Gareth Thomas’ post last Friday baffled some, made others cross, and made some of us reflect on what he was saying. It is easy to forget how new blogging is, and how new, in particular, the Catholic blogosphere is. Gareth, like Dr Damian Thompson and Deacon Nick Donnelly, played a notable role in its development and, like all pioneers, found problems others had not encountered – namely the spewing out of bile from atheist trolls, not one of whom, of course, would ever put his or her name to their opinions, but all of whom felt able to throw stones at others who concealed their names, regretting, clearly, only the inability to identify them so they could make trouble for them with their employers – something, as Gareth pointed out, which happened to him.
Like many here, I occasionally looked at the comments under Damian Thompson’s blog, but have to say that it seemed to me then, as it does now, than anonymous internet atheists are there for one reason alone – to make trouble and a nuisance of themselves and to spew out bile; since none of those things appeal to me, I stay away; I can get that professionally quite easily, and have no reason to go seeking it out.
I appreciated the courage of men like Gareth, and their willignness to tackle to trolls, but could never see a happy ending to it, as the trolls were not open to reason. I felt, and feel, much the same about Catholic sites which contain abuse. Indeed, nowadays, the one place one can be sure of finding abuse of the Pope is the Catholic Internet, where certain people seem to vie with each other to see how offensive they can be. Quite what kind of witness they think they are giving, who can tell? Their usual defence, ‘it is the truth’, is susceptible only of the response – ‘the truth, you can’t handle the truth!’ We are, as Deacon Nick points out in his excellent piece, witnessing to our faith when we post; some of what is posted witnesses to something I doubt many would wish to join.
One of the group of which Gareth was part, Jabba, stopped contributing here because it is an ecumenical blog and contains at least one commentatator who says vile things about the Church; the latter I understand more than the former. No reader here will be, I think unfamiliar with Bosco’s brand of comment – or the answers to them. Quite what compels him to ignore the answers and continue, who can tell? He would, I think, quite like to banned, as he has been from most other places, but it is not the AATW to do that, save to those who use bad language and are out to cause trouble; neither of those is true of Bosco. What he witnesses to is a type of Protestant reaction which has, thankfully, died out in many areas, but he witnesses to its survival in recesses of our society. I find it rather sad, but can understand why others get cross; but Bosco must have noticed we do not respond in kind. That is our witness to his. But on the first charge – that of being ecumenical – I plead guilty in so far as it allows two things: the propagation by those from other parts of the Christian specturm of their point of view; and the discouragement of sectarian bickering.
Far too often, what is said about other churches is like Bosco writing about the Catholic Church – the ill-informed accusations of those with an axe to grind or a prejudice to exercise. Understanding where we truly disagree is no bad thing; ecumenisms not, as Neo pointed out, the same as syncretism. As a former Anglican, I owe a great deal to my old church and love it. I feel sad it has gone somewhere I could not follow, but it contains many people who are much better followers of the teachings of Christ than I am, and I wish them nothing but the best. Disagreement, even on vitally important matters, should not lead us into behaving in a manner which brings discredit upon the faith we profess.
In many ways, that is one of the salient points of what Gareth wrote, and like most of us (I hope) I am glad he is out of that dark place where he has been fighting for so long; a valiant fighter, but enough is enough.