How not to argue against Protestantism

Ecclesiology logic

Several months ago a Catholic friend of mine made a comment about a church. It was an Anglican church that every year seeks attention by putting up potentially offensive posters that have been known in the past to mock tradition Christian theology (the church has a reputation as being theologically liberal). My friend did not suggest that this showed that Anglicanism itself was wrong (it’s important to add that).

In a rather unfortunately display of something I see far too often when churches and their mistakes are being discussed, a fellow came along and suggested that (my paraphrase) this is what happens when churches abandon God’s true church that Jesus founded, the Catholic church, and they don’t follow the papacy, which is the true repository of apostolic teaching.  Then the argument was clearly stated: Without the English Reformation and the Anglican Church, the above incident would not have happened, and hence the Anglican church shouldn’t exist and the Reformation was a mistake.

So I replied to this stranger:

Greg, maybe a course in philosophy would help here, but the fact that A would not exist without B, and A is bad, does not mean that B should not exist. Sex abuse by Catholic priests would not exist if the Catholic Church did not exist. But clearly that does not mean that the Catholic church shouldn’t exist. Your partisanship is clouding your reason. Put down that hobby horse.

Of course the same is true of any church: Anglicans, Presbyterians, Baptists and so on. Churches, just like any organisation, provide a place where people can do the same bad things people would do no matter where they were. But this fellow was Catholic, so the above example was more appropriate.

Now what happened next? Was I offered a reason to re-think the logic of this counter-example? No. I received a message from Mr Matheson telling me that he didn’t “like” my comment, and asked that it be removed. Naturally, I declined. The only reasons to dislike the above statement might be that one sees that it undercuts their argument but can’t think of a good way to respond (as I believe was the case here), or one misunderstands the statement to mean its opposite, namely that sex abuse in the Catholic church does show that the Catholic church shouldn’t exist – although I struggle to see how anyone could honestly believe that this is what was meant.

Imagine my surprise then, when I logged into Facebook today and saw this:

There’s no recourse to this – no way of appealing or objecting to this bizarre decision, so that’s really the end of the matter – not that I mind. It’s just a Facebook conversation after all. You can read Facebook’s community standards here, where I think you’ll see that in fact my comment doesn’t get close to violating any of them. As far as I can see this is nothing more than a case of intellectual cowardice in the utmost: Running scared from a rebuttal and then having it hidden from public view so that nobody sees how one’s argument was completely undermined.

But if this incident highlights anything, it offers advice to my Catholic friends: Don’t argue against Protestantism (or anything else) this way. Yes, the Reformation, like the counter-reformation, like Vatican II, like movements within medieval Catholicism, like movements within Protestantism, the scientific revolution, and indeed like the very existence of the Catholic church itself, may have made some unfortunate things possible. But that never, by itself, shows that something is wrong, that it should not exist, or that it should not have happened. If you do, you may end up with somebody offering a response that you really wish the world couldn’t see.

Glenn Peoples

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{ 28 comments… add one }

  • Kenneth January 13, 2012, 5:12 pm

    Well I guess the days are gone when you get arrested to shut you up. Without an inquisition, what other option is there? ;)

    But seriously, without blogs, there would be no bad ones. Hence, there should be no blogs!

  • Garren January 13, 2012, 6:26 pm

    Without the Internet, there would be no Flash ads.

    Without sex, there would be no STIs.

    Without television, there would be no reality television.

    Without philosophy, there would be no continental philosophy.

  • scrubone January 13, 2012, 7:23 pm

    Weird.

    But I guess it shows some people are just not interested in logic if it cuts across their position.

  • Glenn January 13, 2012, 7:27 pm

    “Without philosophy, there would be no continental philosophy.”

    Garren, part of me so wants to call this a valid objection to philosophy…

  • Jeremy January 13, 2012, 9:33 pm

    Two things
    “Without television there would be no reality television”—–almost a happy enough prospect to make me wish it was true.

    Without “Say Hello to my Little Friend” this blog based conversation would not be happening.

  • Lucia Maria January 13, 2012, 9:34 pm

    I’d say that the comment was deleted because Facebook is not the place to have real debates, so it was probably just easier to delete the comment than debate it, since it is a bit of a smart arse comment, if you pardon the term. Especially to non-philosophers, which would be most people.

    Anyone that randomly brings up sex abuse by Catholic priests on my blog runs the risk of getting their comment deleted as well. If it’s relevant, it stays, but it does depend on how annoyed I am at the time.

    :)

  • Glenn January 13, 2012, 9:39 pm

    Lucia, it’s relevant if a Catholic person is saying that the presence of some bad thing in a church shows that the church shouldn’t exist. That makes it relevant. It would be seen as “smart arse” comment by anyone who suddenly saw that their argument had been undercut. How dare I take the wind out of his sails! ;)

  • Prayson January 13, 2012, 9:45 pm

    It also happened to me when I pointed a friend of mine the logic of dismissing Lev 18:20 as pagan fertility rituals on the issue of homosexual practice in my blog. He argued that it only forbids the practice in association with pagan idolatry. I pointed out.

    1. If it is the case that Leviticus 18 forbids sexual practices between a male as with a woman only in association with idolatry then it is the case that Leviticus 18 forbids sexual practices with an animal and infant sacrifice only in association with idolatry

    2. It is not the case that Leviticus 18 forbids sexual practices with an animal and infant sacrifice only in association with idolatry.

    3. Therefore it is not the case that Leviticus 18 forbids sexual practices between a male as with a woman only in association with idolatry

    He wanted it to be removed but gladly Wordpress ruled on my favor.

    Thanks Glenn for the article.

  • Lucia Maria January 13, 2012, 9:50 pm

    Glen,

    Yes, I can see the relevance. It’s just too much for Facebook users.

  • ZenTiger January 13, 2012, 10:00 pm

    Well, I followed your logic and agree with your post.

    I guess he just didn’t appreciate the example you chose, and I can understand that logic too.

    I guess just because you have a smoking gun on your blog, doesn’t mean you really, deep down want to shoot people.

    (Not trying to be offensive, just suggesting that my example could be chosen better and offering the same criticism to myself over this issue)

  • Cal January 14, 2012, 2:49 am

    Priest issue is a bit touchy. I’d recommend next time:

    -Inquisition
    -Alexander VI
    -Crusades
    -Johan Tetzel

  • Andy Moore January 14, 2012, 3:36 am

    heh. nice one Cal.

    P.S. if it weren’t for Catholicism, Glenn would not have made the comment he did, and the other fulla would not have been offended.

  • ZenTiger January 14, 2012, 10:55 am

    Yeah, nice one Cal, real class.

    “Teach me your way oh Lord; lead me in a straight path”

  • Just Sayin' January 14, 2012, 11:11 am

    Which brings up the interesting topic of a philosophy of ecclesiology, something I’ve never thought about before. Anyone have any book recommendations for a philosophical approach to denominations, church government, church history, stuff like that?

  • Glenn January 14, 2012, 12:34 pm

    “It’s just too much for Facebook users.”

    Well, in this case it was too much for a Facebook user who is involved in religious education in an Auckland Catholic parish.

  • Lucia Maria January 14, 2012, 2:36 pm

    Glenn,

    What age does he teach?

    (Just for background, I don’t personally hold a very high opinion of the level Catholic education in this country. There are so many children of Catholic families that lose their faith by the time they leave high school (I include myself here), there’s got to be something very seriously wrong.)

  • Glenn January 14, 2012, 3:42 pm

    I don’t know what age, actually.

  • Cal January 14, 2012, 4:29 pm

    Zen Tiger:

    It was in jest but the reality is sick and disgusting. I can easily point to Zwingli drowning Anabaptists, Calvin burning Servetus, Dutch Reformed supporting Apartheid in South Africa etc.

    You can also point to East Orthodox persecuting the Paulicians, or the Latin Franks putting a french whore on the Bishops chair in Constantinople during the 4th crusade.

    It’s sin, it’s sorrowful but GK Chesterton said something along the lines of, a sane man is one who can hold both comedy in his head and sorrow in his heart.

  • Glenn January 14, 2012, 10:42 pm

    You can’t point to Calvin Burning Servetus because he didn’t. He alerted the authorities to Servetus’ presence, because they were seeking him. Although he might have been in favour of Servetus’ execution (but pleaded for the authorities not to burn him), this whole “Calvin Burned Servetus” thing is right up there with “Medieval Christians believed in a flat earth.”

    Pet peeve.

  • Cal January 15, 2012, 3:32 am

    I’m not sure your sources, I’ve read that not only did he ask the authorities to burn him but also use fresh green,wood to prolong the suffering. He was sternly rebuked by a contemporary in the Reformation:

    “Calvin says that he is certain, and [other sects] say that they are; Calvin says that they are wrong and wishes to judge them, and so do they. Who shall be judge? What made Calvin the arbiter of all the sects, that he alone should kill? He has the Word of God and so have they. If the matter is certain, to who is it so? To Calvin? But then why does he write so many books about manifest truth?…In view of the uncertainty we must define the heretic simply as one with whom we disagree. And if then we are going to kill heretics, the logical outcome will be a war of extermination, since each is sure of himself.” – Sebastian Castellio

    Just as an addition: I think there are a many good things in the writings of Calvin (I’m not a Calvinist, nor Arminian, I’m like some sort of Amayraldist-Barthist). However the repugnant act is heretical in orthopraxy.

  • Glenn January 15, 2012, 12:56 pm

    ” I’ve read that not only did he ask the authorities to burn him but also use fresh green,wood to prolong the suffering.”

    Your source is wrong. Not one of the many available sources on this affair supports that version of events. In fact, even sources that seem unfriendly to Calvin complain that some people misunderstand Calvin’s plea for leniency – thus acknowledging that it was real. Some might hear that claim and think (wrongly) that Calvin wanted to stop the authorities from executing Servetus, but this isn’t the case. Michael Farris, for example, raises the concern:

    Nothing in this analysis [claiming that Calvin sought leniency for Servetus] is untruthful in itself, but it does leave a false impression. Calvin did plead for “leniency” in the mode of punishment — he requested that Servetus be put to death by sword instead of by fire.

    Michael Farris, From Tyndale to Madison: How the Death of an English Martyr Led to the American Bill of Rights (B&H Publishing Group, 2007), 95.

    So I don’t know where you heard that Calvin wanted the burning made even worse and more prolonged, but it’s not true and shouldn’t be repeated.

    Now – to be clear – I don’t think much of the fact that Calvin approved of the execution carried out by the authorites, nor of the fact that Calvin is the one who alerted the authorities (who were already seeking Servetus) to Servetus’ presence in Geneva. I think that was terrible – but I am very weary of this wantonly false claim that “Calvin burned Servetus.” I note that in your last post you toned down your claim – admitting that actually Calvin didn’t burn Servetus but saying that he asked the authorities to do so, which is good. Even this toned down claim isn’t true, but it was your original, stronger claim that I was responding to.

  • Cal January 15, 2012, 2:01 pm

    I did a little research:

    Apparently while Calvin did want Servetus decapitated, not burned the motion did not carry. However when he was burned, it was by half green wood that took 30 minutes to claim his life. (Walter Nigg, The Heretics (Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1962) 327)

    I stand corrected! Thanks for pushing back :)

  • bethyada January 15, 2012, 4:50 pm

    This is related to CS Lewis’ comment about the greater the potential for good, the greater the potential for evil. Men are capable of doing so much more good than dogs, but also so much worse.

    If you remove the potential for abuse, you remove the potential for good.

  • ZenTiger January 16, 2012, 9:56 pm

    @Cal – “it was in jest”: no probs. The blog format is a hard medium to communicate in methinks.

  • Cedric January 28, 2012, 7:27 am

    Gidday Glenn, Happy New Year!

    Firstly, I agree that, if your assessment of his argument was sound, his argument was illogical, as the funny reductio-ad-absurdum previous posts have shown.
    Secondly, I agree that your comment in reply should not have been censored, he should have either replied or at least ignored you.

    Lastly though, I think in fairness to the guy, you haven’t interpreted his argument as generously as you could have, following the idea that we should rebut the strongest version of an argument we can fairly construe from what is said.
    You summed up his position as follows:

    “this is what happens when churches abandon God’s true church that Jesus founded, the Catholic church, and they don’t follow the papacy, which is the true repository of apostolic teaching.”

    Lets take the religious element out of what he said, to clarify things.

    “this SKY DIVING FATALITY is what happens when PEOPLE abandon WELL PACKED PARACHUTES AND JUMP OUT OF PLANES.”

    You took from this:
    “the fact that SKY DIVING FATALITIES would not exist without SKY DIVING, and SKY DIVING FATALITIES are bad, does not mean that SKY DIVING should not exist.”

    Which is true.

    However, if you apply the same reasoning to what I consider to be a closer example, it is not as persuasive, eg:

    “the fact that SKY DIVING FATALITIES would not exist without BADLY PACKED PARACHUTES, and SKY DIVING FATALITIES are bad, does not mean that BADLY PACKED PARACHUTES should not exist.”

    My point is that his argument did not rest on a straightforward logical fallacy, but on a negative assessment of the authority of non-Catholic churches, leading in this case to heresy/blasphemy.

    To refute him, you should argue how a particular non-Catholic church has a stronger historical claim to inherit the teaching authority Christ gave the apostles.

    Regards,

    Cedric.

  • Glenn January 28, 2012, 9:19 am

    Hi Cedric. Actually I said that he next “clearly stated” the following argument: “Without the English Reformation and the Anglican Church, the above incident would not have happened, and hence the Anglican church shouldn’t exist and the Reformation was a mistake.” He really did say that. I’m not making it up, that was exactly his argument.

    I didn’t encourage him to say that, and I certainly haven’t fabricated the fact that he said that. So I don’t think it’s fair to imply that by simply reproducing this, I am uncharitably interpreting him. You quoted the first part of what he said, but removed this argument. By excluding that from your analysis of what I said (when I said that this is what he clearly stated), I think your portrayal of my post is less fair than it could be. So in fact my response was adequate, as it showed just why this argument is flawed.

  • Cedric January 28, 2012, 8:59 pm

    Hi Glenn,

    Well that’s what I get for replying to a post before I’ve had my morning coffee! :-)
    You are quite right.

    I still think you should ignore the embarrassing brain-attack that constitutes his second statement. You will generate much more light than heat by running the ball up straight to challenge his first, much more interesting point.

  • BenYachov March 12, 2012, 5:52 pm

    I’m a Catholic. I believe the Catholic Church is the One True Church and Protestantism is mistaken & un-Biblical in it’s theological differences with Catholicism.

    Now that having been said the bad things this particular Anglican Church did is not in itself an argument against Anglicanism & or Protestantism in general. I have been to bad Catholic Churches run by flakizoid Priests under lazy Bishops who don’t seem to want to enforce proper Catholic Christian teachings and standards. It happens.

    But you can’t make bad behavior a legitimate argument. Catholic Apologist Karl Keating called this “Their best worst Argument”. In that he referred to certain Protestants who might cite the Inquisition as “proof” Catholicism is diabolic. Which is unfair considering some of the evil Protestants did to each other and to Catholics during the Reformation.(I can provide examples on request. ;-) ).

    It a good emotional argument but it is not rational. Neither it this argument. Now I confess I have sometimes said this myself “Oh if they only didn’t leave the Pope etc..”. But when I look back on it now I see I was being emotional.

    Cheers.

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