As an undergraduate student at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, I could, without a second thought, dismiss Catholicism (without knowing what it really was) and all Catholics easily. In fact, like C. Michael Patton, I would say that I hated Roman Catholicism and, not that he has said this, that I just knew that most Catholics (those who were actually Papists) were going to hell. I was not in the minority there. I get this sort of response to Catholicism. I, however, never wrote blog posts titled “Why I hate Roman Catholicism.” Patton has decided, after being taken to task both with the content and tone of his post by Protestants and Catholics alike, to write a post in defense of what he said.
Jeremy at “Unsettled Christianity” has responded against to Patton’s post and I think has made an interesting point with his story.
Brian LePort has written another calm response to Michael as well.
I have a few things I guess I can add to this discussion as an Evangelical-turned-Catholic.
Firstly, all revelation, by nature, restricts our freedom in what we can and cannot say if we’re to remain honest to revelation. If we believe that God really did reveal some things (whatever you take the word ‘reveal’ to mean), then there is already a limitation. This is the nature of naming or categorizing anything – it is a limitation. Not all limitations are bad. The Church’s teaching authority is as much an imposition on me as gravity is on my body or logic is on my mind. I was an atheist before I became an Evangelical. I was an irritating, know-it-all, quoting Nietzsche without understanding Nietzsche atheist. I have heard from atheist friends that by becoming a Christian, I have given up my ability to be a rational, critical reader of the Bible and Church history. Would Michael say that I am no longer a critical thinker because I now affirm the Resurrection and say with faith that I know it to be true? How about the Apostles? Ought they to have doubted Christ’s resurrection in perpetuity for good measure? Is ‘faith’ just a good guess in Michael’s theology, not a gift from God, an epistemological source of Truth about the mysteries? Ought I to have remained atheist or perhaps only made my way to agnosticism? I know he wouldn’t prefer that, but in trying to score cheap points against Catholics, he’s set the stage for such an argument.
Michael’s praise of doubt has rightly been criticized as empty skepticism, the sort of methodology used by people who tell us that by not believing anything, they are the true scholars, the truly unbiased. Bryan Cross’ examples were great. If someone tells me I don’t have arms, I need not think, “Well, in order to be truly critical here, I ought to accept the fact that maybe I’m wrong about my having arms. Perhaps they are right.” At that point I should throw up my possibly non-existent arms because that sort of thinking makes people crazy.
Catholics are a community and do theology accordingly. Could one remain an orthodox Christian in the 4th century while claiming that the logos is simply an emanation of the supreme God who did not create but sent His Wisdom to teach us about how we can be liberated from materiality? No. Can one imagine Marcion writing a letter to his friends complaining that those silly orthodox Christians are so weighed down with their orthodoxy that they won’t even let him teach that the OT is not Scripture? I cannot. It would have been ridiculous. There are certain things that go into being a Christian and those things, as stated above, are naturally limitations. Apples cannot be oranges. This is not an insult to oranges. If one does not want to be Catholic because they find something objectionable, they are free not to be Catholic. But, calling oneself Catholic naturally brings with it certain “things” and those things are, just like revelation in general, limitations. If they are true, and I believe they are, they are beneficial limitations.
Michael goes through a list of things with which he disagrees (the usual list, handled so many times on the internet it makes little sense to get into it here). I think the difference between what Michael does as a Protestant and what I do as a Catholic is that I am willing to submit that the democracy of the Christian dead and the community of the living is probably in the right when I disagree with things. Does this mean that the Church asks me to be infantile in my beliefs? μη γένοιτο. The Church asks no such thing. Read Fides et Ratio by Blessed John Paul II. As a Catholic, I have yet to have anyone tell me anything is “out of bounds” for questioning. Does this mean that I teach against something before I understand it? No. Chesterton tells a story of two types of men who come across a fence built across a road. The modern reforming type of man looks at the fence and determines that he has no use for it, that it serves no purpose and knocks it down. The other man is a bit more historically inclined, a bit less sure that he is in the right about the fence. He studies it and thinks on the fence for a long time before deciding how to proceed. I try to be the second man, even when my modern reforming tendencies come out.
Lastly, I just want to speak to the tone. I am at times snarky, perhaps even downright mean. I can admit this. However, Michael’s justification of his gaffe has me shaking my head. When you are taken to task for your tone and content of your post, the wise decision is probably not to write a post with a title such as, “Why I hate Roman Catholicism” and then discuss how you feel you have the “right” to write such a “wounds a friend post every once in awhile.” He affirms how great it is to see his Protestant brethren supporting Catholics, but then justifies his own ridiculous post. At least he affirms that posts like that do little to glorify Christ.