Showing posts with label mob. Show all posts
Showing posts with label mob. Show all posts

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

TFTD: The Chilling Imposition of Ideology

I came across an article today: "Catholic profs told to report opposition to 'gay marriage' as harassment :: Catholic News Agency (CNA),” that is troubling in one sense, and downright chilling in another sense. The troubling sense of the article is that a Catholic university (Marquette) has had a training session which tells them to report opposition to so-called “same sex marriage” as “harassment.”  The article reports a spokesman from Marquette as saying:

Brian Dorrington, senior director of communications at Marquette University, told CNA Nov. 21 that the university requires all employees, faculty, staff and student employees, to complete an anti-harassment module “in accordance with federal law and university policy,” He added that harassment training “includes the latest changes in law, and workplace diversity training reflects developing regulations.”

He said the presentation uses “hypothetical scenarios” are “teaching tools do not necessarily equate to university policy.”

Given that the Church condemns sexual acts outside of the marriage of one man and one woman as morally wrong, the fact that a Catholic university has given such a training session to be morally troubling.

However, while troubling (a Catholic university should bear witness to the truth despite what people say), this is not what makes it chilling.

What makes it chilling is the fact that this university believes it has to do this to be in compliance with EEOC regulations and court decisions that decree that the belief in marriage being between one man and one woman is “discriminatory.” Apparently, the government sees this belief, expressed publicly, is considered harassment. In other words, to publicly express that a thing is morally wrong is speech which can be targeted. As the program states:

“Although employees have free speech rights under the United States Constitution, in academic and other workplaces those rights are limited when they infringe upon another person’s right to work in an environment free of unlawful harassment.”

Of course, the person who thinks they should be allowed to work without having their religious beliefs attacked aren’t covered. The rights of the atheist to mock Christianity in a university is widespread. But the rights of the Christian to say, “This is wrong,” are blocked.

So, it’s a “right” that is similar to the sentiment expressed in George Orwell’s Animal Farm: "All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others."

if someone dislikes what you have to say, you can’t say it—so long as what you say goes against the favored ideologies. So, you’re free to bash religion in public, but presumably a Catholic in a Catholic institution could be accused of harassment for quoting the Catechism of the Catholic Church when it states:

2357 Homosexuality refers to relations between men or between women who experience an exclusive or predominant sexual attraction toward persons of the same sex. It has taken a great variety of forms through the centuries and in different cultures. Its psychological genesis remains largely unexplained. Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity,141 tradition has always declared that “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.”142 They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved. (2333)

2358 The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God’s will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord’s Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition.

2359 Homosexual persons are called to chastity. By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection. (2347)

Our teaching says we cannot mistreat a person—treat him or her as less than human—just because he or she has a same-sex inclination, but that doesn’t mean we have to accept such behavior as morally indifferent. But apparently, speaking out on what is right counts as “unlawful harassment."

What it boils down to is that we no longer have the freedoms of the First Amendment. We have preferred ideologies which are free to say what they want, and unpopular beliefs which will not be tolerated when they speak against the preferred ideology.

That’s kind of troubling. One thinks of how Brendan Eich was forced out of Mozilla because he privately supported the defense of marriage against redefinition by a donation. Mozilla suffered no repercussions for their action, even though Eich’s action was in no way a violation of Mozilla policy. But, on the other hand, a Catholic parish is being sued because they terminated an employee for publicly flaunting their defiance of Church teaching. One wonders if, by 2016, Google (which runs the Blogger sites) might decide that the blogs which speak in a way they disapprove of can be removed because they promote “discrimination.” Perhaps not, but it is part of the same principle—if speech our political and social elites dislike can be labelled “unlawful harassment,” then the limits to what they can get away with are few.

That’s a real problem. Such policies violate freedom—which America is supposed to be based on—in several different ways, but because the targets are unpopular with the cultural elites, they can get away with it..

In terms of the Freedom of Religion, Catholics believe that the Church is given the mission by Christ to preach the Gospel to all nations. This includes teaching about sin and the need for repentance. We cannot be forced to do what we think is evil and we cannot be forced by the government to teach only what they want us to teach. The Constitution, in this respect, recognizes that the government does not have the right to make such demands on a person. But more and more often, we are seeing the government decree (or permit lawsuits) that do make such demands, while denying the rights of the Christians to live as they believe they ought—particularly if they run a business.

In terms of Freedom of Speech, we are seeing amazing hypocrisy. Christians in America are constantly being told that if we don’t like something, just ignore it. But when others hear Christians say or do things they dislike, we’re told to cease and desist. There’s no freedom of speech there. At a bare minimum, we can say, either give us the same freedoms that our critics possess or give them the same restrictions they give us. Otherwise, there is no freedom.

Our rights to petition the government peaceably for grievances are being denied. When we enact laws which promote the shared values of a majority of citizens, the result is unelected courts overturning the laws they dislike—not by a blind equality for both sides, but by an unequal favoritism towards some views.

Now, it is disappointing that Marquette went along with this policy, instead of standing up for what was right. But let’s remember that the symptom of Marquette reflects the real problem—that publicly expressing what we believe is right means we can suffer legal penalties for being obedient to Christ in a way that even the most indifferent person should recognize is a right the Constitution promises and the government ignores.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Think About It...

There's a position going around that says that freedom of speech only protects you from being arrested by the government, but doesn't protect you from being forced out of your place of employment. Basically, a position of justifying the ostracism against people holding positions which are unpopular among the cultural elites.

As it currently stands, this view is used to justify the harassment of anyone who holds the position that marriage is, by nature, to be between one man and one woman with the openness to the possibility of children.

Now, I have written before that whether or not a person's public actions justify termination of employment depends entirely on the nature of the employer. To summarize, I said that when a place of employment is explicitly established as holding that certain public behaviors running against the beliefs of the company, the violation of said behavior can justify the termination of employment. But, when the controversial behavior does not run against the established values explicitly, termination is not justified.

For example, if a person thinks Catholicism is wrong and publicly denounces it, as much as I would find such a person offensive, I would not think such a position justifies him or her being fired from a job as a pizza delivery person.  However, if that person taught at a Catholic School, such a public position does justify termination because it would explicitly run afoul of the nature of the employer.

Likewise, when Brendan Eich was forced out of his position at Mozilla, his support for traditional marriage in no way violated the policy of the company, because it had nothing to do with the essence of what Mozilla is.

However, we now have a situation where a mob can agitate to get a person holding an unpopular view ostracized and believe such a position is justified because of the unproven position that thinking a thing is wrong means the person holding it must be a bigot.

Now the danger is: if those opposed to these values can legitimately force the ostracism of the person with unpopular views, then when political fortunes change, those who wind up on top will have the same right to ostracize those who are now on the bottom.

In other words, perhaps in 2020, those people who worked against the Defense of Marriage Act might suddenly find their employer pressuring them to resign... and they will be able to make no objection without sounding hypocritical.

The key thing to remember is this: If you are unwilling to let the tactics you use against your enemies be used by your enemies against you, that is a good sign that you are behaving hypocritically and your tactics are unjust.

Think about it...

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Demagogues: American Morality by Mob Rule over Reason

Demagogue: a political leader who seeks support by appealing to popular desires and prejudices rather than by using rational argument.

Psalm 29: If a wise person disputes with a fool, there is railing and ridicule but no resolution.

Christianity, to be precise Christianity that believes the moral commands have divine authority and are not merely customs, receives a lot of flak from a certain portion of the Western World, especially in America.  A certain segment of the population essentially denies some or all of the moral law as having authority. The portion of the moral law this group rejects is labeled as being nothing more than an innovation imposed on everybody by a small minority.  Those individuals who object to changes in the law based on this allegation are attacked as intolerant.

This allegation is that it is based on the claim: "There is nothing wrong with [X].  People who think there is something wrong with [X] are pushing their beliefs on others."

It rather reminds me of the definition of the term, Dramatic Irony:

a literary technique, originally used in Greek tragedy, by which the significance of a character’s words or actions are clear to the audience or reader although unknown to the character.

It is irony because the claim that "There is nothing wrong with [X]" is itself a statement of belief on morality.  Moreover, the disapproval expressed against people who "push their beliefs on others" is also a statement of belief on morality.  If pushing beliefs on morality on others is wrong, then it follows that condemning people for not sharing the denial that [X] is wrong… are wrong.

If [no values should be pushed on others] is absolutely true (true in all situations, times and places), then it follows that [tolerance] is a value  that cannot be pushed on others, because tolerance is seen as a value in modern America.

However, if one wishes to deny that tolerance cannot be pushed on others, that means that some values can be insisted on for all times, places and situations.  That means the person who wants to include the values they prefer and exclude the values they dislike must show the basis of their claims as to what criteria determine absolute values from mere opinions.  Otherwise these champions of "tolerance" are being hypocritical.

In a reasonable world, when there are differences in moral views, discussion and exploration into what moral views are true, and people of good will would all seek to follow them.

But this is exactly what doesn't happen.  Instead we see an assertion that [X] (such as abortion, homosexual acts, or contraception) is morally good or at least neutral.  When that assertion is challenged, the response is not a reasoned defense, but instead an ad hominem attack which accuses the questioner as being judgmental or bigoted.

That isn't a defense of the assertion or a refutation of the challenge.  That is merely the act of a demagogue, who seeks to sway the population by appealing to desires and emotions, committing distortions to sway the audience.  The person who attempts reason is usually mocked or attacked (verbally or sometimes physically).

Now consider who acts like a demagogue?  is it a Pope who speaks about how certain acts are contrary to what God calls us to be and are harmful to us if we practice these acts?  Or is the demagogue the person who spews out slogans like "War on women!", "Homophobe!", "Right Wing Extremist!" and the like?

The people who say it is the Pope who is the demagogue are a large portion of the problem in America today.  The rest of the problem comes from the people who accept what "feels" right without asking what is true.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

An Interesting Clarification

In an article I wrote yesterday, I discussed my misgivings over the mob like mentality of the hostility directed at L'Osservatore Romano.  One of these issues I expressed some concern over was the issue of translation.  In that article, I wrote:

Reports are the Italian translation are rather different from the original German which was spoken by Peter Seewald and the Pope, giving the impression that the Pope was speaking in a way giving sanction for Catholics to use condoms to prevent AIDS.

If these reports are true about the mistranslations, then it seems this is a serious charge.  (I don't intend to say I think they are false charges.  I merely follow Socrates and admit that I do not know, therefore I do not consider myself competent to judge).

I also said, in response to whether a mistranslation was deliberate (#1) or incompetent (#2):

Point #1 is a thing which need to be proven, but seem to be insinuated by some writers without proof.  Point #2 may be true, but right now the discussion on the web seems to be based on personal translations of German and Italian text which may be accurate but I am not competent to judge one way or another.  I think we do need some more authoritative sources to form an accurate judgment.

It seems we do have some more authoritative sources on the intent of the Pope.  In the face of whether the German intended "male prostitute" while the Italian used the feminine form of prostitute, Father Federico Lombardi (the Pope's spokesman) went and asked the Pope.  The response Fr. Lombardi gave was as follows:

“I asked the pope personally if there was a serious or important problem in the choice of the masculine gender rather than the feminine, and he said no, that is, the main point — and this is why I didn’t refer to masculine or feminine in (my earlier) communiqué — is the first step of responsibility in taking into account the risk to the life of another person with whom one has relations,” Father Lombardi said.

“Whether a man or a woman or a transsexual does this, we’re at the same point. The point is the first step toward responsibility, to avoid posing a grave risk to another person,” Father Lombardi said.

It's an interesting response.  Yes, the Italian translation was technically in error using a feminine form instead of a masculine form, but that the changing of the gender did not change the meaning of the point the Pope was trying to get across.  The Pope is not endorsing condoms, but is saying that such a person is at least starting to think of morality [even if the individual's response is still deficient].

This indicates one of the points which is used in denouncing L'Osservatore Romano is in fact not as serious as alleged.

This still leaves the issues of violating the embargo against discussing the book until today and the editorial decision to release the passage without context.  There is also the issue of the use of "justified" versus "basis."  I do not wish to make it seem that I would deny the other charges.

Still, we have at least one instance where the outrage against L'Osservatore Romano seems hasty.  Perhaps the other charges will stand or perhaps they will fall as well.  At this time we do not know.

Either way, it seems that seeking the facts before judging remains the way to handle this.

Monday, November 22, 2010

A Plea for Calm

39 But if you seek anything further, it shall be settled in the regular assembly. 40 For we are in danger of being charged with rioting today, there being no cause that we can give to justify this commotion.” 41 And when he had said this, he dismissed the assembly. (Acts 19:39-41)

Preliminary Note:

I fully expect someone to accuse me of accusing me of some sort of liberalism, modernism or other ad hominem simply because I advise discovering the truth and who has what level of responsibility before calling for anyone's termination from his position.  To those people I simply point to my weblog as proof I have always stood in support of the Pope and the Magisterium and have sought to obey the Church I believe to be established by Christ under the headship of Peter and his successors.

I do not write this article to exonerate Giovanni Maria Vian and L'Osservatore Romano.  If they have done wrong, then they should face the results proportionate to what they have done. 

Rather, I feel that the anger is beginning to head off in a destructive direction and must be reined in.  Whether Giovanni Maria Vian or another individual needs to be fired or reprimanded, I do not know.  However, I suspect most of the others do not know either.

I simply call for us to calm down and wait for facts, and not behave in a way to cause scandal to those outside watching us.


I figured it would happen somewhere though I didn't know who the target would be.  Some radical traditionalists have blamed it on Vatican II.  Some conservative Catholic bloggers have blamed the Pope for being "too egg-headed" or "academic." Others spoke about his assistants in general failing him.  I was half expecting someone to blame Peter Seewald but thankfully that didn't happen.

Now, however, we are seeing the blame go largely to L'Osservatore Romano.  Some of it seems justified.  Judging by reports, there seems to be some gross misconduct over their article (bad translation and breaking embargo), if the reports have it right. 

I believe that before calling for any action to be taken, we must determine what happened and who was responsible, and only then determine the proportionate penalty to the offense and apply it to the responsible.  This is not something determined by the blogging community, but by the proper authority in the Vatican.

An Article for the Prosecution

Canon Lawyer Edward Peters, a blogger I respect introduces his case for strong action, and his article makes some good points here:

I want to ask a few questions about the occasion of this public relations fiasco, namely, the decision by L’Osservatore Romano to publish prematurely, out of context, and without commentary, the single most controversial paragraph of the pope’s book, Light of the World, in, if nothing else, apparent violation of the agreement in place between its various publishers concerning a coordinated release of the work.

Fair enough.  These are serious charges, though ultimately I believe it would be the Pope's call to do as he saw fit in response.

However, I am less convinced when he goes on to say:

Instantly, of course, the world formed exactly the wrong understanding of that paragraph that anyone could have predicted.

I have problems with this statement.  The reason this does not convince me is that it took more than just a bad editorial decision or even gross misconduct to create this debacle.  It took media and dissenters acting with misconduct to scream "Pope says Condoms OK!" to the world without seeking confirmation on this matter.

Now the problem is, at this time we have only secondhand reports of what the Italian says (at the time of this writing, the English edition is dated November 17 and does not have this story).  Reports are the Italian translation are rather different from the original German which was spoken by Peter Seewald and the Pope, giving the impression that the Pope was speaking in a way giving sanction for Catholics to use condoms to prevent AIDS.

If these reports are true about the mistranslations, then it seems this is a serious charge.  (I don't intend to say I think they are false charges.  I merely follow Socrates and admit that I do not know, therefore I do not consider myself competent to judge).

Another thing which bothers me is the imputation of malicious intent which some are attributing to this action.

Philip Lawler is the editor for CWNews who calls for punitive action.  In his article, he says:

Why did L’Osservatore Romano violate journalistic norms, ignore obvious dangers, and print a potentially explosive statement out of its proper context? Was the editor hoping to stir up a ruckus, and push sales of Light of the World regardless of the pastoral cost? Was he hoping to stir up a new debate on condom use—something the Pope was quite obviously not seeking? Or was the editor blind to the dangers of publishing this excerpt? Whatever the answer might be, he has demonstrated that his editorial judgment cannot be trusted. As a necessary first step to address the continuous public-relations bungling at the Vatican, Giovanni Maria Vian, the editor of L’Osservatore Romano should be asked to resign.

This strikes me as problematic, and this attitude seems pandemic among certain Catholic blogs.  After certain bungles by certain individuals of the Pope's staff, people are saying they have had enough, and the editor should be fired.  I've had friends and family ask me why so-and-so is still working instead of being removed.  Some people want a clean slate in the Vatican and think people associated with certain problems should be fired.

In a Church Established by Christ, We Cannot Ignore Justice and Mercy

Why does this bother me?  Because ultimately the penalty should fit the crime.  So Giovanni Maria Vian should not be fired as a "necessary first step to address the continuous public-relations bungling at the Vatican."  That's nothing more than scapegoating.

He should only be fired if his actions or negligence in editing the paper are actions worthy of being fired over.  By this I mean, either things he chose to do which he should not have, or not to do but was obligated to do, or by failure to offer oversight to people under him where it is reasonable to hold him responsible.  Only if this is worthy of termination, are calls for his firing just.

Rash Judgment

Might I remind my fellow Catholics of a couple of paragraphs within the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

2477 Respect for the reputation of persons forbids every attitude and word likely to cause them unjust injury.278 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;279

- 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.280

I do not intend to say people like Peters and Lawler are acting under rash judgment.  Perhaps they have information we do not after all.  Rather I wish to point out that when malicious intent is being imputed, it must be proven and not assumed.

Not Defending Giovanni Maria Vian

Now don't accuse me of saying we should just ignore this incident.  If the accusations are true, something needs to be done.  However, Catholic teaching requires we find out what is true, before passing judgment, and recognizing that those with the proper authority and not the mob have this task of passing judgment.

Right now, we are justly angry at the distortion which the media has made of this case.  However, before calling for the head of Giovanni Maria Vian we need to ask if certain things are true:

  1. Did he knowingly make a mistranslation seeking to create an incident?  That is a strong charge and requires proof.  Does it exist?
  2. Did his staff incompetently translate the document?  If so, it requires correction, but does it require Giovanni Maria Vian to be fired?
  3. Did they violate the embargo? Since nobody who received an advance copy was supposed to discuss the book until 11/23 and the article was published on Saturday, this seems to be the case.  So who is responsible and what is the penalty?
  4. Did they know the media would take it out of context?  That's a hard case to make.  I read the quote from the AP article and it seemed immediately clear to me that the quote given did not justify the headline.  It became more clear when Ignatius Press released the pages in question that this is not what the Pope said.  So in this case, we have fault with the media.

Can We Claim We Know Enough to Judge?

Point #1 is a thing which need to be proven, but seem to be insinuated by some writers without proof.  Point #2 may be true, but right now the discussion on the web seems to be based on personal translations of German and Italian text which may be accurate but I am not competent to judge one way or another.  I think we do need some more authoritative sources to form an accurate judgment.

Point #3 seems to be the main point of the outrage, and it seems to be valid.  Unless it turns out the Pope exempted them, it seems it is undeniable that they broke the agreement.  Let the penalty fit the offense in this case.

Point #4 is the main concern I have with the current anger.  Properly speaking, we must assess what the person who makes a statement means before we evaluate it.  We must make sure that we do not have a false understanding of what was said.

The media reports completely failed to do this.  They made a Todd Unctuous style report.   Nobody contacted the Vatican for a clarification.  Yes the blame is on the L'Osservatore Romano for releasing an excerpt contrary to the embargo is just. But insinuating malice as their motive or claiming they should have realized the media would misinterpret?  That's too hard for me to swallow without proof.


So ultimately I call on my fellow Catholics to avoid a rush to judgment of L'Osservatore Romano for what was done by the media of the world in response to this article.  Let L'Osservatore Romano be judged for what they have done or what they were negligent in not doing, and not assume malicious intent until we know such intent.

Ultimately any investigation will be handled by the proper departments of the Vatican.  We may see someone fired.  We may not see anything publically happen.  Whatever happens, we must recognize that the Holy Father has the ultimate authority.  Since I recognize the Holy Father as a man of great personal integrity who seeks to do what is best for the Church, I trust that whatever he will decide to do, he will do because he thinks it best.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Reflections on The Mob

"Do not give dogs what is holy; and do not throw your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under foot and turn to attack you."(Mt 7:6).

Awhile back, I wrote about the mob (not to be confused with the Mafia) mentality turning on Richard Dawkins, who appealed to it against the Christians.  Currently, it is turning its hunger against the Catholic Church.

Seeing so many uninformed commentators posting on websites bashing the Church and accusing Catholics of defending sexual abuse, I thought it would be good to comment on some of the characteristics of the mob mentality sweeping the Internet

The Purpose of this Article

I don't intend to write this to attack any individual.  Most people who take part in mob mentality don't realize they are doing it.  Rather, I write this to my fellow Christians to help them deal with the attacks of the mob… which we Christians see opposed to us all too often.  If any individual reading this thinks what I say comes too close to home, remember that one can break free of the mob by refusing to follow what "everyone says" or "relying on the newspapers" to get the facts.  In other words, to investigate before attacking.

Characteristic #1: The Mob is Led by Appeals to Emotion, Not Reason

Usually an appeal to the mob is based on the appeal to emotion.  Some sort of horrible situation is either hypothesized, or a real situation (usually something which the target condemns anyway) is expressed as the norm which is approved of.  The emotion desired is that outrage over the issue as presented by the mob leader and disproportionate calls for action are the result.  Now, the one who feeds the mob may appeal to emotion by flattery, saying the members of the mob are clearly reasonable people and care about justice.  From there, the mob can be flattered into action along these lines:

  1. You are clearly a reasonable person.
  2. Those who disagree say you are wrong
  3. Therefore they are saying you are unreasonable.

This is an appeal to pride.

This brings us to the second characteristic.

Characteristic #2: The Mob cannot be reached by logic but is easily swayed by Logical Fallacies

This cuts both ways.  The one seeking to feed the mob cannot get too cerebral or they will lose the mob.  So the message needs to be kept simple in a slogan like manner.  On the other hand, the one defending their position against the mob has nothing to exploit.  Appeals to reasoned arguments will not work.  Either the argument goes above their head or there will be an agitator [See below] twisting your words to a meaning you never said to begin with.

Logical fallacies do work however… for our opponents.  We ourselves should never consider using them.  The ad hominem is very successful used against us, as is the red herringBulverisms are also effective.  Telling the mob that the argument is already proven in their favor will make them resistant to the facts showing them it is wrong.  "That's your opinion" is a common (and dishonest) tactic.

There was a biography (Soldat) of a German officer (Siegfried Knappe) who was a Russian prisoner after WWII.  He describes some of the attempts of the Russians to instill a sense of anti-Americanism in the prisoners.  So they were constantly bombarded with slogans that "Americans were for war, Russia was for peace."  Knappe reports that even there was no evidence for it, a person questioning it was often viewed as irrational by other prisoners.

This shows the disadvantage the Christian has in defending the faith.  In order to sway the mob, we would have to appeal to logical fallacies that are intellectually dishonest.

This is shown in the spurious allegations against the Pope.  The simple slogan is "The Pope covered for abusers."  The rebuttal takes far longer to state than the accusation because it has to show why the premise is wrong and then show the evidence to the contrary.

Characteristic #3: Reason drops dramatically in groups

Peer pressure and other tactics can sway individuals who, when alone, might listen to reason.  "The mob" is stupid, but this doesn't mean individuals within it are stupid.  This often happens when one person thinks something isn't quite right, but peer pressure can make them doubt their own knowledge, and give into the groupthink [decision-making by a group as a whole, resulting in unchallenged, poor-quality decisions] of mobs.

Lynch mobs historically were influenced this way.  Individuals may have thought the act was wrong, but when the whole crowd is howling for vengeance, it is easy for the individual to be influenced into setting their own judgment aside.

This is also how the Nazis came to power.  Of course there were individuals who thought Hitler was wrong.  However, when what seems to be the whole country is supporting an injustice, it is very hard to stand against the crowd without beginning to wonder if it is you who are wrong.

Those who feed the mob prey on this.  The use of the appeal to numbers fallacy is often successful: "Everyone else knows of this injustice.  Why do you support those who are guilty?"

This brings us to the next characteristic.

Characteristic #4: The slogan cannot be questioned.  If you question it, you stand with the enemy

There is a work called Fuhrer Ex, of a Neo Nazi in Germany who eventually grew sick of the movement (because he could no longer believe what they held) and left it.  One of the key elements of the book was that certain elements were so often repeated, using false sources, that it was accepted as true.  When the author began to question some of the assumptions of the group (holocaust denial, applications of violence etc.) he was unable to convince them… indeed the propaganda he helped form was cited as an authority against his arguments, and he was accused of siding with the enemy.

This is commonly employed with the current attacks against the Church.  The accusation "The Pope covered for abusers" is a slogan which cannot be questioned.  If you do, you are defending the evil in the slogan, not showing the truth in their mind.

Any attempts to rebut such an accusation is met with the accusation that the debunker is making excuses, "playing the victim card" and so on.

It is depressingly effective.  Consider all those out there who post comments on the blogs accusing Catholic apologists of "defending child rape" on the grounds that they question the slogan.   Never mind the fact that the Pope was a strong force for reforming the Church system.  Never mind the fact that the slogans are not supported by the actual facts.  If you dare to defend the Pope, you are accused of defending the system.

"You're either with us or against us" (or a variant in wording) is the battle cry.  No, this wasn't just George W. Bush (though he was appealing to the mob mentality, to his detriment).  Any group which accuses a person who disagrees with them of being on the side of the enemy uses this argument.  But this argument ignores the crucial question: Is it right that I am with you?  Do I have to be on the opposite side if I oppose you?

The mob demands we answer "yes" to both questions.  The reasoned person answers "If your position is true, I will stand with you.  If your position is not true, I will stand where the truth is to be found."

Unfortunately, the mob sees this as supporting the other side.

Characteristic #5: Agitators help influence the mob

This isn't an argument of a conspiracy theory.  I'm not talking about some person with a nefarious plot to overthrow something.  The mob generally is headless.  It can be guided and influenced but it can never be controlled.  The mob can turn on the one who tries to use it.

Rather, I am talking about true believers in a cause who have a strong hatred of whatever they are working against.  This zeal leads them to attack what they see as an enemy.  They instinctively make emotional appeals to steer the audience to their position.  These people tend to be zealous, or even fanatical in their hatred.  They are certain they are right.  However, they differ from those who are speaking the truth in that they generally will use any tactic against their enemy, justifying it on the grounds that the enemy does worse.

For example, ex-Catholics who become anti-Catholics take whatever real or imagined wrong from the Church which offends them, and use their anger as a focus to attack the Church, certain that whatever wrong they suffered (or think they suffered) was not only deliberate, but malicious as well.  So they scour Church documents for words which will justify their hatred of the Church, giving them the interpretation they choose.  If you tell them their interpretation is wrong, you are accused of lying.  Or being stupid.

Agitators are good at twisting words.  If you use a vague analogy, they will distort it.  If you use one example to lead into another point, they will use the the example and misrepresent it as being your point.  Their tone will always be condescending and mocking you… obviously you must be an idiot if you disagree with them.  [This is why Christians should avoid sarcasm and mocking.  Yes these people can make us angry, but getting angry is to lose the argument].

They will always reduce their arguments to slogans however, and will not listened to reasoned argument.  Why?  Because they aren't here to discuss the truth.  They are here to attack people who disagree with their accusation which they interpret as denying their experience.

These can either be poor at what they do, in which case you can reduce them to silence, or they can be skilled enough to make an argument futile: you won't get a fair hearing for your position.  The agitator's clever phrasing will lead the mob to think he has won when in fact, he is doing nothing to answer your actual points.

Sometimes you have to suppress your desire to get in the "last hit" and walk away from those people.  A "last act of defiance" almost never comes off looking as good as you hope it would.

Dealing with the Mob

Arguing your case before the mob is like casting pearls before swine.  If you take a position which the mob has been told is wrong, it will be distorted and the distortion will be turned against you.  They will believe the agitator's distortion is true and no matter what you say, it will be the agitator's misrepresentation and not what you said that they will believe. 

Now the temptation is to sink to their level, slinging mud for mud and insult for insult.  However, such a tactic may win points with the "living in Mom's basement" crowd who enjoys an exchange of insults, but it won't actually prove the point we are trying to get across.  It won't actually convince them either, because what the Christian calls people to is contrary to the appetite of the mob.

Christians can't feed the appetite of the mob.  Nor should we want to.  What the mob wants too often is wrong in the eyes of the believer. Whether the mob wants a scapegoat or whether the mob wants us to bless its immoral actions, we can't give them these things.

However, there is a way which we can use.  That is remembering that the mob is not a faceless mass, but is made up of individuals with different motives and levels of understanding.  You can't speak to the mob.  You can only speak to individuals.  Only individuals can be turned from error.  The mob simply wants the bread and circuses, and will support whoever will feed their appetite.

All we can do is to speak to the individual, hoping they will listen to the truth and not to what agitators distort our position to be, praying they will leave the mob.  Because of this, we need to pray that we act in accordance with God's will and try our best to act as representatives of the King.

After that we can do no more (though we must be tireless in doing this task).

Finally, we must remember that Jesus has told us men would hate us on account of Him.  They will use whatever scandal (real or imagined) they can find to fuel their hatred.  We should remember Christ's words in such a case:

22 Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude and insult you, and denounce your name as evil on account of the Son of Man.

23 Rejoice and leap for joy on that day! Behold, your reward will be great in heaven. For their ancestors treated the prophets in the same way. (Luke 6:22-23)

Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Mob Turns on Richard Dawkins

Reports are coming in of a dispute on  The history seems to be Dawkins has written a note claiming his blog forum will be more tightly moderated in light of abusive comments.  Ironically, the tight moderation will be enacted sooner than the 30 days stated because of the vitriol he received in response to his policy.

Christian bloggers of course have been on the receiving end of such vitriol for some time.  Trolls, flames, personal attacks and all the rest have been directed us for quite awhile now.  Of course I don't take part in the Schadenfreude which seems to be going around some sites, which seems to be amused by this.  These people are often the ones making insults against Christians.  Personally I'd rather the Internet be filled with a good deal more civility regardless of the topic on a forum than to see Dawkins get what he deserves.

Dawkins says in his post:

Surely there has to be something wrong with people who can resort to such over-the-top language, over-reacting so spectacularly to something so trivial. Even some of those with more temperate language are responding to the proposed changes in a way that is little short of hysterical. Was there ever such conservatism, such reactionary aversion to change, such vicious language in defence of a comfortable status quo? What is the underlying agenda of these people? How can anybody feel that strongly about something so small? Have we stumbled on some dark, territorial atavism? Have private fiefdoms been unwittingly trampled?

I believe the answer to this is: Richard Dawkins rose to fame by appealing to the mob, and now the mob has turned on him.  In his books and public statements, he has made attacks on religion which do not appeal to the intellectuals, but the mob mentality, using rhetorical flourishes to sneak past arguments which aren't valid.

The mob tends to love displays of violence and mockery.  They were the ones who flocked to the arenas during the Roman Empire, they were the ones who took part in lynching individuals, they were the ones who eventually took over French Revolution, turning on the founders.

This is the danger in the appeal to the mob.  One can encourage it to support you, but one can never fully control it.  One generally has to keep upping the ante for satiating the mob, because they become jaded.

The New Atheism has gained its appeal through pandering to the mob.  The attacks we have seen from them are that Christians are "stupid" and "irrational" and call for actions to put Christians "in their place."  The mob liked this, because of those Christians who insist that there are limits to what is acceptable behavior… limits which are unpopular in a hedonistic culture.

For long periods of time, we have seen the foul language, the insults used against the Christians.  So long as it was directed against the Christians, such things were tolerated.

However, once the mob grew angry at Dawkins and his attempts to control his site, the situation changed.  It wasn't Christians saying "You shouldn't do this."  It was Dawkins saying it.  The mob merely took their hostility to the next group "restricting" them.

So now they turned on him, using the vitriol long used against Christians against him.  The preferences of the mob have shifted further than Dawkins wishes to go, but the mob must be sated.  So once Dawkins tried to stop the mob, he paid the price.

He writes:

Be that as it may, what this remarkable bile suggests to me is that there is something rotten in the Internet culture that can vent it. If I ever had any doubts that needs to change, and rid itself of this particular aspect of Internet culture, they are dispelled by this episode.

However, he played a role in his own savaging.  By tolerating the vile attacks so long as it was directed against Christians, it becomes somewhat hypocritical for him to object when he falls out of favor and becomes the target.

Perhaps Dawkins will learn now that there is an objective standard for behavior, and that what is wrong to direct towards him is also wrong to direct against others… even Christians.