Monday, May 07, 2007

Baby --- Bathwater: Don't Ditch Lay Apologetics Because of Imperfect Lay Apologists

By Dave Armstrong (5-7-07)

The following is an exchange I had with a (Catholic) woman on another blog. My words are slightly modified and edited in parts to make this a fully general, broadly applicable comment. This is what can sometimes happen when personal hurt overtakes reason. Her words will be in blue.

* * * * *

Don't make the mistake of insulting the enterprise of apologetics by confusing it with the verbal warfare hogwash that too often happens. It's not like apologists have a monopoly of the trait of shooting their mouths off, anyway. There is plenty of that to go around. So I'd appreciate it if my own profession doesn't have to be dragged through the mud because of the behavior of some apologist who didn't (or -- God forbid -- habitually doesn't) communicate his message with perfect charity.

If you don't care for some particular apologist's style, then don't read him! God can take care of things in the long run. The universe won't collapse because someone has a problem controlling his tongue. Apologetics will still be here when Keating and Akin and Hahn and Madrid and Ray and Shea and all the other current lay apologists (including yours truly) are dead and gone, and that is because it is a biblical command and mandate.

Apologetics stands or falls on its merits and truth or falsity, or effectiveness as a persuasive endeavor, and the good fruit that hopefully results therefrom, not because of someone's temper or unsavory behavior. In the same way, the papacy is what it is, and doesn't become discredited just because there were bad popes who sinned and whored around, etc.

Ironically, the new "anti-apologetic" tendency that I have frequently noted, simply repeats the same old anti-Catholic canard that sin somehow casts into doubt a body of teaching or a methodology (in this case, defense of the faith).

I have said again and again that apologists (if they wish to be regarded as such) should stick mostly to apologetics. Why is it that many supposed apologetic venues devote themselves mostly to political and cultural issues? It's as if there is nothing in apologetics to write about and so the person jumps right on the Internet bandwagon of discussing every fashionable issue.

Anyone can discuss politics and the issues of the day (though some obviously specialize in that, too, and do it on a much higher level). I'm not running that down at all; simply stating a fact. But not everyone can do apologetics (in an intense, laborious way that the specialized field entails once one truly becomes serious about it).

Nor am I contending that apologists can never do those things. We can express our opinions on whatever we like, just like anyone else. I certainly do that. I've written recent posts about Virginia Tech, stereotypical prejudice, and Jackie Robinson. But by and large I stick to what I have been called to: Catholic and general Christian apologetics and evangelism.

You protest too much. A Catholic apologist with such a clearly dysfunctional manner in dealing with people (not to mention ideas) calls into doubt -- by his very behavior--the persuasiveness, even the truth, of what he is "apologizing" for. No amount of hand-wringing . . . can change that sad, pathetic fact. . . .

Personally, it has caused me to question whether lay apologetics is a good idea for the Catholic Church. In my humble opinion, the clerical establishment, even with its myriad problems, can usually keep it together in terms of carrying on intellectual dialogue with a modicum of sanity.

Yeah, but what do you think about the numerous arguments I gave? I'd be most interested in hearing that. You're simply asserting. You made no argument, let alone any response to mine. You're clearly a sharp and intelligent person. I think you are capable of doing so. But you have to be willing, of course.

I suppose there is a limited sense in which one can say, e.g., "Bill Clinton [or Richard Nixon, if you like] brought scandal on the office of the Presidency." Sure . . . but this sense is mostly a public relations type thing. It has nothing, really, to do with the office itself or our governmental system. One must distinguish the validity and essence and purpose of the office from occupants of same, who may be good or bad or all shades in between (just as with the papacy).

Likewise, if someone is doing apologetics badly, that is no reflection on the actual thing itself. It only shows that he is doing it (or, often, things only tangentially related to it) badly! It would be like saying:

1) "X plays baseball very badly. She doesn't know how to do it right."

2) "Therefore, scandal is brought upon baseball by this poor performance."

3) "And this causes me to question whether lay baseball is a good idea for folks to play."
How silly is that? Yet you apply it to apologetics at the drop of a hat. Your gripe surely must lie elsewhere, to think so illogically in such a manner. Bad logic usually flows from some personal experience or non-rational emotionalism.

Catholic apologetics is not baseball. It's qualitatively different from baseball.

Really? Wow! Excuse me a second while I write that down, so I can remember it henceforth. Thanks for that valuable tidbit of information.

Umm, would you not agree? Catholic apologetics are written to persuade someone of an eternal, life-changing truth.

Now someone who wishes to ditch lay Catholic apologetics altogether lectures one as to how it is different from baseball.

Of course the analogy fully applies, since it was a purely logical point that can be applied to other examples, even though they are dissimilar, because the logic had to do with internal relationships of propositions.

In other words, the analogy and similarity is not to the subjects or topics per se, but to the logical analysis that is employed in both instances. Anything whatsoever, then, could have been used as an analogy. It has nothing to do with how similar the two things are.

It ill serves such truth when a Catholic apologist is insufficiently influenced by eternal, life-changing truth as demonstrated by his ill behavior toward fellow Catholics, and when said Catholic apologist is more volatile, confrontational and rude than even the drunk guy on the street corner who has zero experience with Catholicism, it's a problem for Catholic apologetics and Catholic apologists alike.

What does this have to do with ditching the whole thing? It's a classic case of throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

Sorry if this sounds rude, but I am making assertions, not arguments, because the assertions are self-evident to most people.

This is precisely the problem, because you are thinking so illogically that you aren't even aware you are doing it, and so (like many who argue irrationally) simply assume that the statements are self-evident, when they are not at all. It may be self-evident that some apologists need to do a better job of personal interaction and charity towards those who disagree (I fully agree, and I could easily think of dozens of people where this reform would be well-advised), but that does not equate to the notion that lay Catholic apologetics is at its death door.

A Catholic lay apologist compares Catholic apologetics to THE GAME of baseball. Catholic apologetics -- just another game, eh? That was a really unfortunate comparison that illustrates perhaps more than you realize.

Lord, give me patience. Again (repetition is a great teacher), the analogy does not rest upon the essence of baseball compared to the essence of apologetics. It requires no relationship at all between the two things. It is a reductio ad absurdum: showing how the (assumed, unspoken) logic applied in one case would look if applied to another that is known to all of us (baseball).

You completely missed the point. Sorry if this sounds rude. If you don't like baseball as the analogy, then I'll use something closer to the subject matter (and, come to think of it, far better as an argument): bishops and the episcopacy. I'll take your logic and apply it to both scenarios. If you don't get the point, surely many others will:

1) Episcopacy (the rule of bishops) is (so we are told) a good and a very Catholic thing, based on Tradition and Scripture.

2) But American bishops in particular have provided a terrible example of conduct and policy decisions as of late. They have been insufficiently influenced by eternal, life-changing truth as demonstrated by their ill behavior toward fellow priests who were caught molesting children (thus, they treated the children abominably as well). And when said Catholic bishops are less concerned about the welfare of children than even the drunk guy on the street corner who has zero experience with Catholicism, it's a problem for Catholic episcopacy and Catholic bishops alike.

[hidden assumption / analogy: winking at sexual molestation of children and trying to cover it up and enabling priests who do so is far, far more evil and scandalous than some Catholic apologists' periodic eruptions of verbal diarrhea]

3) Therefore, this being the case, it should cause us to question whether bishops and episcopacy are a good idea for the Catholic Church.
By this logic, then, if lay Catholic apologetics should be tossed out because of the conduct of one man, much more so should episcopacy and the rule of bishops, because of the behavior of many more of them, amounting to great evil and injustice.

The logic is impeccable and unanswerable. But I'm sure that those given to emotionalism and illogical thought will find some way "out" of it, quite possibly (if experience is any guide) including recourse to the very tactics of personal attack that they so vehemently, passionately decry in others.

Fine, Dave Armstrong. [Individual instances of] behavior has nothing to do with the field of Catholic apologetics. No man is an island, . . .

By the way, it's nice that you know the term "reductio ad absurdum" but that doesn't mean you have to use it everytime you see an opportunity to do so . . . This level of analysis is not particularly impressive, nor is it particularly persuasive. After your latest comment, I'm more convinced of my position on lay apologetics than ever.

I knew the insults would be next, as I predicted. One gets used to these tired patterns after engaging in lots of discussions. But I was dumb enough to think reason would cut through the crap. I should have known better. Insufferable idealist about the power of reason, I am . . .

You believe whatever you want about lay apologetics. Meanwhile, folks are converting to the Church all the time because of it (leading Protestant ethicist Francis Beckwith, for example, is a very notable recent "revert" to the Church, owing in some part to Jimmy Akin's work). Both Jimmy and I have blogged about it.

You sit there and mock it while people come into the Church and grow in the faith and become far better equipped to share that faith with others, with confidence.

Somehow, I think when we apologist types stand before God, that God will be more impressed that we are doing something (however unworthy and lacking in charity it may be determined to be) to aid souls in coming closer to God and His Church, than he would be at your sort of condescending, illogical legalism about and breezy dismissal of these sorts of efforts, simply because you've been hurt by some apologist, or whatever your negative personal experience was.

But the devil loves to get Catholics fighting with each other over worthless issues, doesn't he? If you run down lay apologetics, when it is self-evidently a good thing overall, then the devil can cause further division.

I have a long track record of opposing personal attacks and slanderous garbage: wherever they occur and whomever they target (recently, e.g., I defended John Calvin on my blog against a slanderous lie).

I've been subjected to many of them myself: some even from fellow Catholics and many quite vicious and 100% truth-free. Anti-Catholic James White, just last night, called me a moonbat, an extremist wacko, and a stalker. All in a day's work.

Some people think it is a joke or a non-issue; others claim one is being hypersensitive to point out the obvious imperative of NT Christian ethics. Still others think it proves a martyr or persecution complex (i.e., in instances where I spoke up, when I was the target).

People have all kinds of excuses to keep up the unethical behavior. Even when one speaks up against it, they have to have the energy and tolerance and patience for catching hell and being attacked themselves. I can handle it, but I get awfully tired of it at times.

Reform of Internet discourse should be a high priority for everyone, because has gotten so bad (among Christians, who are actually some of the worst of all) that it is now often causing scandal.

And since we're speaking of "cutting crap", let's cut the holier-than-thou crap too. It's clearly not your bailwick to worry about what God will think of my interactions on the internet. Um, don't give it another thought. Seriously.

The "power of reason", seductive as it is, doesn't always apply. e.g. it shouldn't necessarily be applied to deconstructing someone's plainly obvious point about how [one apologist acting uncharitably] is causing scandal not only to Catholic apologists, but to Catholics. . . .

Thanks for your thoughts. God bless you.

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