I have to admit, when I first saw the story erupt about Ross Douthat, I really thought the Twitter handle @douthatNYT was just a cool way of saying “doubt that.” Yes, this just goes to show you I live in a “mom cave”. And no, I don’t often read the NY Times. I saw all these back and forths, but really didn’t give it much thought until I saw the group letter to the editor of the New York Times. It started to become a little entertaining, so I paid more attention. You just know it’s going to be good when a large number of them are Georgetown people. You also know there’s something to it when they try to marginalize someone by saying they’re not qualified to speak on a topic. That’s pretty much liberal speak for, “Dang it! He nailed it, so we must now try to convince others he has no clue.” The most hilarious phrase from the letter was “politically partisan narrative.” Coming from Georgetown peeps and all, that’s kind of when “I’m like rubber. You’re like glue. What bounces off me, sticks to you!” started floating through my mind.
So, here’s the tweet that launched it all. Funny thing is that it’s not attached to any other conversation. It’s just there all by itself. It certainly didn’t say “Massimo Faggioli, own your heresy!”
Like I said, nowhere is a message to put this in context. None of the posts before or after this one mentions anyone who signed the letter to the editor, and yet, some say they felt inclined to sign it because Ross Douthat called Faggioli a heretic. Are we supposed to simply infer that because Douthat is a mean ol’ “conservative” Catholic? For all we know, the tweet above might have been a reference to “Take the plank out of your own eye” or something else. Isn’t it funny that the dissenters du jour chose to “own it?” Telling!
One signer said she felt inclined to sign because Douthat accused a colleague of heresy (http://bit.ly/1Oka5Dp). It’s supposed to be a “mea culpa,” but likely due to the social media backlash against the signers, it turns into more of a “it’s somebody else’s culpa” due to the fact she just can’t stop herself.
Why I Signed the Letter to the NYTimes about Ross Douthat
by Katie Grimes
I signed the letter primarily because I wanted to support my colleague who was slurred as a heretic on the very public forum of Twitter.
Hmmm, not so much, Katie. Douthat didn’t level an accusation at anyone in particular in that tweet, and I challenge people to do their own research. Don’t take my word for it. Go to Twitter and go through the tweets. I found it in about a minute. Sensitive much, signers?
Although I admire Mr. Douthat’s intelligence, piety, and passion for the faith, I signed the letter because I believe he has uttered several factual errors. I do believe that, even in its editorial pages, that the New York Times, like all publications, has a duty to the represent the truth to the best of its ability. More than many other figures who misrepresent or oversimplify Catholic theology in the mainstream media, Mr. Douthat has tended to portray himself as one who recites Catholic teaching rather than one who interprets it, especially over the course of the past few weeks. This alone I take issue with.
Uh, Miss Grimes? Based on your very first paragraph and the holes I punched in it in lightning speed, I’m reasonably sure you are not an expert on what constitutes a factual error.
In other words, I have no problem with any thinker expressing on even the most public forums views about Catholic theology that differ from mine. I do not even have a problem if said thinker defends and advocates for a “conservative” interpretation of Catholicism. I have no problem admitting that I am neither objective or neutral: we all speak from a certain context, suffer under the weight of our own finitude, and perpetrate a certain sinful bias. Although I, like every Catholic, feel very strongly about my views, I am not scandalized by the fact that Catholics disagree, mostly in good faith, about many, many things.
Aaaaaaand…here comes the not so contrite confession:
Now here comes the hard part. Many people, rightly, have taken issue with the letter’s use of the word “credentials.” Some contend that this word makes it seem as though only those with three letters after their name are entitled to speak on questions of Catholic theology and identity. I regret the impression this word has left in the minds of those who read the letter. I regret my failure to anticipate this completely reasonable response in advance.
So let me clarify…not in order to make excuses for my error but to atone for it.
Oh, don’t worry, the excuses are coming…
I certainly do not believe that only those privileged and lucky enough to have crossed the doctoral finish line qualify as the sole authentic theologians. Nor do I think that rigorous academic theological training necessarily makes one a better disciple of the crucified Christ. In fact, human history supports the opposite conclusion: the poor and marginalized–those who sit outside of the corridors of power rather than within them–possess a superior capacity both to perceive and to life the truth.
Yeah, some of us don’t take to those “with credentials” – especially from places like Georgetown, Loyola, Villanova, etc. – patting us on the head like we’re blithering idiots who couldn’t possibly have a coherent thought on Catholicism. Clearly you get that now, and if you had just stopped there, I probably wouldn’t be writing this little rant. Unfortunately for you, since you’re going to keep up the lunacy, I’m going to join in the fun.
Speaking just for myself: I object not to the privileging of un-credentialed voices but to the Times’ inconsistent standard of credibility. When it wished to employ an editorialist about the economy, it selected a Nobel Prize winning professor. When the New York Times publishes articles about global warming, they trust the judgments of “credentialed” scientists. One wonders why the New York Times does not extend to the discipline of theology the same respect? In other words, while one does not need a PhD to perceive and to live God’s truth, one does need some sort of systematic training to pontificate (pun intended) about questions of church history and liturgical, moral, and systematic theology. These can be found outside of the theological academy, but they must be found somewhere.
Seriously? I’ve got to ask what you’d think if it were Archbishop Chaput or Cardinal Burke who wrote this editorial? I’m reasonably sure all the whining about “experts” would have gone out the window, and we would be focusing on the term “legalistic” instead. Why, in your letter to the editor, did you not try to rebut the smallest “factual error” on Mr. Douthat’s part? Because, for Catholic dissenters, pointing out factual errors is irrelevant. Why would you ever do that when you could just tell people he’s stupid???
So perhaps rather than calling Mr. Douthat “un-credentialed,” the letter should have asked the New York Times the following question: with what criteria did they determine Mr. Douthat competent to act as an arbiter of theological truth?
Oh, for goodness sakes! I’m looking at the Op-Ed (Op stand for opinion if you didn’t know) page right now. There’s a Mr. Blow who wrote a piece on the G.O.P. His qualifications? He was a graphics editor who had a B.A. in mass communications. Not meaning to pick on Mr. Blow, but it’s just that the only “competency” one needs for an opinion is to have a brain. Now, if one wants to take someone’s opinion over another based on what they believe to be the author’s competency, so be it. I doubt I would agree with all of Mr. Douthat’s ideas, but I, personally, would likely take Mr. Douthat’s opinion over just about ANYONE at Georgetown.
But let’s be real here: some of the pushback to the letter’s use of the word “credentialed” strikes me as a bit disingenuous or self-serving. If we do not believe that academic theologians have distinctive to contribute to public debates, and if we believe their training makes them not experts but just self-inflated blowhards, then let’s go all the way with this. If Massimo Faggioli’s PhD and professoriate in theology does not matter, then neither does Mr. Douthat’s magna cum laude graduation from Harvard.
And here’s where we see the feigned contrition isn’t so. She’s actually going to double-down with the people who opposed her for patting Douthat on the head! Let me just explain to you, Ms. Grimes, we don’t have anything against academic theologians per se. We just think you and the other signers of this letter are blowhards. Sorry, actually more like whiners.
Here’s one last comment from the liberal, self-loathing white, Catholic chick (and you can’t tell me it’s not totally predictable):
Let’s also not forget that Mr. Douthat’s position owes in no small part to the credentials of race and gender that he has accumulated but not earned. We take white men much more seriously than we take others, even when they say very silly things.
And the trifecta is complete! She not only told us Douthat is incompetent (because he’s “conservative” – it certainly wasn’t for anything he wrote), but that he is also male and “Eurocentric.” Boom! The implosion of the liberal, white, Catholic woman is now complete. You may now return to your regular programming.