Friday, October 12, 2012

Holy cannoli, what are these people smoking? Or: a look at Catholic blog comment boxes

So, yesterday I read a cute post by Simcha Fisher over at the National Catholic Register:
So, are you gonna watch tonight's V.P. debate?  I'll probably listen to it on the radio, if only to remind my radio how lucky it usually is that I usually listen to something better, like John Tesh.
It's hard to care when you not only don't care, but you don't even want to care.  You would punch yourself in the nose for caring.  I mean, I want the extra hideous candidate to lose, and I want the slightly less hideous candidate to win with such a slight margin that he gets a hernia from watching the TV so hard on election night.  But ask me to care about a debate between the people these two paragons of hideousness have chosen to play their professional besties on TV?  Bleah.
I tell you what, arrange me a debate with someone else, anyone else, and I'll listen up.  Here are some ideas:
1.  Padre Pio vs. Gianna Molla.  Oh, sure sure, they're both saints and whatnot, with the stigmata and the martyrdom and so forth.  But mainly what they stood for in their lifetimes (at least, heaven help me, in the circles that I travel in) is that Gianna Molla wore pants -- PANTS! -- when she was skiing; and Padre Pio once set a woman on fire when she went in to his confessional, and he refused to give her a bucket of water until she promised to get rid of her pants.  Or something like that.

Like I said, I thought Simcha's post was cute--amusing to read, chuckle-worthy here and there, and all in all not a bad bit of writing.

And then I ventured into the comment boxes below the post.

And thought, as I so often do when I read comments at the Register: Holy cannoli, what are these people smoking?

You had a commenter chiding Simcha for the sin of making light of holy things/people over the suggested debate between Padre Pio and Gianna Molla--oh, I'm sorry, not "chiding," but giving a "gentle reminder," in the same way that smacking the wrong fork out of someone's hand at a fancy restaurant is a "gentle reminder" re: etiquette.  You had a commenter taking Simcha's tongue-in-cheek suggestion of a debate between Ann Romney and Sarah Palin over their children's unusual names to be a slam against children.  Or children's names.  Or children with interesting names.  I'm not too sure.

You had commenters fuming over Simcha's rough equivalence-that-wasn't between the evil baby-killing monster Barack Obama (said in all charity, of course!) and the wise and saintly men God has raised up to end abortion in America once and for all (despite the fact that neither has promised to do any such thing--that's irrelevant!).  You had a commenter (clearly one who doesn't know Simcha) suggest that the reason Simcha doesn't much care about the election is because Simcha is disgustingly rich and thus doesn't have to worry which man is elected in terms of social policy.

You had a few forays into the pants-debate, but on the whole these were mild compared to the other sorts of comments.  Thank the dear Lord nobody brought up veils; the Register's servers might have experienced a total flaming meltdown.

Seriously: what gives in Catholic comment boxes these days?

Sometimes I think it's all just a huge game of signaling along the lines of what people sometimes did in high school.   Commenters are just trying to sort themselves into the following categories:
  1. I honestly agree with the blogger.
  2. I honestly disagree with the blogger.
  3. I say I agree with the blogger because I am/want to be one of the blogger's Super Secret Inner Circle of Cool Friends.
  4. I say I disagree with the blogger because I am too cool to belong to the blogger's SSICCF, and/or because I belong to some rival blogger's SSICCF, from which I frequently take potshots at other bloggers including this present one whose comment boxes are my plaything.
  5. I am holier than the blogger, and will prove it by my strong charity and abrasive humility and the sheer violence of my kindliness.
  6. I am clearly not as holy as the blogger, by which I mean that I'm perfectly holy enough but the blogger is holier-than-thou and should go to confession immediately for being such a sanctimonious hypocrite (so unlike myself).
  7. I am highly amused that the blogger attacked one of Other People's sacred cows (such as homeschooling, attachment parenting, Republican candidates, or giving children snacks).
  8. I am highly outraged that the blogger attacked one of MY sacred cows (such as homeschooling, attachment parenting, Republican candidates, or giving children snacks).
  9. I'm just here to attack the blogger's grammar/spelling/punctuation.
  10. I'm just here because I love to tell Catholic bloggers I've never read before how disappointed I am in them.  I do the same thing to my children on a daily basis, because I love the word "disappointed" and the power it has to rob sweet little faces of their innocent smiles (mwuahaha)...
Sheesh.  Can't we all just get along?  And by "get along" I mean have vigorous and honest Catholic debates without stooping to kindergarten behavior, of course.


Lawrence Hall, HSG said...

Well and truly said! Thank you!

Anthony S. Layne said...

I enjoyed this tremendously ... and not just because I want to be part of your SSICCF!

Sue said...

Sad to say but a lot of Catholic blog-readers have had their senses of humor removed. Along with their sense of irony, parody, satire, etc. I see this all the time over at Desperate Irish Housewife. Can't they tell from the blog's title that it's a humor blog? Answer: uh, not always.

Magnus said...

Communication goes both ways. Irony and sarcasm are actually called a sin in the Catechism re:
"2481 Boasting or bragging is an offense against truth. So is irony aimed at disparaging someone by maliciously caricaturing some aspect of his behavior."

and public journalism is specifically summed up here:
"2497 By the very nature of their profession, journalists have an obligation to serve the truth and not offend against charity in disseminating information. They should strive to respect, with equal care, the nature of the facts and the limits of critical judgment concerning individuals. They should not stoop to defamation."

That said, all Catholics who wish to represent their Faith in the best possible way can do well to read & remember sections 2475-2499 of the Catechism.

We can us humor without sarcasm or irony. We can laugh at ourselves. The Catechism reminds us to avoid laughing at others and the use of put-down humor towards others.

Scaevola said...

Any comment I leave here will pigeonhole me into one of your my only recourse is to leave a comment saying nothing at all.

Marcus Allen Steele said...

You make some very good points. Serious debate is good, satire is good, but folks need to lighten up. I caught some grief for my post on Friday but I'm not sure it was merited. It had everything to do with the Truth of our Catholic faith which I always think is a good thing.

Unknown said...


I've read, and commented on, Simcha's blog in the past. I haven't read the one you mention, or the comments.

Here's the thing. There is, rightly, a growing anger among Catholics who take the Faith and the souls of His Children seriously. The blogosphere has become filled with Catholic bloggers, many are what I call Proto-Catholic's; converts who never went through a solid RCIA program but rather a touchy-feely, watered down in doctrine version of Catechists.

This has spawned all sorts of well intentioned but gravely error filled and scandalous in the confusing aspect evangelizing.

Here's an example, using Simcha. The day the Vogue woman died, a great woman of tremendous faith and impact on the right to life movement died. Simcha wrote a piece only a few shades to the conservative of what one finds in Vogue.

On a few pieces I did point out to Simcha some of what I thought were some of the mistakes in perspective and thought she was perpetuating. She was lets say rather disdainful, bordering on arrogant in her responses.

The point is. Over time, childish and immature blogging tells folks a lot about the real focus of the blogger. Some people, who knows they may be in a wheel-chair, see fighting such errors as part of what they can do to fight for Christ and His Church. I suspect they at times fall into anger. Those of religious strength are not thrown by ager. But they also do not suffer fools, especially when the matter is grave.

This much I do know. Christ told a parable of virgins waiting for a bride groom and a wedding feast. Some of the virgins were quite taken with the fashions and concerns of the day, I'd bet they were quite witty, cute and all the other kinds of stuff found on many of the Casual Cafeteria Catholic blogs who fancy themselves evangelical.

Well when the moment came, you know, they didnt have the oil in the lamps, etc.

Here's the important part though. He didn't let them in because they had not prepared themselves.

That's a strong parable speaking pretty clearly to how seriously one should approach evangelical blogging.

When bloggers treat the grave with smarmy, lightness. It is not wrong to harshly correct them if they are acting like Peter in the garden or the tax collectors in the temple.

It is souls we are talking about here. Not just any souls, but the souls of His Children.

Don't confuse secular standards of when "tough love" and strong language is needed with when it is actually needed.

This is a society where such things are valued above the chopping up of an unborn baby in the womb.


Tito Edwards said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
TheHardworkingHousewife said...

I am amused, but it's apparent by your blog that the commentators aren't the only ones with sticks up their butts. In other words, you are doing the same thing you accuse the commentators of doing. It's quite funny.

Erin Manning said...

Magnus, you note that the kind of irony which is called sinful by the Catechism is that which is "aimed at disparaging someone by maliciously caricaturing some aspect of his behavior." I would have to consult with a theologian or apologist to be sure, but it seems to me on a simple reading of the Catechism that this sort of irony would have to be aimed at an actual *person* and have that malicious intent to be sinful. Poking hate-laced "fun" at Mr. John Doe of Smith Avenue (assuming such a specific person existed) for his love of golf would thus be sinful irony; comic strips gently laughing at the foibles of golfers (the general group) would not, under that interpretation. Most Catholic humor writers are attempting the latter sort of humor when they write, and if they fail, they have failed to be funny, but unless they are calling out specific people by name on purpose to hurt them I don't think they can be said to have sinned (though, of course, it is a matter for each individual and his/her confessor in the end).

Also, where exactly is the sin of sarcasm mentioned in the Catechism? I know that some Catholic writers have said that when the Catechism says "irony" it means "sarcasm," and I also know that this may be a simple matter of translation, but it is not obvious to me that the two are completely interchangeable. I would appreciate being directed to further discussion of this matter, if you know of such.

Erin Manning said...

Ninth Centurion, I sincerely hope that your post is an attempt at humor.

If not, I would be compelled to point out the following things (objectively, only; I can't and won't judge anyone's soul):

Paragraph 2: (below the salutation): rash judgment. Are all Catholic bloggers converts? Are all converts "proto-Catholics?" Is, there, in fact, any charitable way any Catholic could justly be described as a "proto-Catholic" by anyone other than that person's own confessor?

Paragraph 3: Same. Are you actually publicly accusing your brothers and sisters in Christ of giving scandal? This is a serious charge, one which ought first to be mentioned to the erring member privately (and ordinarily by someone with the authority to level so serious a charge).

Paragraph 4: Either calumny or detraction: calumny, if Simcha's piece was not in fact nearly indistinguishable from the stuff one finds in "Vogue," or detraction if it was (since her readers unfamiliar--we would hope!--with "Vogue" would be unaware of her putative sin before you revealed it here).

Paragraph 5: Same. Calumny if Simcha did not in fact react to your correspondence as you describe; detraction if she did. What proportionately just reason could you possibly have for telling me and my readers this?

Paragraph 7: Rash judgment again and/or lack of charity (see: "Casual Cafeteria Catholic blogs who fancy themselves evangelical." Is that a charitable way for a brother to describe the sincere--even if misguided, in his opinion--efforts of others?").

I could go on, but I think that is enough for now. My point is that if you are going to demand that bloggers take the care of souls as their first and primary duty and approach this duty with the appropriate level of gravity and seriousness, it would be remiss of me, as the blogger here, to fail to point out to you these specks of dust, would it not?

Erin Manning said...

Housewife: sure, because like most people I'm a work in progress, and that (unfortunately) means both sin and inconsistency. The trick, I think, is not to think that all inconsistency is a sign that one is sinning, or that perfect consistency is proof that one is not. :)

TheHardworkingHousewife said...

You are a work in progress, just like the people who comment. The point of leaving comments - and I think you know this - is to bring up certain points that either work or that need work. No two people, even if they are both devout and practicing Catholics, are going to see eye-to-eye. Furthermore, comments, by their nature, do not necessitate debate. The person receiving the comment should take away objectively what that person needs to work on. Let's use Simcha as an example. I like her humor, but I don't agree with how she uses it regarding certain subjects, and I therefore may leave a comment about my take on what she wrote. Does that mean I'm "smoking" anything? Uh, no. It means I'm looking at what she wrote both subjectively and objectively and commenting thusly. And just one more thing: there are much better ways of saying "develop a sense of humor" than asking "what are you smoking?" in a sarcastic blog.

Erin Manning said...

Housewife, I don't think anybody has a problem with on-topic comments saying to the blogger, "I disagree with what you're saying, and here are the serious and thoughtful reasons why."

Where I think lines get crossed are when commenters say things like "As I took your hurtful and sarcastic post to prayer I realized that your spirit is full of pride and that you are clearly in danger of imminent spiritual death, so I was moved to come here and tell you that no, it's not the work of a good Catholic to make jokes about felt banners, because we all know that felt banners are just another form of the "Smoke of Satan" that entered the Church after the pseudo-Council, and the fact that you could take them lightly enough to joke about them proves that you are not a serious Christian. Is there anything edifying to the soul when you write posts like these? How, in fact, can you perpetrate such triviality in a spirit of would-be levity when 4000 unborn babies are being killed every single day and the failure to elect God's chosen presidential candidate will make that number double by the year 2016? Meanwhile you rattle on about felt banners in such a joking spirit that your readers know you don't really hate them as a daughter of Christ the King must hate every such offense against His majesty. Indeed, it is your duty to retract this post right away, and replace it with something of value; or, better yet, you should tend to your home and hearth and let those better qualified come to the Internet to instruct the ignorant (and I will not name names as to who needs such instructions, ha, ha! I know you can guess who I mean)."

It's *that* sort of thing I saw not only at the Register, but in lots of other places lately, that got me to post what I wrote.

As for the "what are they smoking?" line? It was my honest reaction! Perhaps that says something about me, but wouldn't it be duplicitous and deceitful for me to rephrase it in a way calculated to make me look good?

Edward Martin said...

About half way down your piece I believe you meant to put a comma where you clearly put a period.

Barbara C. said...

"The point of leaving comments - and I think you know this - is to bring up certain points that either work or that need work."

I thought the purpose of leaving comments was to further a discussion, not to chide the author for their choice of topic or their presentation of it.

And a lot of people leave comments just because they feel like they have to give their opinion on every little minute thing in the post even if it is relevant to the point of the post or not. There are lot of people who can't see the forest because they are too annoyed by one tree they didn't like. (I am just as guilty of this from time to time.)

Barbara C. said...

"There is, rightly, a growing anger among Catholics who take the Faith and the souls of His Children seriously."

I've been reading Simcha for a few years now and I am also "friends" with her on Facebook, and I think the insinuation that she doesn't take the Faith or the souls of God's children seriously is way off of the mark.

I don't agree with everything Simcha writes. (I think she is really bitter about homeschooling, for instance.) But I do think her heart is in the right place.

Her fans appreciate that she was willing to admit and poke fun at the inanities of the human condition, especially those we encounter as a parent.

There are some writers whose style just does not appeal to us, but a lot of people can't seem to distinguish between writers who just aren't their cup of tea and those who are heretical.

Deirdre Mundy said...

You forgot "I'm here because I'm homeschooling a house of younguns, and blog comments are the closest I get to adult conversation!"

Paxchristi said...

Hmmmm ... after reading your list, my initial reaction was why bother responding at all since it seems we all deep interior motives other than in most cases just to offer an opinion.

Authentic Bioethics said...

...I only wish MY blog had enough comments on it for me to categorize them...

(Which by the way is category 11 - commenting on someone else's blog to help generate traffic to one's own...)

Erin Manning said...

I am posting the following comment for Msgr. Charles Pope, because Blogger was acting up in some mysterious way and wouldn't let him post it (ah, the mysteries of commenting software...):


Thanks, this was enjoyable. I also think there are a good number of people today who have a diminished sense of humor. Simcha uses a lot of humor, as you did in this post. But today, perhaps because blogs are written medium, fail to grasp or appreciate the humor. I have occasionally made attempts at posting what I thought was humorous. But really got skewered by some of the types you describe in your list. Anyway, thanks for your humor here!

Rev. Msgr. Charles Pope

anna lisa said...

@Deirdre Mundy, your comment on the Palin names made me laugh more than an episode of SNL. It also edified my faith because all that talent is being poured out on your "younguns" instead of making big bucks *writing* for SNL.

Terry Nelson said...

What Tito said.


anna lisa said...

Remember when they accused Jesus of being a drunk and a glutton? Perhaps this was because he acted human. I honestly think that there is a subtle heresy in the church which impedes welcoming new sheep into the fold. It is a subtle gnosticism which I might be tempted to call the "heresy of the sad, dark veil." SHAME on you for laughing! Where is your KNIT brow? Virgins with lamps must comport themselves with a properly dour face!

JMB said...

I'm know I'm a little late to the party on this one, but I have a sneaking suspision that some of Simcha's more troublesome commententers are fake. They are intended to get "normal" (if there is such a thing)Catholics rallied up. Do people really think that way, seriously? I have a feeling it's one person just kind of goofing on her. It could even be an inside job.

Charlotte said...

Laughing my ass off, Red. This is why I am a wouded Catholic, all these pseudo popes and popess's.

Roz said...

Red Cardigan, your paragraph beginning "Where I think lines get crossed . . . " is one of the most enjoyable things I've read in a long time.

I say, just ignore the annoying folks, and maybe they'll just go away.

The Jerk said...


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