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.]