Monday, May 30, 2005

Today We Honor Those Who Gave the Ultimate Sacrifice and All Those Who Have Served Honorably in the Military

Jamie Donald wrote in comments below:

Today is Memorial Day in the USA. As a member of the military, I am not asking you to condone military actions. But I do ask you to consider that military members serve in order to protect their countries and their countrymen. Many have lost their lives offering this protection. Please remember them today and pray for their souls. Thank you.

Thank you very much for your service to your country, Jamie, and also to all the men and women who have done so and are doing so, especially those reading these words. We owe more to you than we can ever express. I've always appreciated you, and am extremely grateful for your sacrifices, and those of your families (especially to those who offered the greatest sacrifice: their own lives).

As a non-military person, I've been extremely moved (to tears) at places of memorial, such as Gettysburg and the Vietnam War Memorial (both were almost mystical experiences for me; I was moved to my soul); also in watching movies like Saving Private Ryan, which show what has been involved in combat situations. My family will be watching some kind of documentary tonight about these sacrifices and heroic actions (right after I post this), because I want my children to appreciate and honor those in the military as I do.

We should all pause and remember the souls and families of those who have died in this service.
During the course of doing deliveries at my second job, I met a mail carrier who lost her husband in the war in Iraq. At that time, there were only about 49 or so soldiers from Michigan who had been killed in the war. This poor woman was working this job and seeking another, in order to support their child and mortgage. She is only about 25 years old. There are lots of families like this, who have lost a loved one, or who have heroically sacrificed in other ways. We mustn't forget them, or fail to honor them.

The United States has (for the most part, but not always: as in the wars against the Indians) fought for the freedom of others. This is not a very common act in history. We were key in liberating Europe from Nazi tyranny and genocide. We saved South Korea from Communist rule and tried to do the same in Vietnam. Sure, we had interests in each region, too, but we still were fighting for the right of people to be free. And that makes me proud of my country (even though I am extremely critical of it in many areas, such as its legal abortion and -- increasingly -- infanticide and euthanasia). Or, I should say, I am proud of our war efforts, again for the most part.

Currently, we are fighting bloodthirsty terrorists and (in the course of this crucial effort) helped to free millions of people from oppressive regimes in Afghanistan and Iraq. We're not the ones blowing up civilians in a cowardly, ruthless manner (though again, our legal abortion makes us rank hypocrites in a non-military fashion). We're trying to get these murderers to stop doing these heinous acts, so that people can live in peace and govern themselves democratically.

So I tip my figurative hat to Jamie and all those serving in the military, for America, and also those in the military of other countries who are also fighting for the right cause -- and even for soldiers who are doing their best in a military situation where they cannot control the goals and overall nature of the military operations they serve in. They are still sacrificing and serving. There was many a German soldier who thought little of Hitler. But they were serving their country, and cannot be blamed for everything that happened in Nazi Germany and in its war effort.

Review of My Book: "A Biblical Defense of Catholicism"

From an anonymous Catholic:

A solid apologetic in a contemporary style that sacrifices nothing. Excellent research and documentation is presented logically. I will return to this book often. While I appreciated Karl Keating's book, I found Armstrong less anecdotal and more substantial. Another thing I appreciated was his thoughful and accurate representation of Protestant positions on doctrine. There is no sense of better-than snobbery, only attention to detail that, while clearly presented from a Catholic perspective, invites the reader to think their own thoughts and arrive at their own conclusion. At the time I first read this book I was most interested in the very helpful chapters relating to Mary and also to the Eucharist but the whole book is excellent.

Links:

amazon.com page
My info-page, including Introduction and excerpts

You can purchase this book, along with ten others of mine, in electronic format (Word or PDF) for only $25.00. The "deluxe" version of Biblical Defense included in that deal has many internal links, making it very searchable and convenient to use for apologetics, and also indices that aren't even included in the paperback version. I make more royalties in selling my books this way than I do from 15 sales of this book in paperback. And you get a whole lotta material (over 22oo pages and 5.5 MB) for a very affordable price (only $2.27 per book).

Dialogue on Apostate Churches and Choosing Churches (with "BWL")

"BWL" attends a Lutheran church. These are his follow-up questions, in response to my paper (also replying to a Lutheran): Honor Thy Denominations Rather Than Thy Church Fathers? (Lutherans, Sola Scriptura, & the Fathers). His words will be in blue.

Hi BWL,

Thanks for your thoughtful reply. You are a pleasure to dialogue with.

I maintain, however, that at the end of the day Catholics also use "private judgement." The only way I could see that this would not be the case would be if Catholics would never, ever, ever under any condition dissent against their church.

As long as it remains faithful in those tenets to which we are absolutely bound (as it always has) then we do not and should not do so.

I don't subscribe to the view that Catholics are mindless robots of the pope,

Good. We aren't, anymore than any Christian is a "mindless robot" of the Bible or the Nicene Creed. Everyone believes certain things, and belief is not the same thing as "mindless following."
so I think this must be the case. To give you some examples, what would you do if hypothetically speaking the pope, along with all of the RC bishops in council declared any of the following:

1. Contraception is totally allowed for Catholics
2. "Gay marriages" are allowed for Catholics
3. The creed will be replaced by the statement "there is no God but Allah and Mohammad is his prophet"


I would sadly conclude that I have been deceived about Catholicism as I understood it to be, and leave.

Now, of course I realize that the likelihood of any of these (esp. #3) is nil. But hypothetically speaking, what would you do?

I would immediately look for another Christian communion that held true to traditional Christianity. I would probably (I imagine) wind up back in a small, conservative non-denominational group, like what I was in for much of the 80s. I would have to ditch the (Catholic or Orthodox) notion of "one, true, institutional Church."

I know contraception is a big issue for you,

Yeah, it is, just as it was for the Church Fathers and folks like Luther and Calvin . . .

but I'm guessing you might be willing to submit to the church on it more than #2 or #3.

No. It's a very grave sin. I'm a pro-lifer and a Christian who obeys God; I don't play games with something as utterly serious and God-ordained as the transmission of life and the deepest purpose of sexuality.

But if you would dissent and even break with the church over any of these, then how have you abandoned "private judgement"?

Such a circumstance would be extraordinary. Thus far, it hasn't happened, and even you admit that the likelihood is "nil." Arguing about the remotest hypotheticals is far from abandoning or accepting private judgment. This isn't about reality at the moment. It's just a philosophical "game," so to speak. But I'm much more interested in following God in His true Church than in playing these mind games of "what if" and so forth. I answered honestly; I just don't think this proves what you think it proves regarding private judgment.

If you have abandoned it, would you say there is no reason you would ever leave the church? Even the ones above?

No; that's always been my position. I've always been willing to be convinced of other positions, too, just as I was when I converted to Catholicism. That's why I love dialogue so much. But in fact, I haven't seen anything in 15 years now that would make me doubt that the Catholic Church is what She says She is. So I am here because I believe it to be the fullest truth obtainable within Christianity.

If you Protestants think that about your own positions (I use the plural, because there are many, of course), then you ought to be willing to fully defend them, too, and also give them up if they are shown to be erroneous. But instead, I have the hardest time finding any Protestant who will look closely and honestly at these very important root-level considerations. That's why I admire you for making some attempt to do that.

Of course, you also have faith the church would never teach any of these things,

Exactly, and since it hasn't historically, I see no reason to believe that it will in the future, precisely because it has been uniquely protected by God against doing so.

but keep in mind this is all in the hypothetical.

Exactly . . .

I think Catholics are Catholics not so much because they submit to the magisterium, but because they agree with what it teaches in the first place.

Both are true.

If you hadn't become convinced of the RC teachings when you were looking into Catholicism on say contraception and divorce, would have you become Catholic?

No, because it was clear to me that this was what the Christian Church had always held, and that it was being compromised today by many if not most Christian groups. Generally speaking, I converted because I believed the Church was what She claimed to be. I had basically become convinced of the truth of everything that the Church teaches, but not exhaustively, and not in minute detail. I learned about why the Church holds what She does, right after my conversion, when I started writing, for the sake of explaining to my Protestant friends.

But the prior assumption in all this was that there was such a thing as "the historical Church, established by Christ," and that this was an identifiable entity, that could be shown to be such, by historical examination, in faith. If I had believed beforehand that no such institutional Church existed (as many Protestants do, on unbiblical, ahistorical grounds), then I wouldn't have considered converting. I could have just stayed where I was, and practiced my own brand of Christianity as I construed it. But I knew enough to know that Christianity is intrinsically historical and incarnational, so I couldn't simply do that. I knew too much and therefore had to keep searching till I found the one True Church, in the fullest sense of that term.

These things are ultimately matters of the history of the Church: the Body of Christ and the embodiment of Christian doctrine, not my choice or any individual's choice. If all Christians opposed contraception before 1930, then they did, and Christians must accept that as a hugely relevant factor. It's ludicrous to believe that no Christian understood the truth about contraception properly until the good ole Church of England in 1930, and later, the godly Sexual Revolution and its free sex message. . It's not just a matter of my opinion. I thought contraception was fine (didn't have the slightest concern about it) till I started to hear facts like that, and till I was confronted with the moral logic of a true pro-life position (as I was in the Rescue movement at the time, and wondered why Catholics opposed contraception); then I was forced to choose between my radically individualistic "choice" and the Mind of the Church, as expressed by its constant belief through the centuries.

Same questions go for converts to Lutheranism, Methodism, Baptists or whatever.

Indeed.

Perhaps the distinction is in applying "private judgement" i.e. that Protestants, especially those coming out of the radical Reformation (solo Scriptura types) are much more likely to use their private judgement and break with their church for the most silly reasons imaginable.

Yep. There have been splits among Amish-type groups over things like the use of buttons. I read that in Christianity Today.

As for interpeting the Scripture and the Fathers (yes, Protestants such as Chemnitz interpret the Fathers too, and both Protestants and Orthodox think the RC has departed from the Fathers), the same question applies to us all: why accept your interpretation?

Because it is consistent with the facts of history, of course. It accepts what the Fathers believed (as a matter of consensus, not absolute unanimity). I would argue that Protestant views (where they depart from Catholic ones) cannot establish their case historically, and that this is clearly, almost incontrovertibly the case.

I don't see why it doesn't apply to the Catholics just as well or how the Catholic answer is any better than the Lutheran one.

Simply put: because of our historical pedigree, and the overwhelming weight of historical argument. Now, are you prepared to answer all my questions that I asked individually or not? [in the paper referred to at the beginning] I've answered all of yours.

God bless,

Dave

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Honor Thy Denominations Rather Than Thy Church Fathers? (Lutherans, Sola Scriptura, & the Fathers)

"wildboar" (Steve Parks, a Lutheran pastor, or soon to be one) has written an interesting piece over at Here We Stand, a conservative Lutheran blog, entitled, Honor Thy Fathers? This short essay gets right to the heart of the matter, with regard to the nature of the Protestant Rule of Faith, or sola Scriptura, which (following Luther and Calvin) states that while properly biblical tradition is helpful and worthy of respect, Holy Scripture is the sole infallible rule of faith, over against any Church or Tradition. I shall cite it in its entirety, and then respond below (very slightly revised, with italics added). I posted my questions initially on that blog. Later, "CPA", another Lutheran, joined the discussion.

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It has been suggested that Lutherans often find themselves uncomfortably caught in the middle of many ecclesiastical debates. Indeed, much to our chagrin, conservative Lutherans have been labeled “too Catholic” by most Protestants and “too Protestant” by most Catholics. Perhaps this tension is best illustrated by the Lutheran approach to Scripture, and consequently, to the writings of the church fathers.

The Formula of Concord identifies the Old and New Testaments as the “the sole rule and standard according to which all dogmas together with [all] teachers should be estimated and judged” (The Formula of Concord, Ep. I.I, as found in Concordia Triglotta [Milwaukee, WI: Northwestern Publishing House, 1999], 777). Thus, Lutherans readily confess the doctrine which has come to be known as sola Scriptura. This, however, does not mean that Lutherans make the mistake committed by many Protestants of altogether ignoring the writings of the church fathers. Indeed, as Chemnitz notes:






The safest way to educate and remedy [our] own simplicity would be to consult the fathers of the church who, in the times of the pristine purity and learning directly after the apostles, were active in expounding [various subjects] publicly and with characteristic diligence, and to hear them as they conferred among themselves and shared their well-considered and pious opinions on the basis of God’s Word.

(Martin Chemnitz, The Two Natures in Christ translated by J.A.O. Preus [St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 1971], 19)


Far from contradicting the teaching of the Formula of Concord (which he helped author), Chemnitz immediately cautions:






However, the norm and rule of judgment must always be the voice of God as revealed in Scripture, to which all statements, even those of the most ancient scholars, must be subjected and according to which they must be examined and interpreted.

(Chemnitz, The Two Natures in Christ, 20)

In pithy fashion, Luther writes:






Whenever we see that the opinions of the fathers are not in agreement with Scripture, we respectfully bear with them and acknowledge them as our forefathers; but we do not on their account give up the authority of Scripture.

(Martin Luther, Lectures on Genesis as found in Luther’s Works edited by Jaroslav Pelikan, Vol. 1 [St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 1958], 122)

To state it succinctly, therefore, Lutherans believe that when the church fathers depart from the voice of Christ sounding forth in the Scriptures, we must depart from the teaching of the fathers.

------------------------------------------------

As a preface, let me state that I like wildboar's writings, and have complimented him on them.

My questions are:

1) Who determines whether the Fathers (generally or individually) are "biblical" and "right or wrong" based on a comparison with the Bible?

2) On what grounds does this standard have more authority than the Fathers whom it / his / her deems "non-biblical? So, for instance, if Chemnitz says that Augustine or Chrysostom or Ambrose or Irenaeus are "unbiblical" concerning thus-and-such, why should I accept his opinion over against that of these eminent Fathers whom he is critiquing?

3) Now, if you say that this is determined by a vote of Lutheran scholars or pastors or something (I don't know what your answer would be; I'm just being hypothetical here), then how is that all that different from what Catholics do (i.e., applying some authority besides Scripture itself to authoritatively interpret Scripture, and correct or confirm expositors of it)?

4) How is that (the scenario in #3) still somehow sola Scriptura, while Catholic dogmatic pronouncements are not? What's the practical difference (apart from Catholic considerations and claims of infallibility, where applicable, which is a clear difference)?

5) And how is accepting some Lutheran denominational pronouncement on which patristic statements are biblical and which are not, more intrinsically authoritative than (again) what occurs in the Catholic Church?

As readers can by now surmise, my position is that sola Scriptura inevitably breaks down as internally incoherent and inconsistent. The bottom-line question (when the issue is examined at with sufficient scrutiny) really becomes: on what grounds do we accept one exegetical / hermeneutical / dogmatic authority over another? Why choose Lutheran (or Reformed) interpretations over that of the Fathers, or of Catholicism or Orthodoxy?

This Lutheran argument is, in the end, either circular, or proves and establishes nothing, and is entirely arbitrary. If someone disagrees with that assessment, I would like to hear and understand why, based on answers to my questions and any other relevant considerations that could be brought to bear.

[I will probably paste your post and this reply on my blog, too, if that's okay, because I think it's a very important discussion, especially for Protestants to consider]

In Him,

Dave

------------------------------------
CPA made a reply on the Here We Stand blog. His words will be in red:

Dave, in practice for a great many issues (including most if not all of the ones that separate Roman Catholics and Augsburg Evangelicals) the problem is not nearly so involved as you make it. You write: "So, for instance, if Chemnitz says that Augustine or Chrysostom or Ambrose or Irenaeus are 'unbiblical' concerning thus-and-such, why should I accept his opinion over against that of these eminent Fathers whom he is critiquing?"

In so many cases, what you find on investigation is that patristic viewpoint is actually not based on sustained Biblical exegesis. When you go to the analysis, it's just not there. Let's take the issue of free will (which is one in which the fathers differ). St. Irenaeus says we have free will to turn or not to turn to God. St. Augustine denies that. Who is right? Your way of reasoning suggests that it is instantly a "he-said, she-said" problem, and so we need a single authority to decide. In reality, however, even a cursory examination shows that while St. Augustine based his view on a
serious, sustained engagement with the vital texts of Romans 9, St. Irenaeus did not (he used the Bible on other issues, but not on this, where he simply assumed a particular philosophical position--incompatibilism--and argued that lack of free will in things of God means lack of responsibility). Given that fact, sola scriptura instantly decides the issue: not so much that St. Irenaeus is wrong, but that he does not really have a viewpoint relevant to the issue. (That would be true of most of the rest of the fathers on this issue as well.)

Many similar examples could be produced as well.

Hi CPA,

It's not at all certain that Augustine denied free will, in the sense that you (and standard reformed / Lutheran polemics) are claiming (or, additionally, that all Church historians agree that he did). I dealt with this question at great length in the following paper (part II):

St. Augustine: Which Christian Body is Closer Theologically to His Teaching?: Reformed Protestants or Present-Day Catholics? {link}

So that is my answer to the particular alleged "counter-example" you have offered. Beyond that, you merely engage in more of the ultimately circular reasoning that I am critiquing, by stating:

In so many cases, what you find on investigation is that patristic viewpoint is actually not based on sustained Biblical exegesis. When you go to the analysis, it's just not there.

First of all, this is your judgment. If others disagree (whether scholars or historical institutional Christian positions), we must still decide upon what basis to choose. You have made your argument. But you are not ultimately any kind of authority (nor am I). One has to accept the interpretation of a larger institution than themselves (for me, the Catholic church, for you, the Lutheran, and historic Protestantism to some extent).

Secondly, St. Irenaeus' position is not rendered untrue simply because he personally may not have made elaborate exegetical arguments for it. Others may have, and there are other grounds for determining the truth besides exegesis, in the first place. All positions must be harmonious with the Bible; on that much we can all agree.

Conversely, Augustine may have been wrong in some of his arguments (i.e., assuming he denied free will). The Church has deemed double predestination and the denial of human free will (in a certain sense) to be erroneous positions. Individual Fathers, may, of course, be wrong on some things.

Thirdly, you have simply assumed (according to the notion perspicuity: itself severely flawed and questionable) that the Bible is clear on this question, so that it is a slam dunk for Augustine (as you interpret him) and against Irenaeus and others who take his position. But that is precisely what is at issue.

Some Christian traditions assert free will (while not denying predestination of the elect) and others deny it. We still have to choose. Why accept the historic Lutheran / Reformed position (of course, Melanchthon differed with Luther on this, so there is some amnbiguity)?

All you have accomplished, therefore, is:






1) assume that Augustine believes certain things (which are questionable).

2) assume that he is right and other fathers wrong, based on:

3) an unproven assumption of perspicuity, and

4) an unproven assumption that sola Scriptura (itself unproven and unbiblical and suffering from a host of internal inconsistencies) "instantly decides the issue."


You've made several assumptions, which themselves have to be proven, to have any weight.

In the end, I still contend that the bottom-line questions are precisely the ones I have asked. I am asking that a Lutheran make a straightforward attempt to give some sort of simple answers to my simple questions. After that, I would be happy to argue particulars, but we must grasp what our presuppositions are, and the difficulties therein (i.e., fundamental issues and premises), before rushing off to argue about what Augustine and Irenaeus believed on thus-and-so.

Wildboar's argument was very broad and "presuppositional." I answered in the same vein. I would like to see counter-replies to my honest (and I think, important) questions.

BWL has made some effort to do so on my blog (but not completely). Neither you nor wildboar really have. He has made no reply, and you have gone right to a particular, with several unproven assumptions; amounting to not much of a compelling argument at all (with all due respect).

Please, will you or anyone else try to answer the specific questions that I asked? I carefully answered all of BWL's questions, and I have given a lengthy reply to your argument also. But so far, many of the aspects of my argument have been passed over and ignored. It's still early; perhaps someone will eventually provide an answer . . .

God bless,

Dave

CPA made a lengthy reply at Here We Stand, mostly about St. Augustine, with some repetition of his earlier points. I responded:

I want to discuss the presuppositional issues, not Augustine.

Not all patristic views must be based upon Scripture Alone. There is also Tradition and reason brought to bear. You're presupposing sola Scriptura (as we would expect a Protestant to do, but that doesn't make it compelling for anyone else).

And, of course, sola Scriptura isn't taught in Scripture (where we would expect to find it if it is true, and is a statement about what all Christians should accept with regard to Scripture and its authority). So where does it come from? Well, it's a tradition of men! Thus, this position reduces (quite ironically) to a non-biblical, arbitrary one, whereas it is made out to be the only viable position.

I'll look to see if my questions were answered in the other posts, or if this is to be a wild goose chase again, as is the usual state of affairs with discussions such as these.

Dave,

Let me pull back and outline where I am on Sola Scriptura, and why I keep focusing on "details":

Right now, I believe the Lutheran understanding of Scripture to be correct. Where Lutheran interpretations differ from Catholic interpretations the latter seem to me to be incorrect. I also believe that I have a moral obligation to follow my understanding of Scripture; this follows from first of all what I believe to be a general obligation of honesty to be faithful in one's interpretation of others' words, and even more from it being God's word which is in question. As a result I feel I cannot in conscience be a Catholic.

O.K., I'm sure you've heard this before. But if someone were to try to convince me to become Catholic they would have to do one of the following:

1) Convince me in detail that the Catholic interpretation of the disputed passages is the correct one.

or

2) Convince me that the apostles did really believe and ordain that the words they left in Scripture were to be authoritatively interpreted by their successors the bishops, esp. Peter's successors in Rome.

or

3) Convince that no text can be rationally conclusive in the absence of a living authority to interpret it and if such a authority exists that no interpretation contrary to that authority's interpretation can be convincing.

As I see it, 3) is what you argued for. I have put up a reply to it on Here We Stand. I find it completely unconvincing, and when taken seriously a deeply skeptical point of view. Catholic apologists would, I think, be better served by sticking to the specifically Christian arguments 1 or 2, rather than by the epistemological/hermeneutical argument of 3.


CPA then responded with another post at Here We Stand, entitled, "Does a Text, Any Text, Need an Authoritative Interpreter to Make Real the Moral Obligation to Interpret It Correctly?" I shall cite it (as is my custom) in its entirety and reply to his arguments. I thank Chris for the vigorous, thought-provoking reply. I always love to receive those:

Dave Armstrong has challenged Wildboar with the common assertion that sola scriptura cannot be valid, since it does not have an authoritative court to decide which interpretations of Scripture work.

Technically, that was not my particular argument here, though I would certainly maintain that an authoritative Church is necessary, since I think that is the biblical, Catholic, and historic Christian position, and the only non-circular one possible to take, given that same history and Holy Scripture. My concern was with, rather, the relative plausibility of claimants for proper interpretation of the Fathers, as noted in my question #5:





The bottom-line question (when looked at with sufficient scrutiny) really becomes: on what grounds do we accept one exegetical / hermeneutical / dogmatic authority over another?

To the possibility that Scripture might be read to prove a Church Father wrong he asks:

Again, this is an inaccurate portrayal of why I asked the questions. I don't deny at all (nor does the Catholic position) that Scripture could disprove a position of a Church father. Chris acts as if I question the very "possibility." Why he thinks that I would think this, would be, no doubt, a fascinating aside, but we'll move ahead for now.

[at this point, my five questions, asked in the original post above, are cited]

Here’s my problem with this, and it is one I have stated before: the underlying assumption here is that Scripture as a written document cannot ultimately speak clearly enough to make us guilty from transgressing it without a human court of authority to enforce its statements with correct interpretation.

This can hardly be my "underlying assumption" because I don't believe it in the first place! I stated my disagreement with this most recently and in the most detail (as I recall, anyway) in my paper,

The Sufficiency of Scripture and the Church Fathers (Particularly, St. Athanasius and the Trinity)

Edwin Tait, an Anglican friend of mine, made a statement with which I agreed wholeheartedly:

Of course the Fathers thought that they could prove their view from Scripture. They also thought that the historic communion of bishops in succession from the Apostles, gathered in Councils (with Rome playing some role, which I don't want to debate here), could be counted on to interpret Scripture correctly. The whole sola scriptura debate only became possible when a sizeable number of influential Christians began proclaiming that the bishops gathered in Council, in communion with Rome, had seriously erred in interpreting Scripture over a period of several centuries. Of course both sides can appeal to the Fathers, because the Fathers never thought of Scriptural sufficiency and the authority of the Church/Tradition as being at odds.
I stated my own view very precisely, later:

But is Scripture sufficient to refute Arianism on its own . . .? I think so, . . .

Nevertheless, I think it is also true that if a person was in a hypothetical situation where they knew absolutely nothing of Church history, Christian theology, and precedent in how these doctrines were and are thought about and derived from Scripture, and was tossed a Bible, that modalism (aka Sabellianism) and Arianism might seem as "plausible" to them as trinitarianism seemed. After all, the Trinity is not an easily-grasped doctrine, and it is not immediately accessible to human reason. It is a revelation and mystery which must ultimately be accepted in faith (not to undermine its scriptural proofs).

So, while wholeheartedly agreeing with you that the case can be made by Scripture, I think we fool ourselves if we don't recognize the role of Tradition and precedent as a strong influencing factor in how we all think. Most of us have grown up in cultures and/or households where trinitarianism and the Deity of Christ was taken for granted. It was the air we breathed.

But if one grew up in a secular context or was completely ignorant of historic theology, sure, I could see how they could grab a Bible and conclude that it taught
Arianism or modalism (which is quite a bit more subtle). Of course, I agree that this would be an opinion based in ignorance of the totality of Scripture teaching and proper exegesis and hermeneutics and lack of understanding of difficult passages where commentary is most helpful. But one could still do it.

And again, in the same paper (emphasis added now):

As I have stated repeatedly, binding Church authority, is a practical necessity, given the propensity of men to pervert the true apostolic Tradition as taught in Scripture, whether it is perspicuous or not. The fact remains that diverse interpretations arise, and a final authority outside of Scripture itself is needed in order to resolve those controversies. This does not imply in the least that Scripture itself (rightly understood) is not sufficient to overcome the errors. It is only formally insufficient by itself.
. . . I write entire books and huge papers citing nothing but Scripture. It doesn't mean for a second that I don't respect the binding authority of the Catholic Church or espouse sola Scriptura. St. Athanasius made some extensive biblical arguments. Great. Making such arguments, doing exegesis, extolling the Bible, reading the Bible, discussing it, praising it, etc., etc., etc., are all well and good (and Catholics agree wholeheartedly); none of these things, however, reduce to or logically necessitate adoption of sola Scriptura as a formal principle, hard as that is for some people to grasp.


These sorts of clarifications are extremely important if one is to understand my position, and that of the Catholic Church (and, I would say -- provocatively, no doubt --, also the view of the Bible and the Fathers). If a reader doesn't grasp these distinctions and positions, then I urge them to cease reading this dialogue right now, because nothing good can come of it if the two opposing positions are not properly comprehended. I can only hope that my opponent(s) will better understand the Catholic position after my explanation of it in this regard. I think it's a good thing, because here it is shown that there is more agreement than many on either side suspect. This is good news. There are differences remaining concerning Bible and Tradition, but there are also exciting areas of agreement, if only this could be more widely known.

(Note, frequently the argument is rendered with the phrase in bold as "settle disputes," which makes it absurd. Obviously a book by itself cannot stop me from misinterpreting itself. But it can, I contend, be sufficiently clear for me to be guilty before God for misinterpreting it.

I agree. Yet, sadly, the problem comes when different bodies start disagreeing on what is clear and what isn't in Scripture, and what Scripture in fact teaches regarding thus-and-so possible heresy. Even if Scripture is in fact clear on a matter (say that God declares that it was perfectly clear, when we get to heaven and ask Him about it, which would be absolute certainty), that doesn't mean that Christians will agree. And since contradiction necessarily involves error, it is important for all of us to have some way of resolving these disputes. And that brings us right back to Church authority and/or some form of tradition. It's unavoidable. It's inevitable. Anyone who denies this is living in unreality and self-delusion. All Christians have to resolve this dilemma in some fashion. The solutions differ, and that is what we are debating presently, but the problem is the same for all.

So the issue between us is: Am I morally obligated to follow the Scriptures as I understand them, even when an authoritative church body interprets them differently? I say yes, Armstrong says no.

It's not quite that simple. If the Church I am in clearly contradicts Scripture, then of course, I am obligated to leave in protest, and am fully justified in doing so. This would be the case, e.g., in the Episcopal Church USA (ECUSA), where a practicing homosexual bishop was ordained. That is absolutely contrary to Scripture, and so one must follow the Scripture and conclude that this body is not doing so and must be opposed. What Catholics say is that there is such a Church (historical and institutional) which is uniquely guided by the Holy Spirit towards true doctrine and morals (Protestants deny this), and that Christians are indeed obligated to follow that Church in cases where it has authoritatively decided what is true and what is not true, in theology. We believe this in faith: that God has protected the Catholic Church from error, because He wants one Church, with authority, not hundreds, which contradict each other and cause endless confusion for the Christian flock. We think it is grounded in revelation and perfectly defensible, even from history.

I certainly accept however that I am also morally obligated to test my understanding against those of all other Christians, and especially those of distinguished reputation and holiness, and not to disagree with them without such testing.)

This gets back to your problem of why you should accept one interpretation over another, when there are disagreements.

I contend that that underlying assumption carries with it dangerous skepticism about the power of language. I know Dave Armstrong is not himself a skeptic, but I think that is the implication of his position.

It's not, because you have greatly misunderstood my premises, as shown. Thus, your counter-argument will soon collapse (as I am in the process of showing). I don't blame you for that: these are complicated matters, and we don't know each other all that well, but now having been informed of my beliefs, you will have to modify your argument and come up with something else.

Let’s use an analogy. I believe Roe vs. Wade is bad constitutional law. Quite apart from the issue of abortion itself, I believe it has no legitimate basis in the language of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Absolutely. I agree.

Let’s say I cite people who agree with me, like Stephen Carter. Now, what if someone were to say: the Supreme Court has said you are wrong, therefore as an honest man you are in conscience bound to accept that the Fourteenth Amendment doesn't say what you think it does. Amend the Fourteenth Amendment if you like, but recognize that the Constitution, like any text, needs a living authority to interpret it before it can be a legal norm at all. The Supreme Court is that living authority, and that living authority disagrees with you.

The Supreme Court is not protected by the charism of infallibility, by the Holy Spirit. The Bible teaches that God's law is above human law, and that there are times to obey God rather than man, when the two are in conflict. That's why I was in the pro-life Rescue movement (in terms of the lagal rationale). I broke laws because they were immoral laws, and I did that in order to literally save babies' lives. So the analogy is fundamentally flawed from the outset. That's too bad, because I love analogies . . . :-) It's true that the Constitution needs to be interpreted, as does law in general, but the present question is whether the Christian Church was intended by God to be infallible or not, or if Scripture is the only infallible authority (sola Scriptura). The Supreme Court has never claimed infallibility. It can reverse itself, and the people can in effect reverse its rulings by constitutional amendment. Hence, in the Dred Scott case, slavery was upheld, but by constitutional amendment, it was abolished. The people were right; the Court wrong. It's currently hideously wrong on abortion. It doesn't follow that no Church body could ever be infallible.

Couldn’t that person use exactly Dave Armstrong’s arguments?

No, and I'll now show why (though the "fatal blow" to your argument has already been delivered).

1) Who determines whether the judicial precedents are "constitutional" and "legitimate" based on a comparison with the Constitution?

Judges. This is indeed a parallel with the Church's authority to interpret Christian doctrine as orthodox or heretical. But the disanalogy comes with the divinely-instituted gift of infallibility, which earthly judges do not have. There is such a conceivable thing as a Christian Church which could always be right, on the major matters of faith and morals (which is where we claim the highest level of infallibility. This is no more implausible, in fact, than an infallible, "God-breathed" Bible written by quite-fallible and sinful men. If that is a fact (as we all believe) then an infallible Church can certainly be at least a possible fact. It's not implausible at all, and makes perfect sense.

2) On what grounds does this standard have more authority than the preceding legal decisions whom it / his / her deems "unconstitutional"? So, for instance, if Carter says that the views of Thurgood Marshall or Harry Blackmun or Lawrence Tribe are "unconstitutional" concerning Roe vs. Wade, why should I accept his opinion over against that of these eminent jurists whom he is critiquing?

By no criteria other than the legal reasoning, because they are all on the same ground, in the epistemological sense (if I may use that word with reference to legal matters). What my #2 question was designed to show was that claims of being "biblical" still reduce to human tradition at some point; therefore it is a matter of pitting one tradition against another. I think that for most people, a comparison of Augustine and Chemnitz is almost laughable. There is no comparison. But this is what is made necessary by sola Scriptura. You say that you accept a Father insofar he is "biblical." Catholics agree that all teachings ought to be harmonious with Scripture. We don't disagree so far. What we disagree on is the notion that an individual theologian in the 16th century, whether Chemnitz or Luther or Calvin, ought to be deemed (on what grounds, no one will tell me) a "super-authority" ( I have called Luther, notoriously, a "Super-Pope" for perfectly sensible reasons) over aainst the consensus of the Church Fathers, or even one eminent Father.

You say the criterion is the Bible. But then the question immediately becomes "whose interpretation of the Bible?" And that question is necessary and supremely relevant because in a practical sense (not in an intrinsic sense, as explained in my citations from another paper, above), Scripture has not always been clear (or clearly understood, one might say), historically-speaking. So your position reduces to: "the clear teaching of Scripture on topic x [unspoken premise: because this is what Chemnitz said Scripture taught]." It is a huge difficulty as soon as there is disagreement, and we all know that that is rampant in Protestant ranks. The Catholic Church has no such problem because they have the means to resolve the problem, and to do so with unquestionable authority. The Protestant doesn't believe that is possible, because they no longer have faith that God is able to preserve an infallible Church.

I've written about the radical circularity of both sola Scriptura and perspicuity:

Fictional Dialogue on Sola Scriptura

The Logical Circularity and Hidden Premises of Sola Scriptura and Private Judgment (with Brent Arias)

Protestant Ecclesiology and Epistemology is Always Ultimately Self-Defeating

The Perspicuity (Clearness) of Scripture

3) Now, if you say that this is determined by a vote of pro-life/originalist scholars or jurists or something (I don't know what your answer would be; I'm just being hypothetical here), then how is that all that different from what Roe vs. Wade supporters do (i.e., applying some authority besides the Constitution itself – i.e. the Supreme Court – to authoritatively interpret the Constitution, and correct or confirm expositors of it?)

The point of my #3 was that both sides utilize tradition of some sort. That is true here, too. There was a pro-life tradition which was formerly the mainstream in law, and now the opposite is the case. My rhetorical (but simultaneously extremely practical and realistic) question was meant to defeat the fallacious notion that adherents of sola Scriptura somehow stand outside all traditions. They do not. Therefore, it is proper and necessary to ask why we should accept Luther's or Melanchthon's or Chemnitz's opinions over the more ancient, agreed-upon ones of the consensus of the Fathers and of the Catholic Church.

4) How is that (the scenario in #3) still somehow just following the Constitution, while Supreme Court dogmatic pronouncements are not? What's the practical difference (apart from the Supreme Court’s position as the arbiter of the law of the land, which is a clear difference)?

#4 was a variant of #3. Since you have misunderstood the nature of my premises and my argument, then this is ultimately much ado about nothing. Some analogies still hold, in terms of what I was actually arguing, but the larger analogy fails because it presupposed that I presupposed what I did not presuppose.

5) And how is accepting some pro-life or originalist position on which constitutional statements are legitimate and which are not, more intrinsically authoritative that (again) what occurs in the Supreme Court?

Because the Supreme Court ought to be based on the Higher Court of God's Law. If it is not, it can be dissented against. The Catholic Church has shown itself to have far and away the best historical credentials and moral and biblical faithfulness, in its teachings, to be rightly regarded as "the Church" in a unique sense. No Protestant body can withstand this biblical and historical scrutiny. But that takes us off into far different subject matter . . . The Catholic Church is authoritative because it was founded by Jesus Christ, and has continued with an unbroken apostolic succession.

As readers can by now surmise, my position is that allowing individuals like Stephen Carter to have opinions on constitutional law contrary to existing Supreme Court precedents inevitably breaks down as internally incoherent and inconsistent. The bottom-line question (when looked at with sufficient scrutiny) really becomes: on what grounds do we accept one legal / hermeneutical / juristic authority over another? Why choose Carter’s interpretations over that of the 1970s jurists, or of the Supreme Court today?

Because it is consistent with God's law, which is pro-life. One can dissent against man's laws when they are immoral, as in this instance. But IF INDEED there is an infallible Church, by God's decree, man cannot dissent against its teachings. Thus, it is my task and the Catholic task to make various arguments suggesting that the Catholic Church is indeed what she claims to be.

Throw in reminders that I’m no constutional scholar and that it would be arrogant for me to assume that I know better than all those learned justices and the argument is complete: an individual who wants to be intellectually honest is morally obligated to defer to the Supreme Court’s authoritative interpretation of the constitution. Any denial of that body's definite decisions is intellectually incoherent and inconsistent.

Not at all, because the analogy fails, per the above reasoning.

In fact, I've heard this argument many times specifically drawn vis a vis Roe vs. Wade and to me, it has always seemed absurd.

I agree. I'm not a legal positivist, anymore than I am a logical positivist. Man's law is not the highest standard.

Quite apart from whether the Supreme Court is or is not infallible, the idea that the existence of dispute over interpretation of a text whose authority they accept means that someone does not have a moral obligation to follow their conscience in interpretation seems wrong on the face of it. Which means Dave Armstrong’s argument too must be wrong.

Catholics believe that one must follow their conscience, but also that it must be an informed conscience. So. e.g., if someone claims that they must conscientiously practice contraception (or abortion, for that matter, to follow the attempted analogy), we say that this is an improperly informed conscience, because revelation and Church teaching have taught that the practice is a grave sin. The same applies to the homosexual argument today. They appeal to Scripture, and they claim it is clear. But the slam-dunk against this serious error is historic Christian teaching. Scripture is clear on the matter, but they don't think so, so we have to appeal to authority. Whole Protestant denominations are self-destructing over this, because they have forfeited moral authority and caved in to the fashionable cultural zeitgeist. But the Catholic Church is where she has always been: opposed to homosexual practice as intrinsically disordered and a grave sin.

If Armstrong’s argument makes sense for the particular text known as the Bible, why doesn’t it work for the particular text known as the Constitution?

Because the Constitution is not divinely-inspired and the Supreme Court is not a divinely-protected infallible institution.

Armstrong’s argument makes no reference to the Bible’s nature as a religious text, so that can’t be the issue.

All orthodox Christians accept Scripture as inspired. Yawn . . .

He appears to be arguing for a living authority not because the Catholic Church has claimed to be that authority, but because such an authority is needed by the nature of Bible as a mere text, one which in practice has been interpreted differently by different people.

Not because of the intrinsic unclearness in the main of Scripture (which is not the Catholic position, rightly-understood), but because (for various reasons) people will in fact interpret it differently, and therefore we need a mechanism to achieve doctrinal and ecclesiological unity (which is presupposed as a reality in Scripture, especially in St. Paul.

And if that's the case, then his argument applies to all texts.

It can't by the nature of the case, because only one text is divinely-inspired, thus making it sui generis.

Which is obviously not held by anyone, hence Dave Armstrong's argument is wrong.

CPA's attempted refutation is wrong because it misunderstands my argument and the Catholic position, and offers "analogies" which fail abysmally. He will have to find another way to cogently, plausibly answer my five questions.

Friday, May 27, 2005


His Eminence, the Right Reverend Bishop "Dr." James White, "Th.D." (?): stretching the truth again?

"Excus-a-Getics": James White Opts Out of Answering My Nine-Part Refutation, With Ridicule

James White is always true to his own jaded ideals and principles; of that much we can be certain. In Part VI of my nine-part treatment of the Moses' Seat issue, in reply to White's eight-part paper (link to Part I), I predicted (with great confidence) that the man would find some way to avoid responding; probably resorting to pure ridicule:

I'll be even more shocked if he actually tries to interact with my present reasoning, and either retract his opinions where necessary or fully defend them against the present scrutiny.

I would love to hear a counter-response, not only to this, but to all my argumentation. I won't hold my breath, given Mr. White's abysmal past track record of fleeing from rational discussions, just when they get interesting, and when his positions look the weakest and most indefensible.



See also my recent paper, More Typical James White Braggadocio and Ignoring of Opponents' Arguments. I commented in another recent thread about White:

. . . watching now to see how (or, I should say, IF) White responds, given his past rhetoric and childish tauntings, is entirely in accord with my principles. He's making a fool of himself now, for all to see. If that's how he wants it, it's fine with me! I'm merely documenting it. If the self-professed leading anti-Catholic debater wants to self-destruct and forfeit debates left and right by default (due to no response), then clearly it is in the interest of Catholic apologetics to document this.

. . . White clearly does whatever he thinks will advance his anti-Catholic cause and make him look good, and unvanquishable. Answering my reply won't accomplish that.

. . . if he were so invulnerable to any criticism, and the Anti-Catholic Answer Man Par Excellence, as he makes out ad nauseum, he would leap at such opportunities to further his cause. He would cherish and welcome them.

. . . If White were truly unanswerable (and since he has made no such resolution, as I have, and as R.C. Sproul in effect has), then he wouldn't take such pains to avoid critics who are doing the most work critiquing his material.

(comment of 5-23-05)

And two days later, I added:

. . . he runs from written debate (particularly with me), because I expose every trick and sleight-of-hand that he tries to pull on unsuspecting readers, especially those inclined by prior disposition to agree with him and disagree with me.

. . . we see what anti-Catholics do when I refute their errors: Svendsen mounts an incredible ad hominem assault; White taunts and mocks, accuses me of dishonesty and intellectual cowardice, then runs and ignores my reply when I thoroughly answer him; others make fake blogs which are entirely made up of personal insult and slander, etc. When they can't answer, they must do SOMETHING to detract from my reply, because that ain't supposed to happen! A Catholic can never prevail in any debate with an anti-Catholic!!!

(comment of 5-25-05)

Sure enough, I was a prophet once again. I've watched how this man operates for ten years. After accusing me of being scared and unable to reply (motifs which are reflected in the current "reply"), White now decides to offer no answer, because (bottom line) he contends that I am an idiot. This is what might be known as the "[Eric] Svendsen Methodology of Dimissing Effective Critiques of One's Writing and Arguments." If I decide not to reply to White I am (no one could doubt for a second) a coward and a simpleton. When White, on the other hand, decides to not answer me, it is, of course, also because (as everyone "knows") I am a coward and a simpleton, not worth anyone's time.

One has to wonder, then: if this is true, why did White devote so much attention to me back in January? He didn't yet know that I was an imbecile and an idiot then, after almost ten years knowing me, and challenging me to oral debate maybe 15 times? Now he has suddenly figured this out? Yeah, right. . . .

Without further ado, here is his entire blog entry, trying to rationalize his decision to utterly ignore my critique, complete with yet more irrelevant childish ridicule:

The Dave Armstrong Arcade Game

A while back I took the time to engage Dave Armstrong's The Catholic Verses on this blog. The response by Mr. Armstrong was 1) bluster and absurdly silly replies; 2) full-scale retreat and a "promise" (again) to stop interacting with "anti-Catholics" like me. Since then, Mr. Armstrong has returned and, evidently, has healed from his wounds, forgotten his own promises, and is now busily non-responding to me all over again (even producing reverse-color purposefully bad pictures originally taken by Mormons). Remember that cheesey arcade game where the little animal pops up out of a hole and you have to bop it back in to get points? The kind of thing you played just because you only had one token left and the real games took two? Well, I may have played that game once, but found it completely boring and not worth even that last token. Ditto, Mr. Armstrong. There is no reason to even respond to a person who, upon being shown to be in error, will reply, "Oh, I don't have to answer that! That person is anti-me, and I take an oath not to respond to his kind...until this topic has passed, anyway, or I have had more time to come up with a response or something." Such is not apologetics, it is excus-a-getics, and is not worth the time it takes to activate the RSS feed.

(5-26-05)

Those who follow this blog and the ongoing chronicling of this man's pathetic folly and embarrassing intellectual suicide, will readily see the massive hypocrisies and self-contradictions in this reply, so I need not add anything. It's more fun to simply cite White's blog entry above the one on me, where he engages in breathtaking hypocrisy, with regard to this business of folks not answering replies. This time, it had to do with Pat Madrid:

So it seems Madrid has had to get into the fray. He's posted some articles on his equivalent of a blog. Now, very usefully, he has posted the text from his This Rock hit piece against me from 1993, the one I referred to below. Here it is. [link] Now, read that, then my response, here. [link] I'd be happy to point you to his rebuttal to my documentation of his errors, but...there is none. A decade has passed, and there has not been any reply to my knowledge.


Hey, I can match that! White has never answered the final 36-page reply in our first debate, either. That was in 1995. Now (we have his "official" word) he chooses to utterly ignore my nine-part refutation of his nonsense and smoke and mirrors with regard to the Bible and Tradition. But remember the reading points, dear readers: when someone doesn't reply to White, they are cowards. When White does the same, it's because, again, his opponents are cowards and idiots (I know; it makes no sense, but there it is). Instead of getting to work and defending his arguments against my critique, White prefers to carp on and on (like a self-obsessed playboy recounting his sexual conquests) about his debate with Madrid in 1993, and another with Art Sippo in 1991 (devoting a half-hour to the latter on his webcast, so he informs us). Can anything more ridiculous and laughable be imagined? This is priceless! Man, I was accused of undergoing a "massive meltdown" in January, simply because I was fed up with the substanceless, sophistical, insulting nature of White's "arguments." What, then, is this???!!! White asks:

I invite any semi-rational person to consider, for just a moment, the idea that debating me is like "fishing out of a barrel."

I think it is a very apt description, myself, as I sit here marveling at the man's decision to ignore my vigorous refutation of his argument. It has been no debate at all, as always with him, so, even though I ain't a fisherman, I could see an analogy to, maybe, um, trying to fish at the monkey cage at the zoo or something (I struggle to find an appropriate metaphor for total futility and exasperation, which is what it is like to try to reason and dialogue with White, because he won't interact, and he won't defend his ideas).

I have never heard any Roman Catholic apologist claim that I have lost every debate I have done. In fact, I have not heard any claim that I have lost even 50% of them.


I don't know about all these other debates, because I've only listened to part of one, years ago, but I know that he has lost 100% of his debates with me (most by default, because he simply left in midstream, just as he is currently doing), so excuse me if I am completely underwhelmed by the man's dialogical and theological prowess.

So, if I am such a push-over, why is it we have to work so hard to find opponents anymore for debates on Roman Catholicism?


Exactly my reasoning, James!!!! Why is it that if I am a total fool and easily refuted, you are so extremely reluctant to reply to my critique of your arguments? Hey, maybe if we take up a collection and offer the good bishop $10,000, he would reply? White, desperate for his debate "fix," pride and ego seemingly wounded, at the very moment he is running as fast as he can from my reply, and others now out there, such as Ben Douglass' response on justification, lowers himself to the depths of a proposed written debate (which he has assiduously avoided, for the most part, for years now, and even mocked as a totally inferior medium), and challenges Pat Madrid to that which he has frequently described in the past as "hiding behind a word processor":

Since debating me is like fishing in a barrel, how about Patrick Madrid putting his debating skills where his keyboard is? . . . since he seems to agree that debating me is like "fishing in a barrel," why not let all his Envoy readers see this as well? . . . surely the best way to prove I am such a push-over as a debater would be to engage me directly in the pages of his own magazine, right? That way his own audience would see just how good a debater he is and how bad I am. So, I am offering to help Mr. Madrid do that. I will gladly engage him in a written debate in the pages of Envoy on the exegesis of the key Petrine texts, Matthew 16:17-18, Luke 22:31-32, and John 21:15-18 (the "golden texts" of St. Peter's basilica). We can spread the discussion out over four issues, covering each passages, and even have interaction on the preceding texts, too! I would love to do this after my debate this fall with John Dominic Crossan. And I'm certain Mr. Madrid will jump at the chance.

Finally, let's cite one more example of White's blatant hypocrisy. Remember how he has just decided to ignore my elaborate, lengthy argument in reply to his, when you read these words:

Now, in case debating the Petrine texts is a bit too ambitious, how about the exegesis of 1 Cor. 3:10ff, in light of Madrid's article found here? [link] The interested reader will note that I addressed every single aspect of this article in my debate with Fr. Peter Stravinskas, and in other articles [link] on our website, and that Madrid shows no evidence of knowing anything about those replies. . . . In any case, I look forward to hearing back about Mr. Madrid participating in next year's debate on Long Island and on the written debate in the pages of Envoy.

Pat Madrid ought to consider himself almost singularly blessed that the Great White Anti-Catholic Hope is still willing to debate him! It may or not be worth his time to debate White, based on many considerations (having done so before, he has nothing to "prove", anymore than I do, and it's always a drag dealing with this man, due to his ongoing sophistry and rudeness), but one might argue that the extreme rarity of White showing some intellectual guts and chutzpah for a change is the opportunity of a lifetime, kind of like Halley's Comet coming around.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

The Strange Saga of James White's On-Again, Off-Again Use of the Pejorative Terms "Romanism" and "Romanist"

When I read these words on James White's blog tonight:

If Romanism is the one true religion, well then, the one true religion can have zero impact upon the culture in which it is allegedly predominant. As much as my Roman Catholic friends will dislike this, Rome is a dead religion in this nation. When I visited the Vatican, I was visiting a very ornate, vastly expensive tomb. Little more. It did not speak of life. It spoke of death, and the vanity of those buried in its marble crypts.

(Another Note from Italy, 5-18-05)

. . . I was reminded of disputes that I have engaged in, in the past, regarding proper terminology for various religious groups, and White's own inconsistent, objectionable usage (complete with his patented blatant double standards). When I first ran across this Baptist apologist and anti-Catholic champion in 1995, and engaged in a lengthy debate with him through snail mail, he saw nothing wrong with the use of the words Romanism and Romanist: terms which are offensive to many, if not most, Catholics (for the reasons why, see the appropriate section in the paper, Dialogue: Does the Term Anti-Catholic Employ an Unreasonable Double Standard?). Hence in that debate of ours, he referred to: "modern Romanism," and "the issue of Romanism, . . ."

He used the terms Romanism or Romanist(s) incessantly in his book The Fatal Flaw (Southbridge, MA: Crowne Publications, 1990) , almost as his description of choice for Catholicism. I found 29 instances of it (and I'm sure some slipped me by): on pp. xi, xiii, 4, 10, 13, 17, 21, 22, 23, 26, 29, 41, 45, 47, 69, 71, 86, 120, 125, 132, 133, 154, 156, 157, 159, 181, 191 (2), and 193. Roman or Roman Catholic(ism) also appear quite frequently.

White dropped his guard momentarily and fell into the abominable use of the word Catholic (by itself) at least seven times: pp. 18, 42, 70, 71, 75, 211, and 215, and even (egads!) Catholicism at least once (p. 70).

Bart Brewer (less "enlightened"), in the Foreword (p. v), uses the even more ridiculous, but (in anti-Catholic circles) timeworn term, Romish.

It seems that White underwent a conversion of sorts by 1996, and the appearance of his book, The Roman Catholic Controversy (Minneapolis: Bethany House). For here he opted almost exclusively for Roman Catholic (along with the shorter Roman). I can't find a single instance of Romanism or Romanist in it. I remember White making a statement at one point, that the words didn't appear in this book. I don't recall what else he said about that, if anything. But he had used the terms earlier, as shown. And he is not through with them altogether, yet (as will be shown below).

Why is this? I believe that White realized that the antiquated pejoratives would not bode well for his "scholarly" career and respectability in academia (and I use the terms very loosely where he is concerned, since he does not possess a legitimate doctorate). So he (by and large) dropped them. But I don't think this was for principled reasons (i.e., because they offend Catholics, and have a long, sad history in anti-Catholic polemics and disinformation campaigns). It was an effort to make himself look like a respectable or credible anti-Catholic: not like the Jack Chicks and the Ian Paisleys of the world. He is that, relatively speaking (to the extent that any anti-Catholic can be spoken of as intellectually credible at all, since it is a self-defeating position), but not to the extent that he has totally avoided using hyper-polemical, offensive terms for his opponents (all the while objecting to the perfectly legitimate, scholarly term anti-Catholic).

A search of his blog posts reveal that this is not an isolated or inadvertant recurrence into old bad habits. It appears that pejorative language for his opponents has again made its way back into White's ongoing polemic:

. . . both Romanism and Orthodoxy . . .

(i.e., Romanism or Orthodoxy)

(To One on the Way to Antioch, 3-12-05)

[one can't help but wonder why "Orthodoxy" is not, for White, "Constantinopilism" or "Moscowism" or why Calvinism isn't "Genevism" or "Hollandism" or "Scotlandism" or "western Michiganism" -- or how about "Grand Rapidsism"??]

. . . that doesn't mean the Christian Church is 500 years old, nor that Romanism is 2000 years old . . .

(A Catholic Who Wants His Letter Posted, 4-5-05)

Interestingly enough, one has to go back about three years to find White using these terms on his website:

Mr. Porvaznik knows better. He knows this "historical continuity" is a myth. He knows the early Christians did not believe in Papal infallibility, the Bodily Assumption of Mary, and a whole host of other doctrines that define modern Romanism.

(A Response to an "Argument for Infallibility," 7-26-00)

Stephen Ray is known to Protestant apologists as the man who argues from silence. His anachronistic attempts to turn the early Fathers into faithful followers of modern Romanism are almost the stuff of legend, and would be humorous if they were not resulting in such damage in the personal lives of individuals who are deceived by his writings. While he accuses me of disrespecting the Fathers, is it showing respect for Augustine, for example, to put words in his mouth he never spoke? Is it showing respect for the Fathers to force them into the mold of modern Romanism, replete with doctrines and beliefs they never embraced?

(What Do Some Roman Catholic and Mormon Apologists Have in Common?, 7-21-00)

"Please list the books and articles, written by Romanists or others, on the canon that you have read"?

(The "JimmJoeJ" Saga [sic], 4-13-02)

What next, papist? That was a good "Reformation" term; what prevents White from using that, since he obviously cares nothing about offending Catholics by using silly titles for them, against their own wishes as to what they want to be called? But let's hope that the apparent three-year gap in White's lax language is more important in the long run than the recent flurry of reversion to his old, tired, rather silly ways of speaking.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Friendly Discussion on Presuppositions and Basic Differences (Particularly, Hell), With an Agnostic (Ed Babinski)

Edward Babinski is the only vocal agnostic (frequent?) visitor to my blog, that I know of. I give him a lot of credit for that, as it is often no fun to be the lone or small-minority dissenter from a larger group. About three weeks or so ago (4-28-05, by Ed's dating), we had a little exchange, occasioned by a visit from an anti-Catholic Protestant, who was spewing fire and brimstone against us lowly, unregenerate, idolatrous "papists." Ed was kind enough to defend me a bit -- including the following statements, which were quite gracious indeed:

I think that if you dialogued with Dave and his blog friends you might recognize and even come to respect the sincerity depth of Dave's faith, and the thoroughness of his arguments on every topic, without necessarily agreeing with his theological, doctrinal and creedal premises concerning everything he currently believes.

Shortly thereafter, Ed was amused by my latest refutation of James White, thinking it to be a sort of "mini-Reformation" (he was especially tickled by our mutual attempts at satire, both written and visual). I'm glad he enjoyed it and got a good laugh out of it; I must say that my own leading opinion of it is that it was highly annoying and frustrating.

Our "conversation" was on a more fundamental level: of root premises and presuppositions. I thought it was a constructive thing at the time (rare enough between Christians and agnostics or "freethinkers" or "skeptics" -- whatever a particular individual prefers to be called), and have intended to get back to it. It's nice to simply have a "normal," down-to-earth discussion once in a while, away from all the supercharged polemics. So here it is, with Ed's words in blue, and my past words in green. My present responses are in plain old black. Ed has already made a page on his site, consisting of the discussion as it was before this expansion of it.

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Wow, Ed. That was awful nice. I'm speechless.

Thanks for those kind words.

I guess I've really come to a unique place when I'm defended by an agnostic against a fellow (Protestant) Christian. :-) He thinks I will go to hell if I continue on my terrible path of Catholicism.

Wasn't Constantine's day all the way to the arrival to Pre-Enlightenment Europe filled with Christians who believed other Christians were going to hell? (At one point in time the entire Christian church split right down the middle, church fathers, saints and all, the Catholics in the West and the Orthodox in the East, simultaneously excommunicating each other.)

That was in 1054. I don't think there was so much of that back in the early Middle Ages (Constantine died in 337), and perhaps even after the split there was not as much of it as is commonly supposed. But any division among Christians is not good. If we oppose the "Reformation" (I mean, in the broad sense of it being another division; apart from the issues), then we must also oppose the Catholic-Orthodox split, and work towards reunification. Unfortunately, some very vocal parties on both sides are dead-set against it, as always, in these things. Human nature . . .

You don't believe in hell.

I can't conceive in my heart or my head that it would be "ethical" to "cast" people into a "lake of fire" (metaphorical or not) and impose endless suffering upon them;

Me neither; I believe that the choice is that of the persons who go there, not God; i.e., that their choice is to reject God. C.S. Lewis wrote famously that the doors of hell are locked on the inside, not the outside. The reality of rejecting God leads to a place in the afterlife (sensibly enough) where God isn't, and it is a horrible place indeed (unbelievably terrifying). It is everything that atheists and agnostics believe neither in God nor in Christianity convince themselves that this world (conceived of as without God) is not. They obviously don't believe that a Godless world would reduce to a state or condition or place like hell, but that makes it no less of an ontological reality. To be totally without God is to be in hell.

This is the choice. Human beings are (starting from conception) beings who have no end). That's the nature of things, like it or not (I know, that's another huge discussion itself, but here I am giving the internal Christian argument, and we believe in immortality). No one has to make the choice; therefore, it is hardly God's fault. That would be like blaming a Governor who is totally willing to pardon a repentant, remorseful criminal, for the sentence of the criminal who flat-out refuses the pardon. Does that make any sense? Of course not.

Personally, I think the fiery polemic against hell (pun intended) only works (at all) within a Calvinist double predestination framework, because then the damned soul really had no choice, and the blame can more plausibly be put on God. But it doesn't succeed against the soteriology and eschatology of Catholicism, Orthodoxy, or Arminian Protestantism.

There is plenty in the world which reflects the existential reality of existence without God, and without love (which is ultimately grounded in God; therefore, when God is completely taken out of the picture -- which is not possible in this world --, there is no love; only hatred and evil, in hell). The Christian contends that hell is a continuation of the evils in this world (most of which are caused by men against men, committing evil acts, and lacking love). God offers a better way: the way of salvation, grace, and heaven. I've always found it rather silly to blame God for hell, as if that were His design for fallen humanity. God has made it possible for any person to avoid hell -- an existence devoid of His presence and light. If they choose to reject the gift, then that is their fault (and indirectly, also the devil's, who deluded them into making such an abominable, absurd choice), not God's. It's not like men haven't been warned. But Christian sermons, sadly, stress hell less and less all the time.

But hell (in its caricatured version, where all the blame lies with God, not wonderful, righteous, noble, non-fallen men) makes for great, melodramatic polemics, doesn't it? I was just reading, e.g., Steve Lock's "deconversion testimony." He has a field day with hell. But he didn't interact with the sort of reasoning and Christian response I have just given (at least not in that particular essay; maybe he has elsewhere; I'd love to see it).

nor can I conceive that any infinitely loving being would create creatures for such a fate;

I can't either. I believe that my apologetic above totally defeats this argument against (the Christian) God's love (and/or omnipotent power to do what He wills). The fact remains that in the majority Christian view throughout history, God does not create any creatures for such an unthinkable fate. He creates them for heaven; to be united with Himself (and therefore to be totally joyful, happy, and at peace), and desires that all men go there, but He also refuses to make men robots, so some rebel againt Him, just as the devil and the fallen angels did before man came onto the scene. It's the myth of the autonomy of the creature: as if he or she is not totally dependent on God, and indebted to Him for being the Creator and the God of the universe and the Ground of Being for all creation.

nor can I conceive of how a finite creature could resist the will of God eternally.

God allows them to choose against Him. Everything else follows. I don't know if they literally resist God for eternity or not (they may be so corrupt by the time they get there that this is no longer possible, and become like robots, without a will). But if they do resist God (or suffer remorse for their stupid, tragic choice against Him), and if they do it eternally, it is because no longer is it possible for them to be with God, or to attain to His blessings. That door was shut, by their own choice. This is a large part of the reason why I do what I do; why all evangelists and preachers and priests do. I don't want to see anyone end up in this horrific place, anymore than God does. He does not, and anyone who understands what hell is and has a shred of humanity and charity would not want anyone there, either. I want people to experience joy and happiness -- so often missing or in short supply in this veil of tears and suffering. I want to see them fulfilled and living the life that God intended for them to live: up to and including eternity in heaven with Him.

On the other hand, I am quite content with the notion that persons like Hitler, Stalin, Mao, etc. will end up in a bad place rather than in bliss with the persons who placed their confidence in Jesus Christ for their salvation (and other non-Christian people who, if they are saved, will be by Jesus, whether they know it or not). For that involves "cosmic justice." A universe which had no such justice at all: where these evil tyrants wound up exactly the same as everyone else, is, to me, more terrifying of a prospect than hell. I wouldn't want to exist at all in such a hideous, meaningless, nonsensical universe and world. Yet folks like Steve Lock (and yourself?) do not seem to be troubled by such things.

I believe that time and God are the best teachers. (Jewish aphorism)

Amen!

In short, it's not that I "don't believe in hell," but if hell exists, I can't conceive of it otherwise than as folks like George Macdonald argued it must be, when he wrote:

I believe that justice and mercy are simply one and the same thing.

Well, this is sentimental, mushy, moral chaos. They can both exist harmoniously in one being (they do, perfectly, in God), but they are not technically the same thing. Love (and mercy, or forgiveness, which are aspects of it) only ultimately makes sense when the recipient accepts it. But if they don't, then the ontological nature of things is that they wind up with God's justice and without the fruit of His love and mercy, which is heaven.

That hell will help the just mercy of God to redeem his children.

The gospel and grace and all that promote and spread them do that. When someone rejects all that, then they have chosen to reject God's mercy. God gives them the freedom to do so, so that when they positively choose to follow Him, it has the greatest meaning, not the meaningless of a robot who couldn't do otherwise.

Such is the mercy of God that he will hold his children in the consuming fire of his distance until they pay the uttermost farthing, until they drop the purse of selfishness with all the dross that is in it, and rush home to the Father and the Son, and the many brethren, and rush inside the center of the life-giving fire whose outer circles burn.

Well, that's pugatory. But those in purgatory have already accepted God's grace unto salvation. That's the key. If they have not done so, then the pourgatorial suffering woulod be meaningless, as it wouldn't lead anywhere meaningful. Therefore, the only fires remaining in such a scenario are the fires of hell, or separation from God and His mercy.

George MacDonald (19th-century universalist Christian), excerpts from "I Believe," Unspoken Sermons

This is a heresy. It comes from an excessive rationalism, which has no place for biblical paradox and proper, crucial, necessary ethical and ontological distinctions, such as those made above.

One must see the humor in these things. :-) I hope you can appreciate it with me, just as Shaw and Chesterton enjoyed many a laugh together.

They did, and I loved reading the book about their friendship and humorous debates, a book subtitled, The Metaphysical Jesters--as well as enjoying reading Chesterton's novel about a Catholic character and a Shaw-like character trying to arrange a duel to the death over the topic of religion, which keeps getting interrupted by the police, until the Chesterton character and the Shaw character find they have become close friends while fleeing the police together. Chesterton even included two dreams in that novel, one in which the Catholic character dreams of a perfect Catholic world, but it turns into a nightmare of fascist proportions, while the Shaw character dreams of a world of angry irreligious anarchists, another nightmare. The dreaming brings them together. (Hmmm, MacDonald's universalist novel, Lilith, one of Lewis's favorites, also revolves around the power of dreams).

This is an interesting observation. I seek common ground with others (including agnostics and atheists, and those of other religions) as you do, and as (notably) Pope John Paul II did. But I think that the only rational explanation of the commonality (particularly ethical) that we find amongst ourselves (what Lewis in The Abolition of Man, called the "Tao"), is God's existence, and the grounding in Him of all our deepest aspirations, dreams, and desires. Otherwise, it is all a big sick joke. Chesterton and Shaw felt themselves kindred spirits in this fashion because they were already made so by God. They found joy in these same things because that was innate, put into them by God, as their common creator.

The world is full of strange anomalies, isn't it?

I find humor and humanity everywhere, except in those relatively few folks who are unable to converse with other people unless it is in the most literal "Bible-speak," or citing quotations directly from Chairman Mao's little Red Book, et al.

Yes; I agree. They are beyond both humor and rationality; hence they don't enjoy conversation much. Why bother?

There's an old Latin proverb that perhaps applies to such people, "Beware the man of one book." I am NOT comparing you to such people. I am speaking in Christian terms of sects like the "Garbage-eaters," who try to memorize the whole King James Bible and learn to communicate mainly by repeating Bible verses. They seem to me to have lost their souls and grown more like automatons.

I don't know about their souls, but "automaton" seems to me to be a quite apt description.

Some sects of Islamic fundamentalists are probably like that too, to varying degrees.

Indeed; it's a corruption of the proper function of religion. And, of course, to whatever extent a religion is false, it will lead people to be less human and less as God made them to be, not more, as all lies are the devil's deceptions. Some of the greatest evils ever committed are done in the name of religion (and I include Marxism and Naziism as religions; the former is corrupt Christian messianism and the so-called "Social Gospel" and the latter corrupt pagan spiritualistic romantic mysticism), precisely because the best things in life have the greatest potential to become the most corrupted. Hence, we see similarly horrid corruption in other wonderful things: sex, money, normal family life, marriage, etc.

One thing you and I can agree on is the importance and necessity of critical thinking.

We even agree on more than that, we agree in many matters of the heart as well.

Absolutely. The deeper question is: why is that? And I think that the theistic explanations are the most plausible, in the end.

We can respect that in each other even though (as you say) we start from different premises and then reason to different conclusions.

I would say that I hold several ideas in mind simultaneously when it comes to the big questions and the claims of certainty that some people make concerning things beyond my sight or concerning supernature or the afterlife.

Technically, that (some of it, at any rate) would be a contradition. I believe that one should maintain a willingness to always examine one's beliefs; to "test" them, if you will, against reality. You can only rationally hold one of two mutually-exclusive views at a time, but you can be willing to go wherever you think truth leads. That is ultimately a very open-minded perspective; not closed-minded at all. But it doesn't rule out strongly believing something now, either. We can believe in something strongly if we feel (in all good faith and conscience) that there is sufficient warrant or justification for it. But we can also hold to the theoretical possibility of being wrong, even on the deepest, most fundamental issues. That's how I've always looked at things, as long as I started thinking seriously about them, and I think this is what it means to be "open-minded" and the opposite of "dogmatic" (in the very worst sense of that term).

That's what I feel that we Christians have in common with atheists and agnostics (the valuing of reason and evidence). But many of your number seem not to think that we do value reason.

I think it best if neither of us start comparing the other with "many of our number," because that seems to be where misunderstandings often begin.

I was making a sociological observation of something that deeply disturbs and troubles me, because it cuts off rational discourse and good will. I acknowledge that there are many excpetions to the rule, as with all generalities.

In fact I bet if I simply asked you questions all day long I'd find out specific things about you, your life experiences, and the particular and precise beliefs you have arrived at that I might have never even guessed otherwise, i.e., not if I began by assuming that you were just like "many of your number."

Indeed, and this was an aspect of our last dialogue which bothered me, because you assumed many such things, that not only weren't true in my case, but arguably not in the case of most thinking, reasonably-educated Christians, either. But that's another discussion. I think it holds true for both (broad) sides in the debate. Christians (including myself at times) often jump to many unfounded conclusions about individual non-Christians. This attitude is contrary to Christian charity. We are commanded to believe the best of people, not the worst. That's how I try to live my life, by God's grace. I would love to be asked a bunch of questions, for the purpose of clarification and further mutual understanding, and ask some of you, too. I am a Socratic, after all. That's what we do. :-)

Part of my goal as an apologist is to convince atheists and agnostics of that very thing, if I never convince them of my theological beliefs. One can only try.

I don't try to convince anyone to believe anything in particular at all,

I don't believe that for a second [I say this with a smile, in a "ribbing" sort of way; it's important to note that body language "clue" as to my intent and attitude]. You obviously have points of view that you are interested in promoting, and that you would like to see people adopt. It's foolish to deny this. The most obvious example is your ongoing polemic against young-earth creationism, and in favor of the theory of evolution.

but I would like more people to simply acknowledge which things they know the most about, and which they know the least about, rather than tying to get others to agree with them concerning their beliefs about all things seen and unseen, in nature and supernature, in this life and the next.

That's a very Socratic approach, and one which I share to a large extent. But I do both things. I don't oppose them to each other. I think that if we examine our premises very carefully and painstakingly, that the theistic and Christian outlook explains things far more plausibly and rationally than any other opposing view. I don't find it forced or contrived at all; I truly believe that Christianity best "fits" reality. St. Augustine said that in our hearts was a "God-shaped void." One might also say that in our minds and perceptions of reality is a "Christianity-shaped void." When we fill it with that shape, reality makes a great deal of sense. Without it, it ultimately doesn't. That's what I believe. Others disagree. My approach is, "let's talk, and explore this further. These are some of the most important questions that all human beings ever deal with. Let's learn from each other, and from each of our intellectual and spiritual journeys, rather than condemn and anathematize each other." And so I am often bitterly disappointed at how rare such fundamental discussions are. It ain't easy being a Socratic who loves deep, meaty dialogues.

At times it almost seems as if you wish you could believe, but sincerely cannot because of those different premises you referred to.

My only "wish," I can honestly say, is to live after I am dead in a world as least as hospitable as this one, with friends at least as nice as the ones I have now, and with chances of gaining further knowledge and more friends.

If you believe in immortality, then I think you are already seeking heaven at some level (subconsciously or otherwise). If folks like me can convince you that it exists, and that it is a good, wonderful place, then I think we go a long way towards re-convincing you of Christianity. Lewis and Kreeft's argument from longing / heaven is a profound apologetic, and largely unexplored. I would like to pursue it a lot more in my own apologetics, as a fruitful, provocative avenue. This gets back to my love of "Romantic and Imaginative Theology."

We'll pray for you. After all, it's grace that helps us all believe.

I'm not sure what you mean by "grace helps us believe." It only helps us believe? Is that what Paul said when he wrote, "We are saved by faith and that not of ourselves for it is the grace of God?" The word "grace" means "divine favor," and if that divine favor is not granted then apparently you can't have saving "faith" at all.

That's correct. That's what orthodox Christianity holds. We cooperate with it; it helps us do that, but it is the entire cause, in the sense that we could not have initiated it ourselves, or carried it out without the grace. Contrary to what anti-Catholics think, this is perfectly orthodox, Tridentine Catholicism, too.

Paul also wrote about God creating some pots just for destruction (perhaps "chamber pots" is the metaphorical intent), and hence God favors to (or grants "grace" to) some of us pots, not to all. That seems to have been Paul's reasoning on the issue. So grace is far more than just a help.

One must balance these passages with the ones that speak of universal atonement and God's desire that all come to the knowledge of the truth and salvation.

Of course the issue to me is not grace at all, it is the totality of my particular knowledge and reasoning skills that I have built up during my life, as well as my reactions to a multitude of things I have read about or seen in the Bible, science, psychology, history, Christians, as well as having studied myself and my own experiences carefully (both as a Christian and after leaving the fold).

We seek truth by rational means. But of course, there is such a thing as a grace-filled or grace-influenced mind, too, and such a thing as a mind filled with various false or misleading presuppositions and hostilities; many of which might be unduly biased by non-rational aspects of life, and the will. I've learned in my many years of apologetics to never ever underestimate non-rational and purely emotional factors in why folks believe what they believe.

Speaking of which I received this email just today, and have received other like it on at least a monthly basis since writing LTF: " * Private Message * for Ed Babinski Dear Mr. Babinski: Just a quick note of thanks for your website and publications. As a former charismatic myself, I often find comfort and encouragement from writings like yours. I once taught at a Christian Pentecostal university, as well, until my disbelief became too much for them (and reason prompted me out, too!) and I was asked to leave. Like yourself, I was immersed in that world for a time, even published with nationally-known Christian publishers (Baker Books), but for the first time in decades I can say that I am free. Thanks again for your courage and example to others! G. S. C., Ph.D. State Historian, North Dakota

We all seek others of like mind and experiences; it's human nature. It confirms us in our opinions. When I have read of such "deconversions," I always found rather large holes in them, and misunderstandings of Christian positions. Or else people actually do understand the Christian views they rejected, and have built up a huge animus against what they wrongly think Christianity is. The arguments about hell or the problem of evil are perfect examples of this: people get really mad at God and so they lash out at Him by pretending that He doesn't exist. How rational is that? It's like the mindless ludicrosity of radical feminism: these women hate men and try to be as much like them as they can. Then when they get past that anger and Sartre-like disappointment, they lash out at Christians, who embody the same beliefs that they found so distasteful in the God Whom they no longer accept as "being there." So now Christians become the scapegoats for the hostility against the Christian belief-system. I am generalizing; don't tell me I'm applying all this to you. I'm not.

If you are open to the possibility, I challenge you to allow God to make Himself known to you.

I am always open to that possibility and in fact prayed for it last night, as well as continue to do so on a fairly regular basis.

Excellent. Good for you. I think you're very consistent in this, within the worldview that you have staked out; insofar as I understand it correctly.

Neither do I fret that God does not exist. I sometimes imagine I am living in a godless universe. Other times I imagine I am living in a Deistic universe, sometimes with, and sometimes without eternal life for human beings (Einstein's view was that God existed, but it was Spinoza's god and no personal afterlife). Sometimes I imagine that the religious world of devout human beings and their holy books, beliefs and practices, contain intimations of God though not an inerrant revelation in matters of doctrine and practice, and that our purpose is to continue to discover not only the general purpose of helping one another, but also to help each other discover the individual purposes and focuses of our fellow human beings' lives, purposes that make life worth living for each of us. Hindus believe there are several major paths toward God, one being personal devotion to God and to others, another path being meditation, another one being the path of acquiring knowledge and gaining in wisdom.

Fascinating; thanks for sharing these deeply personal thoughts of yours. One of the purposes I have in this dialogue is for Christians to see how deeply reflective and thoughtful non-Christians are (or can be). This mitigates against the sinful, stupid judgmentalism that so often reigns, and fosters better understanding and conversation. There is a ton of potential for great discussion in much of what you write above, that would be good to explore in-depth, as occasion arises.

Dom Bede Griffith's (C. S. Lewis's lifelong friend) dialogued with Hindu priests and Buddhist monks in India and defended eastern religions even from Vatican attempts to belittle or mischaracterize them.

We must correctly characterize opposing views. That's an ethical and intellectual duty. We Catholics are quite familiar with mischaracterization and distortion of what we believe, so we can sympathize, believe me.

It won't come (if it does) from intellectual argument (most likely). It'll come when you are all alone, gazing at the stars or at a sunset, and wondering if all of this has an ultimate meaning or no meaning in the end, and if your existence will cease some 30-40 years henceforth.

You seem to be assuming that there are only two choices, 1) no meaning whatsoever to life, or, 2) meaning lay in accepting the dogmas, doctrines and holy book of one particular religion.

As a Christian, one would fully expect that of me, yes. I believe Christianity to be truth, and the thing that gives meaning to life. My main point above was not Christian dogma, but rather, that epistemology and/or conversion is not always a matter of mere intellectual formulations, but often of rather mystical or non-rational (but not irrational) aspects.

As I said, I remain open. Are you open to imaging the world and seeing it through other eyes that leave open questions whose answers you currently take for granted, i.e., leaving open questions to which you believe you already possess the absolute answers?

I always have been (in the particular sense that I briefly described above, and elsewhere). That's why I've undergone many conversions myself: from nominally Christian spiritualist pagan to evangelical Christian to Catholic; from political liberal to conservative; from pro-choice to pro-life; from sexual liberal and radical unisexist to one who advocates a Catholic traditional view of sexuality and family, from junk food junkie to health food advocate, etc.

Have you studied some of the multi-sided, maybelogic philosphical questions that folks like Robert Anton Wilson and Raymond Smullyan raise in their works? Check them both out on the net.

I don't know; I'm not familiar with these two men.

Wilson recently wrote at his site: I don't believe anything, but I have many suspicions.

Isn't a suspicion a belief that something might be true?

I strongly suspect that a world "external to," or at least independent of, my senses exists in some sense.

How profound . . .

I also suspect that this world shows signs of intelligent design, and I suspect that such intelligence acts via feedback from all parts to all parts and without centralized sovereignity, like Internet; and that it does not function hierarchically, in the style an Oriental despotism, an American corporation or Christian theology.

All kinds of emotional and hostile baggage here; a perfect example of what I noted above . . .

I somewhat suspect that Theism and Atheism both fail to account for such decentralized intelligence, rich in circular-causal feedback.

Pantheism or Panentheism must be the answer then, huh?

I more-than-half suspect that all "good" writing, or all prose and poetry that one wants to read more than once, proceeds from a kind of "alteration in consciousness," i.e. a kind of controlled schizophrenia. [Don't become alarmed -- I think good acting comes from the same place.]

I sometimes suspect that what Blake called Poetic Imagination expresses this exact thought in the language of his age, and that visits by "angels" and "gods" states it an even more archaic argot.

These suspicions have grown over 72 years, but as a rather slow and stupid fellow I do not have the chutzpah to proclaim any of them as certitudes. Give me another 72 years and maybe I'll arrive at firmer conclusions.

I think this sort of thought is ultimately playing around with logic and truth; a kind of sophistry. That's not to deny that it is sincere or heartfelt, even deeply-felt. I mean that it is ultimately (as a purely intellectual judgment) a game and frivolous, and not particularly serious thought that would challenge us to progress along the path of better understanding the great perennial questions that mankind has always struggled with. But they're interesting; I'll give the man that much, at least.

[excluding lengthy quote from someone else; perhaps another time]

We'll just have to keep making our arguments and see what happens, I guess. In any event, thanks again for your kind words.

Thank you too, for yours.

And y'all be nice to Ed! Don't treat him like the anti-Catholics treat us, but as a fellow human being (as we believe, made in the image of God), who has dignity and deserves to be heard.

Only those who listen will hear.

Sounds like a typical Hebraic, biblical statement!