Sunday, March 19, 2006

Reply to a Smear Campaign Against Scott Hahn and Lay Apologetics

By Dave Armstrong (3-19-06)

One John Lowell (a professed Catholic) has kept up his harangue (on another blog; post since removed by the owner, with an apology to Scott Hahn), which previously had been taking place on the Ressourcement: Restoration in Catholic Theology blog, prior to March 3rd, when I posted my reply to it. I shall respond to his latest charges, and also some general motifs which come up too frequently on the Internet (the words of the fictional "skeptic of apologetics" will be in red).

* * * * *

Strangely enough, Mr. Lowell (his words will be in green) wrote the following very near the end of that earlier pathetic thread:

Why might it be that the Hahn claque just can't leave this question alone? Have they been made all that insecure by what I've said? If so, their's is a rather considerable fragility. Might there be financial or some other such questions on the line for them? I mean at one point we approach the tedious, eh?

Justin [Nickelsen; blog owner],

There's a point past which self-expression passes into harrassment and, at this juncture, I think we're all too close to it. As should be evident above, I've done my level best to discourage further interchange on this question. But not unlike the Evangelicals these birds would seem to want to mimic, you're going to hear from them repeatedly whether you want to or not. Now if my participation here is to continue - and you've assured me that it is valued - then I'm going to have to look to you for relief at this point.

Yet, oddly enough, shortly after March 9th, Mr. Lowell reversed his ostensible position of the topic having long since reached and exceeded the point of tedium and "harassment". Having done his "best to discourage further interchange on this question" he nonetheless found himself unable to "leave this question alone" and so it is our misfortune to hear from Mr. Lowell on another similar blog "repeatedly whether [we] want to or not," since this Catholic gentleman enthusiastically took up the exact same question over there a mere week or so following his previous exhaustion (of course, for no "financial" reason).

And so it was off to the dog races again, with the illustrious and energetic Mr. Lowell. Excellent rebuttals were offered by my friend Christopher Blosser, and also Deacon Barth E. Bracy.

* * * * *

Drumroll followed by cymbal crash ...

Here's Scottie ...

I mean can there be even one aspect of his life that Scott Hahn feels isn't deserving of book length attention? What's next, for heaven sake, the Sex Life of Scott Hahn or Scott Hahn Meets Frankenstein? How many members of Opus Dei might you imagine don't feel their membership so notable that they can't resist the beakoning of self-importance? This guy is really quite the entreprenuer, what could be more clear?

Well, for one thing, that you like to judge hearts and motives?

* * *

Many apologists have an evangelical mentality and make lots of money from books.

Cardinal Newman or G.K. Chesterton never made a penny . . . 

* * *

He really never had the humility to leave Evangelicalism and take the time to adjust himself to the social and spiritual reality that is Catholicism.

As I recall, there was about a three-year gap, which is plenty of time.

He came in guns blazing, cock sure he knew just what we needed - a Catholic version of the Evangelicalism he'd just left - and started at the top with all the answers, like the son-in-law of the owner that gets placed in charge of the local glass factory. He repeatedly describes himself as a "Catholic Christian" as though there were some larger reality, Christianity, of which the Catholic Church is just one variety. Some ecclesiology, that. And he writes books? Oy!

I dealt with this ridiculous charge in my last reply (and in a subsequent paper). The only way the charge of a heterodox ecclesiology can fly at all is to deny that there are any Christians besides Catholics. If so, then the qualifier is a function of the English language, pure and simple. If not, then you are quite in discord with Vatican II.

* * *

Some apologists seem to go overboard seeking opportunities for financial gain: sort of like the Protestant televangelists.

. . . as if the profit motive or almighty Dollar is what drives and motivates apologists. I would say, rather, that we look for opportunities for ministry and that we earn wages for this work, just as any other laborer is worthy of his wages.

This is not a "Protestant" mentality at all, but a very biblical one (more on that later). What is off here is the unspoken acceptance of the secularist, non-biblical sacred-secular dichotomy, which would hold that spiritual work is no work at all, and thus not due any remuneration (thus those who receive it are intrinsically corrupt; having received wages for no work). Speakers' fees are determined by market
forces. Book royalties are determined by the publisher. But of course, if one has a problem with capitalism per se (any form of it), then that would be another issue. Apologists shouldn't be the unfortunate targets and scapegoats for anti-capitalist mentalities.

Apologists (those who are full-time) make a living based on hard work and vigilance in doing the work of the Kingdom which God called them to do. Writing a book is worthy work; giving lectures is also. The market determines the wages. Why must Christian lay workers be condemned? If this is some evil thing, then how much more evil (i.e., by this fallacious reasoning) are those who make a profit by merely producing items for mass consumption? At least apologists are communicating Catholic truth; doing evangelism, teaching, and apologetics.

Apologists (usually) aren't academics, and write too much in a popular vein.

So what!!!??? What in the world is wrong with that? The same was true of both G.K. Chesterton and C.S. Lewis: widely considered the two greatest and most influential Christian apologetics in the 20th century (Chesterton had no college degree at all and Lewis was an Oxford don). Does this come down to ivory tower elitism? Must we think that folks have to be interested in academic work or else they can read nothing of worth with regard to Catholicism?

[Christopher Blosser] "... but if he's going to criticize Hahn, he may as well do the same for every other contemporary Catholic convert/apologist who's published an account of why and how they were led to the embrace of our Holy Catholic Church".

Well, I suppose you're right about that. You might remember Thomas Merton who it is said was criticised roundly by the other monks of his order for what they considered his publicity seeking and justly so in my view. Until I read of the Opus Dei business, I would have been willing to restrict my criticism of Hahn to a charge of self-importance. But much as David points out, with this new offering even the most generous treatment would find an attempt to capitalize financially from the earlier publicity surrounding his conversion.

As pertains to the books you cite, yes, to the extent that they offer similar testimony to Hahn's I feel they deserve censure. But again, here, Hahn set the tone. If there is any mitigation to be seen in the cases of these follow-on conversion stories it is in their monkey-see-monkey-do quality.

You gave no answer to my questions last time about the usefulness of classic conversion stories such as those by Newman, Knox, Chesterton, Evelyn Waugh, or Dorothy Day (preferring snide personal insults instead). Obviously, you haven't pondered that question, as you go right on with the same astonishing, vapid criticisms.

In any case, one gets the impression with all of this business that Catholicism is being reduced to a kind of AA meeting, the difference being, of course, that those testifying in AA have at least the humilty to remain anonymous - even when their stories have been published - so as to guard against the very self-importance and entrepreneurship so evident in Hahn. Hahn, and others, would have done well to have considered this far more Marian example, rather than the sordid kind of revival tent exhibitionism so typical of the biblicist Evangelicalism from which he came. The more I learn of Hahn the less I like.

Yeah, right; like Cardinal Newman was really anonymous when he wrote his Apologia pro vita sua? Perhaps, according to you, he should rather have not done so, so as to maintain his humility? It's embarrassing to have to even point out such things.
You should cease the mindless slander and speculation of ill internal motivations. It's a wicked sin, and one not regarded lightly in Holy Scripture. When will these ludicrous smears cease?

Capitalism can corrupt people, including apologists.

It can do so, yes, absolutely. I have always thought that myself. But it is not an absolute. It is your unproven assumption that this is inevitably the case which causes problems. It isn't self-evident that when one looks at a Catholic apologist today, that they see a profound example of a person corrupted by capitalism, greed, and so forth. We can't read mens' hearts. We don't know what they do with the money they make. We have no idea what struggles another person has to deal with and what worries him as he lies in bed at night. 

* * *

A couple of comments ago, I pointed to the example of the members of Alcoholics Anonymous as having a more suitable claim to the Marian spirituality to which I would hope we all aspire than would the egoism all too perceptible in Hahn and his acolytes.

I suppose any public expression of a conversion story or otherwise helpful teaching (especially if one actually makes money from it!) must be absolutely forbidden, lest we fall into the trap of "egoism." But where does either the Church or the Bible teach this, pray tell?

The book, Alcoholics Anonymous, the bible of the AA program, offers any number of stories of dramatic religious experiences, most of them far more impressive than anything Scott Hahn has reported of himself, yet the writers manage to set aside the temptation to self-importance and the possibility of financial gain by keeping their names to themselves. And they maintain this anonymity precisely to avoid the occasion of sin.

St. Augustine and Venerable Cardinal Newman as rank sinners and egoists . . . right-o!

Now God has prospered Alcoholics Anonymous in ways that make Scott Hahn's conversion express look like a Sunday school picnic, yet no one in AA has ever gotten on a platform of any kind. Frankly, I can't think of anything more possibly instructive than this example. Hahn would have been wise to have considered it.

* * *

At no time or at any official level did the community that is the Church, either solicit Hahn's writing of his experience or see in it a service so essential, so vital to Herself or to the external culture, that She would have compensated him for it.

He made his living by other means. So what? What business is that of yours, or anyone else?

Had She, there would be an analogy, Greg, but She hadn't. To the contrary, very much unlike Bill W., Hahn, either wholly on his own initiative or in unison with his handlers, embarked upon the project of his conversion story in a way that was both presumptuous and, inevitably therefore, egoistic. To say that his book somehow represents a community service is no more true of it than it would be of Wayne Dyer's Your Erroneous Zones.

A Catholic can write a book just like anyone else can write a book. Conversion stories are valuable because they directly challenge Protestant assumptions and help to build up confidence among Catholics (who already have somewhat of an inferiority complex in dealing with Protestants). If people want to read it, then the author is entitled to his due royalties (the economic aspect). If such a story helps others convert, then that is God's working through the book and a sure confirmation of its value (the spiritual aspect). But of course, you frown upon that. It's unimportant to you, I guess, that God may be using a testimony to bring others into His Church (since I haven't seen you say one positive thing yet about that). All you see is unbridled pride and egoism and greed.

* * *

In offering purely non-personal output, I find nothing particularly offensive about Hahn. It's the holding-himself-out-as-exemplar, personal writing that I find objectionable.

The man wrote his conversion story! Why must you always condemn others' interior motivations? Look at your own heart, for heaven's sake, as Jesus says: the beam in your own eye, not the speck in Scott Hahn's eye.

I should add that I'm no cradle Catholic, either.

Yes, I've seen that you have expressed repeatedly how humble you are because you never wrote your story.

My concern with the prominence he achieved so soon after converting is that he gave himself no time to adjust himself to and accomodate the new
Catholic environment at all, he just started out at the top with all of the answers and went on from there. There was no restraint whatsoever. And, with the Opus Dei book, still none. I mean ask yourself, how important do you think it is really either to yourself or to the Church that Hahn is a member of Opus Dei. What short of the most incredible ego would convince him that it is. I think David hit the nail on the head with the financial gain charge. It can't be escaped.

What rational soul could possibly overcome your facts-filled, firsthand knowledge critique? 

* * *

The objection has to do with the fact that he makes money at all this way, not that he makes too much of it. . . . I'd have to say that its just as much our business as it would be if any other huckster sought to exploit his Catholic identity the way Hahn has. I mean at one point, there's an obligation both to self and to one's brother.

This is simply amazing. Again, there is not one thing wrong with making money from speaking or writing books. You have simply assumed this; you haven't proven it in the least. Having irrationally assumed it, you then go on (as usual) to make a charge of hucksterism and exploitation.

* * *

St. Paul never made a profit from his apostolate, nor did St. Augustine.

St. Augustine had to beg on the street? I assume he was provided at least food and shelter and clothing by the Church? St. Paul taught that Christian workers were worthy of their wages, and had a "right" to them, as he explains at length in 1 Corinthians 9. Paul was an apostle but he wasn't functioning as much as a priest, as he was as an itinerant evangelist and apologist. His teaching in this chapter obviously has general application. Paul himself renounced the "right" to receive wages for his work (1 Cor 9:12 - cf. 9:15,18 -, but note that in the same verse he mentions "rights" twice). He renounced his right (going above and beyond the call of duty), but it doesn't follow that the right does not exist. The heroic or the extraordinary is not the norm for the ordinary. Thus, priests and religious are to receive a living wage; so are missionaries (which is why the Church supports missions). You may wish to argue that only priests and religious ever receive any funding from the Church. I would like to see you prove that no lay organization or individual in ministry ever does.
When one starts from erroneous assumptions, pretty soon the bad thinking gets into judgments of others' characters.

* * *

[responding to Deacon Bracy]

You presuppose that anyone has asked for the tracts that you judge to be so compensable, Deacon.

They asked for them by buying them! How silly is this!?

Is there some reason that they can't be made available as a personal sacrifice?

Sure. But again, you don't know what he has done with the money. One could make money and then give it away, which is just as much a sacrifice as doing something for free, because you have contributed free labor. But sacrifice isn't everything. One can help advance the Church and Kingdom in many ways. Conversion stories, evangelism, apologetics, and teaching are some of the ways.

The Church provides for the needs of our professional class, our priests and bishops. Why the need to justify compensation for the heads of self-appointed ministries?

He is a professional theologian. He was already a pastor before he converted. You have no right to question his calling as a Protestant. That is not "self-appointed" at all. I've been accused of the same thing because I am a layman. But what my accusers neglect in every case is the fact that I was personally received into the Church by the late Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J., who said my writings were "very Catholic" (even back in 1991) and who wrote the Foreword of my first book. Since he was considered one of the leading catechists in the world, and was a close advisor to both Pope Paul VI and Mother Teresa and the Missionaries of Charity, I would say that is a strong sanction from the Church, wouldn't you? These types of things happen all the time with lay apologists. What do I need to do: get a personal letter from the pope, lest I be accused of being "self-appointed"? Scott has plenty of episcopal support. Only a relentless critic like yourself could fail to see that.

The concept and most of the language you use here, muzzling oxes, workman's keep and the like, has an all-too- Evangelical smell to it for my tastes. Much like the style of Hahn it carries all the earmarks of a poorly assimilated Protestantism. You may wish to give some thought to that.

It's biblical; not exclusively Protestant at all. Do you think Protestants made all those terms up??!! The Church highly encourages lay evangelization and apologetics; even on the Internet, as I wrote about recently. Sometimes that will occur in situations where the person gets paid to do it, just like any other work. I'm sure you will now go out and demonstrate how superior your way is to Scott Hahn's. As my friend Al Kresta likes to say when he might not agree with every jot and tittle of someone's method in some kind of apostolate: "his way of doing it is better than my way of not doing it." Perhaps you can beg door-to-door in rags, as St. Francis (who was not a priest) did. God will honor that and much fruit will come of it. But don't act like you know what everyone else should do.

Not everyone in the Church must live exactly the same. Was Abraham rich? Were Solomon and David rich? Did not God call them? After all, God only made two major covenants with Abraham and David. He didn't require them to be dirt-poor. But he called others to live a life of poverty. You can't make one rule, as if that is all there is. We know that Jesus and the disciples were supported financially by some women. They had to eat, after all. Abraham, great philanthropists who have given millions of dollars to help the work of the Church. Are you seriously arguing that every Catholic is called to a life of poverty?

Other (better) models of ministry besides apologists are people like, for example, Jean Vanier, Fr. Thierry de Roucy, and Fr. Philip Scott, who live radical lives for Christ.

I see that Jean Vanier has written at least twelve books (see link). He doesn't make a penny from any of them? The L'Arche Communities, which he founded, solicit funds (here's an example). They also ask for volunteers (same page). That's free labor for their cause and work. I would love to get free labor to help me too. As it is, I have done every last bit of work on my blog, website, and in my books, and the vast majority of it, by the way, was for not one thin dime, and free to the reading public.

I had and have other jobs, too: on top of my apologetics done free of charge. Time is money. Labor is sacrifice. I have a family of six to provide for. I manage to do that and also write apologetics and share my conversion story once in a while. That's my life. How apologists have chosen to go about their lives is no one else's business unless they can demonstrate some terrible sin committed or breach of trust with contributors, etc.

Are you saying that it is better to solicit funds, so as to be sufficiently "radical" for Christ, rather than work? Or are you contending that helping people with physical disabilities is worthy and honorable work, sufficient to be supported by donations, whereas evangelism and apologetics and helping people with spiritual or education disabilities is not?

Fr. Thierry de Roucy's Heart's Home USA also solicits funds (and also volunteers). Indeed, it "mostly relies on private donations as a funding source for its activities." I rely on donations, by contrast, for only one-third of my income (and that is only in the best-case scenario, which is usually not the case). The rest comes from book royalties and additional part-time jobs. So they mostly beg for their money, while I mostly work for mine. Is solicitation is somehow more godly and meritorious than earning one's money through their own labor? Let's be clear: I don't look down on solicitation in the least, if it is for a good cause. But some folks want to look down on selling books and giving talks, and on lay apologists and evangelists (from the looks of it) getting paid at all for their work.

How much do apologists make for their talks? How many do they give? How many books have they written? How much is enough? It's unbridled capitalism.

How many unwarranted accusations have been made? How many times have apologists' hearts and also that of many lay Catholic workers been judged? How much do the people who make such accusations make at their jobs? Have they ever spent five dollars above subsistence level? Have they ever engaged in any recreation or luxury or gone on a vacation? Have they ever eat en a banana split, when people were starving in other parts of the world or bought a new set of clothes or a vehicle? And why is it any of their business if someone else does? 

Charity for the poor is a more important work than apologetics.

If the Catholic worker can raise money for charity purposes, why not an apologist for those purposes? Or must we believe that the Social Gospel is far more weighty and important and thus worthy of financial support than teaching, sharing, and defending the faith? I say both are, and that trying to divide them is the devil's game.

* * *

Capitalism can pervert the Gospel.

Sure; absolutely. So can Marxism and the Social Gospel and political liberalism and the sort of Pharisaical, judgmental, condescending legalism that John Lowell is spouting.

* * *

When the very egoism we've been criticising here is allowed to metastasize sufficiently, charity is seen only to consist in approval.

How fascinating: we must accept your view (with no compelling evidence at all offered for it: just naked judgmental opinion and judging of hearts) as self-evident, or else we are reduced to a mindless, clone-like "claque."

I don't know how you feel but there would seem to be a whole coterie of camp followers here and elsewhere, a kind of claque as it were, that appears whenever Scott Hahn is submitted to criticism. One is reminded of the style of invective so typical of political operatives in the Clinton and Bush White Houses where every criticism was and is met with the hurling of personal sludge. Perhaps these folks have been influenced by an all-too-close proximitity to the all-too-close proximity of Fr. Neuhaus, Fr. Pavone, and William Donnelly to the Republican Party aparatus, maybe that's the source of this infection.

That's right. I'm an apparatchik of "W" Bush Republicanism; hence my inability to comprehend your substanceless, irrational charges. Who could deny it?

I do know one thing for sure: That at another site my criticisms were met almost programatically by many who, not unlike Hahn, had published their conversion stories. It was as though the criticism had triggered a kind of mass guilt, that by merely poking at the abscess, the whole of it's contents had been released.

Absolutely. It goes without saying that whoever disagreed with you was undeniably burdened by an intolerable guilt at having shared their conversion, rather than having remained in the back pews and soup kitchens of sublime humility and service to our Lord and fellow man, as you obviously have done (so that no one has even heard of your name).

That notwithstanding, you should have comfort in knowing that it sometimes takes about three weeks before the hate mail begins.

* * *

. . . there really isn't much of a difference to be perceived in the egoism underlying the publication of the details of the Hahn conversion and those in any of the others that have taken this path. They differ only in their monkey-see-monkey-do character. Perhaps there's mitigation to that extent.

* * *

You be the judge of what is right and wrong here, dear reader . . .

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