I had a number of things planned to do tonight. Laundry, write a letter to my dear friend Anne, exercise, work on the syllabus for my Church History class.
Notice that list doesn’t include “examining hyperbolic accusations against a vice presidential nominee.”
But after completely losing my cool this morning, I decided I needed to put on “paper” my thoughts about Mark Shea’s accusations against Paul Ryan. I know others have done the same throughout the day today, and I realize I’m a little late to the party, when the party is made up of bloggers who get to write about these things between 8 and 5 and 5 and 8. So feel free to go read them instead – I plan to do so, after I do some blogging of my own.
I will try to limit my examinations and critique to the post itself, not to such things as the condescending tone that drips from Shea’s post, which seems to insinuate that those of us who like Ryan and *gasp* will vote for Romney-Ryan are either naive Pollyannas or pro-abortion Objectivists.
I. Mark Shea accuses Ryan of a “good solid lie.” That’s a pretty big deal.
So stick with me here. We have several threads to sort through. Note that I am simply using Mark’s article and the articles to which he links. I think there’s enough there to work with for now.
First, Shea’s accusation. “Ryan starts … with a good solid lie that it is a baseless ‘urban legend‘ that Rand has been a huge influence on him.”
Ryan’s actual words: “I reject her philosophy. It’s an atheist philosophy. It reduces human interactions down to mere contracts and it is antithetical to my worldview.”
Hm. Ryan doesn’t seem to be denying that Rand had an influence on him. In fact, he admits: “I, like millions of young people in America, read Rand’s novels when I was young. I enjoyed them… They spurred an interest in economics, in the Chicago School and Milton Friedman…”
It’s clear that Rand influenced him, and nowhere in that interview do I see Ryan denying influence.
So what does it mean to be influenced? Can someone influence you without you being a “fanatical devotee”? Where do we find Ryan meriting the “fanatical devotee” label which Shea sticks on him? Because he uses Ayn Rand language? Because reading her led him to study economics? Because he likes to give her book to young economists?
The only other blogger I read on this subject brought up the fact that Kant influenced John Paul II. That led to these mornings thoughts- Does John Paul II use Kantian language? Yep. Did John Paul II acknowledge that Kant influenced his own thought and study? Yep. Who knows, might John Paul II have given Kant to a young philosophy student?
What would John Paul II say if Mark Shea labeled him as a “fanatical devotee” of Kant? He probably would say something about his rejection of Kantian philosophy. Would Mark Shea then write a blog post about how John Paul II delivered a “big solid lie” when he denied Kant’s influence?
Shea has not convinced me that Ryan is a fanatical devotee. Yes, he liked reading Atlas Shrugged in his younger days and it was the reason he entered public service. He’s not the first person I’ve known who has found some of the thoughts of that book intriguing after living in a country headed towards socialism. Yes, he uses Rand language. But if you stop to listen to him, it’s pretty ridiculous to think he sees himself as part of the elite ruling class and is waging war on the non-Bill Gates/Steve Jobs of this world. Heavens. This man sold Lunchables. The idea that he’s against the working man is as crazy as the idea that he’s going to take Medicare away from his mother.
Until you convince me that he’s a fanatical devotee, you can’t convince me that he’s lying about it.
II. Mark Shea claims Ryan really doesn’t care about Catholic social teaching.
With language such as “to give his rhetoric a veneer of Catholic respectability”, “dressing his class warfare with a few rags from Catholic social teaching to make it look nice,” and “when the Randian jargon goes and is replaced with actual Catholic social teaching” Shea paints a picture for his readers of a cafeteria Catholic using the Catholic social teaching as he pleases.
Not only is this unfair to a man whose own bishop defended his beliefs, it shows a dangerous approach to Catholic social teaching.
A colleague of mine added some respectability and sanity to my wild rant this morning by pointing out that we have to distinguish between prudential decisions and principles.
There are nuances in social teaching that must be treated deftly. We have the principles of the Church’s social teaching, and they can be applied in different ways. We can disagree on the best way to apply those principals. But there are principles which are not subject for debate. … Directly causing the death of an innocent person, for instance.
How Catholic social teaching plays out, in the policies of our nation, is something that lay Catholics can dialogue about with each other. In some cases, there is an okay solution and a good solution and a better solution and a downright awful solution. We can have a good argument about minimum wage. Leo XIII talked extensively in Rerum Novarum about giving workers a just wage. But the Church isn’t going to make a de fide statement about what minimum wage should be and how it should be implemented.
We can argue about healthcare reform, but we can never advocate abortion. We can argue about Medicare and the best solutions, but one of those solutions can’t include euthanasia.
To over-simplify the nuances of Catholic social teaching is dangerous. It is also dangerous to equate Nancy Pelosi/Margaret Sanger with Paul Ryan/Ayn Rand.
When a coworker showed me that Mark Shea did that in the comments, I lost it.
In fact, he said Sanger’s influence on Pelosi was “just like” Rand’s influence on Ryan.
I’ll copy his comment here, so you don’t have to wade through the combox:
“Claiming Augustine and Aquinas and the Catholic tradition as fig leaves in order to manipulate Catholics into supporting him while denying the immense debt he owes to an evil and dangerous human tradition by an evil and dangerous thinker is…. just like Pelosi being motivated by Margaret Sanger while ocassionally pretending to care about Aquinas and Augustine. Don’t get played.”
The acts which Sanger promotes and Pelosi advocates are intrinsically evil. While Ayn Rand’s philosophy does have intrinsically evil elements, these are not the elements which have impacted Ryan’s economics. Shea points out that Rand was pro-abortion. I suppose he simply pointed it out to try to paint a picture of the woman in 144 characters or less. Ayn Rand’s beliefs were often problematic, but because she was pro-abortion and atheist doesn’t mean Paul Ryan is.
This blog post is already so long, I’m not going to spend more time on that statement of Shea. But the fact that he tosses around words like “just like,” shows that his arguments fail to adroitly distinguish when distinction is so important.
III. Hyperbole much?
Mark loses credibility by his nasty habit towards hyperbole. His rhetoric is unnecessary and off-putting. Not only does he call Ryan a “fanatical devotee,” but he calls Ayn Rand “one of the greatest enemies of God the 20th century produced.” Seriously? Forget Hitler and Stalin and Lenin and Castro and Chairman Mao or Calles or any other number of oppressors.
He throws around phrases such as Ryan’s “sudden invocation” of St. Thomas Aquinas. Is it a “sudden invocation” because Ryan is using the saint to win votes? Or could it be that St. Thomas Aquinas never came up in an interview before? (Hard to believe, I know. A US Congressman has never been asked about a scholastic theologian? what?) Why must we assume he’s “suddenly” naming him as an influence, simply because it hasn’t come out in a published interview before? He’s a practicing Catholic. It seems that he can invoke St. Thomas as an influence a bit more naturally than Pelosi invoking Augustine to back up her ideas of ensoulment.
IV. Mark Shea abuses the responsibility he has as a blogger.
I know that bloggers are not journalists, but he owes it to his readers to write as well as possible. There are several blog posts that remain unwritten in my head because I know my account would be incomplete or lack necessary clarifications, usually because I don’t have time to research the story. And I have a minuscule amount of readers compared to Shea.
Secondly, we as Catholics have a responsibility in November. For Shea to lump Ryan in with Biden, Pelosi, and Sebellius is misleading to people who will be voting in November for the future president. The Catholic vote decides the election.
Come November, I’m assuming Shea won’t vote or he’ll write someone in. If he does that, he can’t wring his hands when this country continues its path to hell. If the greatest pro-abortion president gets reelected and is able to continue his assault on the Church and the future citizens of the USofA, I will be able to say I did something to prevent it.
If you’re waiting for a candidate that’s sinless, flawless, and agrees with you about everything, you’ll be waiting a long time. You would have rejected every past American president (and you’ll reject every future one). You would have rejected Charlemagne and Constantine and probably even St. Louis IX for some reason or another. And heck, you would have rejected David, who was divinely appointed to rule. Because everyone knows he screwed up a time or two.
There is much more I could have written, but it’s time to take back my night. I’m off to go exercise. See? It’s clear I’ve become a fanatical devotee of Paul Ryan.