Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Problem With Placing One’s Faith On a Pseudonymous Blogger Rather Than In a Visible Church (Part I) (by Paul Hoffer)

This fascinating, well-written article is cross-posted in its entirety, from Paul Hoffer's blog Spes Mea Christus!

See also Paul's follow-up article,  The Problem With Placing One’s Faith On a Pseudonymous Blogger Rather Than In a Visible Church (Interlude: Paralypsis vs. Poisoning the Well).

* * * * *

O My God, I firmly believe that You art one God in three Divine Persons, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost; I believe that Your Divine Son became man, and died for our sins, and that He will come to judge the living and the dead. I believe these and all the truths which the Holy, Roman, Catholic and Apostolic Church believes and teaches, because You, the Infallible Truth, has revealed them, who can neither deceive nor be deceived.

And in this holy faith I wish and pray to live and to die. Amen (A Version of the Traditional Catholic Act of Faith which I pray daily.)
This past February, a number of folks commenting on an article captioned Does James White and Alpha & Omega Ministries Embrace Misogyny? posted on a blog called SBC Tomorrow maintained by the Reverend Peter Lumpkins, a Baptist Minister, and on an article posted by my friend, David Waltz, entitled The secretive “Turretinfan” continues his censorship tactics on his blog, Articuli Fidei, left clues as to the identity of Turretinfan, a pseudonymous blogger in the service of James White, an anti-Catholic controversialist who is the principal behind the Reformed apologetics ministry called Alpha & Omega Ministries. Since some of those who commented on the above sites suggested that Mr. Fan is an Ohio attorney, and since some the accusations leveled against Mr. Fan implied that he may have violated some of the canons of the Ohio’s Code of Professional Responsibility to which I likewise am bound to follow, and since I am bound by an oath to report violations of that Code of Professional Conduct, I decided that I was obligated to make further inquiry and sought to use the clues left on these websites as well as other information garnered over the years of interacting with Mr. Fan to see if I could learn the name of the individual who has caused scandal and consternation for so many, especially fellow Christians who do not share his blinkered-version of Calvinism. (I offer this explanation before I go any further lest someone wishes to suggest that I was motivated from ill-will, malice or a desire for “pay-back” which typifies the modus operandi of so many of the modern-day disciples of the dead lawyer from Geneva.)

Sure enough, using the aforementioned information as well as other documentation publicly available on the internet, I was soon able to determine to a quantum of proof what practitioners of the legal arts would call “clear and convincing” the true identity of the man known as Turretinfan.

In doing so, I will state unequivocally that the information I used can be found on publicly accessible databases on the internet if one knows where to look and how to research. Further, I will state unequivocally no confidences have been betrayed nor have I used any secret legal resource in any manner to ferret out Mr. Fan’s mild-mannered alter ego. That said, I would note that some of the most invaluable corroboration in regards to Turretinfan’s real world name comes from comments strewn about the internet written by John Bugay, a lapsed Catholic cum Presbyterian polemicist, and Reverend David T. King, an Orthodox Presbyterian minister and pastor located in Elkton, Md., which “sealed the deal” so-to-speak (a triple-crowned tiara ht to you both).

As of this date, I could tell the reader the real name of the person hiding behind the nom de guerre “Turretinfan”, his employer, the schools he went to and the degrees he earned, the church he attends and where he lives at. Based on the available evidence and the inferences that can drawn therefrom, I can safely tell the reader that Mr. Fan is not an Ohio attorney nor does he work in Cleveland, Ohio. Thus, as far as I am concerned, I believe I have satisfied my ethical responsibilities in regards to my chosen profession.

Now before I discuss Mr. Fan’s real identity, I wanted to touch upon the whole premise of his choice of blogging pseudonymously. Personally, unless one is writing pseudonymously out of humility or out of obedience to the directives of a superior, I believe that one must be prepared to own one’s words. If I am not willing to sign my name to an opinion, then it is not worth publicizing. In order to own your words, you have to have the courage to stand behind them, to be accountable for what you say. As poor as my writing may be, I have never been afraid of putting my name to it or being held accountable for what I write. However, that is my personal preference.

The fact is that although many look upon anonymity as the last refuge of scoundrels, throughout our shared American history we have respected and protected the right to speak anonymously, a right firmly rooted in the guarantee of freedom of speech provided in the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, to wit:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of their grievances.
The famous jurist, Benjamin Cardozo, once said, freedom of speech and thought is “the matrix, the indispensable condition, of nearly every other form of freedom.” An inherent aspect of that freedom is the right to anonymity which is also a function of freedom of association. While anonymity may help one to avoid responsibility or accountability for the content of one’s speech, it also reduces the possibility of identification and fear of reprisal for those engaging in legitimate, but unpopular speech. Anonymity also provides a way for a writer who may be personally unpopular to ensure that readers will not prejudge his message simply because they do not like its proponent.

For example, Charles Carroll, a Catholic and one of our country’s founding fathers and a signer of the Declaration of Independence, wrote under the pseudonym “First Citizen” to lend a powerful voice for the cause of independence from Great Britain and to challenge oppression of Catholics in Maryland because prior to the American Revolution, both Maryland and British law prohibited Catholics from entering the legal profession or engaging in politics. Thomas Paine and Samuel Adams also wrote using pseudonyms to advance the cause of independence. After the war, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton and John Jay, under the collective pseudonym, "Publius," wrote a series of essays, known as "The Federalist Papers", in their successful campaign to obtain the ratification of the American Constitution. During the Civil War, several individuals known as “Copperheads” used pseudonyms in the North to advocate against Abraham Lincoln’s policies and his suspension of habeas corpus. Later, in the past century, American courts have recognized the right to engage in anonymous speech has been extended to members of unions, radical political groups, as well as civil rights activists. As noted by the Supreme Court in the case of Talley vs. California, 362 U.S. 60 (1960):
Anonymous pamphlets, leaflets, brochures, and even books have played an important role in the progress of mankind. Persecuted groups and sects from time to time throughout history have been able to criticize oppressive practices and laws either anonymously or not at all.
Despite occasional dissent, anonymous communication in our society has been traditionally regarded as sacrosanct. So much so that even when the anonymous writer publishes or otherwise disseminates perceived untruths, such is not a ground for violating this aspect of the right of free speech unless such constitutes either criminal or tortious conduct. Thus, no matter how distasteful one may find their speech, the members of the Klu Klux Klan have the right to wear hoods to protect their anonymity. Similarly, as long as he operates within the boundaries of the law, no matter how distasteful one may find the content of Mr. Fan’s writing, he has the right to use a pseudonym to do so. (N.B. I am not comparing the two for the record.)

Now one may interpose an objection at this juncture and point out that Mr. Fan’s apologetical endeavors do not constitute political or social activism. I would respond that religious speech is still speech entitled to constitutional protection. Witness the recent Supreme Court decision of Snyder vs Phelps, 562 U.S. ____ (2011).

Despite America’ history of respecting anonymous speech, nothing that I have referenced suggests that Mr. Fan’s secret identity must remain secret. Legally speaking, I too have free speech rights and that right includes the right to “out” Mr. Fan so long as I am not doing so out of malicious intent, have not breached confidences, and used legal means to ascertain his identity. Since Mr. Fan operates in the marketplace of ideas and since he chooses to engage in public discourse, he has no expectation of privacy especially when he engages in speech that some consider to be abusive and un-Christian.

Now if anyone has a reason to “out” him, I would have a good reason to do so. In 2007, I wrote an article stating my reasons for critiquing Professor White’s misuse of cross-examination after he made the scurrilous (and frankly actionable) claim that I had engaged in a form of taqiyya in service of the Catholic Church. Rather than seriously engaging the points I made, Mr. Fan chose to attack the article and myself by directing the reader to my suspension from the practice of law for several months in 1999 for failing to appropriately deal with a health condition that was seriously impacting my practice. Hardly cricket in anyone’s book.

Yet, for reasons that I shall make clear shortly, I do not intend to “out” Mr. Fan. His real name, known to myself and to a few select friends whom I choose not to disclose, will remain a secret for another day. Despite what he and his fellow contra-Catholic bloggers may think of us, we Catholic apologists are a far more honorable, a far more charitable, and dare I say it, a far more Christian breed than he and they would credit us. If anyone is going to reveal Mr. Fan’s name, let it be either himself or one of his Protestant brethren to do so.

No, I do not intend to “out” Mr. Fan. Returning unkindness with unkindness is not my way. Our Lord taught us a different way to return such conduct. The faith I place in the teachings of my Church requires that I offer a Catholic response, not the Calvinist one. As Jesus Christ, Our Lord and Savior taught us:

“But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless
those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” (Luke 6:27-28)
St. Paul furthers teaches us in 1 Cor. 3:12-13:

“Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another, if one has a grievance against another; as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do.”
And here:

“See that no one returns evil for evil; rather, always seek what is good (both) for each other and for all.” (1 Thess. 5:15)
And here:

“Do not repay anyone evil for evil; be concerned for what is noble in the sight of all. If possible, on your part, live at peace with all. Beloved, do not look for revenge but leave room for the wrath; for it is written, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord." Rather, "if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals upon his head." Do not be conquered by evil but conquer evil with good.” (Rom. 12:17-21)
And as St. Peter writes:

“Do not return evil for evil, or insult for insult; but, on the contrary, a blessing, because to this you were called, that you might inherit a blessing.” (1 Peter 3:9)
I would ask the reader to take note that the above Scripture passages do not make exception of pseudonymous bloggers who may have wronged me in the past.

Let me be clear: I do not intend to provide the reader with Mr. Fan’s real name. I choose not to do so out of Christian charity and out of faith and obedience to the teachings of the Church I live and have faith in which Mr. Fan is so wont to daily denigrate. No one should infer nefarious intent by not revealing his name. I am not withholding his name to coerce him or extract from him a promise not to attack the teachings of the Catholic Church. He is not beholden to me in any way whatsoever. Whether he or any of his cohort choose to attack me for writing this article or reveal any of my “secrets” out of retaliation or to embarrass me, this is to their shame, not mine. My faults, my failings, my weaknesses (which are many to be sure) are well-known to me, My Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, my friends and my loved ones. Airing them in public would only cheapen and coarsen rather than enhance discourse and give proof to the assertions that some make against Mr. Fan and his companions in arms.

Now the reader may interpose here one more objection: just because Mr. Fan can blog anonymously doesn’t mean he should or as Gilbert Keith Chesterton, the great Catholic lay apologist wrote, “To have a right to do a thing is not at all the same as to be right in doing it.” Just because one has the right to be anonymous or pseudonymous when exercising one’s free speech rights does not make it righteous to do so. Perhaps the best reason why it is not righteous for someone to opine on matters involving apologetics anonymously is the tendency to treat others unkindly or cruelly. Since the advent of the internet, the psychological phenomena of disinhibition has been increasingly been observed among anonymous or pseudonymous bloggers. When a person exercises the freedom of writing anonymously without accountability or the fear of public pressure or negative feedback, it tends to dispose one to acting irresponsibly and uncharitably towards one’s neighbors and saying things that one would not otherwise say to someone’s face.

In light of that potential to give offense to one’s neighbors, one must constantly reflect on why they are choosing to write under pseudonymously. Aside from laws against defamation, there are virtually no laws, regulations or covenants that regulate and restrain the content of a blogger’s website. The only restraint practically speaking is one’s own personal ethical standards. If one’s ethical standard is not the “golden rule” or if one does not constantly refer to that standard in dealing with others, let alone adhere to it, then one invariably begins to put stumbling blocks or hindrances in the path of others that cause them to sin. (cf. Luke 17:1-2; Romans 14:13) Because of the stumbling block of pseudonymity that Mr. Fan has placed in the path of fellow Christians, witness the many unkind words that some have uttered against his pseudonymity, more so than over the subject matter conveyed by his words themselves.

Furthermore, while one could construct a large number of rationales why one is choosing to be pseudonymous in their dealings with others, the validity of such rationales rests with the individual. Only the anonymous one (TAO for short) knows in their heart for what purpose he or she is hiding beneath the cloak of anonymity. Is TAO acting out humility or out of selfishness? Is TAO using anonymity as a shield to avoid the limelight forcing the reader to focus on the message as opposed to the messenger or as a sword to attack others personally and avoid accountability? Is TAO protecting his family or loved ones from possible retribution or merely protecting his own personal economic interests? Only Turretinfan knows whether his decision to blog using a pseudonym is righteous or not.

In this particular case, we do not have the ability to read what is in Mr. Fan’s heart. We can only speculate as to whether he is acting licitly or illicitly. And to echo the Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, I would rather err out of kindness than work miracles in unkindness and give Mr. Fan the benefit of the doubt as to the legitimacy of his choosing to write pseudonymously in his apologetic dealings with those who do not agree with his flavor of Calvinism.

That said, “outing” a pseudonymous blogger who often gets it wrong on what the Catholic Church teaches is not the answer. The remedy for correcting such errors or to respond to such objectionable speech is not to damage such an opponent personally. Rather, the Christian remedy is to oppose such speech by offering the reason for our hope, to provide correction, and to offer as cogent and coherent refutation of the offending notions as well as one is able to do.

In the second part of this article which will be posted in the next day or two, I shall endeavor to bring my poor talents to bear and attempt to refute some erroneous things that Mr. Fan wrote an article entitled, I Can't Do it Perfectly, So I Won't Even Try! against the Catholic Church, particularly his misuse of the term “implicit faith” in describing the sort of faith that Catholics place in the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.

In the meantime, I would ask the reader to pray for Turretinfan, for myself and all Christian apologists, whether they be Catholic, Protestant or Orthodox, that we all continue to receive the graces of wisdom and eloquence to defend our shared faith in the Holy Trinity-Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

God bless!

O ineffable Creator, Who, out of the treasure of Thy wisdom, hast ordained three hierarchies of Angels, and placed them in wonderful order above the heavens, and hast most wisely distributed the parts of the world; Thou, Who are called the true fountain of light and wisdom, and the highest beginning, vouchsafe to pour upon the darkness of my understanding, in which I was born, the double beam of Thy brightness, removing from me all darkness of sin and ignorance. Thou, Who makest eloquent the tongue of the dumb, instruct my tongue, and pour on my lips the grace of Thy blessing. Give me quickness of understanding, capacity of retaining, subtlety of interpreting, facility in learning, and copious grace of speaking. Guide my going in, direct my going forward, accomplish my going forth; through Christ our Lord. Amen. A Prayer composed by St. Thomas Aquinas.


Jordanes551 said...

I can only suppose Turretinfan has good reasons for adopted a nom de plume. As I've mentioned here before, I chose to adopt pseudonymity a few years ago after an encounter with someone who essentially was an internet stalker who tracked down where I lived and where I worked and maliciously attempted to cause major trouble in my personal life. Having a family to take care of, after that very uncomfortable experience I thought it safest to put an electronic cushion or shield between my loved ones and my online participation in matters of religious controversy. Most people I interact with on the internet would never behave like that grudge-holding weirdo did, but I don't think it advisable to take chances when my family's safety could be at stake.

Martin said...

I'm always happy to see a post by Paul. I pray all is well quirk you and yours.

Dave Armstrong said...

There are clearly cases where it is necessary, as in your situation, Jordanes. Apart from such valid reasons, however, I think it is generally an unhelpful phenomenon, frequently used for all sorts of nefarious purposes. It is especially wrong if a person uses it in order to personally attack others and misrepresent an entire faith, and can't "man up" to his own words.

Jordanes551 said...

It is especially wrong if a person uses it in order to personally attack others and misrepresent an entire faith, and can't "man up" to his own words.

Very true.

One drawback, or danger, of writing under a pseudonym -- especially on the internet -- is that it can be easier to opt for immoderate or extremist rhetoric. It needn't be intentional, but it does happen -- I admit I've done it. I go back later and re-read what I'd typed, and cringe sometimes at how harsh I came across. I'd probably not be as susceptible to that if I used my full given name as I used to years ago.

Dave Armstrong said...

TAO ally Steve "Whopper" Hays has now chimed in with his usual personal attacks and dripping disdain, in a full-"response" post.

Martin said...

Why does Mr. Hays post remind me of this?

Paul Hoffer said...

Dave, in engaging him in his comm box, he is now complaining that you don't post an e-mail address to your pastor to bolster his claim that Catholic apologists aren't any more accountable than TF/TAO is. And this is from a guy who lists his home address as Sto-Vor-Kor (Klingon hell).

I am saying some prayers to St. Dymphna for him.

Dave Armstrong said...

Just wrote a new post about that, Paul! Of all his asinine "arguments" and claims through the years, this may be the single most ridiculous one, as seen in my post, where I defended myself and also you.

Dave Armstrong said...

Paul Hoffer has now responded to Steve Hays' hit piece and purported refutation of Paul's original posting:

The Problem With Placing One’s Faith On a Pseudonymous Blogger Rather Than In a Visible Church (Interlude:Paralypsis vs. Poisoning the Well)

Scott said...

It would appear that TurretinFan has revealed himself as Adam Parker:

Dave Armstrong said...

No he ain't! We know who he is. :-)

Scott said...

:-) So I have since gathered... now when you say "We know who he is" are you referring to TF or Adam Parker?

Dave Armstrong said...

TF. My lips are sealed, though. :-)