Mentevacantists: 7 Reasons Why The Remnant is the Fox News of American Catholicism
[This is an item I wrote some time ago for a different venue. I’m posting it here because…well…some things never change.]
Over at Ethika Politika, John Medaille has taken apart one of The Remnant’s more absurd feature articles.
The article in question was titled “CALLING ALL BISHOPS THAT ARE STILL CATHOLIC — The Die Is Cast: Bergoglio MUST Be Deposed” and was written (scrawled?) by an Ann Barnhardt.
However, it isn’t all that relevant who authored the piece because it is representative of the general tone, approach, and substance of the paper’s normal lineup.
Just a quick visit to their page today will reveal a never-ending string of further caps-lock-ridden examples, such as:
PAPALOTRY, RIP: Pope Ignites Counterrevolution
Imploding Papacy Signals Triumph of Immaculate Heart
POPE SOROS & the Novus Ordo Seclorum
and so on, ad absurdem.
So you can see what we’re dealing with here.
Thus, rather than comment on the particulars of this item (Medaille’s response was more than sufficient to put it in proper light), I’d rather make some observations about The Remnant as an organization for “journalism.”
Michael Matt’s The Remnant could pass for a branch of Fox News, if only Rupert Murdoch had decided to extend his agenda to specifically Catholic audiences. It is the same vehicle with a different coat of paint. It uses all of the same “parts” in its engine. Same make, same model. The only difference is the driver and the budget. In the points that follow, I’ll show you what I mean.
- Dependence on “The Other”
Fox News and its pundits could not exist without the liberals they hate so much. For their program to operate, they need an “other” whom they can construe as “the enemy of enemies” and against which they can offer themselves as the only reasonable solution. This is also, as long as I’ve been aware of its presence, the program of The Remnant.
Much like Protestantism itself, with which The Remnant has more in common than one might think, this Catholic publication has come to base itself wholly on an opposition to the post-Vatican II Magisterium. It seems unable to establish a stable identity that is not “against” this counter-pole.
One of the reasons that I respect the Catholic Church is that it does not need to do this. It can exist at peace with itself without being compelled to first identify its enemies. And in fact, this is a prerequisite to properly identifying one’s enemies.
Fox News, like Protestantism, seems to lack a positive center and therefore must spend more time preaching “against” its “other” than it does preaching “for” its own principles. So also with The Remnant.
Much like Fox News, or any good propaganda outlet, if you follow The Remnant you’ll see the ceaseless repetition of certain words and phrases, chosen not so much for their actual content as for their mental associations and the emotional responses they provoke.
Just as Fox makes a habit of omitting the title “President” from the name “Obama” whenever they want to convey their condescension toward the man sitting in the office, so The Remnant prefers “Bergoglio” to “Pope Francis.” Likewise, instead of Rush Limbaugh’s “bleeding heart liberals,” The Remnant folks get to hear about the “neo-Catholics” in just about every article they produce.
- Invoking Baser Instincts
This one is so obvious that it doesn’t need much commentary. Always with the propaganda approach you see the encouragement of the basest instincts of the crowd: anger, fear, and the need for self-justification.
The explanation for the utilization of these passions is simple: the arousal of these sentiments paves over the rational faculty. This is “step one” in any successful propaganda campaign and is part of the “preparatory” stage that conditions an audience to accept the questionable propositions that come next without hesitation.
- Demonizing the Enemy
Another hallmark of propaganda is its insistence on painting its enemy as the anti-Christ. Fox News can’t just disagree with Obama. He has to be evil. He has to be a terrorist or a Muslim or something else that will render him frightening or alien and justify treating him like a snake in the White House grass.
For Michael Matt’s roster of angry writers, Pope Francis can’t possibly have good to offer that warrants consideration or attention. On the contrary, the “Diabolical Narcissist Peronist-Fascist” must go. He is out to destroy the Church and nothing short of outright schism will do the job. Which brings me to my next point.
- Revolution and Deposition
Propaganda technique avoids dialogue like the plague. Human, charitable engagement with the opponent is not something that can be allowed to happen. The opposition cannot be reasoned with–only eliminated. Obama cannot be reformed–he must be impeached.
Likewise, with The Remnant we cannot rely on the Holy Spirit (which we were promised would remain with us) or dialogue or the discernment of the clergy as a whole. No, we must call together a band of rebels–the only “good Catholics” left in the world–and carry out the revolution. Sound Catholic to you?–or does it sound more like Americanist Lutheranism?
- Intellectual Isolationism
We’ve all seen time and time again how Fox News tends to revel in its irrationality, encouraging the most outrageous opinions in its viewers. They invoke the Constitution so often that everyone who watches the network thinks they’re a Constitutional scholar even though most have them have certainly never read the thing. That’s what intellectual individualism does: it gives you the illusion of knowledge.
To get at The Remnant’s brand of the same thing, we need to turn to Martin Luther’s notion of private interpretation. As Medaille suggests, what The Remnant does looks a whole lot like the error of “private interpretation” re-applied within the Catholic context–and with the same effect as with Fox News. Every one who reads it has the illusion of being a canon lawyer. In Medaille’s words:
“What I see most of all in all this is the evil of Private Interpretation once again rearing its brutal visage. It is as if they are saying that Any Plowman Can Interpret Pascendi, and pass his infallible judgment on bishop and pope after supplying the appropriate proof-texts. We have been here before. In fact, we never left it. The same errors always occur in monotonous succession and lead to the same place.”
And the fact that it is being re-applied by people who defend the Latin Mass does not make it any better.
There is an old quote from Bertrand de Jouvenel’s On Power that goes a long way toward explaining the approach of Fox News toward its viewers, from a political standpoint. It is as follows:
“The men of our day…being circumspect people, have realized that the cultivation of the electors’ intelligence is at least as likely to open a window on the arguments of their opponents as on their own; therefore it is labour lost.”
“The faculty of reason may lie relatively unused in the majority of a people, but there is not a man anywhere who is incapable of emotion. And it is to the emotions, therefore, that appeal must be made. Rouse in your behalf trust, hope, and affection; rouse against your rival indignation, anger, and hatred—and success is yours. It is truly complete when a public meeting can be induced to cheer a speech which it cannot understand, and to greet the other side’s reply with stampings of feet…The result is that good citizenship, so far from being awakened among those who are yet without it, gets extinguished in those who already have it.”
Change the word “electors” to “believers” and “good citizen” to “good Catholic” and you’ve arrived at Michael Matt’s religious adaptation of the very same thing.
To borrow Jouvenel’s phrasing: The result is that faith, so far from being awakened among those who are yet without it, gets extinguished in those who already have it.