Mark 9:24

Archive for the ‘Armchair Apologetics’ Category

Meta for a metaphor

In Armchair Apologetics on October 31, 2012 at 2:32 am

Consider that Paul, the inspired author of most of the epistles, having seen the glorified Body of Christ, knowing what end Christ’s body finally meets, and presumably knowing about what language Christ uses about his body throughout the Gospels, uses this specific metaphor: the Church is the Body of Christ.

When Paul was made blind, what truth did he see? What truth did he say, unknowing but inspired?

What could such a metaphor really mean? If it is true, and if it is scriptural, and if it is inspired — full of the Spirit — surely it has at least a divine meaning and purpose. It must speak to some deeper principle. Catholics may point out that Christ will not die, now that the Resurrection shows He triumphs over death. Similarly, the Body of Christ will, in some visible way on this earth, live right up until the end times.

Catholics also may explain this as affirming the four marks of the Church. Like Christ’s body, Catholicism is one, a matter disputed principally by log-eyed men. She is holy, for the Church Triumphant is in heaven and the Church Suffering is headed there, however the visible Church Militant fails us. She is Catholic, which is a word that means simply universal. That the Church is apostolic is simply a way of saying her authority goes back to the apostles, which is important not because of the apostles but because of Christ. There is a real historical claim backing each of these up, putting aside doctrine and scripture, claims which have no analogue among apostasists.

I am curious what apostasists make of this passage on their own, not just what other verses they go to to defend against this interpretation. All I can think of is what apostasists cannot say.

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Gravitas, the light of the Son

In Armchair Apologetics, Dramatic Retellings on April 14, 2012 at 9:54 pm

What is our Christian innovation but good, clear authority? We owe no allegiance to any king before God, and after God we each owe allegiance to some other king, endowed by God with a limited right to command us. Curiously alone among the faiths, we unmistakably recognize Him as a benevolent authority commanding clearly.

If you did find God, it's because He led you to Him.

With its kind of authority claim, Christianity stands alone. Polytheists of all stripes vary wildly even within their stripe, as the faith always comes down to individual gurus or individual versions of Mars or Jupiter. New Age crystal gazers and certain pagans posit a vague benevolence, but it is a life-force we command and harness. Chinese ancestor worship doesn’t fit, for dead men tell no tales. Buddhists as such lack a loving King.  Jerusalem the dispersed and Mecca the confused, elder brothers and younger cousins of a sort, do not speak as clearly as Rome.

That God, at the end of a brief sojourn while having his glorified Resurrection body, would as his last act appoint an office manager and a supervisory staff of eleven is remarkably audacious, even novel.  On a moment’s reflection, the practicality of this thing reveals, as in the satisfying click of a lightswitch, a wryness about God. Of course that’s the right way to do it, say the pagans, why didn’t anyone think of it before? 

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Admire men, those men unmired

In Armchair Apologetics on March 29, 2012 at 1:04 am

St. Thomas More’s career does not reveal a nice man, or so YouTube Atheists have revealed many times. Were this true, I could not be more surprised if they said St. Augustine had been licentious. (Arguments focusing on the bad behavior of Christians typically miss the point on several levels.)

I don't think this hangs in the papal apartment.

Putting aside ad hominem, for that is thankfully not quite universal among the anti-Christian and sadly not exclusive to them, I find two major objections:

  1. Bad behavior is not forgotten evidence, but the first evidence, datum numero uno, Exhibit A.
  2. Behavior at-large ignores the question of admiration, i.e.: Which Christians admire which Christians and why?

Our first objection is somewhat rote, however solidly true, so let’s focus on the second: Just as admiration for St. Thomas More is not from More’s jerkishness but his martyrdom and the events which led to it, St. Thomas Aquinas is not admired for his grand size but for his grander synthesis, and G.K. Chesterton is not admired for his pre-Hitler opinions on the Jews but for the joy and common sense which infused everything else he wrote, including his post-Hitler opinions on the Jews.

To wit, which Christians admire the Westboro Baptists? I suppose Westboro Baptists do, but who else? Can we really say that they, if admired by any other Christians, are admired from Christian principles?  Read the rest of this entry »

Ways of the wayward

In Armchair Apologetics on March 10, 2012 at 6:00 am

Consider the sedevacantists. After the Second Vatican Council, when the old liturgy was abandoned and the new liturgy abused, certain Catholics in a fit of disgust decided that the Church headed by the Pope no longer existed, that they were the last remnant of the real faithful.

This sort of split is, sadly, not unusual. It may even be archetypical.

Where Rome's universality became stale, the Catholic's universality is yet fruitful. Which lives?

After every council, or so the story goes, a small, local number of Catholics will leave. They may persist and they may persist for centuries, but they are always minor and small. Their split is as the inedible outer skin of an onion, peeling off with the brush of a thumb and soon discarded.

While their size in and of itself does not discredit them, for truth is true no matter how few adherents believe it, that these schismatics become theologically wayward does. In abandoning the structure of the Church the sedevacantists found their way to abandon theology older than they, as with the Union of Utrecht before them; as the Union dismisses in the modern way a historical interpretation of pelvic issues, just so the sedevacantists abandon right interpretation of certain pronouncements of the First Vatican Council. Just so it is with Protestantism, but worse — Protestantism is in ruins, and Evangelicalism its shantytown.

If there is a life in Protestantism it is in the death of all structure; if there is another it is in the revival and worship of discarded relics from those selfsame structures. Pieces of doctrine, defined centuries before, yet live their unlife as rubble recycled. This is the problem: Protestants solve with solvent. When they detect corruption, the only solution is to dissolve and reconstruct. That reset button hasn’t worked yet, they must say, but that doesn’t mean it won’t! Read the rest of this entry »

Crosseyed

In Armchair Apologetics on February 25, 2012 at 8:52 pm

If we accept apostasy, we must accept that it weighs us down. In evangelizing, we must prove to honest men of reason that this terrible burden is a reasonable one.

It is a terrible burden because it means God’s Own True Church, founded to redeem men from sin, could not withstand sin. If you are to stay Christian, I don’t see any honest way around this.

If we see here that even Truth can fall, we are mistaken. We forget that He allows it, perhaps to show that even under persecution He rises.

You may deny reason, but you deny a gift of God. You may deny honesty, but then you do not worship Truth. You may deny evangelism, but you deny loving your neighbor.

Because such crosses deserve names, if you do accept the apostasy hypothesis I give you the name apostasist. Your religion foundationally includes this specific article of faith: the True Church, despite being founded by God Himself, was lost when doctrines were changed, altered or lost, either immediately or over the centuries. Your company includes non-Catholic Christians, various sub-Christian and non-Christian sects and certainly a few cults.

Why such wide company?  Apostasism necessarily does create not clarities or mysteries but novelties. From here, it is easy to see how apostasism harms evangelization.  Read the rest of this entry »

Doctors of the Church

In Armchair Apologetics on February 21, 2012 at 1:28 am

Place yourself in the shoes of a pagan who knows little about Christianity, but who has taken the first step of accepting that Christ has authority and Christ is God. Our convert also knows about sin, and has the sense he is missing something. To wit, he’s sick and he knows it.

Some particular man may find walking around his fellows while sick helps. Perhaps the fresh air, or the camaraderie, rejuvenates him.

As if living a virtuous life were not already difficult enough we have to discern it, too.

But this takes too low a view of his illness, which is always terminal. It undermines the clear objection that some sick man be dissuaded of his diagnosis by meeting our wanderer, and vice versa; we also forget the effort may kill him. This also ignores our others, so ill that a brisk walk would always kill them. Hospitals, with doctors and nurses and somewhat controlled conditions, make natural sense.

I write this because Christianity presents, broadly, two choices:

  1. Merchant square, or
  2. Hospital for sinners.

If you make the case that God wants the merchant square model, you have a unique argument to hawk.

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In ordinate complexity

In Armchair Apologetics on February 4, 2012 at 10:01 am

We have before us a task of tedious simplicity, but its enormity it may crush us: Ten million square pegs meet ten million round pegs, mixed in a heap and scattered across the floor. There are also two slots of appropriate shape. If we keep the pace of one-and-a-half seconds to find and place each in the right spot we will spend the better part of a year in this monotony. We will spend another two weeks eating, four weeks sleeping, twelve weeks working.

All is ordered by measure, number and weight. Finding their right relation is the tricky part.

(If we take Sunday off, we add another seven-and-a-half weeks to our ambitious schedule.)

Scripture is vastly more complex. Rather than two shapes, there are at least a distinct hundred, and more subtly there are perhaps a thousand more. Left as a pile of stuff, we have no pre-ordained slots. We must figure out where what goes, how, why. Given these wrinkles, we cannot keep such brisk pace, even if we were tireless creatures of self-discipline trained to live in single-minded pursuit of scripture.

It does not take long to wonder: We are limited principally not by the millions of items and unknown several categories but also by our three score and ten. If in 30 generations someone eventually finds the truth, what of the earlier 29 generations? Will they suffer not knowing God, though this is His clear and constant will?

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Duck impressions

In Armchair Apologetics on January 29, 2012 at 9:34 pm

Suppose you want to prepare to come into the house of a man you’ve adored from afar, a man who all your life you’ve believed to enjoy bird hunting and collecting postage stamps.

Because you know you will meet him someday, you want to know as much about what he likes. These are his defining characteristics, after all — from what could you better discern truths about his character?

St. Francis preached for birds, because nobody else was around.

Even better, with effort and a fair amount of luck, you find the perfect gift — a sheet of rare 9-cent stamps showing mid-Atlantic waterfowl migration. Having deduced something about his sense of humor, you think he’d especially appreciate the printer’s error. How else would he see the Canadian Goose fly north for the winter?

Here’s the trouble: You flavor who he is based on baggage you don’t realize you have. You miss the otherwise obvious clues that show he is instead a fan of the NES game Duck Hunt and rubber line date stamps.

When you meet and this folly is revealed, our gracious host accepts your present and loves you all the more for your effort, but it’s still a major missed opportunity. Knowing you as he does, his relationship with you could not be better; your relationship with him must basically start from scratch. His use of Forever postage snaps into focus, and it dawns on you when an orange gun makes sense.

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Original sin means hope

In Armchair Apologetics on July 30, 2011 at 4:04 pm

Original sin is the deprivation of original holiness among men. Properly understood, such a deprivation is, to use a skeptic’s buzzword, empirical. Wrote Lewis:

The key is history. Terrific energy expended — civilizations are built up — excellent institutions devised; but each time something goes wrong. Some fatal flaw always brings the selfish and cruel people to the top and it all slides back into misery and ruin.

What better description of the human condition is there besides original sin?

We do not bear particular guilt for original sin, but we suffer under it all the same.

Confucian Taoists explain this through a dualism, giving equal force and substance to evil as well as good, assigning equally matched agents to each side. Marxists, for their part, explain this observation with a similar dualism, dialectical materialism, offering also the hope that utopia is just around the corner. Buddhism blames attachment. In each of these, some men are really evil— in the case of Buddhism, we replace these scales with measuring attachment to things and persons. It takes only a civics course here in the United States to learn that our restricted government is thanks to the very similar observation that no man in high office should be trusted with much power.

If we approach original sin with this understanding, we see the outstanding thing about it very clearly. Original sin is essentially hopeful.

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Do not limit the mercy of God

In Armchair Apologetics on July 16, 2011 at 3:18 pm

Some months ago I had an exchange with a commenter on YouTube where he, responding to the claim that even gravely evil men are not beyond salvation if they repent before their deathbed, asked something to the effect of, “So you’re saying that Adolf Hitler could be in Heaven and Anne Frank could be in Hell?” Considering that Anne Frank was specifically martyred for her faith, I doubt that particular scenario, but the curious theme is specifically the salvation of men who, by their very evil deeds, stretch our knowledge of evil.

The Taking of Christ in the Garden, by Caravaggio.

This sort of claim came to mind while reading a recent post on Tough Questions Answered.

I find that many non-believers are hopelessly confused about salvation by God’s grace.  This confusion was amply illustrated the other day on an Unbelievable? podcast when the atheist debater challenged the Christian debater with the following: “Isn’t it true that the Christian God would have allowed Hitler into heaven if he had repented and trusted in Christ on his deathbed?”

These are not perplexing questions if you douse them with truth. They are only perplexing questions if you fight that fire with fire, posing and posturing and twisting the meaning of words to win a debate like a sophist and not to let the truth stand strong. If were are totally honest, the answer is, simply, yes. I don’t remember my response on the YouTube video other than it contained that “yes.” To this, the atheist said, in a disgusted tone, “Some religion.” Again: yes.

For that matter, I firmly believe the correct response — quite different from an answer — is a kind of ad hominem:

We are charged to ‘Repent, and believe,’ and only final impenitence is unforgivable. Not even Hitler is beyond God’s mercy unless Hitler willed it. Are your sins so bad that you are beyond God’s grace?

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