Tuesday, August 06, 2002

More from Bob. This may be it for me for a while, as this is taking way more time than I can afford right now. Warning: the post is long, and I did not want to delete from it, in the interest of fairly representing Bob's views.

Your reply is thoughtful, well constructed, and demonstrative. I deeply appreciate the effort you put it into it. You have made a logical and reasonable argument.

I believe your argument is a trifle incomplete, though, and papers over some areas of weakness. I hope you do not mind if I point them out, or rather, explain where our thoughts diverge. After all, if you desire to continue to particpate, then I would characterize this exchange not as a contest but an examination.
To the point:

1) All Christianity is not an argument from authority. There is that which is a matter of logic and that which is a matter of experience, then there is that which is a matter of speculation, interpretation, invention, piety, and ecclesiology. A simple way to put the issue is thus - Truth vs. Truth plus ideology. (Or Jesus vs. Jesus and propaganda about Jesus.)

2) We cannot possibly take the Gospels (NT or OT) to mean what they say. They say too many different things to mean the same thing or point to the exact same conclusions.

3) Authority as you refer to matters of history (testimony) and science (demonstration) is entirely incorrect as an example related to religion and spiritual Authority. Matters of history such as Hitler and Napoleon rely on
inductive reasoning (a rational endeavor), correspondence of evidence, the weight of corroberating testimony. What we accept as authority in science is reliance on experiment (verifiable experience). You can reinvent the wheel any time you like to determine whether round will roll. But even better, you can do the work in your head, a thought experiement to determine the truth of many natural things.

Associating demonstrated proofs in history and science with undemonstrable assertions in religion is a false analogy in this instance.

4) Certain first principles are essential to Christianity, indeed. For Jews, one first principle is necessary - there is one God. The second principle is an interpretation derived from the first - and he has chosen the Jews for his people.

Christians have three primary principles - God is One. Jesus is God. God is Three Persons. It is from these we derive everything else, but nothing automatically follows from these principles in terms of demonstrable proofs.
Scripture is clearly a commentary upon these principles (experiences, revelations). The Church is obviously an invention flowing from these Revelations.

But nothing in Scripture or Church can ever be as true or demonstrated rationally as principle revelation, and revelation is only relevant to those who experience it; not to those who merely possess hope that they are true (or put all their trust in the testimony of others). Raymond Brown once pointed out - "God doesn't write books, people write books. " We can apply
this to the church also. People create religions, not God.

Faith is an interactive sport or a feedback loop. By seeking you find, by finding you seek again. It is the way of prayer, not entirely but primarily a solitary endeavor (as exemplified in Jesus' life and being).

Revelation, or spiritual experience, is not a matter of argument from authority. It is a demonstrable result of human endeavor which is verifiable through testing, concordance, prior evidence, testimony, and examination.The experiment is applied in a somewhat different manner than a purely material one, but verifiable, nonetheless. You may call it Pascal's wager or the psalms recommendation to "taste and see", but there is a large body of knowledge and experience related to spiritual phenomena which has survived the test of time, and enjoys careful revision and addition. There is also that which is gratuitous and comes unbidden. All such experience is subject to comparison, contrast, interpretation, seculation, and conclusion.

The knowledge derived from it often concludes in ways that are logical and non-contradictory - but not always. Sometimes, a religion imposes constraints upon experience in such a way as to render it untrustworthy or ideological. Paul suggests testing all such things, but doesn't say how testing can be done without prejudice, therefore the tests of the Church are as likely to be biased as the proclamations of the source of phenomena.

(An example: some fellow claims to have an experience of the eucharist bread turning into actual flesh. The church says, nonsense. The bread can never give an outward appearance of Jesus' flesh. But the church's test of the claim is spurious. Why? In one sense, anything is possible for God, and thus if God wants to turn the bread into an actual lump of flesh and skin, it is well within his omnipotence; and two, the Church has to demonstrate that it and it alone has the absolute authority to speak for God. An extraordinary claim that demands extraordinary proof.)

Jesus, though, is always able to prove my personal claim that he is God, arisen and alive, through extraordinary means. He does so millions of times to people over millenia and the results are usually extraordinary (people change for whom change was impossible); while the church is never able to prove its extraordinary claims by extraordinary means over any period of time to any substantial number of people. It's claims always remain just that - assertions of human will and nothing more, ending in absurd conclusions.



In response, you partially misundertand me. When I say "all Christianity is an argument from authority" what I mean is, Christianity has nothing to say without that authority. Particular teachings may not refer to Matthew 16:19, but without the authority of it, there's no point in speaking of moral doctrine. It is reduced to opinion, and of a somewhat blasphemous nature, without it.

Second, we can and we do take the Gospels to mean what they say. That does not mean we must abandon reason when we approach them. It is not always crystal clear what the point was, and Jesus *is* quite clear at any number of places that this is deliberate. But scripture is the starting point, and the starting point of exegesis is the literal meaning. We work from there, and sometimes stay with the literal meaning and sometimes try to understand more deeply. The general rule of thumb is, the less clear or the more counterintuitive something in the Gospel is, the harder we have to work to understand it. But "whatever you bind on earth" has been understood in more or less the same way more or less from the early church until Martin Luther. Paul, especially in the authentically Pauline letters, takes the authority of the Church as a given, and those were written within the first decades after Christ's death, a fact which no serious scholar contests.

But my point is not to argue exegesis as such. My point is, if we are Christians, really Christians, we must accept that the authority granted the Church was granted by Christ, or else the choosing of the Apostles and the Pentecost have no meaning at all. And the people who knew Christ personally, or who converted under the Apostles, believed this to be the case. This is the authority of testimony you refered to, and the only authority I am arguing about (I haven't even hinted at "revelation" in this discussion). And this authority grants knowledge, power, and a particular relationship with the Holy Spirit (as testified to in Acts, at Pentecost, in a book quite possibly written by an original apostle--though that point is not undisputed.)

In any case, you proceed from a false premise. "Scripture is clearly a commentary upon these principles (experiences, revelations)." No. Some scripture is this, but some is nothing more than testimony to what was witnessed firsthand or recorded at secondhand, in a serious attempt at history. (Luke is considered by many scholars in recent years to be a true work of history; many, many details once considered to be literary embellishments have turned out to be facts borne out by archaeology. The location of Herod's palace, for one, that was often cited as an example of how Luke "got it wrong" turns out to be a fact that Luke, uniquely among early histories, had right.)

The first five books of the New Testament are not commentaries, but actual histories. The fact that they disagree in certain details should not obfuscate the fact that they agree in many details, and on nearly every large issue. They agree, in fact, much more closely on most questions than many non-religious documents of the era that are accepted as authoritative history. The epistles are in some cases commentaries, but the Gospels are not, and it is disingenuous to conflate the two.

The fact that much of the preaching reported in them is contrary to expectation, or shocking, does not by itself mean we cannot treat the reports as serious. And it is not the same thing as saying the reporters themselves are unreliable, but that is in effect what you are saying.

You beg the question when you assert that "The Church is obviously an invention flowing from these Revelations" and "People create religions, not God." You have assumed as a premise the item in dispute. I assert, on the authority of Jesus Christ, as substantiated in the Gospels, the Acts of the Apostles, and any number of the epistles, that the Church is *not* an invention, but the Creation of Christ. I argue this not on the authority of the Magisterium, but the authority of the Second Person of the Holy Trinity. I assert that that authority grants the Magisterium power to bind and loose.

The principles of Christianity, which were never in dispute until after Luther, are much more than three persons, one God. They are encapsulated in the creed we say each Sunday. "We believe in one God, the Father the Almighty...We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only son of the God...We believe in the Holy Spirit...who proceeds from the father and son...We believe in one Holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins. We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come." That creed was written in the 4th century (either 325 or 391 AD), and encapsulates the fundamental precepts of Christianity, the "first principles." They are not Roman Catholic christianity, but "mere" Christianity.

There is no logical proof of the authority of the Magisterium that does not proceed from the authority granted by Christ. It would be self-nullifying if there were. If you wish to dispute it, you need to dispute either: Matthew 16:19, and it purports not to be a revelation but a quotation; or the facts of Apostolic succession. While "The Church says so" may be what some Catholics argue, it is not in fact what the Church teaches.

You are proceeding from assumptions about the New Testament that are not borne out either by the texts themselves, or by most scholarship on the subject. I don't know where to take the conversation from here.



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