Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Keating’s Parthian Shots

One year ago Karl Keating, Esq. stepped down as president of the apologetics apostolate Catholic Answers. He founded the group in 1982 after plucking some unpleasantly anti-Catholic tracts out from beneath his windshield wiper blades. He became a full-time apologist in 1988 with the written endorsement of Archbishop Roger Mahony. Deciding that Fundamentalists were the greatest immediate threat to American Catholicism, he published the nearly 400-page Catholicism and Fundamentalism through Ignatius Press and focused his organization on correcting Fundamentalist-style Protestant objections to the Faith.

Ever since his retirement, Keating has focused his energies on his old loves of hiking, travel, and writing about the people who annoy him most. The last year and a half has proven to be a fruitful literary period for Keating, and his output already includes such extended essays as No Apology, Jeremiah’s Lament, and Anti-Catholic Junk Food, and two more full-length books (in excess of 300 pages each): Apologetics the English Way and The New Geocentrists. His book The Ultimate Catholic Quiz—“intended both for the individual reader (that means you) and for parish-based adult-education and RCIA programs” (source)—is due to be published next month.

Giving the bishop a pass?
Keating’s writing and speaking style has always been dry, bordering on the pedantic, and usually lacking any but the most abstract kind of humor. He wears an uncomfortable smile in most photographs, and in interviews he gives the impression of having a low-level obsessive personality disorder. His Catholicism and Fundamentalism is so boorishly focused on the history of American Evangelicalism that the reader is shocked when he actually starts talking about the theological errors supposedly under discussion.

In addition to being annoyed by Fundamentalists, Keating has a long-running dislike for Catholic Traditionalists. He and his Catholic Answers crew have focused many assaults on the traddy fringe for decades, inferring if not implying that to have any part of the Traditionalist movement is to be on a slippery slope down into anti-Semitism, sedevacantism, Feeneyism, and all around extremism. It is well known that the “Traditional Catholicism” forum on the Catholic Answers website has been ruled with an iron fist ever since its introduction about a decade ago.

His retirement has given Keating the time to gather his notes about the rad trads (no affiliation), especially his favorite traddy target, Robert Sungenis, M.A.

The Soy Sauce Incident

In 1992, Bob Subgenis returned to the practice of the Faith after some time among an end-times Protestant cult. His conversion story was recounted in Patrick Madrid’s 1994 Surprised By Truth, which also featured apologetics superstars Jimmy Akin, Dave Armstrong, Marcus Grodi, and Tim Staples. Sungenis got the idea and began publishing his own books against the Protestant Terror: the Not By [Faith/Scripture/Bread] Alone trilogy (1996-2000) being his apologetics works most accessible to the Catholic mainstream. He teamed up with apologists like Madrid for debates, produced two television series for EWTN, and yet had his career unexpectedly detoured was he was supposedly turned down for a full time apologist post at Catholic Answers because, “contrary to Karl [Keating]’s wishes, I dared to put soy sauce on my rice when Karl took me out to lunch” (source).

Keating’s experience of finding Protestant agitprop on his windshield apparently made such a deep impression that ever since he was unable to see any other threat to the Church as equal or greater. Sungenis’ experience of fascist oriental cuisine apparently led to such a deep disorientation that the entire cosmos became restructured in his mind.

Since Mgr. Bob’s falling out with the apologetics mainstream, his thinking has indeed tended towards the extreme. As Mr. Keating catalogues in The New Geocentrists,
Robert Sungenis subscribes not to one or two conspiracy theories but to many. He believes the sinking of the Titanic was no accident but was a long-range blueprint for 9/11. He asks, “Has modern science found irrefutable evidence that dinosaurs co-existed with humans? Yes, the evidence has been found but it is being systematically suppressed....” He says that the Moon landings were faked, secretly filmed in a studio by director Stanley Kubrick, whom he notes is a Jew. And then there was Pope John Paul I, whom Sungenis thinks was murdered. He also thinks that recent popes have conspired to hide the truth about the Fatima secrets. Most of the conspiracies to which Sungenis has subscribed have involved Jews: Jews were behind the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Jews sent Monica Lewinsky to compromise Bill Clinton because he was insufficiently friendly to Israel. (225)
And so on. One suspects that after Karl sniffed loudly at Bob’s dousing of his rice in sodium, Bob began to see Keating as symbolic of everything going wrong with the Church (too friendly with liberals, crypto-modernist, conjuror of the spirit of Vatican II, etc.), while Karl began to see Sungenis as symbolic of everything wrong with the far right of Catholicism in America (promoting unprovable conspiracy theories, loudmouthed, critical of lukewarm moderates, etc.). They began to orbit one another like a binary star system where they alternated tearing off and consuming the outer layer of the other’s mass.


Keating notes that Bob’s magnum opus trilogy Galileo Was Wrong “languishes around the two million mark at Amazon’s best sellers ranking” (TNG 243), so perhaps it possesses too little influence for us to care. (Karl’s 366-page refutation sits at around 1.6 million on Amazon, for what it’s worth.) Throughout the book he makes a point of the movement’s smallness, mentioning how the Annual Catholic Conference on Geocentrism has had only one meeting so far (in 2010), talking about how even young-earth creationists (already a fringe group) see geocentrists as a small but loud fringe threat, and even mocking the tiny audience that came out during the theatrical run of The Principle (Sungenis’s geocentrist documentary). And yet, Keating still worries that “this resurrected cosmological theory [may] gain a larger following... [as these] new geocentrists believe themselves to be heralds of old truths made new, called to spread their gospel far and wide” (356).

I think there is a hint helpful towards understanding Keating’s motivations in his introductory material:
This book is titled The New Geocentrists, not The New Geocentrism. The focus is more on the people than on their scientific and religious claims. Their claims are not neglected, but I make no attempt at comprehensiveness and feel no obligation to do so.... It would be as tedious to refute those arguments, one by one, as it is to read them—more tedious, actually. (5)
In other words, the book is meant to be a long ad hominem attack on the new geocentrists. This does not mean that Keating never provides philosophical and scientific corrections of geocentric errors—and when he does, he provides arguments as cogently, briefly, and thoroughly as a layman needs them to be—but it does mean that his focus is on discrediting these people as people, not on the errors themselves.

He attacks Paula Haigh and the late Solange Hertz for setting themselves up as the matriarchs of American Catholic geocentrism in the 1980s and 90s. He calls Hertz the “Grand Dame” of Catholic geocentrism, ridicules her for her monarchism, anti-Americanism, and anti-Masonry, and obsesses about her belief that Maid Marian of the Robin Hood legends was a transvestite. Haigh provides an easier target with her anti-Jewish fear mongering. When Hertz passed away last October, Keating posted a notice along with a brief critique of her errors, all while ghoulishly promoting his new book so that curious readers could find out more about this batty old lady.

His next target is the Protestant geocentrist Gerardus Bouw, whose writings predate both Haigh and Hertz, which makes one wonder why his section did not precede theirs. Bouw is a small player in a small movement within a shrinking religious milieu, but Keating devotes an enormous number of pages to him. I would suspect that the number of people aware of Bouw’s existence quintupled simply because of Keating’s book. It seems that Bouw is important mostly because he has affiliations with Sungenis.

For Sungenis he has nothing but contempt, except when making reference to his earliest apologetics work. Not content with pointing out a man’s errors and suspect academic credentials, Keating makes constant small and insulting comments about the Man Who Used Soy Sauce.

There is a great irony in the fact that he later positively quotes the creationist Todd Charles Wood (accidentally misspelled as “Too Charles Wood” in the footnote) when he writes against the geocentrists’ ad hominem rhetorical strategies:
For a group that is routinely mocked and held up to public scorn as examples of medieval foolishness, you sure do like to indulge in personal criticisms of your critics. Whatever happened to the Golden Rule?... Insulting those who disagree with you doesn’t add anything to your argument, and it makes you look bitter and petty. (80)
Doesn’t that description remind you of anyone, Karl? How about this brief moment of cogency: “But Sungenis is wrong to argue that much can be inferred about the worth of a scientist’s scientific work from an examination of his personal life. There is no obvious connection between a man’s moral failings, for example, and his capacity to reason scientifically” (275).

Another example of Keating’s utter lack of self-awareness is this shot against Sungenis’s 1.2 million word-long trilogy: “It is impossible to turn the pages of Sungenis’s books without thinking that the overall thesis would have been presented more persuasively if it had been presented more concisely” (224). This reader may be excused for thinking that long-winded complaints lacking coherence are exactly what Keating loves most.

What’s the Point?

Indeed, one wonders why Keating bothered writing this screed against such a tiny minority of the population. His actual arguments against geocentrism—when he forgets his zealotry long enough to make them—are effectively potent, and he could have written a much, much shorter book that simply corrected the bad geocentric science.

Is Keating cleaning house? Is he sorting out his legacy so that his last books are aimed at the targets he thinks deserve the most attention? His work at Catholic Answers over the years was generic and broad, intending to provide answers to questions about all sorts of doctrines, practices, and errors based on the needs of his radio show’s callers. Now he is defending the art of apologetics itself in his essays, as though he wants to assure everyone he hadn’t wasted his talents on fruitless work.

But there is no real point writing hundreds of pages against geocentrists. If he feels he needs to warn people away from Sungenis, by all means he should write up a thorough warning in a (short) tract that includes his nuttier conspiracy theories and fraudulent academic credentials. This could have been done in a much more concise and sociable manner. It is unpleasant to watch a previously respectable man lower himself by publicly airing his personal vendettas while not even mentioning that the two of them have a past.

Correcting the errors in the Church is no longer Keating’s job, if it ever was. His great weakness has always been the way he latches onto minor problems and attacks them when he should focus on bigger things. Who cares about Fundamentalists, in the big picture? Not many Catholics. Who needs to worry about the New Geocentrists coming to his door to preach the gospel of Ptolemy? I would guess no one. For goodness’ sake, even Protestantism as a whole has become nothing but a waypoint between Catholicism and Agnosticism; it is not a primary threat like it once was.

I would much rather read Keating’s memoirs about travel and mountain climbing than one more word about some insignificant religious controversy. What say you, Karl? Wow us with stories about your continent-hopping adventures. Let the debates and call-ins fade into the recesses of your memory. Forget the weirdo who drowned his rice in brown sauce and insisted you were a pseudo-Catholic.

He’s in his own orbit now.

Cut an album, Karl!


  1. I think it only fair to show the other side, even if it is wrong science and Sungenis a weirdo:

    That's all I say about this subject.

  2. It should be noted that Mr. Sungenis appeared regularly in "Culture Wars" as a regular contributor and was given a lot of space, and much discretion, by its owner/editor, Dr E. Michael Jones but the two had a falling-out and Mr. Sungenis left in a huff after accusing Dr. Jones of anti semitism; that is, it was just the opposite of the Joe Sobran-William F. Buckley split when the owner, Buckley, accused the writer, Sobran, of antisemitism.

    So, the real question for modern Catholics is, Which race is at the center of the universe? not which planet or sun is.

    1. I didn't hear of that at all. In fact, this last year both of them were on the ISOC Catholic Restoration Conference sponsored by John Sharpe. I heard differently that they differed on whether the Consecration of Russia was done. Again, nothing concerning anti-Semitism.

    2. There was a letter to the editor in an issue of Culture Wars by Sungenis. It looks like he was attempting to "go on the record" about his "liberation" from anti-semitism. (though I never considered him one; certainly not EMJ, but others, [probably in the film industry], did.

  3. Many Catholics are embarrassed over the whole Galileo episode, and think that any Catholic who defends the Church just makes matters worse. But there's also the possibility (remote as it may be) that Sungenis is on to something. That's even more unbearable. So I think there's a combination of loathing (for defending) and jealousy (what if the a-hole's right?), which explains the inordinate amount of time that KK (and others) have spent attempting to humiliate Sungenis & co.

  4. Karl Keating is a great guy. This blog post is lame.