Charlie's Blog: The Church of Nasty


The Church of Nasty

The Lord's bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will.
2 TIMOTHY 2:24-26 NASB

The "Church of Nice" is a popular term among certain personalities within the Catholic blogosphere to denigrate people who agree with them on the issues but do not share their obnoxiousness in the style in which they push those issues. It is not enough to be orthodox and faithful, but you have to be obnoxiously orthodox and faithful. This mindset I can only describe as the "Church of Nasty." This begs a question. Does it matter how you say it?

Like it or not, the truth is always controversial. When Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta accepted the Nobel Peace Prize, she took the opportunity to decry the evil of abortion. I am willing to bet a lot of the people who voted for her to get the prize wished they could have yanked it back at that moment. No one thought of Teresa as anything less than a saint, yet she made people uncomfortable with both her words and her example. The woman spoke her mind. But she was not nasty. She neither abused others and was saintly when she was abused. Was she the Church of Nice? Was Mother Angelica the Church of Nice? Or Archbishop Sheen? Or Pope St John Paul II?

How do we pin down this Church of Nice? What exactly is it? Critics of the Church of Nice will give a laundry list of attributes of this Church of Nice, but this list will vary from one critic to the next. So, I will cut through the clutter and give it to you straight. If your parish does not celebrate the Latin Mass and preach exclusively on the culture war issues of abortion, contraception, homosexuality, and other issues below the waist, you belong to the Church of Nice. If your parish follows this program of Latin Mass and culture war, it will not hear a single peep from these critics. But if the priest takes time to decry some Wall Street excess or discuss the plight of Mexican immigrants, that parish is automatically the Church of Nice. This may seem cartoonish and ridiculous, but it helps to understand the source of this divide between Nice and Nasty.

Those who advocate for the Church of Nasty are overwhelmingly right wing, Republican, and consumers of Fox News and conservative talk radio. This is why they can ride so hard on culture war issues, but they don't care for social justice issues that are also part of the Magisterium. This is because social justice issues are the province of the left wing and Democrats. Traditionalists in the Catholic Church push their conservative political views while modernists push their progressive political views. Both are right when they agree with the Magisterium, but they are wrong when they favor one part exclusively over another. Those faithful Catholics that hold to all of the teachings are decried as the Church of Nice. These are the Catholics that hate abortion but also feed the needy and decry greed. This would be someone like Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta or Pope Francis. If all of this conflict reminds you of the Pharisees and the Sadducees from the New Testament, I think the same way. Both groups tried to use Jesus to push their political agendas, and Jesus stayed out of it. The result is that both groups hated Him. When everybody hates you, you are doing something right.

The Church of Nasty takes it style direction from the obnoxious hosts of Fox News and talk radio. Now, I am old enough to remember true conservatives like Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, and the always civil William F. Buckley, Jr. Those conservatives had something that many of today's conservatives do not have. They had class. They relied on intelligence, wit, decorum, and civility to push their agenda. They practiced discourse at an elevated level that is virtually absent from conservative media today. They did this because decorum and civility were conservative virtues. While left wing radicals were doing sit ins and burning bras and draft cards, these old school conservatives came across as clear eyed, rational, and reasonable. The new school conservatives have abandoned this civility in favor of the incendiary soundbite and demagoguery. I don't recall ever hearing shouting on Buckley's Firing Line, but shouting is all I hear from Fox News and talk radio even when the host is alone on the air.

Regardless of your views on the issues, you have to appreciate the style of these old school conservatives. Intelligent people engage in intelligent discourse and leave the shouting and deliberate controversy to the fools. In regards to the Catholic Church, the Church of Nice is simply Christian people practicing patience and restraint in order to avoid the sins of calumny and scandal. They take their doctrine from the teachings of the Church and avoid the false dichotomies present in left/right politics. They care more about standing for truth than scoring points.

The reason the conservative talkosphere relies on obnoxious and incendiary techniques is because controversy and scandal generate ratings. I know these techniques very well because I used them in the original incarnation of this blog. It is a constant battle for the attention of readers and listeners, so controversy gains an audience. This is why the rhetoric of the internet is so debased currently as trolls smash on each other and flame wars light up messageboards, comboxes, and social media. But as they say, there is a big difference between heat and light.

It is enough to be the light. This is the harder path but the better path. The discourse was heated in Buckley's day, but he took the high road. The irony was that people hated him for his civility. They decried him as some kind of snob, but his only real snobbery was that he would not descend to the level of his critics. What people don't realize is that Buckley was also a Catholic. For the Church of Nasty, William Buckley was the perfect embodiment of what they believe except the guy was not an obnoxious jerk. As such, today the man would be considered to be in the Church of Nice by those in the Church of Nasty.

I listen to those who belong to the Church of Nasty. I take into consideration what they have to say. But I also do this with the modernists who take positions that are anathema. My open ear is not an endorsement of anyone or anything. I just know that you cannot make a sound judgment before all the facts are in, and you have heard both sides of an argument. This strategy assumes that there is such a thing as reason, and the truth is able to be known and grasped by everyone even if they are momentarily deluded. The Nasty strategy assumes that truth belongs to the one with the loudest megaphone.

I don't have a problem speaking the truth. I just don't think you have to be a jerk to do it. I realize that decorum is easily drowned out by obnoxiousness. But I also know something else. The obnoxious ones usually defeat themselves. They either say the wrong thing that offends their base in a permanent way, or they are found guilty of the very sins they decry in others. They are revealed to be fools and hypocrites in the long run. My advice to the Church of Nasty is to heed these three proverbs:

A fool does not delight in understanding but only in revealing his own mind.

A fool always loses his temper but a wise man holds it back.

Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you will also be like him.

There are many proverbs in the Bible like these, and they commend wisdom. What the Church of Nasty condemns as "nice" is really just wisdom. Wisdom exercises patience and restraint. Wisdom takes the long view. It is hard to be wise in a world of fools, but this is what makes virtue as valuable as gold. Virtue is rare in these times, but it is always precious when you find it. Do not mistake silence for cowardice when it is actually wisdom practicing restraint. Be nice because it is wise to be nice. And always speak the truth with charity.