Irish Papist

Irish Papist
Statute of the Blessed Virgin in Our Lady Seat of Wisdom Church, UCD Belfield

Saturday, July 21, 2012

To Own and to Own Not

Sometimes I find the rhetoric that some Catholics use rather trying. I am not entirely sure that I am in the right here. Perhaps I am being over-sensitive. But if I find it trying, perhaps there is a possibility that non-Catholics-- more importantly, potential Catholics-- are alienated by it.

"Truth", said Pilate, "what is that?". "You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free." "I am the way, the truth and the life." The New Testament rings with the word "truth". Is it any wonder that Catholics use it as a banner?

Perhaps not, but I can't help finding its totemic brandishing rather wearisome. Of course, it is important that we make the point that we are making truth claims, that the Bible is not just one protracted pretty metaphor, that faith is not simply a kind of poetry or symbolism. It is also important to explain that we are not fideists-- that is, that we do not rely on a blind faith indifferent to evidence-- and that the Church itself has officially rejected fideism.

Yes, we are Catholics because we believe Catholicism is true. But do we have to clobber our listeners over the head with this constantly?

You see, I think most people hold their opinions because they think they are true. There may be a small number of postmodernists out there-- I've never actually met one, but I have read about them-- who apparently believe that there is no such thing as absolute truth, that the very concept is offensively patriarchal and imperialistic and dead-white-male-ish. I suspect that these people exist mostly, if not entirely, within the pages of novels that satirise university life.

But let that pass. Let's say there are some honest-to-goodness relativists out there.

My point is that very few people fall into that category. I do feel that we should accept the good faith of our intellectual opponents, that questioning their commitment to truth is not a good start to a discussion. Not only is it begging the question, in most cases. It is also rude.

I also feel that Catholics (and Christians in general) have a nasty habit of aiming their fire at the motivations of unbelievers, rather than their arguments. I am sure that many atheists reject a belief in the Divine because they have a problem with cosmic authority, because they are reacting against their religious upbringing, because they think religion is stuffy and repressive and a drag. Perhaps that is even at the back of all unbelief, deep down. But I see no clear evidence of this, and even if it is true, it seems something of a cheap shot.

I have met many atheists and non-religious people who seem to have no animus against religion at all, who have a high regard for tradition and authority and reverence, who are not drawing up plans for the worldly utopia. Are the emotional roots of their atheism or agnosticism simply buried deep? Perhaps. If unbelief is wicked-- and the Catechism tells us that atheism is a sin-- then surely there must be a moral failing involved in it (at least, from a Christian perspective).

Nonetheless, I don't see the benefit in stressing this. Once again, it is begging the question, and rather rude.

Worst of all are the bullish internet apologists who crow over how they, or somebody else, "owned" this or that atheist or secularist of Protestant speaker. I don't see how anything good can come of this. I think those who witness such behaviour will conclude that the Truth has made some people obnoxious rather than free.

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