Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Intro to proselytization

OK, OK, I've let my antipathy outrun my sympathy, and it's led me to be a bit less than charitable. A couple of Evangelical interlocutors have observed of late that I have been demanding of Evangelicals to make their case without pointing out what would make their case convincing. There are a couple of reasons that I have done this.

First, I think that as a general principle, it's the responsibility of people to think critically about their own arguments, rather than expecting their opponents to do it for them. That's a bit of discipline that frequently has to be beaten into people's heads, which is why I ordinarily just ask "why?," "what's your argument?," etc., etc., ad infinitum until the opponent comes to such a point of frustration or exhaustion that their confidence is shaken. If they refuse to do so, I simply berate them for stupidity and encourage people to ignore them until they can bring their arguments up to snuff. In other words, I take them to law school! There are very few things that will encourage people to think for themselves like being thrown to the sharks in public, and I will say that most people do not realize how appallingly bad their arguments are until they've had such an experience. That's essentially just public service. I don't do it for any apologetic reasons, but rather simply to reduce the amount of blathering that is introduced into supposedly serious argumentation intended to persuade others by the power of reason.

Second, and this is likely the more important part, it serves no useful apologetic (i.e., defensive) purpose from my perspective to make an Evangelical's argument for him. I've no evidence that what they say actually has any persuasive power to people who are actually devoted Catholics, and if the arguments are ineffective, then there's no reason for me to defend against them. My apologetic arguments are actually directed at areas where I think Catholicism is genuinely vulnerable to such arguments, and Protestantism doesn't count in my view.

But I've begun to think that there may be a purpose in "offensive apologetics," although the first thing I'll do it to correct this term. It's not apologetics, because it's not fundamentally defensive, and it's not evangelization as between Catholics and Protestants, because both are ontologically Christians and not in need of conversion to Christianity per se. I think the right word for it is "proselytizing," inducing someone to convert to my faith, and I actually embrace the negative connotations of that word because it is very much a hostile activity to deeply-held intellectual convictions. Proselytizing is not pretty; it involves going right at people's own notions of themselves as reasonable and good people. That ought to explain why I shy away from doing it absent a pressing benefit. But it occurs to me that there may be some Protestants who are likely enough candidates for conversion that it may actually be worth risking the hostility that could ensue.

In order to be as civil as possible about this particular endeavor, I've decided to begin with the defensive question: what would an Evangelical have to demonstrate to convince me that his position something that I could believe? From there, if the premises are admissible, then there is a positive argument to be made for Cathodoxy simply by flipping the premises into logical conclusions (I say Cathodoxy because the premises I have in mind are shared by both groups). But the latter is a subsequent matter, so I'll proceed to the former first.