Thursday, November 17, 2011

Anonymity Means No Accountability

I am trying to be generous and believe that people who say that they want to remain anonymous online because they have "no desire of notoriety or recognition."  I really am. The same topic came up when people started joining Google+ recently, and some folks I am connected with were rubbed the wrong way by Google's insistence on "real names." The loophole for those folks was to just make a more believable pseudonym. :-/

My main objection to this, especially in this online world, is that anonymity means no accountability. You can publicly attack others and impugn their character, orthodoxy, whatever. You can do real damage to them. You can misrepresent truth (intentionally or not), such as Catholic doctrine. You can mislead others as to your identity (and by that, I mean more than just name). You can be a total misanthrope, be hateful, spiteful, and mean. All without any personal accountability.

How unjust is it for anonymous bloggers to tell bishops, for instance, that the bishops need to "stand up for the faith" and "have some backbone," when they don't even have the backbone to identify themselves? How much more when they make sweeping statements impugning the orthodoxy and charity of vast swaths of our bishops today?

When I'm feeling generous (especially with some of these folks I consider friends), I want to believe the stated good intentions. But when I'm feeling less so, it's hard to swallow, especially when I see examples of such vitriol from anonymous bloggers--because it's just too convenient to be anonymous online. You have nothing on the line, no accountability.

So for all those--especially purportedly Catholic (although who could verify it?)--online personalities who proclaim humility in anonymity (or whatever other personal concerns you have), I urge you to search your heart again. Is there any hint of fear that you could be held to account for what you write?  Even if there's not--especially if there is not--you should reconsider because the potential evil and harm to others (through malice or inculpable error) far outweighs the potential danger to yourself, your humility or privacy. Is it not, in fact, an act of charity to do so? To take risk to yourself out of concern for others?  I think our Lord would say so--"no greater love has a man than that he lay down his life for another."

If you can't take that risk and accountability, I'd humbly suggest that perhaps it would be better to not blog, comment, tweet--whatever--online at all.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

About the Hidden Exodus

I really have mixed feelings about this: "The Hidden Exodus". On the one hand, I can sympathize in that my own personal experience of parish life over these last 10 years has been lacking in the sense of family/deep connectedness that I felt both as an evangelical and Episcopalian.

I also understand the tension between adapting church services to be more appealing by contemporary popular standards and our duty to preserve authentic Christian liturgy.

But Fr. Reese of course takes the opportunity to take potshots at the new translation and the Vatican. I also wonder if the survey was framed in such a way as to tend towards those results.

I personally am of the bent that our faith should be challenging us. If it is not, there is something wrong. It is a call to live holier lives, and that's never been easy, certainly not in our culture today.

As a former evangelical Protestant, I can say that I do miss the evangelical bent--tis partly why I have become a lay member of the Order of Preachers, which is evangelical ("apostolic") to the core.

I also agree with the observation that encouraging a love of Scripture is important--we naturally crave the Word of God. Oddly enough, you'll hear more Scripture in the typical mass than you do in a typical evangelical service, but it's instilling a love for personal time with the Word that seems to be missing.

Another point where I think Fr. Reese diverges from the data for his own agenda is claiming that it's not that things are too liberal that draws people away. That probably comes from not having been evangelical Protestant himself--they are basically all conservative and take living the Faith and receiving it for what it is (not manipulating it to suit the zeitgeist) as a key motivating factor in their lives. The 46% who say the Church doesn't take the Bible literally enough--seems to me this is what they're getting at.

I reflect back on the sermons I heard growing up and those I've heard since becoming Catholic, and I can say pretty confidently that a key part of the sermon *every week* was a challenge to ongoing conversion and to go out and LIVE THE GOSPEL. On average in a Catholic homily, my experience has been that few challenge you, few stir that burning in your heart, few have any lasting impact at all. I have heard some, but on average, there is a great difference in this respect between evangelical Protestant and Catholic preaching. I think it's primarily this calling to conversion, holiness, and living the Faith without compromise that people find attractive when comparing these two, and it sounds like the data reflect that, even if framed in different words.

Well, then there are those who do want us to be more in practice like the rest of the world--the "liberal" and "mainline" denominations. I just don't get that approach to Christianity. It doesn't make sense to me at all. Well, I think I understand why people feel the desire to retain vestiges of a religion they feel attached to somehow, but as far as I'm concerned, if I didn't believe what a religion teaches, I just wouldn't join/stay in that religion. It's the only integral thing to do. I don't believe in Buddhism or Islam's creeds; ergo, I am not a Buddhist or Muslim. I don't just pick the things I like that fit with popular culture and say I am.

But as the data reveal--people don't make religious choices based on reason alone (or sometimes at all). I get that. But I digress..

So really, what I wanted to say was that I'm not sure what the right way forward is. A certain amount of adaptation makes sense and has always been the way Christianity has thrived--avoiding syncretism, most of the time. At the same time, Christianity is an historical faith; it is based in real history--a real Person, a real Truth, a real Church that has preserved and handed on what it has received. We can't just reinvent it or whitewash it so much that it looses its true character.

It does seem we maybe erred too much in the Catholic Church these last 40 odd years in the direction of adaptation, so I tend to think that a certain amount of readjustment and alignment, even if a bit awkward, is the right next step. Will the new translation magically make people return to the Faith in droves? Of course not, but that doesn't make it irrelevant or wrong. It is one piece of a big puzzle.

The data are there--we know people feel their needs are not being met. The solution isn't to totally change who we are or adapt the Faith so much that it is indecipherable from modern secularism and popular culture. It seems to me the only right way forward is indeed to recapture and preach the Gospel in its entirety and to practice it as such, in as much as we are able. Sometimes it will align with popular culture, sometimes not, but as long as it maintains its integrity, it will be clear about its value and people will be drawn to it.