Friday, July 8, 2011

On Credibility, Conspiracies, and Caution

As I had begun to write this piece, word went out from the Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity about evidence they have found regarding significant wrong-doing by their member, Fr. John Corapi.  I had been told about this breaking scandal a few weeks ago by a friend, who was absolutely convinced that Fr. Corapi had done nothing wrong and that the whole thing is a set-up.  Indeed, there are hundreds, if not thousands of Catholics who, at least right now, believe that "They" are out to get Fr. Corapi.

It's a theme that plays out again and again on the Internet.  "They" are all lying to you.  "They" are all trying to lead you astray.  "They" are all corrupt.  Now, let me tell you the "Real Truth" that "They" don't want you to know.  (And oh, by the way, won't you buy my book and send me a generous donation so that I can continue my important work of exposing "Them"?)

Watch out.

Fr. Corapi had a reputation for "telling it like it is", for being blunt and bold in his teaching.  People like that, they gravitate toward it.  And now, with allegations breaking out about his personal conduct, some refuse to look at any evidence that might call Father's credibility into question.  It is all about him.  "They" are out to get him.

And yet, the evidence is coming in and with it serious questions about his credibility.  Phil Lawler has an excellent piece on this—"Corapi: Why were warning signs ignored?"—which can serve as a paradigm for other such situations.

An Emerging Pattern

What other such situations?  Well let's say someone claims to be a "prophet" and insists that "They" is an entire ethnic group.  Maybe "They" are the Jews, who are alleged to be the "slave masters" and somehow responsible for more or less anything bad that happens.  Let's say that someone claims that "They" represents pretty much every scientist for the past three hundred years, including eminent Catholic and other Christian scientists, who, with respect to the true nature of the universe "Know It, But They're Hiding It" from ordinary people.  Or let's say that someone claims that "They" are all the popes of the last three hundred years and all the bishops in communion with them, who should have been teaching against what is claimed to be a "formal heresy" but who have been inept or cowardly, duped by conspiracy and subterfuge or purposely subversive.

With claims like those, wouldn't you say that this "prophet's" personal character and credibility might just be an important factor in evaluating how seriously to take such claims?

I've been bemused in the ongoing debate over neo-geocentrism that whenever the general credibility of its main proponent, Bob Sungenis, is called into question the hue and cry goes up from his supporters that it's a fallacious ad hominem attack.  Here's just the latest example:

It never fails to amaze me how when the subject of geocentrism is discussed on the Internet on forums such as this you will almost invariably find people engaging in immediate ad hominem attacks against those individuals who have expressed a belief in geocentrism.  This is especially true in the case of Robert Sungenis (posted by James B. Philips).

What makes this complaint particularly amusing is that it's deployed in defense of a person who has an entire appendix in his book Galileo Was Wrong entitled, "The Personal Lives of: Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo, Newton, Einstein".  And not just there, but throughout the pages of both volumes of GWW, Bob accuses those men and others of a whole panoply of moral failings including lying, subterfuge, homosexuality/pederasty, adultery, occult practices, plagiarism (oh, what irony!—see below), theft, and murder.  He seems to have no problem with weaving these observations into his public talks.  Bob clearly believes that these alleged moral failings are germane to the discussion of whether their scientific views are correct. But his own behavior is somehow off-limits when it comes to these discussions.  This is just one more example of "one standard for me and another for thee" when it comes to Bob Sungenis.

Wikipedia notes on the argumentum ad hominem that:

The ad hominem is normally described as a logical fallacy, but it is not always fallacious; in some instances, questions of personal conduct, character, motives, etc., are legitimate and relevant to the issue. (my emphasis)

Now, a genuinely fallacious ad hominem attack would be something like, "Fr. Corapi must be guilty because you know how those Italians are," or "You can't believe a word Bob says because he's Italian." (Which is in practice what Bob does with Jews, by the way—if you're a Jew or he even suspects that you might be a Jew, you're suspect.)

But there is no logical fallacy in saying that the views of someone who regularly proves himself to be sloppy, inaccurate, and at times downright malicious ought to be taken cum grano salis, with a hefty grain of salt.

What About Bob?

So what about Bob?  It seems clear that Bob loves to stir up dissension, animosity and controversy because he's been doing it for the better part of 35 years. In Surprised by Truth, he fittingly entitled his autobiographical account, "From Controversy to Consolation." According to Sungenis himself, he left the Catholic faith in early adulthood and spent the next 18 years embroiling himself in one controversy after another. In his conversion story, Bob reveals something significant about his temperament and his manner of searching for truth. For example, here's his account of a conversation with a friend named Gerry Hoffman who disagreed with him in regard to religion:

"My conversation with Gerry [Hoffman] was different. Even though I gave him a few of the standard objections to Catholic doctrines, for some reason, his answers did not make me feel combative. In fact, his explanations made me feel like listening instead of attacking. As those who knew me at that time would have attested, this was not my normal response to a conversation about politics or religion -- especially religion."
There are numerous other examples in his autobiographical conversion story that illustrate his penchant for creating dissension, animosity and controversy (see e.g. here).

The time of "consolation" to which he refers occurred immediately after his reversion to the Catholic faith. At that time, he had a season of grace and relative peace that allowed him to produce his fine “Not by” series. Sadly, that season passed and he's returned to his old ways.

For the past decade, he's returned to extreme controversialism – attacking and slandering Jews, his own bishop, and many others.  We have recently taken the opportunity to yet again defend Bishop Kevin Rhoades against Bob's unjust attacks.  In this vein I wrote:

Given the seriousness of the charge and the office of the one against whom it is leveled, I think it’s very fair to ask, is this the sort of man to bring a charge against a successor of the Apostles?  Has he been fair and just in his dealings with others?  Has he comported himself well with those who are outside our Faith?  Has he been responsible and accurate in his handling of his sources?  Does he have the marks of a “prophet”, as he self-styles himself?

Does Bob have the credibility to support such serious accusations?  The record indicates not.  Although this incident with Bishop Rhoades is the most egregious example, unfortunately there is a long-standing pattern of this sort of behavior from Bob.

Long-standing indeed.  A partial list of additional individuals to whom Bob has attributed inaccurate or fraudulent quotes include: Pope John Paul II, Gen. Tommy Franks, Attorney General John Ashcroft, Congressman John Rarick, mathematician Clifford Truesdell, Benjamin Ginsberg, Gen. Ariel Sharon, Carl Sagan, David Brooks, Jerry Falwell, Bill Cork, Leon Suprenant and Mike Sullivan of CUF, Roy Schoeman, Michael Forrest, Mark Shea, Christopher Blosser, Michael Lopez, and David Palm.

These are fully documented here:  Sungenis and the Jews--Fraudulent Quotes

But the most egregious example by far is Bob's continued accusations against Bishop Rhoades, which the bishop himself has called "slanderous and erroneous".  Bob has accused His Excellency of promoting a pro-Jewish heresy to “unsuspecting Catholics” because he has greater “allegiances” to Jewish causes than to the Catholic faith.  The charges themselves are absolutely false, but to make matters worse Bob has attempted to prop up those accusations with a narrative that is shot through with demonstrable falsehoods and self-contradictions.  This has been documented here:

Bishop Rhoades and the Dual Covenant Theory

A Defense of Bishop Rhoades from More False Accusations by Robert Sungenis
Sungenis' Own Standards of Heresy: Why Don't They Apply to Bishop Rhoades?

He's back to attacking popes (see here). When he's confronted about his behavior, he typically lashes out and blames everyone else. He even accuses his critics of secretly being Jews (for but the latest case of this click here - go down to the last comment posted by Jared Olar).  See also
An Open Invitation to Bob Sungenis

I alluded above to the rich irony of Bob Sungenis, of all people, accusing Albert Einstein of plagiarism.  It cannot be put more delicately than to say that Bob is a habitual plagiarist.  According to the definition given by Bob's own alma mater, plagiarism is, "intentionally representing the words, ideas, or sequence of ideas of another as one's own in any academic exercise; failure to attribute any of the following: quotations, paraphrases, or borrowed information."  A large body of evidence for his literary theft has been marshaled here, but I would urge the reader at the very least to read two pieces that document the most egregious examples: Dr. Bill Cork's "Antisemitism and the Catholic Right" (section 3) and my own "Sungenis Comes Full Circle".  There Bob's words are placed side-by-side with the sources from which he plagiarized them.  He has recently reproduced the essay critiqued in "Sungenis Comes Full Circle" in his most recent "book" The Catholic/Jewish Dialogue and put it on sale—particularly ironic considering the fact that Bob previously sought to redefine "plagiarism" by restricting it solely to those materials which one steals and then sells for personal gain.  Even by Bob's own self-servingly restricted (and false) definition he's certainly committed plagiarism now.

Bob now owns a phony "Ph.D." from a New Age diploma mill.  He self-styles himself as a "prophet" in the tradition of Ezekiel, Isaiah, and Jeremiah.  He claims that, for centuries, the popes have submerged and obscured what is really the official teaching of the Catholic Church on geocentrism.  And on the scientific front he sets his personal views of cosmology against the studied consensus of the entire scientific community for the past three hundred years.

Bob regularly peddles a whole panoply of conspiracy theories including, but not nearly limited to: NASA faked the lunar landings, the attacks of 9/11 were an "inside job" and the Jewish owner of WTC Building 7 purposely leveled that building with pre-set explosives, NASA creates crop circles to "get our minds off the Bible and Christ", the Jews sent Monica Lewinski in to take Bill Clinton down because they didn't like his foreign policy toward Israel, and so on....

And this kind of thinking even muddles his biblical commentary, which he and most people consider his greatest strength. For example, he has insisted in multiple places that the “context” for Romans 11 and St. Paul’s teaching on the Jews is the destruction of Jerusalem in A. D. 70, which took place at least twelve years after Romans was written and 3 years after St. Paul was dead! On this and other related issues see “The Theology of Prejudice”, “The Pope’s ‘Blunder’ or Sungenis’ Prejudice?”, and “Sungenis on Romans 11: Theological Bias in Biblical Exegesis”. Notice too that Bob hasn't been able to get an imprimatur on any of his works for many years now, having been turned down multiple times (see here.)

Returning to the topic of neo-geocentrism, it seems to me that Galileo Was Wrong is just more controversialism and sensationalism brought forth by someone trying to make a name for himself. He’s repeatedly misused the name “Catholic” to give him an appearance of authority that he doesn’t rightly possess – harming the Church in the process – and that’s exactly why he was told by his bishop to stop calling his organization “Catholic.”

Why Don't They See It?

One thing that has long puzzled me is how certain individuals continue to cling to Bob as credible long after they should have known better.  In part this can be explained by a phenomenon that we noted long ago, namely, that the more Bob's apostolate comes to be defined by fringe conspiracy theories the more he will draw his supporters from like-minded crackpots and cranks.  Crackpots and cranks are, by definition, seriously lacking in common sense.

But this is not to suggest that Sungenis' small group of followers is comprised exclusively of dimwits and social misfits.  For example, the Media Director at Robert Sungenis' website, Laurence Gonzaga, has a master's degree in child psychology and will soon be working to earn his doctorate in psychology.  He has a nice conversion story, is a catechist at several parishes in the Diocese of San Bernardino, and seems like a bright young man.  But, especially in light of his training in psychology, it's particularly odd that Gonzaga doesn't seem to see the problems with Bob, his behavior and the content of his teachings.

I know this is a lot of information. But in light of the sad, unfolding Fr. Corapi debacle, I thought it important to bring forth. Everybody likes a straight shooter. But when there are warning signs that something is seriously amiss, prudence says you'd better watch out. The warning signs are all over this. Don't let your loyalties be blind.

The upshot of all of this is that matters of character and credibility are highly important, especially if someone is claiming to be a "prophet" while peddling sweeping conspiracy theories.  As we continue to explore the various aspects of neo-geocentrism and its supporters' claims to be in possession of the "true" teaching of the Catholic Church and the "real" scientific truth, it makes a lot of sense to consider the source.