Back in 1992 I had a near miss with the Catholic Church. I *almost *converted. For the next seven years or so I couldn’t shake the habit of falling into online discussions, arguments, dialog and, let’s face it, fights, with other Christians. This nasty habit is usually called “apologetics.” My *almost-*Catholic-yet-vigorously-and-reluctantly-Protestant
status was like a bull’s eye painted on my email address. “Apologists” of every stripe tried to do their best — some to bring me into the church and some to pull me away from the precipice. I learned what it’s like to be apologetic prey. Generally speaking, I didn’t mind. I like a good fight. But the experience has given me a taste of the ugly side of apologetics. From almost eight years of struggling to be an almost Catholic, I developed a unique perspective on both the Protestant and Catholic versions of this nasty business.
But before I share my reflections on “apologetics,” let me
clarify one thing. I am a Catholic and I believe everything the Catholic Church teaches. That doesn’t mean I accept every garden-variety argument used to support those teachings, and I hope you can keep that distinction in mind as I criticize some common apologetic arguments.
One more thing. Yes, I know the Protestants make their
mistakes too. When I was a Protestant, I picked on them. But let’s get the log out of our eye before we take the splinter out of our brother’s.
**The Church is Infallible and So Am I** The Church is the community of those people who have
been called out of the world and filled with the Holy Spirit. It is the Body of Christ in the world, and certain things are true of the church because of its participation in the life of Christ. For example, it cannot fail, and it will come to know all truth. (Jn 16:13) One manifestation of this is the infallibility of the church’s Magisterium in certain cases.
Of course the doctrine of infallibility is a big subject of
dispute between Catholics and Protestants. But there’s another side to it, which could be illustrated by a fight on the playground.
"Well my daddy’s an engineer, and he says …,” by which
Junior wants you to hear, “I know what an engineer knows, and I say ….”
The Church’s decrees on doctrine and morals are infallible,
but how do you know you understand and apply them properly? Furthermore, sometimes the church holds to a doctrine without necessarily endorsing how we should prove or demonstrate it. Even if you understand the church’s position, the argument you use to convince others may be faulty. There is such a thing as a bad argument to support the right conclusion.
The Catholic apologist has to guard against believing that
his methods are right because his conclusions are right. A more healthy
approach would say, “this is the Catholic faith as I understand it, and this is why I find that position reasonable. But please go to the church’s official documents and check it out for yourself.” BAD HABIT: Assuming that you are right because the church is right.
**REMEDY:** Listen to your critics. Yes, even to non-Catholics. You may not know as much as you think you know. **Proper Conclusions Don’t Fix Bad Arguments** If you’ve been involved in any of those online apologetic
food fights I mentioned, you may have seen this: A Catholic apologist presents his argument, each side tries to clarify its position, but nobody’s convinced and neither participant changes his mind. The Catholic starts to lose his patience. *He *must be right, of course, because *the church *is infallible. So what’s wrong with this silly Protestant? The apologist figures he must not have explained himself well enough. He calls his friends and asks for bigger and better arguments. He thumbs through his apologetics books to make sure he’s covered all the bases. He tries a few more times, with no success, and finally accuses the Protestant of being hard-hearted, thick-skulled and a bad tennis player. Meanwhile, all the other Catholics on the list are cheering.
But are the angels?