Friday, October 28, 2005

The sad state of Catholic anti-intellectualism

Jonathan Prejean has now sallied forth once more from his on-again/off-again retirement to wage war on no fewer than four different fronts: Jason Engwer, the Pedantic Protestant, D. T. King, and yours truly.

1.Prejean takes issue with the PP’s charge that the Catholics he has known have an amateurish grasp of Scripture.

The problem here is that you have two kinds of Catholics. On the one hand, there are those with a very competent command of exegesis. These are scholars like Ray Brown, Murphy-O’Connor, Joseph Fitzmyer, and L. T. Johnson, to name a few.

They’re liberal by evangelical standards, but they ask the right questions of the text and they often give the right answers.

Problem is: what they say doesn’t make a dent in Catholic theology. It doesn’t feed into Catholic theology. Catholic dogma is driven by historical theology rather than exegetical theology. Catholicism committed itself to certain positions a long time ago, and these are not subject to revision in light of better exegesis. The Catholic church only turns to Scripture to legitimate a preexisting practice or belief. It doesn’t derive its practice or belief from direct interaction with the text of Scripture. And even if it did, a dogmatic misinterpretation is irreformable.

The other kind of Catholics follow from the first kind. Because they know that tradition is the steam engine and Scripture is the caboose, they don’t bother to have a competent grasp of Scripture. They have no incentive to ask the right questions. They simply go through the motions of appealing to Scripture.

As Kung said of Rahner:
“A second fundamental defect in Rahner’s theology also becomes evident to me: the lack of historical-critical exegesis. Rahner once laughingly advised a student known to me that it was enough to go to lectures on exegesis for one or two semesters; but in the end dogmatics was decisive,” My Struggle With Freedom (Eerdmans 2003), 252.

2.Prejean also brings up St. Jerome in this connection. That’s an ill-chosen choice to illustrate his position. Evangelicals have great respect for Jerome. Because he lived in the Holy Land, because he studied with rabbis there, he’s a useful source of information.

Evangelicals agree with Jerome’s argument for the Jewish canon of the OT. Evangelicals also agree with Jerome’s exegetical defense of Daniel’s prophecies (I own a copy of his commentary), whereas Benedict XVI has sided with Porphyry, the great pagan opponent of the Christian faith. The only reason to agree with Porphyry is if you share his worldview.

So I appreciate Prejean’s high regard for Jerome, and if he happens to have the Pope’s email address, perhaps he could encourage Benedict XVI to recover that same measure of respect for Jerome’s exegesis.

3.Prejean then levels the accusation that “These people aren't capable of questioning Scriptural authority, and that's an intellectual weakness.”

i) This is a very simplistic allegation. To begin with, it is a fact of life, and a very striking fact indeed, that many men and women come to the faith by merely reading the Bible. That’s it. Nothing more. Just reading the Bible is sufficient for many to engender faith in the Bible. The Bible, all by its little lonesome, has that kind of persuasive power.

And if, in fact, the Bible is the word of God, then one would expect it to have that inherent power to persuade.

And, as a practical matter, it could hardly be otherwise. Most Christians are not intellectuals.

So what are we to do with all these Christians, and they’re not all Protestant, by any means, who find that they can’t help believing in the Bible? That they have this spontaneous and irrepressible faith in Scripture? They cannot not believe in Scripture. They simply find it compelling and convincing as is, period.

And there’s nothing all that unusual about this. Belief is essentially involuntary. We don’t will ourselves to believe or disbelieve. Belief is not a sheer act of the will. Rather, we are predisposed to believe certain things when presented with suitable evidence. The combination of the evidence with the predisposition automatically triggers a believing state of mind. And the same evidence presented to a jaundiced observer will trigger disbelief.

ii) Which brings us to the next point. For other Christians it isn’t all that simple. They come to the Bible with certain preconceptions which form an intellectual impediment to faith. Until the impediment is removed, this is a mental block to faith in Scripture.

These individuals need explicit reasons, corroborative evidence, and answers to their objections. This is all the more so given the cottage industry we’ve had since the Enlightenment to discredit the claims of Scripture at every turn.

iii) In addition, some people are temperamentally prone to self-doubt, which spills over in religious doubts of one degree or another. They also benefit from supporting arguments and supporting evidence. Feelings are feeble, fickle things, but reasons have a certain tenacity to them.

4.Prejean next takes aim at the doctrine of inerrancy:
“That's why I consider the Chicago Statement on Inerrancy so incredibly implausible; I can't imagine how I could credit the truth of propositional content based solely on authority.”

This totally misses the point. The Chicago Statement was never intended to make a case for inerrancy. It was framed at a time when various Evangelical institutions like Fuller Seminary, the SBC, and the LCMS were mainstreaming and liberalizing.

The purpose of the Chicago Statement was to clarify the boundaries of inerrancy, of what inerrancy allows and disallows. It was designed to eliminate certain loopholes and rebut certain red-herrings.

The Chicago Statement presupposes the inerrancy of Scripture rather than proving it. By definition, only Bible-believing Christians would ever subscribe to the Chicago Statement. In these respects it has the same functions and limitations as any other creed.

If you’re looking for an argument as to why we should subscribe to the doctrine of Scripture formulated in the Chicago Statement, you will have to look elsewhere.

BTW, I don’t see that Pius IX or Leo XIII would have had any great difficulty being signatories to the Chicago Statement. The fact that Prejean doesn’t like it is symptomatic of the triumph of modernism in the Catholic church today.

5.Finaly, Prejean says:
“This whole "damned if you do; damned if you don't" matter of anti-Catholic stereotyping is pretty incredible. If I'm intellectually curious, then I'm "speculating beyond the bounds of Biblical authority," and yet, I'm simultaneously supposed to be so incurious that I accept whatever the Magisterium tells me.”

Actually, the arguments that Jason and I and the PP (I can’t speak for King) have had with Jonathan have next to nothing to do with the authority of Scripture.

For the most part our debates were over the proper hermeneutic to use when interpreting a document from the past. A guy like James Barr, who has zero respect for the authority of Scripture, employs the grammatico-historical method no less than does the Evangelical inerrantist.

Again, Prejean is free to speak for himself, but in my many exchanges with Roman Catholics on the Internet, it’s just like talking to a Mormon or J-Dub. They give me their reasons for what they believe. I critique their reasons, on their own grounds. They then reply by simply repeating their original reasons—like a prerecorded message.

But even this is a cut above Prejean, who gives no reasons at all, but spends all his time prepositioning himself for the perfect playoff, which—conveniently enough--never comes.

14 comments:

  1. And so you see exactly what I mean. They simply aren't capable of getting around the anti-intellectual structure of the false dichotomy:
    "The problem here is that you have two kinds of Catholics. On the one hand, there are those with a very competent command of exegesis. These are scholars like Ray Brown, Murphy-O’Connor, Joseph Fitzmyer, and L. T. Johnson, to name a few.

    They’re liberal by evangelical standards, but they ask the right questions of the text and they often give the right answers.

    Problem is: what they say doesn’t make a dent in Catholic theology. It doesn’t feed into Catholic theology. Catholic dogma is driven by historical theology rather than exegetical theology. Catholicism committed itself to certain positions a long time ago, and these are not subject to revision in light of better exegesis. The Catholic church only turns to Scripture to legitimate a preexisting practice or belief. It doesn’t derive its practice or belief from direct interaction with the text of Scripture. And even if it did, a dogmatic misinterpretation is irreformable."

    Of course, even Protestants recognize that what Hays says here about the "two kinds" of Catholicism is ridiculous:
    http://www.communiosanctorum.com/?p=93#comments

    But this is the guy who supposedly "critiques [my] reasons, on [my] own grounds." Think maybe my critic not only doesn't understand what I'm saying but also doesn't even try to do so, preferring to make argument from a position of studied ignorance? Yeah, me too. But I'm supposed to make time constructing an argument for people who obstinately refuse to listen. Whatever. I just refuse to talk with people who refuse to discuss things reasonably; that's all there is too it. Hays is not reasonable, because reasonable people make intellectual efforts to understand and give meaning to what opponents say.

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  2. Prejean - in terms of intellectual sophistication and facility with academic discourse, as one pundit has put it so well, you are a “cold fish in clown's pants” I'm afraid.

    Based on my observations, you have demonstrated an unfortunate tendency to avoid making an actual argument for your claims and then when you are challenged on this front, you repeatedly retreat behind, "[my interlocutor] just isn't reasonable..." or "[my interlocutor] just isn't listening..." in order to avoid actually constructing… an argument.

    Has it ever occurred to you how ridiculously transparent these rhetorical tactics are?

    Hays has pegged you rightly as a hopeless obscurantist.

    As far as the link from Macleod – apart from the gross oversimplification involved in his portrayal of the [allegedly] harmonious relationship between the Roman Catholic academy and Church (which is an entirely laughable assertion for someone who has studied the serious divisions that have erupted between clerical and lay scholars in the Catholic communion), like you, he didn’t even attempt to substantiate these assertions.

    Just

    More

    Bald

    Assertions

    !

    Forgive those of us in advance who are actually interested in warrant for your dogmatic claims Jonathan.

    As far as your apparent aversion to Hays’ claim about the reality of divergent strains of Catholicism. May I offer a suggestion? You might want to ditch your antiquated essentialist categories of thought when referring to “Catholicism.”

    There is no such entity – just millions of Catholicism(s), each one merely instantiated every time someone like yourself presumes to speak for “the one true church” and what it actually believes.

    If you're interested in challenging the veracity of the preceding assertion - I'd be more than willing to retract it if you're willing to help me find the mythical "Catholicism" you seem to so naively believe in.

    And btw, as someone who (presumably) holds to the utterly ridiculous doctrine of papal infallibility, you have demonstrated quite a bit of temerity to refer to anyone else as a “fundamentalist hick.”

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  3. Der Fuersprecher said:

    "Has it ever occurred to you how ridiculously transparent these rhetorical tactics are?"

    Yes, Jonathan seems to think that he's deceiving more people than he actually is deceiving. He claims that Steve and other opponents are too unreasonable to interact with, yet he repeatedly breaks his word by continuing to selectively interact with them. When he was on better terms with Steve earlier this year, he ignored large portions of what Steve wrote in their exchanges at that time as well. He's still trying to avoid addressing much of what his opponents say, but his excuse for doing it has changed. Now he claims that people like Steve are just too unreasonable to interact with. I don't know how anybody could conclude that Jonathan has been on the better side of these exchanges unless the person reaching that conclusion was predisposed to want Jonathan to win. And I doubt that many of those people have been impressed with his performance.

    Steve is to be commended for persisting in documenting Jonathan's errors. I know that a lot of people appreciate his work.

    Jason Engwer
    http://members.aol.com/jasonte
    New Testament Research Ministries
    http://www.ntrmin.org

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  4. Oh shut up, Steve. Geez. Get with it, you private radical theonomic anarchist.

    Jonathan is totally right, you know. Why, after he dropped the 34th name and 117th book reference, it all makes perfectly good sense to me now.

    And Der F, you dum Babtist, take your individualism and autonomy and stick it next to your Wonderbread communion bread and your Welch's Grape juice, k?

    Oh Jason, you just don't get it, boy.

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  5. Like I said, I can't think for you. At some point, you babies are going to have to stop whining about "obscurantism" and figure out what the argument is and why people are persuaded by it. The problem is that you hate Catholicism SO MUCH that you can't even be charitable about the arguments, which is why you people continue to embarrass yourselves among the thinking human population. People blinded by antipathy cannot make good arguments, period. It's the same emotional populist nonsense that led to nativism and the KKK, and in all this time, we haven't come any farther. Until you own up to the fact that this is a personal problem, that you are motivated by blind, unreasoning hatred rather than reason, you're never going to get better, and eventually, you're going to be spitted and roasting in hellfire. If nothing else, then for your souls' sakes, just develop the discipline to think for once in your life. Protestantism does NOT have to make you stupid, unless you let it. The sad thing is that a *secular Jew* could see this more clearly than the self-proclaimed Christians. If that isn't enough to bring you to shame, then what is?

    Rant over. God help you all

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  6. Really, Jonathan, you're soooo Medieval. You need to stop reading Dante and get with the program. Hell is doing a disappearing act in contemporary Catholic theology. Just read Rahner. Just read von Balthasar. Just read John-Paul II. Just read Benedict XVI. Hell is getting smaller and smaller by the day until there will be nothing left except for the Devil and a few Antipopes.

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  7. Jonny is my hero! How can you possibly refute the charges of hate, bigotry, intolerance, and the threat of hell? Those are winning arguments.

    He's right, though, you're all too stupid to see how brilliant he is, you racist Klanlike Klowns.

    When you get past your personal problems, folks, you'll be upgraded in our books to "merely stupid."

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  8. Jonathan --- let's split this Loserville and go talk about how stupid these guys are at other message boards!

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  9. I just hope that all the best real estate Down Under hasn't been snapped up already. If I can't get a waterfront lot, a view property overlooking the lake of fire would do.

    What's the going rate for an indulgence these days? Perhaps Jonathan can pull some strings for me with the Vatican.

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  10. Bravo Jonathan!

    How any of your opponents are able to endure the withering force of your compelling arguments is beyond me (and the Enloevian ALL CAPS touch was especially nice as well - a true marker of scholastic excellence, much like multiple exclamation points)!!!!!

    On another front (and I alluded to this somewhat in my earlier comment), have you ever wondered if your belief in an objective "Catholicism" is actually nothing more than an artificial construct? Is it possible that it's merely a synthetic attempt to impose epistemic stability on (what is in reality) an entity that is in constant (and chaotic) flux? In other words, by calling it "Catholicism" some would say that you’re just pretending that it’s a single uniform entity.

    Surely you recognize this at least implicitly if not explicitly – and I suspect that you deal with the reality of the broad diversity that exists within “Catholicism” by employing dualistic qualifiers like “normative” or “true” (which describe the type of Catholicism you subscribe to no doubt).

    And Hays – that is a very amusing response to the rhetorical power play which consigned you to the nether regions for refusing to assent to truly thinking assertions that lack nothing except for the small matter of warrant.

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  11. Never mind Hell. The New Jerusalem is going to be 1,500 miles wide and 1,500 high. How much populace per square mile do you suppose that piece of real estate will have?

    As an aside (and w/o Scriptual proof, granted), Hell may not even have the INSP channel- perhaps an added punishment for never having read "The Roman Catholic Controversy" or "The Purpose Driven Life" (The later being the Catholic equivalent of a mortal sin).

    The good news for Catholics who troll this blog is that the treasury of merits gleaned from the anti-catholic posters, will, ironically enough, usher them into the Beatific Vision quicker than they can say the words "plenary indulgence"!

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  12. Crimson Catholic said: "Whatever. I just refuse to talk with people who refuse to discuss things reasonably; that's all there is too it. Hays is not reasonable, because reasonable people make intellectual efforts to understand and give meaning to what opponents say."


    Oh boy. Now you've gone and done it. Jonathan's not talking to you again. Although it is hard to tell, because he keeps interrupting the silence with more talk.

    By the way Steve, I wanted to thank you for giving Jonathan's arguments meaning. It's only through that kind of generosity that his arguments had any meaning at all to me.

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  13. Crimson Catholic said: "Until you own up to the fact that this is a personal problem, that you are motivated by blind, unreasoning hatred rather than reason, you're never going to get better, and eventually, you're going to be spitted and roasting in hellfire. If nothing else, then for your souls' sakes, just develop the discipline to think for once in your life. Protestantism does NOT have to make you stupid, unless you let it. The sad thing is that a *secular Jew* could see this more clearly than the self-proclaimed Christians. If that isn't enough to bring you to shame, then what is?

    Rant over. God help you all"

    Hey, it looks like he finally cooled off enough to post again...Oh wait, it doesn't sound like he's cooled off at all!!

    Kinda sounds like Jonathan Edwards.

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