Monday, September 2, 2013

Catholic Virtual Wars 02: Strident Catholics

This is my second post in an indefinite number within a series I am labeling, "Catholic Virtual Wars."  If you like this post, you might also like my first post: Catholic Virtual Wars - Time for a Cease Fire (not to be confused with a "cease discussion"). 

A priest cancels a magazine subscription

A very good priest I  know who has a broad reputation for his orthodoxy and devoutness, used a curious word some years ago in reference to a Catholic magazine that I knew to be popular in orthodox Catholic circles. He said he had dropped the subscription because they were, "strident." When I visited again some months later, curiously absent from the stack of reading material in that rectory waiting area were a few other periodicals of similar bent.  It was the first time I got a hint that dissenting material is not the only kind harmful to the soul.

Some weeks later, forgetting about that label of "strident" on that Catholic magazine, I put in for an e-subscription after seeing an article really resonate with me at the time. It was refreshing to see someone call things out as they were.  Back then, I thought it was bold and brave - heroic even.  I pulled out my credit card, paid for the subscription, then logged in.  To my astonishment, freshly posted was a scathing editorial attacking Pope Benedict XVI who hadn't been in his position 6 months.  They who had set themselves up as arbiters of all things Catholic, didn't feel he was moving fast enough on matters of importance to them.  I went into the contact page, told them I had just subscribed and that I wanted to cancel, but not before giving way to my own fallen nature and calling them a bunch of arm chair popes!  I never looked back.  Over time, I have let go of other sources I once followed for the same reason, and they never attacked the pope. They were just more noise or, better put, clanging cymbals (1 Cor 13:1).

Right after that, I had a flash back to what the good priest had said about this magazine: Strident. I realized then, that I had no idea what that word really meant, so I looked it up.  Here is the Merriam-Webster definition:
characterized by harsh, insistent, and discordant sound strident voice>also : commanding attention by a loud or obtrusive quality <strident slogans>

Yep.  Now I knew what the good priest was referring to, but it was one of those things that I just had to experience myself. That was just my introduction to it in the Catholic culture.

Where the strident are found

You have met strident people from all walks of life.  They often have some specific cause and when it mixes with their temperament it's like hydrogen peroxide and yeast. For those who want a science class refresher, be sure to watch the 30% mixture just for the fun.

Outside of the Catholic sphere, you can find the strident on the right and on the left. People always think it's just political and social conservatives who are strident and polemical, but I've seen many a strident political and social liberal. Anarchists are in a league of their own.

Inside the Catholic sphere, you will find the strident among every group.  I've run into strident people who were anti-Marian and very Marian; anti-Eucharistic (yes, they exist in the Catholic Church) and those who spend hours in Adoration; those who follow approved and unapproved apparitions, as well as those who critique the unapproved; people who devote hours and hours to serving the poor, sick and neglected, and those who don't lift a finger because they might miss something in the big Catholic debate online; those who like the traditional latin Mass, and those who want nothing to do with it; those who like folk music at Mass and those who like Gregorian chant; those who go to just Sunday Mass, and among those who go to daily Mass, and among cradle Catholics and converts. The strident know no age bounds so they are young and they are old.  Some are strident because they are wounded while others are strident because it just feels good. The list can go on, and on, and on.

Behavior of the strident

You know a strident person when you meet them because they aren't happy unless there is something to be unhappy about or someone to criticize.  For the strident Catholic, others aren't Catholic enough if they aren't strident too.  Usually, the meek and the humble will make a bee line for the exit when they see the strident person coming for the debate of the day.

The strident are annoyed with anyone who tries to take the high road and discuss controversy in a way that is mindful of the dignity of others. The best response is a snotty response, but they don't see it as snotty.  In fact, they will mock the non-strident as being "nice" and "sweet."  The word "charitable" takes on negative overtones.  Worse, the strident will accuse the non-strident of not understanding the issues or not caring enough because if they did, they too would use the same full-metal-jacket-approach to discussion. Or, in an act of mental gymnastics, they will flip things and accuse a non-strident person of being uncharitable merely for speaking about a topic they don't think is worthy of discussion.

Trying to reason with a strident person is like trying to reason with a tasmanian devil.  They are interested in one thing: Bite! We all make errors when analyzing something and speaking about it.  But, the strident person's specialty involves inventing dots where there are none to be found just to make the line they are drawing go in the direction they want -- proof and facts be damned. For the strident person, the urgency to speak about the thing takes precedence over thoughtful discernment, inquiry and looking for alternative explanations that would exonerate the target of their scorn.

At the root of the strident person's behavior is a desire to force their position rather try to win other people. God gives to all a free will so if he doesn't force us, we ought not try to force others. The approach the strident take to things in life comes right from the Moe Howard school of reason.

The real reason people often get banned in Catholic forums

I think soon after I learned my lesson from that magazine experience some years ago, I began to get involved in a number of Catholic forums. There were only a handful of blogs back then and forums where the place to be for discussion.   What I found rather humorous during my days at those Catholic forums is how a strident person would derail a good discussion with [wait for it] stridency, then complain because they were suspended following numerous admonitions.  When they persisted, they were banned, then complained they were kicked out for their orthodoxy.  I watched this happen to a lot of people - people with good knowledge of the faith who were just awful at putting forth a tempered response.  I could see it coming. I even sent private messages to some friends suggesting they needed to temper the way they were trying to make their point - not for fear of being banned, but for effectiveness - but they just didn't get it.

Sometimes, bishops cut off ties with people not because of their orthodoxy but because their mode of communication is so caustic that it can scatter the lambs.  There is always an element of truth in what the strident person is saying.  Even a bass can find a bug in the water.

Strident people attract other strident people 

Just like misery finds good company in the miserable, strident people are attracted to one another .  I saw early on that strident bloggers were attracting large followings of people who liked the bombastic approach to talking about the faith.  That's when I spent time in Adoration thinking about whether I wanted to breed stridency in followers or virtue and knowledge.  The stridency is just baggage.

I knew that I could never have a large following unless I attacked other people. So, I chose to forgo the traffic and keep my conscience clear, even if it meant low volume.  I really didn't want traffic if it was going to be strident traffic. It's noise - noise that can be detrimental to authentic spiritual growth.  Only concupiscence could lead people to enjoy watching stridency towards fellow Catholics the way others once enjoyed watching the gladiators kill one another. They lose sense of reason and give way to childish insults and sarcastic put downs (you really see this in the comment boxes).  Sometimes I think they take score for who has the best put downs.

I spent much time in Adoration when I began blogging wondering if stridency had a place in Catholic evangelization online. I think it was all of 5 minutes.  It was a resounding, "no" and this would later be confirmed in my discussions with several other devout and orthodox priests who are also known for their great virtue.

A strident seminarian reformed

Strident Catholics do convert to be non-strident.  It happens with grace.  For some, it's a gradual process that walks them away. For others, a light-bulb goes on.  I'll share this last story from my forum days that has always stuck with me.

A young man who was discerning a vocation was very active in one particular place with forums.  He was sharp with all that he knew about the faith, and very orthodox.  His problem was that he approached ignorance of others with stridency. Sometimes that ignorance manifests itself in a subtle way.  He had no mercy whatsoever.  I tried talking to him privately several times - nicely and throwing his own stridency right back at him.  Nothing worked.  He went off to pursue his dream in the priesthood and was sent by his diocese to one of the most orthodox seminaries known in the US.  Some months later, when he was home for Christmas or something, I found a sobering message from him in my in box.  It seems someone got through his thick skull at that seminary and, by exercising humility in listening to his spiritual director, the light bulb went on.  I was very sad for him because of the pain he was going through.  He recognized the damage he had done through his stridency.  He was beyond crushed at how he treated people. He deleted as much online content as he had, including his screen name and email which itself was strident in nature.  I told him the worse thing he can do is to dwell in it, and to turn it into something good by teaching others.   I also told him he was going to make a very fine priest - the kind we need: One who balances knowledge of the faith, with a passion for truth, and who conveys it with charity led by virtue.

Helpful Learning: The Four Temperaments

I provided this link earlier in my post, but I want to isolate it here.  It's a good idea to learn about the four temperaments.  Each of them have good and bad sides to them.  Some of us are a mixture of them with predominate traits. The point is to learn to moderate the bad parts and work on magnifying the good.  There is a version of it online at the Angelicum Homeschool Academy site.

For those who like audio, I recommend the CD on the Four Temperaments by Fr. Basil Nortz, ORC.

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The obedient are not held captive by Holy Mother Church;
it is the disobedient who are held captive by the world!

- Diane M. Korzeniewski

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Christian LeBlanc said...

I know of one convert who 10 years ago was quite the inquisitor. But last time I spoke to him he had gentled down quite a bit about everyone's faith and foibles. And seemed a happier Catholic man for it.

Diane Korzeniewski, OCDS said...

Or, he was humbled like anyone who uses their time to look inward rather than into the souls of others

Supertradmum said...

One can be addicted to arguing, which is not, obviously from God. But, societies and cultures have always needed prophets and those outside the group think..Here is my take on this without being strident.

Diane Korzeniewski, OCDS said...

Supratradmum - I just read your post and commented at your blog. I'll allow the link because you made your point without inflammatory labels and saw fit not to use names (it makes no sense for me to avoid names if I provide links to people who do, no?)

Here is the comment I left at your post, which I recommend others should read by copying and pasting your link.

Good post. I got it through your comment to my blog post on stridency.

I want to commend you on some things:

1) Not using names of people or organizations. It is almost always guaranteed to flame the discussion and derail the larger discussion. I hope more bloggers will set that bad habit aside, especially when more than one person espouses something that we want to address.

2) Not using condescending and inflammatory labels aimed at entertaining others, if not yourself. So many great points are lost when labels are thrown around that are sure to offend.

3) We indeed need people to get us out of "institution think" that is not in harmony with the Gospel or teachings of the Church. Often times these things are subtle and difficult for people to see. That is true of any group think or institution think.

But there is more than one way to deal with it. One way is to do so bombastically and in your face. Sometimes the shock is needed, but this can be done without labels. Some times, a colorful word is needed - after all, Our Lord referred to some as a brood of vipers. But, he is God and has zero chance of crossing into sinful anger, unlike us.

Moreover, a true change master who wants to break people out of institution think has more tools in their tool box than simply thumping their chest, calling people names, insulting them, and implying their actions have some kind of evil motive (a good Catholic is ever mindful that only God can read hearts and we may see more severe judgment by the Just Judge if we play God than those we publicly target, especially by name in this way).

That toolbox is filled not jus with knowledge, but with communication skills capable of winning others over by conveying that knowledge in a way that is thoughtful. It is not rash, nor thoughtless, and it always takes time to fully discern something before speaking (the opposite of imprudence as defined by Fr. John A. Hardon seen in the sidebar of my blog).

Only as an abolute last resort, when all other skilled efforts have been applied, could one be justified in attempting a sort of tough love approach.

Do you agree?

Thanks again for your insightful and well written post. Heading over to publish your comment. It was only because you did not name names and took the high road that I am going to allow the link in my post which does not name names.

Supertradmum said...

Thanks and honored by the attention and long comment. BTW, I am a great fan of Fr Hardon and used his catechism before the "new" one came out.

May I add another comment from my studies of Garrigou-Lagrange and St. John of the Cross? Too many of us act without the proper spiritual growth. This means that when we speak or act, those doings are tainted by sin, selfishness, the hidden evils of our heart. Both the great Dominican and St. John (and people forget his was studied in Thomism)teach that real holiness precedes the time when one acts in full power and grace--in other words, after the purification of the senses and the spirit, normally called the Dark Night. This is one reason I have written so much on the DN and Garrigou-Lagrange on my blog. Over 500 posts. Unless we are working in and with God on purification, we most likely should keep our mouths shut and wait for great purity of mind, heart, and soul.

I love Fr. Hardon on prudence, again, one of the great virtues which only comes into real power after we have been through the wringer of purification, which brings humility.

Diane Korzeniewski, OCDS said...

Supratradmum - thanks for that info, and I agree whole heartedly. I'l l have to dig through your posts on those things. I believe that is where I get much of my attitude from is studying St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross. One cannot read them and proceed in the way I see some doing these days. And, Fr. Hardon knew better than any of us just how bad things were in the Church, especially at his time. But, he would be the first one to admonish anyone attacking others, especially in a strident way, and even more so, the bishops, even when one is proven to be wrong. I've heard stories from others on that and he did not like stridency and was always very careful as to how he talked about the bishops in particular (and Lord knows he had a reason to be angry through the wounds some inflicted on him, but he took it as gently as the Lamb of God). Anyone can vent, but that is pure virtue and God's grace working in a soul. Padre Pio likewise had no tolerance for those who would publicly embarrass the bishops, even when they were involved in sinful things.

Diane Korzeniewski, OCDS said...

So there is no misunderstanding, let me just state that the Church allows us to call bishops to accountability on things. But, we must remember some things:

1) We must treat each situation as unique rather than project every offense "the bishops" do onto any one who seemingly or in reality steps out of line.

2) St.Thomas Aquinas, while reminding us that we can and sometimes have a duty to call out someone in the hierarchy, admonishes that it be done with the utmost care and respect for the office (and I believe he says it should be a last resort when all else has failed- I'll need to revisit that section). Again, you can't say that it is the last resort by broad-brushing all that has happened in general. That's no different than when a parent goes after a child hitting them with everything they have ever done offensively and not addressing the situation at hand.

3) We must keep in mind that some things are black and white (i.e., abortion is wrong at all times and everywhere); and other things give latitude to the person in authority. My pastor chooses not to have the sign of peace in his NO Masses - which is his choice when he is celebrant. But a pastor at another parish who does include the optional sign of peace (yes, it is an option), he is not in error. Neither priest is in error and both are exercising rightful options in the liturgy whether preferentially any of us likes them or not. This must be respected because the Church permits it. Some treat things like this as strictly as dogma or doctrine. Can't do that.

Anonymous said...

The day is coming when the God's strident ones will be well appreciated and become our matryrs ,our big mouthed St. Georges, giving up their lives for their strident actions, words and opinions.


eulogos said...

May I suggest that you, Diane, are a bit "strident" about Orthodoxy at times?

Diane Korzeniewski, OCDS said...

Susan asks: May I suggest that you, Diane, are a bit "strident" about Orthodoxy at times?

I can be strident about many things. How else do you think I knew how to write this post?

Supertradmum said...

Diane, I think the problem has been compounded by several things. If you do not mind another comment from me.

One, the fact that much of this is happening in the virtual community where people actually do not know each other, do not have personal relationships with each other. As you know having a blog, strangers can virtually come into your house and slag you off, ridicule you and even threaten you, as has happened to me. The virtual community does not love as it cannot by the way it exists.

Two, too many people have been pained for years and years at the horrible problems in the Church which have not been addressed, such as the sex scandals and the violet mafia, which is a reality for those of us who have worked in the Church. Now, some of those voices, not all, have been isolated for a long time and see the internet as a place where they can get the support they do not have. I am not condoning such, but merely describing.

Third, people honestly do not know how to love. I know this sounds really basic but as one who lived in community for seven years and as one who taught students coming out of or still into drugs, prostitution and such, one must learn how to love in truth without letting evil enter into the discussion. Only one who is truly humble and knows one's own sins can do tough love. I know from experience that tough love requires much prayer, even fasting and above all, glaring truth in one's own life.

But, if you have studied Fr. Hardon, you know this at least from extrapolation.

Anonymous said...

Hi Diane,

Was there something that I said that my post did not make it ?

Mary Moskowitz

Diane Korzeniewski, OCDS said...

Mary - I'm sorry, but it looks like your comment may have gotten sent to Jupiter. I see nothing in the cue, and just checked the spam folder for the first time in ages and there's nothing there either.

I can't believe what I just found in that spam folder - some of it not spam, but in posts so old... yikes.

Can you re-submit?

Diane Korzeniewski, OCDS said...

Mary - check the previous post. There is a comment there from you, maybe that is the one you thought was here?

Anonymous said...

Diane, your entries from yesterday and today have given me a lot to think about. I could very easily be strident and complaining without any good coming of it and I don't want to be that kind of person.
Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace and mercy! Mother Mary pray for us!
Call me Trinitarian Dad

Diane Korzeniewski, OCDS said...

Trinitatrian Dad, lets pray for all to be enlightened!

Diane Korzeniewski, OCDS said...

Supra - spot on. Wishing we weren't so far apart. We could have coffee, tea and philosophy

Anonymous said...

Diane, a fantastic pair of posts.

Also, I want to commend you for your contributions on another site, in the comment thread on a post on a similar topic. Just when the comment thread seemed about to fall off of the talking-past-each-other cliff, your post (and subsequent ones) seemed to settle things down. Since then things took quite a turn for the better. It was one of the best comment threads I have seen in a long time.


Diane Korzeniewski, OCDS said...

Thanks. I put my thoughts out and leave it in Gods hands.

I decided to put number 3 out. Copy and paste

Anonymous said...

Hi Diane, Thanks for getting back to me.

I am troubled by the naming of names and perceived faults of others being made so public and up for discussion on some blogs. Committing the sin of detraction does not seem to be an issue for many. This hardly seems like Christian behavior, Interestingly I had read that the more "hits" a blogger gets the more they are compensated. Does this compel some to deliberately choose provacative topics? Thanks for bringing such clarity and grace to this topic.

Mary Moskowitz