"I expect to die in bed, my successor will die in prison and his successor will die a martyr in the public square. His successor will pick up the shards of a ruined society and slowly help rebuild civilization, as the church has done so often in human history." -Cardinal Francis George

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Response to David Hagopian's Romeward Bound

Tiber river and the Vatican (the water is warm, dive on in!)
Dear anonymous potential convert,

You asked what I though of it, so this is my response to the article by David Hagopian on reasons people convert to Catholicism titled Romeward Bound: Evaluating Why Protestants Convert to Catholicism.

He rushes through lots of topics, some of which are obvious straw men. So I will skip some things. Overall he tries to be fair, but in the end misses the point of these conversions. The worst was his critique of the Catholic convert’s accusation of Protestant interpretive subjectivism. It is just a simple fact that there are many, many opinions of what scripture is saying among Protestants. It is just a fact! And yes, of course that does not consequently mean that they must all be wrong, Catholics are not implying that. But what is obvious to anyone who has ever been in the situation of interpreting scripture in order to find the truth or lead his family is this:

Godly, Holy Spirit filled men interpret the scripture differently.

That blows perspicuity out of the water! The only way to claim there is perspicuity AND Godly men disagreeing is to claim that *obviously* you are right and they are wrong. Or that the other guy has a devil. But that rightly strikes us as arbitrary and arrogant. If someone is content that their interpretation is correct, and is not bothered that men which are his betters in the faith in terms of learning, holiness, and wisdom have a different interpretation, then that is subjectivism, because his opponents feel the same way. He can complain all day that it is not “insipient subjectivism”, but it is. Hagopian says:

“[God] has given His people the means of understanding [the bible] such that the true believer has no need of anyone else -- let alone a Magisterium or Pope on high -- to teach him.”

Ohhh. A *true* believer eh? That reminds me of the “no true Scotsman” fallacy, and I believe Hagopian is using that fallacy here. Well I guess we will just ask David Hagopian who a *true* believer is next time we need to do some biblical interpreting. The obvious problem with his statement is it does not reflect reality. Protestants that are *true* believers find themselves disagreeing on interpretation with each other all the time! We have all had the experience of having a trusted teacher who is a *true* Christian as far as we can tell, yet we find another of our preferred teachers who disagrees with him on an important theological issue. Which one of them is not a *true* believer? If they both are, then Hagopian is wrong, they do need someone else to guide them in their interpretation. If only one is a true believer, how the hell will I ever be able to tell that unless they fail in some obvious way, like adultery or something? If they both appear to be faithful, solid, true believers, yet disagree on important issues of interpretation, what should the sola scriptura Protestant do? Hagopian does not answer the question, and my guess is he would want to know what issue was being interpreted and then he would think it was obvious I should agree with his (or his favorite teachers) interpretation. But that is just more of the same. I have often had the situation of bringing up the different interpretations among Protestants of, say… the Eucharist. I bring up the fact to show that there are *true* believers who disagree on interpretation. Often the Protestant who hears this will start trying to convince you of his view of the Eucharist! He will say “the other views are wrong, my view is the right one”. That completely misses the point. The point is that godly and smart men will disagree, and the bible cannot be pointed to as a unbiased judge by both of them to resolve the disagreement. Each becomes their own authority.

That subjective situation just might be how Christianity works. It might really be all up to our individual subjective judgment, with all those who disagree being seen by us as not true Christians, or that they are deceived. I grant that Christianity might be that kind of religion. But if it is, it is a joke and I certainly don’t want a part of it.

But I don’t think it is that kind of subjective religion. I think it makes sense that Christ would leave us a Church to guide us, but it is more than just it “making sense”, it is part of the Tradition (in Scripture and the Church fathers) that Christ gave us such a Church! Even in scripture we have tons of evidence that He DID leave us that kind of Church. He himself says “take it to the Church” when there is a problem. But didn’t Hagopian just say that a *true* believer “has no need of anyone else -- let alone a Magisterium or Pope on high -- to teach him”? If that is true, why would Jesus tell us to resolve a problem by “taking it to the Church?” And what Protestant Church could honestly resolve a problem? What if I want to know about infant baptism, if it is scriptural or not. Well depending on which Protestant Church I ask to “resolve” the problem, I will get the answer I want. That is not a resolution! It is subjectivity! If I submit to the Baptist church’s decision, it is because I agree with them. If I don’t, I will go to the Presbyterian church and agree with their decision. Can they BOTH be the Church which Christ was telling me to ask to resolve my issue? Protestants say yes. With a straight face!

But, if I only submit when I agree, the one to whom I submit is… me.

“Reichert erroneously assumes that a plurality of interpretations necessarily entails subjectivism…”

I doubt that is what Reichart believes. This is a really dry, overstuffed strawman. Of course there can be a plurality of opinion while having a single truth. The subjectivism comes in in the determination of what the truth is, not merely in the plurality of opinion. Protestants have no set way of determining the truth and therefore have many separated sects. Catholics do have such a way in the magisterium, and therefore are united in the One, Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.

Example: Did the Blessed Virgin Mary die before she was assumed into heaven? There is a variety of opinion among Catholics. The Church has no definitive belief about that issue. Yet there is only one right answer. So there is no “subjectivism” here for Catholics, because the Church has decided. It has decided to not decide. And that is an important decision.

The Catholic Church claims the authority of Christ to determine doctrine, and does so. Therefore the Catholic position is internally consistent, because it actually accomplishes what it claims it can accomplish.

Protestants on the other hand, disagree about all sorts of doctrines they consider to be crucial. Yet where is their authority to mediate the dispute? They say it is in a book they claim will lead them all to the same truth as long as they are a *true* believer. That does not work. Empirically, we can see that there are people who appear to be genuine believers, yet they disagree. Therefore, the Protestant system does not do in reality what they claim it will: resolve disputes and remove doubt about the truth. Right or wrong, the Catholic system does do what we claim it will.

“Just because there are many Protestant denominations and sects does not prove that all of those denominations and sects are false.”

This sounds childish to me. Like my 5 year old saying “just because there is jam all over my face doesn’t mean I was eating jam!” So yes, all the Protestant sects might not be false. But only one can be right at a time! So I guess one of them could have the *true* view of sola scriptura, and be the *true* and real heir of the reformation. And it is obvious to their tiny sect that they are the true believers. Just like it is obvious to all the other sects that they are not. Yes that could be the case that they are the one and only true sect. And my daughter could have not eaten the jam.

“while plurality is not necessarily an indicator of falsity, uniformity is not necessarily an indicator of truth.”

I agree. BUT, the true Church will be uniform! Uniformity alone might not prove it is the Church (there are other things necessary) but unity is a necessary mark of the Church. Obviously Mormons are unified to some degree, and claim to be the only Church, so unity alone does not prove they are so. But any sect or schism that has a non-unified view of the Church cannot be the Church. And very few Protestant sects believe they are the One True Church.

“Truth, you see, is not to be sacrificed on the altar of misguided ecumenicism.”

Thanks for the lecture you pompous blowhard. WHO sacrifices truth on the altar of ecumenism? Is it the Catholics or Hagopian? Lets see, which one sees dispensationalists as part of the Church? Answer: Hagopian. The Catholics do not. The Catholics will not sacrifice the truth for a false unity of ecumenism. The Reformed and most Protestants will. 1.2 Billion Catholics have ONE catechism. If you want to know what they believe, you can buy a paperback for $7 and find out. If you want to know what the “Protestant church” believes, you will simply never know. You will never get two answers that are the same. If ever there were a “misguided eccuminism”, it is the Protestant concept of the invisible Church! If you can understand Protestantism's "invisible Church", you might also be good at nailing Jello to a tree.

“they embrace transubstantiation and believe that at the sound of the bell, the substance of bread and wine turn into the physical body and blood of our Lord.”

This is just totally incorrect. The words of the priest offering the elements in persona Christi are what makes this change, the bell is just for the convenience of everyone at the mass to know when it happens so they can pay closer attention. Christ causes the change, not a bell. Hagopian says “they believe…” then lies about what Catholics believe on a very basic and important point.

“In passing we must also note that lavish churches, while architecturally and aesthetically pleasing to some, come with a hefty price tag. […] But advancing the kingdom of God and meeting the needs of others often compete for the same limited resources.”

That is the wimpy lecture Judas gave to Jesus when the perfume was used on him by the woman. There are no “limited resources” in the Church of Jesus Christ. Christ will provide it’s needs. Judging people for making something beautiful and implying they should have spent it some other way is the same sin Judas was reprimanded by Jesus for. Shame on Hagopian. Go back to your boring, stripped down, bare, regulative principle church and stare at your blank wall. Meanwhile, we Catholics will send money to Mother Teresa’s nuns from our beautiful cathedrals.
“You see, Neocatholics have to name drop because name dropping is built into their ultimate authority (Tradition).”

Yep. I am 100% a name dropper. Starting with the name J-e-s-u-s. Just like it was in the early Church. People listened to the apostles because they “name dropped”. Their authority was primarily from who they were, not primarily what they said. Paul himself says to follow the “traditions” he has handed down “whether by word of mouth or by letter.” Paul is the focus based on his position and his name.

“When all of their [Catholics] rhetorical dust settles to the ground, however, the only true authority left standing is God speaking to His people through His veritable Word.”

When will the “rhetorical dust” settle to the ground for Protestants? After 500 years the rhetoric is more diverse all the time. Would God really speak that kind of confusion to all these people through His word? Better to listen to the men who have the authority handed down from Peter and Paul to interpret the book.

Hagopian also just glosses over apostolic succession, which is historical, and scriptural, and for some people is the main reason for conversion. He also implies that Catholics believe only they have it. Not true. We believe the Eastern Orthodox still have all 7 sacraments, including Holy Orders.

“Falling in love with everything Rome has to offer is ultimately why Neocatholics have found their home in Rome.”

Wrong. Every convert I know has had and does have areas where there was anything but love for “everything Rome has to offer”. Areas where they needed to submit to the wisdom of the Church over their own desires. I find myself in that position frequently. By far the main reason for conversion I have personally encountered, and Hagopian barely touches on, is authority, not "falling in love" primarily. Right or wrong, most converts feel there was just no objective authority in Protestantism, and that it could not claim to be the true Church which Christ left on this earth. That is a big reason! Telling converts how all the other protestant sects are wrong (Hagopian does this near the end) is just more of the same. Even if his arguments are convincing, what authority does he have to interpret scripture and demand others listen to him? Has the apostolic authority landed on his shoulders? Puh-leeese.
Another thing here. What the hell is wrong with falling in love? Shouldnt Hagopian ask why people aren't busting down the doors of his "frozen chosen" Reformed church because they have just "fallen in love" with everything Reformed? I have a lot of reasons for being married to my wife. Lots of great reasons. But a kind of visceral, emotional love better be on my list of reasons for loving her. I converted to Reformed in '01, and Catholic in '10 so I think I can speak to this. I "loved" Reformed theology because I believed it to be the most biblical, the closest to the truth, but I didn't fall in love with it. Once I realized she was who she said  she was, I fell in love with the Catholic Church because she is my mother.

Overall, Hagopian does a weak job in his paper. As a convert myself, read many inaccuracies and falsely attributed motives in his arguments. Many of his examples are obviously not the only reason someone converts (more liturgical worship, beauty, or weekly Eucharist for instance), yet he often ends his critique with the following sentence:

“But [he names some minor issues] do not prove that Catholicism is true. Nor do they prove that Protestantism is false.”

Almost all converts have a couple dozen reasons for converting, and not all of them have the same priority. Sometimes 2 dozen little reasons add up to a very convincing reason for conversion also. That is very reasonable. Circumstantial evidence is still evidence. I for one find the size and scope of the Catholic Church to be a very important proof in favor of Catholicism. It alone is not proof of course, but it is significant to me, and was on my list of "circumstantial" evidences in favor of conversion.
Hagopian treats each reason as if it were stand alone, and often even misunderstands the reasons, thus presenting a straw man. For instance, having the mass be the same everywhere in the world is not just nice because one knows what to expect in the way Mc Donald’s is nice because the “Big Macs will always taste the same!” as Hagopian says. It is *nice* because it is the ancient liturgy of the Church! The mass is what was handed down from the apostles! That is the main reason a convert wants the Catholic Liturgy, with matters of convenience or stained glass in second (but still significant) place! Hagopian chooses to gloss over what are probably the primary reasons though, and talks about Big Macs.

“Perhaps after travelling part of the way down the yellow brick road of Neocatholic rhetoric, we are now in a better position to "give an answer" -- in an introductory way, to be sure -- to those who are considering making their home in Rome and even to those who are already there.”

My criticisms of Protestantism are still hanging out there unanswered. So big F Fail on your part buddy. Giving just any "answer" is not enough. And if that is your goal, you will fail. What we converts want is for you to give us the truth, and give it wherever it takes you. It seems more often however, that people just want to give an "answer" even if it makes no sense.

“After all, even Dorothy, with the blink of an eye, realized that her adventure in the land of Oz was only a dream.”

If I wake up and realize Catholicism is a dream, I am abandoning the Christian faith entirely because to me it would be shown to be a complete joke. There is either ONE Church who has Christ’s authority and demands submission, or the whole thing is a big joke. What is implied here also is that Catholicism is too good to be true, like the Wizard of Oz. But this is Christ's Church! Doesn't that seem just like Him to do something so extreme? It is not obvious enough that people don't still think it is fake, but if you give it a chance, and look at its history fairly, it will surprise you as a 2000 year old miracle of beauty holiness and truth.


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