Tuesday, February 21, 2006

I never sang for my father

Catholicism and atheism are two sides of the same coin. Both represent a state of arrested adolescence. Both suffer from a father-fixation.

As Vern Poythress has observed:

“For very young children, the children’s response to their parents is the primary avenue for expressing their relation to God. Parents represent God to their children, by virtue of their authority, their responsibilities, and their role as a channel for God’s blessings. Children first learn what God is like primarily through their parents’ love and discipline. The Fatherhood of God is represented through a good human father. God’s forgiveness of sins is represented primarily through the parents’ forgiveness and patience towards their children.”


Hence, it is natural for young sons to deify their fathers. For, in the economy of God, our fleshly fathers are intended to be godlike figures.

But, by the same token, our fleshly fathers are, in this respect, placeholders. This is a temporary role which they are meant to relinquish.

There comes a point in adolescence when young men are supposed to transfer that reverence from their fleshly fathers to God the Father.

We continue to love and honor our fleshly fathers, but we no longer hold them to that God-like ideal.

In Scripture, this transition is typically demarcated by marriage, whereby a son is emancipated from paternal authority in order to become a husband and father and thereby form his own authority-structure (Gen 2:24).

In Catholicism and atheism alike, that transition is never made. In Catholicism, this godlike paternal reverence is transferred, not to God, but to the church.

Herein lies the elemental appeal of Catholicism. For it hinges on a natural half-truth. Many vices are natural virtues gone awry.

In Catholicism, paternal reverence is transferred from our natural father to the “Holy Father” (the Pope), the local bishop, and the priest, who, not coincidentally, goes by the title of “Father.”

Traditionally, the boundaries of Catholic dogmas were delimited by the unanimous consent of the Church Fathers.

And you still have Catholics who attack Evangelicalism because we refuse to defer to the Church Fathers.

This attitude is exactly like the grown-man who continues, quite literally, to worship the ground his father walks on.

Dad can do no wrong. Whatever Dad believes, his boy believes. If Dad’s a Democrat, his son’s a Democrat. If Dad’s Republican, he son’s Republican. If Dad’s Catholic, his son’s Catholic. If Dad’s a Mormon, his son’s a Mormon.

For a man with this mindset, any deviation from the paternal path is nothing short of treason.

Here we have a rather obvious case of arrested development. Physically, the son is now a man, but emotionally he remains a boy.

For a normal man, it is possible to respect your father’s opinions, but form opinions of your own. To disagree with him is not a subsersive activity.

And, psychologically speaking, this lack of maturation is replicated in Catholicism.

Paul Owen, the man-child, supplies a classic example. Owen has gone from one paternalistic religion (Mormonism) to another paternalistic religion (Anglo-Catholicism).

Put another way, Owen has never left his father’s house. He’s only changed bedrooms.

Just consider his Mariolatry. He’s defended the perpetual virginity of Mary. And he has chided Evangelicals for their failure to defer to the Church Fathers and the Protestant Reformers on this point.

But, what could be more juvenile? Just ask yourself this question: How is Calvin in any position to know if Mary was a virgin all her life? How do you know that any woman is a virgin? Can you tell just by looking at her? Is “virginity” stamped on her forehead?

There would only be two ways of knowing if Mary was a virgin all her life—either by revelation or else by performing a medical examination.

Did Calvin ever perform a medical examination on Mary? I don’t think so. Did Paul Owen ever perform a medical examination on Mary? Not that I’m aware of.

Did Calvin lay claim to private revelation? No.

BTW, let’s be clear on just what it is Catholicism that asserts. It is not merely that Joseph and Mary never consummated their marriage.

Rather, the Catholic dogma has it that Mary was a virgin “ante partum, in partu, and post partum.”

So, when Jesus was born, he did not open his mother’s womb or rupture her hymen. He did not pass through the birth canal.

It was, instead, like something out of Star Trek. Scottie beamed Jesus out of his mother’s womb, transporter style.

Notice how this evinces the deep-seated hatred of Roman Catholicism for womanhood, and motherhood. Heaven forbid that Jesus should be contaminated by direct contact with his mother’s reproductive system. No, only a Gnostic, Docetic birth would preserve his purity.

If Catholicism represents one extreme, atheism represents the other. The atheist is the lifelong teenage rebel.

Whatever the old man believes, he believes the opposite. Whatever the old man does, he does the opposite.

He continues to live in his father’s shadow by the very way he tries to escape it. For his father remains the frame of reference.

We all know the type. I have a cousin like that. He could never forgive his father because his old man was a bit overbearing, a bit of a control-freak when my cousin was growing up.

My cousin is now in his fifties. He life has been an unmitigated failure.

You see, at one level he’s still attempting to please his old man—a man who’s been dead for 25 years.

If we never outgrow our godlike reverence for our fleshly fathers, then, sooner or later, Dad will disappoint us. And then the great disillusionment will set it. The sense of betrayal.

Dad is only human. What is more, dad is a sinner. A father cannot forever live up to such utterly inhuman expectations. He was never meant to. We do him as well as ourselves a big favor by relieving him of this onerous responsibility at the nearest opportunity.

One needs to distinguish between the man and the role. God has assigned a certain role for fathers to play. They are, in a sense, understudies for God. Some fathers play the part better than others.

But an actor is just an actor. The only individual who was ever typecast to play the part of God was Jesus.

Like a Catholic, an atheist also transfers his father-fixation to other men and institutions.

Why is it that man like Ramsey Clark or Noam Chomsky is in the grip of self-loathing for the country of his birth? Why do they demonize the United States for common faults while excusing or even extolling far worse regimes?

Because the government has become their surrogate father-figure, which is, in turn, a numinous emblem. And any imperfection in God is unpardonable.

Those who begin by divinizing the creature can easily end by demonizing the creature. For the creature will inevitably dash our godlike expectations.

In Catholicism and atheism alike, the attitude is out of all discernable proportion to the object.

Evangelicalism is the only belief-system for grown-ups. We respect authority. But we situate authority where it belongs.

We submit to the authority of God’s word. Having left father and mother, we transfer our ultimate allegiance to God the Father, and his Son, and his Spirit.

Atheism exists for overgrown children. Catholicism exists for overgrown children. They are two nurseries with a common door. But if you want to be an adult, be a Protestant.


  1. You wrote: "In Catholicism and atheism alike, that transition is never made. In Catholicism, this godlike paternal reverence is transferred, not to God, but to the church."

    Very interesting. Never thought of it like this.

  2. This brings up the Catholic (and Orthodox) approach to Matthew 23:9 ("Call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven"), which is effectively to interpret it out of existence (here http://www.catholic.com/library/Call_No_Man_Father.asp is a typical example).

    Rather than playing word-games with that sentence in isolation ("But you call your own dad 'Father'! And Paul calls Timothy his 'son'!"), we look at it in context, which is much less vulnerable to word-games. In the preceding verse ("But you are not to be called 'Rabbi [Teacher]', for you have only one Master and you are all brothers"), Jesus makes it clear that the structure of the church, at least among its adult members, is to be an egalitarian one -- "for you are all brothers" (ie, there is still room for the authority of husbands over wives and of both over children.)

    When reading Scott Hahn's book Rome Sweet Home, I was struck by how he argued himself into Catholicism by "working out" that covenant theology required the church to be structured as a pyramidical hierarchy of families. No mention at all of "None of you is Teacher, none is Master, none is Father over the others; you are all brothers".

    It is incongruous that, as regards the one institution that Scripture, when read literally, * does * seem to give final and infallible authority -- the State -- Catholics realise that obviously this authority is not final and unconditional; nothwithstanding the sweeping language of Romans 13 (far more sweeping than "On this rock..."), you can be a good citizen even while respectfully telling the civil ruler "We must obey God rather than men". Yet when it comes to the church, the RC argument is you can't have any authority at all unless it's final and infallible: that you're either a small child in unconditional obedience to your father, or else you're a Ham or a parricide.

  3. So Scott Hahn doesn't understand Covenant Theology either... Considering Covenant Theology is Calvinism which is biblical doctrine that doesn't surprise.

    He probably was under the influence of Auburn Avenue or Federal Vision or New Perspective on Paul types who put things soteriological into ecclesiology.

  4. K7,

    You're getting very warm. It was either Scott Hahn or Matatics who, in prepping for his ordination exams in the PCA, I believe, was drilled by James Jordan. That experience may well have steered him in the smells-and-bells direction.

  5. JBJ, however, later wrote "The Liturgy Trap" http://www.fpcr.org/blue_banner_articles/trap.htm -- possibly by way of expiation?

    PS: 4given, please remove or pixellate your mugshot, as your beauty is tempting me to sin in my heart.