You never know who’s reading

November 12, 2006 | 13 comments

[UPDATED, see below]

The snippy back and forth that’s been going on between Mark Shea and Tom McKenna bums me out. I can’t recap the situation since I’ve only glanced at those posts lest I get a headache, but it seems that Shea is more politically liberal and McKenna is more conservative so they disagree about a lot of the hot topics of today (torture and Saddam’s execution to name a couple). This post by Shea and this one by McKenna are two examples.

I know it’s really not that big of a deal, but it’s something I’m sensitive to because of my own conversion process. Back when I had first opened my mind to the idea of Christianity but hadn’t made much progress other than not outright loathing all things Christian anymore, I came across a really contentious discussion between Christians and atheists on some blog. I was about to move on since it was the same old debate about God’s existence that we’ve all heard a zillion times before, but just as I was about to click away something caught my attention.

The thread had degenerated into personal attacks and general nastiness, with the striking exception of three people. Three of the commentors in the debate maintained a calm, charitable tone despite the fact that every response they gave was met with hostility and ad hominem attacks. They made their points firmly but with grace and kindness and even a bit of light humor sometimes. Even at a glance their writing stood out. You could have covered up the names of the commentors and still easily picked out the posts by these three individuals.

I just didn’t know what to make of this. I was intrigued. Had these guys been smoking something that they could be so calm in such a contentious debate? The way they presented their arguments was so reasonable and refreshing that I took a moment to actually read them. I saw that they were in the pro-Christian camp, and it hit me that this is that whole “love your neighbor” and “be kind to others” thing that Christians were supposed to do. I hadn’t seen a lot of that in practice in my life and couldn’t help but feel inspired to watch it in action. In most cases it seemed that these guys were probably better-educated and smarter than most of their attackers; yet they had the humility, restraint and generosity to keep the can of intellectual whoop-ass closed throughout the conversation.

For the first time, I opened my eyes to the good side of Christianity. I’d spent so much of my life fixating on every Christian hypocrite out there that I’d never bothered to notice that there were a lot of truly Christ-like people too. And as I lurked silently as the debate progressed I thought, “Man, when this works, it works.” These Christians had something going on that the others didn’t. [I didn’t notice this at the time but I later realized that at least two of them were Catholic.]

After reading through that debate that day I started to notice other good Christians, and good things about Christianity. My journey began to pick up steam.

As for the Shea/McKenna debate, it’s not so much that I think they did anything wrong or anything I wouldn’t do (Lord knows both of them have more Holy Spirit goin’ on in their little fingers than I do in my whole body on a good day), but that they missed a chance to go above and beyond. A lot of us brand new converts look up to people like them, and their sites are high-profile enough that I’m sure plenty of atheists and agnostics check in now and then. I doubt anyone was particularly bothered or had their opinion changed about Church teaching either way based on those posts. But if, however, one or both of them had gone the very difficult route of responding with kindness and humility to the posts that criticized them, it might have woken some people up and made them rethink some of their ideas about Catholics and Christians.


UPDATE: Just came across this post by an anonymous troll on McKenna’s blog: “I love seeing you fools at one another’s throats. None of you has any influence outside a relative handful of busybodies and crackpots…it’s going to be great watching you bigots and sycophants implode.”

I know very little about the Church compared to many Catholics. But I do know this: as someone who spent her whole life outside (waaaay outside) the Church, I see very clearly how much we’re all in this together. Despite their differences, Shea and McKenna have one big thing in common: they are hated by a lot of people because they are Catholic. Many, many other people like Anon are out there who hate the Church and its people and couldn’t care less about differing views on Vatican politics so long as we all fail.


  1. SteveG

    So funny you posted this. I’ve actually been wanting to send an email to Mark (one of my favorite bloggers) for the last few months saying almost the exact same thing.

    It is really depressing to me when I see the tone on some Catholic blogs. I don’t remember his blog ever being like this prior to the whole torture debate issue (which I simply can’t even bear to read anymore).

    I think sometimes it’s so easy to get caught up in being right that we lose sight of 1 Peter 3:15.

    Always be prepared to make a defense to any one who calls you to account for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and reverence;16: and keep your conscience clear, so that, when you are abused, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.

    It’s the internet motto I try (imperfectly) to live by, and I think we all need to remind each other and help each other live up to that standard.

    As always, great post Jen. Thanks!

  2. Anonymous

    I’ve noticed it, too. I have been skipping the torture posts completely on every site I subscribe to with Bloglines. If I have to read another nasty comment about “Emperor Bush” or “anti-American liberals” I might vomit.

    I tell you, I am so far from perfect that it’s silly, but one thing I try to remember (like Steve, imperfectly) is to be charitable. I have a tape of a lecture given by Father Paul Scalia that I’ve been meaning to listen to, and it’s called “The Church Belligerent” – it’s about how to defend the Faith with charity. I’ve seen plenty of Christians who are not at all charitable towards others, and I’ve seen athiests debating them say that they’d rather go to Hell (if there is any) than spend an eternity in Heaven (if there were any) with people like that. It’s really sad.

    Like Saint Paul said, we could speak the very words of the angels, but if we have no love in our hearts for our brethren (no matter what their religious preferences), it means nothing at all.

  3. M_David


    So funny you posted this…I’ve actually sent that e-mail to Shea years ago.

    Sort of silly on my part, but Shea has such incredible writing skill it pained me to see him waste it.

    I really don’t read him anymore ’cause, as you say, the tone is really depressing. When I do, I grit my teeth, dive in to get the good stuff, and leave as quick as possible.

    I know I sound critical of the poor guy, but don’t mean to. I’m a lot more snippy than he is; it’s just that he’s got so much more talent it’s a crying shame.

    Oh, and great post Jen.

  4. Faith

    I really like Mark Shea because he refuses to be politically correct, for either the right or the left. I like that independence. When I reverted back to the faith, I was so intimidated by lots of orthodox Catholics who I felt were constantly judging others on how Catholic they were. Do you receive the Eucharist in the hand, gasp, you aren’t as Catholic as I, who receive it on the tongue, etc. I don’t know if you’ve run into this type. Anyway, Mark Shea made me realize I can think for myself AND be Catholic. I owe my obedience to the Church, not reactionaries. He made me braver.

    But I agree that the snarkiness gets so ugly. What about “They’ll know we are Christians by our Love?” You know the hymn? There is often very little love going on in those blog posts and comments.

    I just discovered your blog and I love it! Sorry, to go on so long.

  5. Anonymous

    Courtesy also stands out when it is practised by the “commentariat”. I have gone to look at more than a few blogs when I have been impressed by the courteous way a blogger addresses the issues in comment boxes.

  6. Elena

    Three of the commentors in the debate maintained a calm, charitable tone despite the fact that every response they gave was met with hostility and ad hominem attacks.

    This is an important observation, and I’m glad you made it. As an example, a few years ago I had a big debate on my blog about EIFWAIL (early induction of fetus with anomalies incompatible with life) and I made a deliberate effort to be calm, rational, and logical – and it simply did not matter. The slings and arrows from that discussion still hurt. Last summer I stepped in to protect a priest who was being viciously maligned on another blog, and the offending commenter threatened to call CPS on me, simply because we disagreed. I had never met thisperson. She lived many states way from me. It has definitely changed my blogging practices.

    I don’tknow if it’s part of being on the internet, or the type of personalities blogs attract, but I have found that simply speaking the truth how you see it, leaves you vulnerable to those types of attacks.

    I’m really impressed and pleased that you picked up on that trend Jen!

  7. Anonymous

    Unfortunately, sometimes we Christians are the most un-Christ-like of all, but I have found that in general people can forgive a lot of our faults if we admit to them and are humble about them. It’s when Christians are prideful and arrogant that we really do the worst damage to those who have not been given the gift of faith.

    It wouldn’t surprise me if the hateful messages left by such posters as the Anon you mentioned are the result of either having seen a lot of hypocrisy (a huge turn-off to just about every human being)or having been personally hurt by people claiming to be Christian. Just a thought.

    I think it’s really important to realize that looking up to a person is one thing, but turning them into an idol is another. We are all faulty human beings, and we are bound to be disappointed if we turn other Catholics into heros. I’ve seem some very public Catholic “heros” later exposed to be something very unhero-like, and those who idolized them are totally disillusioned, sometimes to the point of questioning their faith.

    I guess the bottom line is that charity, kindness, and humility go a long way in impressing non-believers. Arrogance, pride, and hypocrisy do just the opposite.

  8. Suzanne Temple

    You make a very good point, here.

  9. Skyminder

    Amen to that, Jen.

    I myself have experienced the urge to EXULTANTLY TRIUMPH over my error-darkened foes, but there’s basically never an ok time to do so. No matter how right I happen to be, it’s only really because SOMEONE ELSE has shown me the way. Even Jesus, when He expelled the moneychangers out of the temple, didn’t go “Oh yeah?! What’s up now, foolios?” He chastised them and left.

    Keep it up, and welcome Home!

  10. Anonymous

    “Of Courtesy it is much less
    Than courage of heart or holiness.
    But, in my roads, it seems to me
    That the Grace of God is in Courtesy”.

    I have this note taped to my pc. Sorry I don’t know who wrote it but its a much needed reminder for me!

  11. Dave Armstrong

    Superb observations. Thanks for sage advice that we all need to constantly heed (and please pray for me as I am currently involved in four exchanges with atheists: the most recent posts at my blog).


  12. Dave Armstrong

    Testing my new photo.

  13. Renee

    Great insight, I’ve had my own patience and compassion tested when someone posts an overwhelmingly frustrated post of name calling (or whatever)in my own blog.

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