Thursday, January 30, 2020

The Battle Lines Have Changed

Gather around, little kiddies, and Uncle Boniface will explain to you why popular Catholic apologists can no longer continue to function as if it is still the 1990s and the golden age of Catholic Answers--and why the battle lines of inter-Christian squabbling have fundamentally changed.

In the previous generation (meaning 1980s-2000s), Catholic apologetics was largely defined by disputes about the content of various Christian creeds; i.e., "Lutherans believe this, but Catholics believe that. Let's dispute about who is right." In that sort of climate, it was easy for confessions to dispute with one another. Persons professing some sort of formulaic creed can argue with others who profess a different creed because they had the common ground of both professing some creed.  It was in this atmosphere that Catholic apologetics contra Protestantism could flourish. It was in this sort of climate that apostolates like Catholic Answers thrived and books like Catholicism and Fundamentalism were of essential importance.

You see, in this older situation, we evaluated other Christian confessions on to what degree the content of their creed approximated Catholic tradition. Christians who had more in common with the Catholic faith were considered "closer" to us, those who shared less were "further." Let's visualize it this way:

This view is certainly accurate, considered from a doctrinal standpoint. But I submit that this mental paradigm is no longer helpful—the main reason for this being that the essential divisions within Christianity are no longer confessional. It used to be that Christianity was divided up into several confessions and that the members of each confession were presumed to be faithful at least to the tenets of their own confession. A man was a Baptist because he affirmed the Baptist confession and denied those that were at odds with his. And of course a Catholic was a Catholic because he affirmed the teachings of the Catholic faith. To be sure, the Baptist or the Catholic may have been born into these communities, but did not detract from the expectation that one who belonged to a certain confession actually professed it.

But the situation has changed drastically. The contemporary division within global Christianity is not creed vs. creed, but people who profess a creed vs. people who have no creed—those whose faith has a doctrinal skeleton and those whose faith has no structure at all, but is rather a kind of gelatinous mass molded and vivified by nothing beyond the opinions of the masses. This division transcends all forms of Christianity. Across the Catholic Church, the world of the Orthodox, and the Protestant confessions there is a profound de facto schism between those who believe Christianity has an objective, definable form whose boundaries are delineated by particular doctrines and, on the other hand, those who believe Christianity to be essentially whatever its adherents wish it to be at any given time—which is inevitably going to be defined by popular opinion, fad, etc.

In this atmosphere, creed vs. creed apologetics no longer has the weight it once did when most sincere Christians of any stripe are fighting bitterly simply to affirm the existence of any creed within their respective communities.

The current battle lines are drawn more or less like this, with the current "alliance" being not so much drawn horizontally on the spectrum based on doctrine but vertically, centered on the concept of tradition:

Some Traditionalists will immediately object that it is totally errant to align a traditional Catholic with, say, a traditional Baptist or a traditional Anglican because (a) the content of these other creeds' tradition is different and defective in light of Catholic truth, and (b) the "traditions" of Lutheranism or "The Wellspring" megachurch down the road are themselves forms of liberalism that are ultimately responsible for the destruction of western civilization.

Considered doctrinally, these critiques would certainly be correct. But I want to urge such critics to stop thinking of tradition here only in terms of its content. The question here isn't whose traditions are right. Consider tradition more anthropologically—tradition as existing whenever a group is being faithful to its own customs, founding principles, and internal telos. Thus, a "traditional" Calvinist is going to be a Calvinist who is faithful to the founding principles of Calvinism. A traditional Methodist is one who is faithful to the principal tenets of historical Methodism.

And it is this which is under attack everywhere across the Christian world. It is an attack against any form of Christianity that maintains some form of definable structure based on some external authority—be it Sacred Tradition, the Scriptures, historical confessions, or whatever. The ultimate goal is to transform global Christianity from something that has objective structure into something that is entirely subjectivized, something which takes its form entirely from the mood of the contemporary rabble. Something that is purely based on the ever-shifting emotional cravings of the plebs of [CURRENT YEAR]. It is not only the particular contents of Christianity's skeleton that are under attack, but the very existence of a doctrinal skeleton at all, regardless of its content. The architects of the current zetigeist want to ensure that Christianity will henceforth forever bow its head and alter its position whenever the powers-that-be tell us we are now at war with East Asia and no longer at war with Eurasia.

Catholics should never defend error; we should not defend traditional Calvinism just because we see it is under attack just as we are. We should, however, recognize how the battle is being waged, where the lines are being drawn, and that the locus of our defense of the faith should be on the existence of an objective, definable structure to the Christian religion. This takes precedence over older style apologetical works which focus on the content of our religion. These will always have a place, to be sure, but this is no longer where the greatest attack comes from and hasn't been for a long time. The attacks on Christianity are no longer so much about the content of our creeds as much as Christians' stubborn insistence on having a creed.


Unknown said...

Do you still uphold what you've written some years ago in "No allience with muslims"? It seems that two posts contradict each other. In the past, you claimed that the Catholic Church, being a divine institution doesn't need other allies than God and that it cannot win by relying on anyone but God. Here you seem to suggest that we do just that - make allience with heretics and schismatics, people outside the Church for the sake of defeating a greater evil.

Boniface said...


From this very article:

Catholics should never defend error; we should not defend traditional Calvinism just because we see it is under attack just as we are.

I did not suggest making an alliance with anyone. I stated that we need to recognize that what is under attack is not so much the particulars of a Creed as much as the very concept of a credal religion at all.

Athelstane said...

Somewhere, Dave Armstrong is sad.

Anonymous said...

Spot on, Boniface. Thank you for articulating the new normal.

lastholdout said...

This is a silly article. Boniface does what I would expect a Roman Catholic to do. He sets a fabricated continuum for "More True" and "Less True" with Catholocism to be "More True". Not very objective. It is a good way to avoid going head-to-head with the confessions.

Unknown said...

The dictatorship of relativism in full swing.

Dave Armstrong said...

"Somewhere, Dave Armstrong is sad."

Why would I be? I agree with the article. It's why I have concentrated a great deal on atheists in the last five years.

I would note, however, that the "doctrinal apologetics" was always mostly for the sake of those already Catholic, in order to give them confidence in holding their views: especially over against Protestant friends who asked about it. That remains the same as always, because Catholics need to have an intelligent, knowledgeable faith, no matter what is going on in the world.

As for the main point of the article, like I said, I agree, and my apologetics has long since been adjusted accordingly.

Dave Armstrong said...

It's untrue that the theologically liberal vs. honest traditional Christian is some new thing that has developed lately. It's been going on since at least Darwin, and arguably since the so-called "Enlightenment": really kicking up and wreaking havoc from the 1890s (hence, Pope St. Pius X's proclamations against modernism).

C. S. Lewis (who died in 1963) noted that he felt closer to Christians of different stripes (including Catholics) who actually held to traditional Christian beliefs, than he did to the liberals and nominalists in his own Anglican denomination.

So -- with all due respect -- this is nothing new and not a particularly original insight. Postmodern subjectivism and creeping radical secularism are fairly new, though (in the US).

Kathleen1031 said...

I agree with this, and it's one reason our nation and our world is now so divided. We can hardly have conversation! It has become old-fashioned to hold a view that we are basing our moral code or religious beliefs on Christ and an organized religion. How quaint, when all the pundits and activists who get so much traction in the secular world base their ideologies on what comes draining out of their own heads, they cite no sources, there are no references they will claim, because there is only the New York Times or Professor Marx and even they can't very well cite them. But you are an antiquated know-nothing Neanderthal if you still believe in those "fairy tales" and "Sky gods", as they like to say. To debate with these cement heads is impossible, so the discussion ends because it is impossible to find common ground with atheists. And our culture and our universities are turning out such lunkheads by a tens of thousands every year.

Eric H. said...

I have been thinking for a few years that conservative Catholics and conservative Evangelicals may very soon discover that they have more in common with each other than they do with progressive elements in their own traditions.

Noucvnt said...

There should not be an alliance with pagans and heretics like the Novus Ordo suicidally wants, but a tactical truce perhaps; with necessary skirmishes here and there with them to maintain dominance, in order to focus on the bigger enemy of postmodern satanism. When this enemy is defeated, the Church shall anyway be traditional enough to also make all mistaken holders of other creeds confess and bow their heads. (If this is the scenario of the book of Revelations or any other vision or apparition, only the Lord knows).

Meanwhile, traditionalist Catholics and conservative heretics (heck, maybe even some neoreactionary seculars/pagans) may vote and organize in conjunct action against the established technosecular order, but not pal up together otherwise. The truthful distinction and honor of the Church must still be emphasized, albeit in a second plane for current tactical reasons.

For example, instead of the "God wishes many creeds" silly joint statement with backstabbers, the Pope by his own accord would state: "We (yes, use the royal voice again) don't agree with Lutherans in many things, but much less so do We agree with Muslims suicide-bombing them, and even less do We agree with atheists vainly mocking them all on Charlie Hebdo. Our prayers and charity, through the Virgin and the Angels and Saints to Our Lord, are with the victims of all the evils and heresies of the world; including those evils infiltrated within Our Lord's Church, but also those evil philosophies and heresies outside Her walls, for both kinds ruin so many souls. A united and very Catholic Christendom would instead help prevent all these evils against man, and against the Truth of Our Lord, which We as His Vicar uphold".

Josemaria Paulo Jeromino Martin Carvalho-Von Verster said...

"Gather around, little kiddies, and Uncle Boniface will explain to you..."

You are one Man I would trust to teach my little cousins,nephews and nieces about God over some Kooky Kool-Aid Show-off who misses the 60's.

Mick Jagger Gathers No Mosque said...

The fundamental Creedal and Spiritual chasm between Catholics and Protestants is as cataclysmic as it is wide.

If one wishes to try and build some sort of political and secular bride over that chasm one is welcome to try but America is as it is now because America is a protestant nation that legislates in opposition to The Commandments of Christ The King.

One may as well try and convince ABS that Protestants worship God.

They don't. Their services are prayers and praise of God but prayers are not worship.

Malachias 1:11 For form the rising of the sun to its going down my name is great among the Gentiles and in every place there is sacrifice and there is offered to my name a clean oblation...

Of course, the protestants lied about this passage (as they have in so many other instances) and changed oblation to incense

The only thing that matters for a Catholic is if their will be Sanctifying Grace in his soul upon death.

All else is trivial and tends to detract from what a Catholic must be about

Boniface said...

Lol...why are people responding to this essay as if I am calling on Catholics to put aside our differences with Protestants and make an alliance with them? That's....not at all what the essay says.

It says Catholic apologetics needs to shift to defending more general religious truths, some of which we do share in common with Protestants (i.e., the intelligence behind creation, existence of a moral law, authoritative religious precepts

Mick Jagger Gathers No Mosque said...

Dear Boniface. Masonry already does that and the last thing Catholicism requires is to have the Great Commission diluted

Jack said...

Faith is not mere orthodoxy, it is not mere intellectual assent to doctrinal formulas or intellectual obedience to church authority.

The "liberals", or whatever you call them, are perfectly right in saying that faith is essentially a personal and living relationship with God. The measure of a man's faith is not how orthodox he is (since then those who hold doctorates in systematic theology would have greater faith, since they know more doctrine), but how much he actually trusts in the Lord and gives himself to the Lord in his daily life. When trials come, then you see how great a man's faith is. That's why Our Lord chastised His disciples for being of "little faith" when they panicked on the stormy sea.

That said, orthodoxy is integral to faith. You can't truly love or worship unless you know the one you love and worship. That's why Our Lord said to the samaritan woman that God desires to be worshiped in spirit and in truth.

The problem here is that "traditionalists" are rejecting the end of faith, which is personal relationship; and "liberals" are rejecting the means of faith, which is divine revelation. Whoever is trying to drive a wedge and divorce these two is following Satan. The result will be a "traditionalist" sect that is proud of its own orthodoxy and bitterly condemns those it deems heterodox, while having a skin deep relationship with the living God; and a "liberal" sect of people worshiping their own whims, impressions, and emotions, who get angry when anyone would disabuse them of their idols. But the result is essentially the same in both cases: people worshiping themselves rather than the true God.

Anonymous said...

Don't speak for people whom you've never met.
Traditional Catholics simply keep the true faith alive during this emergency,including our Priests Bishops Nuns and
God bless

Son of Ya'Kov said...

If I might eco my friend Dave Armstrong's sentiments. I agree it is a good article and most if not all my disputes these days are with atheists and agnostics and or the odd self confessed Deist who denies the resurrection.

I find I am more likely to argue the self contradictory nature of Positivism with somebody than I am so argue the self contradictory nature of Sola Scriptura. Thought most Atheist like my former Fundamentalist opponents seem to still have a Fundamentalists mentality of the Bible.