My post about Tracey Rowland has attracted a lot of criticism, as well a lot of thanks, and I think it opportune to address this in more general terms that the comments box allows.
The critics focus on two aspects of the post: one is that Rowland is 'on our side' in some sense. The other is that it is rude.
Taking the rudeness first, I concede it - yes, it was rude, the question is whether the rudeness was gratuitous and unjustified. Our Lord, the Fathers and Doctors and saints and martyrs were often rude to their opponents. Some of the things written by St Thomas More to Luther are unprintable. So when is rudeness justified? If my critics seem to be saying: 'never to a lady', they are sadly out of touch, and I am sure Dr Rowland would be the first to say she didn't want special treatment. We may regret the passing of the Age of Chivalry, we may even want to restore it, but to pretend that the social expectations of 70 years ago still exist is like pretending you still need a man with a red flag to walk in front of your car.
So with that out of the way, my critics need to explain in a little more detail what is wrong with making a somewhat rude joke about Dr Rowland as a satirical response to her attack on the dress sense of traditionalist women. Perhaps it is the first point: that she is 'on our side'.
Long-term readers of this blog know by now that I do occasionally criticise people who support the Traditional Mass, or claim to do so, such as Damian Thompson and Stuart Reid. So my critics will perhaps say: this is internecine, we should stick together, we have plenty of opponents as it is. They are advocating a sort of tribalism, presumably they see the conflict within the Church as a sort of tribal warfare. Don't shoot at anyone wearing the same uniform!
I don't see our battles as tribal warfare. Being an intellectual, by temperament and training, I see it as a complex web of ideas and theories, cutting across each other in interesting and hugely intricate ways. On a human level, I see good people on different sides of the arguments, often trapped into ways of thinking by assumptions they have never questioned. As far as making progress for the Truth goes, we need free and open discussion, within and between our little parties, and not an attitude of 'he's on my side, I'll back him up whatever he says.' That just leads to dishonesty and bitterness.
But of course I've not just disagreed with Dr Rowland, I've done so with a rude joke. The reason for that takes me to the heart of the matter: it is necessary to react, not just with arguments, but satire and ridicule, to certain kinds of challenge. (A clue: there had to be a reason why the saints used these tools.) I am thinking (there may be other cases too) of attacks on what Archer called the 'simple faithful'.
Remember William Blake's lines:
He who mocks the Infant's Faith,
Shall be mocked in Age and Death.
There is more than poetic justice here. What can you say to a child who is bullied? You may say that, no, his nose is a perfectly normal size, and get out nose-surveys to show this, but these arguments are difficult for the child to understand. What we instinctively say is: the bully is a silly person. (The bullying has, of course, demonstrated this.) The bully does not have the prestige to demand being taken seriously. If the children in the playground succeed in mocking the bully, they have defeated him. This is not two wrongs making a right. It is the revelation of a truth which takes away the bully's unjust power over others.
It is true of adults also, which is why a healthy society has satire, and why Shakespeare links the disappearance of the court 'fool' with tyranny and even madness.
What we have seen for the last two generations is the systematic ridicule of the simple faithful. To a large extent we all come into that category vis-a-vis professional theologians. I remember it acutely from my childhood: priests and teachers picking up some pious attitude or habit some innocent had exhibited and subjecting it to mockery. But it happens every week still, in Basil Loftus' column.
Yes we provide complicated arguments about sociology and Patristics and everything else to defend the instincts of the simple faithful. But we need to do more than that: we need to address the issue at an emotional level as well. We can't just point at the dusty volumes - though few of my critics have spent as long among these seeking pithy answers to Loftus and his ilk as I have. Those worm-eaten books can save no-one on their own. We must show, about the real bully, the insinuation, the snide aside, the smiling stab in the back: that this is itself worthy of ridicule. It is that, the emotional engagement, which puts heart back into the victim.
We all know this. I think there are some out there - some who regard themselves as giving a good example to others - who think that, while they can joke with their chums about these things, the more isolated simple faithful should just be told to suffer, because anything else would be just not the done thing. Well, if that is your view, reader, this is where we part company. I am not going to abandon them.