Some Personal Remarks

At one point we looked at Trent Horn’s question for a Mormon:

Is there anything that would convince you that Mormonism is false? If not, then why should you expect other people to leave their faiths and become Mormon when you aren’t prepared to do the same?

The main reason that our Mormon protagonist  is unwilling to change his mind about religion is not because of the evidence in favor of Mormonism. There certainly is such evidence, as for example the witnesses who testified that they saw Joseph Smith’s golden plates. But such evidence is surely not the principal motive involved. Basically they have motives other than truth for continuing to believe. If a Mormon changes their religious views, this can have serious negative consequences for their social and personal life. This is not specific to Mormonism, but is common to religion in general, as well as to many political views, because of the way that such views are used to express social and political loyalties. As noted in the linked post, someone who changes his view is seen as a traitor to his community.

Gregory Dawes, a former Catholic, seems to have had this experience. He remarks (quoted in the post linked above):

Christian philosopher William Lane Craig writes somewhere about what he calls the “ministerial” and the “magisterial” use of reason. (It’s a traditional view — he’s merely citing Martin Luther — and one that Craig endorses.) On this view, the task of reason is to find arguments in support of the faith and to counter any arguments against it. Reason is not, however, the basis of the Christian’s faith. The basis of the Christian’s faith is (what she takes to be) the “internal testimony of the Holy Spirit” in her heart. Nor can rational reflection can be permitted to undermine that faith. The commitment of faith is irrevocable; to fall away from it is sinful, indeed the greatest of sins.

The Catholic Church does not teach that falling away from the faith is the greatest of sins. In fact, although it certainly teaches that it is objectively wrong for a Catholic to do so, it does not even teach that a Catholic is always subjectively guilty at all when they change their religious views. Dawes was a well educated Catholic, so he is probably aware of these facts. Why then does he call this “the greatest of sins?” It seems pretty reasonable to suppose that he is responding in a personal way to how he was treated by others after he changed his mind about his religion.

As I said in the linked post, I agree with Trent Horn and Gregory Dawes about the use of reason. However, this is not the only thing that Dawes and I have in common. Like Dawes, my family and background are completely Catholic. Like Dawes, my education was completely Catholic. Finally, I substantially agree with Dawes in his conclusions regarding Catholicism and regarding religion in general, considered as a body of factual claims about the world. Of course this is not the case not in every detail. I also suspect that I disagree with him to a larger extent on the reasons for those conclusions. This is not an opinion that I have just arrived at. I have held this view for over a year now. Nor was it the result of a brief process, but the result of a gradual process of thought which took decades of my life.

As with Dawes, and as with our theoretical Mormon, this has had serious consequences for my personal life, and not only on account of the reactions of others. Nonetheless, the reactions of others play a significant role here. Consequently I have a few remarks principally for those who know me in real life:

  1. This blog is and remains theoretically anonymous. Please do not make this post a public announcement connected to my real name.
  2. I appreciate your prayers. Needless to say, this does not imply that there is any meaningful weakness to the case for my position.
  3. I do not appreciate insults. Your faith does not require you to believe that I am foolish, wicked, arrogant, or possessed by demons. If you think that it does, or if it pleases you to think these things in any case, please keep them to yourself.
  4. While it should be obvious from this blog that I do not mind conversations about religion, considered in general, I do not appreciate proselytism, namely efforts that could reasonably be described as “stop him from being foolish and get him to come to his senses.” I am not being foolish, and I am entirely in possession of my senses. Please do not engage in this behavior; it is uncharitable, it will not have the effects that you wish, and persistence in it over a long period of time can only have the effect of destroying relationships.

One additional remark concerning the “possessed by demons” point. Someone recently said in a personal communication:

By the strange things you write, I can see that your mind has been given blinders / tunnel vision, presumably by some evil spirit, who only lets you look at things from his point of view.

This refers to things written on this blog, and in that sense it is completely incorrect. Everything currently on the blog is completely consistent with a Catholic view, and only expresses views that I have held for many years. Many orthodox Catholics would agree in substance with virtually everything here.

As for the demon comment itself, I have noted in the past that if you say that a person’s beliefs are caused by a demon, you cannot have a conversation with them. In the same way, if you say that a person’s religious views are caused by a demon, you cannot have a conversation about religion with them.

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Burning Heretics

In the Bull Exsurge Domine Pope Leo X condemned the positions of Martin Luther and others:

For we can scarcely express, from distress and grief of mind, what has reached our ears for some time by the report of reliable men and general rumor; alas, we have even seen with our eyes and read the many diverse errors. Some of these have already been condemned by councils and the constitutions of our predecessors, and expressly contain even the heresy of the Greeks and Bohemians. Other errors are either heretical, false, scandalous, or offensive to pious ears, as seductive of simple minds, originating with false exponents of the faith who in their proud curiosity yearn for the world’s glory, and contrary to the Apostle’s teaching, wish to be wiser than they should be. Their talkativeness, unsupported by the authority of the Scriptures, as Jerome says, would not win credence unless they appeared to support their perverse doctrine even with divine testimonies however badly interpreted. From their sight fear of God has now passed.

After the list of condemned positions, he says:

No one of sound mind is ignorant how destructive, pernicious, scandalous, and seductive to pious and simple minds these various errors are, how opposed they are to all charity and reverence for the holy Roman Church who is the mother of all the faithful and teacher of the faith; how destructive they are of the vigor of ecclesiastical discipline, namely obedience. This virtue is the font and origin of all virtues and without it anyone is readily convicted of being unfaithful.

Therefore we, in this above enumeration, important as it is, wish to proceed with great care as is proper, and to cut off the advance of this plague and cancerous disease so it will not spread any further in the Lord’s field as harmful thornbushes. We have therefore held a careful inquiry, scrutiny, discussion, strict examination, and mature deliberation with each of the brothers, the eminent cardinals of the holy Roman Church, as well as the priors and ministers general of the religious orders, besides many other professors and masters skilled in sacred theology and in civil and canon law. We have found that these errors or theses are not Catholic, as mentioned above, and are not to be taught, as such; but rather are against the doctrine and tradition of the Catholic Church, and against the true interpretation of the sacred Scriptures received from the Church. Now Augustine maintained that her authority had to be accepted so completely that he stated he would not have believed the Gospel unless the authority of the Catholic Church had vouched for it. For, according to these errors, or any one or several of them, it clearly follows that the Church which is guided by the Holy Spirit is in error and has always erred. This is against what Christ at his ascension promised to his disciples (as is read in the holy Gospel of Matthew): “I will be with you to the consummation of the world”; it is against the determinations of the holy Fathers, or the express ordinances and canons of the councils and the supreme pontiffs. Failure to comply with these canons, according to the testimony of Cyprian, will be the fuel and cause of all heresy and schism.

With the advice and consent of these our venerable brothers, with mature deliberation on each and every one of the above theses, and by the authority of almighty God, the blessed Apostles Peter and Paul, and our own authority, we condemn, reprobate, and reject completely each of these theses or errors as either heretical, scandalous, false, offensive to pious ears or seductive of simple minds, and against Catholic truth.

The list of condemned positions contains this: “33. That heretics be burned is against the will of the Spirit.”

Several things should be noted about this. In one way, the Catholic understanding is that the will of God is always fulfilled, and in this sense one would say that if a heretic was burned in fact, then it must have been the will of God. But the proposition is not about the will of God in this sense. The proposition in question is basically that it is wrong to burn heretics, and Leo X intended to condemn this proposition.

Second, the condemnation does not say which labels apply to which propositions, and some of the labels do not absolutely imply that a statement is false. A statement could be scandalous, offensive to pious ears, and seductive of simple minds, but still be true. In such a case the prohibition would be for the sake of practical motives, much as we suggested was mostly the case of the early opinions of the Pontifical Biblical Commission.

The Pope also says, “For, according to these errors, or any one or several of them, it clearly follows that the Church which is guided by the Holy Spirit is in error and has always erred.” If one takes this statement strictly, together with what follows, he would be asserting that it is completely necessary to hold the opposite of each of the condemned statements, or else to abandon the Church. However, there is some tension here with the previous fact about the labels; if he meant this strictly, then he could have condemned them all as heretical or as implying heresy, but he did not. In this sense, it is probably not necessary to interpret this statement as committing the Church absolutely to the statement that it is moral to burn heretics. Nonetheless, the condemnation strongly suggests that Pope Leo X both believed this and wanted others to believe it.