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“An extraordinary, calculating fraud”

by Greg Krehbiel on 8 September 2009

That’s what “American Papist” calls Fr. Marcial Maciel. That’s exactly right.

You should remember the Macial story the next time somebody refers to the late pope (a Maciel supporter) as “John Paul the Great.” You should keep it in mind the next time you hear of the need for “deference to authority,” or when somebody blames criticism on persecution. Think of how Maciel duped the Vatican the next time you hear somebody talk about how wise they are, how they see the long game, and how we ought to listen to them so very carefully and respectfully.

It’s true that leaders should get some amount of deference, or else they’d never be able to get their job done. It’s true that the Vatican is full of very smart people. It’s true that some people hate the church and will dig up any kind of dirt to try to discredit priests or the church. Knowing that, we should be a little skeptical of such accusations.

But everything has to be kept in balance — both criticism and deference. And exhortations to “believe the best” and “have charity” can be manipulative and misleading, and are especially suspect when they come from the people who are being accused.

The Legion of Christ and Regnum Christi seem to have perfected the art of manipulation. They twisted, distorted and exaggerated carefully selected Christian teachings to demonize their opponents, to create a haze of phony sanctity around their seriously flawed leader, and to exert pressure on the faithful to stick with the party line.

Psychology students should have material for doctoral theses for years to come.

The true significance of the Fr. Maciel story is that a lot of people need to re-think their either/or, logical, rational approach to these kinds of issues and admit that there’s a tremendous amount of grey. I definitely had to. Maciel didn’t start that process by any means, but his story put the finishing touch on it, so to speak.

This whole concept came to mind over the weekend as I heard Toby Keith’s “God Love Her.” Toby sounds like one of those inconsistent guys. He talks like he believes, but he doesn’t sound much like a Sunday School teacher, or what serious churches might call a “member in good standing.” He seems to have one foot in and one foot out.

I used to criticize that sort of thing. I used to think it was a combination of intellectual sloth — an inability to think through the issues clearly — and moral weakness — an unwillingness to face up to the consequences and make the necessary changes.

In some cases that might be part of it, but in many cases the guy who stands off to the side shows a maturity and wisdom that I haven’t had for most of my life. I.e., the wisdom to see that answers aren’t always clear. That some choices represent a false dilemma. That we often just don’t know enough to be sure about an answer. And that often the wisest course is to be suspicious of anything that seems extreme.

In a way it reminds me of pacifism. I’ve never been a pacifist, but I’m starting to understand them a little better. Each side of a conflict wants you to believe that you have to make a decision (NOW!), to stick with that decision, and to kill or be killed based on that decision. And never mind that you don’t have the whole story!

Maybe there’s another decision — to step aside and refuse to play the game on their terms.

-- 2009-09-08  »  Greg Krehbiel

Talkback x 12

  1. DSM
    8 September 2009 @ 3:54 pm

    “The true significance of the Fr. Maciel story is that a lot of people need to re-think their either/or, logical, rational approach to these kinds of issues and admit that there’s a tremendous amount of grey. I definitely had to.”

    I have to admit that “It’s not black and white, it’s grey” is my least favourite pseudo-profound banality — to my eternal shame, I used it as the cringe-inducing conclusion of a class essay back in high school, and have never been able to forgive myself — so to hear you mention it as the true significance of anything makes me think that I must be missing something. Likewise “answers aren’t always clear”, “some choices represent a false dilemma”, “we often just don’t know enough to be sure about an answer”, and so on: it’s not that you’re wrong, it’s that you’re too obviously right.

    I think this may be a case, like the sudden death of a loved one, where an event happens which doesn’t actually change the argument but which dramatically changes the way we experience it. I’ve been following your writings off-and-on from your Reformed period to your Lutheran period to your will-he-or-won’t-he period to your Catholic period to your current period — whatever chapter title it’ll get in Cheshire Christ v 3. I’d never have described your writings as unaware that the world is complex and ambiguous. These things look different from the inside, of course.

    (Curiously enough, uber-Catholic Alex from the late RYM days went through a kind of transhumanist phase after walking away from the Church, I think so he could find a concrete kind of transcendence. I think about him every time you mention wanting a pill to give you a great body or whatever.)

    I agree that humility is a good thing, including epistemological humility, but I think you’re elevating sound heuristics (like “often the wisest course is to be suspicious of anything that seems extreme”, which is music to the ears of Confucius fans like me) beyond their natural place.

  2. Greg Krehbiel GregK
    8 September 2009 @ 9:41 pm

    The problem is that one person thinks he’s being profound by saying “nothing’s certain” and the other person thinks he’s being profound by replying “you’re certain about that?”

    All the while the Toby Keith types are shaking their heads in dismay at the “too smart by half” nerds who simply don’t get it.

    Yes, I’ve always recognized that the world is a messy, complicated place and have tried to do my best to incorporate that into my “apologetic,” or whatever you want to call it. And I’ve been frustrated at people who try to pretend that the messiness doesn’t exist — who want to wrap everything up in a nice little package.

    At times I have thought I have found a rational, explainable, defensible solution. But after a while the extreme messiness of things just wears you down. At this point I’d rather have a beer with Toby and not worry about what the nerds are thinking.

  3. pentamom
    9 September 2009 @ 12:16 pm

    Hey, does anyone keep up with Alex still? And DSM, by what other name might I know you?

  4. Jordan Henderson
    9 September 2009 @ 12:21 pm

    I guess what one finds as extreme is a matter of perspective. Certainly, many people today would be considered extreme to those 100 or even 50 years ago. Were the people then just bigots or does tradition keep us on a straighter path ultimately?

    It’s like that quote from Chesterton “The Catholic Church is the only thing which saves a man from the degrading slavery of being a child of his age.”

    I don’t know about you, but I don’t feel I can judge the really large issues just on the basis of reasoning and taking a middle path. Sometimes, I feel like I need to have a check on my own proclivity to rationalize and justify things that are really just in line with my baser motives.

    There are so many slippery slopes and using my limited reasoning alone, I could find myself heading down the paths of those I find monstrous. If I accept contraception, then the morning after pill seems reasonable, then abortion for nonviable fetuses, then abortion for rape and incest, then abortion for “bad” birth defects, then abortion to choose gender or for whatever reason because it’s none of my business being a matter of privacy between a woman and her doctor…

    Perhaps you are sure you won’t fall into this, but I’m not so sure I wouldn’t. I’ve accepted some of the above in the past and felt pretty comfortable at the time with my reasoning then.

    As I said, extreme is a matter of perspective. I don’t find mainstream Catholicism extreme. I could see where certain beliefs are difficult for the non believer to accept, but Scripture is pretty clear that some of the teachings are difficult or even impossible to accept without faith.

    As to Maciel, I’m in awe at the mercy of God that he was given years to repent.

  5. Greg Krehbiel Greg Krehbiel
    9 September 2009 @ 12:50 pm

    I have no trouble holding to views that are out of the mainstream. Most of my views probably are. But there are views and there are views.

    For example, I don’t think dating is a good idea until a kid gets into college. That’s way out of the mainstream, but I don’t really care. I’m not trying to pass a law, or force my views on other people, and I’m not saying that their eternal souls depend on it. If people disagree, fine. I don’t really care.

    Then the Catholic Church tells me that the consecrated bread and wine are the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ, that this is the “source and summit” of the faith, etc. etc. Why should I believe such a claim?

    Please don’t recite the reasons, I know them quite well. The point is that each step in the chain involves a “yeah, maybe” answer, and you dig yourself into a narrower and narrower trench as you progress.

    Why? What’s the point? Why should I feel any obligation to say yes or no at any step along the way?

    It’s so much simpler to say, “I understand the argument, and I can see that point of view, but I don’t find it compelling.”

    And Chesterton was flat wrong. Lots of things save people from being a degrading slave of the age. Just ask the LaRouchies outisde my office window with their “Obama is Hiter” signs.

  6. pentamom
    10 September 2009 @ 12:45 pm

    This has been bubbling around my mind since you posted it, and I think I finally figured out what I want to say.

    The problem here is that while you and Toby may want to stand outside and apart, I don’t think life lets you do that. I don’t just mean other people want to force you to go one way or the other, but that things happen that force a choice — even if that choice just consists of “not going along” in one direction, eventually that will push you in the other. Even if you are right that that happens only because people can’t accept the separateness, I don’t think that repeals the reality that it’s pretty much inevitable.

    So, for example, in the song, I don’t think the pastor’s daughter is going to be able to have a long-term relationship with Toby without eventually having to do something that turns her against her upbringing for Toby’s sake, or creates a serious conflict with Toby because she chooses the direction opposite the one he chooses in that particular matter. Even Toby’s willingness to accept both sides can’t be maintained indefinitely when some issue that distinguishes the sides arises, and he’s going to be pushed in one direction or the other, and she’s going to have to decide whether she lines up with him, or the other way.

    Maybe it would be “nice” if it wasn’t that way (although I have my own reasons for not really believing it would be) but I don’t think that in the world that goes around the sun, it actually can be different.

  7. pentamom
    10 September 2009 @ 12:49 pm

    BTW, on a side note, I do think there’s room for not being overly hard on the Tobys of the world and insisting they can’t be this unless they’re this other thing. And I do think that religious people, secular ideologues, or whatever group of people might insist that Toby has to align with them generally have a hard time with that. But I don’t see that extending some grace to Toby and some room for him to be Toby involves conceding that Toby’s position actually works over the long haul. (Toby of course being a personification of the character in the song, regardless of whatever Toby Keith is really like.)

  8. Greg Krehbiel Greg Krehbiel
    10 September 2009 @ 1:47 pm

    ISTM that what you’re saying is that inconsistencies arise, and we have to deal with them. But, as we’ve said in another thread around here a few weeks ago, isn’t it possible that’s the disease of people who over-think things?

    Does real life actually require people to be consistent? Mary Matalin and James Carville seem to have a successful marriage.

    From time to time I toy with an idea of a story along these lines — some OT scholar discovers a variant in a Syrian text and starts down a particular path that gets him to wonder if the Samaritans were right after all. As he works at it he discovers other things he’d never seen before and gets sucked in to a very narrow interpretation of biblical history. Eventually he finds himself going to the (ridiculously small) community of Samaritans who maintain the old sacrifices and sues of admission.

    In the end he finds himself separated from his family, his property and his future, in a shabby tent in some backwards hill country, saying weird prayers in a lost language with five guys in strange robes.

    IOW, following things to their “logical” conclusion can have crazy results — in real life, like broken families and so on. Sometimes it might be better to just leave things be.

    Remember the old discussions at RYM about “perfectionism”? (I think Tim Enloe caught the meme from Doug Wilson, or something like that.)

    The search for a perfect answer might be hanging a little too much freight on our limited intellect, and there might be other ways of knowing things. (I’m using “knowing” rather loosely.)

    Maybe the Tobys of the world have an insight that we over-thinkers are missing.

  9. pentamom
    10 September 2009 @ 2:02 pm

    I’m not saying that striving for perfectionist consistency is the goal — that’s what I meant to express in my second comment. Life is too messy for that, and I agree that we can make ourselves absolutely nuts by measuring everything we do by how it meets some standard we secondarily derive from other commitments.

    I’m just saying that I think life does tend to push you one way or another, by means of a cumulative series of large and small choices, and not assessing AT ALL whether you better align with one view or another probably just means you’ll be kidding yourself, rather than really staying aloof. I think the truth lies between the Tobys and the overthinkers. Toby isn’t going to be able to sustain it without either kidding himself or hurting someone else or something else bad, but the overthinkers are just as deluded if we think we can avoid the pitfalls by rigid consistency.

    That’s probably a whole lot clearer, but it took your prodding to bring it out.

  10. Greg Krehbiel Greg Krehbiel
    10 September 2009 @ 2:43 pm

    >life does tend to push you one way or another

    That’s certainly true. I think the talk you hear from converts about the “hound of heaven” is an application of that. Whether there’s a supernatural component or not, it makes sense that “things” accumulate in the mind until a person feels an overwhelming pressure to make a choice.

    So then, putting on the sociologist cap, it would be interesting to see if that feeling of a need to make a decision varies — maybe by personality type or something.

  11. Faggot82
    10 October 2009 @ 3:14 pm

    Kinu:You should regularly read Ghawar Guzzler, just for balance. ,

  12. Greg Krehbiel Greg Krehbiel
    4 January 2010 @ 1:22 pm

    Update — as if it needed to get any worse for the good folk of Regnum Christi, now we know that Maciel plagiarized some of his spiritual works.

    The Maciel mystique was a lie from start to finish.