Sunday, July 28, 2013

Fr. Z needs no defense; or "Why I like the Rockettes to be long leggy beauties".

It was rather shocking to read that Sam Rocha on the Patheos Catholic Channel has accused Fr John Zuhlsdorf comparing the bishops to Nazis.  On Fr. Z's own blog, he commented unfavorably about a group of bishops in Rio at World Youth Day participating in some sort of the choreography practice, caught up in the enthusiasm of the moment, dancing about like drunk bridesmaids at a wedding reception. Here is the video of the event, for your own discernment: 
I am not sure what Fr. Z's exact point was (there are a whole constellation of legitimate concerns) -- maybe just simple embarrassment for them, or that bishops ought to comport themselves in more dignified manners in public, or that at some point middle age and elderly people should accept the fact that they are no longer youthful and that therefore it is both lame and risible for seniors to think that they are somehow "relating" to the younger generations by adopting their ephemeralities, or that he was genuinely concerned that one of them might well break a hip.

Unfortunately, such displays are not limited to the episcopacy: someone recently posted a video of some Dominicans dancing on a stage to Lady Gaga's Bad Romance -- it made me weep for all the fine, orthodox, and dignified Dominicans who I know and love.
One has to ask who is converting whom?  What sane, healthy, vibrant young man is going to want to be a Dominican if he is made to not be a fool for Christ, but just a regularly old ordinary secular fool, conformed to the world? Didn't Chesterton note that, "the Catholic Church is the only thing which saves a man from the degrading slavery of being a child of his age"? Such nonsense was part of my own discernment process in deciding to not pursue a Dominican vocation -- I saw no merit in being forced to endure liturgical abuses in the novitiate for the sake of a vocation. Yet the pressure to conform --whether by the obedience to the novice master, or by the group think of a World Youth Day under the direction of a choreographer, or being subtly influenced by the forces and fashions of the Zeitgeist with which all Christians are daily confronted -- is both real and insidious.

So Fr. Z made this point by showing the meme "Be this guy" of the lone man in a crowd at a Nazi rally, with his arms crossed where everyone else was raising their arms in salute.
Poignant and powerful. Current and relevant. Easily and immediately understandable. 

As prescient as he is, Fr Z even anticipated the blowback by the kneejerk reactives:
DISCLAIMER: Some mouth-breathers out there will claim that I tried to compare WYD to some sort of Nazi rally.  That is NOT what I am about to do.   If there is a better image of non-conformity within a large, uniformed crowd doing something that is just plain wrong, please send it to me.
Other images of nonconformity? Would it have been better to show the Christians in the amphitheatre who are being martyred for refusing to offer sacrifice to the Caesar? Should the Church be likened to the totalitarian power of the Roman Empire?

How about Martin Luther at Worms? 
Would these be more acceptable to the easily offended? Or would Fr. Z be accused of fomenting another Reformation against the hierarchy? 

No, Fr. Z chose well in his image of the lone man not conforming to the pressure of the mob. It is a well known and powerful meme, used for all sorts of statements against totalitarianism, group think, and herd mentalities.

Sadly, even his preemption would not satisfy his detractors.  Mr. Rocha seized on this image to claim that Fr. Z was equating the bishops to the Nazis.  Evidently, Mr. Rocha is unaware of Godwin's law -- he automatically loses the debate once he invokes a comparison to Hitler. 

But beyond the level of internet gamesmanship, Mr. Rocha also fails on two more important levels: reason and charity. 

Mr. Rocha claims:
Fr. Z tries to say that the only significance of the photo is this: it is a description of “non-conformity within a large, uniformed crowd doing something that is just plain wrong.” However, the only reason why this Nazi photograph is such a powerful description of something that is “just plain wrong” is precisely because they are Nazis. In other words, Fr. Z effectively equates the “wrongdoing” of Nazi’s with the, in his view, “wrongdoing” of the Bishops.
Here is where Mr. Rocha errs against reason -- the power of the meme is precisely due to the cultural context. That is a given. It is widely used as a simple statement to not conform to the prevailing currents. The extrapolation that "Fr. Z effectively equates the “wrongdoing” of Nazi’s with the, in his view, “wrongdoing” of the Bishops" is bombastic and grandstanding. The vast majority of people of sound judgment can easily distinguish the morality of acting goofy in public from killing millions upon millions enemies of the State, whether Jewish, Catholics, gypsies or homosexuals. It is curious that Mr. Rocha does not seem to be part of that vast majority.

But it is also an error to assume that everyone else in that picture was actively and deliberately a supporter of the Third Reich, a card carrying member of the Nazi party. In such a coercive and autocratic regime, many Germans undoubtedly went along with the prevailing political current simply in order to survive and not be beaten up or imprisoned. Does the lady to the left of the man look like she's a wild eyed fascist, or rather hesitant about the whole thing? This alone makes Mr. Rocha's claim tendentious, since it cannot even reasonably be derived from the image that anyone not saluting Heil Hitler was in fact a Nazi. Hence it is unreasonable to assume that Fr. Z was making any sort of comparison to the Nazi Party per se, let alone "making a very direct, logical analogy between the wrongdoing of Nazi complicity with Hitler and the Shoah..."

But more importantly, Mr. Rocha fails against charity. Our Catholic moral teaching is that one ought always treat others in justice, to not assume moral fault of one's neighbor, to not harm to the good name of another or give occasion for false judgments against them.  More to the point, we should always strive to interpret another's words favorably.  As the Catechism of the Catholic Church states:
2477 Respect for the reputation of persons forbids every attitude and word likely to cause them unjust injury. He becomes guilty:
- of rash judgment who, even tacitly, assumes as true, without sufficient foundation, the moral fault of a neighbor;
- of detraction who, without objectively valid reason, discloses another's faults and failings to persons who did not know them;
- of calumny who, by remarks contrary to the truth, harms the reputation of others and gives occasion for false judgments concerning them.
2478 To avoid rash judgment, everyone should be careful to interpret insofar as possible his neighbor's thoughts, words, and deeds in a favorable way:
Every good Christian ought to be more ready to give a favorable interpretation to another's statement than to condemn it. But if he cannot do so, let him ask how the other understands it. And if the latter understands it badly, let the former correct him with love. If that does not suffice, let the Christian try all suitable ways to bring the other to a correct interpretation so that he may be saved.
Even at the most basic level of charity and good will, Mr. Rocha has a moral obligation to take Fr. Zuhlsdorf at his word that he was in no manner comparing World Youth Day to a Nazi rally, which by extension would reasonably suggest that he was not comparing the acts of the bishops to Nazis saluting der Fuhrer before going out to round up the Jews. In fact, Mr. Rocha seems to willfully ignore Fr. Z's explicit intention: "Fr. Z tries to say that the only significance of the photo is this.." 

No, that is precisely what Fr. Z did say, no 'try' about it. We must take another at his word as a basic dictate of civil discourse, which does not even require any application of Catholic moral theology to arrive at.

Perhaps Mr. Rocha would do well to endure the penance he prescribes for Fr. Z: "to remove the post, apologize to [Fr. Z], and consider giving up blogging for an extended amount of time."

As for my preferences of watching a group of people dancing on a stage, I'd rather watch the Rockettes (which I first and only saw when my grandmother took seven-year-old me and my older brother to Radio City Music Hall in 1968 to see The Secret War of Harry Frigg), a bevy of long leggy beauties, than a sea of bishops or a pack of Dominicans line dancing.

But de gustibus and all that.


  1. Dear Steve,

    To err against reason would be to be wrong, I think. To prove me wrong, then, you'll have to show how the proposition I defended as true was in fact false or at least otherwise. Until then, it is hard to understand how, exactly, I erred against reason.



  2. Dear Sam: Yes, I could work to prove you wrong in erring against reason -- that is easy enough by showing that the plain language meaning of "equate" cannot reasonably bear the weight of what you are claiming.

    viz, ":to treat, represent, or regard as equal, equivalent, or comparable"; "To consider, treat, or depict as equal or equivalent:", etc.

    Given any standard dictionary definition, particularly in the context of a _moral_ judgment, to assume that Fr Z intended a moral comparison of the Bishops to the Nazis makes no sense. Had you tried to argue that his comparison was really to those who were somehow going along with the Nazis, rather than being "this guy", that would have been a reasonable interpretation. Had you done so, I (and presumably Fr Zuhlsdorf) would readily agree.

    At best we are left to ask "equate" in what sense? Equate on what terms? You seem to be doing precisely what you accuse Fr Z of doing (i.e., giving a particular situation the worst possible interpretation), with the essential difference that 1) he denies explicitly any sort of adverse comparison or equation to Naziism per se; and 2) your title and accusation are deliberately and explicitly inflammatory, where as in any charitable reading his showing the image is only a matter of inference, not even a knowable implication.

    The main point here, though, is not the "propositional" argument, but the moral one. Please explain how you satisfy the moral requirements of not bearing false witness, esp with regard to the point of CCC 2478:

    *"2478 To avoid rash judgment, everyone should be careful to interpret insofar as possible his neighbor's thoughts, words, and deeds in a favorable way ... Every good Christian ought to be more ready to give a favorable interpretation to another's statement than to condemn it. But if he cannot do so, let him ask how the other understands it."*

    With this paragraph in mind, I am now forced to ask you how *you* understand it, since I am at a loss to give your own words a favorable interpretation. I do not understand how you can morally choose to deliberately override and effectively dismiss the plain language explanation that Fr Z gave, as if you could read his soul and know his true intention despite his own statement to the contrary. It seems to be a sin against charity and common decency, against justice and against truth, and against the good name of a man's reputation. That is the heart of my concern.

    Pax et bonum,


  3. Steve,

    To equate is to try to point to a similarity between to things. The most reliable way is to establish an analogical relationship through some sort of association. I showed this in two way (see points 1 and 2), but said nothing more than that. Fr. Z himself removed the image and the prose I took issue with. I added several provisos, too.

    Such as this one: " It certainly does not follow from the proposition I am defending to claim that Fr. Z is accusing the Catholic Bishops at WYD 2013 of genocide — or of being Nazi themselves. It is a simile. In Fr. Z’s post, the Bishops are like Nazsi in the respect that they are doing something “that is just plain wrong.” "

    In the end I don't see the moral argument you are making. I made a very limited analytical point and you have failed to provide an analytic counter-argument. Until you do, there is just no traction to your analysis.

    Peace and good,


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  5. Really Sam, none of that makes sense, you evidently don't know what a simile is or how they work, and you failed to address the key points in my criticism (that making false statements against a person is a moral concern covered in CCC 2478). Your only defense would be to demonstrate that such was Fr Z's intent. Otherwise all we have is what you decided to infer, not what he might have intended.

    But there is no point in continuing to reiterate what was already stated and you refused to address. In the end my analysis requires no traction -- I am simply taking your words at their plain language value -- it is you who made the claim against Fr Z and it is your analysis that would require a defense. I do, however, appreciate that you are trying to distance yourself from your original accusation by now claiming you intended some rather tertiary definition of "equate" that evidently carries no moral connotation with the Nazis themselves, and working to diminish the whole unfortunate episode to some "very limited analytical point".