Straw Man Argument - You are a racist! You are a Nazi! You are a Rad Trad!
"2020 is a moment of reckoning for America...vote for @realDonaldTrump and you are a racist.” - Joe Lockhart, CNN Contributor
"You people [SSPX] are a cult who cannot stand your 'Jonestown' being exposed. That Nazi pedo organization [SSPX] is in schism that has no legitimate ministry." - Michael Voris, Church Militant
From social media to our living rooms, especially during the 2020 election cycle, the debate floor is becoming extremely toxic in the United States. The two above tweets from CNN's Joe Lockhart and Church Militant's Michael Voris are only small examples of the slanderous labeling that is corrupting America's freedom of speech, thought, and expression.
Sociological and theological arguments are becoming extremely pointed and lacking substantive evidence, leaving the antagonist with the only option to make baseless claims that their opponent is a "racist," "fascist," "white supremacist," "schismatic," and "radical traditionalist." Welcome to the straw man fallacy or argument.
"You are wrong about personal property and taxes, because you are a racist!" Sounds funny when you read it, right? However, that is the scenario that most of us face when engaging in debate these days.
Suffering from a drought of significant evidence or the intellectually ability to form and present an articulate, fact-based argument, the losing debater (now triggered) begins to spout off hateful adjectives to the point of hysterically screaming. Some on the conservative right are not so different.
It's too easy for conservatives to label an opponent as "socialist," "marxist," "homosexual," "liberal," "freemasonic," and "satanic," without presenting a well formed argument.
So, why are we experiencing this breakdown of intellectual and professional presentation of thought, which is congruent with the social, political, and theological turmoil that we are witnessing in the United States? Are these problems linked?
I'm not yet equipt to provide a substantial hypothesis on this; more research and analysis are needed. Nevertheless, the observation is clear and most people can relate to the breakdown of thought in an age when communication and information is most accessible. Ironic.
The arguments within the Catholic Church, both lay and ecclesial, also share the characteristics and conditions illustrated by national news syndicates and politicians. Clergy and renowned lay commentators are quick to smear opponents with baseless claims and labels [even when the 'opponents' share similar theological and canonical arguments], making it easier to denounce groups and refuse to work cohesively toward shared goals, like clarifying the Second Vatican Council and restoring the Traditional Latin Mass.
Clergy like Bishop Athanasius Schneider, as articulated in Christus Vincit, are fully aware of the campaigns of division and disinformation against theological arguments and requests for clarification made by faithful Catholics and groups like the Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX). Encouraging healthy debate and the canonical duty of Catholics to request clarification from our spiritual fathers, His Grace states that "respectful criticism and serene theological debate have always been present and allowed within the Church’s great tradition, since it is truth and faithfulness to divine revelation and to the constant tradition of the Church that we should seek, which in itself implies the use of reason and rationality, and avoiding mental acrobatics."
Bishop Schneider goes further to express how "some explanations of certain obviously ambiguous and misleading expressions contained in the [Second Vatican] Council’s texts seem artificial and unconvincing, especially when one reflects upon them in a more intellectually honest manner, in the light of the unbroken and constant doctrine of the Church.”
The recent attempt by Bishop Robert Barron, Auxiliary of Los Angeles and founder of Word on Fire, to draw a wedge between faithful Catholics is most concerning. It appears that the revelations of Theodore McCarrick and company by Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, the Dubai Document, the Amazon Synod and Pachamama idolatry in the Vatican, and the abandonment of supernatural faith and the sacraments during COVID-19, have shaken the foundation of the modern Church. Such negative events have some prelates concerned not with the mass exodus of faithful from the pews, but with the growing interest and preference for sacramental reverence and traditional liturgy affirmed by the Council of Trent, circa 1564.
While clergy like Bishop Schneider and Bishop Joseph Strickland of Tyler, Texas lead initiatives to increase supernatural faith and devotion to the Real Presence of Our Lord in the Holy Eucharist, Bishop Barron chooses to double down on the flawed hermeneutic of continuity to claim that he is the "true traditionalist" contrary to those Catholics who turn to the writings of dogmatic councils and saints, including Doctors and Fathers of the Church.
The National Catholic Reporter, which made the erroneous claim in July that "AOC is the future of the Catholic Church," broke a news story that Bishop Barron had met with Catholic media outlets to discuss the rise of the "radical traditionalist" movement in the blogosphere and media worlds. This meeting was most likely organized in response to the highly successful live streaming of the Tridentine Mass (Traditional Latin Mass) during the COVID-19 lock-down, letters from Archbishop Vigano to President Donald Trump, President Trump's recognition of Dr. Taylor Marshall via Twitter, and Dr. Taylor Marshall's joining of the 2020 Trump Campaign as an advisor for the Catholic vote.
Accounts from the meeting illustrate claims that the majority of "rad - trad, radical traditionalist" Catholics are "internet provocateurs," "mean spirited," "contemptuous" of Church authority, in "repudiation" of the Second Vatican Council, "fringe right-wing," "cult like," and "schismatic." The group even alluded to the idea that "traditionalism" is the new heresy after modernism, which was dubbed the synthesis of all heresies by Pope St. Pius X.
You can only imagine where lukewarm bishops will go with that declaration; just another label to proclaim faithful Catholics as schismatic and dissuade others from listening to their sound arguments on Church teachings. "You are wrong about the Holy Eucharist and the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, because you are a radical traditionalist!" Still sounds crazy? Unfortunately, that is where we are likely heading as faithful Catholics.
As I stated earlier, although I can not yet provide a hypothesis on the phenomenon that is suppressing rational thought and truth in society, politics, and the Church, it is clear that the "smoke of satan" is at play as the chief deceiver and antagonist of truth.
In Christ Crucified and the Most Victorious Heart of Jesus.