Saturday, June 16, 2007

Futility of Certain Forms of Argument

I am convinced that there is little or no real value in arguing about interpretation of specific Bible or Patristic texts with Protestants, in terms of persuading them to return to the Church. This is especially true of knowledgeable Protestants, and particularly true of anti-Catholics.

What actually takes place in these discussions is a clash of paradigms - of world views. And to the extent that each disputant is familiar with his own faith, and especially with how it may be defended, it seems to me that it is a futile enterprise to suppose that we are going to be successful in convincing them that the Catholic faith is true by quibbling about texts. Of course the texts unquestionably support and validate the Catholic Church. I'm not saying that they do not. But to someone who has thought otherwise all his life, and who has thought about the Bible in terms of some single Protestant framework, anything we say about those same texts will seem like gibberish to him.

So it seems that our approach must be different than this if the goal is to win back Protestants to the Church. Rather than arguing on the basis of specific texts - which the Protestant may either ignore or which he may interpret differently (and adamantly so at that), we must instead resort to challenging the very legitimacy of the Protestant's approach to the Bible and to the truth. As I attempted to show in a recent series of posts on unexamined presuppositions, the real issue with Protestants is not exactly hermeneutics but rather authority. It is impossible for them to justify exactly why their opinions should be held to be authoritative. And when it comes to divinely revealed truth, that impossibility completely demolishes any structure built upon it. What they have is a mass of conflicting impulses (to borrow a phrase from Nomad!) and no way whatsoever to ultimately distinguish the true and the false among them with any finality. Instead, each individual Protestant is obliged to make up his own mind - as though the Christian Faith is a matter to be decided by a mere man.

Yes, there are certainly issues about which Christians may legitimately differ. Paul makes that abundantly clear. No, those issues do not extend to the entire length and breadth of the Faith. We may not differ on the Trinity. We may not differ on the Resurrection. We may not differ on the Sacraments (and so forth).

It seems that what must be done is this: the Protestant must be shown that he has no basis on his own terms for any confidence whatsoever concerning the essential content of the Christian Faith.

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