By the words of the Gospel, may our sins be blotted out.
It turns out that, as Deaconette has many times said here, blogging is not a ministry. Nor is the pre-eminent political issue of our time to be used as the sole litmus test of one’s Catholic voting identity. Nor should clerics “be publicly voicing overt and purely political opinions regarding individuals, parties, election results, the current news cycle, nor engaging in ad hominem attacks.” And with that quote, she draws your attention its source, a remarkable letter from Bishop Donald S. Hying of the Diocese of
Oscar Meyer Madison, Wisconsin. You can read it in its entirety online. We know it’s one hundred and one percent correct because we’ve been frequently told of His Excellency’s extra-most-bestest-ness by the Sacred Person whom His Excellency is contradicting.
It is on that last of the Bishop’s points, i.e. ad hominem attacks, Your Deaconette wishes to expand. And at the risk of repeating herself, she has many times said here something else — that the curriculum for your basic rad-trad priest (and aren’t they all just so, so basic?) does not seem to include fundamental precepts of logic and formal argument. Bishop Hying didn’t clarify, either, and it makes your Deaconette wonder if the good bishop does indeed know the difference between an ad hominem and an insult. An insult, which is an instance when something unkind is said about another person, is of its nature an attack. To make a case for your point of view is to argue, and in so doing one commits the logical fallacy of argumentum ad hominem by making the case about a person, rather than that person’s ideas. Consequently, ad hominems are far more sly and subtle than a mere insult: they are insults used in place of evidence to support a deduced conclusion.
Consider an insult by the Puttering Proprietor of Pithy Porcelain which he often quoted when the subject of Mr. Obama arose. The 4P was fond of repeating that “every word he [Mr. Obama] says is a lie, including ‘and’ and ‘the.’” The author of that witticism was novelist Mary McGrory. By it, she was challenging the truth of playwright Lillian Hellman’s somewhat autofictional career as a memoirist when Hellman recounted her life among literary icons of the twentieth century, including Ernest Hemingway and Dashiell Hammett. More than that, McGrory was entertaining, with humorous hyperbole about the extent of Hellman’s mistruths, while a guest on The Dick Cavett Show television program.
Deaconette is certain the 4P knew of the hyperbolic nature of this insult. It is unkind to call someone an inveterate liar, even when it is demonstrably true of them. You’ll note, though, that while Ms. McGrory confined her remarks to things which Hellman wrote, the 4P expanded it to the entirety of Mr. Obama’s speech. Was he being only humorous? No, Deaconette contends he was expanding the insult into the territory of argumentum ad hominem: any statement by the then-President of the United States could be dismissed without consideration as untrue. Such an argument suggests that because a person has said or done something contemptuous or fallacious once, all other statements or actions by that person cannot be considered good, right or true.
That is wrong. Consider Martin Luther, whom many neo-Montanist Traddies would like us to believe is presently attending The 2021st Annual All-Perdition Lot Casting Competition and Baby Pig Roast at pit number three with an apple stuffed in his mouth, as punishment for not getting proper approval to use thumbtacks on the notice board. Was he wrong to thereafter pen the lines “Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott, ein gute Wehr und Waffen?” No. Even Catholics can find spiritual consolation in The Bulwark Never Failing.
Deaconette remembers a North Carolinian bishop who had two stock sermon-saving magic tricks he would pull out of his miter in case he had to (sometimes even unexpectedly) preach. One was titled “And then s/he died in my arms,” and the other was titled “And then Mother Teresa said to me.” Possibly the most unsafe place to lie down in the world was in a bed attended by the friendly embrace of Bishop Bill; countless multitudes died in his arms over the decades. His wide-ranging privileged hearing of the dying wisdom of a holy soul was the flip side of the ad hominem coin, called the appeal to authority. It attempted to imbue unremarkable platitudes just remembered as the deacon read the Gospel with the sanctity of one of life’s most holy moments. Likewise, his anecdotes of an unusually loquacious Mother Teresa of Calcutta — whom, to be fair, he did know somewhat well — were similarly encyclopedic, if banal, and were oddly untinged by her experiences of India and Croatia. At the time, Mother Teresa was considered an unassailably saintly living exemplar of Christian life; today we understand she’s a mere canonized Saint and thus, she wasn’t at all saintly.
So many Catholic homilies are rushed affairs with little intellectual merit. Shocking? Well, your Deaconette cannot tell you how many Sundays she has heard the words, “This morning as I was finishing my coffee,” immediately following the words “Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ.” She thinks it’s at least a month of Sundays. It therefore be-cloven-hooves us to be alert for poorly constructed and fallacious arguments, since we hear so many of them at Mass — and for our own spiritual edification, no less. In any given Sunday Mass homily from clergy ranging in goodness from devoted to debauched you’ll hear ad hominems, a circulus or three, red herrings, ad crumenams, hasty generalizations, false dichotomies, straw men, and slippery slopes. Learn what those are and your ears will prick up so often in the pews, you may be forgiven by heaven for playing Angry Birds instead of listening to the dressy dude at the pulpit. Learn what those are, please; they are your intellectual self-defense.
Deaconette commends Bishop Hying, again, on his wise letter to his diocese. His urgency was clearly motivated by a Prevaricating, Prattling, Politically Presumptuous coffee mug salesman who’d been naughty for a very long time. But even in the good bishop’s letter, Deaconette spots numerous informal and formal errors in logic, and that’s a shame. Perhaps traditionalists will return rhetoric and composition to its honored place in seminary formation. Let’s not wait for that, though; the rest of us can demand an end to lazy sermonizing as if our souls depend urgently upon it. Perhaps they do.
Through the intercession of St Teresa of Calcutta, patron saint of unchallenged and unrepentant charlatans, may Almighty God grant the renewal of His gifts of Confirmation to you, that you may bind up the broken of His clergy, with a gag if necessary, in the Name of ✠ the Creator, and of the Redeemer, and of the Sanctifier. Amen. Please put away Angry Birds and stand for the creed.