The Late, Great, John Allen

John Allen began his career as a petulant young liberal whose journalism scored points for “the good guys” (as he saw them)–see his biography of Ratzinger, for example. As he matured, he realized he needed some journalistic objectivity, and intentionally sought to distance his columns for NCR from the editorial page’s clear bias. The result, his masterful volume, Opus Dei, which covered a controversial subject with exemplary fairness.

Now, as he’s become more of a stump speaker, paid to speak his opinions of trends in Catholicism, he seems to have retreated to his younger days, branding those with whom he disagrees as representing “Taliban Catholicism” (and extending the metaphor to include “Taliban Orthodoxy“).

He’s not original–a friend of mine has long made reference to the “Adventist Taliban.” But whether it comes from my Adventist friend or from John Allen, I don’t find this kind of boilerplate useful. Disagree with someone if you want, but is it too much to ask that you describe them using words they use to describe themselves?

Allen is a journalist, and I’d refer him to the AP Stylebook. This is precisely what it recommends in regards to the word, “Fundamentalist.” That was a word that also began with a concrete meaning, in a specific historical context, but it became a label of convenience for those who, considering themselves “tolerant” and “open-minded,” wanted to dismiss with a word those who they regarded as inferior.  “Taliban” and “Jihadist” are more powerful words, evoking not simply intolerance but the potential of violence. Those using them must know they are upping the ante–they must know they are shutting the door on any kind of dialogue or understanding.

Allen says he uses the term, “Taliban Catholicism,” to refer to “an exaggerated allergy to anything that smacks of secularism, liberalization, or corruption by modernity – an angry form of the faith that knows only how to excoriate and condemn.” Hmm … are conservatives the only folks who have “an angry form of the faith that knows only how to excoriate and condemn”?

Jimmy Akin has it right:

It is as if Allen had used the phrase “Al-Qa’eda Catholicism” or “Nazi Catholicism.”

Now matter how many Humpty Dumpty games you play with these terms, they are just going to generate more heat than light.

Allen is smart enough to know that. …

Allen’s “Taliban Catholicism” is said to “excoriate, condemn, and smash the TV sets of the modern world.” The real Taliban has done far, far worse acts than that, which is precisely why his use of the term to refer to people who—however much they rage against certain things in the modern world—do not actually commit Taliban-like atrocities is disgusting.

2 thoughts on “The Late, Great, John Allen

  1. I thought his comments were interesting, even though the term is obviously tailored the more pop. media minded.

    Like what he said here, comparing “Taliban Catholicism” to “Cathlic Lite”, which he said were not isolated to the right or left end of the political spectrum :

    “…In fact, there’s a right-wing form of Catholicism Lite that’s just as watered-down and sold out to secularism as its kissing cousin on the left. In the States, it can take the form of a country club Republican Catholicism — untroubled by the inequities of global free-market capitalism, quite at home with anti-immigrant rhetoric, the death penalty, and the use of armed force.

    At least in my mind, the defining feature of “Catholicism Lite” is not a liberal or conservative outlook, but rather taking one’s cues from secular culture rather than the faith. No ideological camp has a monopoly on that.”

    • That may be, but that doesn’t excuse him from comparing some people to terrorists that cut people’s heads off on camera.

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