Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Facing up to Facebook

On the St. Austin Review Ink Desk, Sophia Mason has written an post in which she both pans and praises Facebook. How I empathize with Sophia!

As regular readers know, Facebook and I have had a tumultuous relationship. She and I have split a few times after ugly public shouting matches, she pushed me down the stairs once, I have accused her of infidelity, her algorithm had originally sized me up as a loser and drug abuser simply because I was an actor, and so forth.

But we’ve settled into something rather permanent of late. Facebook and I are not exactly “married”, nor “single”, we are “in a relationship” and “it’s complicated”.

So I do indeed empathize with Ms. Mason over her tendency to love / hate this thing called Facebook.

But how much is Facebook as a mode of communication to blame for Facebook’s shortcomings? As the internet blogger Dr. Thursday pointed out to me once, “Objecting to the internet is like objecting to a road or a highway. The internet is simply a pathway to a variety of destinations.” This is true, but certain kinds of roads encourage certain kinds of traffic and it’s easier to take some roads to particular destinations than it is to take others.

For example, when men had to take a physical road to find a pornographic book store or a strip club, they had to risk the dangers of going into a seedy neighborhood and risk the shame of being seen doing so. But if someone can instead take a virtual highway across cables linking computers to one another, so that pornography can be viewed in the safety and privacy of one’s own home, then naturally the use of pornography will mushroom and men will indulge their lust far more so than had such technology not been around.

Likewise, in the early days of printed books, reading and writing were more careful and more deliberate. With the advent of the dissemination and popularization of the printing press, you begin to see such things as magazines, newspapers and pamphlets, which by their nature allow for more immediacy in communication, which leads both to the use of printing for political agitation and for capitalizing on sensationalism.

And thus we see that new developments in technology lead to the cultivation of new kinds of behaviors. Even in the development of literature, we see that when the technology available to Drama was the stage only, scripts tended to be less intimate and sensational than they became when written for the new technology of film. Likewise, when the new (or “novel”) technology enabled “novels” to appear, we find the beginnings of a kind of fiction that is detailed, complex, and intensely psychological. And yet the novels that first appeared in serial form in periodicals, such as the novels of Dickens, have a different structure and feel than novels written to be read from start to finish all at once.

So technology, itself a development of culture, does indeed impact the further development of culture. Roadways are not neutral. Different kinds of paths are conducive to different kinds of traffic and different kinds of purpose. You can’t safely ride your bike on the freeway, for instance; nor can a rutted gravel road in the country allow for the development of a fancy new suburb in that area.

Likewise the technology of Facebook makes certain kinds of behaviors easier than others. The emphasis on pictures and the brief space allowed for “status updates” encourage a trivializing of relationships. But the ability of users to post links to articles and blogs that interest them means that if you have a variety of friends who read good things, you will be treated to a variety of posts linking to some very good stuff. And while “threads” of discussion can be compelling, the nature of comboxes seems to draw out a kind of defensive argumentation that makes it hard to develop points formally and carefully.

All in all, however, the benefits of Facebook for me have outweighed the drawbacks. It still remains the best technology out there for photo sharing and for keeping up with friends who otherwise I would not keep up with.

Still, I don’t completely trust the gal. She’s a bit of a tramp. So, yes we’re back together, but “it’s complicated”.

Monday, September 6, 2010

The Beast Advances Part 2 - Good Faith, Bad Faith, and the Gateway of Faith

The Beast Advances Part II

by Kevin O’Brien

It occurred to me what the thread is, not only in people arguing unreasonably on the internet, but on a number of things we encounter in our lives.

The thread is Bad Faith.

When a fellow becomes a Facebook “friend” only to post a nasty and superficial attack upon the Catholic Church on my Facebook “wall”, and then runs away when I point out the fallacies of his argument, he is not arguing in Good Faith. When a teen-aged punk uses profanity on my youtube combox in an effort to claim that God is an immoral monster, he is not arguing in Good Faith. When an unemployed transvestite rails against those filthy men who define things in life like gender, the oppressive males who believe in the outmoded Western notion of the law of non-contradiction, he is not arguing in Good Faith. Almost anyone you engage in debate who defends torture these days is not really open to reasoned arguments against torture from either a theological or a moral perspective; they are simply trying to rationalize their position and placate their fear. Indeed, every torture supporter I have yet to engage is simply not arguing in Good Faith – though it may take a few hours to figure this out.

What do I mean by this? I don’t mean that these people are arguing poorly or stupidly or in a bigoted or wrong-headed way. I mean that they are not arguing at all.

To argue is to engage in a discourse of reason, through which the parties attempt to discover which party is closer to the truth. Now even in arguments of Good Faith, people can become heated and their logic can be faulty and their ability to communicate imperfect, but a Good Faith argument is an argument where all of the parties are indeed open to discovering the truth, either by convincing the opponent of the wrongness of his position, or by being convinced of the wrongness of one’s own.

But I find myself frustrated on the internet because I defend my own faith and attacks upon it presuming that those attacking it are attacking in Good Faith and will be open to reasoned rebuttals.


That’s right, ha!

But then, if you think about it so much of what we see in life has to do with people approaching things in Bad Faith. I had actors who were supposed to be helping us evangelize through drama, but who had no interest in evangelizing and only wanted paid work. I often negotiate with clients who poor-mouth me, not because they really can’t afford our services but because they’re simply jerking us around. And, believe it or not, there are women who show an interest in famous Catholic actors not because they really like them but simply because they want to get them in their famous Catholic bedroom. These are all examples of people dealing in Bad Faith.

And then there are the people who operate in Good Faith, but who are so incompetent that they appear to be operating in Bad Faith, like a client who books you and intends to return your contract and promote your show, but who simply never does either.

And then there are the people who argue in Good Faith, but who take more pride in scoring petty victories in argumentation than in an honest search for the truth; though if they can subdue their own competitive streaks, they indeed will be open to hearing a reasoned case.

Now why, in all of these things, do we use the terms Good Faith and Bad Faith? Does any of this really have to do with Faith, that is to say the grace of Faith, theological faith in God?

I have just recorded for Ignatius Press Audio Books a brilliant sermon by John Henry Newman on the relation between Faith and Works. What Newman says (and I may in fact expand on this in another post) is that Faith is the gateway, and the works that follow Faith are the works of co-operation with the Spirit dwelling in us, the gift of the Spirit purchased for us by Christ’s passion, and given to us once we assent to the grace of Faith, and therefore are Good Works leading to sanctification, sanctification being the prerequisite of life in Heaven; whereas bad works are those performed before passing through the gateway of Faith, works which are of the unregenerate man only, works which have no divine co-operation, and are therefore unavailing, such as the dead works of the Law of which St. Paul speaks. Newman says both St. Paul and St. James are right: Works without Faith are dead; Faith without Works is dead; we are saved by both, our living Faith being the prerequisite for fruitful Works, Works which, inspired by the Spirit of Faith, become meritorious in God’s eyes.

And the same is true on the natural level. Theologically meritorious works aside, let’s speak simply of the works men do, inspired or not – works considered from a merely human and temporal perspective.

All human things done in Bad Faith, which is to say without one’s heart being in the right place, are wrong, even from a social point of view and not a spiritual one. In other words, things done for ulterior motives, done in some degree malevolently and not benevolently, done without the honesty and integrity and earnestness they deserve – things not done in Good Faith – are in some way or another always wrong and hurtful.

And we can see that if a person exhibits Good Faith in anything, it is much easier to cut this person some slack. If, for example, a student writes an essay that is poorly written, but shows an honest effort, the essay being the disappointing product of a genuine attempt, a Good Faith attempt, we are liable to praise this more than a shoddy essay, or even a fairly good essay, written by a student off-handedly or lazily or dishonestly, the result of a Bad Faith attempt.

And when it comes to Faith, there are Good Faith attempts to approach Faith and Bad Faith attempts to approach Faith. If a person really desires to understand the Gospel, but honestly struggles with Church scandal, shocking things in Scripture, the bad behavior of Christians, or the unwillingness to renounce sin, I think any of us would be willing to talk to such a person at length, for as long as it took to elucidate the truth.

But when a person is only playing games, ringing your doorbell and running, throwing sticks and stones and throwing about nasty names, and simply spewing venom, then I think it’s time to shake the dust off of our feet as a witness against him.

But we must be careful. I myself was a nasty little Bad Faith brat at one time, a vehement proponent of atheism and a vocal hater of the Church.

And yet it was not until I began to approach the whole issue of God – and life itself – in Good Faith that things began to change, and the gift of True Faith was eventually given to me.

So, in conclusion, I think we must assume everyone we meet is dealing in Good Faith, until he or she shows evidence to the contrary, at which point we need to exercise some prudence and wisdom about the ways of this world and the miserable darkness of the human heart.

The Beast Advances or The Attack on Reason

This is part one of what will be posted in two parts on The St. Austin Review Ink Desk.

The Beast Advances or The Attack on Reason

by Kevin O'Brien

Hilaire Belloc, in “The Great Heresies”, pointed to a disturbing feature of the Modern Attack on the Catholic Church: the attack upon Reason.

Nowhere is this more clearly displayed than on the internet - yes, on Facebook in particular, but also everywhere on the internet. And though I have written about Facebook before and my on-again off-again love-hate relationship with her, I’m beginning to see that the enemy is not Facebook. The enemy is us!

Let me try to categorize the problems I’ve noticed:


A friend of mine on Facebook can not post even innocuous quotations such as Robert Louis Stevenson’s, “The Saints are the Sinners who keep on trying,” without a barrage of comment box (combox) attacks nitpicking at all sorts of things the quote never intended to convey. In this case, commenters insisted such things as “saints do not sin; they are not sinners”, or “it’s not the efforts of sinners ‘trying’ but God’s grace that does all”, or other such picayune objections that miss the entire point of the quotation and are willfully tone-deaf to its verve and its fun.

If I were to post my Facebook status update as Henny Youngman's "Take my wife, please!" I'd get the following comments ...

"Certainly by take he can't mean ravish, as that's simply the sin of adultery."

"Since in heaven we are neither married nor given in marriage, Youngman must be referring to our ultimate end, thereby longing for the absence of his wife as he gazes forever at the face of God."

"If he said simply, 'Take my wife', I'd go along with that. But the word 'please' implies free will, which, as a Calvinist, I find offensive."

"Take her where? To the Obamacare Death Panel?"

... and so forth.

I think we've come to the End of Civilization as We Know It - hence we must always find ourselves explaining the joke.


A person I never knew “friended” me on Facebook, apparently for one reason: to post this on my wall:

“And what exactly is the church doing these days to keep priests away from little boys? ...or is it all just imaginary dust underneath a giant magick carpet?” (sic)

In a series of combox back and forths, I began by conceding that pedophilia is indeed a serious sin, and that the Church should be doing public penance, and that the Church has indeed done much to address this, most especially with Pope Benedict now creating bishops who are actually Catholic and not sympathizers of pederasty.

This fellow responded derisively, and kept bringing up what a terrible scandal this was and began to make fun of the sacrament of Confession as a make-believe way of sweeping things under the “magick” carpet. So I continued with this …

“By the way, may I remind you that it's the Catholic Church that condemns child molestation and perversion, not the culture at large. If Church members do not live up to this standard, then by all means we should seek to repent - but you put yourself in an awkward position when you attack the Church with a weapon she herself endorses, the condemnation of sin. If you're so eager to endorse the Church's teaching on the evils of child molestation and sexual perversion, I assume you also endorse all the other teachings of the Church, teachings which its members fail again and again to live up to.”

He then replied – astonishingly:

“I do not condone nor condemn the said priests (sic) actions. Pedophilia is merely a (sic) human nature, i.e. Greek traditions of initiation, that the church (and some conformists) oppose ... My apologies if I antagonized you.”

So I couldn’t resist:

“Wow. Glad to know you don't condemn any actions, despite what you wrote on my wall and in the combox. Consistency was never to be expected from this, I see. … Meanwhile, keep focusing on sin. It’s good for the soul.”


Another mark of the abandonment of reason is indicated by all these “sics” above. People who argue foolishly on the internet display and flaunt their foolishness not only by what they say but by how they say it. Not only do they abandon any attempt at punctuation, as E. E. Cummings and many of the modern poets did, they also refuse even to use spell-check, apparently.

Take, for instance, someone who attacked me by commenting on a youtube video of mine, telling me that if I read the Bible cover to cover I would be “de-converted”, by which he apparently meant converted back to atheism, where I started. When I replied that I have indeed read the Bible cover-to-cover, perhaps a dozen times, and asked him if in fact he had himself read it even once, he replied with …

“Yes I read it from cover to cover the first when I was 12. And thta was th eend of me believing in thta fairytale. My morals could not accept your god to be all loving and all that bs when he orders? genocide in men women and innocent childre and at age 12 I was pretty sure I didnt need an invisible friend. Adults shred their imaginary freinds you know.. part of growing the f*** uo.”

I present this comment exactly as he posted it (it’s actually an amalgam of two of his comments), although I have put asterisks where he used letters. The phrase was “part of growing the f*** up.” He spelled the F word right, but not much else. Not even “up”.

My only thought was, while God chose the foolish of this world to put to shame those who are wise, when the devil tries to use the foolish of this world, they only end up shaming themselves.


One of my Facebook “friends” is in the midst of denying his own gender. He uses a female name and is objecting to not being allowed to wear a dress to work. So he won’t work; he sits at home (in heels and hose, I’m guessing) hopping on Facebook, praising Ayn Rand and Nietzsche and railing against something he calls “Christian Privilege” and the paternalistic oppressiveness of “definition” and “reason”.

He uses reason to attack reason because reason and definition are essential to understanding identity, and identity (a thing being what it is) is central not only to our being, but to God’s vocation for us and to our ultimate destiny. But if we can re-define even “definition”, if we can deconstruct the most basic construct that we have – who we are – then by God we are gods!

Sad that we want to be gods not to live forever or to rule the world, but just so we can go to work with lipstick on.

But be that as it may, in the real world we hear the expression “follow the money”, which means find out where a person’s vested financial interest is and you can explain a lot, from the travesty of “climate change” to the protection of abortion mills. By the same token, if you follow the sin, and see where the trail of disordered desire leads, you begin to sniff out just why we’re rejecting reason and just where such a rejection will lead.

It will lead to idiocy. It will lead to men wanting to be first women, then children, then chairs and cows. It will lead to hit and run attacks that really don’t care if they make any sense. It will lead to a loss of humor and a loss of the appreciation of literature. It will lead to incomprehensible statements. It will lead to the great big horrific abyss we call hell.

As Belloc says, “But that great Modern Attack, which is more than a heresy, is indifferent to self-contradiction. It merely affirms. It advances like an animal, counting on strength alone.”

And may we, with God’s grace, work to weaken its growing strength.