Monday, September 8, 2014

Catholics addicted to outrage porn

Did you hear what the Pope said yesterday?  I found it both inspiring and convicting:
Any wrongdoing should be confronted with gentleness, prudence, and humility, he said, adding that words that can “injure or kill” the offender ought to be avoided.
“Even words kill!” he said. “When I speak ill [of someone], when I make an unjust criticism... this is killing the reputation of another!”
In the Gospel, Jesus teaches that one must first go to the offending person alone, then with two or three persons, only bringing involving the community in the dispute as a last resort. [...]
He said it is a “very ugly” thing to witness “an insult or attack” from the mouth of a Christian. “It is ugly! Do you understand? Never insult! To insult is not Christian! Do you understand? To insult is not Christian!”
First things first: I am as guilty as anybody in violating these principles.  I need to remember these words and take them to heart.  What follows is not an attempt to see over the huge log in my eye in order to focus on the specks in somebody else’s.

However, one of the reasons these words rang so true for me yesterday is that yesterday I was starting to think that the biggest mistake a Catholic can make is to friend a fellow Catholic on Facebook.

I’m not talking about the Catholics I’m blessed to know in real life.  Their FB feeds are usually delightful--pictures of children or grandchildren, inspiring quotes, recipes, links to goofy quizzes that are fun to take on occasion.  If they do post something controversial, I know I can talk to them about it, and it works both ways--they can talk to me about my FB stuff, or my blog stuff, while knowing I’m not going to be offended either.

I’m talking about some of the Catholics I only know online, and especially some of the ones I really admire, because what’s disturbing me is that kindly, smart, friendly, engaging, civil people who stay that way on blogs and in emails and in most other forms of communication have had this weird tendency of late to turn into Catholic Outrage Porn Addicts on Facebook.

What does that mean?  To illustrate, I will use an example that I HAVEN’T run into on FB.  Please note the HAVEN’T.  I’m not saying no Catholic has ever devolved into Outrage Porn on this issue, just that I haven’t personally encountered it.  The reason I want to use an issue I haven’t personally encountered is so that nobody will think I am singling any one person out specifically.  I am not.  This is a pattern of behavior I am seeing, not an individual example of a behavior.  I could list at least half-a-dozen people I saw last week alone engaging in it.

So let’s pretend that a group of Catholics are talking about Common Core on Facebook.  (Again, these conversations have probably happened, but I haven’t personally seen any, at least not any time in the recent past.)  One parent says her kids’ Catholic school is adopting CC, and she’s worried.  Another parent says his kids public school implemented it last year and it was no big deal except for a handful of frustrating math worksheets.  Still another Catholic says her cousin is a math teacher and hates CC’s approach to math.  Someone else chimes in that her diocese was going to implement CC but backed out when intelligent parents showed up to demonstrate specific shortcomings in the new standards.  Another parent shares some humorous examples from actual worksheets her kids had to do, and talks about the frustration and tears these sheets produced in her offspring.

And then the Catholic Outrage Porn Addict--the COPA--shows up.

How dare you take a position against educational standards? the COPA shrieks.  Do you want everyone in the world to think that Catholics are a bunch of superstitious ignorami who don’t believe in educational science?  Stop claiming that Obama is a Socialist Kenyan Muslim with a secret plot to destroy American schools and make public school graduates even more likely to vote Democrat than they already are--you look ignorant and uninformed and Michelle Bachman Sarah Palin etc. ad infinitum.  Catholics should be better than this.  Every smart person knows that Common Core is scientifically designed to help all students but especially the poor--are you going to feed into the belief that Catholics hate educating poor people?  Are you claiming that you know better than people with Ph.D.s in education?  Are you actually encouraging people to revolt against the bishop, who has the sole responsibility to direct the Catholic schools in his diocese?  If Common Core is good enough for professional educators and bishops, then it should be good enough for you, average Catholic lay person.  If you’re so anti-education that you think kids should all be homeschooled to believe in a literal six-day creation and fake dinosaurs then you’re not a real Catholic, and I don’t want you as a Facebook friend anymore.

Notice that nothing the COPA says has anything to do with the limited, legitimate, and honest concerns that actual parents have about their actual children’s education.  He or she just rushes in to stop the conversation by tarring everybody who is participating in it with a huge conspiracy-tainted brush, and assuming that a parent who says, “I’m not sure about this Common Core stuff,” is the same as a parent who says, “Children only need the Bible, and Obama is trying to destroy Christians, and math is a satanic plot.”  Many of us know people who say the first thing, but hardly any of us knows, in actual, real life, an actual practicing Catholic who would say the second.

And that’s why I use the phrase “outrage porn,” which is not something I came up with at all (but I don’t know who did so I can’t attribute it to that person, sadly) to describe the typical COPA.  The whole point is not to engage in real fraternal correction (something else the Pope talked about yesterday).  The whole point is to trigger the good feeling one has of being RIGHT about something at the expense of all those silly, strange, threatening OTHERS who are WRONG.

It’s bad enough when we trigger outrage porn in our emotions at the expense of OTHERS like Islamic fundamentalists or illegal immigrants or people who don’t share our faith, values, and convictions.  But when we have to trigger that reaction at the expense of people who do share our faith, values, and convictions, people who, like us, are trying to be good Catholics and go to Mass and pray and do charitable works and live in the world while not being of the world, people who are marching alongside us in the Church Militant, then, I think, we have crossed over into an addiction, and it is the kind of addiction that is dangerous to our souls.

Because if we really were coming from a place of charity, if we really wanted to offer genuine fraternal correction to a brother or sister we really believed was in error, we would do so quietly, behind the scenes, in confidential conversation--not by screaming at them publicly and imputing to them every possible bad motive on display among the worst of the rabble-rousers out there and holding them responsible for every hypothetical bad outcome.  A person who legitimately opposes Common Core, for instance, is not guilty of keeping the poor illiterate, and it’s highly uncharitable to suggest any such thing--yet I’ve seen even worse allegations made against people who are genuinely puzzled as to why the COPA seems to insist that the issue at hand is one about which good and faithful Catholics cannot legitimately disagree.

Why write about this?  Am I not guilty of adding more fuel to an already raging fire of uncharity?

That’s not my intention at all.  I think, having been guilty of this sort of thing myself in the past, that it is entirely too easy to reach this stage of outrage porn without even realizing one was on the path to it.  But it is a spiritual poison to continually insist that your faithful fellow Catholics are some kind of dreadful OTHERS who don’t agree with you about everything (and most especially about the kind of prudential judgments where differences of opinions are entirely possible) and to pronounce Facebook Anathemas on them.  There are plenty of things about which faithful Catholics can disagree while not in any way incurring the guilt of sin, and last I checked, Pope Francis and the bishops in communion with him haven’t handed over any of their binding and loosing authority to any Facebook Tribunals at all.

UPDATE: As I’ve been informed in the comment box, credit for the phrase “outrage porn” belongs to Kevin Tierney.  Thanks! :)

4 comments:

Brian Sullivan said...

I honestly don't see the difference between outrage porn as you call it and what your invective about Cardinal Dolan and the Archdiocese of NY. Just because something is well written doesn't mean it's not OP.

Red Cardigan said...

Well, let me explain it, Brian. Writing something critical of a bishop when the bishop has done something that reasonable people might criticize is not outrage porn. Seeing a blog post about a bishop and writing something totally off topic about Catholic bishops, the child-abuse Scandal, Cdl. Law in Rome, and so forth just because the word “bishop” sets off that particular stream of outrage in your head is outrage porn.

It’s not that hard to tell the difference. I never engaged in taking personal pot-shots against Cdl. Dolan--I don’t know him personally. But I think we can criticize things like the Sheen holdup and the parade decision as being imprudent or inexplicable without descending to personal insults about “the bishops” generally.

If you want to use a non-Church issue, we could discuss politics and politicians. I have been pretty open about my disagreement with certain liberal politicians. I do not write Fwd:Fwd:Fwd-worthy posts about the evil Democrats and their plan to end America as we know it and turn it into a socialist model state, because that would be outrage porn.

Hope that helps!

Kevin O'Brien said...

Erin, Kevin Tierney, who writes for Catholic Exchange and other places, tells me he coined the term "outrage porn". He told me that months ago, and he was the first person I ever heard use it. He's probably one of your Facebook friends!

Kevin Tierney said...

The term was coined by yours truly. I used it to describe the sensationalist nature of most Catholic bloggers who scream everything they post, and turn the mildest of disagreements into Dagor Dagorlad. This is because of the insular community that is the blogosphere. Here's what I was working with:

"To make sure we stay in the enclave, we need to have our needs provided for, and our fears confirmed. As there are some benefits discussed elsewhere in this essay, let's briefly talk about the fears. Since hyper-educated people will frequently disagree, it becomes impossible for them to disagree unless one of them isn't really that educated. From there, they are part of the dreaded other, to be treated with suspicion. In many trad circles, there is still a suspicion of dealing with catholics in the ordinary form, and vice versa. We often paint each other with the most extreme caricatures. If we got out more, we'd understand what nonsense they are.

What I have just described I call outrage porn. Everything becomes a source of outrage. It isn't a minor disagreement. Instead, it "sets off the BS detector." Those who attend the Ordinary Form aren't Catholic, they are part of "Novusordoism." Small disputes become world wars. You have to do this. If you stopped for one moment and self-reflected, you would go "wait, why am I doing this?" Just as people need harder and harder doses of pornography to get their "fix", people need more and more outrage to sustain their cause. Just like porn, the longer you are around it, the quicker your soul is rotted."

http://commonsensecatholicism.blogspot.com/2014/05/blogging-and-closing-of-catholic-mind.html

A more sanitzed version could be "outrageous outrage" or something of the sort.