There are a whole host of ingredients that go into the gumbo of what we are seeing. The core problem is one not only infects most of those who call themselves "apologists" but also civilization as a whole generally speaking. If the reader can keep the latter point in mind when reading what I am about to say, it will help because again, the scope of this problem is not insignificant by any stretch of the tape.

Having noted those things, I should start off with a pre-emptive clarification of sorts and it is this: not all people (even all "apologists") have this problem. However, to make a list of those who do not have this problem to a discernible degree (be they self-styled "apologists" or otherwise) would be to make a very short list. But even the fact that this is a problem of epidemic proportions amongst the apologists does not get to the root of the problem. And certainly to do that in a leave-no-stone-unturned kind of writing would require far more ink to be spilt than I intend to do here. But I will endeavour to explain what the problem most likely is after defining some terms first and it seems most appropriate to start with the distinction between professional apologists and amateur apologists.

Having noted that, the reason I make a delineation between professional apologists and amateur apologists and this is a distinction with a difference as far as I am concerned for various and sundry reasons. Simply put: the professional is one who does apologetics for pay and has a significant portion of their income derived from this activity or those whose income to some extent is noticeably complemented by it. The amateur by contrast is one who does it either as a hobby and/or out of a general love for the discipline itself.{1} In a nutshell, that is the distinction I draw between the two.

Some have in discussing this issue with me claimed that the distinction is not worth much because there are amateurs who are better at apologetics than many of those who would be considered professionals by virtue of the distinction I make above. I will readily grant them that premise as one which is true but at the same time do not see a problem with it.{2} It is also worth noting that to presume that a professional would ipso facto be either smarter or more gifted than an amateur is to buy into a common fallacy of argumentation that equates intelligence with higher education "credentials." I have written on more than one occasion debunking this presumption including in a weblog posting from February of this year:

[A] valid PhD does not grant [someone] immunity from making crappy arguments. For that reason, focus on their arguments not their presumed "credentials" or lack thereof.

The truth is, one can be logical without being learned. My father did not have a high school diploma, could not read well due to poor vision, etc., but he hardly was incapable of making logical arguments. The two do not have an intrinsic connection insofar as they must be present at the same time. Obviously knowledge can assist someone in making an argument but the tools for making a proper argument are not (and never have been) a special preserve of the educated.

Indeed, the moment it is conceded (even tacitly) that one has to be learned to be logical is the moment that academic elitists can impose an intellectual tyranny onto the rest of humanity. The truth is, intellectuals are often quite stupid and can make stupid arguments. Likewise, recognized "experts" in a particular area of study also can make poor arguments or misjudge matters. This is why what must be assessed is the validity (or lack thereof) of a theory or thesis they seek to advance, not the status of the person involved. [I. Shawn McElhinney: Excerpt from Rerum Novarum (circa February 11, 2006)]

The principle espoused above in a nutshell is this: reason and logic do not depend on higher education at all.{3} To take it a step further and apply it to apologetics, one need not assume that the professionals are necessarily better utilizers of reason and logic in advancing arguments for their position than the amateurs are. Nor are those with solid learning credentials exempt from this as an example which Greg Mockeridge pointed out in his essay more than amply testifies to. For example, as much as I esteem Dr. Philip Blosser, "the broadside derisive dismissal" (cf. P. Blosser) he seems to take of those who have expressed serious criticisms of Dale Vree's obvious "witless folderol" (ibid.) is something that concerns me greatly. I can only conclude that to paraphrase a post from Rerum Novarum (circa July of 2006) Dr. Blosser has invested "enormous amounts of time, energy, and money selling a particular idea, product, or person and has become so intent on seeing what he espouses accepted by others that he has lost his objectivity" (cf. M. Mentzer) because in the case of his view towards Dale Vree "the stakes involved are in some manner intellectual and philosophical" (cf. ibid).

To take it yet another step further and apply it to apologetics, one need not assume that the professionals are necessarily better utilizers of reason and logic in advancing arguments for their position than the amateurs are. This is obviously not a principle that can be used indiscriminately of course{4}; however, as a rule it is a reliable one. Having noted that in brief, another term now needs to be defined and then we can get to the meat of what I intend to cover in this brief writing: a term I have already used once but which is commonly misunderstood and misapplied. And as definitions are the tools of thought{5}, I will now provide for the reader's benefit a definition of a theory since I am going to propose a hypothesis or probable theory in explaining why we have for some time been seeing a fragmenting in the Catholic apologetics community. Here is the term as I have long utilized it and how it was defined on the Rerum Novarum Miscellaneous BLOG:

[W]hen one is dealing with a theory, they are dealing with both abstract notions as well as coordinating dynamic principles of action. One of the author's intellectual mentors once defined a theory as "a set of non contradictory abstract ideas (or as philosophers like to call them 'principles') which purports to be either a correct description of reality or a guideline for successful action."...

Having established a working meaning of the term theory, it is worth noting also that the word thesis according to the Merriam Webster Thesaurus is related to the word theory. (Both of them having a foundation in the term assumption.) A good way of looking at this in the current context is to view a thesis as "an abstract principle or proposition to be advanced and maintained by argument" and a theory as incorporating a thesis -or a series of theses -with a guideline for successful action. The reason for this is because a theory by its nature must involve either (i) a correct description of reality or (ii) a guideline for successful action. For this reason, any viable theory involves several principles if you will which work together.

Or another way of looking at it would be to consider that a theory is being conceived of a series of non contradictory coordinative theses or points of presupposition. When viewed in this light, a theory clearly is only as strong as the theses which support it. [I. Shawn McElhinney: Excerpt from The Rerum Novarum Miscellaneous BLOG (circa January 14, 2004)]

What I am about to enunciate in this short (by my standards) paper is a hypothesis or potential theory properly so-called because it will endeavour to encapsulate a non-contradictory and (I would argue) correct description of reality. To consider the problem in its manifold complexities however, it will take going back a ways to ascertain the way the landscape changed in the geopolitical sphere in recent decades for to a certain extent this is connected with the problems we need to consider. To start with, back in my father's day, it used to be Democrats and Republicans in the American political system shared certain core moral principles which governed their outlooks presuppositionally. There were differences in application of those principles (as well as examples of not being completely consistent in their application) of course. However, there was still a basic framework of shared values between them on moral and ethical issues.

To note a couple of examples, prior to approximately 1970, both parties had as a mainline principle a pro life ethic. Both parties also had as amainline principle an underlying love of country and (by logical extension) its defense. Men like Adlai Stevenson and Hubert Humphrey ran as Democrats against Republicans like Eisenhower and the pre-Watergate Richard Nixon. Senate candidates like Slade Gordon in Washington had difficulty in unseating longtime Democratic stalwarts like Warren Magnuson who were solid Democrats of the old school sort.

Essentially, there was a general sense of ethics, love of country, and other shared principles which were not questioned except in how they were applied. This changed significantly when the apparatus of the Democratic Party was explicitly seized by marxists starting in 1972. That is not to say that the marxists had not in some respects influenced the two parties prior to that time but influence in some respects is significantly different than direct control and promotion of an agenda and it was the latter which the marxists attained and have continued to have since that time in the Democratic Party Â?operating as they do under various masks to hide their true identity and intentions. It would be nice to say the Republican Party was completely immune to this sort of thing but unfortunately it is not true Â?though in the Republicans' case it is generally an attempt to play "me too Democrat" which results in lawful plunder{6} no matter how you slice it of course. But that is another subject beyond the intentions of this writing to deal with so onto how such a geopolitical paradigm shift affected Catholics in the public square.

The aforementioned geopolitical paradigm shift put not a few Catholics into a serious quandry of sorts because historically more of them had been Democrats than Republicans. By the time Ronald Reagan ran for president, the cultural divide between the parties was evident and many former Democrats (including Catholic Democrats) found themselves without a home in their former party. They were also (mostly out of a kind of reactionary impulse) ill at ease with the Republicans but since President Reagan's moral approach to issues meshed quite nicely with theirs, it made the situation easier than it otherwise might have been.{7}

Now is not the time to note that the elder Bush's election was wrongly perceived as a continuation of Reagan's governing principles by many of the same people who put Reagan into office in 1980. Be that as it may, at least in Bush's case, his moral stance on certain key issues (such as abortion and euthanasia) once again put the orthodox Catholic community at ease to a certain extent. Things would change with the election of Bill Clinton but before getting to that point, another significant development took place prior to 1992 and that was a rebirth of sorts of Catholic apologetics.

Catholic apologetics as many are aware was a slow process in recovering in the wake of the Second Vatican Council where for more reasons than I care to note here "apologetics" was made into a bad word of sorts. It was made to appear too confrontational in an era of "dialogue"{8} where oftentimes it was considered better to not say anything that could be construed as offensive than to enunciate principles of any kind whatever the tonality used in doing so. To say that during the 1970's it was easier to find a sasquatch than a Catholic apologist is probably not much of an exaggeration; however, by the 1980's a revival of sorts was underway spearheaded to some extent by Karl Keating and Catholic Answers. As Karl Keating's apostolate was primarily aimed at Fundamentalist Protestants, it solidified to some extent in the minds of many Catholics a narrow focus that was to a certain extent lacking in the aforementioned general norms of theological interpretation.

Now generally speaking, these are not elements that come into play when dealing with boilerplate matters of doctrine which is what apologists generally discuss anyway. However, with matters where reason and logic are required to form informed judgments in the absence of solid points of reference by the Catholic Church, there has long been a problem amongst those who call themselves "apologists" though it was not as evident explicitly for reasons I will now explain. The intention on the part of these sorts was (and is) often good: they see a widespread neglect or outright shunning of doctrinal positions by professing Catholics and thus they strive to make the Church's teachings better known. The problem of course is in confusing matters of doctrine with matters which fall into the area of seeking to apply abstract theoretical principles to concrete situations in reality. A more technical term to explain this problem is ignorance of what are called general norms of theological interpretation. Keep this problem in mind as it will surface again as we move along in this timeline of events.

If the reader remembers that the latter revival took place under the administrations of Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush, it will help since those two presidents in many respects enunciated Catholic moral principles. Moving onto the administration of Bill Clinton, that would change in a dramatic fashion for under eight years of Clinton's administration, Catholic apologists had a target of sorts other than the individual battles within the larger culture war in general. They now had a president that embodied pretty much everything that was the ethical antithesis of what they believed. The aforementioned lack of proper discernment of general norms of theological interpretation was a problem as it always is but it became more of an issue with the greater popularity of apologetics amongst Catholics in the 1990's that was to a good extent ushered in with the technological revolution and the broadening arena of ideas. Nonetheless, with Clinton and a Democratic Party of increasing activist evil, opposition to them was easy from a principled standpoint at the very least. All of that changed with the election of George W. Bush in 2000 and with the single biggest turning point for apologetics in general: 9/11.

In George W. Bush, once again there was a president who was in many ways ethically aligned with Catholic moral principles. However, there was discernible crack of sorts which did not surface under the previous Republican administrations. The first clear sign that George W. Bush would not be a great president was his position on stem cell research in mid 2001. I noted this at the time writing an e-zine article on the matter where I noted (among other things) the following words:

Up until this morning, I thought President George Bush was going a great job as president. How much of that was due to a contrast with the former president I am not sure but I saw nothing that would detract from the starting grade of A that every president deserves to have when he starts his presidency...

The trap of improper compromise differs from proper compromise, which is an approach taken to get half a loaf rather then none at all. The latter is used by those who are not in power or who do not have the power to get all of what they are seeking at the present time. (An example would be voting for a bill that restricted abortions Â? evil is thereby reduced Â? versus the purist who would vote against anything that is less than their ultimate agenda.) Unacceptable is the policy that insists on all or nothing when it comes to limiting evil. Politicians who are capable of realistically achieving their entire agenda improperly use this policy of half a loaf. When applied to areas that are either evil in and of themselves or which are conducive to opening or expanding a realm of greater evil, they move into the forefront of the improper compromise. Our president this morning made an improper compromise. [I. Shawn McElhinney: Excerpt from Opening Pandora's Box, Yet Again (circa August 2001)]

Within a month of the writing of those words, the Trade Towers were flattened and we were in the midst of what has been accurately called The War on Terror. The above event in retrospect was the start of an obvious decline in Catholic apologetics -a circumstance that has been assisted in some respects by a widening Internet presence where for the first time, ideas outside of the presumed groupthink could be considered by those who are capable of utilizing the God-given tools of reason and logic. At that point, it became more and more common to see on issues where there is a permitted difference of opinion an increasing dogmatism of private opinions by those who call themselves "apologists." This increasing dogmatism has been met by an obvious lacuna in charity by not a few of those same individuals (be they professionals or amateurs).

With the war on terror, we have several issues where there is no magisterial position and therefore no required assent to one particular application of Catholic principles over another one -though there are (of course) certain basic principles to which all Catholics are expected to accept. The apologists often get the basic principles right but then presume that only certain curial applications of them (or certain applications by other clerical sorts) is THE Catholic position. This is where their previous lack of proper theological fortification is to their detriment. However, there are other factors to consider as well.

It is perhaps not a coincidence that so many of these apologists who end up going astray as prisoners of their own ego are either converts to the Catholic Church or are reverts. In other words, they are people who while they come into the fold, they do not possess (or labour to acquire) a properly Catholic mindset. The latter is far less monolithic than most people would presume after all. When you throw in that many were former Fundamentalists, it is not a stretch to presume that these people traded one set of dogmas for another while never changing their underlying operative presuppositions. If one adds to this the general eroding of abilities to utilize reason and logic which we see in society at large, this complicates matters further. To summarize the problem in the words of the late Michael J. Mentzer (RIP):

[W]e are living in a new Dark Ages, we really are. Most people have no concept of logic and how to use it. How to use their intellectual faculties to distinguish between truth and falsehood. Most people are intellectually dependent. [Mike Mentzer (circa 1993) as excerpted from Rerum Novarum (circa February 12, 2006)]

Catholic apologists are oftentimes intellectually dependent. I say this because they demonstrate a serious lacuna in their ability to utilize the thinking mechanism. Their intellectual dependence is on what the Catholic Church's magisterium{9} says on issues. Where this authority speaks with a clear voice, they can wade their way into issues of discussion with a degree of comfort. However, where this authority does not speak{10}, they are at a loss of what to do. This is where they flail around like a drowning man seeking to find anything they can remotely ascribe to a magisterial statement on the issue in question as their way of coping with a lack of such guidance which they so evidently need.

For it is easy to argue a position where there are definite guidelines of sorts and Catholic doctrine does provide certain principles which are able to be grasped. The problem is the areas where there is not the same authoritative guidance. Finding themselves unable to argue a position on the grounds of what is reasonable and what is logical{11}, they seek to manufacture an intervention by magisterial authority in the hopes of avoiding accountability for the grey matter between their ears. This approach is (of course) not a properly Catholic one and any hope of convincing non-Catholics that their position is the correct one evaporates like dew on a hot summer morning. The end result is various apologists claiming magisterial sanction for certain doctrinal applications and parroting sections of the catechism where general principles are espoused as if they are one and the same. Then, when you point out to these "apologists" that they are not defining their terms either at all or at least not correctly, the response in return is either hostile shrieking, insults, or continued repetition of the same flawed approaches as before as if such repetition constitutes a valid argument. From there, a disintegration of any genuine dialogue occurs (if one existed to begin with) and the end result is hardly edifying in any way to those who are casually observing what is going on--let alone to those who are involved in the disputation as active (or passive) participants.

Anyway, that is what we have seen occurring in recent years in the Catholic apologetics movement with the old apologetics hegemony breaking down and the previously unchallenged bigwigs not being properly equipped to provide a coherent and persuasive voice in the arena of ideas viz. application of principles in the public square. But before this paper is wrapped up, there are other aspects of this that needs to be touched on and one of those is naming some names.

I should note before this is done that it is my usual instinct to focus on issues and avoid personalities; however, since doing that in this case would allow too many people to presume that they are innocent of what I am outlining above, three names will be mentioned of Catholics with a reasonable web presence. Though many more could be named than three, I will settle at this time for naming David Armstrong, Mark Shea, and Stephen Hand. I like all three of them personally -particularly Mark. Nonetheless, all three of them evince a serious lack of properly understanding general norms of theological interpretation -particularly on what is and is not magisterial teaching. For this reason, on certain pet issues of theirs which fall under the latter classification, they show an incapability (or unwillingness) to engage in authentic dialogue. (Dialogue being a discipline in itself: some principles of which I have outlined before on more than one occasion including HERE and HERE.)

For the above reason, it logically goes without saying that all three of them are incapable of understanding the kinds of intricacies that go into a subject such as the atomic bombings from 1945. David was soundly confuted on this issue several times and in meticulous detail at that. (Most recently in January of this year.) Mark Shea has likewise showed some key misunderstandings on his part to certain elements that go into the mix of properly understanding that issue earlier this month along with the subjects of economics, torture{12}, and just war. As for Stephen Hand, he has gone over the edge on more issues than can be casually listed{13} but as both David and Mark have shown a much greater capability of overall discernment than Stephen has, I need not go into Stephen's problems with these issues along with other factors that appear to affect his operative presuppositions on a whole host of issues.{14} But enough on naming names for now.

A persuasive argument could be made that the persons referred to above lack not only a solid foundation in utilizing reason and logic apart from their dependence on the Catholic magisterium{15} but also a proper spiritual disposition which would serve to humble them adequately. However, to write on that subject{16} would be to make this paper longer than it is already so that will be left for possible future projects either by this writer or by others as the circumstances may require.

In summary, there discernible trajectory which can be outlined as to why Catholic apologists in greater numbers have gone batty in the past few years -some altogether and others on certain pet peripheral issues of theirs. The turning point seems to have been September 11, 2001 and hopefully what has been written here{17} will be given a greater consideration. For this is something that has only gotten worse in recent years and if it is not addressed by those whom it infects, the situation will continue to worsen. And while more names could be mentioned than those which were mentioned, let the above examples (both in my paper as well as Greg Mockeridge's) suffice to give everyone{18} reason for pause and reflection on how they go about conducting themselves when advancing arguments in the arena of ideas.

Notes:

{1} And yes, apologetics is a discipline which has value in and of itself. As far as the amateur apologist, they may write an occasional piece for a journal or publication for which they are paid but the compensation they are paid plays such a miniscule part of their income that it is not worth considering. The amateur could drop such projects tomorrow and have discernible difference in their lifestyle in other words whereas the professional could not without having to find something else to fill the lacuna that would exist in such a situation.

{2} I make the delineation as I do because those who would be classified as professionals have in my mind a much greater responsibility than those who would be classified as amateurs.

{3} A good college education is usually more of time management, not really how smart you are. [Excerpt from Rerum Novarum (circa March 16, 2006)]

To give credit where credit is due, Apolonio Latar III was the author of the above observation.

{4} After all, who would want to have someone without medical certification operate on them??? Or who would represent themselves in court if they have no legal training whatsoever??? It is even wise for experienced attorneys to have an attorney in court representing them for as Mark Twain once said "a lawyer who represents himself in court has a fool for a client."

{5} To quote the late great Mike Mentzer.

{6} [W]e have two political parties promoting the concept of socialistic legal plunder and being essentially two wings of the same bird of prey. It does not matter that one party campaigns on the pledge of plundering us less and one campaigns on the pledge of plundering us more. Legal plunder is an abomination and is contrary to the very intention of the United States Constitution. When you throw in an assortment of judicial whores and termites not to mention politically motivated whores and termites, it looks increasingly as if we are going to have to do a clean-sweep of this noxious evil if we are to ever rid ourselves of it. [Excerpt from Rerum Novarum (circa June 20, 2005)]

{7} "Blue Dog Democrats" like my late father (God rest his soul) played a significant role in Reagan's two landslide elections and the landslide election of George H. W. Bush. (My fathers later shunning the Democrat label altogether and joining his formerly Republican son as an Independent notwithstanding.)

{8} I put the word dialogue in quotes because what was not infrequently passed off as "dialogue" was an inauthentic sham of the real thing. I have written on the subject of dialogue and its intricacies before in a theological context and am not about to repeat myself here except to say that the same underlying principles also apply in philosophical, sociological, and of course geopolitical contexts as well.

{9} This word for those who do not know means essentially "teaching authority."

{10} To use theological terminology, they confuse what is of required assent from what is not: a topic beyond the scope of this brief paper to deal with but it bears noting in brief here at the very least. And on not a few issues (including most issues of a geopolitical nature) there is no such clear voice to be found. At most what is uttered in a magisterial voice (and of required assent) is general principles which Catholics are supposed to bear in mind as they seek applications of those principles to current events and circumstances.

{11} This is not the only way to approach an issue of course; however, it bears noting that respect for the rational faculties (and opposition to those who would in any way belittle them) is at the very root of many interventions by the Catholic magisterium throughout the centuries.

{12} [W]atch those who are incapable of giving a reasonable working definition of "rights" to claim that there is one. Definitions are the tools of thought and frankly, those who are not willing to define their terms do not deserve to be taken seriously...whether they are misappropriating the term "rights", "neo cons", or whatever. [Excerpt from Rerum Novarum (circa December 26, 2005) as quoted in a Rerum Novarum post (circa July 3, 2006)]

As I noted when writing on the Eric Johnson/Mark Shea squabble earlier this month (after reiterating the above passage):

See footnote three and the quote from December of 2005. (One of the parties I had in mind when originally writing that passage was Mark Shea and the subject involved was the one I referred to back on July 3rd of this year.) [Excerpt from Rerum Novarum (circa July 17, 2006)]

A perusal of the thread from July 3rd will see that part of it pertained to the subject of Mark's so-called "torture poll."

{13} I did note in October of 2005 four points where Stephen was challenged to put up or shut up: thus far he has done neither but that does not surprise me unfortunately.

{14} Mr. Hand was one of the parties I had in mind when sketching out on my notepad what became a "points to ponder" posting on the many masks of modern marxism. The part that reads not a few varieties of so-called "social justice" and so-called "peacemaking" was written with Mr. Hand specifically in mind. [Excerpt from Rerum Novarum (circa September 22, 2005)]

{15} Now is not the time to go into the assent Catholics are supposed to give to magisterial teaching except (of course) to remind the reader that (i) discerning what is and is not magisterial is a key flaw in these people's intellectual slaw and (ii) their desperate attempts to make magisterial what is not shows a lack of intellectual fortitude on their part. And for those who would presume to be called "apologists", it is also dishonest because they are supposed to defend and explain what the Church teaches not to try and dress up their opinions as such in an attempt to stifle legitimate (and necessary) disputation on issues where the magisterium has not spoken.

{16} If the latter was properly tended to, it would make them far less inclined to charge headlong into discussing subjects about which they know so little.

{17} Along with what Greg Mockeridge has written recently and what others such as Greg Krehbiel in past years have done. (The latter's essay for This Rock in early 2001 made many points that I concurred with then and that has not changed over time in the slightest.)

{18} As I noted at the beginning of this writing, this principle also can be applied to anyone who is intellectually dependent upon another entity to be able to function.

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Taking Dale Vree and Certain Catholic Figures Who Defend Him On a Much Needed Trip to the Woodshed:
(Guest Editorial by Greg Mockeridge)

[Editor's Note: I will be supplying a writing of my own to supplement and (in some respects) take a different approach to the subject matter Greg will talk about in this writing. Nonetheless, at the end of this piece I will include some threads where in some form or another these subjects were discussed either explicitly or tacitly at this humble weblog in the past six months to a year.

In the meantime, because there is a revolving cast of characters in the text below, it seems appropriate to note them by colour at this time. Greg's words will be in regular blog font and any sources he cites other than the words of others will be in darkblue font. Dale Vree's words will be in black font and Karl Keating's will be in fire coloured font. Furthermore, Dr. Philip Blosser's words will be in green font, Rosemarie's will be in steel blue font, and Dr. Ed Peters' words will be in a magenta colouring. Without further ado, here goes...]

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The article "Sock It To Us! Fling Us Into That Brier Patch" that appeared the New Oxord Notes portion of the New Oxford Review, whining about Pete Vere's rather terse criticism of their "critique" of a Michael O' Brien article about the tyrannical foothold militant homosexual activists have gained up in Canada with the passage of C-250 (legislation that makes any public criticism of the homosexual lifestyle a hate crime, punishable by jail time) is a recent example of the descent into the abyss of the asinine by Dale Vree of the New Oxford Review over the last couple of years.

Vree laments:

On Vere's Internet blog, The Lidless Eye Inquisition (Feb. 16 and 17), he socks it to the NOR because of our critique of Michael O'Brien of Canada. O'Brien wrote an article in another magazine where, according to Vere, he "warned [that] the homosexual agenda was leading to a new totalitarianism in Canada." Vere says, "the folks at NOR made use of their first ammendment [sic] rights to attack O'Brien and other Catholics from Canada for standing up to the gay agenda." In our February 2006 issue, we published a long article revealing "The Truth About the Homosexual Rights Movement," and as a result, we've been directly threatened by a homosexual. No First Amendment rights will protect us from violence.

Now I'm not saying that criticism of the methodology Pete employed in his criticism of Dale is off limits. In fact, I told Pete, in private correspondance, that some of the criticisms of the way he went after Vree had some merit. I think he was a bit heavy-handed with the namecalling and should have focused more on the substance (or should I say lack thereof) of Vree's arguments. For one thing, it gave Dale a big enough rabbit hole to jump down to avoid the substance of Pete's criticisms.

Since Mr. O'Brien's forte as a writer is fiction…apocalyptic fiction that is, I was more than willing to take that into account and overlook any literary exaggerations common to that genre. But after reading the article, I saw no need to grant such latitude. O'Brien's characterization of the situation in Canada is spot-on accurate and his language more than appropriate.

But Dale Vree disagrees:

Michael O'Brien is an accomplished Catholic novelist. His strength is fiction. In The Catholic World Report (April), he ventures into nonfiction, specifically political science, and what he writes turns out to be fiction as well.

And:

This is pure hysteria, and is so reminiscent of the New Left in the late 1960s and early 1970s, which claimed that Nixon was Hitler and America is Amerikkka.

Agreeing with Vree, Karl Keating says:

I thought Michael O'Brien's essay was well composed, but Dale Vree happened to be right in saying that O'Brien overstretched in using "totalitarian" to describe the trend of the present situation in Canada. That word has a particular, narrow meaning, and I think O'Brien used it unwisely.

If Messrs Vree and Keating think O'Brien is hyperventilating, consistency would demand that they hand out the paper bags to Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI as well. The former says:

As history demonstrates, a democracy without values easily turns into open or thinly disguised totalitarianism" (Veritatis Splendor #101)

In his homily at the opening mass of the Conclave that elected him pope, the former Cardinal Ratzinger made this well-known and oft repeated statement:

"We are building a dictatorship of relativism that does not recognize anything as definitive and whose ultimate goal consists solely of one's own ego and desires."

O'Brien's article accurately (and without hysteria I might add) underscores how this "thinly disguised totalitarianism" and "dictatorship of relativism" has concretely taken shape in Canadian society and Canadian laws.

Moreover, I would like to ask both Keating and Vree if "a printing company that declined to print Toronto's annual gay pride day literature was sued under the human rights law, fined heavily, and forced to print the material or close their business" doesn't smack of totalitarianist tactics or militant homosexuals, buoyed by the positions taken by the Canadian legislature, behaving like "Nazi hooligans" in their in protesting outside Archbishop Adam Exner's Episcopal residence in Vancouver because His Excellency "withdrew his Catholic schools from a bank due to their promotion of homosexuality" doesn't contain a " whiff of Germany in the early 1930's" then what the hell does?

Vree quotes Vere stating (correctly I would say) that "New Oxford Review are useful idiots of the gay agenda." In Vree's defense, the Pertinacious Papist (Dr. Phil Blosser) says "That NOR is 'useful idiots of the gay agenda'...is utterly absurd.... Nobody in his right mind who has read such essays [against homosexuality in the NOR] can see such statements as those above [Vere's statements] as anything but absurd."

Dr. Blosser's remark shows that he is either:(a) clueless as to what the term "useful idiot" means , (b) clueless as to the strategy of homosexual advocacy groups and how Vree's statements play into it, or (c) clueless about both. Dale's wanton use of vulgar epithets like "fags" and "rump rangers" (neither of which, especially the latter, have any place in public Catholic discourse) make it much easier for gay activists to portray all of us who oppose societal validation of the homosexual lifestyle as "God hates fags"-chanting Fred Phelps wannabes. I fail to see how this helps to put the proper (and I think badly needed) stigma on homosexual behavior. Then he launches an attack on Michael O'Brien who (at the risk of jail time) courageously speaks out against the Canadian government's attempt to force the gay agenda on the Canadian public by way of legislative fiat. The coupling of these two facts make clear that idiots for the gay agenda don't come any more useful than Dale Vree.

If one reads the article written by O'Brien and then reads what Vree, Keating, and Blosser have said about it, he will see that the former makes an airtight case, replete with examples, to justify the use of his terminology, while the latters demonstrate they know not what they are talking about.

Just so no one misunderstands me, I am in no way saying that constructive criticism of O'Brien's article is off limits. But Vree's BS knee jerk drivel (as well as Keating's and Blosser's agreement with it) misses the mark of constructive criticism by such a long shot it would not have been affected if they had tried to hit it with an atom bomb.

But what I find more disturbing than Vree's drivel is the eagerness employed by prominent Catholic apologist Karl Keating, Catholic philosopher and author Dr. Phil Blosser, and prominent canonist Dr. Ed Peters circling the wagons in Vree's defense. This is especially true when we consider those whom Vree has unfairly attacked. O'Brien and Vere are not the only Catholics who are the targets of Vree's vitriol. Popular scripture scholar and author Dr. Scott Hahn, John Paul II biographer George Weigel, and even Pope Benedict XVI himself come under fire from the NOR editor.

One would think that the prominent Catholic personages, especially the ones listed above, would practice fraternal correction with Mr. Vree. The fact of the absence of such badly needed correction, to say nothing of the defense of such excesses, is a gravely disturbing one.

In the interests of full disclosure, I must point out that Keating does say that he "sometimes disapprove[s] of the way Vree writes (and several times...[has] told him so privately, on the phone)". But as we will see in the paragraph after the next, Karl is clearly talking out of both sides of his mouth.

We have already seen Keating and Blosser embarrass themselves with their defense of Vree's nonsensical attack on O'Brien. But it gets even better---or worse depending on how you look at it.

For starters, we have Dr. Blosser happily informing his readers of the "You didn't have to defend him like you did, but you did, but you did (enter ZZ Top slide and return guitar riff here) and I thank you" phone call from Karl Keating complete with nauseating platitudes about how nice of a guy Vree is.

As we will see when we look at Dr. Phil's apologia pro Dale Vree, he got Mr. Keating's gratitude on the cheap. Dr. Blosser masterfully demonstrates that a Ph.D. in philosophy doesn't guarantee sound argumentation...or intellectual honesty for that matter.

His main post defending Vree was entitled Dale Vree, God's Faithful Pit Bull: Show Some Respect! First of all, for Phil Blosser to demand that people show respect for Dale Vree while not demanding that Vree do the same in light of his vicious treatment of good Catholics is beyond insulting.

Secondly, some "pit bull" this Dale Vree is! He yelps like a whiny poodle when Pete Vere gives him a dose of his own medicine.

He defends Vree's treatment of Dr. Scott Hahn:

Scott Hahn is a very dear personal friend of mine, and I generally repose a near absolute trust in his theological judgments. Whatever may be said of his views concerning the Holy Spirit, however, the broadside derisive dismissal of NOR's discussion of Hahn's Pneumatology represented by such witless folderol is simply embarrassing, for NOR published no such nonsense as this. In fact Karl Keating, one of NOR's contributing editors, argues on Shea's blog that even if Vree's editorials were to be criticized as hyperbolic, the same charge could not be leveled against articles such as the one that appeared in the June 2004 issue entitled "Scott Hahn's Novelties," by Edward O'Neill. Keating writes: "I read that article more than once and saw no hyperbolic language or uncharity in it. It was a low-key look at some of the positions Scott has taken (some of which I hadn't been aware of), and I thought it brought up fair questions." (Source) I read the same article and drew much the same conclusion myself. Most of the emotional rants against the NOR that I have seen have not been based on first-hand acquaintance the journal, but with secondhand hype and balderdash.

Dr. Blosser's preface "Scott Hahn is a very dear personal friend of mine…" strikes me as reminiscent of what Dan Rather said to Bernard Goldberg before Mr. Rather went ballistic over the Wall Street Journal Op-Ed Goldberg wrote about liberal media bias, "Bernie, we were friends yesterday, we're friends today, and we'll be friends tomorrow." Well, just as Bernie got "Mugged by the Dan"(Bias pp.33-34), Dr. Scott Hahn (along with George Weigel) got flayed by the Phil in the interests of protecting Dale Vree.

Dr. Blosser portrays NOR's criticisms of Dr. Hahn's views regarding the "femininity" of the Holy Spirit as they though are constructive and when they are nothing of the sort. Assuming, for the sake of argument, that Ed O'Neill's article is as Karl Keating says, "low-key look at some of the positions Scott has taken…" and "brought up fair questions", it does not even come close to giving the full picture as to NOR's treatment of Hahn. To wit:

In our New Oxford Note "Burn, Baby, Burn!" (Sept. 2002), we took on the highly esteemed Dr. Scott Hahn for saying outrageous and scandalous things. We noted: "Feminist theologians and their Queer cheerleaders have been campaigning for a feminine Holy Spirit for decades. How odd — how depressing, actually — to see Dr. Hahn jump on the bandwagon."

Does Phil Blosser consider this "low key" and "fair"? Or is he unaware of this article or the "Burn Baby Burn" article? This doesn't seem to be the case since, as Dr. Blosser makes clear, he is very familiar with the NOR and would, therefore, be aware of them. If he is not, he is not as familiar with NOR as he claims. So he is either deliberately, by way of omission, not giving his readers sufficient information as to NOR's characterization of Hahn's views or he is not sufficiently familiar with them to mount a credible defense of them. Either way, it seems clear that he is being less than honest with his reader.

I find Dr. Blosser's characterization of the comments made at Mark Shea's blog as "witless folderol"to be…well…witless folderol. Since comments boxes on weblogs are venues given more to sound byte-type off-the-cuff remarks instead of lengthy explanation or arguments supporting a position, as Dr. Blosser seems to demand, one should not expect such. That being said, I thought that the remarks made regarding Vree's criticisms of Dr. Hahn generally accurate. I also think Blosser is less than honest in his portrayal of the comments box statements. For instance, he totally avoids the trenchant (and very relevant) explanation Rosemarie gives of Hahn's position vs. Vree's criticisms:

Having studied "Christian feminism," I'd hardly call Scott Hahn's speculation on the Holy Ghost "feminism." I read that controversial passage in First Comes Love; Hahn explicitly denies that the Third Person of the Trinity is essentially "feminine" and states outright that we cannot call God "Mother." That would annoy any "Christian feminist."Hahn basically cites certain Christian sources who spoke of the Holy Spirit in maternal terms over the centuries (he avoids heretical sources like Gnosticism). He then speculates that, since a mother is the "bond of love" in a human family and the Spirit is the "bond of love" in the heavenly family that is the Church, then perhaps the Spirit plays a "mother-like" role in our heavenly family. Since He also has a special bond with Blessed Mother and Holy Mother Church (the Spirit is "soul of the Church"), Hahn speculates that the Spirit's "mother-like" role may be somehow related to the Motherhood of Mary and the Church.

And:

Here's an example of how Dale Vree completely misconstrues Scott Hahn's argument. In his "Burn, Baby, Burn" Newsnotes he writes the following:"Dr. Hahn goes so far as to say the Holy Spirit is "bridal" and that "Mary's maternity is mystically one with that of…the Spirit." The imagery here is blatantly and scandalously lesbian."Here, Vree gives readers the false impression that Scott is saying that the Holy Spirit is the "bride" of Mary. Nothing could be further from the truth! He has taken Hahn's statements grossly out of context. On page 135 of First Comes Love, Hahn writes:"As the Father made Eve from the rib of Adam, so Methodius called the Holy Spirit 'the rib of the Word' - the uncreated principle of maternity".This comment from St. Methodius relates to the mystery of the Church as Bride of Christ. As Eve was taken from Adam's side, so the Church was born from the New Adam's pierced side on the Cross. St. Methodius represented the Spirit as coming forth from Christ's side on the Cross as well.What Scott Hahn is saying is: since the Holy Spirit is the Soul of the Church, and the Church is the Bride of Christ, in some mysterious sense the Spirit may be said to have a "bridal" relationship to the Word by means of the Church, the Bride of Christ. He relates this to Methodius' statement that the Holy Ghost is "the rib of the Word."He is NOT saying that the Spirit is Mary's bride, but that the Spirit is the "Soul" of Christ's Bride! This is a further example of how Vree misrepresents Scott Hahn's argument, making it seem he said something which he did not in fact say!The statement "Mary's maternity is mystically one with that of the Spirit" does not indicate lesbianism, either. It simply means that, since the Holy Spirit has a close bond with Our Lady (as St. Maximilian Kolbe taught), Mary's motherly love for Jesus and for us is imbued with the Holy Spirit, Whom Fr. Manteau-Bonamy called "the maternal love" of God the Father for the Son.It does not mean that the Holy Spirit is a "mother of Jesus" in addition to Mary. Scott Hahn makes no such argument. When you really understand what he is saying, you'll see there is no lesbianism there at all.Vree 's malfunction is in part due to his erroneous idea that the Holy Ghost played a "sexual" role in the Incarnation. That is why he reads Hahn's work and thinks, "Lesbianism!!!" He's reading it through the lens of his own misunderstanding of the Spirit's role in the Incarnation, which was not a paternal -or maternal- role at all!

Lest anyone think Rosemarie is simply carrying the water for Dr. Hahn, she goes on to say:

Scott Hahn may be right, he may be wrong, and one can certain question whether that book, intended for popular consumption, was really the best place to engage in such nuanced theological speculation. But he did not deserve to be slammed with feminist/pro-gay marriage libel because of it.

Amen Rosemarie. Who's operating from "hearsay" and "second hand" information? Dale Vree and Phil Blosser, not Rosemarie or anyone else in the comments box.

Dale Vree appears to have a serious axe…more like a guillotine…to grind against Pope John Paul II biographer George Weigel. He calls Weigel George "Humpty Dumpty Weigel" and characterizes his book The Cube and the Cathedral as "rhetorical witchcraft". If Dr. Blosser is so damned adamant about Vree's critics showing him respect why doesn't he demand that Vree show respect for Weigel? In fact, he defends Vree:

But the real issue here is the definition of "freedom" and whether Vree misinterpreted Weigel. The answer, I contend, is quite simple: Vree turns out to be right here, and it is Weigel who is fudging. Let me explain. In his original article, ( "A Nation Defining Election", The Tidings, April 2004), Weigel is concerned to distinguish two senses of the word "freedom": (1) freedom in the sense of doing things "my way"; and (2) freedom in the sense "doing the right thing for the right reasons in the right way, as a matter of habit (which is another name for 'virtue)." There is nothing new about this distinction. Out of the multifarious senses of "freedom" one might distinguish (here Mortimer Adler's Freedom: A Study of the Development of the Concept in the English and American Traditions of Philosophy is probably definitive), Weigel has singled out two -- the former, a sense with modern associations stemming from the Enlightenment and Kant's notion of the autonomous executive will ("doing what I want") -- and the latter, a sense with classical associations stemming from the Greek, or more specifically, Aristotelian ideals of virtue ("doing what I should," or "acting in accordance with the inner telos of my true nature"). The latter is also susceptible of overlays of biblical understandings ("the Truth shall set you free") and Thomistic and Lockean natural law ("freedom is discerned through the naturalis ratio") and their respective modes of apprehending the Good.Now it is true, of course, as the Catholic Encyclopedia, and Weigel, and Aristotle and all of classical thought are agreed, that 'virtue' is a kind of 'habit.' Just as by repeatedly smoking cigarettes, one acquires the habit of smoking, so by repeatedly performing acts of moral goodness (like telling the truth) or evil (like telling lies), one acquires moral habits (virtues such as truthfulness, or vices, such as untrustworthiness). This much is a given.But now, when Weigel writes in his letter to NOR: "I have never written that 'freedom' is 'another name for virtue,'" and that what he had originally written was that "'habit' is 'another name for virtue,'" this may be true; but it is also beside the point and misleading. For the question is not whether "freedom" is "another name for virtue" -- which it isn't -- but whether it is conceptually linked with virtue in Weigel's second sense of "freedom," which it essentially and ineluctably is. Therefore it seems to me that Weigel is being not a trifle disingenuous here, probably still smarting from Vree's treatment of him in his Sept. 2004 New Oxford Note ("George 'Humpty Dumpty' Weigel") to which he obviously took strong exception. Vree's answer to Weigel sounds flippant, but it would be unwise to dismiss it precipitously as conceptually mistaken on that account, because it's not. Vree wrote:

What's not to understand? What you wrote is crystal clear: Freedom is habit is virtue. Therefore, freedom is virtue. Sorry, but there's no "plausible deniability" here. You can't wiggle out of it. You said it, and you can't pass the buck on to Fr. Pinckaers.

It's true that the terms and concepts of "freedom" and "virtue" are not identical. But in Weigel's second definition of freedom, he defines freedom in the sense of a habit of virtue; hence, Vree is entirely within his epistemic rights in concluding that, for purposes of that definition, freedom = habit = virtue. Thus Vree is the one who's got his philosophy right here, no matter how flippant he may sound, whereas it's Weigel who is blowing smoke and confusing the issue, no matter how diplomatic and scholarly he may sound. What's Weigel up to? Why would he do such a thing? Why would someone who is the object of sharp criticism react in this way? To distance himself from his critic? To give the appearance of having bested his critic in any way possible? You tell me.

Even if we were to concede some of Vree's portrayals of Weigel's definition of freedom had any merit (or that Vree is within his "epistemic rights"), Dr. Blosser would have to acknowledge that Vree's attack on Weigel was way over the top. Given the insulting tone Vree employs in his "critique" of Weigel, I think Weigel's "snippety" response was well justified.

Anyone with any familiarity with NOR knows, contrary to what Dr. Blosser claims, what is really at issue here is that Vree's personal animus against Weigel and the rest of the Catholic "neo-con" establishment over issues like the war in Iraq is what fuels his vitriolic criticism of Weigel's definition of freedom. And since Vree knows he cannot effectively take on Weigel or any of the other dreaded "neo-cons" in arena of ideas on this issue, he has to divert attention from that fact by starting a tempest in a teacup, pole-vaulting over the mouse turds of Weigel's minor epistemological errors (real or perceived) on the nature of freedom. Anyone who actually Weigel's article knows what he is talking about and just how petty Vree is being.

I find it disturbing, to say the least, for Blosser to not only refuse to hold Dale Vree accountable for conduct that is clearly unbecoming of an editor of a Catholic periodical, but hold Vree is high regard: "With very few and comparatively minor exceptions -- generally constituting, at worst, indiscretions of tact -- my judgment is that Vree's editorial performance has been utterly irreproachable."

Let's take a look at a few more examples of Dale Vree's "utterly irreproachable" editorial performance, shall we?

To wit:

In an unjust war -- which is what the Catholic Church said the war on Iraq is -- killing soldiers, killing civilians who get in the way of military targets, and killing civilians on purpose are all murder. (And just what is the difference between terrorism and murder in warfare?) (emphasis added)

Now, Mr. Vree should know that when he says the "Catholic Church" said the war in Iraq is unjust that is ascribing magisterial authority to the opposition to the war of Pope John Paul II and then Cardinal Ratzinger despite the latter explicitly stating otherwise on two separate occasions:

Not all moral issues have the same moral weight as abortion and euthanasia. For example, if a Catholic were to be at odds with the Holy Father on the application of capital punishment or on the decision to wage war, he would not for that reason be considered unworthy to present himself to receive Holy Communion. While the Church exhorts civil authorities to seek peace, not war, and to exercise discretion and mercy in imposing punishment on criminals, it may still be permissible to take up arms to repel an aggressor or to have recourse to capital punishment. There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia. (Worthiness to Receive Holy Communion — General Principles #3 with emphasis added)

Furthermore, the former Cardinal made clear that political matters (under which category the war in Iraq qualifies) are "not within his competence" and are "not a matter of Catholic doctrine":

"Of course, [The Pope] did not impose this position as a doctrine of the Church but as the appeal of a conscience enlightened by faith. The Holy Father's judgment is also convincing from the rational point of view: There were not sufficient reasons to unleash a war against Iraq." (Cardinal Ratzinger interview with Zenit News in May 2, 2003)

Vree has, recently, made his belief regarding the magisterial status of Vatican opposition to the war in Iraq even more clear:

So all in all, opposition to the war on Iraq can be considered a teaching of the Ordinary Magisterium, that is, not infallible. The moral teachings of the Ordinary Magisterium are to be given "loyal submission of the will and intellect" (Vatican II's Lumen Gentium, #25). This should be reason enough for loyal Catholics to oppose the war on Iraq.

But is this teaching infallible? Stick with us, for in a roundabout way, the condemnation of the invasion of Iraq is infallible. (emphasis added)

If we are to follow Vree's logic here, Cardinal Ratzinger, by saying that Vatican opposition of the war in Iraq is not part of Catholic doctrine, is guilty of the same kind of Mater, sí; Magístra no refusal to submit to the Ordinary Magisterium viz. Lumen Gentium 25, as the peo-war "neo-cons".

In the interests of full disclosure, I have to admit that the latter Vree quote came some time after Dr. Blosser's defense. However, as the first quote indicates, the trajectory towards the latter was rather clear. Moreover, Dr. Blosser, I am sure, is well aware of the second quote and has yet to raise any objections to it. Considering Dr. Blosser's willingness to go to pains to defend Mr. Vree in the past and the heterdox nature of Vree's position as stated in the latter quote, I think Dr. Blosser ought to at least make clear that he objects to it.

Now enter in canonist Dr. Ed Peters. He weighs in on the Contra Dale Vree affair in his guest blogger post of February 20th of this year on Jimmy Akin's blog. I would like to say that his approach was more reasoned than that of Karl Keating and Dr. Phil Blosser, but it wasn't. He begins with:

"Lately it seems that ripping Dale Vree and the New Oxford Review has become many people's favorite past time."

Yeah, it's because Dale deserves the "ripping" he has been getting.

"Of course, Vree is no stranger to intellectual street-fighting, so knocking NOR is nothing new. But to this observer, the pile-on looks like it's getting out of hand."

Given the way Vree whines when he gets his comeuppance, he isn't much of a streetfighter. Seeing as how Dr. Peters seems to express no concern over what caused the "pile-on" to begin with, namely Vree's beyond-the-pale vitriol, "this observer" isn't all that observant.

"For example, just recently, Pete Vere, an early-30s, fairly well-known, orthodox Catholic blogger from Canada, thrice taunted Dale Vree (who is twice Vere's age) for virtually being at death's door and therefore practically out of time to repent of his publishing sins lest he go to hell. (I am not making this up). That does it. Somebody, hold my glasses. I'm going in."

Well, given the blindness with which Peters flails about in this post, he would have been better off if he kept his glasses on (or at least wore contacts). Again, I think the manner Pete Vere choose in some of his criticisms of Vree left something to be desired, but the way Peters minimizes Vree's faults in comparison to Pete's is both embarrassing and intelligence-insulting. Note how Dr. Peters plays the "youth card" against Vere. What does Pete's age (or Dale's for that matter) have to do with any of this? Can we stick to the issues please?

"Dale Vree is not omniscient, his logical skills are not perfect…"

No one is demanding this, so why even bother with this non-sequiter?

"…and sometimes he fails in patience and charity. In other words, he's a lot like me."

Anyone who has even a cursory acquaintance with Vree's writings over the past couple years knows that Vree's failures far exceed a momentary or even an occasional lapse in charity and good judgment. Vree's rantings regularly display a gross lack of charity and concern for accuracy. In this light, I must now defend Dr. Peters against his own self-flagellation. No, Ed you are not like Vree. I don't think anyone could find anything written by you that shows anything like the kind of lack of charity and concern for accuracy that has become par for the course with Vree.

"I've been reading NOR off and on for some 25 years—almost as long as Pete Vere has been alive—and there's an old saying I just made up: 'Blessed are the believing GenXers, for theirs is a world with abundant outlets for orthodox expression.' "

If Peters has been "reading NOR off and on for some 25 years—almost as long as Pete Vere has been alive" he should know just how rancid Vree's polemics have become and just how silly and insulting his attempt at defending him is. Well , here's an "old saying" I just made up "Blessed are those abundant outlets for they prevent expressions of Catholic orthodoxy from being controlled by the apologists' old boys club."

"They can't remember the bad ole days, when virtually every organ of religious and secular media was dominated by the monolithic chant of 'Burn, baby, burn."

"Burn, Baby Burn"? Wasn't that a title of one of Vree's hit pieces on Scott Hahn? Yep, I think it was.

"Fewer people remember when, for his articulate defense of Catholic principles, Dale Vree was perhaps the loneliest man in Catholic publishing."

So how does Vree's past good work justify the gutter ploemics he presently engages in? I mean, how many historians use Benedict Arnold's earlier heroics (which by far exceed Vree's--real or perceived) to justify his later act of treason?

"But I remember those days, and say that if, in the twilight of his career, Dale Vree is making some unnecessary enemies, that is a genuine matter for concern and individual confrontation by his peers, not for disrespectful rebukes from youth."

Well, if you guys who consider yourselves his peers would stop circling the wagons and actually confront him, there would be no need for "disrespectful rebukes from youth". Peters' statement here smacks of an elitism that has become all too commonplace amongst certain prominent Catholic apologists. Again Ed, can we stick to issues and put the youth card back in the deck? Thank you.

This gives rise to the question of why a Catholic apologist of the caliber of Jimmy Akin (who IMO is the most responsible and the most scholarly of the professional apologists) would allow his blog to be a venue for this. Now I don't think Jimmy did it out of deference to Vree as much as to Peters, since he and Peters have a well-established working relationship. But I think Jimmy should have known better and examined what Peters wrote more closely or at least made some explicit qualifications.

Last fall when the conservative base of the Republican party was up in arms over President Bush's nomination of Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court and pressured him to pull her nomination (which he eventually did), some characterized it as a "crack-up" within the conservative base. Rush Limbaugh responded to that charge in an Wall Street Journal Op-Ed piece entitled "Holding Court There's a crackdown over Miers, not a 'crackup'" The title said all that really needed to be said about that issue.

Likewise here, this piece I have written, if understood and assimilated properly, will serve as a "crackdown" on what is going astray in Catholic apologetics and aid in its getting back on proper course, not a "crack-up".

If Catholic apologetics is going to be taken seriously by those outside the Church, Catholic apologists (especially those most prominent) have to demonstrate that they are willing to hold themselves and their fellows to at least the same standard as they hold their non-Catholic opposition. In fact, I think they need to hold fellow Catholics (particularly those whom they have close working relationships with as Keating does with Vree and Akin does with Peters) to an even higher standard.

I have taken the time and energy to write this not only out of my respect for Catholic apologetics and the inestimable assistance it has provided to many (this writer included) in coming a proper understanding of what the Catholic Church is and what it teaches and why, but also out of respect for those who have made Catholic apologetics their life's work, including those whom I have taken to task here.

Karl Keating's "Catholicism and Fundamentalism" was the first work of Catholic apologetics I ever read. I found it to provide a valuable framework within which to understand certain controversial and difficult Catholic doctrines such as papal infallibility, the Real Presence, Mary etc. I would not hesitate in recommending it to anyone seeking a better understanding of the Catholic faith. I also believe that Catholic Answers, the organization founded by Keating, has provided an indispensable service to the Church as well.

Ed Peters' canon law work, especially in regards to marriage and annulment issues is, in my view, second to none. He has also been more than generous in sharing his expertise on these matters, including his agreement to my request to give a presentation on annulments to a marriage and family (more like anti-marriage and family but I digress) class I was taking at a local community college about ten years ago.

I am not as familiar with the work of Dr. Phil Blosser, but I did find his work "War and the Eclipse of Moral Reasoning" a well-done work. The only significant, but harmless, error he made in the paper was about Ginger Baker dying of a drug overdose in 1960's, unless of course he was miraculously resurrected for the 2005 Cream reunion concert at Royal Albert Hall. In fact, Baker looks better now in his 60's than he did in his 20's. And he's still a great drummer.

Unfortunately, I cannot say the same for his defense of Dale Vree. The defense of Dale Vree by Dr. Peters and Mr. Keating, as well as Dr. Blosser is, in my view extremely harmful to the credibility that Catholic apologetics and scholarship needs to have if it is going to be able have any real impact today. Finally, let me ask them how do they expect the non-Catholic, to say nothing of the anti-Catholic world to give them a fair hearing when they engage in the same kind of behavior they have so often rightly upbraided their opposition for?
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[Epilogual Notes: Listed below are are some threads I have written on the subject of Dale Vree and/or the problems I have long noted with his methodology:

"Blosser vs. Blosser" Dept. (circa February 12, 2006)

On Zeal, Nature and Ecclesiology, Dale Vree and New Oxford Review, Etc. (circa February 23, 2006)

"Vreebird" Dept. (circa March 6, 2006)

"From the Mailbag" With Christopher Blosser (circa April 8, 2006)

[As for the rest, I refer the reader to this paper which I wrote recently where I hope to outline in the form of a hypothesis a potential theory for why we have been seeing for some time a serious problem in the Catholic apologetics community and why the latter is making themselves essentially impotent as a positive force in the culture wars of today. -ISM]

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Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Points to Ponder:

"A bad peace is even worse than war." [Tacitus]

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Monday, July 31, 2006

Points to Ponder:

"Pacifism is objectively pro-fascist. This is elementary common sense. If you hamper the war effort of one side, you automatically help out that of the other. Nor is there any real way of remaining outside such a war as the present one. In practice, 'he that is not with me is against me.'"[George Orwell]

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