Sunday, March 26, 2017

Edward Feser on Mark Shea

Edward Feser has a couple of scathing posts about Mark Shea, here and here-- occasioned by Shea virulently denouncing Feser's latest book (on capital punishment), without even reading it. (It isn't published yet.)

Feser describes Shea's diatribes as "unhinged", and the term seems appropriate to Shea's blogging in recent times. Once upon a time, I admired him very much.

Feser himself describes Shea's degeneration thus: "Shea seems in the last few years increasingly to have abandoned these ideals [of reasoned argument]. He shows little interest in persuading anyone or in giving arguments. In blog post after blog post he tosses out strings of ungrounded assertions, attacks caricatures, hurls insults and abuse, seems content with the “high fives” his more rabid fans give back in response, and offers further abuse and mockery in response to critics who try to engage him substantively."

So why is this even noteworthy? Am I just drawing attention, in a bitchy and gossipy manner, to a spat between two bloggers which has no wider significance?

Well, no. I think Shea's descent into lunacy is quite an important cautionary tale. It shows what happens when left-wing politics so completely overwhelms a Catholic's intellect and imagination that it becomes the tail that wags the theological dog.

Shea has reached the point where any criticism of Pope Francis, or even any criticism of developments within the Church which might be taken as criticism of Pope Francis, can only be motivated by a burning desire to grind the faces of the poor, initiate a race war, and hang all criminals. 

No, you didn't read that wrong. It really does make that little sense.

And the irony, as Feser points out, is that Shea accuses his opponents of being obsessed with politics: "His seeming inability to refrain from dragging in his personal political obsessions shows just how very unhinged he is. It also manifests his lack of self-awareness. Shea accuses fellow Catholics who disagree with him about capital punishment of being blinded by their political biases – while in the very same breath bizarrely insinuating that our support for capital punishment somehow has something to do with President Trump’s health care bill (!)"

It's not just Mark Shea. You just have to look at his blog to see he has many like-minded supporters, for whom the term "conservative Catholic" is a derogatory term, and for whom Donald Trump is the devil incarnate, everyone who voted for him is a racist, pro-life activists who don't want to drag various left-wing political agendas in to the pro-life movement are hypocrites, etc. etc. And I encountered many Catholics such as these on Facebook, before my blessed withdrawal from that social network.

Sadly, I think it might be said that Mark Shea speaks for a majority in the Western Catholic Church at this stage-- at least, most members of the huge Catholic bureaucracy, most of the ageing religious orders, most Catholic charities and educational institutions, most prelates, etc. The emphasis on left-wing politics in the Catholic Church is so pronounced at this stage that-- to be honest-- I rarely listen to what Catholic spokespeople in the media have to say, except when they are talking on purely spiritual matters. (And, to be even more honest, usually not even then, since they tend to reduce the gospel to its most anodyne and mundane level.)

Oh, and this shouldn't even be relevant, but I am personally opposed to the death penalty, although the case doesn't seem as open and shut to me as it does to many others.

Postscript: I see Mark Shea has apologised to Edward Feser and admitted his own anger and lack of charity. Of course this is gracious, and I wish him all the best in the personal struggles he alludes to.

However, I still think he's missing the point. He writes: "And though I’m wrong in my manners I don’t, dammit, feel for one second wrong in my convictions that the prostitution of American conservative Christianity to Alt Right and the Party of Trump and all the rest of it is a massive calamity and a ruinous failure." But all that is almost entirely in his own fevered imagination, and the fevered imaginations of those who think like him-- and besides, surely if he looks at the matter objectively, he would see that it was the prostitution of Catholicism to the liberal left which was the "massive calamity and ruinous failure", and has been for decades now, and is ongoing

The idea that platoons of conservative Catholics have been heaping unconditional praise on Donald Trump's head, or jumping onto the Alt Right bandwagon, is pure fantasy. However, I do believe there is a definite rebound against political correctness, internationalism, and other liberal left sacred cows which spent far too long grazing in the Catholic pasture undisturbed.

What Shea (and his readers) can't seem to bear is that Catholics might agree with Trump, the GOP, or even with the Alt Right, on anything.


  1. I avoid listening to any of these people, no one is saying that there's anything wrong with engaging with media and apologetics, but the tendency I always feel, especially with Americans, is that it's becomes so much about ME and so much less about what they might have to say. Myself,I like a balanced approach to social teaching, personally I think humanity can move on from capital punishment in today's day and age,I don't understand how being against the death penalty seems to be almost perceived as being opposed to supporting the life of the unborn , aged or infirm put supporting heterosexual marriage. As our parish is traditional, so few people are in support of Caritas(which I think is identical to Trócaire) that the Lenten material is no longer even displayed. I'm not entirely sure of this "decision"(but there probably wasn't a decision, just a gradual process); I don't know what the diocese would think either.

    1. Trocaire's latest motto is "Join the Fight for Justice". No further comment needed. I wouldn't dream of donating to them, especially given their anti-Israel bias.

      By the way, I'm also opposed to the death penalty, but I accept that a Catholic in good faith can support it.

    2. George Pell, when he was still auxiliary of Melbourne, was Australian chairman of Caritas and did in fact work hard to stop donations flowing to pro-communist groups in Asia. The story is detailed in Tess Livingstone's biography(a bit outdated now)(I think she gets published in Annals at times). If I can remember Ireland was one of the countries whose donations were involved at the time, this may be even going back to the 80s.
      Because we're close to the Pacific region here there's a lot of emphasis by Caritas Australia on climate change and rising sea levels. (Again, on this I prefer a balanced approach-the effect of mad consumerism is bound to have some effect somewhere on the earth, but can they REALLY tell us in terms of inches of water here or there?) At any rate, why not put resources into any needs of pacific-islanders have here and now and worry about sea levels when and if they rise?