Monday, February 22, 2010

Beware of Catholic apologists bearing "gifted lawyers"

Mark Shea has posted a guest editorial by a "gifted lawyer."

"Triablogue’s disctintion between a 'fetishism' that regards objects as having spiritual power by virtue of 'inherent holiness' and a 'fetishism' that regards objects as having spiritual power because of 'ascriptive holiness' is very interesting. "

Of course, I never said that some objects actually have inherent holiness. Rather, I drew a conceptual distinction to illustrate that, for Catholics, what makes a priest or monk or nun a holy person is, first and foremost, the ascriptive holiness of their vocation, and not their inherent sanctity.

Nor was I myself endorsing their ascriptive holiness. I was simply describing the system on its own terms.

"Apparently so, because Triablogue asserts that 'there’s nothing inherently wrong with the idea of ritual purity or impurity' and 'God has actually authorized' holy inanimate things like 'holy time' and 'holy space.'"

That would be a case of ascriptive holiness rather than actual holiness. And it must be specified by God.

"In addition to 'holy time' and 'holy space' it would be interesting to learn about other objects which Protestants believe to confer 'ritual purity.'"

I didn't address the question of whether "sacred" objects confer "ritual purity." And even if that's sometimes the case, the fact that (say), a Mosaic rite conferred ritual purity doesn't mean an extrabiblical rite confers ritual purity.

"It would be interesting to know that equally-ignorant Protestant farmers tried to feed the Bible to their cows. (Would one chapter of Luke cure, or is the entire book required?"

I never said the paper and ink of Scripture is holy. Is this lawyer simply dense?

Maybe he thinks it's a clever satire, but satire needs an element of truth to work.

"So the question remains; what is it that Protestants do with 'holy' physical things?"

I never said there were holy physical things in the church age.

"According to Triablogue, Protestants acquire 'ritual purity.'"

Except that he can't actually quote me on that. Is he just obtuse?

"What 'ritual purity' might be isn’t really explained."

If he read a standard commentary on Leviticus (to take one example), he'd understand.

"In the end, however, Triablogue rightly admits the efficacious place of rituals in Christian life and worship."

I made no such admission. And even if a ritual were "efficacious," it would only be efficacious in conferring ritual purity, not actual purity.

"...a thing or action that has spiritual/magical power."

That accurately describes the Catholic notion. But it's not the biblical notion of ritual purity.

"As Triablogue rightly admits, anyone who has even a passing familiarity with the Bible knows that rituals are efficacious in becoming pure before God."

Which is not what I said. Isn't this guy a lawyer? Don't you hire a lawyer to read the fine print? For a lawyer, his reading skills are lamentable.

"What Triablogue really means to say is that Protestant fetishes are good because they’re 'really' holy..."

Except that I didn't say that or imply that. He's such a knucklehead. Some folks are never dumber than when they try to be clever. The effort to seem clever merely exposes their ineptitude.

"First, Protestantism teaches that through the Fall man became entirely evil, the willing servant of Satan in all things, un-utrerably wicked in every thought and deed. Second, Protestantism teaches that the grace which redeems man from this evil is irresistable; when it is granted, no human being can choose to deny it or hinder its effect. Third, Protestantism teaches that Scripture inevitably leads the grace-filled to the right beliefs expressed in various credos the Westminster Catchism or Calvin’s Institutes."

A stereotypical caricature or congeries of half-truths.

"Anglican nuns aren’t relevant to Triablogue’s depiction..."

Since I'm not Anglican, so what?

"Infant baptism and the Real Presence aren’t relevant to Triablogue’s idea of perverse..."

Infant baptism and the real presence are separate issues. It's possible to affirm both, deny both, or affirm one but not the other.

"So that’s what Triablogue believes -- God has forgiven his sins, so he may whore all he likes!"

Of course, I don't limit divine grace to objective grace.

"To follow Triablogue’s line of thought, Protestants can wax eloquent over the lifestyle of John Knox or St. Paul or Martin Luther while they themselves are free to live like Henry VIII, Horst Wessel, or Elmer Gantry and Sister Falconer, christening their infants at baptismal fonts (more popery!) decorated with Adolf Hitler – all because they delegate ‘discipleship’ to ministers, televangelists and other stand-ins."

i) Of course, Protestant role models don't have the same theological significance in Protestant theology that priests, monks, and nuns have in Catholicism.

If we regard John Knox as a role model, it's not because of his institutional position, but because of his actual wisdom or sanctity (by the grace of God).

ii) Moreover, the lawyer is comparing one denomination (Roman Catholicism) with many Protestant denominations or movements. But it's fallacious to suggest that if I view John Knox as a role model, I must also view Benny Hinn as a role model.

iii) Why is he bringing up Adolf Hitler? Wasn't Hitler baptized and raised Roman Catholic? Why is that comparison my problem?

"I wonder what 'practical impact' the abuse scandals are supposed to have on Catholics, so that Triablogue can say there is none."

For starters, defrocking complicit bishops. Prosecuting complicit bishops. And reforming the institutional policies which promote this abuse (e.g. mandatory celibacy).

"The only "practical impact" I can think of is that Catholics might stop believing in their heresies, give up their fetishes, and turn to the One True Gospel of the Reformed[TM]."

Well, that would be ideal.

"Twenty-four Lutheran, Presbyterian, Methodist and Anglican churches and organizations whose clergy and employees were guilty of sexually, psychologically and physically abusing children."

Which misses the point. As Protestants, we aren't tied to corrupt institutions or corrupt officeholders.

"Giving up one’s faith because of scandals like Nazareth House makes sense if scandals like Nazareth House were the sum of one’s faith."

Losing faith in a corrupt institution is a good thing. That's hardly equivalent to losing faith in Christ.

"Or, like Triablogue, they think people who believes in transubstantiation, indulgences and papal infallibility are programmed to be sadomasochistic perverts or enablers of sadomasochistic perverts."

Maybe because they are enablers. Wasn't the papacy aware of priestly abuse before the story broke? Didn't the Vatican review many such cases? Didn't the Vatican have to greenlight those out-of-court settlements, with their confidentiality agreements?

" the Iron Triangle’s "sin proves heresy" paradigm.

Which wasn't my argument.

"Surely such nominally-Protestant sinners were never truly, truuly reformed believers. If they had been truly, truuuly reformed, irresistable grace would have kept them from beating and raping children, exterminating native cultures, or running suicide cults. Adolf Eichmann was raised as a Protestant? So what."

If he thinks that born-again Christians commit child rape or run suicide cults, then that's a revealing window into his theological outlook.

"The Protestant Reformation and Counter-reformation wars, starting in the 16th century, were perpetrated by those in charge of church. All sides, Lutheran, Calvinist, Catholic and Anglican, believed that one could follow Jesus and simultaneously massacre members of the body of Christ who were not part of their particular fellowship."

The papacy waged war on the Protestant movement. Moreover, was that the general view of the rank-and-file, or was that royal policy–where ambitious monarchs conscripted able-bodied men to advance their political aims?

"The American Civil War resulted in the brutal deaths of over 600,000 Americans, virtually all-claiming Christianity as their faith."

Has he ever heard of the draft? Were these all volunteers?

"The North used the Bible as justification for total war."

Was Gen. Sherman or Gen. Grant a devout Christian?

"The atomic bombing of Nagasaki annihilated the historical and spiritual center of Oriental Christianity. That bombing is still regarded as pointless overkill by all credible historians. Did you know that an all-Christian bomb crew carried out that bombing? And did you know that mission was solemnly blessed by its Catholic and Lutheran chaplains?"

Aside from the fact that that's a very lopsided version of the argument, how does mentioning the benediction of Catholic chaplains for a mission that the Catholic commenter deplores help to make his case for Catholicism?

"The on-going genocide of indigenous peoples ever since the time of Columbus are [sic] largely accomplished with the full knowledge, consent and participation of decent, "God-fearing" Christians."

You mean the Spaniards? Conquistators? Weren't they from the most devoutly Catholic nation in Europe at that time?

"The true God, whose children aren’t drunk on the blood of martyrs, is worshipped by the anabaptists -- peaceful people whom Philip Melancthon and Martin Luther wanted to exterminate."

If that is meant to exclude the Magisterial Reformation, it also excludes the church of Rome. So what did the commenter just accomplish?

" Yes, that’s your reflection in the mirror, Triablogue. How do you like you now?"

Since I don't subscribe to identity politics, it has no bearing on me personally. I don't define myself in institutional terms the way a Catholic must. Therefore, the attempt at collective guilt falls flat.

"Why not? Applying the Iron Triangle’s 'sin proves falsehood' test..."

A simpleminded caricature of my stated position.

"...a hundred thousand Klansmen marching in Washington prove that sola scriptura is just an excuse for thuggery."

That's a very odd comparison. For, by the commenter’s logic, we shouldn't judge racist ideology by incidental abuses like lynching. That would be so unfair, you know.

"As Triablogue might say, Mennonite indifference to -- even complicity in -- evil has had no practical effect on them, because they keep on being anabaptists. No doubt this represents a sickening flaw in anabaptist theology, but if it’s not indulgences or papal infallibility I’m not sure what Triablogue would identify."

Since I'm not a Mennonite, the onus is hardly on me to defend Mennonite theory and practice. And, as a matter of fact, I do think that Mennonite pacifism is deeply flawed. So the comparison backfires.

"That still leaves Triablogue with Lutheran, Presbyterian and Evangelical pastors molesting children on a shocking scale..."

He hasn't cited any statistical evidence that they do so on a "shocking scale."

And if, say, a denomination, or local church, or Evangelical college, or seminary, or individual pastor, were guilty, then the perpetrators ought to be brought to justice and (where applicable), they should also be defrocked.

Moreover, some institutions can become hopelessly compromised, at which point the faithful have a duty to pack their bags and go elsewhere.

"And Triablogue rightly admits that Protestants have fetishes in the proper definition of the word..."

Except that I didn't.

BTW, I'm not "Triablogue." Triablogue is not a proper name. Rather, it's a group blog. I only speak for myself.

"Therefore, one might wrongly conclude, Catholicism encourages devotees to believe that inflicting pain on children is spiritually-uplifting, or at least spiritually-benign."

No, that wasn't the point. The point is that Catholics revere nuns in the abstract. I was drawing attention to the sometimes drastic discrepancy between Hallmark card imagery and the sordid reality.

"Homoeroticism, pain to abuse victims, pain as a priest’s spritual experience -- it’s all tied together, plain as the nose on your face -- somehow."

Which I didn't argue.

"Protestants aren’t molesting boys because they read about David and Jonathan."

What's that supposed to me? Does the Catholic commenter share the interpretation of homosexual propagandists?

In fact, either he or Shea actually linked to an article defending that interpretation:

"Did God bless David and Jonathan, a same sex couple in romantic, committed, sexual partnership?"

Is this what Catholic apologetics has come to?

If his response reflects the work of a "gifted lawyer" who coauthored one of Shea's books, then it's time to return the gift for a refund.


  1. Plaintiff = "Gifted" Lawyer

    Defendant = Steve Hays representing himself.

    A Member of the Blog Jury = Me.

    This one juror votes "Not Guilty" by way of (lopsided) logical refutation.

  2. I wonder if that 'gifted lawyer' was Peter Sean Bradley...