Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Thoughts on Online Witnessing

I was fortunate to come across this video, which is a good place to start but admits it doesn't solve anything.

Diogenes telling Alexander to get bent.
The troll that has bugged me a few times over the last year has not caused me to think about any of this. I have been thinking a lot about it over the years, and much more recently. I know there are people out there like that even when they don't write anything. Therefore, you should not think that I am unreflectively self-revelatory in this blog. You haven't the foggiest idea what I don't say on this blog (or anywhere else), and how every word I do post is in some way strategic.

Strategic in what way? I started this blog as a witness to the truth of Christianity, of Catholicism. My faithful readers know that I often struggle with the whole idea of being an 'avatar' for something of which I am altogether unworthy. I don't like the 'look at me' stuff. My life is not worthy of imitation; my perspective might be, however. Why? I am well-educated in the Faith, a fairly able writer, and, so far, a possessor of the gift of faith.

But not only that. It is also strategic in that I know it is a billboard of me. I can't just air my dirty laundry here - why anyone would want to do that, though, is beyond me. No one can afford to destroy their public reputation. Well, few can afford to. It works differently in different places - for instance, filming yourself having sex does not necessarily undermine your pop-culture career. Racist rants usually do, though. We should all be thankful to Donald Trump for at least one thing: the reminder that some things are intrinsically shameful and some things are not. Hillary would do well to remember that. You don't have to be on the popular side of everything - people will actually respect you more if you are not!

I swear. Way too often. I struggle to behave and not be too silly or irreverent. I don't like the pope. I drink almost every day, but I am pretty sure I don't have the alcoholic gene. I don't care for more than two beers, usually. I'd rather have coffee, frankly. It's not virtue, it's just how my body works. I have a lot of wounds that inhibit my service to my fellow man, my personal generosity. I struggle with depression - which anyone who's ever met me or laid eyes on me would figure out pretty quickly. (Thanks, Jenna, for revealing that to me.) I am a crushed idealist. I deeply need to be loved, have a lot of self-pity, very unsure of myself, and yet don't like my personal space invaded. I trust very few people, but those whom I do trust have my total fanatical fidelity. I don't forgive; I write offenders off. They might think I have forgiven them, little do they know they merely exist for me as a thin mist.

None of those things are good, or at least not admirable. At the same time, it doesn't ultimately matter. I am not ultimately interested in selling myself. I see myself as a means to an end. My end is mostly that God be known and loved; I want my family taken care of too, and that is why I am often not as blunt as I might otherwise be. If I did not have faith I wonder if I would blog at all. I would still write, I am sure, but not be self-disclosing like this. I might even write books under a nom de plume.

I don't like very many people. I am deeply interested in man, but have little faith in him. I like children. Women are totally beautiful, but generally tiresome. I like old people. And I admire many kinds of worker - priests, labourers, farmers, soldiers, etc. I am not a people person: this is why I don't give many talks. I am a pretty good public speaker and quite knowledgeable about a lot of things (more than many who bore at the speaker's pulpit) and love to talk about the things I am interested in. But it costs me a lot more than it does many others to give a talk. No, I don't get stage-fright. It's the introvert, I-find-people-tiring, thing. I think many introverts have a lot going on inside them that they'd love to share, but they don't think that others' interest is sufficient enough to make the strenuous psychological effort worthwhile.

The Philosopher versus the Theologian

"Some day all this will pay off."
Besides the ordinary differences in methodology, not many philosophers consider that they have the same duty that theologians consider themselves to have - they should, but they generally don't. Generally theologians who content themselves with writing and teaching on obscure topics are yet tormented by a niggling feeling that they are not doing all they should be doing, that they should be doing more direct service to the People of God. I chose against pursuing my first love, history, professionally, because I believed God wanted me to share the Gospel and not just keep to myself, pursuing my own interests. Little did I know that this choice would inflict so much violence on my will. So there is a sense of obligation. Sure, it can be a "grounds for boasting," but I consider my 'great' insights to be rare enough and obscure enough to keep this from happening too often. (If people don't understand you at these times, how can you feel pride in your intelligence?) And besides, pride is one of the more obvious sins to the theologian. And besides, remember I said I am not very sure of myself? Many academics are the same way, I think. It's a very insecure group of people.

So, circling back to the whole troll thing, the whole sharing my faith, my personal witness thing. A person like me could be expected to ask himself occasionally, why bother?

At different times different thoughts arise with greater force. When I was at OLSWA I saw it as simply an extension of my teaching ministry. And, seeing how I was at the mercy of employers, I was more conscious of projecting a positive image of myself. I know it was never seamless, because I simply can't be that artificial. I am less careful now than I was then, but still try not to shoot myself in the foot unnecessarily. The future is always wide-open and you can never anticipate everything. For instance, I think that homosexuals are, generally speaking, quite annoying, but I don't go out of my way to say that very often, or really ever. I also have some thoughts on black culture that not everyone would think are that polite...


I am nobody's whipping boy. I am not here to turn the other cheek for anyone or anything other than God. I don't owe my readers anything. I am not afraid of people. I will not play the victim to win you over for Christ, like some kind of Anglican selling his intellectual or moral integrity so the Church will seem 'relevant.'

If you are rude and I ever come across you in person, I will likely hurt you physically, if God doesn't prevent me. I am not a politician, I am not a priest, I am not on TV, and I am not trying to sell you anything. Indeed, most of the 'manners' we have today are not really based on morality, but upon prudence. Do I care if a mechanic is racist? is living with his girlfriend, boyfriend? Nope. But he'd certainly lose his job if he made his racism too apparent. He would be fired for financial reasons, not moral reasons.

Can you accept that a theologian does not like you personally? Can you accept that it might be about you? Can you accept that he is a radically imperfect?

Lev 'Bucket-O-Laughs' Tolstoy
I have been seriously considering writing a biography of Tolstoy. That will be two books from now. I am just about to finish one. I have to do another 30% of one that I have been chipping away at for too long, and then I want to get at that one. I think my essential thesis would be this: Tolstoy's life has been presented as one of decline from the, say, late 1870s to his death in 1910, of intellectual and artistic decline. I would like to paint the opposite picture. I believe that picture is based upon the assumption that a less congenial bearing has to be a crippling one. He became less 'pleasant' and less bourgeois, but I believe his genius and personal mental health continued to grow even in extreme old age.

Anyway, I bring up my theory about Tolstoy for this reason: for the way we confuse nice with good. If Tolstoy is no longer saying the things we expect him to say, but something else, it must be because something is wrong with him, therefore, we conclude, he can't possibly be the same genius anymore. Tiger Woods golfing career is perfectly understandable to us in this light, because now he is not the perfect black man in our eyes. But does A really imply B here? Is the liberty sane people have to offend against the super ego really so limited? I don't imagine so.

I am naturally a very nice person. I am loath to offend (not a virtue, I stress). And, as a consequence, I wonder how much I have bought in to the nice = good thing. Nice is prudence. It is the result of a calculation about the best possible outcome. Fighting and offence-giving is very costly in nature. So we develop all sorts of rituals about how to avoid such costliness. This is not virtue, though. If it is, it is a very low kind.

So what am I getting at? Am I going to stop blogging because I hate everyone and blogging isn't doing anything for my career? Or, am I going to turn into Michael Voris?

I don't suspect that I shall do either of those two things. I think, however, it is important to often ask ourselves whether it is about me or about God? Am I being as truthful as I can be, or do I have to be like those on the Catholic XM Channel, and pretend to like everybody? (BTW, I love the Catholic Channel, and Jennifer Fulwiler is my favourite! But, still, she has to pretend to like everybody...)

Jesus and Socrates did not put up appearances. On the other hand, Diogenes the Cynic made himself positively unlikable. But all three of them did it because the truth was more important to them than being liked. I humour myself that living out this kind of integrity publicly is an important part of my Christian witness, because - these days - I am generally at a loss in explaining it to myself, and unconvinced about whether any of this matters at all. And yet, it stands to reason, that in an age of such emptiness and egoism, the greatest duty we have might, in fact, be to be disliked.


  1. I only notice what I know all too well myself. Depression and insecurity are very painful crosses to bear. At the risk of sounding trite, I'm praying for you, Colin.

  2. I won't forget you saying that. It was a nice Spring day, I was in front of the TH reading Goethe but not enjoying it. I was meant to hear it.
    Your prayers are appreciated. It's only trite when someone is being condescending with someone with whom they are disagreeing.