Tuesday, June 24, 2014

On Catholic Answers Cruises and the Inevitability of Capitalistic "Business Models" in Catholic Non-Profit Lay Apostolates (and Apologetics)


By Catholic Apologist Dave Armstrong

This is a follow-up discussion to my previous blog post, entitled, Traditionalist Social Critic Kevin Tierney's Seeming Love-Hate Relationship with Catholic Apologetics. That was my response to Kevin Tierney's rant against Catholic Answer cruises and his put-downs of Karl Keating, Patrick Madrid, and Fr. Brian Harrison as "irrelevant" for the last ten years. 

That was all public Facebook material. But the current discussion taking place is on a friends-only Facebook thread; therefore I can't cite or name the other participants. But I can cite my own words. I will briefly paraphrase comments from three different people, that I was responding to (in brackets and blue color).

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I don't oppose in principle the idea of a cruise, for reasons I have given. The reasons given in the latest bashing surely are inadequate to sink a cruise (pun intended). I'd like to see someone respond to Karl Keating's defense of their cruises. That's what a real discussion would look like.

I find the whole discussion rather silly and simple-minded: along the lines of the old saw about "why do you Catholics build these expensive cathedrals when all that money could go to the poor?" Now the answer that any apologist would give to that is a similar apologia that could be given for these cruises (and has been given, by Karl Keating himself).

[Karl's argument there bears too much troubling similarity to the snake-oil salesman televangelist tactics. Lay apologists can't claim that they deserve to be paid based on "the laborer is worth his hire." 99% of Catholic Answers followers can't afford this cruise they are offering. "Business models" of this sort and catering to upper middle class markets are antithetical to Catholicism altogether.]

That's silly. If you are working there, you're qualified for that job, and it deserves remuneration like any other skilled job: just as every DRE or youth minister gets paid by a parish. If they are qualified, they get hired and get paid. Where's the beef?

I was qualified enough to have my books published nine times by five different publishers. So I get paid by 'em (though not much, since it is a 12% cut). Why are these things knocked all the time (by folks who should know better)?

CA begs; so does public TV and Catholic radio and a host of non-profit entities. So why do we have to hear all the moaning and groaning and complaining about CA, as if they are supposed to be ashamed about raising money for a good cause?


For heaven's sake: St. Paul Street Evangelization, that you are involved with (and I am an advisor and edited most of the tracts) solicits fund, too. Are they supposed to be ashamed of that because they are involved with filthy lucre? 

Every non-profit uses a business model to some extent. I probably do less than almost anyone (though I sell books and have a site devoted to that), yet I still don't buy it that all this stuff is somehow intrinsically evil and ought to be bashed in public posts.

[selling products to a Catholic market seems insufficiently "Catholic".  Marketing should play no role in Catholic apostolates. A lot of this mentality comes from evangelical Protestantism. Organizations like CA are a new thing we haven't really seen before.]

So you think Sheed & Ward in the good ol' days did no marketing to sell their books? How stupid would a publisher be not to do so? And what is wrong with it? Every diocese makes "business" and administrative decisions. They have appeals for missions and social services. They have to decide if a parish is losing money, up to possible closure.

You can't escape it. I happen to be personally very uncomfortable with many of the things you observe, myself, yet I don't see how a coherent argument can be made to remove all business and marketing altogether from a publisher who sells books or even an apologetics apostolate.

I cam tell you from firsthand experience (12 1/2 years of full-time apologetics) that selling books or other products is not enough to get by. The market is too small, so any Catholic apostolate has to also solicit funds, just as, e.g., public TV does or charitable endeavors do (like the Jerry Lewis Labor Day Telethon for medical purposes).


[Dave, you ought to make much more money than you do for all your hard work, but you are only getting scraps from the Catholic market, while others (with fewer children than you have) are making much more money for far less work. And it's distressing to me that you have to be on your best behavior in front of these guys, lest the Catholic fatcats blacklist you, as they have done to others.]  

I appreciate your concern, and I agree that I deserve a higher income for the work that I do. But now you're talking business, ain't you? "Market"? I need to sell books. My booksite is out there, but sales are slow. That has nothing to do with Keating or Madrid or Hahn or any of the others. It has a lot to do with the fact that thinking Catholics who want to read and grow are a small number of people.

But God has provided my family's needs for over a dozen years, and will continue to do so. I'm not worried, and I'm not unhappy. One is always happy if he follows the call that God has for him or her.

You don't know how much another man works, or the dues he has paid.

I don't have to "do" anything. I'm beholden (i.e., in the sense you claim) to no one (one of the few perks I do have, being self-employed). I argue what I do here because it's what I believe, as always. I can't be bought because having lots of money is not a goal of mine.

I have argued against Kevin Tierney's related comments [i.e., the previous blog post linked at the top] and yours because they make no sense, or else have an implicit double standard in them, because the same standards are not applied in other areas. Yet you guys wanna bash the Catholic cruises, and now go after Keating personally?

People will work in secular jobs and help make companies many millions of dollars of profits and they see nothing wrong with that. That's fine and dandy, and I see no posts on Facebook decrying those jobs. All the vitriol is reserved for a wonderful Catholic apostolate like Catholic Answers because it offers cruises.

And if someone dares to defend the idea (as I do), now I am in bed with them and can't speak freely lest I will supposedly be blacklisted? I had this whole discussion with Michael Voris in person. It's sheer nonsense.

If you want to see someone kissing up and brown-nosing shamelessly, watch the two Michael Voris "Mic'D Up" interviews with geocentrist and anti-Semite Robert Sungenis and his sidekick Rick  DeLano.

[this sort of work used to be done mainly by priests and nuns. Now we see married laypeople doing it. The only laypeople who did stuff like this in the past were (pretty much) academics. But groups like CA and others today do their work independent of parishes, dioceses, or schools. And they do marketing techniques. It's not all bad, but it is a legitimate concern to address.]


It's not new at all. I've written about this myth. Ever heard of G. K. Chesterton (married layperson) or Frank Sheed? Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman wrote:
In the first age laymen were most commonly the Apologists. Such were Justin, Tatian, Athenagoras, Aristides, Hermias, Minucius Felix, Arnobius, and Lactantius. In like manner in this age some of the most prominent defences of the Church are from laymen: as De Maistre, Chateaubriand, Nicolas, Montalembert, and others.

(The Idea of a University, Part II, ch. 4, sec. 4: “General Religious Knowledge,” 1856)

Some other examples of prominent lay apologists are Antoine-Frédéric Ozanam (1813-1853), Guy Lefèvre de la Boderie (1541-1598), and Justus Baronius Calvinus (1570- after 1606), as well as, more recently, Arnold Lunn (1888-1974), Evelyn Waugh (1903-1966), and Catholic historian / apologists, such as Christopher Dawson (1889-1970) and Hilaire Belloc (1870-1953).


See my paper:  Catholic Lay Apologetics: a Long and Noble "Magisterially Approved" History Despite the Fantastically Ignorant and Ubiquitous Charges of Anti-Catholic Critics.

As for being supposedly "independent of parishes, dioceses, or schools," this is untrue. For example, in my case, I write for The Michigan Catholic, the official paper of the archdiocese of Detroit. I have received an Imprimatur from my own bishop. I had the express recommendation of Fr. Hardon, whose residence was in Detroit. I'm connected with several Catholic organizations: all of which are supported by many priests and bishops.

The Catholic Church is all for lay apostolates. It's nothing new and it is encouraged and sanctioned by Holy Mother Church. Those are the facts. And we will not be made to feel ashamed for what we do, as if we are doing some terrible thing.


Now, both of you qualified your remarks somewhat, but many others who argue similarly, do not do so, and I've heard these complaints over and over (and have refuted them many times as well).

[The issue isn't profit or fundraising per se,  but mixing business with Catholic outreach, and trying to reach markets, just like any other business. The problem is with priorities and proper proportion. It's like a big club, and you, Dave, have worked very hard, yet make a pittance, compared to what others are making.]

Ah, but that is itself thinking according to a business model. I don't care if I have all that money. It's not my goal. That may be hard for folks to believe in America, but that is the truth. I'm a radical and advocate of simple living, and a distributist. So if I'm perfectly content, living the life I wanna live, why should you care, as if I am somehow being shorted?

God is providing my needs. What more is needed? Sure, I'd like to sell more books, but as long as I can pay my bills, I'm doin' fine.


[again, the problem is not solicitation of donations, but access for rich people only to intimately interact with Catholic speakers and to go on fabulous cruises, whereas most folks cannot. This is an unacceptable partiality.] 

So how does that work? CA is supposed to say that "if you make above a certain amount of money, we can't accept your donations (insofar as they receive money from the profit of a cruise) because that would be unfair to the people who make less money than you do"?

Businesses (even non-profit ones) have always catered to the wealthy, because that is how they can really fund their work. It's the same in any line of work. I love music as much as anyone on the planet. But I can't get those backstage passes for concerts where you meet the band or the singer. It's only the rich people who can do that (or family members, etc.). One time I was blessed that a friend of mine with basketball connections got us 4th row seats for the Pistons (the tickets each said it would have cost $750). Got to meet Pistons Hall-of-Famer Joe Dumars, too. I could never have done that. But the person with connections made it possible.

I got to go on a very nice large sailboat (twice) that friends of ours own. I could have never dreamt of having any such thing, etc. There are a host of examples. The Coming Home Network paid for a nice hotel for my wife and I, and wonderful food at a conference (way above my pay grade) because I was a staff member. We got to stay in the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island as guests, and were treated like a king and queen, because my wife's mother sent them a picture and told a story that moved the owner. That room would have cost $700 a night. So we were "rich for a day" in all these instances.

It's fine to have all this "righteous indignation" and liberal-type feelings of about the more well-to-do folks getting to do stuff we can't, but I don't see how a solid argument can be made against it, given the reality of how capitalism works, and how we are all tied up in that one way or another (whether we like it or not).

I'll guarantee that wherever you and [Name] work (if it is a business, which it's always gonna be), there are the big shots that have all kinds of luxuries and conveniences because of the labor of you and the others who work there. You allow that to be possible by your participation. It's how corporate capitalism works.

In my profession, I am the direct cause of publishers making tons of money off of my own work, while I get a pittance (usually 12-14%), or in one notorious case, no ongoing royalties at all, while the publisher makes multiple thousands of dollars for decades off of the work that I did.

What am I supposed to do?: say that that is so unfair that I will stop writing my books (or trying to get them published in a way other than self-publishing, which I also do)? That would be negligent of my calling before God.

Class envy is a Marxist / liberal concept. Me, I don't envy the money that people make or the privileges attached thereto because I don't seek that level of income in the first place. Therefore, I can write fairly objectively about business issues of this sort without any personal stake in the matter.


[how come when issues like this are brought up, folks always wanna channel it into  "class warfare"? If CA would simply provide equal access to all, this would cease to be an issue at all.]

Why don't you or [Name] answer all the various arguments I made? That would be quite the novelty, wouldn't it?

I am saying that this is always the way it is, and that it is absurd to argue as you guys are doing: to say that "CA can't do a cruise unless
they allow the janitor and waitress as well as the bank executive to have all the fun that such cruises provide. If they don't, it's unethical, and they are idolizing filthy lucre."


Of course, Kevin Tierney's original point wasn't so much all this "high" bleeding-heart concern for the poor and how they miss out on all the goodies and perks that upper middle class America enjoys, but rather, a rant that Keating and Madrid have done nothing of relevance for ten years, and have been merely spouting talking-points for 20 (insinuation: they don't deserve to be listened to by anyone, on a cruise or anywhere else, cuz they are washed-up and irrelevant).

So let's see: if Keating and Madrid go on a nationwide tour that is free admission, and sit all day and do a meet-and-greet and personally converse with people of all classes, then your concerns are adequately met and it's okay that they do a cruise, since now the "unfairness" that you see has been rectified?

[you haven't dealt with what I am saying at all; hence, I have nothing to respond to. The price of these cruises is absurdly high and excludes most people from being able to go on them. Comments being made on the CA Facebook page  concerning the cruise make that clear.  Talks are given by people [Keating and Madrid] who haven't done much lately, which makes it a farce, like all those 60s and 70s band reunions. No need for a big free tour: just show that poor people can have access just like the rich folks. We can't accept the capitalistic status quo; we're called to a much higher standard than that.]

Right. Well, at least you haven't blown your top or fled to the hills as you usually do, and give some semblance of a "reply" with your usual preaching rants -- but it isn't rational interaction with what I have written, and certainly no refutation of same.

[why should I do a rebuttal to a treatise on unicorns? Sorry; that's a waste of my time.] 

If you want to engage in mere shallow, sloganistic-type rhetoric and polemics (tying into the familiar themes of Marxist and class envy), and ignore (and mockingly dismiss) opposing arguments, you can do so, but no one who tries to examine issues in depth will be impressed by that.

Reference was made to discussion on the CA Facebook page. Catholic Answers replied as follows to one such complaint:

Most of what we do is for free. Our radio program, handing out booklets at events like World Youth Day, magazines for seminarians and prisoners, producing free apologetics articles on our web site, etc. We put on events like this to raise money to facilitate all these outreach efforts.

That's true for me, too. I have over 2,550 posts on my blog available for free. I have 15 radio interviews available to download for free. Then I have my books, which cost something.

We get criticized for whatever we do. I get blasted because I am supposedly self-published only (I'm not: I have nine "official" books out, and I do many more on my own). I get blasted for making money with my "official" books, as if I am not supposed to make any money at all, with a family of six. I get criticized because not all my books have an Imprimatur (but some indeed do). If an apologist makes good money (however that is defined) he is obviously in the work only for filthy lucre and ill-gotten gain. If we make relatively little (more my category!), then we get accused of being negligent of our families and forcing spouses to live like paupers, as we indulge our unethical and obsessive fantasies of being an apologist.

We can't please everyone, no matter what we do. And why would anyone expect that, anyway? Jesus was accused of being filled with demons and being a blasphemer. Why would His laborers today expect any better treatment? He said that His followers would be hated by all, because they hated Him first.

It doesn't matter. There is always someone who will bash outreach efforts in some fashion, while they (mostly) sit on their butts and do nothing.

 
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1 comment:

Mark Alan said...

The times....they are a changin...

or are they?