On Friday, we took a look at an attempted reply to my dissection of yet another “We have to focus on abortion and not listen to the rest of the Church’s teaching” plea (which, as ever, really meant “We need to burn up all our time and energy defending every lie, cruelty, assault on decency, and act of murder the Cult of Trump commits against the poor, weak, and brown, all while hiding behind the unborn as human shields”).
I noted the back and forth between me and the reader on Friday. What I want to do today, briefly is simply point out the various rhetorical strategies being attempted by that reader, largely because they are very common and often very intimidating for Catholics who sense that there is something wrong with the Five Non-Negotiable Lie, but who often don’t know how to articulate what it is and get thrown for a loop by the strategies deployed to shout them down.
As far as what’s wrong with the 5NN myth, you can get the scoop right here.
But today, I want to focus on something a bit different: namely, sectarian peer pressure in the Catholic communion. To get the hang of it, I want to revisit my interlocutor’s “arguments” and talk about what they attempted to do.
Here’s her first claim:
I just love how you always think you know better than the magisterium of the Church.
The first strategy she attempted was to claim the Magisterial High Ground. It would be a potent argument–if it were not a blatant lie. Honest, devout Catholics genuinely want to think and act in union with the Magisterium, but are also often very uncertain that they know what the Magisterium teaches. So you can often cow them simply by shouting confidently to the room that what we have here is vile contending rebel against Holy Church. Often, that is enough to make a nice, not-very-confident Catholic back down and shut up.
The solution to this problem, of course, is to know what the Church teaches. That way, you know it when somebody is shouting BS. More than this, you can reply with confidence out of the Church’s Magisterial teaching, which does in fact say that we should obey all magisterial teaching, not just the bits that accessorize your MAGA ideology (or any ideology).
She retorted ignorantly:
They are very clear about the non-negotiables about voting and what the prolife movement entails. You dilute. They don’t. Oh, and we actually believe we have a bad pope. That much is very clear.
There’s a lot here, all of it wrong. It now turns out that she imagines the 5NN are “the magisterium”. This gives away the game already that what she is actually appealing to is not the Church’s teaching or the Magisterium, but her MAGA peer group (aka, the Mean Girls). Unconfident Catholics, unsure of what the Church teaches, can feel even more cowed by this tactic, because the purpose of this tactic is not just to call you a foul contending rebel to Holy Church, but to make clear that you are in danger of being cast out of fellowship at the Kool Kids Table. And the Mean Girl Magisterium understands their God-given Authority to be so great and august that even this damn liberal Pope does not make the cut. If he is excommunicate, what chance does a loser like you have?
Here again, knowledge is the best thing for the unconfident Catholic to cultivate. For the fact is, the Church’s actual Magisterium, not a pamphlet from Catholic Answers telling you to vote GOP or the baby gets it, says that we are to listen to the pope even when he is not speaking infallibly and that “My circle of Mean Girls all agree he’s a bad pope” is not sound theological argumentation. Instead, it says:
Among the principal duties of bishops the preaching of the Gospel occupies an eminent place. For bishops are preachers of the faith, who lead new disciples to Christ, and they are authentic teachers, that is, teachers endowed with the authority of Christ, who preach to the people committed to them the faith they must believe and put into practice, and by the light of the Holy Spirit illustrate that faith. They bring forth from the treasury of Revelation new things and old, making it bear fruit and vigilantly warding off any errors that threaten their flock. Bishops, teaching in communion with the Roman Pontiff, are to be respected by all as witnesses to divine and Catholic truth. In matters of faith and morals, the bishops speak in the name of Christ and the faithful are to accept their teaching and adhere to it with a religious assent. This religious submission of mind and will must be shown in a special way to the authentic magisterium of the Roman Pontiff, even when he is not speaking ex cathedra; that is, it must be shown in such a way that his supreme magisterium is acknowledged with reverence, the judgments made by him are sincerely adhered to, according to his manifest mind and will. His mind and will in the matter may be known either from the character of the documents, from his frequent repetition of the same doctrine, or from his manner of speaking.” (Lumen Gentium, no. 25)
The technical term for what my interlocutor was doing is call “playground gossip”.
When informed of the fact that her “five non-negotiables are not magisterial teaching, my floundering interlocutor finally went straight for the distilled essence of her whole “argument”:
You make me laugh. It’s no wonder people don’t take you seriously.
Translation: “None of my circle of Mean Girls likes you“. It’s what she was saying all along. It’s what baseless claims to authority are always saying all along. It’s the mentality of the people who claimed Jesus was a Samaritan and demon-possessed, of those who stopped their ears and rushed at Stephen to stone him, of the mob who screamed “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!’ to keep Paul from speaking. It means, in whatever language, “We’re Us and you are Other and we will exclude you and destroy you!”
That’s very intimidating for a lot of people, who don’t want to be rejected and who greatly fear the rejection mean not merely rejection by the Group, but rejection by God, for whom the Group speaks.
Again, the tonic for this is knowledge. Knowing what the Church actually teaches goes a long way toward not being intimidated by charges of heresy and being an enemy of God and so forth. And remember what Jesus tells you, especially when you really are trying to do his will is a real morale booster:
“Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so men persecuted the prophets who were before you.” Matthew 5:11-12
Mean Girl Magisteria give away the game whenever some Know Nothing Laity answer reasons with exile from the Kool Kids Table. The trick is to grow a thick skin like the prophets did. That feels presumptuous to a lot of Catholics. “Who do I think I am? Imagining I’m a prophet?”
The thing is, you are a prophet–by virtue of your baptism. You are also a priest and a king. It would be presumptuous and arrogant for you to take those offices on yourself, that’s true. But those offices were all put on you by Jesus Christ himself when he baptized you. What is actually presumptuous is to deny that you bear that burden now.
Of course, being a prophet does not mean that any damn fool thing comes out of your mouth is the Word of the Lord. The proof of that is given whenever a baptized Christian babbles some idiocy that comes, not from God, but from their own foolish brain or human ideological programming–such as declaring that abortion is the only thing that matters and we can feel free to ignore the Church since opposition to abortion taketh away the sins of the MAGA.
But when you are, in fact, saying what the Church teaches, you are speaking prophetically. And when you do that and some ignorant bully tells you that Mean Girls reject you, “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so men persecuted the prophets who were before you.”