Saturday, August 06, 2011

What's right and wrong with Michael Voris

Most of you know how much I appreciate Michael Voris. He's saying some things that badly need saying and that only someone of his independence seems in a position to dare say. This underscores what is right with Voris. He is something like a contemporary Jeremiah, calling God's people to repentance, sometimes with a refreshing (and doubtless offensive) bluntness. This is what gives him part of his negative reputation: he offends delicate sensibilities. Good for him. What would the redemptive history of the Chosen People have been without Jeremiah and his "Jeremiads"?

So what is wrong with Voris? Despite what Mark Shea and others like him might think, not much. There is, however, a small thin slice of Voris' messages that are a problem, not because of their bluntness, but because of their ignorance; and this applies to most of what he has to say about Protestants. While his opposition to knee-jerk "we're-all-the-same-anyway" ecumaniacs is a welcome difference from the naive and ill-informed willingness of some Catholics to embrace everyone from Bishop-Spong-vintage liberal Episcopalians to "Jesus-who?" Unitarians, he has little discernment concerning the facts of the 16th-century Protestant Reformers (De-formers, if you prefer), let alone the distinctive nuances of different kinds of Protestants, whether Calvinists, Methodists, Lutherans, Anglicans, Pentecostals, Nazarines, Baptists, Mennonites, Schwenkfelders, Moravians, or whatever.

This leads to some bald declarations that are just, well, embarrassing.

A good example is "Voris & Shea: Can't We All Just Get Along?" (Creative Minority Report). My issue is not so much the words of "Amazing Grace," which are the focus of Voris' remarks here. I do think that there are parts of that Protestant national hymn that can be interpreted in ways that are grossly inimical to traditional Catholic sensibilities (as my friend Chris Garton-Zavesky could tell you), but I don't think that interpretation is essential or, indeed, is how most people who sing that hymn interpret them. That, to my thinking, is beside the point here.

If Mr. Voris would cease attacking Protestantism, where he is often on very shaky ground, and continue to focus on the house-cleaning of our own Catholic household, I could find very little if anything not to appreciate in him, despite what Mr. Shea may wish to say. His opposition to mindless ecumenism is welcome, but there is also such a thing as gross insensitivity to baptized brothers in Christ who, through no fault of their own, were born into and raised in some Protestant ethos or another and sincerely seek the truth by the light they've been given. Some of us led, doubtless by the Holy Spirit, to discern the truth of Catholicism by means of disparate nuggets of what was true and good within our own erstwhile non-Catholic Christian traditions.

[Hat tip to J.M.]


Arieh said...

I agree with a lot of what Voris has to say, but one constant phrase that he uses drives me crazy: Professional Catholics. He constantly derides his opponents as professional Catholics because they make money by working for a diocese, Catholic college, apostolate, etc. Well, Michael, don't you make all your money pontificating on things Catholic?

He also calls out Catholic clergy and laity by name and tears them to shreds, and yet he rolls his eyes in holy horror that anyone would be publicly opposed to the "Black Sheepdog."

Voris wants to enjoy a double standard.

Roger said...

Well said, thank you!

Joe @ Defend Us In Battle said...

I would put myself in a similar camp regarding Voris. I am supportive of what he does 9 times out of 10, and on a good week, 10 out of 10. I do think there are some holes in his presentation and would agree that one is the lumping together of "all non-Catholics."

You state the case well. I would add to that one small addendum. It isn't just this where he goes a step to far, but in other cases sometimes as well. I think that it isn't so much ignorance as it is his attempt to hook people in who think about the subject at hand.

He produces 5 episodes a week. The "housecleaning" you refer to can become, in a topical way, redundant. So he has to find a new hook each day to spike interest - let's call that his "thing." He says so himself, "exposing lies and falsehoods."

So like you discussed in the hotly debated "Amazing Grace" episode there is that essence of him attacking "Protestantism" but he does so to attack the blind acceptance of all things by some Catholics. He recently took this same sort of extra-step in his discussion of kneeling. Instead of simply discussing what the Cardinal said, he tried to incite passion to get folks to agree with him by pointing out the rampant "irreverence" encountered in many parishes. When Mr. Jimmy Akin called him on some of this, it made Voris look "sloppy" on some points and thereby detracted from his otherwise spot on analysis.

In summary, if I were on the RCTV team, I would simply tell Voris to walk up to that line, but not cross it. It is hard to explain what the line is in every situation, but you know it when you see it, and you definitely know it once it is crossed.

I make bold declarations, so it is ironic that I am promoting prudence and restraint, but I was told by a wise person once (in law school) that it is better to lead the jury to a point where they think they figured it out on their own, rather than telling them what you want them to promoting and then trying to convince them why they should believe it. I think that if Voris could implement this technique, he would make an even more powerful presentation, and even win some people into his favor.

But what do I know, I can't even keep my comments short and concise. Sorry for writing another book.

Dark Horse said...


I think Voris got that expression ("profesional catholics') from a speech by Pope Benedict.

Arieh said...

Dark Horse,

Pope Benedict once said, ‘professional Catholics, who make a living on their Catholicism, but in whom the spring of faith flows only faintly, in a few scattered drops.’

But Voris applies this term on everyone who disagrees with him whether liberal, conservative, whatever. I disagree strongly at times with Voris, Akin, Shea, and others but I wouldn't label any of them "professional Catholics." Voris is just being lazy and insulting by overusing the term.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Pertinacious Papist said...

The comment immediately preceding was deleted for gratuitous slander. Want to post and take issue and argue? Fine. Be my guest. But mind your manners, or get lost.

Ralph Roister-Doister said...

Concentrate on "house-cleaning"? And what would Voris then be doing, if not concentrating on cleansing his Church of its protestantization over the past several decades?

For Catholics in America, protestantism is the problem. By whining about "secularism" first last and always, contemporary "professional Catholics" overlook the fact that protestantism is one of the most prolific of the seeds from which secularism has sprung. But these professionals are so enamored of the stratagem of forging an alliance of Christians against secularists (or the lunatic "Assisi strategy" of uniting theists of whatever stripe against them), that their feeble and highly selective memories omit the inconvenient truth that some of the worst damage ever visited upon the Catholic Church has come at the hands of these new "allies."

Ironically, this addled strategery comes following a council that could not heap sufficient praise on the secular institutions of liberal democracy. The truth is that the whole "culture of death" initiative represents a backing away from the fulsome praise of liberal democracy and man's secular achievements that was evident in the documents of V2, and even more so in the utterances of council leaders (three of whom were to become popes). But since that council, and the protestantizing reforms which followed it, pleased the separated brethren so much, Catholics now find themselves incongruously opposed to the secularist "culture of death", but not to the protestant utilitarianism which vomited it forth.

Is there a a modicum of sense, of coherence, left among Catholic leaders?

This is not about having a ripping good "theology on tap" session. Whether out of ignorance or through no fault of their own -- I don't care about the exculpatory preface one may choose to concoct: the fact remains that it is about lost souls who prey on the souls of others.

Pertinacious Papist said...

"Concentrate on 'house-cleaning'? And what would Voris then be doing, if not concentrating on cleansing his Church of its protestantization over the past several decades?"

You hit the nail on the head, Ralph. What Voris and other Catholics should be doing is showing where Protestant ideas are flawed, particularly where these ideas have insidiously infiltrated the Catholic Church today. Were that more Catholics like Voris were better equipped to do this.

It does little good fulminating against Luther or Calvin's errors, when one's understanding of these errors goes little deeper than the shallow puddle of typical Catholic anti-Protestant prejudices (though prejudices in themselves can have possible value in protecting otherwise ignorant Catholics against some Protestant ideas, I suppose).

Nor is it much help fulminating against the possible significance of the term "wretch" in the Protestant hymn Amazing Grace, which, at worst, might suggest that we sinners ought to feel a trifle more wretched about our sins than we generally feel in today's "I'm-ok-you're-ok" Barney and Friends Catholic culture.

If Catholics want to get at the root of truly insidious "protestantizing influences" in Catholicism, they ought to look at the Jansenist movement and the effects it has had within Catholic history over the last couple of centuries, or, more directly, at the late medieval via moderna of the nominalists, which led to the Protestant view of (1) nominal (forensic) justification (you're declared just, not made just), (2) nominal Body and Blood of Christ (mere symbols), (3) nominal "Church" (=nebulous spiritualized concept, not the real, historical organism developing since the apostles), etc.

The effects of these movements dovetail with secular nominalism and empiricism to reiforce the anti-"superstitious" prejudices of contemporary anti-(traditional)-Catholic culture (in which I include most current Catholics). Hence, most Catholic go along with secular and Protestant culture today in rejecting as "hocus pocus" the words of consecration, "Hoc est ... corpus ...", the necessity of Confession, Baptism, assisting at (attending) Mass, or believing in such "nonsense" (=empirically unverifiable) notions as Purgatory, being in a "state of mortal sin," or a "state of grace," or the efficacy of indulgences, etc., etc.

Far more damage has been done in contemporary Catholic churches by neglecting the traditional teachings on sin and regeneration than by singing Protestant hymns in Church. Most Protestant hymns by Isaac Watts or the Wesley Brothers are far more substantially Catholic than the "Gather-us-in" schlock we hear in most AmChurch parishes these days.

I'm agreeing with you that there is a problem with "protestantizing influence"; but I don't think it's coming from the sources that I often hear mentioned. I criticize various Protestant theological principles in my classes frequently; but I also point out where Catholics sometimes misunderstand where they think Protestants are in error and they're not.

We live in a (somewhat "post-") Protestant culture today. The strategy of holing up in a Catholic ghetto has something to commend it. Fr. Fessio once called homeschooling Catholic families the contemporary equivalent of the monastic movement's preservation of the Faith in early Catholic Europe. On the other hand, there's something to be said for knowing the (enemy) culture too, to be able to correctly identify where its problems are.

I think you've been a help with that in terms of popping our hot tub bubbles about von Balthasar, de Lubac, etc. I think Voris has been a help with a host of problems plaguing contemporary Catholic culture. I don't think his comments on Protestantism have been generally very helpful.

Ralph Roister-Doister said...

First of all, let's get this Voris thing out of the way. I don't bother much with Voris, although he seems, from the few videos I have watched through this blog, a good egg overall -- certainly preferable to the blowhard Catholic minimalist who seems so achingly envious of his modest onscreen success. And, given the schedule of commentary he has set for himself, I do not mind if Voris does not possess the encyclopedic knowledge of species of protestantism that you seem to require of him, PP. Overall, he is still saying the right things.

You and Boniface, on the other hand, seem most concerned with apologetical debating points. A Catholic who is harried by protestant family members into a betrayal of his faith is criticized by Boniface for not being more open and accomodating and apologetically sophisticated in his response to them. Good grief! Why do you think so much of this tone deaf fellow?

As for "Amazing Grace," the bottom line ought to be that it is a protestant hymn: written by a protestant to celebrate a protestant conception of redemption. Why would any Catholic countenance such a thing in his Church? Disingenuousness perhaps? -- as when "Catholic and Being Employed For It" calls it a hymn about redemption and grace, and what is not Catholic about that [nod, wink]?

Oh well, PP, at least we agree on the big point -- that the protestantization of the Catholic Church is both undeniable and deplorable. I will settle for that and leave the opportunity for the last word to you.

JM said...

How depressing. Even Arnold Lunn had no problem employing "Amazing Grace," but we are so distressed at the lousy state of things--courtesy a rather competely Catholic Modernism--that we can hardly make distinctions between liberal versus historical Protestantism. Sure there is a developmental connection, but the cleavage is such that to fail to reckon with it is to be far, far more shrill than necessary. While I get the temptation--a la rhetorical exasperation when dealing with a generation already coddled by Vatican Two-isms--is it really prudent to go there? I doubt it.

Forward Boldly said...

Arieh wrote, "He also calls out Catholic clergy and laity by name and tears them to shreds, and yet he rolls his eyes in holy horror that anyone would be publicly opposed to the 'Black Sheepdog.' "

That's just not true; you're either misinformed or exaggerating (in a completely irresponsible way). The only time Voris ever commented on Fr. Corapi was in his "Corapi and the Blogs" video, in which he repeatedly claimed he didn't have enough information on the situation and was not passing judgment on Fr's guilt or innocence. He spent almost all of his time expressing disappointment over the tone of certain Catholic commentators and the vicious way they tore down Fr. Corapi. If that's your argument for a double standard, you're going to have to find a new one.

Forward Boldly said...

As to the rest of the commentary on Protestantism, one shouldn't be looking to The Vortex for theological nuance. It's a 5--minute clip, for goodness' sake.

Instead, take a look at the other content at hundreds of hours of theology, apologetics, exegesis, Church history. Protestantism and other heresies (and yes, Protestantism is a heresy--speaking as a former Protestant myself who studied reformation history and theology at a little college in England) are dealt with there in greater detail.

Anonymous Bosch said...

Arieh, I appreciate your point, but I think the phrase "Professional Catholics," if I am not mistaken, comes from an oration by Pope Benedict XVI, in which the Holy Father was lamenting those bureaucrats occupying various middle- and upper-management positions in chancery offices who exhibit no evidence of personal faith.

Anonymous Bosch said...

Christine, I would agree if you had said that Protestantism contains all manner of heresies, but not that it IS a heresy. I'm not sure it's defensible to speak of "Protestantism" as though it were a single thing any more than one can reasonably speak of "religion" as thought it were one thing, at least if "religion" includes things as diverse as belief in theism (Christianity, Judaism & Islam), non-theism (Buddhism) and pantheism (Hinduism). But that's a detail. I agree with everything else you've said.