Monday, December 04, 2006

Setting the record straight

With Shea unavailable, his trusty sidekick Zippy (whom I understand is banned from commenting here, couldn't have happened to a nicer guy for reasons that I hope will become clear) appears to be doing his best to go after us in the comments of over at Jimmy Akin's.

Zippy charges:
I am fairly amazed at how much gravity is being attached to the opinions of Mark Shea, by the way. I noticed a debate raging in a Coalition for Fog combox about whether Jimmy should be "pressured" to come down on Mark for being so mean** - very ironically - to this small group, whose central thesis is that we aren't hard-headed enough about using "coercive techniques" to interrogate prisoners. I conjecture that if we wanted to make at least some of them crack under interrogation all we would have to do is expose them to Mark's disapproval.

The "raging debate," near as I can determine, encompassed all of three posters, one of them anonymous (and now deleted) and as one of the three involved I explicitly stated that I didn't want it to happen. IIRC, the poster who raised the issue (Joe D'Hippolito) had something very similar to the proposed boycott that Mark called for (and still does?) against Joe for stuff he wrote in Frontpage Magazine several years ago.

When confronted with the facts of the situation, he responds with the following:
I initially was going to dismiss the comment (I skimmed them rather quickly) as isolated crankdom until I saw the supporting comment I posted, and then another comment by one of the blog editors which failed to support the proposed boycott in the following way:

As far as organizing a boycott or what not, if you guys want to do that then go right ahead. My primary concern has always been his rhetoric towards those who disagree with him on this and other issues than it is anything else.

Zippy appears to have taken up Mark's style of "skimming" because if he had bothered to read further he would have seen this:
As far as organizing a boycott or what not, if you guys want to do that then go right ahead. My primary concern has always been his rhetoric towards those who disagree with him on this and other issues than it is anything else. While I agree that an intervention is badly needed by the other apologists part regarding his invective, I have no desire to prevent him from speaking to others via Catholic Answers and the like. As long as he continues to do so though, I think we are Biblically bound towards correcting his behavior the way that St. Paul did for Peter as described in Galatians and are honor-bound to hold him accountable when he behaves like he has on this issue.

The last time I read Galatians, St. Paul didn't propose a boycott of St. Peter and I don't think that Zippy's interpretation of my remarks is even remotely defensible. The goal of the Coalition, as Victor explained brilliantly in the comments, is to "I want Shea to mind his manners, not lose his livelihood." But apparently for some calumny is now acceptable as long as the choice of target is right.


Anonymous said...


Victor and Torquemada, I understand the reservations you have regarding any boycott concerning Shea. I understand that you want him to "mind his manners, not lose his livelihood." But how do people get him to mind his manners? By persuation? That hasn't worked. By expressing indignation at his behavior? That hasn't worked. By demanding apologies? That hasn't worked. By ratcheting up the rhetoric? That hasn't worked (believe me, I tried that tactic).

Given the above, a boycott might be the only tactic left. There's certainly no guarantee of success there, either. But if either of you gentlemen (or anybody else) have any better ideas, let's please hear them.

My boycott idea is different from Shea's attempt to boycott me. Shea wanted to silence me; that's why he travelled hither and yon in the Catholic blog world to enter into discussions that didn't concern him, to argue using non sequiturs and to attack me so he could start flame wars that would get me banned. Victor, you know this to be true. Often, I was stupid enough to fall for it.

Frankly, I don't care whether Shea earns his living as an apologist, as an insurance salesman or as anything else. But nobody should have to put up with his abuse. If Shea behaved this way in the business world, he not only would have been fired tout suite but he would be classified as unhireable.

Why should he be exempt from the standards of basic decency?

Besides, St. Paul pointed out that anybody who persisted in sin, after several warnings from fellow believers, should be expelled from the congregation. I'm not saying that Shea should be expelled from the Church or have his chosen livelihood taken away permanently. But Catholic apologists should make it clear to him that his behavior toward others puts the Church as a whole in a bad light, especially because he's a well-known apologist, and that they will no longer tolerate behavior that, ultimately, reflects on all of them.

Anonymous said...


If you don't need to believe that Shea must be confronted in a different manner than previously, I cite this post from "kathleen" on "A public note to Mark Shea" from

i see, so there's nothing dark about shea inventing weird, over the top insults like the "witch queen of angmar" and then linking to my personal blog profile.

Weird, over-the-top insults? Three years of obsessively following me throughout the Catholic Internet world just to harass me?

The man is definitely out of control...

Andy Nowicki said...

Hell, I've already "boycotted" him, if you want to call it that. He hasn't, and won't, get a cent from me!

frank sales said...

I've stopped going to his website. Not because I want to correct or hurt him, but because, like Andrew Sullivan, the good is being drowned out by the bad. In the words of Mark Steyn, if you take a quart of dog feces and mix it with a quart of ice cream, the result is more likely to taste like the former than the latter.

In any event, I'm sure Mark will happier if those who disagree with him on torture stop advancing the Devil's agenda in his comboxes.

Anonymous said...


That's all well and good but I'm talking about something beyond the personal refusal to buy his books or patronize his sites. I'm talking about convincing other apologists to stop linking to him, to stop accepting his work for publication and to stop patronizing him until he stops behaving like a bully.

Andy Nowicki said...

Joseph, how are you or I or anyone else going to do that? I agree that it would be nice if Akin or Welborne or some other of Shea's cronies would refrain from looking the other way and refusing to comment whilst Shea behaves in his typical boorish, insulting manner towards his readers. It would be pleasant occasionally to hear a rebuke from someone on high in CA (like Akin, if he is indeed Shea's superior-- something I hadn't been aware of), warning him to cool it with his trigger-happy ad hominem invective and despicable bullying proclivities, or to outright refuse to link to his site. But that hasn't happened. I certainly don't have the "cred" to convince the Welbornes and Akins and Whatnots of the Catholic world to change their minds about this guy; it seems that they consider him "one of their own." Maybe it's out of some sense of loyalty, or maybe they're deferential to some good work that Shea is supposed to have done in the field of Catholic apologetics. I'm honestly not sure.

I can say that my own intensely negative experience with Shea earlier this year nearly derailed my own conversion to Catholicism. For a couple of weeks, when I thought of the Catholic faith, I could only see a man like Shea, a revered and prominent figure in conservative, theologically orthodox Catholic circles, and his personal cruelty towards me, as well as the seeming indifference of everyone else connected with him regarding this cruelty. Of course that perception was out of whack; the Church is infinitely bigger than Mark Shea, as I think even Shea himself would realize. But I wonder: how many other people who have borne the brunt of his abuse have felt tempted either to apostasize or not take the necessary steps towards accepting the fullness of the faith because the representative of the faith has been such a jerk to them? Could Mark Shea's personality actually be hindering the evangelization effort of a group like Catholic Answers, rather than helping it?

kathleen said...

That's really unfortunate Andy Nowicki, that your conversion was almost derailed by Shea's freak show. As a cradle catholic, i can't understand the cred Shea gets. He is a convert and he reads like one -- he has lots of book learning about the catholic church and of course he's not a dummy, but when i first heard about his blog and its title ("catholic and enjoying it") i laughed at the protestant triumphalism inherent in such a title. as most should know, no one who really wrestles with catholicism particularly "enjoys" it much of the time. God knows!

and be assured that to anyone with common sense, it reflects poorly on other catholic apologists when they link to his blog, let slide abusive comments written by him, etc. It just does. would be nice if they figured it out, but if they haven't figured it out *already*....

Anonymous said...


Andy and Kathleen, here's what I propose: Catholics should boycott Akin, Welborn, Keating and other apologists who keep enabling Shea by refusing to hold him accountable. Boycotting means not buying any of their books, CD or any of their other works (and that includes Catholic Answers as a whole, not just individuals employed by CA), donating to their blogs, refusing to invite them to speak and discouraging parishes and other Catholic groups from inviting them to speak until these people publicly hold Shea accountable. That would mean criticizing his bullying publicly in no uncertain terms and deleting any links to his sites until he repents.

kathleen said...

I don't know if i would discourage a parish from inviting someone besides shea to speak. i know i would discourage a parish from inviting shea himself, however. and I'm sure I'm not the only one -- I'm confident he has lost a lot of "business" already, without a formal boycott. impossible to prove a negative, but it seems highly probable.

i am discouraged that catholic bloggers still link to his blog. he'll never change if there are no repercussions, like even just a warning that he is going to get removed from a blogroll unless he plays well with his catholic brethren.

personally, i prefer to get my catholic apologetics from people who are dead.

Victor said...

I think secondary strikes and boycotts are a bad idea in principle ("whatever that means"). They tend to make needless enemies of their (intermediate) targets and to mark oneself as obsessed.

Everybody in St. Blogs who cares knows about Shea's intellectual and moral crimes, and we'll continue to make that truth known.

Victor said...

And certainly, it'd be a horrible thing, Andy, for you to have left the Church over Shea. But I don't leave (nor would it ever occur to me to think to leave, though maybe that's the "Cradle" speaking) over Zippy, goodness knows. We're all bad examples in some way or degree.

Steve Golay said...

Dumping Shea would be difficult for Catholic Blogland to do. It would put our dirty laundry in the wind for the world to take a sniff. Think Catholic Blog Parish takes care to present a fairly united front to a world that can, given small effort, be mocking and dismissive.

Then there is that always there sense that Church liberals would enjoy the spectacle of Blog Parish being rendered in two. Liberal Catholic have never 'enjoyed' the influx of traditional converts into the Church.

In addition, Mark (along with one or two others) have the marked distinction of being the first out there. They have that mark still. With it comes important recognition (though, acknowledged the effect of Catholic blogging on the greater culture is minimal!). Someone should do some data-mining; when the secular media feels has an itch to reference Catholic Blog (either firectly or as examples) Mark Shea is called to task along with 3 or 4 others.

Mark sits on a kind of peak.

To 'change' him any campaign will need to work around the circle-the-wagon instinct among orthodox Catholic bloggers.

If mainstream media knew of this months long spat of ours they would love to jump in and write stories about it.

Maybe they should - write up their stories. At times, shame does do wonders.

This debate is pissing me off. We're stuck here while the culture and world around us is going to Hell in that infamous basket.

America is on the path of 'going dhimmi'. Half our grandsons will most likely be Muslims. The hookup between Jihadist Islam and the Internatioanl Left is bind and shrink the Church. 14-year-old boys are crucified in Bhagdad neighborhoods - doors away from the safety of the Green Zone. How soon will they raise crosses in downtown St Louis?

Totalitarian Islam scents its victory and isn't even bothering with that infamous Muslim sanction to double-talk.

I do not say that simply for effect. Close attention to the state of the world since the Mid-Term Elections confirms the observation. That attention may be souring the glee some of us had with the results - the black-eyeing that lying SOB.

Something is seriously wrong with Blog Parish. We are so obsessed with this spat some of us are sitting up all night posting posts defending trivial and unwarrantable positions. (Thought I heard someone did that the other night?) Did that once myself. Had not faced such waste and shame for years. How different is that than staying up till 4:am grazing internet pornography? When the dawn comes one is not rested for the day's duty; and, in these days of ours, armoured for the fight.

Dear Lord,

Give Mark Shea the courage to lay aside blogging for six months. Give him the grace.


"John Paul II's cyper-world falling apart".

"Orthodox Catholicism much like the rest of us".

"The Bloody Borders of orthodox Catholoicism".

"Catholic Blogland Falming Out".

Andy Nowicki said...

Kathleen, I like that line about preferring the dead. Though of the dead apologists, I think G.K. You Know Who is getting a bit too much play these days. I like him, but maybe today's Neo-Caths overrate him just a bit?

As an English teacher, I certainly tend to prefer literature by dead people over living ones.

Joseph, I think I'm already carrying out a de facto boycott of CA. I haven't bought any of their stuff, and don't plan to. I'm sure most of them are nice people who do good work, but I do find that their association with Shea taints them in my eyes. But that's more a personal thing than an issue of principle.

And of course, one's criteria for taking on a certain creed or belief shouldn't be based on whether its representatives are nice to you or not. But being gracious and welcoming to potential converts does tend to reap better rewards than insulting and berating them. If Mr. Shea is sincere in his faith (and I don't call that into question, his frequently atrocious behavior toward fellow believers notwithstanding), he would be well-advised to learn this fact.

Pauli said...

Andy, if by the Neo-Cath's you mean folks on the blogosphere, then I think that the problem isn't the over-rating of Chesterton but the selective reading and quotation. GKC was a great wit, and related to that, he loved and celebrated loud, spirited debate, not this whiny "You're all a bunch of HATERS!! Get a life!!!" and failure to engage substance. That's what people do when they are copping out.

I was just thinking in response to Steve G.'s remarks, everyone should have to read "The Flying Inn" for GKC's pretty politically incorrect views on Islam. Excellent book, very funny. I supposed it would merit a fatwa now.

Anonymous said...


Steve Golay, you're absolutely right about the March of the Jihadists. Nobody seems to care. They'd rather watch American Idol or read about Britney Spears' crotch. The Catholic world (blogging and otherwise, but especially blogging) doesn't seem to care either. Everybody believes that Islam is just another form of "ethical monotheism" and views it in "kumbaya" mode. I would strongly suggest people read this review by Bat Yeo'r about a new book by an Australian Anglican, "Revelation? Which One God?" that deals with Islam:

So what does this have to do with Shea?

Despite our dire circumstances, we still have a Christian responsibility to reprimand those who are vile and boorish. We also have to reprimand those who enable them.

Steve, you're probably right about the "circle-the-wagons" mentality in Catholic blogdom. That kind of mentality kept the clerical sex-abuse crisis going. Have we Catholics learned nothing about sin in our midst?

Civilization doesn't only mean fighting jihadist barbarians. It also means fighting the barbarians in our own midst, Catholic and otherwise.

Steve Golay said...

Thanks Joe. Had read the review. Looking forward to the book. Seems like a keeper.

How does a convert test that he has a calling to be a public face for Catholicism? Does he bag the right because he was such on the outside (this is infecteous among Orthodox converts), or he simply has the talent for it.

Said earlier on another blog: Once knew an Orthodox convert (a very bright fellow) who put himself under the discipline of NOT writing about Orthodoxy for ten years - including his own conversion story! What a test, that.

Pauli said...

How does a convert test that he has a calling to be a public face for Catholicism?

Really good question/point. I think a deep examination of conscience is a given, but also one should ask oneself "Do I have a calling to be a public face period?", let alone a spokesperson for a major religion, and prepare oneself for the scrutiny and, yes, the criticism that you are inviting by acceptance of the challenge. Otherwise you look like a boxer complaining that someone just hit you or a soldier asking the enemy for a time out on the battlefield.

I read a booklet on the Catholic Evidence Guild when I converted and I was struck by two things: the humility that was demanded and the erudition of the guild members. They saw themselves as being transformed by the apologetic process and becoming better Catholics especially through their defeats rather than their victories.

"...who put himself under the discipline of NOT writing about Orthodoxy for ten years...

Yes, that would be welcome, especially as opposed to blogging your conversion to a prospective religion before you even convert. The key word there is "discipline". There are a lot of wannabes in our society and they're not all on American Idol.

My final point.

Andy Nowicki said...

Pauli, I agree that GK Chest o' Drawers was a great wit. The problem is, he was too conscious of this fact, too taken with his own cleverness. The relentless paradox motif grows tiresome after a while.

paul zummo said...

The relentless paradox motif grows tiresome after a while.

Agreed. Though I like Chesteron, I definitely prefer the writings of Lewis (though not a Catholic). He's much more accessible, though every bit as substantive.

Christopher Fotos said...

As a cradle catholic, i can't understand the cred Shea gets. He is a convert and he reads like one

I'm familiar with some of the analysis of where converts supposedly go wrong--using Protestant approaches when they're uniquely inappropriate for example--but I completely reject any kind of suggestion that a convert is inferior in any way to a cradle Catholic because he is a convert. I say this with sincere respect for Kathleen (and anyone else thinking along those lines)--I don't mean to start a spat, we have enough of those. But we can't have second-class citizens in the Church, and converts no more than cradles should be subject to a unique suspicion. Greetings! Welcome to our Church--but watch your step! You get the idea.

Mark has cred (I do believe less than before, but still) because in books and articles he has written in a persuasive and engaging and usually non-insulting way about the Catholic faith. As I've said in some correspondence, he's much angrier and more routinely insulting on his blog than he used to be, and I infer that his analytical blunders on the torture debate are perhaps the first time he's messed up the apologetics function. Before I was banned, in emails I'd tell commenters sympathetic to my own political views that he could be a maniac in that realm but you could always count on him for solid reasoning and analysis of strictly Catholic matters.

I wouldn't say that now--hardly!--but this was certainly true at one time and that's how he got his cred.

But his status as a convert--and again, in many ways there really should be no such status; I sense echoes here of Peter v. Paul--is IMO irrelevant. Some of you may be familiar with Robert Sugenis, who has gone off the rails into anti-Semitism, to the point of facing the kind of fraternal correction many of us yearn for with Mark. Sugenis is a cradle Catholic. Man is infinitely capable of screwing things up, regardless of his origins.

As for an aggressive boycott, I understand where Joe is coming from since he was targeted by Mark, in a truly shameful way, but I agree with Victor that boycotts are a bad idea in principle... They tend to make needless enemies of their (intermediate) targets and to mark oneself as obsessed. And in a way vaguely, very vaguely comparable to Just War theory, the possibility for collateral damage to Mark's wife and children (I'm uncomfortable even thinking along those lines) outweighs the trespass we presumably are trying to correct.

And there's a great variability among intermediate targets. I've written to some Catholic bloggers (you know who you are!) making the same point as some others here: A Catholic blogger aids and abets and really enables Mark's abuse when he links to Mark, providing some of the oxygen that allows him to continue his abuse. But we can't expect every single blogger out there to have followed this dispute closely enough to take sides, and we have to have some respect for their own careers and their own problems without dragging them into this. I will say that one or two blogs I follow closely do seem to link to Mark much less than previously. Blogs like Jimmy Akin's are in a different category because of the relationship he has with Mark; in my opinion he has a clear responsibility to publicly rebuke Mark's slanders, lies, and abuse, not to satisfy my own desires but to make it clear that it's unacceptable for Christians to slander, lie, and abuse.

I completely understand the sentiment that something must be done because nothing yet has worked. Actually I share it. But the kind of boycott some of you are looking for isn't something I can support. The best I can do or recommend at the moment is to continue documenting Mark's bizarro world. I believe it was at this blog that somebody else noted a recent, astonishing attack by Mark on the ConCrunchy blog--for being too nasty:

The thing is, in cyberspace, the punches don't really land. So Dreher just goes on doing his thing. The only thing they succeed in doing, by their sheer nastiness, is making sure that he will never hear whatever good ideas they might have.

There are at least two amazing points here:

1. Mark believes "punches in cyberspace don't really land." That would explain a few things, though it would not explain his own Sullivanesque hysterics when under attack

2. Mark Shea has just helpfully pointed out that by sheer nastiness, you make sure that we'll never hear whatever good ideas you might have.

Who knew.

Pauli said...

Andy: "The relentless paradox motif grows tiresome after a while."

Agreed as well. But note that the duration of the "after a while" is inversely proportional to how tendencious someone is. For some of these modern-day blog-kings, it's about three posts. They select their favorite Chestertonistic quote or concept -- which they probably heard about on the blogosphere -- and they run them full force into the ground in supposed support of what they believe. E.g., "well, I know I haven't done my homework on this issue, but as GKC said, 'If a thing's worth doing, it's worth doing badly,' (yuk, yuk)" Likewise they wouldn't know what distributism was if it bit them in the bum, but they know it's better that capitalism, which they define using bumper stickers and slogans from the last WTO protest.

In the saner publishing pace of Chesterton's time you had less chance of your most tiresome qualities catching up with you. You can still avoid outliving your tediousness, but it's very difficult if you are a compulsive blogger. As an enormous fan of GKC myself, I like to quote my doctoral candidate bro-in-law who was managing editor on an encyclopedia project with hundreds of conservative Catholic academics. He said "I'm so tired of everyone who thinks they're the Second Coming of G. K. Chesterton. Firstly because they haven't even really read Chesterton." Then he quoted Brad Pitt's character from Fight Club: "How's that working out for you? Being clever?"

I'm not accusing everyone who dislikes the man of not having read him, please understand. I've known many good Catholics who have told me they can't get GK and prefer C. S. Lewis (as Paul Zummo noted). It is good to note that CSL attributed his conversion partly to reading GKC.

kathleen said...

"I completely reject any kind of suggestion that a convert is inferior in any way to a cradle Catholic because he is a convert."

oh, spare me. i didn't suggest converts are inferior. i said Shea reads like one. IOW perhaps catholic apologist is not the number one most suitable occupation for some, even many, converts. THAT is what i was "suggesting".

Andy Nowicki said...

Well stated Pauli. Nice how you worked in a (entirely appropriate--in fact, exquisitely appropriate) Fight Club quote. I not a "playa-hater" by any stretch when it comes to GKC; I think he's a brilliant writer, but as I've indicated, I tire of his cult of personality amongst certain types these days.

My favorite dead Christian apologist: Soren Kierkegaard. A strange guy, and somewhat of a difficult, even frustrating read at times, but fascinating.

Steve Golay said...

"as opposed to blogging your conversion to a prospective religion before you even convert."

Marketing one's upcoming switch (laying tasty clues about)is a bit low - and self serving. Market things myself, know how it works. Recently BlogLand just went through such an episode.

Anonymous said...


Christopher Fotos, thank you very much for understanding my situation. Regarding a boycott, my purpose isn't to deny Shea or his professional associates income as Catholic apologists for all time and in perpetuity. My purpose is to get him to stop bullying people, lying about them, misrepresenting them and generally acting like the Eric Cartman of Catholic blogdom. If that means denying him income and exposure as a Catholic blogger, then so be it. If anybody has any ideas to discipline Shea outside of boycotting him and his fellow apologists, then I'm open to them.

As far as supporting Shea's family goes, that's not my resposnibility. That's Shea's. Nobody has an inherent right to be a Catholic apologist (or a member of any particular profession, for that matter) to the exclusion of all other professions. If Shea's behavior threatens his ability to earn a living and support his family, it's his responsibility to change.

As I said earlier, if Shea behaved this way in the workaday business world, he not only would have been promptly fired but also designated as unhireable.

Pauli said...

Joseph D'Hippolito: "My purpose is to get him to stop bullying people, lying about them, misrepresenting them..."

I think that's going to be a task in the eternal vigilance column, not in the one-time task column. Getting everyone to un-blogroll him would be a bigger task than just pointing out the many misrepresentations one by one, in my opinion.

"If Shea's behavior threatens his ability to earn a living and support his family, it's his responsibility to change."

Totally agree there, Joseph.

"...if Shea behaved this way in the workaday business world, he not only would have been promptly fired but also designated as unhireable."

Maybe my point here is moot, but if I understand "workaday business world" correctly, a lot of successful media types would be in the same boat. E.g., I can't imagine Rosie O'Donnell working in Customer Service at an auto-dealership regardless of make and model, and even with his considerable broadcasting talent and experience, I doubt Rush Limbaugh will be reconsidered for a sports commentator job.

But I think I understand your point; it's Mr. Shea as "spiritual leader" or "church represenative" which grates rather than him as yet another inflammatory media personality like Rosie or Rushie. I suppose that's a dangerous mixture, although potentially lucrative if you're Jackson or Sharpton.