ChristianForums: One Bread, One Body

2006-11-12 18:01

One of the interesting things that ChristianForums had was a dedicated subforum for Catholics. Some forums exclude Catholics, claiming they are not Christians at all. CF actively included them. The subforum was called “One Bread, One Body”, and is one of the higher-traffic areas of CF, simply because there are so very many Catholics.

In the olden days, OBOB was a comparative haven. There were Catholic-bashers who would show up with whatever they were into that week; Pope Joan, or something. But, for the most part, the forum was fairly mellow. Most Catholics are pretty calm about ecumenical stuff. They’ve had a thousand years to get used to “other Christian groups”. Furthermore, they don’t have to work very hard to explain why it is that, if what they believe is the real Christian faith, no one had heard of it until 1845.

OBOB had one of the first purely social threads, a chatter thread named “Reilly’s Pub” started by one of the members. This thread later made CF history, as it became the first “open” thread in the Christians-Only forums, where members otherwise considered non-Christian were allowed to post.

There was a sort of a side thread that got started once after a particularly rough day of defending the faith. One of the members started a thread entitled “The Walk-in Freezer in Reilly’s Pub”. This thread was used for cooling off — specifically, for venting frustrations and trying to cool down. Members came to this thread to complain about problems communicating in other threads. Oddly, despite the obvious potential for trouble, this stayed very productive. I remember once coming there to gripe about a particularly frustrating discussion only to find the person I was frustrated by griping about my side of the debate. We offered each other virtual Dove bars.

Those days are gone.

OBOB has become a fairly vicious forum to try to post in. It’s not just gradually stricter treatment of the non-Catholics, though. It’s the sniping at non-Catholics, and worse, the deeply vicious infighting among Catholics.

To understand how this comes about, you have to know a bit about Catholic teaching. Many Protestant groups teach that the Bible has authority, and nothing else does; this leaves them with fierce feuding over who gets to decide what the Bible says. The Catholics have a clear answer to that; the Church decides what the Bible says. Some Catholics are inclined to believe that there’s been some drift or correction over time; others are firmly committed to the notion that everything the Church says is infallible and unchanging.

However, this creates an interesting problem. Catholic teaching is that Catholics have a moral duty to “submit” to the authority of the Church. If the Church says that it is a sin to skip Mass on Sunday to see a football game, then it is indeed a sin. More importantly, if you know this and do so anyway, you are committing a second sin — you are not in submission to the Church.

Most Catholics have at least some trouble with some Church teachings, or questions about them, or just plain don’t understand them. OBOB is currently somewhat dominated by a group of people who are very sure that they understand these teachings.

What this means is that all the normal behavioral rules of civil society, or of a Christian message board, can be subverted by the claim that anyone arguing with them is arguing with the Church teaching, therefore not in submission to the Holy See… and therefore not really Catholic. Since only Catholics are allowed to “debate” in the forum, of course, such posts are therefore rules violations.

To say that this is enforced selectively is to understate the case gravely. One announcement thread put it like this:

But those who consistently undermine the Church’s teaching for the sake of argument—especially the teachings of the Church on human sexuality, such as contraception, gay marriage, abortion, etc.—do a great diservice to OBOB and its members. If you see such posts, please report them so they can be reviewed.

This is a particularly clear-cut example of CF’s obsession with sexual morality over all other areas of teaching.

In fact, part of the disturbing irony of this situation is that Catholic submission to the authority of the Church is supposed to follow a clear hierarchy. You do not obey some guy on an internet message board; you obey your priest, who obeys his bishop, and so on. In fact, if you are not a bishop, you are generally not supposed to argue with bishops.

As a result of this, Catholic members do not necessarily want to be identified as “Catholic” at CF. One woman I know, who is currently doing a year of full-time volunteer work with some Franciscans, has changed her icon to plain old Christian because it is contrary to her moral duty to the Church to submit to the judgement of some guy on an internet BBS. In general, many of the Catholics who think about issues other than current mainstream American politics are sort of uncomfortable with this, so they often sort of keep quiet.

When she left, she wrote this:

OBOB is and, has been since I joined CF two years ago, alien territory for me. This is hard to put into words, but for me, Catholicism isn’t…I dunno…a list of rules. It’s not a checklist where if you put Xs in all the boxes you’re a “Good Catholic.” It’s a holistic philosophy and a lifestyle. The “rules” of Catholicism make sense (to me, at least :D) in context of the theological and spiritual underpinnings of the faith, but separated from those underpinnings, they begin to appear like nothing but arbitrary hoops to jump through, a pharisitical morass of obligations and, for many people, secret frustration and resentment.

What ends up happening is that a bunch of casual laymen make gloriously stupid comments about doctrine, and then demand strict authoritarian punishment for people who argue with them, even when they are the ones rejecting Church teaching. For instance, many of the members regularly assert that Muslims worship a false God.

The teaching of the Church is quite clear:

But the plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator. In the first place amongst these there are the Mohamedans, who, professing to hold the faith of Abraham, along with us adore the one and merciful God, who on the last day will judge mankind.

When I asked someone about this, I was told it’s not “dogma”, so he’s free to disregard it. The document it’s taken from, Lumen Gentium, says at the top of the page:

DOGMATIC CONSTITUTION ON THE CHURCH LUMEN GENTIUM SOLEMNLY PROMULGATED BY HOLINESS POPE PAUL VI ON NOVEMBER 21, 1964

So, well, actually it is dogma.

But you may rest assured, no one gave him any trouble about arguing with the Church. The people who get hassled are people like the folks at St. Joan of Arc, a local and “liberal” parish.

For instance:

http://www.christianforums.com/t64220

This thread, titled “Bad News for ‘Liberal’ Catholics Awaiting Pope’s Death”, goes on and on at some length about the horrors of liberal Catholics, with snide remarks made to a particular participant. The reason the thread starts with post #2 is that the original poster was banned. The people who dogpiled after him are not banned.

http://www.christianforums.com/t2098975

This thread, titled “Catholics only :This Parish in Minneapolis is pretty much horrifying “, is a particularly disturbing one, simply because many members quickly found out that a member of that parish was present.

But here’s the thing. Remember that remark about submitting to the authority of the Church?

That parish has been complained about before. The complaints went to the bishop. The bishop did make a few changes, but anything he didn’t change is approved by a bishop. In their griping about the alleged horrors of this parish, these people are themselves completely rejecting the authority of the Church.

Oops.

It’s not about consistency, see. It’s not about the authority of the Church. When Pope John Paul II said “If you go to Iraq, you go without God”, most of these people dismissed him as a naive old man.

No, it’s about sexual morality and the importance of kicking people out of the church first, and asking questions later.

This goes on all over CF. It’s particularly noticeable in the Catholic forum, simply because the official Church teachings on many of these issues are available for study, and the people who dominate discussions are so very clear in their rejection of these teachings. A lot of them have serious anti-Protestant issues — a theme which comes up a lot in discussion of the interdenominational fighting at CF. (On the whole, the scary thing is really not how very vicious some of the anti-Protestants are, but how much their meanness is drowned out by the anti-Catholic folks.)

Peter Seebach

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Comments

  1. I have been trying to think why CF can be so toxic to people who doubt and I think OBOB as you describe serves as a good example, in my opinion. It presents as a place that is dogmatic and certain and sure and right. This underlying message pervades through the board, so when people with uncertainties and doubt come along,and express their concerns, they are met with people who cannot comprehend that others are unable to hold to certainties they know and see so clearly and they can also point to the rules for support.
    For those in the midst of questioning and seeking, it becomes a question of being confronted continually with people demanding statements of assent, belief and certainty when at that point in their journey, it just isn't possible. It inhibits proper exploration of issues of faith and life and problems and can lead those on the edge to jump off and never return, seeing the standards demanded as being unattainable.
    Now there are wonderful, wonderful people on OBOB, who individually are the most charitable and supportive people you would ever want to meet, but collectively with the rules as a weapon to defeat doubters and dissenters they have the potential to do great harm to someone else's faith. It is something I wish they could take on board and at least contemplate on as a problem inherent in the current structure of the board.

    — Cat · 2006-11-15 04:43 · #

 
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