Thursday, October 05, 2006

The Anti-Convert, Anti-Apologetics, Anti-Newman Mentality of the "Reformed Catholicism" Blog (vs. Kevin Johnson)

I've noted this in the past. The people at Reformed Catholicism clearly pride themselves on being especially ecumenical and (shall we say?) intellectually nuanced and sophisticated. Yet I have often noticed an obnoxious attitude, which comes out in full force if a convert to Catholicism dares to question their premises. Fake "tolerance" and postmodernist latitudinarianism ultimately carry the day in this venue.

It's fashionable for a Protestant to call himself a Catholic and deny that he is a Protestant (hence blogmaster Kevin Johnson writes: "I don't appreciate being called a Protestant . . . In point of fact, I don't consider myself a Protestant") but quite unpolitically correct for a Catholic to (gasp!!!!) call himself a Catholic and actually believe what the Catholic Church teaches! That's a naughty no-no and can't be allowed over at Reformed Catholic without such a repulsive know-nothing being pilloried and insulted. How charitable; how ecumenical; how constructive in terms of promoting further Christian unity of parties who have the unmitigated gall to believe in the historic distinctives of their own Christian communion.

The post and discussion thread in question is called Newman and His Assumptions, by Kevin Johnson. Kevin's words will be in blue; other "Reformed Catholic"'s words in purple. Dave Hodges is the Catholic convert (apparently some sort of "traditionalist" though that doesn't affect what I cite of him below) who is belittled and dismissed. His words (often quite delightful and funny in retort) will be in green (breaks in the text below imply a gap in the cited text):

Anti-[Catholic] Convert Motifs:

. . . the real reason for going from England to Rome was the assumption that the Catholic Church is who she claims to be. It is this very blind sort of leap of faith that keeps many of us out especially when the details of ecclesiastical history get in the way of Rome's claims.

Egads! You mean people who make religious conversions are now citing faith as playing a role? What is this world coming to, anyway?

There is no such thing as "religious conversions". We convert to Christ and a 'leap of faith' in Christ is completely appropriate.

. . . you didn't bother to respond to the substance of my remarks regarding the lack of any biblical warrant to switch communions and in doing so term it "conversion" and the additional fact that conversion is a matter of coming to Christ, not coming to another church.

[of course there are religious conversions. This is a completely acceptable use, in religious sociology and also within a purely religious or theological framework. It is simply a false dichotomy to imply that conversion to Christ Himself somehow precludes any lesser forms of conversion to schools or different Christian communions]

A leap of faith in or to another Christian fellowship is something the Bible never called men to - and speaking of a journey to Rome as a conversion just perpetuates the chief error that continues to separate our differing communions.

[it is correct that the Bible opposes denominationalism, but from the Catholic point of view, conversion to Catholicism is precisely the opposite of that: it is rejecting mere denominationalism and embracing what one believes to be the one true Church, which transcends sectarianism and the denominationalism of human tradition. So Kevin here simply presupposes that denominationalism is the status quo and adopts (though inconsistently, if you closely examine his apologetics for his own sect) typically postmodernist ecclesiological relativism: no church {denomination} can claim to be fundamentally superior to any other - as a matter of truth claims. In practical terms, this means that there can no longer be any such thing as the One True Church, established by Christ (in the institutional sense), because the denominational chaos of Protestantism has made that impossible. Therefore, anyone who dares to make such a foolish claim is mocked and pilloried, since he doesn't presuppose the quintessentially Anabaptist (not even classically Lutheran or Calvinist) notion of the Invisible Church]

Let's just be honest about what it means to "convert to Rome". This post does that - you've made an assumption and that's all that there is to it.

[implying, of course, that there are no good reasons for conversion; only irrational leaps of faith]

My hope is that there's enough honesty on the part of "converts" and "apologists" to admit that such is the case instead of blog entries full of "these are my reasons for joining the Catholic Church".

[honesty of course requires all such "converts" such as yours truly, to get real and admit that we really converted for no reasons whatsoever, and that our papers and explanations to the contrary are only so much self-deluded hooey. And furthermore, for us to admit that is to understand and accept that folks like Kevin are the ones who are truly tolerant and ecumenical when they run down conversions to Catholicism, while at the same time highly praising conversions to the current fashionable novelty of "Reformed Catholicism". But then, if I were to be cynical about it, I could possibly suggest that it may be that Kevin and his buddies at Reformed Catholicism are able to persuade so few to their cause that they get a bit envious when they observe hundreds and thousands converting to Catholicism partially as a result of apologetics efforts. So what do you do when hardly anyone is coming to see what you see, but many are "going over to Rome"? Well, one thing you can do (lacking rational reply) is to mock Newman and apologetics and conversion and delude yourself that such conversions occur for no reason whatsoever (which is quasi-anti-Catholicism): pure fideism and an attraction to "smells and bells" or what-not. But as I said, I don't positively assert this; it is merely theorizing and speculating . . .]

Honestly, I did assume that Rome was who she claimed she was and based on that I evaluated her arguments. I tried to find the inconsistencies that would allow me to remain outside the Church. But the more I considered things, the more I was drawn to the Catholic faith. We all presuppose something, and we all start somewhere. What I want to know is why it's wrong for me (or anybody who should join the Catholic Church) to assume that the Catholic Church is who she claims to be, but it's perfectly okay for you to assume that she's not. All of your arguments for remaining a Protestant must be based on the fact that you believe that the Catholic Church is not, in fact, the Catholic Church.

What's the difference between your view and the common pluralist, who believes in the universal brotherhood of man and the universal fatherhood of God, who thinks that all men are headed to the same place albeit on different roads? I can't tell the difference.

It's always so cute how when somebody joins the Catholic Church, non-Catholics feel compelled to put the word Catholic in quotes as if it were endemic to their particular sect and has been hijacked by the Catholic Church. After all, everyone knows the real Catholics are the Protestants.

Anti-[Catholic] Apologetics Motifs:

But try telling that to an online apologist for Rome!

[immediately follows the first citation under "Anti-Newman Motifs"]

And while Newman's arguments are interesting from the standpoint of looking at something like this from a closed system where you've already made the intellectual commitment in question, Van Til's presuppositionalism is much more desirable because his focus is not on the legitimacy of the church and her development but upon the necessity of men turning to Christ.

[see my critique of radically-circular presuppositional apologetics]

I wish I could say something less harsh about the state of Internet and other apologetics today but this sort of futile wrangling over the development of doctrine really has nothing to do with the truth claims of Rome
unless you've already bought the pitch.

[In other words, "because I can't refute arguments utilizing Newmanian / Vincentian development of doctrine and in fact, scarcely even understand them, I'll play the game of pretending that they are irrelevant." See how easy it is to avoid getting into an argument and way over your head in deep waters of comparative Christian history discussion?]

What I cannot accept is the Modernist idea that nothing matters as long as you're sincere. "We are not claiming to be 'the one' and neither should you." I hear this from agnostics and wiccans alike. The denial of a single true religion is old-fashioned and passe. Or, one might say, that is SOO two hundred years ago. The double standard is what gets to me.

[excellent. I would only add that so-called "Reformed Catholics" and other Protestants today don't deny that there is one Church; rather, they simnply re-define it (out of the necessity of existing rampant denominationalism) to a non-institutional invisible church. This is what is repugnant not only to reason and early Church history, but even to the classical Protestantism of Luther and Calvin. It was held by people such as the Anabaptists and Mennonites, which is ironic, since the "Reformed Catholics" often oppose these schools of Protestant thought in other ways, such as their low sacramentarianism and unsophisticated, radically a-historical and anti-traditional notions of sola Scriptura]

Anti-Newman Motifs:

. . . Newman's thesis, while interesting, starts and ends with the very presupposition designed to make the argument a success. In other words, as an argument for 'the Catholic faith' it is really only valid for those who have already accepted the authority and word of Rome. It answers none of our more important concerns stated here and elsewhere and is generally irrelevant to any discussion as to the truth claims of Rome.

As such the use of Newman and his works by Rome's apologists (Internet-enabled or not) or recent "converts" is just an exercise in futility and borders on being dishonest about the true nature of the question.

[anything but actually attempt to refute such arguments; instead take the fool's way out of mockery of someone far greater in intellectual stature than the one making stupid observations such as this. Cardinal Newman clearly threatens people who do not accept his reasoning. I have noticed an increasing amount of dismissal and mockery of him on the Internet. I observed it just a few days ago on a Lutheran blog, and also recently from an Orthodox and even Catholics in another venue. I believe part of this animus is against the very fact that Newman takes a definite stand on what is the true Church. He has a backbone; he isn't afraid of ruffling a few feathers. That is utterly unacceptable in the current zeitgeist of postmodernist fake tolerance and (thoroughly Anabaptistic) ecclesiological relativism. I would love just once to see someone who thinks like this to deal point-by-point with a conversion story that incorporates Newmanian arguments or makes them central to its rationale, such as my own paper:

How Newman Convinced me of the Apostolicity of the Catholic Church

That would be a nice change, wouldn't it?: interacting with the actual arguments, rather than dismissing and ignoring them, and calling names, and virtually dismissing as idiots anyone who admires Newman or who adopts his reasoning. But the latter is what people do when they are unable or unwilling to argue rationally. I've seen it a thousand times]

. . . whatever you have to say about why I remain such [Protestant, but he denies that he is that] is generally irrelevant - just like any argument you might bring from Newman.

[That's right; Kevin's profound faith is oblivious to any reasoning that may contradict it. He is in a perfectly invulnerable bubble, impervious to any opposing claims or critiques. Would that reality were so simple, huh?]

[Quasi]-Anti-Catholic Motifs:

At the center of our faith is Christ, not the Church and while we are called to be His Bride and a part of the Church our faith is to rest in Him first and only then in one another as the covenant community our Lord intended.

[the typical Protestant polemic of dichotomizing Church and Christ: as if the former is antithetical to the latter in Catholic thought and theology and life. But of course a true, vital, constructive ecumenism would have to take into account the central role of the Church and Tradition in both Catholicism and Orthodoxy; not to mention anglo-Catholicism]

You seem to be comfortable stating that we should all accept one another as brothers despite what theological and ecclesiological differences we have, but have great difficulty with anyone who actually believes the ancient doctrine of one holy, catholick, and apostlick Church. Tolerate everyone regardless of their beliefs, unless of course those beliefs might do the unimaginable, and imply that there are actually hereticks and schismatics who are outside the Church because of their beliefs.

Insults Towards Those [Catholics] Who Dare to Differ:

Bottom line: you're still a Protestant. All you've done is paste some Roman Catholic propositions on top of your basically individual-centered, private-judgment riddled approach to religion. This is quite ironic given the vehemence of your accusations against us, but given that immediate background of your sectarian Protestantism, it's quite understandable. You've just changed sects, that's all. Your crummy attitude remains the same.

I must be a rare type of Protestant. How many Protestants do you know who affirm every dogma of the Catholic Church, worship at a Catholic Church, confess his sins to a Catholic priest, tithe to a Catholic parish which is under the authority of a Catholic Ordinary?

Let me guess, you're a Catholic though, and also a rare type: one who affirms none of the dogmas of the Catholic Church, worships at a Protestant church, confesses his sins to the ceiling, and tithes to a Protestant church which has no episcopate to speak of.

[Ooooh! Too much truth there! Watch how it is responded to . . .]

You still have no idea what we're up to, and no idea about what our actual views are. . . . I stand by my remarks about your caricatures of Catholicism, too. You are a newbie coming out of one of the most stuck-up forms of Presbyterianism imaginable. . . . Step back, stop talking, and listen. Maybe then you'll be able to do more than just spout silly semi-Catholic propaganda . . . I will spend no further time interacting with you until you grow up.

[See?! I told ya!!!]

You get upset when I wonder if you condemn Arianism, but also get upset when I should actually believe what the rest of the Catholic Councils taught on various heretical beliefs. You say you want Church unity, but how is that to be accomplished if one can pick and choose which Councils he accepts as authoritative?

I didn't join the Catholic Church because I thought it would be a fun hayride the rest of my life. . . . I joined it because I believed it to be the true religion. And I really believe that and I take Her teachings seriously. And for that reason you say, "Bottom line: you're still a Protestant." Show me which Catholic dogmas I have refused assent to, and you will have made your point. If you cannot find any, I don't know what you mean. If it's a peculiarly Protestant thing to believe that one's religion is the true one, and it is a peculiarly Catholic thing to deny such a notion, then I guess you're right. But at this point the burden of proof is on you to demonstrate that historically and dogmatically Catholicism denies its own veracity.

I guess what I am referring to is gross distaste that is present whenever the ancient dogma of extra ecclesiam nulla salus is mentioned. That is just as much of a Catholic dogma as the Trinity, the Virginity of Mary, and the Real Presence. Should any Catholic actually believe said dogma, he is railed against as a schismatic sectarian and an irrelevant convert apologist. As if convert apologists are the only ones who believed this, . . .

Update on the Latest Round of Catholic Apologetics-Bashing has almost raised the spewing of non-arguments and non sequiturs and pretending they are rational replies, to a fine art. On 14 March 2007, in the post, Play Time is Over, the illustrious Kevin Johnson compares Catholic apologists to the nutcases who are promoting the "empty tomb" nonsense at the present time. Some highlights:

I’d like for a moment to register agreement with his post that demonstrates the tactics and psychology of popular Roman Catholic apologists [linked] in comparison with the way the whole Jesus Tomb advocates have proceeded: . . . it’s high time that popular Catholic apologists take the time to offer real arguments for the legitimacy of their understanding of Church history and institutions like the papacy and avoid taking advantage of or deceiving evangelicals that simply don’t understand all the appropriate issues involved in looking at these things . . .

I say to Roman Catholic apologists. Put together something that convinces those of us who have already dealt with these issues and haven’t been satisfied with the half-arguments and question-begging of your positions. Let’s see what you can really do. Play time is over.

Thankfully, contributor Paul Owen talks a little bit of sense to counteract this, in his article, A Footnote on Polemics (16 March 2007):
I must also add though that on the whole I agree with Nevin that the Fathers are inevitably headed in the basic direction of later Catholic theology, and are always much closer to Rome than to evangelical Protestantism. It is always laughable when you see Protestant “apologists” try to cite Athanasius or Augustine for their doctrine of solo scriptura, or a purely symbolic view of the sacraments. In general, I would have to say that folks like Dave Armstrong, Catholic Answers, . . . are far more careful and responsible in their handling of the evidence than their evangelical counterparts.

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