Briefly – Response to Stephen Hand

I see that Stephen Hand has issued an “Open Proposal to Debate Warbloggers”:

One on one. Especially Christopher Blosser or David Armstrong, but also Shawn McElhinney or Greg Mockeridge as this invitation is extended to each individually . . . on the subjects of Iraqi war and the Church’s position regarding it, the nature of the pope’s prudential judgement or counsel in this grave context of war, the infallible values behind such judgements in the context of killing, dying, proliferation of terrorism, American arms trade and hegemony, sticking to magisterial texts on these matters and reason, etc… One of them will only have to find a way to get me to any proposed venue and back. I would very much look forward to meeting any of these in such a public forum where facts and method cannot be manipulated. These particular polemicists, we must say, specialize in ad hominem polemics, trying to make their opposition the issue, so as to deflect from the issues themselves. So far Christopher has refused this invitation to debate, understandably (preferring, like [Dave] Armstrong and the others who have targeted antiwar advocates steadily together, the manipulation of their opponents words behind a monitor with a view to creating caricatures, blocking or cutting off replies, etc) —so I am now extending the same invitation to the others. I would like to match facts (most importantly) and debating skills (less importantly) with any one of them on stage in public where words cannot be excised from context as is their specialty. Manly debate, as opposed to cynical and tactical nonchalance, is the test of a man’s propositions and metal.

Stephen’s invitation to a public debate is a rather belated response to a series of posts to this blog back in May 2005. Greg Mockeridge published a guest post on I. Shawn McElhinney’s blog (Rerum-Novarum), addressing what he thought were deficiencies (putting it nicely) in Hand’s polemical writing style regarding issues on capital punishment, the war in Iraq (or war in general), and the application of Catholic social teaching to economic matters. This was accompanied by commentary by Shawn himself. I publicized my agreement with Greg/Shawn’s criticisms, along with Dave Armstrong and Lane Core, Jr., Gregg the Obscure” (Vita Brivis). Stephen Hand responded (indirectly). The rest is history.

For the public record I refer readers to my final post “Parting Thoughts on the Hand/Mockeridge Debate”, with a compilation of previous posts, insofar as I was involved in the matter. Regarding Stephen’s allegations of “ad hominem polemics,” I entrust evaluation of my conduct and language to the judgement of my readers.

In terms of fairness and “manipulation” of texts, I contend that Stephen Hand / Houston Catholic Worker have never been fair (nor accurate) in their malicious portrayal of the neocons (“The Zwicks vs. Fr. Neuhaus & Michael Novak” Against The Grain August 19, 2003). To my knowledge Stephen to this day has never retracted these articles from his website, failing to see that something might be amiss in their portrayal of Fr. Neuhaus, Michael Novak, and Cardinal Dulles.

Regarding my “steady targeting of anti-war advocates” — against Stephen’s portrayal of this blog as a Republican-financed Warblogging Military-Industrial Propaganda Machine [TM], I wish to point out that with the exception of May 2005 I have blogged relatively little on the topic, in comparison to the output (and far better commentary) of other bloggers. I did, however, commment on what I perceived to be the moral incoherency of some Iraqi war protestors (Against The Grain March 22, 2003).

Secondly, the May 2005 discussion concerned not so much the issue of the war itself as the danger of dogmatizing one’s private opinions and the case that Catholics may indeed disagree over these issues without being castigated as heterodox “dissenters” from magisterial doctrine.

To illustrate my point: Cardinal Ratzinger in May 2003 expressed his agreement with Pope John Paul II’s condemnation of the war, as well as (suprisingly) joining Cardinal Martino in proposing that the Catholic just war tradition altogether might be considered illegitimate, in light of “the new weapons that make possible destructions that go beyond the combatant groups” (Zenit News Service May 2, 2003).

Nevertheless, when faced with the question of the status of Catholics who disagreed with John Paul II on such matters — during the U.S. presidential campaign of 2004 and the concurrent “communion scandal” — Cardinal Ratzinger clarified in a letter to the U.S. Catholic bishops:

3. Not all moral issues have the same moral weight as abortion and euthanasia. For example, if a Catholic were to be at odds with the Holy Father on the application of capital punishment or on the decision to wage war, he would not for that reason be considered unworthy to present himself to receive Holy Communion. While the Church exhorts civil authorities to seek peace, not war, and to exercise discretion and mercy in imposing punishment on criminals, it may still be permissible to take up arms to repel an aggressor or to have recourse to capital punishment. There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia.

As if Cardinal Ratzinger’s clarification wasn’t enough to convey this point, it was likewise addressed and reiterated by a number of Catholic laity, academics and clergy (on both sides of these issues, I might add) — among them: Oswald Sobrino, “Scott Carson, Karl Keating, James Akin, Russell Kirk, George Weigel, Fr. Michael Orsi (Ave Maria School of Law), Cardinal Avery Dulles and Archbishop John J. Myers . . . in light of which, it is difficult to see this as being a position solely held by those Stephen commonly refers to as “warbloggers.”

* * *

I believe I have sufficiently explained where I stand on the matter. Readers are hereby invited to plumb the archives (May 2005) if they wish to revisit this discussion.

I must further question Stephen’s wish to debate “especially” myself, as I can think of more knowledgeable folk who could do a far, far better job of presenting a case for U.S. intervention in Iraq, had they the patience. (I imagine the spectacle would be something akin to Christopher Hitchen’s verbal sparring with George Galloway, Sept. 17, 2005).

In any case, if Stephen wishes to transcend polemics and “match facts”, surely nothing prevents him from doing so — and for a much wider audience — on his blog. Time permitting, I may even reply myself, in which case Stephen has my assurance that I will not “excise words from context,” or engage in any manipulation thereof, as is my alleged specialty.

* * *

On the war in Iraq, I refer my readers to our compilation of articles on the Iraq War and the Catholic Just War Tradition, an ongoing collection which contains more than adequate coverage from all sides in this debate.

* * *

Update I. Shawn McElhinney responds to Stephen’s challenge, providing for the public record a summary of links to his posts from the May 2005 exchange.

It appears that Stephen has now rescinded his challenge to public debate. So much the better. Turning, then, to the comments:

Greg and Shawn’s original editorials were in defense of various individuals who they believe were misrepresented and slandered in articles published by Stephen Hand — I have demonstrated this as well on numerous occasions.

Given that Stephen publishes these articles in a public forum in the hopes of attaining an audience, he should expect a critical response from those who disagree. He cannot simply give a platform to malicious remarks and misleading content and cry “foul!” if somebody calls him on it.

Stephen can be commended for his work on behalf of the poor — I have likewise commended the Zwicks @ Houston Catholic Worker in the past for their work, rising to their defense on occasions where people speak ill of their actual ministry [to the poor].

But to the extent that Stephen’s “work for peace” involves deliberate slandering and mispresenting the positions of fellow Catholics in a public forum, I’m not suprised if people will continue to question his methodology.

Concluding, then, with Carol’s advice:

The time has come for all to simply say, “I disagree,” and to go their own ways, perhaps much as Peter and Paul did for a while, rather than let differences spiral into hatred or malice.

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