From Neil: Some of the many terrific commenters here don’t have blogs of their own, so I welcome guest posts from time to time to get other views and generate discussion. Welcome to a guest post by LCB. Usual caveat — if I disagree with something in a guest post and care enough to write about it, I’ll do so in the comments section.
Those that don’t know I am a staunch Roman Catholic generally figure it out pretty quickly, between citing the Popes and Aquinas, to my extensive posts on the importance of liturgy no matter the denomination. I even have a Catholic bumper sticker. My Catholicism stands out.
In the last few days Neil has had some great posts on Liberal Christianity, the mis-interpretation of Scripture, and proselytization. This is a topic that Neil and I have chatter about quite seriously in the comment sections. An excellent book on the topic is J. Gresham Machen’s “Christianity and Liberalism.” Almost a century old, it remains a seminal work. Its essential premise is this: Liberal Christians use the same words as Orthodox Christians, but they use them in fundamentally different ways and assign to them fundamentally different meanings. Neil has previously linked to an excellent podcast on this book (and I hope he inserts it here, I don’t have the link). [From Neil: Couldn’t find the link. I recall that it was from an Apologetics.com Podcast.]
In our conversations I have expressed (and I suspect that Neil agrees) that Roman Catholicism has had an epic internal struggle against liberal Christianity. Though we have strong disagreements on the topic of Roman Catholicism, this is something that almost all persons can agree upon. At one point we even had an anti-modernism/liberalism oath that people were required to take. This struggle is similar to the struggle that the oldline/mainline/deadline Protestant branches have had. It has played out on a worldwide stage, and the most formidable Catholic minds of the last century have been involved in our internal debate. This debate has raged across Protestantism too. From Schweitzer’s conversion and African journey to Bonhoffer’s final prayer on the floor of Flossenburg, the best of men have risked everything over this.
It’s also important that we consider the stakes of the battle with Liberal Christianity, no matter the denomination. Hundreds of millions of souls, billions of souls, are at stake. Western Civilization itself, and it’s ability to stand against Islam on theological and philosophical grounds without surrendering, is at stake. That’s kind of a big deal.
Yet, the battle is really a 3-way battle. Orthodox Christianity vs. Liberal Christianity allied closely with Secular Liberalism.
We Orthodox Christians (broadly speaking, those that will assert that Jesus is Lord and that we depend on Him alone for salvation) make various claims of infallibility. All agree upon the infallibility of Scripture. We Catholics make some additional claims, but the best known is a claim that “The Pope is Infallible.” Those that have studied apologetics or Catholicism even a bit know that this is a limited claim. If the Pope says “Sure is a nice day” it doesn’t mean the day is nice. If he says “Cats are the best pets” we know he certainly is in grave error on that matter.
The classic definition is “Infallible on matters of faith and morals.” And even then, only when he is trying to be infallible does it count. The classic way that a Pope exercises this authority is when he speaks on behalf of all the world’s Bishops (he is “first among equals” of the Bishops, based on the principle that Peter was “First among equals” of the Apostles). To claim infallibility is a serious claim. When the Pope has clarified, on behalf of all the world’s Bishops and through the teaching authority of the Church, that abortion is always and everywhere wrong, he is saying “It is impossible for me to be wrong on this matter because this truth is revealed by God through the Apostles since the earliest days of the Church.” You may agree or disagree partially or fully, but all can certainly agree that to make such a claim of infallibility is a tremendously serious matter that should be evaluated with equal seriousness.
At this juncture one may think, “What is he leading up to? Why all this laying of groundwork to talk about science?” And those are excellent questions. I have laid this groundwork so as to make clear what the ally of Liberal Christianity– Secular Liberalism– is claiming. Liberal Christianity often uses the claims of its ally to bolster their own case.
They are claiming the infallibility of science. That science can not be in error and is a source of revealed truth.
Consider, if you will, the way a Catholic (like myself) would present an argument from authority on certain religious matters. “XYZ is true.” And you ask, “Why is that? How do you know” and I reply with firmness “Because the POPE says so.” It’s not a circular argument, I’m not proving what I assume. Rather, I’m simply assuming the Pope has the authority to make such claims. Arguments like this are a special type of “argument from authority” because I am claiming that this authority can never, under any circumstances be wrong. An argument from Scripture works the same way, especially among those that describe themselves as Bible Believing Christians. “XYZ is true” “Why is that” “Because SCRIPTURE says so.”
But, whereas Scripture is written, the Pope is a man. What is written in Scripture will stay written in Scripture and won’t be changing anytime ever. The Pope can speak anew. And once he clarifies what is in Sacred Tradition, it can’t be un-clarified.
Now consider how the Liberal Christian and the Secular Liberal attacks with a similar argument from authority. “XYZ is true” “Why is that?” “Because SCIENCE says so. There is a SCIENTIFIC CONSENSUS.”
That is an astounding claim. When the Catholic Church holds an ecumenical council (which, when it chooses to be infallible, is also infallible) it must at least take an actual vote of all the Bishops in attendance. And those Bishops (rather you agree or not) are at least claiming to have a special ability by virtue of their ordination as Bishops to teach on matters of faith and morals. I know of no scientist that claims holding a Ph.D provides a special grace endowed by God to avoid error when teaching.
Yet, taken as a collective, SCIENCE is invoked as if it is infallible. And even more astonishingly, a field that has nothing to do with faith and morals claims infallibility of matters of faith and morals. The Pope’s claim is at least understandable (in that it makes sense that a Pope might claim such authority in matters of faith and morals, but not in geography or math). But what claim does science have over faith and morals? How can a field unrelated to faith and morals possess expertise, infallible expertise, on those matters? It strains logic and reason past the breaking point.
Let’s be clear here. The Liberal Christians and Secular Liberals are claiming a greater level of infallibility than the Pope. Whereas the Pope may speak anew only on matters of faith and morals, Science is claiming the ability to speak anew on all matters of all sorts, unrestricted by expertise or competence in the area.
Even the Catholic claims of infallibility are tempered and restrained. They are restrained by Scripture (and can not be contrary to Scripture), they are restrained by Sacred Tradition, they are restrained by Ecumenical Councils, and they are restrained by the many Bishops. But the Liberal Christians and Secular Liberals are claiming absolutely unrestrained infallibility in the name of Science. Whereas the Catholic teachings are bound by previous teachings, the Liberal Christians and Secular Liberals are free to overturn any of their previous teachings at any time in favor of new teachings. How? Science.
Why is abortion acceptable? Science. Why can Scripture be ignored? Science. Why don’t miracles happen? Science says so. Even though data doesn’t exist, how do we know the globe is warming? Science. How is the globe warming and cooling at the same time? Science. How is contradictory evidence for the same thing always proof of the pre-determined conclusion? Science. Why is it wrong to proselytize? Science. Why is morality whatever we want it to be? Science.
When we consider this matter carefully, we even see who the targets of this attack are. The targets are anyone who makes truth claims that aren’t based on Holy Science. Orthodox Christianity? Unacceptable. Liberal Christianity where everything is just a metaphor and Holy Science is allowed to be the final source of all truth? Acceptable. Philosophy? Stupid and ignorant, unless it places Science first. Political conservativism that allows people to worship something other than science? Trash, ignorant people that ignore science. Secular Liberal politics? Scientifically acceptable, since science is placed first.
Consider some of the most common criticisms of Orthodox Christianity in general. “They are anti-Science.” And what was a common criticism against Bush? “He was anti-Science.” Catholicism- “They are against abortion, and thus against science. They even persecuted a scientist!” Those that make moral claims about homosexuality? “Science disagrees.” When a serious reply is pressed on these matters what are some of the common replies? “You are just a flat earther” “You probably think the earth is the center of the solar system” “What next, demons cause sickness instead of germs?” Even in the face of a challenge to their premise, they simply return and reassert the premise louder and add more ridicule.
And if you continue to dare challenge Holy Science, you are promptly informed “Well, you aren’t a scientist” (often by a non-Scientist). Unless you are repeating the claims of scientists, you aren’t even allowed to have an opinion on a matter that Scientists have decided the truth on. Non-adherents are not permitted to question the truth, adherants are not permitted to question the truth. The truth is unchanging, until Scientists change it, and then the new truth remains unquestionable.
Notice the constant appeal– to Holy Science. And what is the insult– “You are ignorant of science!” Why science? because science is more infallible than the Pope.