Cultivating a healthy sense of online scepticism

Cultivating a healthy sense of online scepticism Covington Catholic High School

“Wherever there is animal worship, there is human sacrifice,” declared the @GKCdaily Twitter account just last week, causing me to wonder whether the English author GK Chesterton ever said that.

Sure, it sounds like something he would have said, but it also seems far too handy a quote for what some are dubbing ‘Veganuary’, and when online we should always keep in mind the old adage that paper won’t refuse ink.

A quick search, however, took me to Chesterton.org, the website of the Society of Gilbert Keith Chesterton, which features well over 100 lectures on Chesterton’s work under the heading of ‘Chesterton University’, one being devoted to the 1920 essay collection The Uses of Diversity, from where the line apparently comes.

And indeed, if you nip over to gkc.org.uk/books you’ll find said collection, and can read the prescient aphorism in context in an essay entitled ‘On Seriousness’.

*****

Scepticism isn’t always unwarranted, however. A big story in recent days has concerned the apparent harassment in Washington DC, just after the annual March for Life, of one Nathan Phillips, an elderly Native American and Vietnam veteran, by a group of white teenage boys from a Kentucky Catholic school, some wearing ‘Make America Great Again’ hats.

With a video seeming to show this, the story appeared clear. In ‘Catholic school apologises after clip emerges of students mocking Native Americans’, ncronline.org detailed what had happened from the point of view of one Chase Iron Eyes, a spokesperson for the Indigenous Peoples Movement, who had apparently witnessed the events.

“In an interview with RNS, Iron Eyes said Phillips and several others were closing out the ceremonies of the Indigenous Peoples March by blessing the grounds of the Lincoln Memorial when they were approached by 30 or 40 teenaged boys,” it reported.

“Iron Eyes said the student group had been harassing others in the area. Phillips attempted to defuse the situation by offering a song, ‘trying to get young people to listen’. Iron Eyes called the AIM Song, associated with the 1970s American Indian Movement, a ‘spiritual symbol’, saying the wordless melody ‘is meant for all of us to sing’.”

Within a few hours, however, other videos were online, telling a very different story.

In ‘The Catholic bonfire at the stake’ at theamericanconservative.com, Rod Dreher apologised for his initial condemnation of the boys and linked to an alternative explanation of the events, with videos that certainly seem to support it.

Princeton’s Prof. Robert George echoed this from his @McCormickProf account: “What Rod Dreher says of himself goes double for me. I jumped the gun and that was stupid and unjust. It is I, not the boys, who needs to take a lesson from this.”

Creighton University’s Fr Paddy Gilger, tweeting from @paddygilgersj, likewise withdrew his condemnation: “I want to apologise to the young men of Covington Catholic for any participation I had in assuming their guilt. I am sorry. I do think there would have been better ways to engage more deeply in this situation, but is clear they were not acting as a mob here.”

Fr James Martin, meanwhile, declared at @JamesMartinSJ that he would apologise for his condemnation if the boys should turn out to have been “acting as good and moral Christians”. It’s a disappointing thread, talking of choosing between narratives and how the truth may never be known as though there’s no evidence to examine.

His comments about the march having become overly politicised are, however, worth pondering, and it’s worth leaving the last word to New York Times columnist Ross Douthat at @DouthatNYT:

“Good rules for life: Don’t let your Catholic school’s students wear MAGA hats on a field trip for the March for Life. Don’t immediately make a teenager a symbol of everything you hate about your political enemies based on a short video clip. Give it a day at least.”

Share This Post