Printer Friendly

How dissenters work: a look from inside Anglicanism.

The late Catholic novelist Flannery O'Connor once observed, 'Smugness is the Catholic sin." That sin is an especially besetting danger for Catholics in these past few years as we have watched the inner turmoil and collapse of other Christian bodies amidst the Western world's general cultural decline. Many liberal Protestant leaders in North America in particular have offered a fine, fat target in their machinations and manipulations over the question of homosexuality. They, however, are not alone, and we Catholics are aware that there are traitors within our own ranks who covertly hold many of the heretical views liberal Protestants have the decency to hold openly. (As St. Augustine once put it, "God has many whom the Church does not have, and the Church has many whom God does not have.")

We would do well, therefore, to avoid indulging in either smugness or Schadenfreude. If we are to prevent these views from making great inroads into the Church, we would do well to attend not so much to what the apologists for homosexuality have decided is the new orthodoxy but how they have managed to pull off such a stunning heist of apostolic Christianity. What follows, then, is a guide to the "debating" techniques many on the left--both Christian and especially secular--often use to silence or destroy traditional Christian teaching and practices, the most recent and spectacular example of this being, of course, the enactment of federal legislation in Canada allowing same-sex "marriage."

I would suggest that there are at least seven ways in which orthodox Christian views are trounced nowadays. They are never, to be sure, actually defeated in a fair contest: as Chesterton so famously said, "The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried." Precisely because the Christian ideal creates difficulty for those who advocate, inter alia, total, uninhibited sexual licence, they have to resort to craven ways of trying to ensure that the ideal is never heard openly or debated freely and fairly. To suppress the ideal, heterodox clerics (and their apologists in the academy and media) engage in one, and usually several, of the following: evasion, ad hominems, pseudo-apologies, emotionalism, tendentious sloganeering, misplaced concreteness, and armchair psychoanalysis.


This is perhaps the easiest, commonest, most obvious technique to fall back upon. It is otherwise known as "changing the subject." Most people enter into debate with inadequate preparation and, in the heat of the moment, when their pride is on the line because their ignorance has been exposed, they seek to evade a difficult question or rebuttal rather than admit either their ignorance or their error.

Thus, in the same-sex "marriage" debate, because such a new and startling development cannot possibly be reconciled with religious and cultural traditions universal in human history from the beginning of time, the apologists and proponents of this changed the subject entirely, making the "argument" into one about human rights. It is not, of course, and as the moral philosopher and historian Alasdair MacIntyre acidly observed, belief in such rights "is one with belief in witches and unicorns." The reason that no such rights exist, MacIntyre long ago taught us, is that "every attempt to give good reasons for believing that there are such rights has failed." Nonetheless, same-sex "marriage" proponents latched onto this "argument" from human rights to evade any debate about religio-cultural traditions of marriage, which debate, of course, they would invariably lose.

Ad hominems

Ad hominems used to be grade-school errors of logic dealt with by the counsel of philosopher-morns everywhere: if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all. Such advice is clearly not being conveyed anymore: name-calling and puerile ad hominems have become so commonplace as to suggest that we are witnessing some sort of cultural regression to the sandbox. In debates about homosexuality, one regularly hears bandied-about terms like "reactionary," "homophobe," and "crank." By such silliness do people attempt to avoid engaging their opponents' ideas. The CBC and other media were effortlessly expert at doing this during the run-up to the parliamentary vote on same-sex "marriage." They were even more accomplished at this technique during the 2004 federal election, when any Christian who entertained the slightest thought about the evil of abortion was immediately slammed as "extreme" and "scary."


Pseudo-apologies are typical when someone says or does something especially offensive and egregious but lacks the decency to retract it and apologize completely and unreservedly, and instead seeks to blame the other person subtly. Here we have entered territory where liberal Anglican leaders have made themselves the world's leading experts. You know you are in the realm of the pseudo-apology when you encounter frequent use of the passive voice combined with the active assigning of blame elsewhere, away from oneself.

In October 2004, the much-vaunted "Windsor Report" of the Anglican Communion was issued. The committee was called together by the Archbishop of Canterbury, after the episcopal ordination of the openly homosexual Gene Robinson (who left his wife and children to take up with a man) in November 2003. This event threw worldwide Anglicanism into a crisis. Yet this body produced a report, parts of which are so deliciously absurd that one can finally say that Anglicans have placed themselves beyond parody, and made satire superfluous. Read the following paragraph from the report and ask yourself: "Who on earth talks like this?"

"That the Episcopal Church (USA) be invited to express its regret that the proper constraints of the bonds of affection were breached in the events surrounding the election and consecration of a bishop for the See of New Hampshire, and for the consequences which followed, and that such an expression of regret would represent the desire of the Episcopal Church (USA) to remain within the Communion pending such expression of regret; those who took part as consecrators of Gene Robinson should be invited to consider in all conscience whether they should withdraw themselves from representative functions in the Anglican Communion."


Emotionalism has two principal manifestations: tears and special pleading. In place of reasons and arguments, the heresiarch or the leftist, when cornered, will often dump a load of guilt, special pleading, and wholly bogus claims of oppression on the opposing side.

In the same-sex "marriage" debates, nobody could possibly explain away the biblical injunctions against homosexuality, to say nothing of the universal cultural traditions which have always and only understood marriage to be between one man and one woman. Rather than attempt to argue why such injunctions and traditions were wrong or in need of change, we were inundated with cloying sentiment and nauseating treacle: the media produced endless tear-jerker "documentaries" about that sweet, nice homosexual couple who, wouldn't you know, live in everyone's community and are just like us except that their romantic desires were so cruelly thwarted by an "unjust" and "homophobic" society's denial of their "right" to marry. This weepy nonsense had only one purpose: to manipulate emotions and make those who are against homosexual "marriage" feel guilty and regretful over such cruel opinions, and thereby, it was hoped, keep silent out of shame. Once more arguments were not advanced but feelings were inflamed instead.

Tendentious sloganeering:

We have already seen examples above of this at work. The clearest and best-known example remains the pervasive 1970s neologism, "homophobia." How often one encounters this vacuous and tedious slogan, but how often it is successfully used to silence people! Entire scholarly books written, say, to explain biblical teaching against homosexuality are dismissed in one breath as "homophobic." (Other frequently encountered examples include "patriarchal," "misogynist," "sexist," and, of course, "racist.") This label, in some circles, is only slightly less freighted than "anti-Semitic." The point, of course, is simply to shut up one's opponent by suggesting, in one breath, that they are so contemptible as to be unworthy of any further engagement.

Misplaced concreteness:

A friend of mine, a Cambridge-trained economist, often speaks of the fallacy of misplaced concreteness. More popularly, this is known as "failing to see the forest for the trees." The clearest example of this is the Anglican fetish for structure over substance, for rules over truth, for procedures over orthodox faith. Having abandoned any pretence at doctrinal orthodoxy, the Anglicans now make great show of berating African bishops (and others) for their supposedly egregious violation of canon law by crossing diocesan boundaries to minister to parishes which do not wish to be under the jurisdiction of a heretical bishop. The Africans are frightfully bad, the liberals would have us believe, for not paying attention to those ancient and strict canons about episcopal jurisdiction and diocesan boundaries. What the liberals fail to realize is that the ecumenical councils enacted these strictures on episcopal boundaries in order to fence in and eliminate the heretical Arians! This rule was passed to eliminate the most virulent strain of heresy ever encountered to date; it was an attempt to keep the heterodox from moving around to more hospitable dioceses. It was in no way intended to be used as a club to beat back orthodox bishops who seek to protect other sheep from being devoured by their own "shepherds."

Armchair psychoanalysis:

This has much in common with tendentious sloganeering (q.v.). Freud has been dead for nearly seventy years but he has many votaries who live on. The most obnoxious ones are those who fail to heed Freud's dictum that "sometimes a cigar is just a cigar." In debate, these are people who, in addition to using the above six techniques, absolutely and dogmatically will not deal with content or substance. In Freudian language, they will not deal with the "manifest" issues but go hunting for the "latent" motivations they suppose you to have. Thus they assume the position of regally omniscient analyst on the throne, raising side issues, often character-related; focusing on motive, intent, emotion; and refusing to treat facts as facts. Nothing is straightforward to the armchair analyst. Everything means something else; everything has a suspect meaning; every statement is tendentious, hinting at a fiery cauldron of motives (which, of course, are always sexual).

The most common example of this in debates about same-sex "marriage" is the use of the bogus disorder called "homophobia." To be called a homophobe is to have a diagnostic label placed on one, suggesting slyly--with that insufferable sanctimony only Freudians are capable of--that one's objections have nothing to do with reason, tradition, theology, or anything else: one is opposed to homosexuality because one is oneself repressed and, quite likely, a sodomite in secret. One is therefore "lashing out" at that which externally manifests one's internal desires still fearfully shackled in place. By use of this label, objections are dismissed and the opponent put in his place. The light of suspicion now shines on him, and the pro-homosexual forces are relieved of the unpleasant business of actually having to respond to arguments about why God loves the homosexual but not his sin.


In conclusion, it is important to underscore that these seven techniques are usually hard to spot (especially in the heat of a debate) and harder still to overcome. One must not make the mistake of thinking that, having diagnosed the problem, or at least exposed it to the light, one will thereby have slain the beast. For the mystery and the frustration of heresy lies in the fact that it is not a phenomenon generally amenable to reason: it is a choice born of a pre-rational (and usually irrational) commitment which is by definition inimical to reasoned debate. Heresy--as anyone who attends to the history of the ecumenical councils will know--is like the monster in a science fiction film where all the usual techniques to kill him off fail to work. Let us remember that one is unlikely by mere argument to slay the beast of sexual heresy making such ravenous inroads among Christians in the West. No, "this kind can only be cast out by prayer and fasting" (Mark 9:28).

Sub-deacon Adam DeVille is a Ph.D. candidate in theology at the Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky Institute of Eastern Christian Studies at Saint Paul University, Ottawa.
COPYRIGHT 2006 Catholic Insight
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2006, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:De Ville, Adam
Publication:Catholic Insight
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Feb 1, 2006
Previous Article:The dating controversy of the Shroud.
Next Article:Early heresies in the East: heresy Part I.

Related Articles
Longing for God: Anglicans talk about revelation, nature, culture and authority.
Beyond colonial Anglicanism: the Anglican communion in the twenty-first century.
Richard Hooker: prophet of Anglicanism.
May God grant us sanity to rebuild a center.
From Corrie Haas re "author denounces pro-life movement". (Letters to the Editor).
Bruce Kay, gen. ed. Anglicanism in Australia: a History.
Black Anglicans gather.
Heresy on the right: conservatives and the drug war.
Losing Anglicanism.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2020 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters