Saturday, December 04, 2004

Reponse to Tim Enloe

Responding to comments made here.

If after two attempts you still don't comprehend what I'm saying, then there obviously aren't any good ways for me to explain it to you, so I'll just make some things clear for the record. I'm not saying that everyone who talks about someone else's mode of thinking is a liberal. I'm saying that everyone who *tells* someone else how he is thinking rather than letting that person explain it himself is a liberal. By and large, characterizations such as "nominalist" or "Platonist" or "dedicated abstractionist" are intended to be accurately descriptive, not prescriptive. If you find that the oversimplification of a certain label is interfering with its utility in historical research, then you take a more nuanced position. Similarly, if you learn through dialogue that you are inaccurately describing a person's view, then you modify the category to be more accurately descriptive. At least, you would do that if you are going to take that person at his word, which I consider to be pretty much essential to dialogue.

Now I have tried to be as accurate as possible in describing what your view is, and I have tried to explain why it is that I characterize them the way that I do. I have made it as plain as I can make it that I am strictly analyzing your method of communication with Catholics, not your personal motivation, not your own personal spiritual conviction, and not your own personal philosophy. Consequently, from my own perspective (and I can't imagine who has more insight into my state of mind), I haven't said a thing that could amount to "extremely dismissive statements about the motivation of other Christians."

My direct statements on the fact that I have no insight into your motivations were as follows:
"I certainly don't mean to characterize Tim's 'overall position' in this way."

"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."

"I have absolutely no idea what Tim is thinking."

"I have no idea what you're 'all about.'"

Now if you are going to say that I am doing something after I have repeatedly and strongly said that I have not done it and do not even intend to do it, then you're basically putting your credibility on the line against mine. My guess is that lots of people may disagree with me and consider me naive or stubborn, but I seriously doubt that anyone considers me dishonest or incoherent. Moreover, there is at least one prominent example of me deliberately limiting my critique only to a person's style of argumentation, accepting that person's explanation of their motivations, and even modifying my own opinion of that style based on the person's explanation, that being when I spoke with James White on the Dividing Line. It's not as if there isn't a record of me having done exactly what I say that I am doing here (i.e., critiquing your method of dialogue rather than you personally). Consequently, if you are sufficiently rash to challenge my credibility on that issue with the evidence being what it is, I am perfectly happy to let you do so.

You've charged various Catholics with "absolutely flippancy" and the desire to "reach for the easy, and shallow, answers when someone says that something you deeply love isn't really 'all that.'" But the credibility of that charge really rests on your further assertion about "the EXTREME ignorance of 'conservative' Catholics of the historical sources and their contexts in REAL LIFE, FLESH AND BLOOD Christian society" and the unwillingness among Catholic apologists to "trouble themselves to read the primary sources." This is where I think you have crossed the line into errors of both fact and prudence.

With regard to the former, the reason I say that you have committed a factual error is that my hard drive alone is pretty strong counter-evidence. In addition to having read Tierney's The Idea of Natural Rights and select portions of the primary sources reproduced in The Crisis of Church and State (as they happen to come up), I still have a copy of your thesis, which I've also read. But that obviously wouldn't be enough in itself to give you a fair shake, so I also obtained access to as many of the references in your bibliography that my wife (whom I affectionately refer to as "Dr. Prejean") could obtain through her graduate school. Granted, there was a pretty remote connection to her own academic interest in Catholic health care, but since I helped her out with some legal research for her dissertation, she was a good sport about it. Also, there were those articles from Ken Pennington and Constantin Fasolt that I pointed out to you, not to mention reading your own translations on your own website. Even then, being a layman, I wasn't entirely convinced that I would be able to give them a fair reading, so I decided to contact an expert. Recalling that one of my law school professors (Charles Donahue) was one of the foremost authorities in the history of Roman law and its development through the Middle Ages, I contacted him for advice on things that he might consider interesting as well, and gained some insight from that correspondence as well. While you are entirely correct that I have not consulted primary sources, not being fluent in Latin myself, I would presume that the research that I have done corresponds fairly well to the most that a reasonable person would be expected to do.

Moreover, I have not limited myself to solely this area of study. While lacking a tremendous amount of time for theological inquiry, I am currently working to improve my understanding of divine simplicity and Palamite theology in order to better understand the roots of the East/West schism. In the interim, I have also invested some time in learning more about modern canon law and Catholic liturgy, as well as trying to follow the numerous online discussions about the history of sacramentology, iconoclasm, and Marian devotion. I am by no means expert in any of these things, but given the effort, time, and money I am investing in the subject, I think one would be hard pressed to consider me either prone to ease in theological or historical studies, nor would it be sensible to consider me unwilling to trouble myself with such matters.

That pretty much brings me to my latter concern of imprudence. If you want to actually have dialogues with Catholics, then it would be difficult to find anyone who was more open to finding common ground. Indeed, I was fairly optimistic about developing a common body of knowledge that could be used to explain views, much like finding a common language permits concepts to be explained between two people. In "real life," I am ordinarily drawn to people with different views far more than those with whom I agree, so this isn't unusual for me. Earlier this week, I spent an evening watching Handel's Messiah with a PCA member who was my online "nemesis" back when I was too dumb to know what I didn't know. We don't agree entirely even now, but we are genuinely friends, and we can even talk about theological differences (although far more often, common ground) without breaking that relationship. My best friend is a Jewish Democrat, putting us in drastically different places in both religion and politics, but we can even talk about those subjects without enmity. I don't let my beliefs get in the way of my friendships. Call it "gentle evangelism"; I have faith that if they come to understand me as a friend, they will receive the Gospel in that way, and if God wills it, they will be brought around to it.

Being that kind of person (i.e., one who is both willing and interested in dialogue with people who disagree), one would think that I would be very nearly your target audience. But in light of the way in which you interact with me and with others, I genuinely don't understand your motivation for conversing with Catholics. I don't know what you get out of it, and I really don't see what would draw a Catholic into wanting to understand your ideas and your perspective. In fact, I don't see why I would want spend my own time conversing with someone who isn't interested in knowing or understanding my perspective. I don't know what you hope to accomplish with your studies, but if it involves persuading Catholics to understand the subject from your perspective, I can assure you as a Catholic that the temperature of Hell will be far below zero before this type of rhetoric will achieve its goal.

Anyway, it's all just my opinion, and you can do what you like with it. For myself, I've lost interest in talking this out (as I said, I find conflict unpleasant). So, I will pass along these words from Bob Dylan that capture my feelings pretty well:
"Goodbye's too good a word, man
So I'll just say fare thee well
I ain't sayin' you treated me unkind
You could have done better but I don't mind
You just kinda wasted my precious time
But don't think twice, it's all right."

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