Sunday, June 17, 2018

Weathercock apologetics

Recently I was reading two newer books on Catholicism, which I intend to comment on in the near future: Trent Horn: The Case for Catholicism and Thomas Joseph White, The Light of Christ: An Introduction to Catholicism

I was curious to sample cutting edge Catholic theology and apologetics. I think Horn is considered by some to be the best of the up-and-coming generation of Catholic apologists. His book has endorsements by fellow apologists.

White moves in a higher orbit. He has a fancier education. His book carries endorsements by Bishop Barron, Bishop Chaput, Ed Feser, and papal biographer George Weigel. 

In terms of the current crop, this seems to be as good as it gets. But more on that for later posts. 

For now I'd like to make a general observation. One reason (among many) that I'm not Catholic is that a 21C Catholic apologist has to be like a lawyer: prepared to argue both sides of the case. That's because the Roman church makes dramatic midcourse changes. 

When that happens, it nullifies the arguments for the status quo ante. A 19C Catholic apologist marshals arguments for what Catholicism represented in the 19C. But when the ground shifts in the 20-21C, that cancels out his arguments. A new set of arguments, contradicting the previous arguments, must be put forward to defend the latest "development" in Catholic theology.

To take a few examples, historically the Roman church supported capital punishment. But to my knowledge, John-Paul II initiated a sharp left turn. That's been continued by his successors. 

If you were a Catholic apologist c. 1970 or before, you'd dutifully marshall arguments in support of Rome's traditional position. But now we see the papacy pulling the rug out from under the status quo ante. So what's a Catholic apologist to do?

To take another example, traditionally, suicide was treated as a damnatory sin. According to the Baltimore Catechism: "It is a mortal sin to destroy one's own life or commit suicide, as this act is called, and persons who willfully and knowingly commit such an act die in a state of mortal sin and are deprived of Christian burial."

But the post-Vatican II Catechism of the Catholic Church introduces eventuating circumstances that mitigate the guilt of suicide. 

By the same token, the 1917 code of canon law forbad Catholic funerals for suicides. But that was reversed in 1983. 

Traditionally, suicides were denied burial in church graveyards. From what I've read, the rationale is that their presence defiles hallowed ground. By implication, it defiles the mortal remains of Catholics who were buried in good standing with the church. 

Once again, a loyal 19C Catholic apologist would vigorously defend the stern policy of Rome. But his justifications have been mooted.

If you were to ask a Catholic apologist ten years ago about the admissibility of divorced Catholics to communion, you'd get an unequivocal answer, along with an argument about how this was verboten as a matter of principle. But what's the answer today? 

The upshot is that a Catholic apologist can't trust his own arguments. He will give the reader reasons in defense of current Catholic teaching, but he can't have any real confident in his reasons since, when his denomination changes positions and policies, his reasons are defunct. Why should an evangelical reader have any more confidence in the supporting arguments a Catholic apologist provides than the apologist is in a position to abode in his own arguments? 

Like a lawyer, the arguments shift according to the needs of the client. If the client is innocent, his attorney uses one set of arguments, but if the client is guilty, his attorney uses a divergent set of arguments. A Catholic apologist must be ready to turn on a dime, ditching all his carefully-honed arguments and inventing new arguments to defend the latest swerve in Catholic theology. 


  1. I was born into a Catholic family, confirmed in faith, became a lay apologist on social media forums and other places debating Protestants and slamming them with Matt 16:18, James 2:24 etc; completely convinced of all the truths of Catholicism - except for its idolatry of Mary (which at that time I viewed as obsession with Mary). I ignored the latter for quite a while, until I couldn't. I was mesmerised by the Catholic Church. I was extremely proud about how old she was, that Peter was her first bishop, of all the theologians she produced, the authority she had from Christ, the wonderful art and architecture she produced - there was nothing wrong with her - err, except for her emphasis on Mary and Marian prayers which I found nowhere in the Bible at the time (which was puzzling). I actually sensed the presence of God in the Catholic Church, so all was otherwise okay - I thought.

    There were some other problems also like this one: I found it strange that after receiving the sacrament of reconciliation (confession), many priests would tell me to recite the "hail marys" or some Marian prayer as penance- and while at first I did it, later I started disobeying the priests' suggested Marian penance - instead making a small prayer to the God I offended. I disobeyed them because they did not make any conceivable sense. I saw no point in praising Mary (hail mary) or asking for her intercession (holy mary) when it was God who I had offended with my sins, and I had direct access to Him.

    During these years, I was also researching Islam, and Christian Islamic apologetics wasn't common at all for referencing. David Wood's ministry either hadn't started or I did not know about him. Therefore I had two choices: either study Islam to challenge it (via Sam Shamoun's website or using the Islamic sources themselves) or study Church history to defend Christianity. I chose the latter as I loved my "mother" church (which was the Catholic Church), and would have only enjoyed knowing more about her.

    Gradually the information I got from history did not align with what I believed to be true, unless I wanted to engage in Olympic level mental gymnastics. I had assumed earlier that there could be good reasons to venerated the saints like the apostolic churches doing it - but it wasnt the case at all. I believed that the papacy was actually traceable in the first century, and Peter was literally the first pope, but he wasnt. There was no papacy until a century later when the concept started taking shape. I gradually started realising the nonsense that I had been sold, and the mental gymnastics Catholic apologists employed to defend their beliefs.

    I had watched White's debates as a Catholic, and he did not persuade me, because I was convinced in my beliefs. In fact I thought White was hammered black and blue by all the Catholic apologists. But later after my own historical foundations were shaken and weakened, I listened to White's "Great Debates", and now I could see clear as day all of his major objections.

    This somehow ties up with Wood/White's controversy. I had heard White's gospel presentation many times, and still thought he was wrong because I was firmly rooted in my assumptions about my faith. Those assumptions had to be shaken by facts, and only then his presentation started making sense to me. And I was still a Christian who believed in the Life, Death and Resurrection of our Lord and his inerrant Word. How much more difficult would it be for a Muslim to cross over?

    This also goes to show the mental gymnastics one does to justify his position. That is why I believe that one's position should be grounded in both scripture and facts. I had access to scriptures before, but I interpreted it as a Catholic.

    Thought of sharing.

    1. But later after my own historical foundations were shaken and weakened, I listened to White's "Great Debates" again. The debates I saw before and after my deconversion from Catholicism were the same. The content was the same, but my reaction to and processing of that content was different.

    2. That makes sense. I was telling a young Christian kid today that I had read the New Testament a year or so before becoming a Christian and it made no sense. The Holy Spirit makes a big difference.

    3. Wow, that's really neat to hear, Thanks, for sharing that James. While I've never been Catholic (always been a Protestant) there was a time a few years ago when I started looking into Roman Catholicism to see if it was true. James White and his debates where a big reason I ended up not converting. Catholic apologists can talk a good game, but once their arguments are subjected to critical scrutiny they fall apart very quickly.

  2. James McCloud -- Can we compare notes some time? Contact me ... my email address is simply johnbugay at gmail.

    1. Sure. I'll drop a line latter today.

    2. I'd be interested to chat as well. I grew up Roman Catholic, was Agnostic for a while as well, and have been Reformed Protestant for the past decade or so. I've also been doing a lot of apologetics with Muslims, Roman Catholics, and various other religious groups. My email is luisdizon219 (at) yahoo (dot) com