Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Apology to Tim Enloe

Upon further reflection, I was remiss in offering a critique of Tim's treatment of Catholics. My own behavior was more contentious than it ought to have been, and I therefore created an atmosphere that not only allowed but invited such a response. It was unfair of me to cry "foul!" for someone else's behavior. The right response would have been to ameliorate the situation by removing it from the field of contention and attempting to reason from a common perspective. Instead, I participated in an argumentative exchange that detracted from the substance of the discussion and, more importantly, from my own witness to the Catholic faith. Moreover, the charge of unfair tactics was itself unfair once I had stepped into the arena. I lost sight of my priorities, I behaved badly in exacerbating a bad situation, and I am sorry for it. If peacemaking is blessed, I certainly have some penance to do.

I ask your forgiveness, although I make no pretense of deserving it.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Review of _The Catholic Verses_ by Dave Armstrong

"Irenic" is not the first word that ordinarily comes to mind when a book is subtitled "95 Bible Passages That Confound Protestants," but in this case, it's just proof of the old adage about judging books by their covers. The only beliefs that come under attack in this book are the ones that have been frustrating ecumenical dialogue and poisoning discussions with anti-Catholic stereotypes for far too many years. For Catholics, this book will come as a reassurance that Catholicism is firmly rooted in the Scriptures. For Protestants, it will provide a valuable opportunity to reexamine the hard questions that every faithful Protestant should be able to answer. But for all readers, the lesson is that those who gloss over serious study of Scripture in making reckless attacks on fellow Christians do so at their own peril.

One feature that distinguishes this book from many other works is the genuine respect that Armstrong bears for the other side of the aisle. He cites arguments by famous Protestants from Calvin to Luther, Wesley to Kelly, not to tear them down but to demonstrate the amount of effort they put into forming their own conclusions. The point of these demonstrations is to illustrate that even thoughtful, devoted, and scholarly men can reason their way to different conclusions about these passages, and that in most cases, the Catholic view is no less thoughtful or reasonable an explanation. In an attitude of genuine intellectual humility, Armstrong constantly repeats a simple theme: "recognizing that reasonable men can disagree, here is why I believe what I do." Exercising the rare poise found in such writers as Jaroslav Pelikan, Armstrong makes his case strongly and convincingly while maintaining a profound respect for his opponents' intelligence.

The book covers a number of Catholic distinctives that frequently arise in Protestant-Catholic dialogue, such as ecclesiology, the role of tradition, the papacy, and justification. On these issues, there is no new ground covered that has not been discussed at length in a number of places, but the advantage here is that the presentation is clear and concise, focused particularly on developing the strength of the Biblical argument. This is extremely helpful for beginners in Catholic theology, but it also reminds more advanced students just how effective it can be to make a simple, focused Scriptural argument that goes back to basics. Time and time again, Armstrong demonstrates the power of such arguments to convey the Catholic message.

What impressed me most, though, was Armstrong's handling of sensitive moral issues in the final three chapters. In discussing clerical celibacy, contraception, and divorce, he bring an optimistic and idealistic perspective centered firmly in Christ to areas that have become overwhelmingly dominated by cynicism. Armstrong's positive view of human nature and the human condition is a refreshing change from the modern worldview that envisions people as being doomed to gross moral failings. His presentation is an excellent example of how sound moral teaching founded in the Gospel can truly be a light to the world.

I recommend this book without reservation, and I encourage my fellow Catholics to take the study of these verses to heart and to commit them to memory. They are excellent reminders of how the Catholic faith is rooted in the Word of God.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Well, I think it's about time I catch up on my reading

Look at the wonderful quotations that have come out of Christian discussion on GregK's board:
"It will be a cold day in hell when I profit from anything you have to say."

"I'd rather be skinned alive layer by layer than to be helped by you."

"You'd prefer I fondle little boys? Now there's an example of Roman Catholic maturity evidently."

"...there is a sizable contingency in the CRC that are fag lovers..."

And this was all from one Reformed pastor! The sad thing is that while the comments are completely unjustifiable, I can actually understand why he was irritated, what with his faith being called demon worship and all. It's one thing if you think a Christian has a defective conception of God; it's another thing entirely to say that they are worshipping a different God. Why discuss a meaningless hypothetical about what God would be like if their beliefs were accurate if you sincerely believe that they are not accurate? What good does it do to provoke a fellow Christian to this point, whether you are right or not?

Anyway, it seems overall like the dialogues in which I have been involved lately are shedding more light than heat, so I think I'm going to devote some time to reading some books that have come highly recommended, and posting my thoughts on them. I'm hoping that cooler heads will prevail in any dialogue, since we'll be dealing with more scholarly works. Quite honestly, arguments that don't appeal to such works seem to be miserable failures, and even the ones that do (like Dave Armstrong's and Tim Enloe's) don't get read as such, because people get too caught up in polemics. If nothing else, it will be an opportunity to give some electronic ink to some books that probably deserve more than they've received to date.

So anyway, that's my plan. We'll see if this proves any more constructive than the current Internet climate.

Monday, December 06, 2004

Nothing like a little Merton for getting some perspective

In the midst of pondering how difficult relations on the Internet can be, coming across this quote from Merton made me chuckle...

Hell is where no one has anything in common with anybody else except the fact that they all hate one another and cannot get away from one another and from themselves. They are all thrown together in their fire and each one tries to thrust the others away from him with a huge, impotent hatred.

[Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation, p. 123]

If you see this in yourself or you think that you see it in others, take a break from the web! :-)

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."

Thursday, December 02, 2004

The Liberal Game in Action

Jimmy Akin recently posted his analysis of an article by Harvard Law professor William Stuntz musing about the possibility of reconciling blue-state philosophy and red-state philosophy into a kind of purple-state philosophy. Stuntz writes from the perspective of an Evangelical Christian who teaches at a liberal New England school, which ought to give him some insight into the matter. Alas, it seems that he has still missed a great deal, and I would argue that it is because he doesn't understand the "liberal game" (described in the first paragraph of this entry) that permeates blue-state philosophy.

First off, I entirely agree with Jimmy's "It's abortion, stupid!" analysis. Even the most basic survey of legal history recognizes that there are issues that are so central to the basic dignity of human beings that they entirely dominate the political consciousness of large groups of people. Slavery was one, and so is abortion. So how does Stuntz miss this? Simple. He's bought into the notion of "polarizing issues" as being inherently bad things that are "too emotional" for rational discussion. In other words, he's started playing the liberal game.

There is some real irony here relating to my own personal experience, because Harvard is the place where I learned the rules of the liberal game (i.e., defining one's own view as "tolerant" and putting opposing views outside of the scope of "reasonable discussion" with pejorative terms like "intolerance," "bias," "emotional," "pure opinion," etc.). As I became better versed in ideas like "legal realism" and "neutral principles," I began to realize that religion was being viewed as something personal and irrational, like one's preference in music or food, unrelated to objective reality. As someone who had always considered theism to be a quite rational position, I was deeply offended by this notion (I even wrote a paper about how Stephen Jay Gould's attempt to put science and religion in separate "magisteria" in Rocks of Ages was an insult to both endeavors). In fact, it was the desire to fight against the concept of theism as pure subjectivity that led me to seek a more developed concept of my own faith and, ultimately, to return to the Church of my baptism.

By not recognizing the rhetorical modes of the blue-state philosophy, Prof. Stuntz naively comes to the conclusion that Christians have shut themselves out! Prof. Stuntz has a valid point about the anti-intellectual sentiment that permeates fundamentalism, which he uses as evidence to justify his position that Christians are simply unwilling to enter the academic fray of "tough-minded questions and arguments," but he seems to be completely oblivious to the vast number of thinking Christians who have had their philosophies defined out of the realm of reasonable debate. Contrary to his caricature, we would *love* to test our beliefs with "tough-minded questions and arguments" and to have them battle in the marketplace of ideas. It is the so-called "tolerant liberals" who are determined to protect people's ideas from "intolerance" to the point of excluding all religious discussion from societal debate, which is really nothing more than anti-Christian prejudice. And what's worse, people have bought into this tactic so thoroughly that we are now fighting to avoid having our ideas eradicated from society entirely in the name of tolerance.

Stuntz does demonstrate some awareness of this problem when he discusses the lack of humility among academics, and their willingness to "talk and act as though those ideas are not just right but obviously right -- only a fool or a bigot could think otherwise." But again, he just doesn't seem to get that it is an essential component of the liberal game to call people "fools" and "bigots" in order to make one's own view appear more "reasonable." The faux tolerance of liberalism is simply a rhetorical tactic to win points, and the only way to win this game is to refuse to play it. I sympathize with Prof. Stuntz in thinking that discussion is possible, but not while the liberal game is being used to exclude one of the parties. It's not simply a matter of the liberals learning to be humble; humility about whether one is right or wrong can lead someone into the false ideal of tolerance just as easily as it can lead to mutual respect and irenic discussion. The only way to cure it is to recognize that defining the parameters of reasonability to exclude reasonable people cuts off even the possibility of dialogue.

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.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Stanley Fish and liberalism

By and large, I don't have much sympathy for the postmodern position. But that doesn't mean that I consider postmodernism a curse word, so that any observation a postmodernist makes is tainted and unworthy of consideration. One area that I think Stanley Fish in particular has right is his position (as I understand it) on liberalism. In particular, the notion of defining reasonability to selectively exclude people according to one's preferences and then using words like "open-mindedness" to attempt to give one's views some sort of superior tone (*your* view is just biased/unreasonable/closed-minded/intolerant; why can't you be more aware/reasonable/open-minded/tolerant?). Another frequent tool is skepticism and theorizing as a defense of one's position (your position isn't *necessarily*/*theoretically* correct; therefore, you haven't really presented an *argument* for your position, just your *opinion*). Indeed, if liberalism has a battle cry, "that's just your opinion" is it. As Fish puts it, "liberals don't have to win the theory game in order to win; all they have to do is get antiliberal to play it." Ultimately, liberalism is just another form of relativism asserted as a response to absolutism (the assertion of particular principles as absolute truth). But it's a more manipulative form of relativism, because it not only asserts relativist principles (*I* define the bounds of rationality and truth) but also negatively characterizes other people's attempts to define truth in their own relative way. Rather than interacting with other people's concerns, you simply define them away as non-arguments/"pure opinion" and the like.

After quite a bit of observation, I've concluded that Tim Enloe is simply a classic Fish liberal trying to encourage "tolerance" for Protestantism over the "intolerance" of "absolutist" Catholics. You've got all the classic signs: defining the other side in pejorative terms (e.g., absolutist), placing their arguments outside of the scope of "reason," asserting skepticism as a defense to arguments, and above all, responding to people's real situational concerns and values with a theory that is not grounded in any actual experience (Tim's much-vaunted societas Christiana with general councils, papal "tolerance," and a TRVLY CHRISTIAN metaphysics). He talks about "constructive discourse" all the time, but don't play the game, people. If you play the game, he's won his rhetorical advantage, and you've compromised your beliefs over a tactic.

The truly (groan) ironic thing is that Tim persists in saying that he's anti-Enlightenment. In fact, he's only anti-half of the Enlightenment, the optimistic part that says that we can actually discover absolute truth through reason. But this whole idea of "tolerance" and "open-mindedness" as opposed to "bias" is simply classic Enlightenment thinking as well. It's still the same old "consider how your viewpoint *influences* your perceptions" as if there is some middle ground of reasonability and "bias" is a deviation from it. It's *still* idolatry of reason and idolatry of principle. Tim also persistently denies being a postmodernist, and I agree with his characterization as well. But to be entirely honest, I'd much rather deal with a sincere postmodernist than to be on the wrong side of a Enlightenment-style liberal playing the "theory game."

But no thesis is convincing without examples, so let's get to it. In a thread on GregK's discussion board, Tim Enloe recently called out Diane Kamer for asserting a false dichotomy on the issue of rhetoric in the Church Fathers. Diane (and Elliot Bougis) offered a series of prooftexts from Eastern Fathers that apparently supported papal supremacy, and Tim's response was that rhetorical conventions of the day meant that such comments could not be taken entirely at face value without slipping into anachronism ("reading in" a meaning). When Diane replied that this sort of thing can be reduced to absurdity, effectively rendering the entire notion of historical evidence useless, Tim replied as follows:

All such responses to a notation that classical rhetoric was an integral part of the mental furniture of the Church Fathers are immensely unhelpful, and serve only to derail discussions

When "Mathitria" raised the same objection, Tim replied:

The reason I don't want to discuss lists of prooftexts is because the Catholics who produce those texts never demonstrate to me that they have any kind of ability to think critically about their Catholicism, and how it affects their historical judgment. You are a prime example of this introverted "conservatism", Mathitria. If it isn't "Jesus set it up just like I think he did", it's "You must be a Higher Critic in disguise." Absolutely absurd. Constructive discourse CANNOT occur on terms like that; thus I refuse to invest significant time talking to folks who think that way and present their little "Shazam!" lists of texts.

[and elsewhere]

But this whole "Look at all these clear texts!" business simply obscures the fact that the Catholic's purpose is to justify a set of highly debatable theological a priorisms--which, while being Utterly Clear to himself because of the distincly Catholic mental furniture on which he "naturally" places the texts, just cannot be expected to function the same way for non-Catholics.

Now, one has to consider what it can possibly mean to speak of people's ability to "think critically about ... Catholicism" and their "affect[ed] ... historical judgment." What does it mean to "derail discussions?" What is this talk of "distinctly Catholic mental furniture" and things being "Utterly Clear?" This is simply the classic liberal defense: I see an absolutist, so I define him as unreasonable. Forget that Catholics are human beings who are Catholic not because of some perfectionistic argument that Cajetan or Ximines or Torquemada made to justify papal power, not because they were convinced by a pseudo-Isidorean decretal, not even because of some Platonic idea of what the Church should look like. Forget that they may have come to the best conclusion that they can based on experience; forget considering what that experience is; heck, forget reality altogether! Keep it on the ground of theory, and define rationality so that their theory is outside it. Then you won't have to deal with those pesky absolute principles.

"ELHamilton," whom Tim supported for making a "polls can say anything" argument about patristics, produced a brilliantly clear observation when he effectively admitted this:

This is a hopeless and prejudiced generalization, I'm sure, but my experience has taught me that, among highly intelligent and well-read Christians who delve into the interconfessional debates, most "sternly resolved true believer" types will end up on the Catholic/Orthodox side of the divide, and most "introspective struggling doubter" types will end up on the Protestant side of the divide. I'm a doubter-- and I can't really imagine myself in any other way. Trying to picture myself writing a clean-and-neat "Catholic convert" autobiography that perfectly ties off a hundred theological loose ends is almost comical. I just could never do that. It wouldn't be "me" talking, it would be me aping a popular literary genre.

But then, he also did the *right* thing. He started talking about *experiences*, like how upset he would be that he wouldn't be able to share Communion with his own mother. That's what matters in these situations, not some theoretical concern about who is right or wrong. Start talking not about theories, but about why people accept these theories (and not people who aren't walking around either, I'm talking about you and me). What is it in their experience that resonates with them? What shared experiences make a difference? cparks actually got at this a bit in a post that he (sadly) deleted, in which he expressed some doubts about whether his common experiences could really translate to other people, and whether his reasoning could really serve as a basis to talk to people with different experiences. That's a GOOD question; that is how you bridge gaps with people.

But Tim just can't break out of the cycle. Sure, he talks about facts, but even the facts have value and reality only so well as they fit into his THEORY. And of course, in his mind, any reasonable person fits the facts into his theory. It's *obvious* from history that the monarchial papacy is BAD. If you'd just look at the historical record, this would all be plain to you. And of course, that is the ultimate capitulation to the Enlightenment in the end: the faith that we can somehow "think through it" and "get the right answer" if we're just smart enough.

And like all good liberals, Tim's got a good set of indisputable a priori notions to confirm his theory that are supposedly obvious to anyone with good reasoning. The notion that the Catholic doctrine of the papacy is "too much power for one man" is exactly the kind of a priori position that precludes discussion. Tim's even adopted a code word for these presuppositions, "Trinitarian metaphysics," the definition of which is continually being tweaked to say that whatever philosophical presupposition went into the development of a monarchial papacy is un-Trinitarian by definition. Tim considers it an evident metaphysical truism that the monarchial papacy is contradictory to the Trinitarian resolution of the One-Many problem, and anyone who adopts any contrary philosophical position is simply not thinking like a Christian. This has manifested itself in a variety of ways. There's anti-Platonism (vs. Shawn McElhinney). There's the notion of the monarchial papacy reflecting a fundamentally Arian Christology. Recently, it's divine simplicity that irredeemably condemned Catholicism to monism. But one way or another, it boils down to viewing the monarchial papacy as a concept that is necessarily philosophically flawed and working back toward how it is wrong, unbiblical, untraditional, pagan, yada yada yada. It's a fundamentally necessitarian construction of history; it's somehow *obvious* from the historical facts that the monarchial papacy is a fundamentally flawed concept. No reasonable person examining the facts could come to any other conclusion. Or to capture the concept, "why won't anybody *engage* the historical evidence that I am presenting?" For example, ...

Why should we, then, even as His loyal followers, be able to come up with an Ideal Theory, Perpetually True and Plain As Day, even if all circumstances say the opposite, of how the Church works?

Just to see how far this goes, Tim accused me of this brand of necessitarianism when I jokingly said of Tradition "I know it when I see it, and [William Webster] ain't it." That was supposedly my flight to "Platonic apophaticism," as if I somehow conceived of this perfect ideal of Tradition sitting out there to be discovered. Actually, my position there was entirely based on the reality of Tradition, not some Platonic ideal. It's one thing to say that history is amenable to several interpretations, but it's another thing entirely to assert an interpretation of the passage that contradicts every possible reasonable interpretation of other passages by the same author (and I'm setting a pretty low bar for reasonability here). Webster does this not once or twice, but in virtually every source he cites, not limited to Fathers, but also including Vatican I documents, modern sources, and even his own opponents. I never intended to suggest by this that Tradition was some obviously self-evident entity obtainable by rational contemplation (indeed, I subsequently demurred by saying that one would be hard-pressed to make an argument for any particular understanding of Tradition within a limited amount of Internet space, which is hardly consistent with Tradition being a rationally self-evident entity). I'm only suggesting that common experience tells you that people who do this sort of thing aren't historians that people respect or heed.

Now, don't get me wrong. Stanley Fish would hate me just as much, because I'm an absolutist and I peskily assert troublesome principles of timeless morality rather than leaving everything up to adaptation. But I'm also an "experential absolutist" (as are most Catholics) rather than an Enlightenment-style rationalist; my experience leads me to believe that God communicates in unchangeable truths (at least sometimes). I don't think that Catholicism is true because of some flawlessly reasoned geometric argument, but simply because I think that there is a God and He chose a certain way to reveal things to us. As best as I can tell, the organ He chose to do so was the Catholic Church. It just looks like the right sort of thing; it corresponds to my experience of how human beings receive information. Like every other fallible person, I could be wrong. But what I won't do is sit on the sidelines on a life-changing matter because of skepticism or a speculative thory on how things ought to be or what is TRVLY apostolic teaching or whatever else I can think myself into doing. To me, that's just not living.

[Edit -- Link to more documentation on Dave Armstrong's blog.]

Saturday, November 20, 2004

Harvard 35, Yale 3!

"Ten thousand men of Harvard want vict'ry today,
For they know that o'er old Eli
Fair Harvard holds sway.
So then we'll conquer old Eli's men,
And when the game ends, we'll sing again:
Ten thousand men of Harvard gained vict'ry today!"

Well, "The Game" ended, and the Crimson gained victory for the fourth consecutive time against the Elis for the first time since 1922. This season has been quite a ride, especially with the nailbiter against Dartmouth and a hard-fought game against Penn, but that's what makes the accomplishment so sweet. And sweet it is! Harvard capped an unblemished 10-0 season by putting on a clinic against archrival Yale, scoring touchdowns in just about every way that they can be scored. Clifton Dawson struck first on the ground en route to setting the Crimson single-season rushing record. "The Game" started getting ugly with a 52-yard punt return TD by Brian Edwards, and a 100-yard (!) pick-six for Ricky Williamson. All-everything senior QB Ryan Fitzpatrick finished off the Bulldogs after halftime with one score on the ground and one more through the air. And as a little bonus for me, the starting QB for Yale was from Austin, which I hope will be a favorable omen for the Lone Star Showdown on Friday. All in all, there's only one word to describe the Crimson this year: PERFECT!

Saturday, November 13, 2004

Remember me being ticked off at the Aggies?

All is forgiven. The sand fleas got swatted, finally!

Oh, and incidentally, today was the Crimson's day as well. Say hello to the Ivy League champions.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

The Bible Answer Man is right!!

No, seriously! I had a tough time believing it myself, but Hank Hanegraaff, the self-proclaimed Bible Answer Man, has actually come down on the right side of two disputes against other Protestants. First, he's coming out with a new book that argues for the partial preterist interpretation of Revelation against the kooky Rapture theories of Tim LaHaye, and get this: it's being published by the same publisher who put out Left Behind! Here are some priceless quotes from the Dallas Morning News:

But the Rev. Tim LaHaye, co-author of the Left Behind books, called the decision by his publisher "stunning and disappointing" and said he felt betrayed. "They are going to take the money we made for them and promote this nonsense," he said.

The co-author of the new series, obviously, disagrees. "I am elated with Tyndale's support," said Hank Hanegraaff, the host of a syndicated call-in radio show, The Bible Answer Man. The first book in the new series, written with Sigmund Brouwer, is The Last Disciple. Additional volumes are planned....

"I don't know what science fiction he is reading," said Dr. LaHaye. "We believe the Rapture is going to come, not his nonsense that Christ came back in 68 A.D."

"I am reading the Bible, specifically Revelations [as] it was written for first-century Christians," retorted Mr. Hanegraaff. "I am not relying on some wooden, literal interpretation that is unsupportable."

As if that weren't enough, Hanegraaff also came out with a statement that Catholics don't really believe in works-salvation. That really ticked off notorious anti-Catholic Eric Svendsen, who already bore some animosity toward Hanegraaff for "his obviously premeditated and thug-like ambush of James White on the predestination issue a few months ago" (score one more for Hanegraaff!). In the Svendsen-Hanegraaff exchange, Hanegraaff was once again right, and his critic was once again wrong. The best part was that Svendsen's response exposed his blatant ignorance of Catholic theology. After stating that "Hanegraaff is confused on many points," Svendsen argues:

The real question at hand is not, Do Roman Catholics believe works are necessary to salvation? The real question is, Do Roman Catholics believe works are necessary to justification? More to the point, Do Roman Catholics believe they can earn eternal life? The answer to the final two questions is an uequivocal [sic] yes! Here is what Trent affirmed about justification and meriting eternal life:

Now, of course, it doesn't take any particular theological brilliance to discern the difference between merit in the Catholic sense and earning salvation by works in the Pauline sense. Indeed, it seems now that every Protestant that is not among the NTRMin coterie has managed to grasp it. Obviously, there are still significant differences on the concept of justification, but scurrilous charges that we Catholics teach works-salvation are, to use Mr. Hanegraaff's term, "unsupportable." Unfortunately, the repeated and conclusive demonstration of this fundamental misunderstanding of Catholic soteriology has not stopped some people from endlessly repeating the argument. And Hanegraaff is the one who is supposedly confused?

Anyway, after seeing Svendsen repeating the tired old argument with the requisite misinterpreted canons of Trent, we get treated to a nice new anti-Catholic riff:

And to the extent that the Roman Catholic sacramental system adds even more things necessary to meriting eternal life, it is even more reprehensible to the gospel than the single-work justification system of the Judaizers that Paul condemned in Gal 1:8-9.

Even if one were to accept the ... shall we say ... novel theological concept of the degree of reprehensibility to the Gospel being directly proportional to the number of added "things necessary to meriting eternal life," this is almost certainly wrong on its face, since it is quite improbable that the Judaizers, whom Paul criticizes for relying on the "workS of the law" (Gal. 3:3, 10-11), were merely advocating the single work of circumcision for justification. But hey, never let the facts get in the way of a good rant against Catholics, right? Just think, if he would've left out this argument, he might not have managed to work in the word "reprehensible."

It's evident that both LaHaye's and Svendsen's views got pantsed by Hanegraaff, and their flailing attempts to recover from the embarrassment only made them look more ridiculous. So, Hank Hanegraaff, you have my sincere thanks for your diligent work in making two people who couldn't deserve it more look foolish.

Harvard rollls to 8-0

Given my recent disillusionment about the sport of college football, I thought it would be nice to point out an accomplishment of some people who still actually play the game for the sake of playing the game. Ivy League players don't get scholarships. There are no bowls. No playoffs. No gigantic TV contracts. It's about getting out onto the field of play to represent one's school and to test one's personal abilities against an opponent. While I accept the reality of "big time" college football (and incidentally, despise the way it is being managed), there's definitely a part of me that loves the purity of Ivy League competition.

What's most impressive, though, is when a team playing purely for love of the game can match the achievements of teams with more commercial motivations. And that is exactly what the Crimson have accomplished this season. After shutting out Columbia, the Crimson team is 8-0, ranked #15 in Division I-AA as the only undefeated team in the division. They have two tough games remaining in the season: a trip to Philly for a game against the Penn Quakers (as usual, with the Ivy League title effectively on the line), and "The Game" at Harvard Stadium. But no matter how those games turn out, Harvard's season to this point is a real accomplishment, and I want to congratulate them on it.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

"God is not mocked" (Gal. 6:7)

Since Kerry hasn't yet admitted defeat, I can't say yet that he lost because of his hypocritical stance on his "Catholicism." But regardless, it is evident that Kerry reaped what he sowed by his utter disregard for the moral precepts of his self-proclaimed religion. The Corner ' s Kathryn Jean Lopez reports:

"Leonard Leo, Catholic adviser to the Bush-Cheney campaign tells me:
1. Catholics voted for President Bush over Senator Kerry by 51 to 48. That is a 4 percent gain over 2000.
2. Among regular Mass-attending Catholics, President Bush by 55-44 percent. This number was not reported in 2000, but the result is clearly impressive and debunks any suggestion that the Catholic vote is a myth.
3. The gain in Catholic support (4 points) surpassed the gain in the Protestant vote (2 points). "

Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap.
-- Galatians 6:7

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Latin theology and canon law

The following dialogue comes from Dave Armstrong's blog.

Tim Enloe remarked that he was interested in the effect of nominalism on the medieval concept of dominius, which inspired me to go on the following digression about Brian Tierney's theory of natural rights:
"Tierney observes that realism and nominalism are both completely unequipped to describe relationships between entities; they only describe entities themselves. I view the ramifications of that observation to be hugely significant, particularly in light of the East-West controversy over Augustine's formulation of the Trinity in terms of relationships as opposed to distinctions within the essence. If one is looking to describe relationships in the context of a Trinitarian philosophy, it seems that Augustine's account of the Trinity (and divine simplicity) would be helpful if not essential for coming to a Christian account of societal relations. It makes societal units and relationships of primary consideration, which could explain why the emphasis on divine simplicity in the West led to the Western legal system and governmental structures. Conversely, in the East, the emphasis was strongly on the Emperor's role in society and church, particularly in canon law, and one must wonder if the separation from Augustinian thought had anything to do with it. Eventually, I think that this analysis could be profitably extended to describing the role of the Pope and the bishops in the Church, but for now, I think the basic concept that the Latin concept of the Trinity could be a philosophical framework for describing Christian relations is simply fascinating. But, alas, this leaves me with a whole lot of reading to do before I can even speak intelligently about it."

Daniel Jones replied:
"It is very interesting that you bring this up. I have come to the reverse conclusion in my thinking now (surprise!), and it has taken me a while to unpack this information regarding simplicity. I firmly believe absolute simplicity is one of the motivating factors driving the filioque and the papacy. This is why I think Orthodoxy and Catholicism have two very different theologies. I've spent countless hours studying this topic, and I just don't see how the Latin view can be rectified, or made compatible with the metaphysics of the essence-energies distinction in Orthodoxy. I'm afraid that the neo-Platonic view of a simple essence, needs to be scrapped. If the act of willing is identical to the divine essence, I do not see how we can distinguish between generations (in the Trinity) and creation—thus creation being necessary and even homoousion with God (a kind of pantheism). Either necessary creation, or only "events" in God that are necessary (generation and procession) —thus God inacapable of creating. Note St. Gregory Palamas:
If according to the delirious opponents and those who agree with them, the Divine energy in no way differs from the Divine essence, then the act of creating, which belongs to the will, will in no way differ from generation (gennan) and procession (ekporeuein), which belong to the essence. If to create is no different from generation and procession, then the creatures will in no way differ from the Begotten (gennematos) and the Projected (problematos). If such is the case according to them, then both the Son of God and the Holy Spirit will be no different from creatures, and the creatures will all be both the begotten (gennemata) and the projected (problemata) of God the Father, and creation will be deified and God will be arrayed with the creatures. For this reason the venerable Cyril, showing the difference between God's essence and energy, says that to generate belongs to the Divine nature, whereas to create belongs to His Divine energy. This he shows clearly saying, "nature and energy are not the same." If the Divine essence in no way differs from the Divine energy, then to beget (gennan) and to project (ekporeuein) will in no way differ from creating (poiein). God the Father creates by the Son and in the Holy Spirit. Thus He also begets and projects by the Son and in the Holy Spirit, according to the opinion of the opponents and those who agree with them. (Capita 96, 97)
Another problem is proof-texting in the Fathers issues surrounding the filioque. Orthodoxy is happy to acknowledge that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son (or through the Son), within the context of "energetic" procession or eternal manifestation, but not in the context of hypostatic procession. See Lossky for the technical issues: http://www.geocit…I just don't think the Latin view with it's 'relations of opposition' of a simple essence is robust enough to maintain the diversity of persons in the Trinity (not to mention the apophatic nature of God's incomprehensibleness and transcendence). The question becomes, does the ability to spirate come from the Godhead or from a hypostasis?
Partly what is motivating me is realistic thinking. The Augustinian nature/grace dialect that I'm so vigorous to defend against the Reformed—maintaining synergy—falls apart under the context of absolute simplicity. If grace is a created effect or quality in the soul (which is all it can be if there are no uncreated energies of the Trinity), I do not see how Augustine is justified in his defense against Pelagius' De Natura—creature is still la creature by any other name (even if it is a superadded good). Which brings up another interesting point, if the most that we have union with is a created quality (even though in principle Charity is identical to the divine essence ST IIa. IIae. Q.23 A.2, AD. 1) this looks dangerously Arian. One might suggest divine indwelling, but this can't be union since we can't become God essentially. In short my defense of Augustine's nature/grace dialectic fits better under a real metaphysical distinction between God's operations and his essence, in order to maintain the real ontological divide between nature and grace—contra total depravity.
Actually, I think it is Rome's dogmatic isolation from the East that has brought about these differences. I love Augustine and Thomas, but I don't think they had the metaphysics in place (although one person has indicated to me some traces of the Cappadocian distinction in De Trinitate, but I haven't investigated it yet) to work out some of these problems like St. Maximus. Take a look at Free Choice in Saint Maximus the Confessor by Joseph Farrell… and…
Currently, I have not left the Roman Church and don't plan to right now; I'm a person in need of lots of prayer. If I was to ever become Orthodox, it would be a long prudent decision, and I would be more than willing to retract (and repent of) the assertions I've made above about Latin theology if shown otherwise. But where I stand right now looking at these questions, I cannot."

Fortunately, I had a backup plan in the likely event that I ended up getting embarrassed by the Orthodox argument (those guys are way too smart!), which appears to have happened here. Not knowing enough to meaningfully respond to this argument, I will take the "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em" approach. Assuming arguendo that the Eastern formulation is the correct one, it seems that a Christian society would still have to address social relations in some meaningful analogy to the internal workings of the Trinity. Would Gregory Nanzianzen's perichoresis formulation serve that purpose? I've always been curious about how the Latin circumincession concept differed from perichoresis based on the different descriptions of the Trinity, and I think is relevant to that discussion as well. Mostly, I'm just looking for a good place to start looking into the doctrine of the internal dynamics of the Trinity from an Eastern and Western perspective. Any suggestions are welcome.

Monday, November 01, 2004

Welcome to!

Having now consumed far too much space on various peoples comboxes, I've decided that I probably ought to reserve my more extensive brain dumps for my own blog. I don't have any specific plans in mind other than saving people the trouble of scrolling through my more verbose posts. Also, it will give me the chance to comment on certain blogs and other Internet fora that either don't allow comments or ban people of my religious persuasion with undue frequency. Of course, I may be tempted from time to time to author posts out of sheer vanity, and I hope that you'll forgive me for those lapses.

To discern information about me that might be of interest, you need only refer to the title of the blog. "Crimson" is the nickname for teams from the oldest institution of higher learning in the United States, which also happens to be the home of the oldest law school in the United States. Somehow, I managed to deceive this venerable institution into recognizing me as a Doctor of Laws, so I now feel justified in shamelessly trading on that credential. The "Catholic" part refers to my communion with Pope John Paul II, the successor to St. Peter and the Vicar of Christ on Earth. Normally, I wouldn't think it necessary to explain what I mean by "Catholic," but some people seem to be a bit confused about the concept.

If you consider anything are offended by the inanity of any of my posts, I have a completely valid excuse: I'm a Texas Aggie who happens to be a Cajun. Needless to say, it's hard to take myself too seriously! Normally, I would take this opportunity to wax poetic about my love for college football and the Aggies in particular. But right now, I'm extremely miffed at the team because as a Catholic in the South, I can't stand losing to Baptists. It's like being a Yankees fan and watching that choke job in the ALCS. Oh, wait, I am a Yankees fan! If Jean-Francois Queri manages to win the election, this will be one really bad year for yours truly. :-(

Anyway, I'm sure anyone whose curiosity is piqued will ask me for "the rest of the story," so I'll just call it quits for now!

Grace and peace to you.
-- JP