Oh for heaven’s sake
The Commonweal blogger seems to think I’m being dishonest or half-hearted in my attempts to right the wrongs. I urge her to remember Mark Twain’s dictum: Never ascribe to malice what can be sufficiently explained by stupidity. There was real malice in this video, not to mention out-and-out lies. But the malice was not mine.
Agreed. I never said Shea was malicious to fall for and post the video; I said he was foolish. He said so, too, and I’m happy about that. But unhappily, he was halfhearted in his attempt to right that wrong. That doesn’t mean he wasn’t sincerely sorry he’d been duped, as I’m sure he was. But once he realized his mistake he should have either dropped the post entirely or else, if he wanted to preserve the record, updated the post to say clearly at the top, “This was a screw-up; the video is a hoax.” That goes for Dreher too, and anyone else who made the same mistake. That is what bloggers do when they catch themselves inadvertently spreading a lie. To fail to do it isn’t necessarily malicious, but it is less than ideal. Shea says, “I left the entry up precisely because, as a sort of penance, I wanted to say, ‘Don’t be stupid like me.’” Penance is fine, but not as important as making sure the misinformation doesn’t spread any further. I guess we can agree to disagree on that. Here, however, I think he’s putting words in my mouth:
Now the proper response to “I’m sorry” is “I forgive you.” The writer at Commonweal, however, seems to have decided instead to merely seize on a political opportunity by ignoring the whole “forgiveness” thing and instead insisting not only was I stupid, but I was impenitent and malicious and, furthermore, nobody on the Left has ever given so much as the slightest reason for a Catholic to think there is a secular messianic devotion to Obama. I’ll give her “stupid’. I’ll give her “uncharitable” (or I don’t think I would have bought the video). But I won’t give her impenitent or malicious. Nor do I buy her pure as the driven snow notion that secular messianism is only a disease of the Right.
Let me take that middle part first. To justify his credulity, Shea offers an impressive list of quotations from people who, in describing the appeal of candidate Obama, reached for some embarrassing quasi-religious rhetoric. (I guess he keeps those citations handy in case of emergencies?) Dumb as all that is, it doesn’t really go against my point, which is: No one, especially not anyone who values religion and dislikes seeing it dragged through the muck of partisan politics, should have believed in and disseminated a video of health-care-reform activists “praying to Obama.” The video didn’t supposedly show “secular messianic devotion” — it showed a minister, in vestments, leading a prayer service. To believe those people were saying “Hear our cry, Obama!” was to believe that they literally regard Obama as some sort of deity. And that’s silly no matter what Oprah or Chris Matthews once said. (A lot of people said some creepy things about Sarah Palin, but if anyone ever claims to produce a video of right-wingers actually praying to her — “Hear our cry, O Palin!” — sensible people should regard it with enormous skepticism.)
Now, I don’t think it’s my place to “forgive” any more than I expect a personal apology. Mark Shea didn’t sin against me, except perhaps in the very indirect way of slightly damaging the credibility of political discourse in the Catholic blogosphere. As I mentioned, I wasn’t at all surprised that this video got play on Andrew Breitbart’s site and on a number of other right-wing blogs. But Dreher and Shea disappointed me because I do expect better from them. I thought it would be obvious that I mentioned them precisely because I don’t think they’re right-wing partisan operatives; they’re much more complicated and more interesting than that. What’s the “political opportunity” for me, the “Commonweal writer,” in pointing out an instance when poisonous propaganda broke into the Catholic blogosphere? I think it stinks. And for the record, I’ve read one or two of Mark Shea’s books, and I even use one of them to help me explain the relationship between “Scripture” and “Tradition” to my parish’s RCIA group. His looking foolish isn’t cause for rejoicing over here.
Anyway, the good news is: I didn’t actually say he was “malicious,” or “stupid.” I didn’t say he was “uncharitable” or “impenitent.” And, I most certainly didn’t assert, purely or otherwise, that “secular messianism is only a disease of the Right.” What I said was really pretty simple, and it wasn’t a personal attack on Shea or anyone else. No good-faith observer on the political scene should have fallen for this video; I think it’s sad for everybody that anyone did. And we religious folks should be particularly careful about letting less scrupulous people manipulate us into using religion to score points in their political game. In other words, the lesson I draw from this is not so different from the one Shea draws: Don’t be stupid. Let’s all recommit to using our brains whenever we come across something that seems too bad to be true.