Sunday, November 29, 2015

Bishop Barron's Imbecilic Thoughts on Terrorism and Evangelization

We should make "quiet witness" but he can't shut up

This topic was well-covered by Maureen Mullarkey in a recent post on OnePeterFive. But I want to offer my own thoughts on it, if only because I feel so strongly about it.

Bishop Robert Barron's short EWTN interview was ostensibly about the proper Christian response to terrorism. I think it's fair to say that his answer boiled down to pacifism--though he mentioned just war theory briefly if, in effect, dismissively. It's worth quoting part of the interview in full:
Bishop Barron, as the conference is going on, the world is shocked and in mourning over Friday's terror attack. Can you offer some guidance as to how should Catholics respond? How should Catholics be reacting? 
It was especially poignant to me because I studied in Paris for three years. As I watched the pictures I recognized those streets and some of those shops on the corner. So it was very moving to me and poignant to me. 
You know, what's the response? We worship a crucified Lord. And so in a certain way, violence and the response to violence is at the very heart of Christian faith. Our Lord, who took on the violence of the world, took on sin and dysfunction and swallowed it up in the ever greater divine mercy. That's the Christian approach to violence. Not to fight it so much on its own terms--though I think at times that's the only thing we can do, hence our just war theory--but the basic approach, I think, is to respond to violence with love, with non-violence, with mercy. And thereby, don't fight fire with fire but fight fire with its opposite. Fight hatred with love. Um, so that means prayer. That means a witness. That means the non-violent stance. Open your personal life in a public way. Those are all ways that we respond.
But half-way through, the Bishop mentioned in an offhand way that for every 1 person who joins the Catholic faith, 6.5 leave it. And the rest of the interview was largely devoted to how to address that. He reasonably claimed that Catholics should "make our faith attractive" but then explained that this should be done not by "proselytizing" but by bearing "quiet witness". If one is talking to a fallen-away or non-Catholic, then at the appropriate point in a conversation, but only after having made quiet witness, it might be permitted to "ask a question" as long as it is done "non-threateningly." And of course there should be no "finger-wagging" or "blaming."

He then brought the two points together:
So I think by our own reaction to violence in a Christian way, we evangelize. Having said that I think we can point to how dysfunctional it is to respond to violence in a sort of hyper hate-filled or violent way. We can point out the fact that it tends not to work. That might be a way to reach out to those who don't have the faith.
This of course resembles nothing if not parody, though I suppose you either see it or you don't. Here Barron plays the part of the sort of dim mid-twentieth century Anglican vicar--I'm sure the character exists in one or more British comic novels--who wants so much to be relevant and thus taken seriously, but in fact is taken seriously by none, though he is patronized by all.

Now, anyone familiar with Catholic history or Biblical exegesis would realize that Barron's description of the traditional Christian response to violence and war--while superficially plausible to those with, say, a Cliff Notes exposure to the Bible--is false. The tradition is not pacifist or even "non-violent" when it comes to resisting aggression. In a sense Barron is sketching out a new interpretation of Christian tradition (after 2,000 years)--some sort of out of context melding of the thoughts of the quasi-Baptist Martin Luther King and the quasi-Hindu Mahatma Gandhi (as Mullarkey earlier suggested). In addition casually interchanging the concepts of sin, violence and "dysfunction" (whatever that is) is dangerously misleading, even (dare I say it) heretical.

But let's leave those precise considerations aside and instead ask these questions: are Bishop Barron's views on Christianity and violence attractive? Are they persuasive? Do they make, say, a non-Catholic want to become a Catholic? After all, presumably we want to reverse that 6.5:1 statistic. Don't we?

Bishop Barron wants to be liked by the secular world. Indeed, I would say that is the driving force behind his own apparent intellectual dysfunctions. And if you put it to him politely, I think he might even sort of agree. "But that's how you evangelize," you can imagine him saying. "Talk to them on their own terms, without finger wagging."

Of course, many non-Catholics will applaud. Finally (so goes the response of the applauders), here's a Catholic who admits it's all a bit too much to fight for the Catholic faith (or even to non-physically defend it). See, in doing so, he's admitting what we have said all along, that much of what the Catholic Church has stood for and done over the last 2,000 years has been wrong.

They will applaud. But they won't become converts. They will patronize Bishop Barron as they would the dim Anglican vicar. But in the end they won't take him seriously.

If this is evangelism, it's for those who have an IQ below 80.

Christ took on violence and swallowed it up with his mercy.

If that's the best argument for Christianity, then Christianity is obviously false. There's at least as much violence in the world now as there was 2,000 years ago. Christ didn't vanquish it. Unless the Bishop means, metaphorically or whatever or, you know, in some deeper sense. If that's the case, then applause. Finally (according to the applauders) Catholicism has been denuded into just another silly and harmless religious affectation.

(Correct answer: Christ vanquished sin, or at least the eternal consequences of sin for those who honestly repent and ask Him to forgive them.)

Respond to violence with non-violence. Violence tends not to work.

Now, again, this is calculated to get applause. But it is also imbecilic. And as much as some will say they believe it, almost no one actually does. Tell it, by the way, to the Holocaust survivors who were liberated by troops and tanks, not Buddhist floral arrangements.  I suppose it might get some of the New Age crowd. Then again, why should the New Age crowd become Catholic when they're already getting their oatmeal somewhere else?

When terrorists slit the throat of your girlfriend (because she wasn't fast enough in making the exit, and then begged for mercy), open your personal life in a public way.

What is he even talking about?

Admittedly, inside all of this is a point, buried due to the Bishop's own blathering so as to be almost undiscoverable, not least to a non-Christian. What is it?

Well it's not that Christianity has a bias against violence or that it considers violence to be only a last resort or anything like that. Among other things, this is the position of every religious or moral code worth considering, including those held by atheists. Or at least Bishop Barron and those like him claim this to be the case. Islam is a "religion of peace" after all. So this doesn't really separate Christianity from the pack. And if you find yourself in the unusual position of trying to evangelize Vikings or Zulus, the bias against violence thing might not work in your favor anyway.

Rather, I would identify the point thus:

Our faith tells us that Christians should try to love everyone, by which is meant wanting the best for everyone, if only ultimately (but that's what's most important). This does distinguish Christianity and Catholicism from many other belief systems, including most religious traditions. And I do think it is an attractive feature, though some would disagree. When was the last time you heard a Muslim pray for his enemies or, with apologies to my Jewish elder brothers, a believing Jew do the same?

Note though, that this is different from pacifism. It doesn't say you shouldn't fight your enemies. It does say you should love them. And contra Bishop Barron, this isn't because loving them "works" as some rope-a-dope Gandhi-esque strategy to get them off your back or whatever. It's because, following his own example, Christ commanded it of us.

Thus, Maria Goretti famously wanted her attempted rapist and murderer to repent and join her in Heaven. But that didn't stop her from fighting him off (she succeeded at least in preventing the rape), and perhaps saving his soul in the bargain.

Joan D'Arc didn't merely ask her foes a question. And neither did Saint Bernard de Clairvaux (the most prominent theological backer of the Crusades). But they did fervently pray for them.

Bishop Barron is on record, by the way, as calling that Saint a sinner, which is a bit uppity for someone who is against "blaming".

And Jesus made a whip and drove the money changers out of the temple. That was His witness. And it wasn't quiet.

But you know what? Let's stop talking and test it. Bishop Barron is welcome anytime to fly to Turkey, accompanied of course by a Word on Fire camera team, and then take a land rover into ISIS occupied Raqqa. There he can undertake a non-violent sit-in at the local kabob joint. Oh, sure, even he might admit that might earn him a beheading. Then again, perhaps it might set a good example.

He isn't willing to do that?

Then what right does he have to in effect ask others to?


  1. Spoken like a true Catholic Warrior The dim witted Anglican Vicar you are trying to think of is in 'To the Manor Born' The wet effeminate type who no body takes seriously.

  2. Man, I can't even parody Bishop Barron anymore with crap like this.

  3. As I read Bishop Barron's words, I instantly thought, That's not Christ, it's Gandhi." Thanks for the confirmation and elaboration.

  4. Which Gandhi? The Gandhi that India and film fabricated or the actual historical Gandhi? This is a must read.

  5. Indirectly confirming your commentary, we have G K Chesterton's remark that '...The soldier does not hate those in front of him; rather he loves those behind him.'

    The key words are "does not hate those..." which, of course, he does not. He may very well love them and (if there's time) pray for their souls after their dispatch to eternity.