A response to nonsense: Catholics and Scholarship again.

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 γένοιτοThe 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.

12 Comments

Filed under Catholicism, Patristics

12 responses to “A response to nonsense: Catholics and Scholarship again.

  1. I agree about the title of his post. I thought that was a bit of bad taste, but I left it alone. Didn’t want to come across as overly sensitive.

  2. Joshua McManaway

    Hey Jeremy, I agree – it’s why I put it last. I didn’t want that to seem like the crux of the matter, but it’s still sort of concerning that someone thinks, “Oh, my views are rightly and thoughtfully being critiqued – time to really turn on the hate!”

  3. Indeed. It just gives me a little bit of the feeling that he’s not taking any of this seriously.
    Btw, I just read your about page in conjunction with this post. Sounds like an amazing intellectual ride. I went to NOBTS. Now, I teach grad classes at Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans and undergrad at Loyola and St. Joseph’s Seminary College. It makes for an interesting starter conversation on syllabus day.

    • Joshua McManaway

      I saw that you had attended NOBTS. That’s wild. We will have to chat about that some time. Do you go to SBL? I may go this year, though it’s unlikely as I’m teaching my first class and I don’t want to ask for days to go to a conference my first semester teaching here. If I do and you’re there, we’ll have to grab a drink.

      • I normally go to SBL. But, we’ll likely have to postpone a year. I’m going to South Africa to graduate in December from the University of Stellenbosch (another pretty cool story). Also, I’ve got a conference in Grand Rapids the week before SBL. So, my funds will be depleted.
        It’d be great to hang out and grab a drink – two former Baptists🙂.
        Are you a member of CBA? I’m considering joining and would like to attend their annual meeting, but I think their annual meeting is at a different time of year. Might be able to travel again by that point.

  4. Joshua McManaway

    I also found his LDS (“Mormon”) comment at the end pretty tasteless as well, as though he were saying, “What if I just shifted my sights onto a target I know we can all agree to hate?”

  5. Well said. I agree completely.

  6. please,, if you preach a false gospel,, like paul says,, its christ only,, not and was never any other way,,christ,, not pope,, mary,,so lets tell the pope his church is false,, and never give out truth,,only lies,, and never salvation in this works ,,savation,,god bless

  7. Joshua McManaway

    Hi George, thanks for stopping by.

    What false Gospel do you believe Catholics are preaching? I certainly don’t think the Catholic Gospel (saved by grace through faith) is something with which Paul would disagree, do you?

    Nobody says we’re saved by the Pope or Mary. You can rest easy knowing that Catholics don’t put anyone in Christ’s place. A great paper (written by a man who was a Protestant at the time of its writing and is now Catholic) on this is Richard White’s Sola Gratia, Solo Christo: The Roman Catholic Doctrine of Justification

  8. Pingback: Biblical Studies Carnival September 2011 Episode II: The Biblioblogs Strike Back | Exploring Our Matrix

  9. Duder Dude

    Patton should tell it to Margaret Mitchell…lololol

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