Oh, Grow Up!
It recently occurred to me that the real problem with with anti-Catholics isn't that they are blinded by hatred or that they are intellectually incapable of grasping concepts. I suppose the cause was the recent posts by Scott Carson on the subject of teenagers and the Principle of Adolescent Posturing that triggered it. I suspect that it hadn't occurred to me before because I am the parent of two young children. Having very young children tends to create a sharp dichotomy between "kid world" and "adult world," not to mention between "pre-parent life" and "post-parent life," so you tend to forget those carefree days when helpless human beings weren't depending on you for their very survival. Consequently, you tend to forget about that awkward middle stage of being not-quite-adult in one's thinking, kind of a semblance of rationality without actually being cognitively mature. But now that I have taken a bit of time to recall some of my experience as a TA and some of the silly things young people did (and the things that I did at that age), the diagnosis seems embarrassingly easy to make.
I think there is a bit of internal logic to this situation. What I consider to be the clearest defining characteristics of adolescent thinking are (1) a unjustifiable degree of confidence in one's own knowledge, particularly vis-a-vis authority figures or people with demonstrably more experience, and (2) making one's subjective state of mind the standard of reality. (See this example offered by Dr. Scott Carson.) Given the historical affinities of Protestantism with certain medieval mystical views regarding a spiritually elect group of individuals led by the Holy Spirit to usher in a new age of purity and holiness, it is probably no coincidence that this would be a problem. It certainly was for the Franciscans; St. Bonaventure had to work diligently to rein in those tendencies in the Order, and there was never any lasting success. But as with the case of the Franciscans, I don't consider the cause for Protestants hopeless by any means; there is just a clear need to offset these tendencies for any sort of intellectual progress to be made. Dr. Carson highlights those concerns as well with regard to sola scriptura.
Alas, it has been my experience that anti-Catholics (and by this I mean people who endeavor to show that Catholicism is not Christian) exemplify the worst of this tendency. They are incorrigible in their misinterpretations of Catholic dogma, they vastly overestimate their competence in academic fields and their grasp of relevant issues, they assert purely subjective beliefs as justifications, they have an inordinate concern for the regard of their peer group, they rely uncritically on authorities they admire while inconsistently rejecting those who conflict with their subjective preferences ... I could go on, but I'm sure you can all come up with many examples once you look for them.
I think it's particularly bad in the case of presuppositionalists (imagine a teenager who believed that he had been told by God Himself that he was right and that his parents didn't know anything!). I can provide a little anecdote from being a TA at Harvard. I was relating a bit of my background to a student who was curious about how I ended up as a vector calculus TA as law student. I explained that I had gone to A&M and UT Austin in physics before I decided to go to law school, and she said "Oh, that must have been fun! You got to take it easy at a state school before you came to Harvard." By then, of course, I had taught enough classes that I could take it in good humor; my gentle rebuke was "I'm pretty sure the laws of physics are the same at A&M and Harvard, and physics homework is harder than law school no matter where you are!" But it illustrates how immaturity can skew your intellectual perspective. This girl was barely eighteen, coming out of a world where her entire world revolved around where you went to college, so she just naturally assumed that being at Harvard was the end-all, be-all of education without really bothering to critically question whether that belief was based on reality.
The funny thing is that Calvinists even joke about the "Cage Stage" for new converts. Problem for the rest of us is that, at least with respect to understanding other views, they never grow out of it! Because they've constructed an idealistic wall based on their subjective beliefs, they don't have any way of getting feedback from reality outside of their peer group. They'll simply apply the same subjective filter to whatever they read or learn, discounting what conflicts with their subjective beliefs and using the rest to rationalize whatever they already believe. Adolescence is a natural state of growth, provided that it serves the purpose of getting you to take responsibility for your own knowledge and to critically revise your beliefs. But if you never do that, then you end up like those pathetic guys who never mature past high school.
My question, and it is a serious question, is whether there is any constructive way to deal with it. Dr. Carson points out that it doesn't really seem that rational discussion or punishment is the right alternative. As he says "Granted, I want him to act civil, but my hope is that such goals can be accomplished over time by reasoned discussion, good role modeling, and effective teaching. When you coerce behavior the behavior does not become a virtuous habit of mind of the sort that Aristotle claims is a necessary condition on moral goodness." But I'm just not sure what form those sorts of things take when you're dealing with an adult acting like an overgrown teenager in terms of intellectual responsibility. My response of late is to ignore it or laugh it off, since I have finally realized why it is that these guys are so woefully inadequate at actually dealing with the Catholic view. On the other hand, I can't help but think that there are lot of people in this situation who could probably use some kind of guidance and a lot of Catholics who would like to help them.
My thought is that the only real strategy is to put the focus back on the person himself. He's the one who has to work through it, so maybe the right strategy is to say "Look, forget that I'm a Catholic, forget trying to respond to my view, and just focus on explaining to me why it is you believe what you do." Maybe if we can just persuade people to go through the exercise of starting from the ground up and trying to build a convincing case, it would be a good exercise. Though not as harsh, it's the practical equivalent to "Go to your room, and think about what you've done!," which seems to be a good strategy for adolescents. I think if they started to think hard about why anyone should follow their beliefs, they'd be a little better equipped for dialogue with Catholics (or at least to be released from the cage and allowed into conversations with adults). Granted, the last time I made a request along those lines, the only response I got was that it would be "exceedingly hard," but maybe if we could get people to at least take a stab at it, some good would come of it.
It seems pretty clear to me that we're not reaching these folks, and while I completely agree that this is to some extent due to them being unreasonable, parents don't give up on teenagers going through their unreasonable stage. Instead, there is an approach tailored to responding to them on their level, which isn't going to be the same as the rational discussion you might have with other adults. I think it's a real quandary on how to do that, and I'd like to know people's thoughts on the matter.