On Not Apologizing for Apologetics
There was a time when Christian apologists were asked by unbelievers to give reasons for their hope (1 Pet. 3:15). Nowadays we're often asked by fellow Christians to give reasons for our giving reasons.
Many Catholics don't even know what an apologist is. They conclude from the name that an apologist is someone who apologizes for being a Christian.
Other Catholics, particularly those who think of themselves as forward-looking, say apologists should apologize--apologize for what they're doing and then stop doing it. These folks consider apologetics another form of pre-Vatican II triumphalism and rigidity. It's something that went out with meatless Fridays.
Catholics who attack apologetics see religion as primarily subjective, like some people preferring chocolate ice cream over vanilla, impressionism over baroque art, or the Three Stooges over Abbott and Costello. They stress the affective, experiential.aspects of religion over the cognitive, doctrinal ones. After all, they argue, isn't faith more than doctrines and arguments? BR>Yes, it's more, but it doesn't exclude those.
Some people think doctrines about God are like playdough: They may be fashioned into whatever shapes suit the fancy. I may shape my idea of God however I experience him (or her or it, depending on my prejudices).
The problem with the non- cognitive, experiential approach to religion is that it just doesn't work. If there's no objective way to critique religious experience, then anyone's experience is as good as anyone else's.
Why is it better to be an enlightened, forward-looking Catholic rather than a (supposedly) simplistic born-again Fundamentalist? Why is it better to be a Christian (of any stripe) rather than, say, an animist from the jungles? These are questions many Catholics are asking, questions which, in the absence of cogent answers from the "trendies," are causing some to abandon Catholicism.
If there’s a lesson to be learned it's that a religion devoid of doctrinal content, one based merely on feeling and sentiment or retained for purely cultural reasons (Andrew Greeley's "cultural Catholic"), can't hold people or attract others. A purely "touchy-feely" religion leads to agnosticism. After all, if religion is about ultimate reality, and if that reality is knowable, then it makes sense to exercise one's wits in the direction of understanding reality and explaining it to others. Not talking about religious truths implies there are none or that we can't know them if there are any.
It's this kind of religious skepticism G. H. Duggan's Beyond Reasonable Doubt wants to avoid. The book is a revival of a genre: the classical apologetics book, written for the intelligent laymen rather than the academic specialist, which offers a broad defense of the Christian faith.
Beyond Reasonable Doubt starts from scratch. After all, not everyone affirms the existence of God or the reality of the soul, and many who do have no idea why they believe in either. Duggan sketches out the arguments for both without inflicting upon the innocent reader a lot of theological argot.
After establishing a basis for natural theology, Duggan turns to the New Testament. Here he uses both Evangelical and Catholic biblical scholarship to defend the historical reliability of the New Testament, its portrait of Jesus, and the factuality of his Resurrection from the dead. The arguments presented are clear and accessible to laymen.
The remainder of the book considers the origin of the Catholic Church and whether or not Christ instituted the papacy. This section is brief but effective. There's no Eastern Orthodox or Protestant bashing, so the fair-minded non-Catholic Christian, after coming thus far, may be intrigued enough to finish the journey.
Even apart from its arguments, Beyond Reasonable Doubt is useful because of the annotated bibliographies at the end of the chapters. These allow the reader to pursue a given topic in greater depth and with a precision not possible in a work of popular apologetics. A cursory reading of the references indicate Duggan is well aware of Evangelical Protestant as well as Catholic apologetical works in each subject area.
The book concludes on two important notes.
The first is a caveat for the Christian apologist not to expect too much. Apologetics can remove obstacles to faith, it can clear up misunderstandings, but it can't, in the strictest sense, prove Christianity to the doubter. Faith alone provides that sort of certitude, and faith, being the work of divine grace, is beyond the power of reason to produce.
The second point is that, while apologetics can't prove to unbelievers the truths of faith (the proof comes through faith itself), it can show how they are compatible with reason.
As Duggan puts it, the devout Catholic can be confident that "in assenting to the mysteries that are at the heart of our religion as revealed by God, we are assenting to what is beyond the range of reason, but also beyond reasonable doubt."
-- Mark Brumley
Beyond Reasonable Doubt
By G.H. Duggan, S.M.
Boston: St. Paul's Editions, 1987
Stoddard Martin has given us a smorgasbord of modern religious cults which have their roots in magic and hermetic literature. Martin grew up in La Jolla and is thus familiar with such California exotica as Charles Manson, the Don Juan books of Carlos Casteneda (which are dealt with more extensively in Martin's earlier work, Art, Messianism and Crime) and Katherine Tingley's Theosophical community in the Point Loma district of San Diego.
One sees vividly the spiritual hunger which abounds in a world which views Christianity as a harmless, if eccentric, preoccupation--to be tolerated so long as church-goers do not involve themselves too visibly in politics (like demonstrating forcefully against abortion).
Indeed, it must be a great spiritual hunger which causes people to close their minds and follow the likes of Theosophy's Madame Blavatsky and L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of the Church of Scientology, to each of whom Martin devotes a chapter. One is reminded of Chesterton's observation that when a man stops believing in God, he's likely to believe not in nothing, but in anything.
Great numbers of people have been brought up in homes which were nominally Christian but were more like museums filled with Christians symbols but no Living Presence. Finding themselves in a world which smiles at the symbols (although now the Supreme Court has frowned on the Christmas creche) but rejects the Presence, they drift into comfortable indifferentism, only to find they need something more.
Statistics concerning the declining numbers of those attending many Christian churches are no secret. Even though Fundamentalism is experiencing one of its periodic revivals, many people are drifting from mainline Christianity to secular humanism and from there to cults built on liturgies centered on magic, as anthropologist T. H. Luhrman considers in her recently published Ritual Magic in Contemporary England. As Martin puts it, "Christ may remain an example of importance to some, but 'stranger gods' are increasingly influential."
How, then, are we to reverse the trend and open people's eyes to the splendor of Christ and his message, when they are enchanted by the glitter of the "stranger gods" and their prophets, who cater to the "modern consciousness"? Martin's book presents the problem, but offers no solutions. Perhaps there are none, for it has remained a problem since the beginning: "He looked around at them angrily, for he was deeply grieved that they had closed their minds against him" (Mark 3:5).
If Jesus himself failed at times to open people's minds to his life-giving message, we should not be discouraged at our shortcomings. Like him, we must persevere, for no great accomplishment, nothing of lasting importance, can be achieved without hard, unremitting work over long periods of time. And spreading the goods news of Jesus is the greatest work of all. To the extent we shirk our part in that work, to that extent will susceptible souls, hungering for a spiritual dimension, be taken in by the occult influences described by Stoddard Martin.
-- Vincent Whelan
By Stoddard Martin
New York: St. Martin's Press, 1989
This is a book of boomerang humor. It is meant to make the Bible look foolish, but it succeeds only in making the author, the writer of the introduction, and the publisher look foolish.
The premise is that the Bible is full of contradictions; these can be shown by a judicious juxtaposition of verses. That's exactly what William Henry Burr tried to show in 1859 when he compiled the work, and R. Joseph Hoffman, who teaches philosophy and religion at Hartwick College in Oneonta, New York, says in his introduction that Hoffman produced "a minor classic of nineteenth-century religious liberation," by which he means liberation from religion.
Hoffman takes jabs at Fundamentalism, saying it "thrives on ignorance, not just of a general sort, but an ignorance of the Bible itself." However true that may be of Fundamentalism, certainly it is true of Hoffman's own anti-religion crowd. Only someone ignorant of the Bible could think pairings such as these are telling blows against Scripture:
"God is warlike: 'The Lord is a man of war' (Ex. 15:3). God is peaceful: 'God is not the author of confusion but of peace' (1 Cor. 14:33)."
"There died of the plague twenty-four thousand: 'And those that died in the plague were twenty and four thousand' (Num. 25:9). There died of the plauge but twenty-three thousand: 'And fell in one day three and twenty thousand' (1 Cor. 10:8)."
"Christ's witness of himself is true: 'Though I bear record of myself, yet my record is true' (John 8:14). Christ's witness of himself is not true: 'If I bear witness of myself, my witness is not true' (John 5:31)."
"A good name is a blessing: 'A good name is better than precious ointment' (Eccl. 7:1). A good name is a curse: 'Woe unto you when all men shall speak well of you' (Luke 6:26).
Unimpressed by the power of these "contradictions"? Can't even see anything contradictory in them? Neither can we. Have a good laugh while you can, before the anti-religionists wake up.
-- Karl Keating
Self-Contradictions of the Bible
By William Henry Burr
Buffalo: Prometheus Press, 1987