Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Can We Discuss This?

I'm an "argument junkie." That's not to say that I like disputes; I actually hate getting into them. What I like is the study of arguments, the what and why of rhetoric. Generally, my goal in any sort of discussion is to understand what the modes of argument are and what motivates people to use them. I don't expect to persuade or be persuaded in most of these, but I do expect to get a handle on how people try to persuade others and to explain what it is that persuades me. That is, I assume, one of the principal purposes of dialogue between individuals who have a reasonable disagreement with one another.

By and large, such disagreements aren't a bad thing. You may not (and probably will not) be able to get into someone else's head to the point of being able to empathize with their reasons, but you can at least get some insight into what he is thinking. Sometimes it's more challenging, probing, or critical (Socratic dialogue is a good example), but the goal is always to get people to articulate their own motivations, which may help them to know themselves just as it helps you to understand them. For this to work, you have to meet two conditions: you have to be honest about your own position (viz., you can't be a sophist), and you have to trust the other guy to be honest about his. Obviously, most of the time at the end of the day, you will not obtain any sort of agreement, but you may learn something nonetheless.

With that in mind, what I consider to be the worst dialogue-killer is not for someone to be zealous in the defense of his position (indeed, that is almost certainly the most honest way to be), but for someone to speculate about what is going through his opponent's mind. In an honest dialogue, you can't ever make those judgments; you can't characterize someone else's thought processes or presuppositions. You simply cannot slap a label on the thought processes of another human being with whom you are talking without utterly disrespecting the concept of that person as a rational human being. Sometimes, you may actually be willing to do that, but I sure as heck hope that it's rare.

Coming to the punch line, some people may now be saying "Wait a minute, didn't you just call Tim Enloe a liberal? Isn't that a little hypocritical?" Maybe it came off that way, but the clarification I gave on Dave's blog was directed exactly to this point. I have absolutely no idea what Tim is thinking. What I can say is what argumentative tactic he is using (which I think is consistent with what Fish criticizes in "liberals") and why it is corrosive to meaningful dialogue. And that argumentative tactic, which I characterized as the liberal game, is indeed inconsistent with the spirit of dialogue.

Here are my answers to Tim's questions that I think will help to clarify my position:

You think I'm all about abstract theories and being "right" even if it means I have to use "classic Fish liberal language" to play the poles of a bias / objectivity dichotomy?

No, I have no idea what you're "all about." The fact that you play the poles of a bias/objectivity dichotomy is a consequence of what you say about other people's thought processes.

Maybe you've missed all those blog posts of mine calling for a rejection of the One / Many dichotomy and a more holistic, Trinitarian approach to matters of truth.

I didn't miss those. In fact, that's probably the best example of what I am talking about. Essentially, you are arguing that one must "think correctly." That's liberalism in a nutshell.

Maybe you've missed the fact that I question BOTH sides of the Enlightenment subject / object split, and all the works of that split--including all that shallow "liberal" talk about attaining to a position of "open mindedness". I think it was that ruddy old papist Chesterton who said an open mind is only good if it actually closes on something (truth). I readily concur with his judgment on that point.

I didn't miss these either, but you seem to have missed what Fish found. The liberal tactic is to gain rhetorical ground by accusing the other side of thinking wrongly, of having a defective thought process (because nothing is more important that *right thinking* after all). It doesn't matter whether the word you slap on it is "intolerant," "pagan," "Platonic," or what have you.

Unfortunately for your slurs of me, the reason I'm so concerned with things like papalist "absolutism" is not because I'm trying to rhetorically play on the shallow "liberal" hermeneutical convention of "bias / open mind", but rather, because of said papal absolutism's disgustingly harmful effects on SOCIETY--that is, the thing that real, living breathing people create in their real live flesh and blood interactions with each other.

Then I suggest that you attempt to actually have a dialogue with those people in order to understand why those real, living, breathing people believe in papal absolutism, particularly people who are fully cognizant of the effects you describe.

The word "absolutism" is not an abstraction--it refers to the actual physical behavior of far too many popes throughout the Middle Ages, and the actual physical behavior of far too many self-styled "Catholics" today. On the contrary, I find that it is people such as you "conservative" Catholics--who all too easily appeal to "faith" when faced with serious difficulties to the rather outrageous claims your system of theology makes relative to every other system--who are in danger of sacrificing flesh and blood realities to mere abstractions. I don't see you people weeping over a sundered Church and saying "Yes, you're right. Our Tradition really sucks sometimes and we're willing to square our shoulders and take our licks like Christian men." Instead, I just see most of you thanking God that at least you're on the Right side of all the splits. (Ironic, since you accuse me of caring only about being Right).

If we considered the Church a "mere abstraction" or if it were simply a matter of "being Right" about some principle of papal infallibility and the Devil take any compromise, then I would completely agree with you. But I know of no Catholic who is Catholic solely for the sake of principle.

Not many moons ago I posted a piece from one Sigebert of Gembloux on Reformed Catholicism, which spoke of how the agents of the Gregorian reform program were travelling throughout the land murdering Sigebert's spiritual charges merely because they wouldn't bow and kiss the pope's ring in "matters of faith and morals". Now why would I care about some PHYSICAL PEOPLE who got killed a thousand years ago if my concern was a set of mere abstractions that I can frame on a wall and sit around admiring? "Thank God I'm a Conciliarist! Do I not have Haec sancta and Frequens memorized by heart?" That's hardly a fair reading of anything I've said or done. I'm not talking about mental abstractions here; I'm talking about FLESH AND BLOOD reality in both the past and the HERE AND NOW.

You raised a good question, and I'll ask it right back: why would we Catholics feel so strongly about our beliefs if our concern was "a set of mere abstractions that [we] can frame on a wall and sit around admiring?" "Thank God I'm a Catholic! Do I not have the Vatican I definition of papal infallibility memorized by heart?" Do you see what you're doing here? We are FLESH AND BLOOD people, and you are theorizing us out of existence!

You think I like the present situation of not being able to share communion with my Catholic brothers and sisters? You think I've dealt with the absolutely disgustingly slanderous garbage spewing from the keyboards of men like White, Svendsen, King against me just so I can defend mere mental abstractions?

You think we like the present situation of not being able to share communion with our Protestant brothers and sisters? You think we deal with even worse abuse from White, Svendsen, and King for the sake of mental abstractions? Can your theory of "conservative Catholics" survive if you put actual human beings in it?

I'm either an absolutely horrible communicator, or you simply haven't been listening to anything I've been saying. And once more I think most of these ridiculous appeals to "faith" that too many Catholics issue in the face of serious objections to the aforesaid SOCIETALLY-harmful consequences of their utterly abstract theological premises about "authority" and "jurisdiction", are the real candidates for tongue-lashings about elevating mental stuff over real life. I wonder sometimes if you Catholics ever look in mirrors, and if so if you ever come away from those mirrors not being absolutely dazzled by what you saw.

I'll leave this one as an exercise for the reader.

Anyway, I can't imagine that I'm being entirely even-handed in my criticism here. But as Dave mentioned, I have some sense of solidarity with my Catholic brethren, and so I'm more defensive about them than others. I've prayed and thought on it for a few days, and I still think that saying what I said and what I'm saying now is worthwhile. Maybe it won't help, but I would hope that it might encourage people to see through arguments to the human beings underneath them. It's harder on the Internet, but if we can get away from grand visions and start to evaluate our experiences here in terms of the individuals we come to know, I think we'd all be a lot happier.

My $0.02 + interest.


At 11:24 PM, Blogger Tim Enloe said...

I see. So to use the colloquialism "think" is a clear indication of having bought into the "liberal" paradigm. I'll remember that next time you use the word or any of its cognates, and I'll also remember that you know exactly NOTHING about my actual real-life situation--like for instance the fact that for four years I've been learning how to, as Doug Wilson puts it, make my "theology come out my fingertips" and not just stay on the pages of books. Maybe you need to ask yourself your own question: "Can we talk about this?" Maybe there are more options than the simplistic grid through which you're filtering the word "think" in my posts.

As for my "theory of Catholic conservatives" and can I put real people in it, well sure. As a matter of fact, I put you and Dave Armstrong and any number of other real Catholics into it, because to me you all sound like a bunch of dedicated abstractionists, just like the late Medieval high papalists I've spent so much time tracking through the records. All this grandiose talk of your "faith", but what you really mean is not that you simply "believe" in the divine origin of Christianity (as do I), but rather that you're so attached to your particular SECT of Christianity that you're willing to basically thumb your proud little "Catholic" noses at everything and everyone else, who are literally too inferior for your Exalted Apostolic Tradition to learn anything from. What you're saying about your "faith" boils down to this exquisite bunch of utter PRESUMPTION: "Nothing whatsoever can count against my Super Intellectual Theological Theory of Divine-Right Petrine Jurisdiction--not even the destruction of an entire Christian society. It's all everyone else's fault for not taking Jesus literally and playing Nominalist / Positivist games with clear historical facts." Generations of Christians lived and died under absolute papal tyranny, a whole society was lost to horribly destructive wars that even today cause Secularists to viciously mock everyone who names the name of Christ, and what do you
"conservative Catholics" give me? "My faith requires me to believe this." Well pardon me, but I think the proper Latin response to that sort of closed-minded position is "Go jump in a lake."

That's the kind of stupid attitude that's got me riled up of late. I'm not going to sit and take that kind of flippancy from Catholics. It's dishonoring to the genuinely catholic (not exclusively Roman) tradition that we see fighting its way throughout the Middle Ages, it's an absolutely absurd dismissal of many generations of very sober-minded theologians constantly frustrated by papalist instransigence, and I think it's based, more often than not, upon the EXTREME ignorance of "conservative" Catholics of the historical sources and their contexts in REAL LIFE, FLESH AND BLOOD Christian society. I've stopped playing games with the apologists because the apologists can't even trouble themselves to read the primary sources. What the hell do they know about what happened in the fifteenth century and how it prepared the way for the sixteenth? NOTHING, that's what, and it shows in the fact that all they can say is "You're a postmodernist! You don't read history through the lens of faith!". I, Tim Enloe, who have taken more absolute GARBAGE from my own side than anyone should ever have to take, and all because I "dared" to suggest that Reformed BIGOTRY against Rome is something we should repent of, don't deserve that kind of absolute flippancy from Catholics, and in fact, it does nothing except shore up typical "Catholic" prejudices against / about other Christians and help to create these situations where the apologists, whose minds and hearts appear to be constructed almost entirely of right angles, look all bewildered and go "Who us? What'd we do?" Duh!

If you expect me to believe you're not like the "Catholic" and "conservative" jerk who bluntly stated to Luther that because the pope was Jesus Christ's Vicar the pope's commands had to be obeyed even if they sent millions to hell, then perhaps you should talk a little less about your "faith" and what it "requires" you to believe and more about how you're willing to not make excuses for your communion's now one thousand year old PATTERN of absolutely disgusting SINS against the rest of the Church. Oh yes, you're a real person. You're just, as it seems to me from what I take to be extremely dismissive statements about the motivations of other Christians, a real person who likes to reach for the easy, and shallow, answers when someone says that something you deeply love isn't really "all that", after all.

At 10:03 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Patrick here. IMHO, Tim, it would have been much better for you to have stuck to your decision not to talk to Catholics anymore. This latest post of yours is pretty far over the top. As I noted quite awhile ago on Dave's blog, Tim, you obviously hold certain truths of the faith to be non-negotiable. The doctrine of the Trinity, for example. The beliefs in original sin and damnation, for other examples (I would guess). How dare you attack Catholics for doing exactly the same thing, only with a slightly longer list of items? (There's a word that starts with "h" that springs to mind here.) Further, how dare you attack Catholics for including on their list a belief that has in lots of instances led people to rebel against the faith (i.e. the Papacy as currently conceived)? If you listen carefully to secularists today, I think you'll find that the claims of Christianity that many people find most scandalous are the beliefs that (I presume) you yourself hold--namely, original sin and hell. IOW, you've got beliefs on your list that people use as excuses for unbelief and rebellion, and you don't seem to see that as reason to deny those beliefs: how can you suggest that the fact that people have often found our beliefs about the papacy to be reason for unbelief and rebellion ought to incline us to deny them? (That "h" word again...)

I've made numerous posts in numerous places defending you when I've believed you were being taken to task too harshly by my co-religionists. I stand by those posts, but this latest one is just way too much.

At 12:16 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

How on earth does Tim know whether his Catholic debate partners have read primary sources from the fifteeth century? How can he so summarily state that they haven't, as if he's been privy to their library-card records?

It's not as if the sources Tim means are all chained down at Houghton Library. Many are readily available in the stacks of any university library or through interlibrary loan. Is it beyond possibility that some Catholics have in fact had access to those sources--especially if they happen to have majored in history or if they've had a personal interest in medieval and Ren/Ref culture?

Tim accuses us of looking down our noses, but, once again, all he does is look down *his* at us, sneeringly assuming that we can't possibly be as smart or as well-read as he. As if he were the first or the only person who ever thought of reading late-medieval primary sources. Oh brother. What a silly, snotty temper tantrum.


At 2:38 PM, Blogger Dave Armstrong said...

Here's most of what I wrote on my blog ( )(see also my "goofy photo" of Tim (, which I think is a good visual representation of how distorted his opinions are):

I've noted for a while now that Tim loves one-way sermons, but doesn't much like dialogue (He has blown off almost all Catholics who have attempted serious dialogue with him as of late). So it stands to reason that he would claim to have given up the latter, without ceasing the former.

I have been observing Tim very closely to see if he could handle any disagreement, without exploding and going right back to his self-destructive, verbally-volcanic ways. I've been standing mostly on the sidelines lately, simply noting and documenting Tim's latest phases and strong reaction to Jonathan's posts. I defended Tim against any insinuation that he is a liberal, period (as a classification of his entire outlook). Jonathan then clarified (twice now) that this was not what he was contending (he and I confine our observations to certain prominent, repeated manifestations of Tim's methodologies). But no matter.

In any event, Tim has started to distort and twist my points of view again, it seems, since he names me in the following rant: the only person he directly addresses, other than Jonathan Prejean. So now we can reasonably assume that Tim thinks I am all these terrible things that he conjures up in his mind when he thinks of "Catholic [read, "orthodox"] conservative." As usual, I (as the published apologist with a fair degree of influence in Internet Catholic apologetics circles, etc.) am the quintessence of everything that is wrong with Catholicism and Catholic apologetics, in Tim's mind (when one scrutinizes exactly what he means by "Catholic conservative").

He thought that four years ago, when he wrote several articles taking my apologetics to task, and he thinks it again now. The more things "change," the more they stay the same . . . As soon as he gets angry about something (even with someone else), I go right back on his manure list. That speaks volumes, I think. This is another classic case of "don't just look at what a person says; watch what he does, too." Or, as we used to say in my old evangelical circles (where I learned so much about God and Christianity, for which I'll always be tremendously grateful): "don't just talk the talk; walk the walk."

At 6:26 PM, Blogger Mathitria said...

Just weighing in here...I was reluctant to do so, hoping that you could make some headway with Tim. But that seems a lost cause. FWIW, I agree with your assessment. Tim may not be a liberal overall (that is, he's not a liberal Christian) but the tactic he's been using towards Catholics is that of liberals - I agree with you 100% on that. I've noticed this a long time ago. It is evident in his negative labeling of Catholic views and even our whole mindset ("unitarian", "anti-trinitarian") in a manner that begs the whole question, but works well in slanting the argument. Essentially, slander sticks. So in the liberal tactic, the more, the better. But most importantly, it is evident in Tim's insistence that we concede his premise before reasonable discussion can take place. Our premise is supposedly obviously absurd and anti-trinitarian, unitarian, platonic, realist, and any other perjurative that a good nominalist-esque Christian can think up. We just can't think straight, but we will be able to do so once we break free and gladly accept Tim's premise. This would be analogous to conceding moral relativism in a discussion with a pro-abort or pro-choicer. Tim's conclusions stand or fall upon acceptance of his premise, and it is a premise he has shown himself unwilling (or unable?) to defend. Rather, he seeks to impose it.

As Patrick points out, Catholics hold the Church as a matter of faith, and certain specific points of ecclesiology are held in faith. It is of no use to anybody to demand that we see how supposedly unreasonable this is before reasonable discussion can take place. Who is Tim to decide that "mere Christianity" is all that comprises the deposit of Faith, and all the rest is transitory theological opinion? He must prove this, not merely assert it.

And lastly, not wanting to sound partisan or triumphalistic, my thanks to you JP and Dave for sticking up for us "conservative Catholics"!! At least I know I'm not going crazy!


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