Monday, April 18, 2005

A faith at sea

Randy has responded to my reply.

"Thanks for replying. As far as consistent goes you will always find superfical contradictions."

I didn't cite "superficial" contradictions. I cited quite fundamental contradictions involving such elementary and elemental questions as Who is saved? What is tradition? Is Scripture inerrant? Can't get much more basic than redemption and revelation, if you ask me.

"People document long lists of biblical contradictions yet we believe scripture is inerrant."

i) "We"? Who is the "we"? This is true for conservative Evangelicals. It is no longer true for Catholic Bible scholars like Ray Brown and Joseph Fitzmyer.

ii) In addition, conservative Evangelicals have devoted a lot of time and attention to harmonizing apparent disprepancies in Scripture. By contrast, Randy doesn't lift a finger to harmonize the examples (out of many) that I have given of conflicting magisterial traditions.

"Why? Because of faith."

Faith in what? What kind of faith? We can exercise this sort of faith in Scripture because we have many good reasons for believing in the divine inspiration of Scripture. What argument does Randy offer that the RCC enjoys the same evidentiary bulwark as the Bible?

"Can we have this same faith that the Holy Spirit continues to lead his church into truth just as Jesus said he would? We can."

i) This begs the essential question by equivocating over the identity of the church. How does Randy know that the RCC is the very church which Jesus promised to lead by his Spirit?

ii) And let us keep in mind that contemporary Catholic scholarship is no longer committed to the proposition that Jesus said all the things attributed to him in the canonical Gospels. Consider the three-stage theory of composition issued by the Biblical Commission. Cf. J. Fitzmyer, A Christological Catechism, appendix. Or consider Ray Brown's five-stage model for the composition of the Fourth Gospel.

"The problem is then we can't pick our own doctines. Being catholic is a surrender of your will to God."

No, the problem is that we have more than one church out there competing for our allegiance. So, yes, we do have to make a choice. To be a Catholic is to choose Catholicism over rival claimants. Why did Randy pick that church?

"Am I a radical relativist? No. I believe it logically follows from Sola Scriptora. I reject both. You don't so I believe you are being illogical. It is very differant from interpeting sacred tradition because the church is a living community. You can't say the church says x when the church is right there saying y."

Suppose we were to apply this criterion to a Christian cult like the Watchtower. On the face of it, the Watchtower has issued a fair number of failed prophecies over the years. And the way the Watchtower saves face is to redefine the terms of the fulfillment. So what is to prevent a Jehovah's Witness from using this same line of defense to defend the discordant teachings of the Watchtower? The Watchtower is a living community. So you can't claim that the Watchtower says x when the Watchtower is right there saying y. Or can you?

The Mormons have their own magisterium, their own teaching office, their own living tradition, which conveniently abrogates embarrassing pronouncements from the past. Should we judge Joseph Smith or Brigham Young by the same standard as Randy applies to the RCC?

Why can't I observe that church says x when the church is right there saying y? When the church has spoken more than once on a subject, I can certainly read and compare two or more statements from the past, one more recent--the other more distant.

Notice how Jesus and the Apostles deal with Jewish tradition. They don't reject Jewish tradition in toto. But neither do you hear them claim that, You can't say the Sanhedrin says x when the Sanhedrin is right there saying y. No, what Jesus and the Apostles do is to go back to Scripture, quoting from the OT.

"As for accepting uncertainty, how much can you accept? There is a core of beliefs that we need certainty about. My experience is that the core is bigger than most think."

A Calvinist could agree with all this. How does that select for the RCC?

"The church needs to define that core and leave freedom about the rest."

Why? Why the church? Randy keeps assuming what he needs to prove, floating empty assertions in place of reasoned arguments.

"That is why we have dogma. If we lose certainty about critical things then we end up with the idea that absolute truth is unimportant, unknowable, or even an illusion."

Again, A Calvinist could agree with all that. How does this select for Catholicism?

Let us put aside the Protestant movement for a moment. Don't the Greek Orthodox say the very same thing? How is Randy's formula an argument for Roman Catholicism rather than Greek Orthodoxy?

"That idea is common today and it is the fruit of the reformation."

One would like to see something resembling a historical argument to back up this sweeping claim. There was a deep strain of scepticism that crept into Medieval nominalism (e.g., Ockham, Biel). That's pre-Catholic.

What about the Renaissance? Didn't that do a lot to shake up the Medieval synthesis? That was pre-Reformation.

What about the French Enlightenment (e.g., Voltaire, Diderot and other philosophes)? That took place in a Catholic country.

"If anything can be learned from the last 500 years it is that the reformation was a complete, total, and unconditional failure."

Nothing like a healthy dose of hyperbole to shore up a sagging case.

"It weakened the church by splitting into thousand of competing 'truths'."

i) As I've argued in my essay on "The Four-Door Labyrinth," the diversity boils down to how you answer four basic questions.

ii) I prefer a free market place of ideas to a monopoly on falsehood.

iii) Freedom is messy. Just as there are Russians who wax nostalgic for the golden age of Stalinist purges and Tsarist serfdom, there are Catholics who look longingly at a church built on patent fraud (e.g., the False Decretals).

"It caused much bloodshed."

i) Funny, I thought most of the blood was shed by Roman Catholic monarchs at the instigation of papacy, to stamp out the Protestant Reformation.

ii) And if Randy supposes that bloodshed discredits the claims of the Reformation, does Julius II discredit the claims of the papacy?

"It has created a long downward moral spiral especially in Europe and North America."

i) Randy has a rather backwards view of historical causation. Remember the Pilgrim Fathers? America was colonized by Puritans. It would make more sense to date the downward spiral to the mass influx of Catholic immigrants in the 19-20C.

ii) You also have to wonder why folks like Randy leave themselves wide open for obvious counterexamples. What about the pedophile priesthood? What about the majority of American bishops who facilitated the pedophile priesthood? Indeed, they continue to stonewall to this day. And did the Vatican not know of those confidential, out-of-court, multimillion dollar settlements?

What about Italian-American and other Roman Catholic directors in Hollywood and abroad who churn out all those R-rated movies? What about high profile Catholics like Sen. Kennedy, Gov. Cuomo, and Justice Brennan who have done so much to spearhead abortion-on-demand in America?

"It has removed the connection between us, Jesus, the scriptures, and the new testament church."

By my count, this is the third time that Randy has made that claim. I mounted a specific counter-argument against his claim in my last reply. You know, when someone gives you a reason for why he believes something, and you challenge that reason, and he continues to repeat himself without responding to the challenge, then is this a real reason, or does he say it because he feels the need to say something, and this is the only thing he can come up with? If he doesn't believe in his own reasons, why should anyone else?

"It's all rooted in 3 words: 'I am right'.

This, again, misses the point. Where people disagree, someone is right and someone else is wrong--unless both are mistaken. What's the difference between Calvin saying "I'm right" and the Pope saying "I'm right?"

"It is very hard to beleive that God could create a church that knows more than you do. We can believe the Red Sea and the resurection much easier."

Which church are we talking about, Randy? It's as though Randy has "Roman Catholic" etched on his spectacles, so that every time he reads a reference to the church in Scripture, he sees the RCC.

"We just need to get over our own egos and bow before God."

Once again, this sidesteps the essential question. Who speaks for God that we may bow before him? There is only one true God, but many false gods and many false prophets of the false gods. "Little children, keep yourselves from idols" (1 Jn 5:21).

3 comments:

  1. This is getting very confusing. We need multiple colors but I will try:

    "Thanks for replying. As far as consistent goes you will always find superficial contradictions."

    I didn't cite "superficial" contradictions. I cited quite fundamental contradictions involving such elementary and elemental questions as Who is saved? What is tradition? Is Scripture inerrant? Can't get much more basic than redemption and revelation, if you ask me.
    Asking you is not the standard. I could explain such "contradictions" but I am sure you know the explanations. You would just say "I don't buy it".
    That is your choice based on your bias. I know because I used to have that bias as well. My point is every theology can be trashed like this.

    "People document long lists of biblical contradictions yet we believe scripture is inerrant."

    i) "We"? Who is the "we"? This is true for conservative Evangelicals. It is no longer true for Catholic Bible scholars like Ray Brown and Joseph Fitzmyer.
    And there are not liberal protestants? I don't defend liberal Catholics. I defend the faith as passed down from the apostles through sacred tradition, scripture and the magesterium. These guys don't represent that. I don't read them so I don't even know what they say. I just know they are liberal by reputation.
    ii) In addition, conservative
    Evangelicals have devoted a lot of time and attention to harmonizing apparent discrepancies in Scripture. By contrast, Randy doesn't lift a finger to harmonize the examples (out of many) that I have given of conflicting magisterial traditions.
    Lots of time and energy has been spent. I don't see a need to duplicate the effort.
    "Why? Because of faith."

    Faith in what? What kind of faith? We can exercise this sort of faith in Scripture because we have many good reasons for believing in the divine inspiration of Scripture. What argument does Randy offer that the RCC enjoys the same evidentiary bulwark as the Bible?
    Evidentiary bulwark? Scripture comes from the sacred tradition of the church. When you deny tradition you remove the foundation of scripture. Why do you think the Dan Brown can destroy the credibility of scripture so easy. When you distrust the church it is easy to translate that to distrust of scripture. You just have to quote history.
    "Can we have this same faith that the Holy Spirit continues to lead his church into truth just as Jesus said he would? We can."

    i) This begs the essential question by equivocating over the identity of the church. How does Randy know that the RCC is the very church which Jesus promised to lead by his Spirit?
    I am just trying to show how so many problems go away when you look at history and the church from a catholic perspective. Scripture makes more sense. The many saints who embraced the church teachings make sense. The concept of the kingdom of God that Jesus keeps talking about makes sense.
    ii) And let us keep in mind that contemporary Catholic scholarship is no longer committed to the proposition that Jesus said all the things attributed to him in the canonical Gospels. Consider the three-stage theory of composition issued by the Biblical Commission. Cf. J. Fitzmyer, A Christological Catechism, appendix. Or consider Ray Brown's five-stage model for the composition of the Fourth Gospel.
    Again, Catholic in name only. I do feel the church is weakened by the fact that so many good Christians are not in it. We could use a guy like you to argue against guys like this.

    "The problem is then we can't pick our own doctrines. Being catholic is a surrender of your will to God."

    No, the problem is that we have more than one church out there competing for our allegiance. So, yes, we do have to make a choice. To be a Catholic is to choose Catholicism over rival claimants. Why did Randy pick that church?
    I didn't pick the church. Jesus did. Every other church was begun by somebody else. The real question is how can we be so arrogant as to have more than one church.
    "Am I a radical relativist? No. I believe it logically follows from Sola Scriptora. I reject both. You don't so I believe you are being illogical. It is very different from interpreting sacred tradition because the church is a living community. You can't say the church says x when the church is right there saying y."

    Suppose we were to apply this criterion to a Christian cult like the Watchtower. On the face of it, the Watchtower has issued a fair number of failed prophecies over the years. And the way the Watchtower saves face is to redefine the terms of the fulfillment. So what is to prevent a Jehovah's Witness from using this same line of defence to defend the discordant teachings of the Watchtower? The Watchtower is a living community. So you can't claim that the Watchtower says x when the Watchtower is right there saying y. Or can you?
    The Watchtower is a good point. I studied them as a protestant. They claim infallibility and in a much shorter history have dozens of huge contradictions. As a protestant I was sure I would find much worse in the Catholic church. I didn't. Just a few issues that were easily explained if you understood the history. The Watchtower has more problems. They don't go back to Jesus. They contradict scripture.

    The Mormons have their own magisterium, their own teaching office, their own living tradition, which conveniently abrogates embarrassing pronouncements from the past. Should we judge Joseph Smith or Brigham Young by the same standard as Randy applies to the RCC?
    Yes. Do the Mormons go back to the first century? Is there any evidence of their claimed apostasy?
    Why can't I observe that church says x when the church is right there saying y? When the church has spoken more than once on a subject, I can certainly read and compare two or more statements from the past, one more recent--the other more distant.

    Notice how Jesus and the Apostles deal with Jewish tradition. They don't reject Jewish tradition in total. But neither do you hear them claim that, You can't say the Sanhedrin says x when the Sanhedrin is right there saying y. No, what Jesus and the Apostles do is to go back to Scripture, quoting from the OT.
    Jesus is claiming that the kingdom was taken away from the Jews. Before that happened he said to do as they say and not as they do. In other words these guys are jerks but their authority from God is legit. (Mt23:1-4)
    "As for accepting uncertainty, how much can you accept? There is a core of beliefs that we need certainty about. My experience is that the core is bigger than most think."

    A Calvinist could agree with all this. How does that select for the RCC?

    "The church needs to define that core and leave freedom about the rest."

    Why? Why the church? Randy keeps assuming what he needs to prove, floating empty assertions in place of reasoned arguments.
    This is the point. The Calvinist has no rational basis for protecting the core doctrines from question. They claim God never gave us a way to be sure of these things yet you say Calvinists agree it is needed. Did God fail to give the church the graces it needs to prevent heresy and schism?
    "That is why we have dogma. If we lose certainty about critical things then we end up with the idea that absolute truth is unimportant, unknowable, or even an illusion."

    Again, A Calvinist could agree with all that. How does this select for Catholicism?

    Let us put aside the Protestant movement for a moment. Don't the Greek Orthodox say the very same thing? How is Randy's formula an argument for Roman Catholicism rather than Greek Orthodoxy?
    Put it aside because it is indefensible? The Orthodox split is a different beast. They have valid apostolic succession. The only issue there is who should be pope. Let's get all the leaders together from both sides and pick a common pope. I'd support that.
    "That idea is common today and it is the fruit of the reformation."

    One would like to see something resembling a historical argument to back up this sweeping claim. There was a deep strain of scepticism that crept into Medieval communalism (e.g., Ockham, Biel). That's pre-Catholic.
    But why did those ideas take hold? Christians proved their thesis for them by spending many years fighting over the truth. Often they ended up killing each other. Scepticism was embraced to stop the bleeding.
    What about the Renaissance? Didn't that do a lot to shake up the Medieval synthesis? That was pre-Reformation.

    What about the French Enlightenment (e.g., Voltaire, Diderot and other philosophes)? That took place in a Catholic country.
    Again, there is a secular way of looking at history and a spiritual way of looking at it. Both are true. Christianity did it's best to self-destruct. If it wasn't for the Holy Spirit it would have disappeared entirely. Catholics were and are not immune from the effects as you are so helpful to point out.

    "If anything can be learned from the last 500 years it is that the reformation was a complete, total, and unconditional failure."

    Nothing like a healthy dose of hyperbole to shore up a sagging case.

    "It weakened the church by splitting into thousand of competing 'truths'."

    i) As I've argued in my essay on "The Four-Door Labyrinth," the diversity boils down to how you answer four basic questions.

    ii) I prefer a free market place of ideas to a monopoly on falsehood.
    People prefer their own ideas to the truth. That is why obedience is hard.
    iii) Freedom is messy. Just as there are Russians who wax nostalgic for the golden age of Stalinist purges and Tsarist serfdom, there are Catholics who look longingly at a church built on patent fraud (e.g., the False Decretals).
    Freedom is not only messy but it is unchristian. Where did this "free marketplace of ideas" come from? The bible? I don't think so. It is a sad second choice for all those who would prefer God clearly reveal Himself. He has done so but can we handle the truth?
    "It caused much bloodshed."

    i) Funny, I thought most of the blood was shed by Roman Catholic monarchs at the instigation of papacy, to stamp out the Protestant Reformation.
    I'm not surprised you would think that. All sides spilt a lot of blood. Often you saw protestants killing other protestants as well as Catholics.
    ii) And if Randy supposes that bloodshed discredits the claims of the Reformation, does Julius II discredit the claims of the papacy?
    Yes, bad popes discredit the papacy. Still you should believe it because God guarantees it.
    "It has created a long downward moral spiral especially in Europe and North America."

    i) Randy has a rather backwards view of historical causation. Remember the Pilgrim Fathers? America was colonized by Puritans. It would make more sense to date the downward spiral to the mass influx of Catholic immigrants in the 19-20C.
    I have said Catholics were influenced by scepticism as well. Still blaming Americas moral problems on Catholic immigration is ... interesting. To use a polite term.
    ii) You also have to wonder why folks like Randy leave themselves wide open for obvious counterexamples. What about the pedophile priesthood? What about the majority of American bishops who facilitated the pedophile priesthood? Indeed, they continue to stonewall to this day. And did the Vatican not know of those confidential, out-of-court, multimillion dollar settlements?
    Pedophile priesthood? No pedophiles among protestants? I know some cases personally. They never hit the media.
    What about Italian-American and other Roman Catholic directors in Hollywood and abroad who churn out all those R-rated movies? What about high profile Catholics like Sen. Kennedy, Gov. Cuomo, and Justice Brennan who have done so much to spearhead abortion-on-demand in America?
    Sure, Catholics are responsible for all evil in America. Whatever?

    "It has removed the connection between us, Jesus, the scriptures, and the new testament church."

    By my count, this is the third time that Randy has made that claim. I mounted a specific counter-argument against his claim in my last reply. You know, when someone gives you a reason for why he believes something, and you challenge that reason, and he continues to repeat himself without responding to the challenge, then is this a real reason, or does he say it because he feels the need to say something, and this is the only thing he can come up with? If he doesn't believe in his own reasons, why should anyone else?
    Sorry I missed the counter argument. You will have to connect it a little better. I will keep repeating this because it is my story. I met Jesus as a protestant. Becoming Catholic has connected me with Jesus through history. Historical Christianity is not protestant so protestants just jump from the new testament to the present day. That really made it hard to see how the new testament story is my story.
    "It's all rooted in 3 words: 'I am right'.

    This, again, misses the point. Where people disagree, someone is right and someone else is wrong--unless both are mistaken. What's the difference between Calvin saying "I'm right" and the Pope saying "I'm right?"
    The pope is ordained by God. Calvin is ordained by Calvin. Besides the pope never makes up new doctrine. He only defends the faith given to the apostles.
    "It is very hard to believe that God could create a church that knows more than you do. We can believe the Red Sea and the resurrection much easier."

    Which church are we talking about, Randy? It's as though Randy has "Roman Catholic" etched on his spectacles, so that every time he reads a reference to the church in Scripture, he sees the RCC.
    So what do you see? There is no protestant theology of church that fits the scriptures. Jesus started one church. That is the one referred to in scripture. To start something new, call it a church, and then say it's not clear what church is referred to. That is saying you have the same right to start a church as Jesus does. I believe Jesus is Lord. He has the keys of the Kingdom. He gives them to whoever he pleases. We don't get to choose. He does.
    "We just need to get over our own egos and bow before God."

    Once again, this sidesteps the essential question. Who speaks for God that we may bow before him? There is only one true God, but many false gods and many false prophets of the false gods. "Little children, keep yourselves from idols" (1 Jn 5:21).
    However God speaks he must have been speaking through all generations since Jesus. The idea that God has left this question unanswered seems indefensible to me.

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