Why Argue Against Non-Catholic Beliefs? Why Not Just Argue for Catholicism?

Why do I argue against Protestantism, Mormonism, Atheism, etc.?

This question came up recently, in response to my last post. Instead of laying out the case for the Catholic interpretation of Matthew 16:18, it was an explanation of why the Protestant interpretation was wrong. On Facebook, a reader responded, “You should rename your blog from Catholic Defense to Here’s Why Your Religious Beliefs Are Wrong, Heathen.”

So let me give three reasons why I think an important part of defending Catholicism involves pointing out where alternative or contrary belief systems are wrong:

Reason # 1 

E-5 Candidates taking a standardized quiz.
An important part of defending Catholicism involves showing why this faith has a better explanatory power than alternatives. To fail to do that would be to leave the argument half-done. To put it in debate terms, I’m making an affirmative case for Catholicism; but that includes showing why Catholicism is preferable to the various counter-plans (Protestantism, Mormonism, Atheism, etc.). If I didn’t believe that it was preferable, I wouldn’t be Catholic. 
If you prefer, think about it in terms of a standardized test: you use the process of elimination to eliminate the wrong answers. What remains is the right answer.This is very clear in the context of the debate over Matthew 16:18, since there are generally only two options put forward. The Protestant website GotQuestions? framed in way:

The debate rages over whether “the rock” on which Christ will build His church is Peter, or Peter’s confession that Jesus is “the Christ, the Son of the Living God” (Matthew 16:16). In all honesty, there is no way for us to be 100% sure which view is correct.

The Catholic interpretation makes sense, works Scripturally, and finds Patristic support. But if the Protestant interpretation also works, then there’s “no way for us to be 100% sure which view is correct.” But if we can show, as I think I have in the prior post, that the Protestant interpretation doesn’t work, then the matter is settled. Through the process of elimination, we’ve eliminated one of the two choices.

Reason # 2
In showing what Catholicism doesn’t teach, the affirmative teachings of the Church are better delimited and elucidated. This is a basic reality. Almost any affirmative statement is open to misinterpretation. Through a process of negation (“No, I don’t mean THAT by this statement”) the meaning of the original statement is made clearer.

If you want to see this truth in practice, read a little Church history. Core doctrines, like the Trinity or the Dual Natures of Christ, are seminally present from the very beginning. But it’s in response to heresies that these doctrines are more clearly elucidated. That’s why, for example, the original Nicene Creed ended with a series of Anathema clauses, condemning specific heretical interpretations of the Creed. The Church was making it abundantly clear what was meant, by explaining what wasn’t meant.

Reason # 3
Domenico Fetti, Archimedes Thoughtful (1620)

These belief systems are worthy of refutation. In this approach, I hope you don’t sense any disrespect towards non-Catholics. In critiquing these contrary religious beliefs analytically, I’m treating them as if they’re serious truth-claims that can stand or fall with critical analysis. Honestly, I think that it’s far more disrespectful to treat people’s religious claims in that condescending “Well, that’s true for you, so great!” approach that presupposes (but never bothers determining) that the religious claims in question aren’t objectively true.

Of course, the approach that I’m taking assumes that people are capable of rational thought, and aren’t just clinging to their religion or belief system irrationally. But this is an assumption that, even on this blog,  has been vindicated several times. Conversions do happen, and while they’re the work of the Holy Spirit, He deigns to use human instruments to create the openings through which He works.

So those are my thoughts. Of course, I’d love to hear your feedback: do you think that this approach works? Do you think that the right balance is struck? Anything that you’d particularly like to see more (or less) of?

8 Comments

  1. “But it’s in response to heresies that these doctrines are more clearly elucidated.” Exactly right.

    The same might be said about the role doubt can play in deepening one’s faith. Given your correct assumption “that people are capable of rational thought”, a valid response to doubt should be, at the very least, further investigation. A doubting St. Thomas’ example continues to provide an appropriate clarification and vital affirmation that our Lord Jesus Christ really was crucified, and died and rose again. St. Thomas’ doubt, pursued, led him to an amazing encounter that absolutely/objectively/empirically confirmed the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

    Sadly, too many people stop short of pursuing the truth because a relativistic notion about truth clouds their judgement and undermines their willingness or enthusiasm to reason.

    Thank you for the informative and transformative posts! Keep doing what you do.

  2. do you think that this approach works?

    If anything, you’re too soft on the heathens. Make those people with their “Coexist” (God, How I hate those ugly, monstrosities and the intellectual midgets who put them on their cars!) bumper stickers squirm!

    My Dominican pastor once visited a Mosque for an “open house” sort of gathering, and they had a Q&A session afterwards. My Dominican paster, in college and seminary, was top of his class in Philosophy and Theology. He raised his hand, and started politely asking some questions… At the end of the Q&A session, the imam asked him to please not come back.

  3. Why Argue Against Non-Catholic Beliefs?

    Because, if they are in opposition to Catholic Doctrine, they are wrong.

    Why Not Just Argue for Catholicism?

    There’s nothing wrong with this method. In fact, I think it is the one most recommended in Scripture:

    1 Peter 3:15
    King James Version (KJV)
    15 But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear:

    But rebuking and correcting are also advised:
    2 Timothy 4:2
    Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all long suffering and doctrine.

    If you prefer, think about it in terms of a standardized test: you use the process of elimination to eliminate the wrong answers. What remains is the right answer.

    In my opinion, its not always that clear cut. For instance. Salvation by faith alone.

    The fact is that many Catholic Church Fathers have correctly preached salvation by faith alone. HOWEVER, they have also preached, in the very same breath, salvation by faith and works.

    In our zeal to defend the doctrine of faith and works from the Protestant complete rejection of works as a basis for salvation, Catholics have taken the opposite and equally false position of denying the Doctrine of salvation by faith alone.

    However, the Church Fathers who used this term, faith alone, did not mean what Luther taught. They meant two things:
    1. We are saved by our expression of faith in Christ, in the Sacraments.
    2. We are saved by submitting to the Faith of Christ in the New Testament as opposed to the Mosaic Law of works in the New.

    Does anyone hear a word coming out of my mouth? Do you understand why I say that this is not clear cut? The fact is that I frequently, 99% of the time, argue against salvation by faith alone, because I know that the person arguing in favor of it, does not realize that there is a Catholic understanding of the term. I don’t think that even most Catholics realize this. But that is what St. Paul was teaching when he said:
    Titus 3:5
    King James Version (KJV)
    5 Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost;

    And the Church Fathers when they said things like this:

    Ambrose (339–97): Therefore let no one boast of his works, because no one can be justified by his works; but he who is just receives it as a gift, because he is justified by the washing of regeneration. It is faith, therefore, which delivers us by the blood of Christ, because blessed is he whose sins are forgiven, and to whom pardon is granted.

    Jerome (347-420)

    Romans 10:3: God justifies by faith alone.

    He who with all his spirit has placed his faith in Christ, even if he die in sin, shall by his faith live forever.

    Ambrosiaster (c. 366-384):

    God has decreed that a person who believes in Christ can be saved without works. By faith alone he receives the forgiveness of sins.

    Romans 3:24: They are justified freely because they have not done anything nor given anything in return, but by faith alone they have been made holy by the gift of God.

    Romans 3:27: Paul tells those who live under the law that they have no reason to boast basing themselves on the law and claiming to be of the race of Abraham, seeing that no one is justified before God except by faith.

    This is because Catholicism admits both/and logic. Christ is God and man. The Church is human and Divine. We are saved by faith alone in the Sacraments. And by faith and works in the final Judgment.

    So, its not always clear cut. But I do advise, whenever possible, show them their error.
    1 Corinthians 11:19
    For there must be also heresies among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you.

    Sincerely,

    De Maria

  4. “For this reason Luther’s phrase: “faith alone” is true, if it is not opposed to faith in charity, in love. Faith is looking at Christ, entrusting oneself to Christ, being united to Christ, conformed to Christ, to his life. And the form, the life of Christ, is love; hence to believe is to conform to Christ and to enter into his love. “

  5. I agree on your methods. When you say, “Honestly, I think that it’s far more disrespectful to treat people’s religious claims in that condescending “Well, that’s true for you, so great!” It hit a chord with me, because I always thought it was a weak, “I disagree” without having the courage to bring it up to discussion if the setting permits. It screams of “…There’s no absolute truth…” leanings to me.

    There are a dozen of comedians that flourished on doing this with their routine because people are shocked by a blunt honesty even if it is wrong, shooting people straight on what they thought about things is a setup I’ve seen in a ton of stand up shows and its almost boring when you see someone use it now. Its an excellent example of how we all secretly value people’s honest input and feelings on subjects instead of just a loving pat on the head with someone secretly thinking how wrong we are.

  6. Because I am a lazy thinker, and the form of Christianity I pursued seemed simple and in accordance with [my reading of] Scripture, it was a necessary but horribly painful step, to be disabused of the tenability of it. Otherwise I would have stuck with it. It took me a long time to ask myself why I thought that “real Christianity” would be simple, either in form or doctrine. After all, physics maps the world, but isn’t intuitive.

    But probably your best step, in one case, anyway, was to jump on a New Zealand blog and make a joke about earthquakes. I was incandescently angry* with you about that, and tracked you back to your blog and started paying real attention to SP and CtC and the arguments, because I intended to disprove and discount Catholicism and pour some vengeful scorn on you. Of course, now, should you be ordained, you’ll have all the scorn and vilification and opprobrium and contempt poured on you that any anti-Catholic could wish, but now I don’t wish it in the least.

    *because when we woke up on 4 Sep we found that the economic future of our island had been put back by at least 20 years, and because when, on 22 Feb, after the worst hours of our lives, our daughter finally rang us, she was crying because a building nearly fell on her and her children.

  7. It was more an unintentionally tasteless flippancy than a joke. But it’s a long story, Mr Scruggs. Are you sitting comfortably?

    After the devastating Christchurch earthquakes of Sep 2010 and Feb 2011, I was travelling in upstate New York when the cab-driver told me about Harold Camping’s prediction for the end of the world on May 21, 2011, starting with earthquakes. (Camping’s prediction also got some airtime in New Zealand.) We also knew we had a high chance of another big aftershock. By the time May 21 rolled around, I was nervous and angry, because I thought the last straw for Christchurch would be some American telling us we were receiving the judgment of God. Joe had been keeping an eye on Camping, too, and jumped onto New Zealand Conservative to make a remark along the lines of “So, no earthquakes, then?” I was furious, because we’d been through a lot, and lost a lot, so I clicked on his name to find his blog and bookmark it for later, to give him a piece of my mind for his idiocy.

    Joe later regretted and removed his (in truth, pretty mild) joke, so you won’t find it now. For my part, I never trolled him, because I read the articles at SP and found a link to Called to Communion, and after reading the arguments there and here, concluded that there was no choice, I had to become a Catholic. (I had been practising as a Reformed Christian.) It was very painful but remarkably quick: I reached my conclusion on June 3 2011.

    Strange timing, because on June 6 we received the expected aftershock, another awful jolt, and this was the last straw for our daughter: she lost her expected baby. There’s only so much cortisol a pregnancy can take. “How terrible it will be in those days for women who are pregnant and for mothers with little babies!” After this date I would have been too busy and sad for serious thinking, and too conflicted towards God.

    So the moral of the story is, don’t make jokes to NZers about earthquakes, if you are running a good apologetics blog. Or do. (What do I know?)

    My comment of Oct 18 sounded bitter. It wasn’t so intended: I was meaning to note that (a.) God works in mysterious ways, and (b.) now that I’m Catholic, I see that the Church in general and the ordained in particular are lightning rods for the ire and confusion people (myself included, through most of 2011) have towards God, and I deeply repent my part in that.

    In Christ.

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