Tuesday, April 12, 2005

The light comes on!

I think I have genuinely identified what was confusing and frustrating me in my previous interaction with Dr. Svendsen, and oddly enough, it came from noticing a relatively innocuous-sounding statement in the middle of this response to Kevin Johnson on the subject of Mary:

In the first place, something doesn’t have to be “heretical” to be wrong, just as someone doesn't have to be a heretic to be wrongheaded. It is not so much of a concern that the statement betrays someone with an erroneous understanding of how to do biblical exegesis (something that is easily forgiven since it is something evangelicals engage in regularly). The primary concern is the heretical Marian mindset from which that statement springs.

Therein may lie the entire problem in a nutshell, which I will endeavor to explain. I think that Dr. Svendsen has drawn an astute distinction here between explicit and implicit error. Something that is explicitly erroneous, which is probably what one ordinarily considers "heresy," is the explicit denial of a proposition accepted as true. Denying the divinity of Christ, for example, is explicitly erroneous. On the other hand, there also appears to be a class of statements or conduct that is not explicitly erroneous but that *can* be erroneous depending on the actor's intent or the conclusions drawn from a proposition. These sorts of errors are, I believe, what Dr. Svendsen means by "apostasy in progress," when one has not yet gone out from Christianity. Dr. Svendsen clearly considers implicit error a far greater threat, as he indicated in this post and an earlier post:

In reality they have abandoned the truth of the gospel, and that abandonment of truth has a spiraling effect that should act as a sober reminder to all of us. Once one has successfully resisted some degree of truth, God releases his grip and allows him to pursue more severe rejection of truth. Once they accomplish that, the spiral continues in its downward course to apostasy—and, of course, along the way, they’ll end up taking many others with them. That’s the real danger. It’s easy to recognize error when it doesn’t look Christian—not so easy when it does. That’s why it’s always better for those who will eventually become apostate to do so quickly. If you’re going to “go out from us” and romance Rome, do so. Do it with gusto. Do it with courage. Do it with conviction. But do us all a favor and cease being subtle about it. Why contribute to someone else’s destruction?

I realize there will be others who disagree with me on this, but in a very real way, the imminent death of the pope is a good thing (this line will, of course, become a "whipping boy" quotation and will end up on numerous RC discussion forums and blogs to bolster their belief that I hate Catholics and am gleefully awaiting the pope's demise). It is a good think because it benefits the interests of the many who are trying to figure out what Roman Catholicism really is, what it believes, and in which direction it will finally go. The death of the pope means the appointment of another pope, who may be either more conservative or more liberal than the current pope--and knowing just who that is and in which direction he plans to steer his denomination is of primary interest to those of us who wish to see some clarity of statements on RC positions; not to mention that it matters for the future of Roman Catholicism at large.

Incidentally, I should mention that I saw nothing malicious in the latter statement, since I took it exactly as a request for the doctrinal conflicts to be made explicit. As I've said before, I think that is exactly the right course of action, and I certainly have no qualms about saying that increased clarity in Catholic beliefs is a good thing. Really, I share Dr. Svendsen's hopes in this regard. But I include it specifically here because it illustrates the theme that Dr. Svendsen views implicit (hidden) error as presenting even more danger than some explicit errors.

In the main, I agree both that there are implicit errors and that implicit errors are often more dangerous than explicit ones. This is the principal reason that I strive for everyone's theological cards to be laid on the table plainly and openly. A theological error cannot be addressed until made explicit in some way, either by reductio ad absurdam (illustrating that the explicit error logically follows from the person's beliefs) or by explicit admission of the erroneous conclusion or intent. From a dialectical standpoint, this means that implicit errors must be handled in a completely different manner from the method used to address explicit errors. The goal of dealing with the former is only to make the error explicit while the goal of the latter is to actually correct the error. Indeed, what makes implicit errors so much more dangerous is that they must be exposed before they are rebuked. In essence, you can't fast-forward to rebutting the view; you have to go through the entire dialectical process of exposing the error before you can even start to respond to it. In my opinion, insufficient attention is being given to this fundamental dialectical distinction, and that inattention is spoiling both the analysis of arguments and the presentation of arguments. I'll devote my next couple of posts to giving examples of how I see the problems manifesting themselves.


Anonymous said...

Well said! You are not far from the kingdom of God :)

CrimsonCatholic said...

If my wife is right about my ability to locate things right in front of my face, I will certainly require divine assistance to see it. :)

Anonymous said...

Jonathan, I'll look forward to seeing your analysis of how the arguments are being mis-presented. Perhaps I'll learn something useful.

Anonymous said...

Jonathan: following the lead of a certain brilliant RC apologist, could you when making your presentation state everything in terms of pop lyrics? Thanks! =D

CrimsonCatholic said...

Easy there, tiger! Dave's a friend of mine, not to mention I like his taste in parody music. :-)