Sunday, July 14, 2013

Reply to critics: Why do I defend the Simple Faithful?

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.


  1. I've had my run-in with Mr. Reid as well, who, much like Dr. Rowland, took aim at the traditional Catholic in the pew, accusing him of being a "Gnostic". I think the charge of bullying is rather astute on your part, Mr. Shaw. That seems to sum it up, especially since there are so few who are willing, at least for now, to dish out to the bullies in kind.

    I find it rather odd that Dr. Rowland was defended the way she was in the comments thread. It seems that too many Catholics have been conditioned to simply "accept" whatever their supposed betters say without question, no matter how insulting or even erroneous what they say or write may be.

    That is, I'm afraid, the fruits of the interpretative theology of the Hermeneutic of Reform in Continuity approach. Eventually the only interpretation that will be correct is from those who can flash credentials or shout the loudest, a.k.a the "conservative" Catholic bullies, be they pundit bullies or PhDed bullies.

    1. Well I greatly enjoyed your original post, agreed with everything it said, and hope for more of the same kind.

  2. The irony of a Catholic intellectual (a good thing), having recently gathered at an international symposium with other noted Catholic intellectuals (a very good thing), freely bandying words like "aestheticism" (a thought provoking thing) around but then turning to criticise, what she perceives to be, the out-modish fashions of some of her own sex who attend TLM is just too toe-curlingly embarrassing to be true. Talk about ivory towering! Talk about lack of self-awareness!

    i wonder, though, where Ms Rowland got the inspiration to ungenerously slight the personal traits and habits (as she evidently sees them) of ordinary Catholics in the pews at Old Masses? As though they were relics from a bygone age, the 1940s or sometime previous?

    Hmmm. Can't quite put my finger on where I've heard that type of unthinking air rifle fire recently. It does seem to be all the fashion at the moment, though, that general type of tone. I've certainly heard it before over the past few months. I could be mistaken, though. Maybe I was too busy counting Rosaries at the time to really take notice.

  3. Dr Shaw,

    You raise the issue of conflict in the Church with its web of ideas and theories. It is essential sometimes to step back from the canvass to obtain a proper perspective.

    The Church, the Mystical Body of Christ on Earth under the Successor of Peter, the Pope, is today, in a complete mess. The last time this happened in the sixteenth century when we actually resorted to open warfare.

    Now I’m not suggesting that we do that now, nor am I entirely sure that rudeness is an appropriate weapon. But, there is a time to turn the other cheek and a time to drive the abusers from the temple. I do think that the time has come for us Catholics who accept two millennia of the Magisterium’s understanding of Scripture and Revelation and who reject the gross distortions which were hoisted on the Faithfull in the post Vatican II period by means of implicitly false liturgy, the abolition of apologetics and catechesis in our schools and of Catholic devotions, to speak out openly and robustly.

    Above all, we must ensure that our ancient Catholic Mass is returned to its rightful and full place in Catholic worship.

  4. Anonymous8:07 pm

    More Rowlandesque here, if you like:

  5. I wonder if you think this is a fair treatment to the argument?
    I particularly dislike her analogy regarding the opera, although a friend did suggest an interpretation, that Rowland was referring to the transforming of the mass to a performance.

  6. I find this bizarre. For a start, Prof Rowland did not attack "the fashion sense of Catholic mothers" or whatever you said on Twitter. She just mentioned "oddly dressed people", gender unspecified. So your vicious insults about her personal appearance, which you call a 'joke', are all the more unjustified and unseemly. And then to liken yourself to our Lord or the saints in order to justify yourself... I don't remember our Lord calling the Pharisees fat.


  7. Elizabeth, you need to relax. He did not call her fat. She, on the other hand, started the whole issue by making fun of people's dress, and oddly claiming that she is surrounded by people after EF masses who critique it like an "opera." I don't know where she attends the EF but I've never had any experience remotely like that.

  8. Dr Shaw did call Prof Rowland fat in the original post. He also insulted her hairstyle, her glasses and her name. I'm glad to see that those remarks have now been removed, but there is still a link to an article entitled "How florals make you look fat" or some such.

    Wasn't her lecture all about how to increase participation in the EF? Might there not be some truth in what she says? Is that why it's provoked this extraordinary outburst?

  9. I didn't call her fat. I don't know if she is or not. I observed that big floral prints make you look fat, the link demonstrates this is a widely-held view.

    I've taken the photo down because I was asked to by the photographer.

  10. Just the sort of remark my children make. "I didn't say my brother was a wally, I just said that he looks like a wally."

    Anyway, I'm glad you removed the insulting remarks. And maybe you've got a point too. Peace.

  11. Really Mr Shaw, I suggest you get over yourself. Or as was once the saying in Australia "have a Bex, a nice cup of tea, and a little lie down".

    I've attended the old Mass for a long time. If Dr Rowland has had some bad experiences she is I am afraid, unfortunately, not alone. That in itself should be pause for thought about how we impact those exploring the old Mass.

  12. Dr. Rowland sniffs with disdain at the people in attendance at the traditional Mass who dress as if they were "from another era." But the manner in which she is attired during her commentary is no different from the way these people dress---that is, modestly. Rowland's criticism is thus exposed as gratuitous and even rather malicious.