I have three reasons why Milo Yiannopoulos is so toxic that no one—and certainly no Catholic—ought to have given him a platform to promote his ideas free of any but the most gentle and sparse correction. None of these reasons has to do with Milo’s defense of Trump, or his criticism of the pope, or even the fact that he’s “married” to another man.
Everyone agrees that there are some ideas so far outside the bounds of acceptable opinion that you should only bring them into public discussion for the purpose of exposing them for what they are: evil.
Even Patrick Coffin, who invited Milo on his radio show and wrote a defense of that decision here at Catholic World Report, accepts that premise; he said he would not share his mic with someone who defended pedophilia.
My three reasons for objecting to Coffin’s two-hour interview with Yiannopoulos are:
- Milo’s use of offensive slurs;
- his defense of long-discredited historical evils like colonialism;
- his defense of pederasty.
I find Coffin’s defense of his interview unconvincing, in part because of his frequent use of euphemisms to describe Milo’s toxicity. Milo, he said in his introduction on the radio show, is a “sage.” He came a little closer to the truth in his CWR article, where he described his guest as a “provocateur.”
Another example is Coffin’s description of Milo’s speech as “vulgar,” as though he’s just in habit of dropping f-bombs.
No, it’s more precise than “vulgar,” and here’s an example of what I mean. In the interview, the topic of a female priesthood came up. Milo is against a female priesthood (as am I), but his explanation of why he is against it should utterly discredit him. If you have female priests, he said, then the Catholic Church will become like the Methodist church—“a church for women and homos,” in Milo’s words.
Coffin thinks that Milo is very well-read and well-spoken. He praises his use of words like “otiose”; he cites the many authors Milo weaves together in order to make a point. The two of them discuss Brideshead Revisited. And yet the above is a very puerile (and offensive) apologetic for an all-male priesthood. Someone who is well-read and well-spoken might have mentioned St. John Paul II’s discussion of the question in Ordinatio Sacerdotalis. John Paul II does not mention the Church becoming overrun with women and “homos.” There are sound reasons for the male priesthood which are not at all connected to paranoia and misogyny, as Milo’s is.
In other words, Milo abandons the intellectual pretense when an opportunity arises to express his fears and his hatreds.
This is not a sage, but a toxic person. Even Coffin himself, when the topic of Islam came up in the interview, engaged in obnoxious mockery of Arabic; at one point, he said he didn’t have enough phlegm to pronounce it correctly (this would also make Aramaic and Hebrew fit objects for Coffin’s mockery).
Take Milo’s defense of colonialism, on the grounds that it brought Western culture and affluence to a bunch of backwaters. “The Christians were the good guys,” Milo says. We spread “wealth, prosperousness, art, Shakespeare” to native populations, he argues.
That India supposedly has wealth and prosperity today is not a valid defense of the colonialism of the past. What made colonialism evil was what made slavery evil: the brutal subjugation of other peoples. Colonialism didn’t exist because Western nations charitably wanted to spread wealth and art and religion to poor heathens. It existed because they wanted to increase their own wealth by stripping other places of their resources.
When you say that colonialism was good because it brought people wealth and William Shakespeare, you are making an ends-justifies-the-means argument. John Paul II condemns consequentialism as a heresy in Veritatis Splendor. I find it more than a little troubling that Coffin either did not notice this, or chose not to mention it.
Coffin insists that Milo does not, as some claim, defend pedophilia. In fact, Milo defends pederasty, and Coffin reads the very quotations on the air in which Milo suggests that the age of consent is arbitrary, and that a fourteen- or fifteen- or sixteen-year-old boy might very well be able to consent to a homosexual relationship with a thirty-year-old man. This is “very common” in the homosexual subculture, Milo says. He also says he was drunk when he made the statements in question.
Very common it might be, but I am not convinced by Milo’s dismissal of what he said about consent on the grounds that he was drunk and would never say it that way again. When you’re drunk, and before an audience you’re comfortable with, you might just speak more honestly, your internal censor being asleep. It’s too easy, too convenient an explanation. At the very least, this defense ought to be interrogated at more length and with more skepticism.
Now, Coffin is right when he says one need not agree with everything a guest believes. But that does not excuse giving no challenge to—and occasionally agreeing with—toxic and discredited ideas and speech.
Coffin is right when he says Catholics should try to bring the lost sheep back home. But that does not mean that every lost sheep should be allowed to express odious views with very little challenge.
Sometimes grace requires correction. Milo says early in the program that the experience of falling in love with a man helped to teach him about God’s love. Coffin replied that God commands gay people to love each other. All this is true, but it requires clarity: the love God commands in this case is agape, not eros. Coffin did not make that distinction.
If Coffin felt that Milo’s ideas were worth the public knowing more about, due to his prominence, then he might have done a show with another guest discussing the pros and cons of things Milo has said, or he could have brought on a second guest to debate Milo.
Having Milo on the program, for two hours, expressing his views with almost no correction at all, helps give them credence. It moves them into the range of acceptable opinions, where they should by no means be.
(Editor’s note: The opinions expressed here are the author’s alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of CWR or Ignatius Press.)
If you value the news and views Catholic World Report provides, please consider donating to support our efforts. Your contribution will help us continue to make CWR available to all readers worldwide for free, without a subscription. Thank you for your generosity!