As this total debacle continues to unfold, the neo-Catholic establishment appears increasingly desperate to discredit the traditionalist position. Having no rational argument or empirical evidence to support their rapidly crumbling position, however, neo-Catholic spokesmen have resorted to the rhetorical toolbox of the demagogue: insults, ridicule, and character assassination of particular people in order to discredit the traditionalist movement as a whole. In short, the classic ad hominem fallacy.
There are crude practitioners of this demagoguery such as Mark Shea, a veritable Vesuvius of vituperation whose vulgar eruptions appall even some of his fans. As one of Shea’s disgusted followers wrote: “I continue mostly agreeing with you, Mr. Shea, but increasingly, I find myself entirely repulsed by your sheer nasty caustic abrasiveness.” Then there are the subtler, but nonetheless transparent, practitioners of the same unworthy polemic. Keating is such a one, aptly described by one critic as “an SPLC-style muckraker.”
The Polemic of Demonization
Keating’s book, intentionally or not, follows one of Saul Alinsky’s famous “Rules for Radicals,” specifically Rule 12:
“Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it.” Cut off the support network and isolate the target from sympathy. Go after people and not institutions; people hurt faster than institutions. (This is cruel, but very effective. Direct, personalized criticism and ridicule works.)
That is exactly what Keating does in his book, which is essentially a series of unflattering portraits of his various targets—me included, albeit only briefly enough to make sure I am tarred along with all of the others. (I gave a friendly interview to a geocentrist, so that makes me one of “The New Geocentrists.”)
The tenor of Keating’s “argument” is: “Wow folks, aren’t these people just nuts?” As Keating himself admits: “The focus is more on the people than on their scientific and religious claims.” Because “people hurt faster than institutions,” as Alinsky recognized, it is better to attack the reputations of particular traditionalists than to attempt to refute the positions their movement advances. This has become the basic strategy of neo-Catholic pundits in their effort to discredit the movement. Keating’s application of the method bears some further examination as an example of what we can expect from our neo-Catholic critics as the situation in the Church continues to deteriorate along with their already untenable position.
Keating’s Rules of Evidence
Writing about his principal target, a prominent exponent of geocentrism—we shall call him Mr. Geo to avoid unnecessary embarrassment—Keating attempts to give the appearance of legitimacy to his exercise in character assassination: “This catalogue of odd beliefs is not given here to embarrass [Mr. Geo] but to suggest that a man who is so unreliable in his judgments and so suspicious in attributing motives cannot be relied on when explaining matters of science, history, or theology.” Nonsense. Keating’s own words show that the “catalogue of odd beliefs” is given precisely to embarrass the subject so that no one will take him seriously on any issue. Hence Keating expends many pages on the subject’s alleged 9-11 conspiracy theories, Holocaust denial, Jewish conspiracy theories and other such irrelevant and scandalous material—all of which was deleted form his website years ago, by the way. (Not good enough, says Grand Inquisitor Keating in a combox at Catholic World Report. Mr. Geo must also publicly repent of his views in writing. Mr. Geo is merely hiding “the evidence”—that is, what Keating considers evidence.)
The reader will notice immediately the logical fallacy that undergirds the entire book: Mr. Geo has given “unreliable judgments” regarding claims A, B and C. Therefore, he should not be relied upon for judgments in matters C, D, and E. But what if Mr. Geo happens to be right about claims C, D and E, which involve entirely different subject matter? Should not those claims be examined solely on their merits if one is going to write about them at all? Keating contends that he does examine geocentrist claims on their merits. Does he, then, present a convincing case against those claims? If so, then why does he need to bring in the opinions of Mr. Geo on completely unrelated matters, along with the equally extraneous opinions of traditional Catholics who are not even geocentrists in the first place?
Keating himself admits that it would be wrong to judge a scientific opinion based on such views of its proponent as “know[ing] the location of the Lost Dutchman’s Mine” or “[having] discovered the key to perpetual motion.” But—introducing a distinction without a difference that serves his rhetorical purposes—Keating argues: “It is something else to subscribe to a jumble of conspiracies arising from suspicion or prejudice.” Really? How so? If someone is alleged to harbor prejudices concerning the Jews or suspicions about the people behind the 9-11 attack, for example, what does that have to do with the merits of his scientific opinion on geocentrism?
Keating of course knows there is no logical connection. He merely provides verbal camouflage for a sustained personal attack on Mr. Geo so that the subject, now thoroughly discredited in the court of public opinion, can serve as the bull’s eye of a larger target whose concentric circles are all the other people Keating associates loosely with the man in the bull’s eye.
While Keating’s tactic is quite effective in the court of public opinion, where muckraking is continually employed to sway a “jury” easily moved by passion and prejudice, consider what would happen if Keating attempted the same thing in a real courtroom.
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Under the Federal Rules of Evidence “[e]vidence of a person’s character or character trait is not admissible to prove that on a particular occasion the person acted in accordance with the character or trait.” Fed.R.Evid. 404 (a)(1). That is, a lawyer cannot argue that Witness Smith, a purported expert on geocentrism, is a crackpot as shown by his various opinions in other matters, so that his scientific opinion on geocentrism is just another crackpot theory from a crackpot. The only character evidence properly admissible for impeaching the credibility of a witness is “the witness’s reputation for having a character for truthfulness or untruthfulness”—that is, evidence of a reputation for lying, not “unreliable judgments” on various extraneous matters. Fed.R.Evid. 608(a). See also Rule 609 (on admissibility of certain criminal convictions as evidence of a character for untruthfulness). Of course, an expert witness can always be attacked on such relevant grounds as lack of degrees or peer recognition in the pertinent field, defective scholarship or errors on the matter at issue, a prior criminal conviction for perjury or larceny, and so forth.
In view of these basic rules of fairness in the courtroom, let us consider a hypothetical attempt by Keating to impugn the credibility of Mr. Geo on the witness stand in the same way he did in his book. Assume Mr. Geo has just testified about what one Caltech physicist, echoing innumerable others, admitted in Discover magazine:
[D]oes the Earth go around the Sun? …It’s actually a more subtle question than you might think. The question is not “Was Ptolemy right after all?”, but rather “in the context of modern theories of spacetime, is it even sensible to say ‘X goes around Y,’ or is that kind of statement necessarily dependent on an (ultimately arbitrary) choice of coordinate system?”….
Even in Newtonian absolute space (or for that matter in special relativity, which in this matter is just the same as Newtonian mechanics) we always have the freedom to choose elaborate coordinate systems, but in GR [General Relativity] that’s all we have.
And if we can choose all sorts of different coordinates, there is nothing to stop us from choosing one with the Earth at the center and the Sun moving around in circles (or ellipses) around it. It would be kind of perverse, but it is no less “natural” than anything else, since there is no notion of a globally inertial coordinate system that is somehow more natural. That is the sense in which, in GR, it is equally true to say that the Sun moves around the Earth as vice-versa.
Keating now rises to begin his cross-examination. Instead of addressing the merits of the opinion just given with such appropriate questions as whether the choice of a local inertial reference frame would establish that the Earth “really” moves around the Sun, he tries to introduce the “catalogue of odd beliefs” recited in his book. The following is a transcript of the probable outcome:
The Court: Mr. Keating, you may cross-examine.
Mr. Keating: Thank you, your Honor. Mr. Geo, isn’t it a fact that you believe that Hitler did not kill six million Jews?
Defense Attorney: Objection, Your Honor! Irrelevant, immaterial and unduly prejudicial.
The Court: Sustained. The jury will disregard that question. Please confine yourself to the issue of the validity of the witness’s opinion concerning geocentrism, Mr. Keating.
Mr. Keating: Very well, Your Honor. Mr. Geo, isn’t it true that you think the Jews are conspiring to rule the world?
Defense Attorney: Objection! Motion to strike.
The Court: Sustained. Mr. Keating, I admonish you once again to stick to the scientific issue and this witness’s expertise concerning that issue. I instruct the jury to disregard Mr. Keating’s question. It will be stricken from the record.
Mr. Keating: Yes, Your Honor. Mr. Geo, isn’t it a fact that you believe that 9-11 was a conspiracy by members of the federal government and that the Twin Towers—
Defense Attorney: Objection! I have a motion Your Honor.
The Court: Yes, I anticipated that. Please excuse the jury.
[The jury is excused].
The Court: I will hear from defense counsel.
Defense Counsel: Your Honor, I move for a mistrial. The jury has been irremediably prejudiced by Mr. Keating’s bad faith references to such explosively prejudicial matters. The bell cannot be unrung, and no curative instruction would suffice.
The Court: Mr. Keating?
Mr. Keating: Your Honor, I was merely trying to show, as I wrote in The New Geocentrists, that “a man who is so unreliable in his judgments and so suspicious in attributing motives cannot be relied on when explaining matters of science.”
The Court: The way to impeach an expert witness, Mr. Keating, is to show that his credentials are lacking or that his expert opinion in itself is unsound. Or you can show that the witness has a reputation for being untruthful, not that he has made what you call “unreliable judgments” about matters not before this Court. I think you know better, Mr. Keating and that your repeated conduct indicates a deliberate attempt to prejudice this jury and affect its deliberations. Do you have anything to add, Mr. Keating?
Mr. Keating: No, Your Honor. Except that I am convinced that my questions are relevant.
The Court: Mr. Defense Attorney, I will grant your motion for a mistrial. The jury will be dismissed. Mr. Keating, I find you in contempt of Court. I will retire briefly to consider the appropriate sanction for your repeated misconduct. The Court will also address the scheduling of this matter following empanelment of a new jury. The Court is in recess until 1:00 p.m., at which time counsel will appear to hear the Court’s decision on the sanction for contempt, which will include costs associated with a new trial.
Mr. Keating and his defenders will reply that he is not in a court of law. But that is precisely the point. In the court of public opinion Keating is not bound by the basic requirements of fair play reflected in Rules 404 and 608 of the Federal Rules of Evidence. He need only follow Rule 12 of Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals. The victims of Keating’s underhanded attempts to prejudice the “jury” in the court of public opinion have neither recourse to a curative instruction from a judge nor any remedy of a mistrial. Those victims include not only our Mr. Geo, Michael Matt, this writer and a number of other traditionalist targets, but even Solange Hertz, a 94-year-old woman in the final days of her life. Keating has dredged up her articles on geocentrism from the Remnant back in the 1990s, ignoring her vast contribution to this newspaper on spiritual and historical subjects. Ever the demagogue, he also cites her “pro-monarchy, anti-democracy views.”
One of the primary aims of this whole exercise is to allow Keating to declare, quoting a schismatic priest of Old Catholic Church, that “The Remnant is getting to be more and more of an embarrassment to traditional Catholicism as time goes on… (p. 40).” That is what Keating is really up to: attempting to destroy The Remnant’s credibility as the most influential Catholic traditionalist newspaper today, which Keating himself acknowledges it to be (p. 42). Impugn The Remnant’s writers and you impugn The Remnant. Impugn The Remnant, the most influential traditionalist newspaper, and you impugn the traditionalist movement at large. That leaves as the only “traditionalists” Catholics who favor Latin Masses but, like Keating, have no great problem with the post-conciliar revolution in the Church or, for that matter, with a pontificate whose radically progressive program is now eliciting opposition from cardinals, bishops and even entire national hierarchies.
In the turbulent days to come we can expect nothing but more of the same from Keating and company as the traditionalist movement continues to reveal the neo-Catholic position for what it is: passive and even active cooperation in the scourging of the Church by internal enemies over the past fifty years. If Mr. Keating and his fellow muckrakers cannot bury that message, they can at least attempt to bury the reputations of some of the messengers. Saul Alinsky would heartily approve.