Saturday, July 14, 2012

Pick a card, any card

Over at Called to Confusion, Brent has attempted to counter one of my illustrations:

 Keep in mind that my illustration was just one small piece of a much larger response. In the process, Brent has decontextualized my illustration.

Choosing to follow the Church Christ founded; namely, the Catholic Church, is far from convenient and affordable.

Brent misses the point of the comparison. The analogy wasn’t whether choosing Roman Catholicism is convenient and affordable. The analogy was about using reason to choose from competing alternatives. Cost and convenience is simply a consideration that people often use when deliberating between alternatives.

Lastly, the problem with your argument is that it proves too much. Let’s try your analogy, only let’s call it:

    “Tarot Card Christianity”:

    Let’s compare two different paradigms of decision-making:

    i) On one paradigm, you make decisions based on reason and evidence. You inform yourself about alternatives. You compare the advantages and disadvantages of each alternative in reference to the other alternatives. Then you opt for what seems to be the best overall choice.

    ii) On another paradigm, you investigate different Saviors in your area. You use your reason to decide which one is the most convenient and affordable.

    Having relied on reason to make that initial decision, you then rely on the Savior and His Book to make all your subsequent decisions for you. Whenever you have important decisions to make, you schedule a session with your personal “Lord and Savior” for a reading and prayer session. This is “manifestly superior” to the first method because you can always ask him or her follow-up questions to clarify ambiguities. He or she can always show you another passage of Scripture or “illuminate” your mind and explain its significance to your situation. You can be certain of what each passage means because you have been illuminated or can be illuminated.

    Of course, there’s just little catch in this decision-making paradigm. It’s only as reliable as your Savior.

    Christians like Joe and Suzy are like clients of a Tarot card reader. Yes, they can always get “answers” from their “savior”, but if the source is untrustworthy, then they’re moving ever further from the truth.

i) Let’s remind Brent of the original context. Ray Stamper, in a comment plugged by Liccione, said that up to a certain point, Catholics and Protestants are in the same boat. Both must use fallible reason in selecting their authority source. But having make that initial selection, there’s a “crucial difference”:

When Protestants opt for sola Scriptura, they must continue to use their fallible reason to interpret the Bible. By contrast, Catholics no longer need to lean on their fallible reason every step of the way, because the Magisterium can give them infallible answers.

You can’t question a book. But you can ask the Magisterium follow-up questions until you achieve clarity and certainty.

That was the argument. My counterargument compared two different types of decision-making. In one case we always use reason to make decisions.

In another case, we use reason to find a cartomancer. Having employed reason to make that initial choice, we no longer rely on reason to make major decisions. Rather, we consult our cartomancer. Because the cartomancer is a living respondent, we can always ask her questions and follow-up questions.

That’s the point of analogy. Now which is a better method of decision-making?

Both sides agree that Tarot cards are not a trustworthy form of guidance. So merely having the opportunity to question your authority source is not a reliable source of information. For that process is only as good as your authority source.

Likewise, relinquishing your reason is not inherently preferable to reliance on reason. Fallible reason is still vastly preferable to cartomancy.

ii) Do Catholics think the Magisterium is equivalent to cartomancy? No. But remember that Stamper and Liccione never presented a direct argument for the claims of the Magisterium. They didn’t try to show that that was true.

Instead, they contented themselves with a hypothetical, a priori argument. They can claim that putting yourself at the disposal of the Magisterium is fundamentally different from putting yourself at the disposal of a cartomancer, but that’s not something they argued for. That’s just a faith-statement on their part.

iii) How is Brent’s comparison analogous to Protestantism? Stamper said Protestants rely on reason from start to finish, in contrast to Catholics, who start with reason yet end with the Magisterium.

But Brent’s comparison is the opposite. On his analogy, Protestants have their own Tarot-card reader. They use reason up to a point, then switch to the cartomancer. So Brent reverses Stamper’s comparison. What’s disanalogous in Stamper’s illustration is analogous in Brent’s illustration.

So how does that undermine my parallel?

iv) Likewise, does Brent think Protestants are following a different Savior? If not, then wherein lies the comparison?

Only to make matters worse, as your friend notes (slightly edited):

    But their belief in the infallibility of the savior is a fallible belief. They fallibly believe the savior is infallible, even if the savior is actually fallible. There’s no certainty that what they fallibly believe about the savior corresponds to what the savior is really like.

How does that comparison make matters worse? Brent isn’t showing that similar consequences fail to obtain in the case of Catholicism. He’s merely attempting to show that Protestants are saddled with the same (or similar) consequences.

But how does that vindicate Catholicism? How does that demonstrate the superiority of the Catholic interpretive paradigm? To say your position suffers from the same problems as mine is hardly an argument for my paradigm.

Moreover, I didn’t concede that framework. I only accepted that framework for the sake of argument. I don’t grant that “fallible reason” has the sceptical consequences that Liccione imputes to it.

1 comment:

  1. Steve, this is an excellent follow-up and clarification to what was clearly a hasty and sloppy response to your piece.