Monday, May 21, 2007

So-Called Intellectual Suicide - Introduction

A standard canard for many Protestants when quarreling with Catholics is that we have committed "intellectual suicide" by submitting to the Magisterium. These critics say this because it seems to them that if anyone refuses to question what the critics describe as merely human declarations, this can only mean that he has abandoned any genuine prospect for independent thought. This assertion has come up on a couple different blogs recently, in response to philosopher Dr. Robert Koons' announcement of his intention to convert to the Catholic Church.

In one venue, a commenter says of such conversions: "So it really is intellectual suicide on the order of what geocentrist fundamentalists ask of people." Elsewhere, in response to a Catholic's expressed admiration for an article by Dr. Koons on the subject of justification, a critic says:

I know for a fact that you don't really care anything about Dr. Koons' "excellent treatise on justification". You can't. You're Catholic...

It's not "what you think" but "whom do you trust?"

It isn't about what Dr. Koons thinks. You don't trust Dr. Koons. You can't. No matter how smart he may or may not be, he is just some guy with an opinion.
Unfortunately, it seems that these gentlemen do not seem to have understood things clearly.

In the first place, as someone else pointed out on the first of these two blogs, the claim that Catholics commit intellectual suicide is simply absurd on its face, given converts such as these and other Catholics such as St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Thomas More, and Joseph Ratzinger (to name just a few). Such silliness hardly warrants a response, in one sense, because it is so manifestly at variance with the facts.

In the second place, these critics really ought to be wary of resorting to such attacks. What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander, and if this sort of nonsense "works" against Catholics, it works no less well against Protestants in the hands of (for example) atheists. Atheists will say that Christians blindly accept what the Bible says, so that by becoming Christian we have all committed intellectual suicide. Here is just one example. A little more caution would seem to be in order: glass houses, stones, and all that.

But in the third place, it seems that these Protestant critics do not understand some things about the relationship of dogma, theology, and reason in general. In my next post, I hope to explain why Catholics have most certainly not jettisoned their brains at the church door.


Kevin said...

I think it's only appropriate to note that not all Protestants feel moving to Catholicism is intellectual suicide.

As the owner of the site where that comment came from, I want to first register my disagreement with such a comment as well as let your readers know that such a reaction is not the only way our contributors react to such moves to Rome. In fact, I'd point your readers to the following posts to demonstrate a more reasoned few among thinking Protestants especially at our website. :)

One other thing needs to be noted--at our site we encourage discussion of different points of view even if they are ludicrous. Most of these viewpoints that border on the sort of self-aggrandizing advocacy of Protestantism or Lutheranism are not received without some level of skepticism and/or rejection from the majority of our readers. So, all in all, we work toward a free exchange of ideas and part of that is working through bad ideas as much as we work through good ones.

Kevin D. Johnson

Reginald de Piperno said...

Hello Kevin,

Certainly I know it's true that not all Protestants consider Catholic conversion to be intellectual suicide. That's why I said "many Protestants" do. I respect very much the fact that many other Protestants do not, including many (most?) folks at Reformed Catholicism.

My purpose in linking to your site for this post was not to suggest that your site is representative of such an attitude. Rather, that specific comment was one of the two most immediate examples of the "intellectual suicide" perspective that came to mind, having read the thread in question quite recently.

I apologize if you think I have misrepresented your site as a whole, and I am happy to offer this clarification of my purpose.