Answering again.

My previous post has provoked a bit of controversy. WTM, Mike Liccione and Fr. Al have all contributed some helpful and interesting comments. In my opinion, however, the most incisive criticism of my position so far, has come from Prof. Scott Carson. I left a lengthy rejoinder to him at his blog, but I’ll post it here for your reading enjoyment and to clarify any remaining problems.

Prof. Carson,

Thank you for this very extensive response to my post.

At first I began to read your article with great interest because I think you correct point out an inadequacy with the very way I pose the question. I’ve been careless here–of course, submitting to God is a good thing.

You are indeed right that this article is part of a larger project in which I’m trying to get at something like the classical protestant doctrine of sola scriptura. I will try to rectify some of my earlier lacunae:

By ‘catholic apologists’ I do not have a specific author in mind because I have seen a statement like the following regularly defended on catholic theology blogs:

“To be a good Christian you have to automatically accept what the catholic church teaches <b>just because</b> it is taught authoritatively by the church.”

You find fault with the overall thrust of my argument, which you label The Principle of Adolescent Posturing (an ad hominem attack at my age?) and find fault with the analogy of a child being instructed by his parents. My argument was that just as a child must submit in his youth and then grow to a level of maturity characterized by independent practical reasoning, so in the same way a new believer should submit to church authority and then grow to a level of independent reasoning about spiritual matters.

Instead you suggest that a more apt analogy would be to think of the relation of the lay catholic to the magisterium as analogous to the relation between a patient and a doctor. Obviously it is rational for a patient to follow the regimen a doctor prescribes for him without him understanding <i>why</i> the drugs the doctor prescribes for him are used. It is precisely the notion of the expertise of the doctor which you choose to highlight as the relevant similarity between the doctor and, e.g. the pope.

Your analogy fails for two reasons: First, nobody has a duty to learn anything about medicine. I can be completely virtuous and completely and willfully ignorant of the practice of medicine. If I have a spiritual duty to continually increase in knowledge and love of God, then I cannot be willfully ignorant about spiritual things. Please also note that the sort of knowledge it is my spiritual duty to pursue is a practical (or almost exclusively practical) kind of knowledge. Just as one need not be a virtue ethicist to act virtuously, so too one need not be a theologian to possess spiritual knowledge of the relevant sort. Second, the essence of the catholic claim I am opposing is that the pope (or the councils) is authoritative <i>ex officio</i> (X is to be believed “just because” it is what the church teaches), not because he possesses a certain sort of expertise.

Imagine golfing with Tiger Woods. At a certain point in the game, Tiger reaches over and shifts the club in your hand and says, “Loosen your grip just so.” You loosen your grip and bang, you are hitting much better. You go back to the clubhouse after the round and the local golf pro sees you swinging and comes to correct your stroke back to the way it originally was. You object, ‘But when I do it Tiger’s way, then I get better results.’ The pro says, “I don’t care who told you to do it that way or what the result is: I’m the pro and I said do it so!” Tiger has an authority based on experience and the golf pro has an authority merely ex officio. I don’t deny that the same person can possess both kinds of authority, but the catholic claim, as far as I can tell is that the ex officio is all that matters.

The rest of your arguments are beside the point or are mischaracterizations of my position. Take, for instance, this one:

“In short, our author simply denies the possibility that a mature, grown up person could possibly be in need of the help of an authoritative expert when it comes to matters of faith and morals.”

I deny no such thing. I do recognize a role for authority in the church. However, it is the kind of authority you yourself are outlining, namely an authority based on expertise. I developed the account I did precisely to take into account our dependency on hearing the word of God spoken to us by those more mature in the faith than we are. Likewise, I outline an example of a virtue, which I call humble deference, which ought to characterize the Christian’s relation to his forefathers in faith. But, and here is where I really ought to have been more explicit in the past, that deference comes from a recognition of the expertise of the authority–in other words, from my private, personal, individual and rational judgment that this person possesses an expertise that I lack. To recognize the Pope as an authority because he has a certain kind of expertise demands that I myself make the judgment that he possesses that kind of expertise. And that is something I think a catholic apologist would have a hard time swallowing.

I think the position you have attacked is a straw man mischaracterization of my position. My position is that blind faith is bad. Informed faith, recognition of my own dependence on others and the ability to judge who is to count as possessing the expertise I lack are all good things.


2 Responses to Answering again.

  1. scholasticus says:

    Prof. Carson has responded again, at length.

  2. […] The most important bits of it were from Scott Carson [part I and part II, to which I responded here] and Mike Liccione [here]. Thanks to the comments and responses of various thinkers around the […]

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