Monday, March 18, 2019

Do Catholic apologists speak for Catholics?

In Christian apologetics, the debate over Catholicism is conducted by and between theology junkies. Most Catholic apologists are converts to Catholicism. They converted because they found the traditional arguments for Catholicism convincing. So the debate typical revolves around arguments and counterarguments, prima facie evidence and counterevidence. Both sides approach it from an intellectualist perspective.

There's nothing wrong with that. Ideally, that's the proper way to assess religious truth-claims. And that approach is largely unavoidable.

However, it can also be misleading since most Catholic probably don't operate at that level. It's too elitist to be representative of how many Catholics think. A debate between members of the Catholic and evangelical intelligentsia. But most Catholics are Catholic for sociological reasons, so spokesmen like Scott Hahn, Trent Horn, Bryan Cross, Ed Feser, Michael Liccione, Thomas Joseph White et al. are quite unrepresentative of cradle Catholics. To some degree, they may be the public face of Catholicism, but they don't speak for Catholics in general. 

That's why the abuse scandal is so damaging. Catholic apologists have their escape clauses. They can say they're not Donatists or Novatianists. And you can render any belief-system unfalsifiable if you introduce enough escape clauses. So Catholic apologists can argue that any amount of corruption is consistent with the claims of Rome.

But for Catholics who don't think in such abstract terms, it's down-to-earth issues like the abuse scandal that can be the deal-breaker. To illustrate the difference:

Simon K 
Trent Horn is the kind of Roman Catholic who is a Roman Catholic because he is convinced it is the most correct church, and the only one specially approved by God.

There is another kind of Roman Catholic, a kind I am more familiar with, the kind of Roman Catholic that I am. I'm not convinced the Roman Catholic Church is the most correct church, nor that God has given it some special approval which the others lack. Catholics like me are Catholics fundamentally for cultural and pragmatic reasons – it is the faith of our parents, our grandparents, the faith we were raised in. I went to Catholic schools as a child, and now my children are going to Catholic schools too. Following in the religious footsteps of my ancestors makes me feel connected to them.

I don't know for sure, but I strongly suspect my kind of Catholic is a lot more numerous than Trent's.

That's not to say I don't think the Roman Catholic church is more right about some things than Protestants, I really do – e.g. the Biblical canon, purgatory and prayer for the dead, intercession of the Saints, the rejection of sola scriptura – but, I think the Catholic church just happens to be right about those things, as opposed to thinking the Catholic church is right about these things because it possesses some special divine guarantee of correctness.

In that respect, support for Roman Catholicism among the laity may be quite soft. 

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