Confiteor and the Pride of Lucifer

From the pen of Mark Shea:

I like that the Catholic Church is so transparently inept and so plainly filled with such obviously failed and ridiculous people, not only among us laity, but throughout the ranks of its clerics as well. My abiding sense, ever since converting, has been one of relief. In sectarian Protestantism, the question is always whether you are pure enough, whether you are a “real Christian”, whether your “really meant it” when you asked Jesus into your heart, whether your latest grotesque failure means your whole life as a Christian has been one huge fraud.

The great thing about the Catholic communion is that it begins every single act of worship with the Confiteor in which we all look at each other and say, “Who am I kidding? i don’t belong here any more than you do, so let’s pray for each other and ask the the Graduates in Heaven to put in a good word for us, trusting that God will cut us slack again just so long as we keep cutting each other slack.” It’s a place where there’s room for me: a screwup who can’t tell my butt from a hole in the ground who has no business darkening the door of a Church, much less brazenly walking up there and receiving the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Almighty God, if you please. The whole project is so outrageous from beginning to end that my only excuse is that God tells all these other people they not only can but must do it, so I guess it’s okay that a dubious jerk like me does it too.

My comment: This is why I am one of the two Founding Member of the Shea-Wright Mutual Admiration Society.
Mr Shea is in good company:

From the pen of Hillaire Belloc:

Hilaire Belloc’s description of the Catholic Church: “An institute run with such knavish imbecility that if it were not the work of God it would not last a fortnight.”

From the pen of GK Chesterton:

Mr. Shaw cannot understand that the thing which is valuable and lovable in our eyes is man—the old beer-drinking, creed-making, fighting, sensual, respectable man. And the things that have been founded on this creature immortally remain; the things that have been founded on the fancy of the Superman have died with the dying civilizations which alone have given them birth. When Christ at a symbolic moment was establishing His great society, He chose for its corner-stone neither the brilliant Paul nor the mystic John, but a shuffler, a snob, a coward—in a word, a man. And upon this rock He has built His Church, and the gates of Hell have not prevailed against it. All the empires and the kingdoms failed, because of this inherent and continual weakness, that they were founded by strong men and upon strong men. But this one thing, the historic Christian Church, was founded on a weak man, and for that reason it is indestructible. For no chain is stronger than its weakest link.

My comment: Back in my atheist days, each day I stood in public places, and prayed thus with myself, “God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican.”

No, not literally, of course, since I neither prayed nor spoke the name of God save to curse Him, but the sentiment was exactly the same. While I have met humble agnostics, who believe human reason insufficient to come to certainty on the question of the existence of divine things, I have never met a humble atheist.

The reason is not hard to discover: even an atheist who starts his career with the humble thought that, since not all religions can be true therefore Christianity has no special claim to truth, must in time inevitably comes to the conclusion that, since he sees truths that superstitious fools like Einstein and Aristotle and Newton could not see, patently obviously and blatantly clear truths, it is therefore clear that he, the atheist, is smarter than nine tenths of the world, and all the geniuses of history, with a few small exceptions: James Randi, Lucretius, Christopher Hitchens, Isaac Asimov, Carl Sagan.

Now, the clumsy belligerence of atheists is more obvious these days, and that for two reasons: first, we live in a darkening Dark Age, where civilized behaviors, such as showing gentlemanly respect for one peers, has been replaced by childish behaviors, such as demanding respect unearned; and second, the Internet allows and even encourages the anonymous expression of private thoughts, including those which prudence would deter being uttered face to face. But howsoever obvious it is these days, it has always been present.

You see, a Pharisee might be arrogant if he thinks his salvation is his own doing rather than a gift of God, or a prophet might be arrogant if he thinks his prophecies overturn all previous tradition of prophecy: but even these will ultimately have a good reason (whether reason be heeded or no) not to be too unhumble, for the Pharisee and the Heresiarch still bow to a divine source of wisdom.

Not so the atheist. It would be different if he were raised on some globe circling another star among that happy race of Vulcans or Puppeteers who never had anything like religion, and whose civilization (assuming such a thing were possible) grew up without any supernatural roots. But the atheist raised on Earth, even if he respects the historical Christ, or Mohamed or Moses, or Buddha, or Confucius, or Plato, cannot help but feel pity or contempt for the basic thinking of these men, which basic thinking is supernatural (yes, including the arch-pragmatic Confucius) and therefore cannot help but feel pity or contempt for Christendom, for the Ummah, for Jewry, for India, for China, for the Classical Pagans of old.

Now, honestly, you cannot walk around thinking yourself intellectually superior to Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas and the founders of your republic or kingdom or nation without it being reflected in your demeanor and character.

This is not like being a Babe Ruth walking around thinking he is better at swatting homers than is Chuck Yeager, who admittedly is better at flying planes. This is not taking pride in your accomplishments while admitting that men in other fields are more accomplished in their fields.

This is assuming, merely on the grounds that the philosophers and prophets and sages and thinkers of old come to different conclusions than you, that the difference of conclusion is based on a defect of reason present in them and not in you.

For by the atheist philosophy, the difference of conclusions cannot be based on anything else: it cannot be fate, or a failure of inspiration, because atheists do not believe in fate or inspiration.

The atheist cannot say that atheism is one philosophy among many philosophies of equal merit: he cannot say that theism is like the Steady State Theory or the Geocentric Theory, a model of the universe held by respectable scientific opinion in its day, now discovered to be unsupported by the most recent evidence, on the simple ground that there is no new evidence. The same arguments which promoted atheism now were used to promote it among the ancient Greeks.

Atheism is a faith, undeterred by any evidence no matter how obvious, that you are smarter than men much smarter than you.

You being to act as if you are the one fully evolved human person on the Planet of Apes.

And this pride, like the first drink of hard liquor or the first sniff of cocaine, becomes habit forming. It is pleasant only at first. Then it takes over your thinking, and becomes a constant companion and a constant burden, and an endless, dragging weariness. Human souls are not actually built for pride, any more than our bodies are build for alcohol or cocaine.

I wish there were a way to convince my atheist friends to be Christian for only a day, or an hour, so that they would see what a relief it was to lay down the towering iron burden of arrogance.

Pride is pleasant only at first. In time, it comes to oppress the soul with an airless isolation, a loneliness that lacks the romance of a far island or a high mountain. And in eternity, the worst torment of Lucifer in Abaddon is the ever darker pride of that once-bright and fallen prince of angels.

116 Comments

  1. Comment by watermelonyo:

    The mind reels at the utter lack of self-awareness it must take to write such an arrogant denunciation of arrogance. If I am the arrogant one, why are you the one who feels confident enough to call an entire class of people arrogant when you’ve only interacted with a small percentage of them? If I am the arrogant one, why are you the one who feels confident enough to decide who is and who is not a genius? If I am the arrogant one, why are you the one who feels confident enough to say how an entire class of people forms their beliefs, how they act, and how they feel about other people? If I am the arrogant one, why are you the one who is so sure he is right? If I am the arrogant one, why are you the one writing blog posts about the oppression of the soul caused by arrogance?

    • Comment by Robert Mitchell Jr:

      Because he has been there.

    • Comment by John C Wright:

      Well, I was not talking about you but about me. I never called you personally arrogant, nor did I deny that pride is my besetting sin, ahead of lust and anger.

      I will take your word for it that you are much meeker and humbler than I am, eager to apologize and humiliate yourself in public, acutely conscious of your lowly station and your lack of any right to have an opinion about matters your betters are discussing. I will take your word for it if that is indeed what you are asserting. If you wish to compare your character favorably with mine, I yield the contest to you unopposed.

      I did say that atheists are arrogant, or, specifically, that they were prone to the temptation of arrogance. I did not say all members of the class give into the temptation, nor to the same degree.

      But, all that aside, let us take the questions (or, rather, accusations) seriatim:

      1. If I am the arrogant one, why are you the one who feels confident enough to call an entire class of people arrogant when you’ve only interacted with a small percentage of them?

      What confidence? I am speaking of atheists I know and have read, including myself. I make no representation that my experience is typical. I am speaking as anyone speaks of any class of people, or, for that matter, events or objects, based partly on experience and partly on reason.

      2. If I am the arrogant one, why are you the one who feels confident enough to decide who is and who is not a genius?

      Again, what confidence? I am adopting the most conservative imaginable standard for the word “genius” that is, those men who, if they are not geniuses, the word has no meaning: men whose thought established the entire character of their field for an entire era of time. If I name Newton and Einstein as geniuses in the scientific field, or Aquinas or Aristotle in philosophy and theology, I am making the humblest possible asseveration. No one seriously contends that these men were not geniuses, even those who hold their conclusions to be wrong. Let me put it this way: if you consider it overconfident to call these men geniuses, logically you must consider it overconfident to assert that anyone is a genius, or even that genius exists at all. This is skepticism taken to the point of madness.

      Or are you bellyaching that I am implying that you are not a genius? That was not an intended implication, but if this is your objection, it acts as one more bit of confirmatory evidence for my general theory of the psychological dangers of atheism.

      3. If I am the arrogant one, why are you the one who feels confident enough to say how an entire class of people forms their beliefs, how they act, and how they feel about other people?

      As above, through experience, including my own experience, and through reasoning. My reasoning, which yu have not address (save by angry ad hominem) is that it is not possible for someone to dismiss the deepest thought and learning of the most civilized ages of history as rubbish on the grounds of his own intellectual powers without at least being tempted to overestimate those powers.

      4. If I am the arrogant one, why are you the one who is so sure he is right?

      You seem to be confusing arrogance with certainty. I am certain twice two is four. I am very confidence murder in the first degree is the unlawful slaying of a human being with malice aforethought without mitigation, justification or excuse. I am confident that George Washington was a real historical person who had real wooden teeth. I trust the theory of Relativity because I trust Dr Einstein, albeit, to be sure, I have not checked his figures or performed any experiment independently to verify the same; and yet I trust those who say they have done so. And so on and so forth.

      So I have differing degrees of confidence about certain matters, based on the nature of the study and my familiarity with it. In this case I am speaking of human nature, which every man who is honest can read in his own heart.

      5. If I am the arrogant one, why are you the one writing blog posts about the oppression of the soul caused by arrogance?

      The question as it stands is asking why a man recovering from a plague would warn those in danger of the same plague not to notice the symptoms or avoid the places of contagion.

      Are you asking me on what ground I think atheists are arrogant? Well, to be blunt, your questions here are not really questions. They are an ad hominem attack. If the selfsame words I had written had been written by some other man who was as humble as Uriah Heep (or, if you like as humble as Job), the truth or falsehood of the conclusions, the insight of the observations, would be exactly the same.

      So, what kind of man routinely, nay, obsessively, casts his argumentation in the form of an ad hominem?

      It is not merely an arrogant form of argumentation, it is THE arrogant form of argumentation, because it always requires a man to present himself as a moral paragon and his foes as devils and wretches. It is arrogant because it is almost childish in its innocence — the man addicted to ad hominem has a touching faith, utterly unselfconscious, that other men will accept his own high self assessment at face value, and will trust his condemnation of his foes without skepticism, nay, without reflection. It is the way a boaster argues, if boasting of one’s moral superiority can be called argument.

      So when you ask why I am confident that atheists are arrogant, it is perhaps the poorest possible strategy of persuading me otherwise to drench me with rhetoric that contains no argumentation but much arrogance, and then to identify yourself as an atheist, or propose to speak for them.

      There may be a humble atheist out there somewhere. In fifty years of life, I have not met him, nor heard any rumor howsoever indirect about him. Until I meet him, I will say without small fear of contradiction that you are fine representative sample: they do all talk like you.

      To return to your question as asked, I am writing to warn you.

      You, personally, the watermelon man. You are in danger of separating yourself from the eternal source of life, light, goodness, happiness, and truth. If this separation becomes permanent, you will be in a realm of death, darkness, evil, misery and lies.

      You will be in hell.

      Don’t go there.

      • Comment by robertjwizard:

        Ha! You slay me. That was great.

        I must say I have the greatest arrogance of all. I certainly believe I am smarter than 99.99% of atheists. Believing in God I do not believe has anything to do with intelligence no matter how many drooling dolts someone could pull out of Baton Rouge, LA.

        2 questions.

        Was the inclusion of Christopher Hitchens in the genius list a jest?

        What do you mean by the term ‘inspiration’? Are you using it in some sort of divine sense? For surely I can be inspired by a great many things. I started to be inspired the youngest I can remember by Star Wars and Spider Man – and then many, many other instances from the real world and make-believe since then. But you claim this cannot be, so I have to suppose you have taken inspiration, at as I conceive and experience it, and moved it to another realm, or behind the curtain of Christianity. I don’t know.

        • Comment by MissJean:

          I also question your inclusion of Christopher Hitchens on the genius list. He was sassy and smart, but he often could see the forest for the trees. Even as an atheist, I couldn’t accept his assertion that somehow life in Calcutta would have been so much better served by Mother Theresa never having been there. Nor that Communism has many admirable qualities that more than make up for the mass murder.

          As for his charm, he reminded me all too well of myself at a certain time: Insulting my hospitable but not-as-intellectual friends, but never quite enough that they would wash their hands of me or cease to give me attention. I always found it hilarious that he chose the United States to make his new home, as anyone who’s spent time in the UK comes into the US with a renewed feeling of just how open and ubiquitous American are about their religious beliefs.

          • Comment by Mary:

            Ah, but Hitchens is an atheist, which is sufficient evidence of his brilliant brilliance. If you were as brilliantly brilliant as he, you would know that.

          • Comment by robertjwizard:

            That’s the neo-darwinian-atheist (Darwin not capitalized so as not to lend insult to the actual, historical Charles Darwin) line. “If there were no religion, Earth would be a bastion of peace and brotherlove.”

            Really? If there is one thing I can be absolutely certain of it is this. If religion were to suddenly disappear from the face of the planet, we would have plenty of stuff leftover to kill each other over. And, we would find new things in religion’s stead to kill each other over.

            I doubt there are any South Park fans here, but they have an excellent two-part episode called Go! God Go! where they put Richard Dawkin’s (and Hitchen’s) assertion to the fire. 500 years in the future, Richard Dawkins, influenced by his converted transsexual wife, Mr. Garrison, to be a total dick to anyone who isn’t an atheist, has shaped the future where all believe in SCIENCE. The trouble is there are many sects of scientists with different theories (ultimately about what to call themselves) at constant war.

            • Comment by MissJean:

              I haven’t seen that South Park episode (TV died just after the Lord of the Porn episode) but that sounds about right!

              I just had a discussion with friends about the way that we’re raised on the concept that things must be seen to be believed. (Among us, we have a geologist, a pathologist, a chemist, and a mining engineer – it’s either a nerd convention or the beginning of a joke.) Higgs bosun particle? Extrapolation. Dark matter? Detected by observing its effects on visible matter. I used to tease a friend of mine, “Show me a negative number!” but neither of us thought that we’d see theories about the universe based on the concept of missing mass. (<Catholics: Insert obnoxious pun about "missing Mass" here.)

        • Comment by Sylvie D. Rousseau:

          “I must say I have the greatest arrogance of all.”
          I disagree. It is not arrogance to rely on respectable philosophers and to argue rationally to make your point. Irony and a bit of sarcasm are welcome to add some spice to otherwise deadly serious topics.

          “I certainly believe I am smarter than 99.99% of atheists.”
          I daresay you are, because you are a philosopher and your position is reasoned. The 99.99% others are the faithful of a crypto-religion.

          • Comment by robertjwizard:

            Thank you, although I cannot accept the title of philosopher. It is not humility, I can reason in the field of philosophy, but the bar is higher than my mind. Call it Aristotelian pride, I am not equal to the measure, and reason tells me I can gain nothing further by elevating myself against that measure. I will, however, bow gracefully to the honor of Armchair philosopher (and armchair physicist, armchair psychologist, armchair biologist, and armchair cosmologist – although any conclusions on these subjects have the caveat that I post on my blog all the time – “And I base this on absolutely nothing.”)

            If I were in Dante’s Comedy and I were among the philosophers of Athens and Rome and the “master of he that knows” I could do little more than bay like a donkey and diddle on the floor.

            I assume by respectable philosophers you mean Aristotle (Aquinas I am too deficient in). Ayn Rand is respected in no quarter – particularly among philosophers. You want to see a paid philosopher raise its hackles and hiss like a cat, start talking about Ayn Rand (almost any other group or profession will have the same response).

            As for arrogance and humility. I find value in neither and each too easy an indulgence. To boast or grovel should not be the option. I defer to Aristotle on this point.

            • Comment by Sylvie D. Rousseau:

              Let us say you and I are students of philosophy, meaning we try to argue from rational tenets as explained by rational thinkers. Ayn Rand and Dr Peikoff might be a small school but they are respectable philosophers, since they have reasoned positions and methodology, and it is possible to argue on that.

              As for the judgment of other philosophers, particularly contemporaries, the great St. Thomas’ works were nearly condemned as heretic after his death. They certainly were not a success for centuries, due to the poor comprehension and teaching of most Scholastics, save a few exceptions like Cajetan and John of Saint Thomas. I really thank Heaven there was a rediscovery of Thomism in the 20th century and to have found a pile of used books by Maritain a couple of years after my return to the faith — many of them merit to be reread and studied closely.

            • Comment by Mary:

              Ah, irony.

              Once upon a time a man heard that someone else had described seven sages and listed him among them. He declared that he could not aspire to the title of “sage” — he would be content to be called a lover of wisdom, only being Greek, he said “Philosopher.”

      • Comment by watermelonyo:

        Well, I was not talking about you but about me.

        Then why can’t you just say so? Why does everything have to be “atheists this” and “atheists that?” Why can’t you just say “I this” and “I that” rather than framing it as if your experience speaks for all atheists? Why must you phrase your confession of your own sins as an attack on the sins you believe others have committed?

        I did say that atheists are arrogant, or, specifically, that they were prone to the temptation of arrogance. I did not say all members of the class give into the temptation, nor to the same degree.

        And how, exactly, does this separate atheists from the rest of humanity?

        What confidence? I am speaking of atheists I know and have read, including myself. I make no representation that my experience is typical. I am speaking as anyone speaks of any class of people, or, for that matter, events or objects, based partly on experience and partly on reason.

        No, you’re not. Most people don’t speak this way about large groups of other people. Or at least decent people don’t. Even if every French person I’d ever met smelled like they had never bathed, I would still never say, “French people never bathe.” I would only describe my own experiences rather than speaking in generalities I don’t have nearly enough data to make. When you speak this way, you must expect anyone who belongs to the class of people you’re insulting to take offense, with good reason.

        As above, through experience, including my own experience, and through reasoning. My reasoning, which yu have not address (save by angry ad hominem) is that it is not possible for someone to dismiss the deepest thought and learning of the most civilized ages of history as rubbish on the grounds of his own intellectual powers without at least being tempted to overestimate those powers.

        But “God exists” wasn’t the discovery that caused those men to be remembered as geniuses. It was just the common belief of the day that everyone from kings to village idiots believed because it was the culturally dominant belief. That geniuses also believed it says nothing about whether or not it was true. Humanity has known comparatively very little about its own origins and the origins of the universe until the past century or two. That geniuses accepted the common mythology of their day in the absence of scientific data doesn’t suggest that their mythology was in any way factual. Your argument is a fallacious appeal to authority.

        You, personally, the watermelon man. You are in danger of separating yourself from the eternal source of life, light, goodness, happiness, and truth. If this separation becomes permanent, you will be in a realm of death, darkness, evil, misery and lies.

        You will be in hell.

        I’m not sure there’s anything more arrogant than claiming to know something like this about someone else.

        • Comment by John C Wright:

          Let me again answer the question in order.
          I am using my basis of experience to make a general observation. Speak about atheist because I conclude based on my experience with atheists, including myself, that they are arrogant. I am accusing them of sins I have seen them commit, and I am assuming that the pattern continues with the atheists I have not met, because I reason that this is part of their character, because of the nature of their philosophy, for the reasons given heretofore.

          Atheist differ from the rest of humanity because of the sheer magnitude of the presumption involved: namely, that they are the Chosen People selected not by God but by their own superior intellects. Most groups do not sever themselves from the rest of human history on the basis of intellectual accomplishment alone, but for some reason which does not forestall gratitude, such as, for example, a Frenchman being glad he is French (perhaps because of their culture, the beauty of their women, the fineness of their food, the glory of their revolution, etc.) cannot claim that he created France out of his own skull, and so he is not immune to being grateful to his French ancestors who made him French. The atheist, on the other hand, repudiates the learning of his ancestors, usually of his own extended family, always of his community, and replaces it with a lonely worldview he himself regard himself to have discovered by himself. No atheist (to my knowledge) calls himself “A Lucretian” or “An Ingersollian” albeit some who hold to creed that have atheist ramifications do call themselves “Objectivists” or “Nietzscheans” or “Marxists” — and these last three, because their atheism is admixed with a philosophy owed to a leader, have less temptation to the type of world-defying arrogance I mean.

          I am baffled that you regard it not as decent to make generalizations. Is this true of all generalizations? If so, it is itself a generalization. The offense of people who are members of the group who do not have the property being discussed is no concern of mine, nor is it rational. General statements admit of exceptions: everyone knows this, and so I rightly assume every reader of mine will assume I am speaking in generalities when I say I am. Any reader not willing to treat general statements as different from logically categorical statements admitting of no exceptions is not being honest.

          You yourself are arrogant, as am I, and I was more so when I was an atheist, and so my comments apply to you personally. On what ground are you offended? That there is an atheist in Patagonia who has resisted the temptation to be arrogant? I acknowledge he might exist. There. Does that satisfy your sense of decency? If not, them you have not identified what offends you. Perhaps it is not that I call atheists arrogant — or should I call them by the suggested term “BRIGHTS”? — but that I judge them at all that you find indecent?

          As for the last question, or comment, it is rubbish. A genius does not believe what the common herd believes merely because the common herd believes it. He believes what he believes because it makes sense.

          So for you to dismiss what geniuses believed on the ground that they were only geniuses in non-theological fields, but on the one topic of theology they were suddenly and inexplicably choked with fear and stupidity is a transparent rationalization. You are in effect claiming that Newton’s work on physics was epoch-making genius, but he suddenly got a bad case of the stupids when he turned his attention to prophetic interpretation. Uh huh. Aristotle was a genius when it came to physics, logic, epistemology, politics and ethics and all the basic disciplines of philosophy, but if he reasoned himself EVEN THOUGH LIVING IN A POLYTHEIST MILIEU into a position of a Deist, believing in a monotheistic principle of an unmoved mover, that was just a bad case of the stupids also. Pascal’s seminal work on statistics is mathematical genius, but Pascal’s Wager is not something for which he is remembered.

          If you think it is arrogance to warn someone about to drive off a cliff to look at the road ahead, fine. You seem to think that my argument is invalidated once you establish to your satisfaction that I am a sinner. However, I am worse than you know: I am the chief of sinners. And I never claimed to know anything about your soul; I claim only to know where the path you are treading leads because I’ve been down it and seen the dead end.

          I also know, because of the rules of logic, and the nature of man, that a man like you who is so addicted to ad hominem that you cannot make, or even imagine, any other form of argument has lost the ability to correct errors in his logic.

          • Comment by watermelonyo:

            I am baffled that you regard it not as decent to make generalizations. Is this true of all generalizations? If so, it is itself a generalization. The offense of people who are members of the group who do not have the property being discussed is no concern of mine, nor is it rational. General statements admit of exceptions: everyone knows this, and so I rightly assume every reader of mine will assume I am speaking in generalities when I say I am. Any reader not willing to treat general statements as different from logically categorical statements admitting of no exceptions is not being honest.

            It’s different when you generalize about a group of people than it is when you generalize about a group of anything else, because people have feelings. For example, it feels very strange to actually have to point that out to another human being.

            You yourself are arrogant, as am I, and I was more so when I was an atheist, and so my comments apply to you personally. On what ground are you offended? That there is an atheist in Patagonia who has resisted the temptation to be arrogant? I acknowledge he might exist. There. Does that satisfy your sense of decency? If not, them you have not identified what offends you. Perhaps it is not that I call atheists arrogant — or should I call them by the suggested term “BRIGHTS”? — but that I judge them at all that you find indecent?

            What I find indecent is your ad hoc rationalization explaining why you think atheists are arrogant. Because if your reasoning were correct (which, fortunately, it’s not), it would actually be impossible for your generalization to contain exceptions, since all atheists would, in fact, be arrogant for the reasons you outlined. You were not only insulting all atheists, but, in fact, presenting some half-baked excuse for your insult, as if that justified it. Whether I am actually arrogant or not is beside the point. Whether or not all atheists are actually arrogant is beside the point. The point is that you were not justified in making the statements you made. That you spoke not the truth of your experiences, but the prejudices of your heart, and you used false logic to rationalize them.

            As for the last question, or comment, it is rubbish. A genius does not believe what the common herd believes merely because the common herd believes it. He believes what he believes because it makes sense.

            So for you to dismiss what geniuses believed on the ground that they were only geniuses in non-theological fields, but on the one topic of theology they were suddenly and inexplicably choked with fear and stupidity is a transparent rationalization.

            Then you must be making a transparent rationalization when you disagree with those atheist geniuses. Clearly, we agree that geniuses can be wrong. That we disagree with geniuses does not mean we think we are smarter than they are.

            Aristotle was a genius when it came to physics, logic, epistemology, politics and ethics and all the basic disciplines of philosophy, but if he reasoned himself EVEN THOUGH LIVING IN A POLYTHEIST MILIEU into a position of a Deist, believing in a monotheistic principle of an unmoved mover, that was just a bad case of the stupids also.

            No, since he was already living in a culture that believed in divine creation of the universe. If he had reasoned himself to heliocentrism, that would have been much more impressive. Do you think knowing that the Earth revolves around the sun makes you smarter than Aristotle? Of course it doesn’t. It just makes you better informed. So why would you claim that disagreeing with him about the existence of God, a fact about which neither of us have conclusive data (though I am unquestionably better informed than he was about the origins of humanity and the universe), makes me arrogant?

            • Comment by Andrew Brew:

              No, since he was already living in a culture that believed in divine creation of the universe. If he had reasoned himself to heliocentrism, that would have been much more impressive.
              No, he wasn’t. Do you know nothing of ancient Greek thought? As for heliocentrism, he explicitly reasoned himself out of it by falsifying the hypotheses that it implied.

              The implications of that sentence are revealing:
              Aristotle’s using empirical observation and popperian falsification two and a half millennia ago = unimpressive.
              Aristotle’s ignoring the evidence to fallaciously come to the same opinion as watermelonyo = impressive.

              • Comment by watermelonyo:

                No, he wasn’t. Do you know nothing of ancient Greek thought? As for heliocentrism, he explicitly reasoned himself out of it by falsifying the hypotheses that it implied.

                They believed that the universe, which they personified as divine, emerged from chaos. Forgive me if I don’t find that concept particularly different from divine creation of the universe. But if you like, I’ll rephrase “he was already living in a culture that believed in divine creation of the universe” to “he was already living in a culture that believed in divine emergence of the universe.” I certainly don’t deny that Aristotle’s reasoning was original and brilliant. I’m just saying it was founded in the beliefs of his culture. It didn’t come from nowhere.

                The implications of that sentence are revealing:
                Aristotle’s using empirical observation and popperian falsification two and a half millennia ago = unimpressive.

                I didn’t say it was unimpressive. I just said that reasoning his way to knowledge that no one in his time could possibly have had (heliocentrism) would have been more impressive.

                Aristotle’s ignoring the evidence to fallaciously come to the same opinion as watermelonyo = impressive.

                That the earth revolves around the sun is more than just my opinion.

              • Comment by watermelonyo:

                As for heliocentrism, he explicitly reasoned himself out of it by falsifying the hypotheses that it implied.

                Sorry, I missed this before. It was hard to tell which words in your post were yours and which were mine, since it was all blockquoted. But I’m not sure what your point is here. Are you acknowledging my point that geniuses can be wrong? If so, I’m not sure what the argument is anymore. If we agree that geniuses can be wrong, then how is disagreeing with a genius on a particular point arrogance? Or if you don’t agree that geniuses can be wrong, are you a geocentrist?

                • Comment by Andrew Brew:

                  Sorry about the block quote thing. What I meant was that, given the knowledge available at the time, his reasoning was correct. Heliocentrism throws off a couple of hypothethes (stellar parallax and coriolis effect) that could be, and were, tested. Both falsified the theory, and would do for another two millennia.

                  That the earth revolves around the sun is more than just my opinion.
                  Certainly, but the opinion is based on observations made with instruments that depended on technologies that woul not be developed until much later. Had Aristotle come to the same opinion with the evidence available to him it would be evidence to us of his sloppy thinking. Of course geniuses can be wrong, for all sorts of reasons.

                  • Comment by CPE Gaebler:

                    The sun revolves around the earth, from an Earth-centric reference frame. Because of general relativity, there are no inherently privileged reference frames, even inertial ones (if you can FIND one…), and one in which the Earth is stationary is most convenient for the vast majority of all human endeavors even today. ^_____^

                    (Not only that, but by Gauss’ Law, the common approximation that gravity is everywhere constant and parallel is physically equivalent to the assumption that the Earth is flat… but I digress.)

                  • Comment by watermelonyo:

                    Had Aristotle come to the same opinion with the evidence available to him it would be evidence to us of his sloppy thinking. Of course geniuses can be wrong, for all sorts of reasons.

                    Indeed. What this all goes to show, really, is that no matter how brilliant you are, you can’t simply reason yourself to the answers to the big questions about reality. You also need the right data. For the question of the existence of God, we don’t currently have that kind of data. So Mr. Wright’s point about all those theistic geniuses is completely invalid.

                    • Comment by John C Wright:

                      “For the question of the existence of God, we don’t currently have that kind of data. So Mr. Wright’s point about all those theistic geniuses is completely invalid.”

                      The type of data of which you speak are empirical data.

                      In terms of ontological or metaphysical arguments for the existence of God, they are as sound as any number of other metaphysical conclusions, including the conclusions on which the faith that the material world is objective, real, accurately carried to our senses, orderly, and acts according to invariant second causes which the human mind is sufficient to comprehend — in other words, the metaphysical assumptions which form the necessary preconditions for scientific reasoning. In lack of perfect certainty in the area is hardly a condemnation for the one or the other.

                      No, I think we all have sufficient evidence of the simplistic overconfidence of atheists of which I speak, perhaps even right here in these comments, for my point to be given some weight.

                      I suggest that you, for example, display this simplistic overconfidence when you mistook the nature of the question, conflating it with an empirical question, as if Saint Anselm were soundly answered by Lemaitre, when they Ontological Argument and the Big Bang theory are not only not on the same topic, they are not even in the same department.

                    • Comment by watermelonyo:

                      The type of data of which you speak are empirical data.

                      Yes, the type of data we use to demonstrate the existence of anything. Why should God be an exception?

                      In terms of ontological or metaphysical arguments for the existence of God, they are as sound as any number of other metaphysical conclusions,

                      An argument is sound only if its premises are true and its form is valid. I’ve never seen an argument for the existence of God that didn’t contain at least one highly questionable premise. And it’s hardly arrogance to point this out. The problems with every God argument have been pointed out many times, by many different people.

                      including the conclusions on which the faith that the material world is objective, real, accurately carried to our senses, orderly, and acts according to invariant second causes which the human mind is sufficient to comprehend — in other words, the metaphysical assumptions which form the necessary preconditions for scientific reasoning. In lack of perfect certainty in the area is hardly a condemnation for the one or the other.

                      Science does not depend on faith that the material world is objective or real. Even if our senses were giving us false data, science would still work within the false reality built by our senses. This is because science doesn’t give us some sort of ultimate truth. It gives us practical results.

                      No, I think we all have sufficient evidence of the simplistic overconfidence of atheists of which I speak, perhaps even right here in these comments, for my point to be given some weight.

                      I suggest that you, for example, display this simplistic overconfidence when you mistook the nature of the question, conflating it with an empirical question, as if Saint Anselm were soundly answered by Lemaitre, when they Ontological Argument and the Big Bang theory are not only not on the same topic, they are not even in the same department.

                      Anselm was soundly answered by Hume, among many others. I don’t see how it’s arrogant to point that out.

                    • Comment by John C Wright:

                      “Yes, the type of data we use to demonstrate the existence of anything. Why should God be an exception?”

                      I submit there is a distinction between (1) demonstrating that the acceleration due to gravity on Earth is 16 feet per second squared and (2) demonstrating that sexual congress with a minor is rape due to her lack of consent and (3) demonstrating that reality is objective, external, and coherent and (4) demonstrating that vertically opposite angles are equal and (5) demonstrating that there can be no market demand without supply. Each uses a different means and method of proof. The philosophical study of these types of proof and their differences is called epistemology.

                      Of these proofs, only the first, the measurement of the rate of falling objects on Earth, is subject to confirmation by empirical data. It is a question of physics. The others are questions of law, of metaphysics, of mathematics, of economics.

                      You airily state that the question of the existence of God is based on the type of data “we use to demonstrate the existence of anything” when I can give these examples and several others of disciplines outside of physics which do not use empirical data, or use it only incidentally.

                      An argument is sound only if its premises are true and its form is valid. I’ve never seen an argument for the existence of God that didn’t contain at least one highly questionable premise. And it’s hardly arrogance to point this out.

                      No, but it is arrogance to assume other metaphysical and ontological conclusions based on arguments no more sound and no less sound that those employed in a philosophical argument for a necessary and supreme being. For example, an argument demonstrating that reality is objective, external and coherent is also based on premises, and flaws can be found (some more persuasive than others) in any formulation of the argument for objectivity.

                      You are like a man who declaring that the debate is “over” when in fact the debate will be with us as long as humans are humans.

                      Science does not depend on faith that the material world is objective or real.

                      Your statement is false. If science were nothing more than detecting coherence in an otherwise unreal set of statements, like chessmasters arguing about the rules of chess or schoolboys arguing about whether Superman is stronger than Supergirl, then it could not by definition have any practical results. Unless you are defining “practical” to mean things like the ability to eat steak while living in the world deception of the Matrix? In that case you are making a definitional argument not a real argument: you are arguing that what is coherent is real, and refusing to admit the metaphysical question of what causes the coherence. Science assumes that coherence. You can do a verbal backflip and call it coherence rather than calling it by its correct name “reality” but the assumption made by science and without which science cannot operate does not vanish.

                      Anselm was soundly answered by Hume, among many others. I don’t see how it’s arrogant to point that out.

                      It is arrogant to assume that a physicist like Lemaitre can answer an ontological question as raised by Anslem, which is what your assumption was.

                      Now you are backpeddling: no one said Hume’s argument in favor of radical empiricism answered or did not answer Anselm. (Who, in my personal opinion, was soundly rebutted by Gaunilon of Marmoutiers, a Benedictine monk.)

                      The example I used was of an ontological argument being unanswerable by an argument about physics. If you did not understand that point, a non-arrogant thing to do would have been to ask a question.

                      Are you willing to continue offer up childish snappy answers and one-liners instead of having a real discussion about the real meat of the question? That is arrogance as well, for it implies that you are a play actor pretending to have pondered the implications of these deep questions; but in reality are but a child defending its toys, pouting and snarling when the toy is called unreal.

                      If you are trying to impress your audience with your humility, adopt the pose of Socrates.

                      The real meat of the question is what epistemology (that is, what theory of what constitutes a legitimate proof) can serve to prove or to disprove the existence of God, a being allegedly benevolent, omnipotent, simple, source and creator of the universe, and fundamental axiom of goodness and means by which goodness is known? Assuming someone posits the existence of such a supreme being, what type of proof is legitimate to prove or to disprove His existence?

                      If you answer that it is the same means we use to prove the rate of gravity on Earth, that answer is wrong, for the simple reason that weights would fall at the same rate whether the cosmos is a created artifact, or the accidental by-product of a blind natural process, or was created by a demiurge or some being lacking the properties under discussion. The one has nothing to do with the other.

                    • Comment by watermelonyo:

                      You airily state that the question of the existence of God is based on the type of data “we use to demonstrate the existence of anything” when I can give these examples and several others of disciplines outside of physics which do not use empirical data, or use it only incidentally.

                      I’m not sure what your examples have to do with the question, which was why God should be an exception to the rule that existence claims are established using empirical data. None of your examples have to do with existence claims.

                      No, but it is arrogance to assume other metaphysical and ontological conclusions based on arguments no more sound and no less sound that those employed in a philosophical argument for a necessary and supreme being. For example, an argument demonstrating that reality is objective, external and coherent is also based on premises, and flaws can be found (some more persuasive than others) in any formulation of the argument for objectivity.

                      Okay, but since I haven’t assumed any such conclusions or made any such arguments, I’m not sure what this has to do with me.

                      Your statement is false. If science were nothing more than detecting coherence in an otherwise unreal set of statements, like chessmasters arguing about the rules of chess or schoolboys arguing about whether Superman is stronger than Supergirl, then it could not by definition have any practical results. Unless you are defining “practical” to mean things like the ability to eat steak while living in the world deception of the Matrix?

                      Yes, that’s what I’m saying. Science works the same way in the Matrix as it does in the real world. It doesn’t matter whether a world is “real” for science to work. The question is irrelevant to science.

                      In that case you are making a definitional argument not a real argument: you are arguing that what is coherent is real, and refusing to admit the metaphysical question of what causes the coherence.

                      I’m saying the metaphysical question is irrelevant. Science works the same either way.

                      Science assumes that coherence. You can do a verbal backflip and call it coherence rather than calling it by its correct name “reality” but the assumption made by science and without which science cannot operate does not vanish.

                      I don’t see how you can claim that science can’t operate without making that assumption when you admit that one can eat steak in the Matrix. Clearly, science doesn’t need to make any assumptions about reality.

                      Furthermore, it seems to me that you essentially believe that a state of affairs similar to the Matrix is, in fact, the case, and that science still works. There is the world that we can learn about through science, and then there is another supernatural world that science can’t touch, in your view. How is this different, for the purposes of the principles we’re discussing here, from the Matrix?

                      It is arrogant to assume that a physicist like Lemaitre can answer an ontological question as raised by Anslem, which is what your assumption was.

                      Now you are backpeddling: no one said Hume’s argument in favor of radical empiricism answered or did not answer Anselm. (Who, in my personal opinion, was soundly rebutted by Gaunilon of Marmoutiers, a Benedictine monk.)

                      The example I used was of an ontological argument being unanswerable by an argument about physics. If you did not understand that point, a non-arrogant thing to do would have been to ask a question.

                      I didn’t ask because I thought I understood why you were bringing up Anselm. I had thought you were bringing him up for the same reason you brought up Aristotle, Newton, and Pascal: to show that geniuses can be remembered for their reasoning about God. I had assumed that you agreed with all of these lines of reasoning, because if you didn’t agree with them, you must be conceding my point that geniuses can be wrong, and thus it is not necessarily arrogance to disagree with a genius on any particular point. Now you say (or at least imply) that you disagree with Anselm, thus conceding that point. If that’s the case, I’m not sure what is left to argue about. We both agree that geniuses can be wrong, so I don’t see how I can be accused of arrogance for disagreeing with geniuses on the subject of the existence of God. They may well be wrong.

                      The real meat of the question is what epistemology (that is, what theory of what constitutes a legitimate proof) can serve to prove or to disprove the existence of God, a being allegedly benevolent, omnipotent, simple, source and creator of the universe, and fundamental axiom of goodness and means by which goodness is known? Assuming someone posits the existence of such a supreme being, what type of proof is legitimate to prove or to disprove His existence?

                      If you answer that it is the same means we use to prove the rate of gravity on Earth, that answer is wrong, for the simple reason that weights would fall at the same rate whether the cosmos is a created artifact, or the accidental by-product of a blind natural process, or was created by a demiurge or some being lacking the properties under discussion. The one has nothing to do with the other.

                      Let me take your advice and employ the Socratic method. What type of proof is legitimate to prove or disprove the existence of a common ancestor of humans and apes? If you answer that it is the same means we use to prove the rate of gravity on Earth, that answer is wrong, for the simple reason that weights would fall at the same rate whether or not humans and apes have a common ancestor. Can you find the flaw in this reasoning?

                    • Comment by John C Wright:

                      I didn’t ask because I thought I understood why you were bringing up Anselm. I had thought you were bringing him up for the same reason you brought up Aristotle, Newton, and Pascal: to show that geniuses can be remembered for their reasoning about God. I had assumed that you agreed with all of these lines of reasoning, because if you didn’t agree with them, you must be conceding my point that geniuses can be wrong, and thus it is not necessarily arrogance to disagree with a genius on any particular point. Now you say (or at least imply) that you disagree with Anselm, thus conceding that point. If that’s the case, I’m not sure what is left to argue about.

                      Well, you missed the entire point I was making. If I were an arrogant atheist, I would make some comment belittling your comprehension. I am not, so I will try to make my point again, this time more clearly.

                      I submit that disciplines exist aside from the physical sciences. These disciplines do not use the empirical method, that is, the method of hypothesizing what sense impressions will be under certain circumstances and confirming the hypothesis by sense impressions by going to look. They use other methods of confirmation.

                      I will pause a moment for you to digest this.

                      The study of these other methods of confirmation is called epistemology. Different disciplines have different epistemology. The methods uses to confirm a theory in one discipline are not necessarily the same as those used to confirm a theory in another.

                      I used the example of Anselm, who was making an argument on a theological matter (the ontological argument for the existence of God), as being someone not refuted or even addressed by Lemaitre, who was making an argument on an astronomical matter (the argument that the Hubble expansion is best explained by a big bang).

                      I thought the example was obvious. Forgive me for assuming you were familiar with these thinkers. I was picking an example of two disciplines, theology and astronomy, which I thought any reader would realize have nothing to do with one another.

                      I was not arguing in favor or against the ontological argument. I was not arguing in favor or against the astronomical argument. I said nothing about my own opinion in either case.

                      Here is my argument again. I will try to sum it up.

                      You are making the claim that the question of the existence of God is an empirical question, and you make the unfounded assumption that all questions are empirical questions, when I have given you examples of non-empirical disciplines: law, mathematics, economics, ethics.

                      Do you understand the argument I am making?

                      I am not claiming that the question of God’s existence should be treated differently than other philosophical questions: I am claiming that it should not be. I am claiming that you are treating the question differently from other philosophical questions, perhaps without realizing it, by holding it to a standard different from that used for other philosophical questions.

                      You are in effect saying this one philosophical question should be answered empirically, and yet you do not answer empirically the philosophical questions on any other topic. Indeed, you go so great lengths to argue that the philosophical and metaphysical roots of empirical science itself need not be answered empirically.

                      Give me the experiment to perform that I may confirm for myself to my own satisfaction the truth of this statement: “Clearly, science doesn’t need to make any assumptions about reality.”

                      Tell me what sense impressions, physical objects and physical events I can see with my eyes or with instruments, which will confirm that this statement correctly corresponds to what it says?

                      If there is no experiment to perform then there is no empirical method to confirm or deny the statement.

                      If there is no empirical method to confirm or deny the statement, and if the statement is nonetheless true, then the empirical method is not the method you yourself used to confirm the statement.

                      What method did you use?

                      What assumptions about reality did this method make?

                      * * *
                      I will answer your Socratic question in another thread, and I thank you for asking it. You are on your way to convincing me that not all atheists are tempted by arrogance.

                    • Comment by watermelonyo:

                      Well, you missed the entire point I was making.

                      No, I got it. The bulk of my post was aimed at addressing it. But I wonder why you are ignoring the point I was making, which is that you seem to have abandoned your original thesis: that atheists are necessarily arrogant, since they disagree with a belief that has been held by many geniuses. Since we agree that geniuses can be wrong, can we agree that disagreeing with a belief held by many geniuses does not necessarily make one arrogant?

                      I was not arguing in favor or against the ontological argument. I was not arguing in favor or against the astronomical argument. I said nothing about my own opinion in either case.

                      Well, you said this…

                      (Who, in my personal opinion, was soundly rebutted by Gaunilon of Marmoutiers, a Benedictine monk.)

                      You are making the claim that the question of the existence of God is an empirical question,

                      Yes.

                      and you make the unfounded assumption that all questions are empirical questions,

                      No. You seem to want very badly to attribute that assumption to me, but it’s not one I’ve actually made. What I actually said, twice, was that empirical data is the type of data that’s typically used to establish existence claims.

                      Do you understand the argument I am making?

                      Yes, but it doesn’t seem to address my argument. You seem to be arguing past me at someone else who’s made different claims from the ones I’ve made.

                      You are in effect saying this one philosophical question should be answered empirically,

                      No, as you yourself just observed a few paragraphs ago, I’m in actuality saying that it’s not a philosophical question. It’s an empirical question. Granted, until we accumulate the necessary empirical data to answer it, it may be treated as a philosophical question, as many questions that have since been answered empirically once were. My only point is that, as with most philosophical questions, coming down on one side of it or the other doesn’t necessarily make one arrogant, even if most of history’s geniuses happen to have come down on the opposite side.

                      Give me the experiment to perform that I may confirm for myself to my own satisfaction the truth of this statement: “Clearly, science doesn’t need to make any assumptions about reality.”

                      Assuming we agree that we cannot know whether or not we are in the Matrix, then any scientific experiment confirms it. If we might be in the Matrix, but science still works, then the success of science confirms that it works without making any assumptions about reality.

                      Tell me what sense impressions, physical objects and physical events I can see with my eyes or with instruments, which will confirm that this statement correctly corresponds to what it says?

                      This seems like it might be a different question, but I’m not sure. What does it mean for a statement to correctly correspond to what it says? Is that just a verbose way of saying that the statement is true, or are you asking something about the correspondence of symbols to their referents?

                      If there is no empirical method to confirm or deny the statement, and if the statement is nonetheless true, then the empirical method is not the method you yourself used to confirm the statement.

                      What method did you use?

                      What assumptions about reality did this method make?

                      In this case, I did use an empirical method to confirm the statement. I observed that scientific experiments are successful. Obviously, I also employed logic in confirming the statement, since I predicated my conclusion on the premise that we cannot know whether or not we are in the Matrix. But this is all irrelevant, since I never claimed that the empirical method is the only method one can use in answering any question. I only claimed that it is typically used in answering questions of the existence of a given entity.

                      I will answer your Socratic question in another thread, and I thank you for asking it. You are on your way to convincing me that not all atheists are tempted by arrogance.

                      Excellent.

                    • Comment by John C Wright:

                      Assuming we agree that we cannot know whether or not we are in the Matrix, then any scientific experiment confirms it.

                      Are you saying that the experiment of, say, throwing two cannon balls of different weights from the top of the tower of Pisa confirms the sentence “Clearly, science doesn’t need to make any assumptions about reality”? I am not sure how.

                      Are you saying we are going to throw a ball or other physical object labeled “science” off the tower, and that just by the way it falls, we will be able to measure the number of degrees of assumption-ness the physical object called “science” is making about another physical object called “reality”, and that the measurement will always equal zero? Is this measured with a stopwatch or a yardstick?

                      If it is not something measured with a stopwatch or a yardstick, what is it measured with?

                      If we do not agree that we cannot know whether or not we are in the Matrix, does this mean that the scientific experiment, all of them or any of them, will not confirm the sentence? Again, I do not see how.

                      To me it looks like we are discussing entities, “science” and “assumptions” and “reality” which do not have any properties that can be measured with a yardstick or a stopwatch. Does it look that way to you?

      • Comment by Vicq Ruiz:

        I did say that atheists are arrogant, or, specifically, that they were prone to the temptation of arrogance

        Looking at that subset of atheists who are forthright and public proponents of atheism, I don’t really disagree with you. Many of them are thick skinned as a result of years of dispute, and along with the thick skin goes a chip on the shoulder. I am far from immune to this syndrome.

        There are also a large number of atheists (my dear wife among them) who simply, quietly, and without contention, just do not believe. I suspect they may outnumber the former group by an order of magnitude. Some may even be sitting in the pew behind you and yours this Sunday.

        That latter group of atheists I contend has no more arrogance than does any randomly selected group of humans.

    • Comment by Andrew Brew:

      Reading this answer to that essay made me fall about laughing. A more apropos illustration could not have been given with the aid of great craft!

  2. Comment by vespersontherocks:

    Thanks for confirming my suspicions. Having never been an atheist myself, I’ve been forced to rely on thought experiment. I’ve been pondering of late that there must be an inherent elitism among many atheists, since they’re the only ones who’ve got it right on the most fundamental of questions. To believe that you’re right where all of history has been wrong must almost require viewing oneself and one’s ilk as the evolutionary next step. And if one believes that, has he not a right – nay, a duty – to lead humanity forward?

    It meseemeth, then, that such an atheist (i.e., any of the loudest brayers of this sort) desires not so much to eliminate God as to replace Him in a sort of coup de ciel. He and the enlightened few who agree with him are the source and summit of all wisdom and knowledge; they alone are fit to rule.

    I fear that regardless of whether the masses do choose to follow or stubbornly resist what’s best for them, this “superman’s” attitude must eventually degrade into that of Conrad’s Mr. Kurtz, one of weary contempt: “Kill them all!”

    And at the end, the horror, oh, the horror.

    • Comment by John C Wright:

      I will emphasize that I am merely describing a temptation into which even the most fair minded atheist in existence (namely, with all due humility, myself) is likely to fall.

      There may indeed be atheists who exist in some unnoticed remote mountain cave on an undiscovered continent in a far world circling a remote star in Andromeda who are utterly humble and egalitarian. However, as a matter of practical likelihood, the atheists I have asked about being elitist have one and all replied with indignant disdain, “Why SHOULDN’T we be elitist? We are the elite!” (or words to that effect).

      I did once meet one Leftist once who made no ad hominem attacks, so I do know that such unlikely outliers can and do exist.

    • Comment by Nostreculsus:

      Meseemeth?

      Ah, that takes me back; I haven’t heard anyone use that word in over four hundred years (and then the user was an old-fashioned Yorkshireman, inveighing against the Millenary Petition).

  3. Comment by The Deuce:

    Every adherent of every worldview has to ask himself, even if subconsciously, “Why, if my view is correct, does not everyone else agree with it?”

    For the Christian, the answer concerns the heart: we are all fallen and at enmity with God, desiring to be our own masters, both the very smart and the very dumb, the very gifted and the not-so-gifted, and all alike are utterly dependent on God’s grace to escape this condition. That one man repents and the other does not is emphatically not because he was just intellectually or morally superior to the other.

    For the atheist, the only available answer is that his brain is just superior at perceiving the ultimate nature of reality for some reason – that he is smarter, or braver and more rational, mentally stronger and more able to face the truth, and what have you – particularly if we’re talking about your typical modern-day Western materialist-reductionist atheist, which is what most people mean by the term.

    Also, the Christian can admit that the majority of non-Christians nevertheless still have many correct or largely-correct beliefs about spiritual reality (and with it the mind, intentionality, morality, and so forth), whereas the materialist-reductionist atheist must hold that pretty nearly everyone on the planet besides himself is fundamentally and thoroughly wrong about the existence of spiritual reality altogether.

    • Comment by momofthree:

      This was a good way to put it: “…whereas the materialist-reductionist atheist must hold that pretty nearly everyone on the planet besides himself is fundamentally and thoroughly wrong about the existence of spiritual reality altogether.”

      I think the strong atheists just believe that since much of the world is fairly uneducated by Western standards, then it is really just a matter of those people being naive about the nature of spiritual reality. They think that once they become educated they will mostly fall away from their belief. They are not wholly wrong in this; many lose their religious belief in college.

  4. Comment by Joseph M (was Ishmael Alighieri):

    Humility and Reality:

    There’s a story about a saint (can’t recall which one) who was a great preacher, a fact that he was well aware of. He became increasingly worried that he was preaching from pride, not from humble love of his Lord – and was tempted to stop. But then he saw the temptation for what it was – a temptation. He returned to preaching aware that he needed to fight and pray to keep his pride in check, but also realizing that his eloquence was a gift from God, and had to be used to be honored.

    That’s the conundrum of Christian humility: each of us has glorious gifts which we must at the same time 1. use to God’s glory and the salvation of our souls AND 2. avoid getting proud over. Denying or denigrating your gifts is the height of ingratitude.

    So, as a Christian gentleman, our host must not deprive us, those who have come into his sphere of influence, of his gifts, which include a rare clarity of though and speech as well as an encyclopedic memory full of good stuff. Like all of us, he has to fight off pride and other sins – but it would be bad for him to stop without a clear call to some other vocation.

    So much for normal arrogance, which is merely an inflated and unmoored personal assessment of real talents, and something few of us can completely avoid. There also exists a more flabbergasting and frankly comic arrogance, where the personal assessment of one’s talents is completely detached from reality – and that’s what I think we’re talking about here. For example, years ago was in a discussion where some poor rube dismissed Aristotle, since he was wrong about several points of what we would now call physics. I was speechless (yes, that is possible). What can you even say to someone who does not recognize that Aristotle is among the very, very few most brilliant minds to have even had their thoughts recorded? There are geniuses that define what genius is: Mozart, Newton, Aristotle being the most luminous examples.

    Anyway, the disconnect for any of us common folk to even imagine that we can dismiss the likes of Aristotle speaks of something way beyond simple arrogance – it’s evidence of a complete failure to grasp reality. It would be as crazy as a midget claiming to be taller than Wilt Chamberlain while standing next to him. (Wilt was 7’1″).

    So we see Descartes, Kant and Hegel, who at least understood some Aristotle, give up the attempt to defeat him in logical terms, and simply try an end-around while announcing that Aristotle was defeated, or, in the case of Hegel – the poster boy for chronological snobbery – that he, Hegel, had simple surpassed Aristotle and his logic, granting, in his largess, that logic was OK for the little people, like scientists and mathematicians.

    We have now progressed to the point where our ‘best’ thinkers skip the understanding part and just start with dismissing Aristotle, and their sycophants and victims accept that Aristotelian logic and metaphysics has been ‘disproven’ without any further thought or comment – now, THAT’s some serious arrogance, there!

    Now for a preemptive defense of my own duty to say the above: yes, I am an arrogant fool and a hypocrite. But I am also honor-bound not to pretend I don’t understand stuff I do understand, but at the same time would welcome (or at least do my best to welcome) any fraternal correction.

  5. Comment by Sylvie D. Rousseau:

    Nice article, again, and I salute your irony directed at Watermelonyo’s ad hominem.

    I wish to add that all people who have seriously questioned their faith, listened to their betters and assented consciously to truth (any faithful and practicing Catholic had to do that some time) can in fact understand atheism more than atheists themselves, because in a sense we have been there and can now see the two sides of the coin. Besides, there is always the risk to return there: doubt and temptation (and the Church) remind the most saintly people that anyone standing could fall from grace at any time.

    As I pointed out once to my daughter’s high school friend, atheists see only one side of the universe, usually in a very distorted fashion. So, logically, they cannot judge properly the most important existential questions. The more forcefully (with ad hominem, of course) they pretend to be the best judges, the more obvious it is they are the worst.

  6. Comment by docrampage:

    In sectarian Protestantism, the question is always whether you are pure enough, whether you are a “real Christian”, whether your “really meant it” when you asked Jesus into your heart, whether your latest grotesque failure means your whole life as a Christian has been one huge fraud.

    Maybe he has seen that in a few cases, but this a wide, unflattering generalization to a wide group of disparate people on the basis of a tiny sample. There is a word for such a generalization: “bigotry”.

    • Comment by Robert Mitchell Jr:

      There are other words that would also serve, such as “experience” or “misunderstanding”. There is certainly no need for someone as bright as you to use such a cliched, empty slur. Understand, looking at “Protestantism” from the outside, it’s a very easy mistake/understanding. We see the thousands, if not millions of Protestant sects, and ask why, and are told that all the others are in error. This implies a quest for purity unnerving to the average Catholic.

      • Comment by docrampage:

        Understand, looking at “Protestantism” from the outside, it’s a very easy mistake/understanding. We see the thousands, if not millions of Protestant sects, and ask why, and are told that all the others are in error. This implies a quest for purity unnerving to the average Catholic.

        Maybe you see what you expect because that is what is in you.

        How does believing something imply a “quest for purity”? Because that’s all it means when you say Protestant Joe believes that Protestant Sam is “in error”. It means that Protestant Joe believes something different than Protestant Sam believes. Logically if they believe different things then each one must believe that the other is wrong. It is no different in Protestantism than in science, history, politics, or any other field were people try to figure out what the truth is. There are going to be disagreements.

        But Protestants have no problem sharing communion with people that have different beliefs than themselves. Of course, there are limits on what is acceptable, but you will have Protestant pre- post- and a-millenialists all amicably sharing communion together before going out to the local Marie Calendar’s to have a vigorous shouting match over the interpretation of Revelations. After the shouting match they’ll shake hands and say, “See you at Wednesday meeting!”

        It is the Catholic Church that is unwilling to accept differences of opinion, that claims the special right to speak for God. Protestant leaders by contrast can’t claim that unless they also claim to be prophets –which some have done, but it is unusual, and the followers of such men are usually in the category of those that other Protestants can’t share communion with.

        • Comment by Robert Mitchell Jr:

          Catholics don’t, as a rule, have a problem with differences of opinion. We do have a problem with differences of Dogma, of Schisms. And that is how the thousands and thousands of different sects of Protestants look like to some of us on the outside. That’s why it looks like a quest for Purity to, again, many of us on the outside. If you didn’t have a problem sharing Communion with them, then why are you different Churches? We might be wrong, but it’s not bigotry, in the current use of the word…..

          • Comment by docrampage:

            It looks like a “quest for purity” because there are thousands of different opinions? In other words, it isn’t the behavior of any individuals that lead you to non-flattering views but the mere situation in which the individuals find themselves?

            Part of the problem I have had arguing with Catholics is the insistence on treating all Protestants as a single group and trying to make generalizations about them, generalizations as opposed to Catholics. This is a project doomed to failure because in many ways there is more variation within Protestantism than there is between certain mainline denominations and the Catholics (the CoE for example). The only thing all Protestants have in common is that they are Christians who reject Rome’s claim to have a special line to God.

            All of the schisms are just what happens when people are free. It isn’t a special consequence of any special feature of Protestantism (unless you consider freedom to be a feature of Protestantism).

            It is also a bit odd when Catholics talk like they stand above of all of these nasty schisms, given the history of the Catholic church which began as a schism and has had many, many schisms through its history, and who are facing a big as-yet-undeclared schism today, namely, all of the Catholics throughout the world that reject the church’s teachings on sexual immorality and divorce and abortion but still call themselves Catholics.

            By rejecting the Church’s teaching on these issues, they also implicitly reject the authority of the Church or reject the authority of God. In other words, they are Protestants or unbelievers. I never saw this in my Protestant church. When someone openly expresses approval for public sins, they leave the congregation, or if they don’t, they are soon required to leave (although I’ve only seen this final stage of discipline once, against a woman who was divorcing her husband).

            • Comment by The OFloinn:

              All of the schisms are just what happens when people are free. It isn’t a special consequence of any special feature of Protestantism (unless you consider freedom to be a feature of Protestantism).

              Actually, they are what happens when States seize control. “Everything within the State; nothing outside the State; nothing against the State.” In particular, no dang Church to tell the Prince what he could or could not do. And so as Kings became Monarchs, we found a) some States (e.g., Spain, France) imposing Concordats by which they took the power to erect bishops and to censor encyclicals within their realms; b) some States (e.g., England, Sweden) nationalizing the Church within their realms; and c) some States (e.g., Saxony, Brandenburg) sponsoring a favored heretic. The age of Absolute Monarchs and Establishment Churches was hardly one of greater freedom.

              • Comment by docrampage:

                Just because schisms can arise when states take control this does not mean that schisms don’t also arise from freedom. You seem to be relying on a logical fallacy.

                • Comment by DGDDavidson:

                  His point is not logical but historical; Protestantism grew not through an increase in freedom but through an increase in state control.

                  • Comment by docrampage:

                    All this amounts to is that religious freedom could not arise until states became powerful enough to prevent the Catholic Church from imposing their views on someone else. I guess you could call it an increase in state control, but since the general effect of the “increase in control” was more freedom, that’s an odd way of putting it.

                    • Comment by The OFloinn:

                      “More freedom” is an odd way of putting the advent of absolute monarchs and the totalizing State.

                      Did you know that the quondam National Bureau of Standards also imposed its views?

                    • Comment by docrampage:

                      There is nothing odd about the introduction of monarchs leading to more freedom. The monarchs can (and sometimes did) protect people with less power from people with more power. That may be seen as a loss of “freedom” for those with more power (such as the nobility and the Catholic Church) but it’s a gain in freedom for those with less power.

                      As to the “totalizing state” the first one was the Catholic Church. And it’s a little odd to connect the secular totalitarian states to the Reformation given that they didn’t appear till centuries later, that they first occurred in Catholic France, Orthodox Russia, Catholic Italy, Catholic Spain, and largely Catholic Germany, and that they copied the Catholic Church in their methods. For example, accusing anyone with ideological difference from the Church/State of being a dangerous enemy of the people just because of what they believed. Another example is the secret police of totalitarian states which are merely the secular versions of the Inquisition –a body specifically charged with seeking out and brutally torturing people suspected of thought crimes in order to frighten everyone away from any thought of opposition to the regime.

                    • Comment by The OFloinn:

                      The monarchs can (and sometimes did) protect people with less power from people with more power. That may be seen as a loss of “freedom” for those with more power (such as the nobility and the Catholic Church) but it’s a gain in freedom for those with less power.

                      That explains the Star Chambers, then.

                      As to the “totalizing state” the first one was the Catholic Church.

                      Actually, the Church had this thingie about “the City of God and the City of Man” and rendering to Caesar what is Caesar’s. A.D. Lindsay put it this way in The Modern Democratic State
                      “It was perhaps equally important that the existence and prestige of the Church prevented society from being totalitarian, prevented the omnicompetent state, and preserved liberty in the only way that liberty can be preserved, by maintaining in society an organization which could stand up against the state.

                      The adjustment of the relation between these two societies was, of course, no easy matter. The history of the relations between Church and state in the Middle Ages is the history of a long dispute waged with wavering fortune on either side. Extravagant claims by one side called forth equally extravagant claims on the other. The erastianism of post-Reformation settlements was the answer to earlier imperiousness on the other side. But the disputes between the secular power and the papacy, however long and embittered, were boundary disputes. Neither party denied that there were two spheres, one appropriate to the Church, the other to the state. Even those partisans who made high claims for their side did not deny that the other side had a sphere of its own. They only put its place lower than did their opponents. The Christian always knew that he had two loyalties: that if he was to remember the apostle’s command ‘to be subject unto the higher powers,’ he was also to remember that his duty was ‘to obey God rather than man.’ There are things which are Caesar’s and things which are God’s. Men might dispute as to which were whose, but the fact of the distinction no one denied.”

                      Further discussion, also from a secular POV, can be found in Toby Huff’s The Rise of Early Modern Science and in Lynn White’s Medieval Technology and Social Change. The idea of the self-governing corporation, modeled on the Church, was central to medieval thought and gave us everything from universities to guilds to companies of players and professional societies.
                      + + +

                      it’s a little odd to connect the secular totalitarian states to the Reformation given
                      that they didn’t appear till centuries later

                      You underestimate the reach of Tudor England and Bourbon France. The natural reach of the Modern State is to arrogate all power to itself; but that doesn’t mean the process occurs instantaneously. The key was to remove the counterweight represented by the Church, and form the remnants into lapdog Established Churches under State control. By Elizabethan times, a bunch of actors could not form a company without a license (and patron) from the Court. Little by little, independent, self-governing corporations were brought under State control: universities, guilds, imperial free towns, etc. By the mid-late 1800s, the State was asserting control over the formation of families and the education of children. De Tocqueville had noticed the trend already by the 1840s, when he wrote about the modern democratic state instituting a tyranny broader than any tyrant of antiquity had dreamed, precisely because it “enslave[s] men in the minor details of life… Subjection in minor affairs breaks out every day and is felt by the whole community indiscriminately. It does not drive men to resistance, but it crosses them at every turn, till they are led to surrender the exercise of their own will.” Buy any light bulbs or flush toilets lately?
                      After having thus successively taken each member of the community in its powerful grasp, and fashioned them at will, the supreme power then extends its arm over the whole community. It covers the surface of society with a net-work of small complicated rules, minute and uniform, through which the most original minds and the most energetic characters cannot penetrate, to rise above the crowd. The will of man is not shattered, but softened, bent, and guided: men are seldom forced by it to act, but they are constantly restrained from acting.
                      – Democracy in America

                      Another example is the secret police of totalitarian states which are merely the
                      secular versions of the Inquisition –a body specifically charged with seeking out and brutally torturing people suspected of thought crimes in order to frighten everyone away from any thought of opposition to the regime.

                      You have an ahistorical view of the nature and procedures of the Inquisition and how they compared to the royal and imperial courts of the time. Let me recommend:
                      Edward Peters, Inquisition.
                      Henry Kamen, The Spanish Inquisition

                    • Comment by docrampage:

                      That explains the Star Chambers, then.

                      Snark is not an argument.

                      Actually, the Church had this thingie about “the City of God and the City of Man” and rendering to Caesar what is Caesar’s.

                      Yes, that’s very cute, but when one is tied down and red-hot coals are being heaped over ones feet, I imagine that the theoretical distinction between agents of the Church and agents of Cesar is not the biggest thing on ones mind. The Catholic Church endorsed and participated in torture and murder for thought crimes, even extending to ridiculous accusations of thought crimes that no reasonable person would have believed, just like the secret police. They started wars to enforce their monopoly, with all of the predictable atrocities: killing of innocents, raping, robbing and destruction. When I say the “Catholic Church”, I mean the Pope and Cardinals and Bishops, not some random civil authorities who happened to be Catholic. I don’t give a damn what the technical organization of this Church-sponsored terrorism was and I don’t give a damn that there may have been some ineffective legal constraints on the torturers as you have said before. Your repeated attempts to deflect blame from the Church by Pharisaical legalism is neither convincing nor even respectable. You should be ashamed of yourself.

                      [Note to Mary and DGDDavidson: this is how I write when I am actually pissed off]

                  • Comment by The OFloinn:

                    Well, doc, you can get back to us when you have a read in the history and are not just repeating the mythoi. Better yet, cite some actual examples rather than broad generalities.

                    Yes, it was not a gentle era, and the use of torture to obtain confessions was necessitated because conviction of a capital crime based on circumstantial evidence alone was not allowed. But the method of inquisitio goes back to the late Roman Republic. The concept of “thought crime” and “secret police” are categories of thought developed by the Late Modern State, and do not fit the concepts and actions of either the ancient Romans or the medieval Europeans.

                    How much of the recommended books have you read so far?

                    • Comment by John Hutchins:

                      1 million Cathars (some sources give figures of 2-3 million) in the Albigensian Crusade, guilty primarily of the capital crime of heresy including the children apparently, or if not themselves guilty of heresy then guilty of the capital crime of associating with heretics, giving aid to heretics, or generally living in close proximity to heretics and not burning the heretics at the stake themselves.

                      How is that for a starting example?

                      It seriously sickens me when Catholics try and defend such history as though it were reasonable. Saying “capital crimes” gives us the impression of murders when in reality the thought crime of heresy was in some writings considered to be worse than murder. So yes theOFloinn you are right, they were considered guilty of capital crimes, unfortunately for you and your response to docrampage their capital crime was a thought crime.

                    • Comment by MissJean:

                      2-3 million Cathars? What books are those? Fiction? And what were the Cathars doing, according to these sources of yours?

                      What makes me sick is when ANYONE takes half of a two-sided situation and calls it a full sandwich.

                    • Comment by The OFloinn:

                      Start by comparing the casualty figures to the overall population of the time. Does it seem realistic? Then ask why for three generations the Cathars were unmolested, and look into the assassinations and church-burnings that triggered the crisis. What was it about Cathar beliefs that made them a civil menace? Did the Lords of the North have any other motives to crush the Lords of the South?

                      One of the remarkable things about history, you will find, is that it very seldom divides neatly into good guys in white hats and bad guys in black hats. (Not even when the White Sheep Turks fought the Black Sheep Turks for control of Persia.) Recall that the Counts of Toulouse, while theoretically vassals of the King of France, also held fief from the King of England, the Crown in Aragon, and the Kaiser, so that the region was politically volatile. The Cathari held great appeal to the aristocracy in the Languedoc and, as usual in such cases, provided a channel for political ambitions. cf. the actions of Simon de Montfort and Pedro of Aragon. Alas, way too complicated for comm box one-liners. Real history is bad enough without turning it into mythic caricatures.

                    • Comment by docrampage:

                      Maybe I have been too harsh on you. My own words have been frightfully misunderstood in these discussions, words have put into my mouth, I’ve been accused of hatred and lying, and of calling others liars and similar things. So I don’t want to follow in the footsteps of my detractors and accuse you unfairly. Let me, in calm reason explain what is so horrifying about your above comment by putting in plain language what it seems to me that you are saying. You then can show that you are not such a vile person by explaining how I have misunderstood and misconstrued your meaning. So here is what it seems to me that you have said or implied:

                      1. that it is acceptable to torture a suspect into confessing to a capital crime if you don’t have enough evidence to convict him without a confession.

                      2. that it is acceptable to make doctrinal disputes into capital crimes.

                      3. that it is acceptable for Christians to use torture to force confessions if their non-Christian forebears used torture in this manner.

                      I think you can understand in reading this list –which I declare in all honesty is what I understood from your last comment– how I have been tempted to view you with such contempt. Please tell me that I’m wrong in my understanding.

                    • Comment by The OFloinn:

                      Acceptable? To whom? To understand the past we have to think it from the past and not in hindsight. We have to compare against contemporaries or earlier and not to what people began to think centuries in the future.

                      It was not merely “not enough other evidence to convict,” it was that no amount whatever of “other evidence” could legally convict. For capital offenses there were only three possibilities:
                      1. Caught in the act (lit. “red-handed”)
                      2. Impeached on the sworn testimony of two independent witnesses to the act.
                      3. Self-confession.
                      Torture was allowed only if there were enough of that “other evidence” to indicate guilt and a voluntary confession were not forthcoming. It was forbidden in various categories of health and age. It could be done only once for a given accusation and had to be affirmed afterward. It could not be pressed to risk of life and limb. The manuals also warned that people might confess to things they had not done.
                      Now, zealous prosecutors might (and did) bend these rules and find loopholes; but royal and imperial courts largely lacked these safeguards. We see this in secular complaints about the “habitual soft-heartedness of the clergy” (clericalem verens mollitiem). In records of the Spanish Inquisition, generally accounted the most intense (and also not by coincidence a creature of the Crown in Aragon and the Crown in Castile) we find that about 2-5% of cases resulted in execution, rather fewer than in secular courts of the time.
                      To merit execution required not merely thinking, but actions. Basically, one had either to preach and spread heresy (a “heresiarch,” which is why rogue clergy were often tried) or to be convicted twice (a “relapsed” heretic). For a modern day comparison: the Rosenbergs were not executed for thinking communist thoughts, but for stealing nuclear secrets for the Soviet Union. That is, an act, not a thought.

                      Thus, the Cathars were largely unmolested for three generations, and we have cases where local bishops rescued Cathars from lynch mobs, as at Liège in 1144. But it was only after Cathars in Languedoc assassinated Peter Castlenau and burned churches that patience was lost and the Albigensian Crusade was launched. Cathars taught, inter alia, that oaths were not binding. This, in a civil society based on oaths and fealty, amounted to a call to anarchy and revolution. A modern equivalent would be the Montana Militia declaring that written contracts were not binding.

                      The ecclesiastical courts resisted the use of torture for several decades before finally succumbing, and even then we have cases in which prisoners in royal prisons deliberately committed blasphemy in order to be remanded to Inquisitorial prisons, where conditions were better.

                      You seem to think this is all normative, when it is merely historically descriptive. It is simply a caution: People may do bad things without any need for hysterical exaggeration. And to point out the exaggerations or the context is to say “It wasn’t as bad as you say” NOT “It wasn’t bad at all.”

                      Have you finished reading those two books I recommended?

        • Comment by CPE Gaebler:

          Of course, I’ve met Protestants who DON’T share Communion except with people who agree enough with them. I attended a Baptist church for 3 years who didn’t want you taking communion unless you were a 5-point Calvinist, because you might just be an unbeliever. (And if you were Catholic, you WERE an unbeliever.)

          • Comment by The OFloinn:

            You literally cannot share communion with someone who doesn’t think he’s doing the same thing as you are. That’s like two strangers standing at the hot dog cart at the same time. “Communion” comes from the Latin communionem meaning “fellowship, mutual participation, a sharing.” It derives according to Augustine (who was after all a native Latin-speaker) from com- (“with/together”) + unus (“one/union”). Hence, also, “com(m)-unity.” Most Protestants do not think they are doing anything more than sharing some bread and wine (in some extreme cases, bread and grape juice) as a sort of picnic. At best, many suppose that it merely symbolizes the Body and Blood. Catholics OTOH believe they are sharing the true Body and Blood of Christ. There are Protestant sects that only hold communion services every now and then; while for Catholics (and Orthodox and the other Traditional churches) the Eucharist is the centerpiece and purpose of each and every Mass. Thus, they are not in fact in communion even if they were to stand side by side chomping a wafer and chugging wine.

            Doe that help clarify?

            • Comment by John C Wright:

              If a Protestant takes the Host offered by a Catholic, and he is correct, he is committing an act of idolatry, because we wrongly say the Host is Christ. If a Protestant takes the Host offered by a Catholic, and he is incorrect, he is committing an act of sacrilege, because we rightly say the host is Christ and he is blasphemously defying that same truth.

              But if a Catholic takes a bit of bread offered by a Protestant, and he is correct, then we merely eat bread while thinking of Christ in our memories, and there is neither blasphemy nor idolatry.

              That is why the Protestant cannot and must not partake of the Catholic host.

              Also, he has not been to confession. Good grief! if *I* have to skip the host on Sundays when I missed confession, why should my Protestant friends get such slack?

              • Comment by docrampage:

                If a Protestant takes the Host offered by a Catholic, and he is correct, he is committing an act of idolatry, because we wrongly say the Host is Christ.

                It would be the Catholics who are committing idolatry because they are the ones who elevate a piece of bred into an object of worship. To the Protestant it is just a piece of bread. He does not worship it so how could he be committing idolatry?

                • Comment by Mary:

                  It’s just a piece of bread? “This is a hard saying, who can accept it?”

                  Your position is silly, because no one leaves a teacher for talking about eating a piece of bread. And given that it was the only time his followers left Him for doctrinal reasons, it stands to reason that it can not have been just a piece of bread He talked of.

                  And your Protestant is participating in the rite just as Jews were compelled to do as described in Maccabees, without even facing the threat of martyrdom. If he thinks it idolatry, he is participating in idolatry, even he is also eating and drinking condemnation on himself.

                • Comment by John C Wright:

                  Anyone else on Earth could ask me this question. Coming from you, it is rank hypocrisy. You are the one who called me and idolator for bowing to a statue of Mary when I said “To the Catholic the statue is just a piece of stone. He does not worship it so how could he be committing idolatry?”

                  But I will answer your question in any case, even though you can’t mean it seriously.

                  If hypothetically the Protestant is correct about the nature of the Eucharist, then all who participate in the rite of worship are idolaters. That the Protestant has some unspoken mental reservation does not make his moving through the rite not an act of worship. When the priest presents the host, he says “Corpus Christi” which means “This is the Body of Christ” to which the celebrant answers “Amen!” which is an act of assent or agreement. Likewise, if you say “I do” during a marriage rite, you are married, and the lack of mental assent in the privacy of your brain does not make you not married.

                  By the same logic, if hypothetically the Catholic (and Greek Orthodox and Russian Orthodox and Copt and Nestorian and Syriac and Early Church Fathers) is correct about the nature of the Eucharist, the lack of mental assent to the rite by the Protestant, who is eating the very body of Christ while opining He is not divine and not the Christ, commits an act of sacrilage.

                  It is astonishing to me that any Protestant would kvetch about being excluded from a rite which he and his church anathematized and departed in rebellion, as if the Catholics are just being snooty and meanspirited. The exclusion either preserves the faithful Protestant from idolatry or sacrilege; and if the Protestant is not faithful, that is, if he does not take the Protestant doctrines seriously, then why is he a Protestant at all? If he wants to partake of the precious and divine body and blood of Christ, let him become Catholic. I did.

                  • Comment by docrampage:

                    Anyone else on Earth could ask me this question. Coming from you, it is rank hypocrisy. You are the one who called me and idolator for bowing to a statue of Mary when I said “To the Catholic the statue is just a piece of stone.”

                    Why do you bow to a mere piece of stone? Unless you are in the habit of bowing to random bits of masonry, the fact that you do distinguish licenses me to discuss the nature of the distinction that you make. If a man tells me that he loves his wife but he treats her like a piece of property, I can question whether he really loves her because ones feelings are often revealed in ones actions. And when I do so, I needn’t call him a liar because he may believe that he loves her even if he doesn’t.

                    But in any case, I think I failed to make myself clear. What I meant is that by your Catholic reasoning, it would be the Catholic who is committing idolatry. By my reasoning, neither is committing idolatry because the doctrine of the Presence is nothing more than a harmless misunderstanding. Protestants believe that Christ is really and literally present, not just during Communion, but where any body of believers gathers in his name. If Catholics need a physical bit of matter to point to as the physical location … actually, that does sound like a form of like idolatry, now that I think of it. You may have a point. I will have to think about that if I am ever in danger of taking Communion at a Catholic Church.

                    When the priest presents the host, he says “Corpus Christi” which means “This is the Body of Christ” to which the celebrant answers “Amen!” which is an act of assent or agreement.

                    If someone is trying to show you the layout of a gym on the table so he puts his hamburger down in one spot and says, “OK, this is the weight area, and my glass of Coke over here is the reception desk, right?” Can you not assent to his request for affirmation without deception or dishonesty? Seriously, if you want to argue that a particular phrase which in context is obviously intended to be taken figuratively is really literal, you can’t argue the point by just assuming that it is intended to be literal.

                    It is astonishing to me that any Protestant would kvetch about being excluded from a rite which he and his church anathematized and departed in rebellion, as if the Catholics are just being snooty and meanspirited.

                    I couldn’t agree more. If you find any Protestants kvetching about being excluded from Catholic Communion, you can tell them for me that they should stop responding to other people’s doctrinal beliefs as if it were a personal insult. Because that’s just silly.

                    • Comment by John C Wright:

                      “If you find any Protestants kvetching about being excluded from Catholic Communion, you can tell them for me that they should stop responding to other people’s doctrinal beliefs as if it were a personal insult.”

                      I am glad we find one thing to agree on. One of my best friends, back when I was a generic nondenomitational Christian, did in fact kvetch to me with considerable anger and heat against the Catholic Church for daring to be so mean spirited as to not allow non-Catholics to come in and take the host. The argument was so illogical, that it is one of the things that started my suspicions that the Catholics were right.

                      As for the rest of your argument, it is bullshit. You are once again merely asserting, like Humpty Dumpty in Lookingglassland, that words mean what you take them to mean and not what they really mean. When you say “amen” does not mean what it actually means, and that bowing to a statue does not mean what it actually means, you are a liar.

                      I am not the only one who has called you this. We did not conspire with each other or agree beforehand to false charge you of these things — all of us are noticing something you are actually doing in your words.

                      And when you use this exact same Humpty Dumpty power to argue when it suits you that certain things have an innate meaning that the mental reservations of the speaker cannot override, you contradict yourself.

                    • Comment by docrampage:

                      One of my best friends, back when I was a generic nondenomitational Christian, did in fact kvetch to me with considerable anger and heat against the Catholic Church for daring to be so mean spirited as to not allow non-Catholics to come in and take the host.

                      I find your friend’s attitude bizarre. Should Catholics welcome him to their ceremony even though they sincerely believe that he commits a grave sin by taking of it? What kind of Christians would they be then?

                      This is every bit as bizarre as Catholics getting upset when Protestants say that they don’t qualify as Christian or that their statues are idols. It is ridiculous to get to get upset at someone for their religious beliefs, right? I mean as long as the beliefs aren’t outright harmful, such as the belief that they have a right to force you to conform to their doctrines.

                      When you say “amen” does not mean what it actually means, and that bowing to a statue does not mean what it actually means, you are a liar.

                      An essential ingredient of a lie is that I have to say something that I don’t really believe. What exactly have I said that you think I don’t really believe? You think I don’t believe that Catholic statues are idols? You think I don’t believe that Jesus was speaking figuratively as he broke the bread?

                      If you simply refuse to take my word then there is nothing I can do to persuade you. I’m curious though, do you have a theory about what my motivation would be to lie about these things? And not only me, but millions of people throughout history? What would move us to lie about something as solemn as Christ’s real body and blood, if we actually believed that? What motivation would make it worthwhile to us to deliberately commit such serious blasphemy?

                      I am not the only one who has called you this. We did not conspire with each other or agree beforehand to false charge you of these things — all of us are noticing something you are actually doing in your words.

                      Not merely in my words, but in my heart! Because how can you know what I really believe without looking into my heart as God does? I’ll admit it is a remarkable thing that three or four entirely different people who have never met me all think that they can see into their computer screens, through the internets, past my keyboard, up my arms and into my heart to know the villainy that lies there. I can only suppose that this is a talent taught in the Jedi section of Catholic Sunday school.

                      And when you use this exact same Humpty Dumpty power to argue when it suits you that certain things have an innate meaning that the mental reservations of the speaker cannot override, you contradict yourself.

                      When you make a promise, your actions have an innate meaning that mental reservations cannot override. If you never intended to keep your promise, even if you crossed your fingers while making it, still you are bound by the promise. If you give your marriage oath while intending to return to your mistress right after the honeymoon, still you are bound by the oath. If you betray your country because of blackmail, hating the blackmailer and still reserving in your heart a love and loyalty to your country, still you have betrayed your country. And if you bow down before a statue, even reserving in your heart that you really intend your devotion to be aimed at God, then you are still bowing before a graven image.

                      Of course you needn’t bother arguing with me about that because according to you I don’t really believe it anyway. Just call me a liar again. That’ll teach me.

                    • Comment by John C Wright:

                      What is there to argue about? You make the assertion that words mean whatever you want them to mean when it suits you, and then turn and make the argument that there is an innate meaning to words and acts which do not mean whatever you want them to mean. You have successfully argued with yourself.

                      This allows you to define a human woman, Mary, as a divine being, a goddess, when it suits you, and to define honor paid to her, since it is homage paid to a goddess, as an act of worship hence as idolatry, and then to say that the mental act of the worshiper, even when it does not include worship, is worship. But then when someone who thinks the Host is not divine, merely because he thinks it not divine, even when presented to him in the midst of an divine worship which has no other function but worship, both does the symbolic acts and speaks the words indicating his consent to the Host being divine, is not an act of worship.

                      Or, to use a clearer example, when the Catholic you are slandering politely at first point out your words are a slander, you say that you and you alone have the right to define them and no one has any cause to be offended. This means you claim the right to define our symbolic words and acts to mean what you take them to mean, on the ground that the meaning is innate, but that you can define your symbolic words and acts to mean what you take them to mean, on the ground that their meaning is none other than but what you impose.

                      You see the contradiction? You get to define what my acts and your words mean, but (according to you) any other definitions, including what reality says, of my acts and your words mean, mean nothing.

                      Why do you think so many people are calling you a liar, when the other Protestants or Mormons or whathaveyou on this site, when they are as boldly and passionately as you, are not being called a liar? Once again, I did not coordinate my replies with the other people here who said that same thing about you.

                      Do you think it is more likely (1) all the Catholics decided to gang up on your because you are so honest and we can’t stand the honesty or (2) You are doing something with your words, playing a words games and using semantic arguments, sophistry, which several people noticed and rebuked?

                    • Comment by docrampage:

                      Or, to use a clearer example, when the Catholic you are slandering politely at first point out your words are a slander, you say that you and you alone have the right to define them and no one has any cause to be offended.

                      First, I did no such thing, and second, Mary’s response to me was far from polite (although all she did was call me names without explaining what she was upset about). Go back and read my response when someone did tell me politely that he was offended by the word. I said that I regretted that people were offended and that normally I would have used a more neutral word. Somehow this response generated further abuse, even by the person who had started out polite.

                      I never said anything remotely like that I and I alone have the right to define words. What a ridiculous charge. I was called a liar for saying that Catholics deify Mary. I presumed that what this intemperate person meant was that Catholics don’t believe that they deify Mary and that I knew this, so I was lying. I tried to explain that, yes, I know that Catholics believe that they don’t deify Mary and yet I think they do. I believe it was in this context that I said that I have the right to use words in the sense that I consider correct. I never said that Catholics don’t have the right to use words in the sense that they consider correct. It is purely ridiculous for you to have thought I was saying such an outlandish thing. It was the Catholics trying to tell me how I was allowed to use words, in particular the word “deify”.

                      I was still called a liar so I tried to explain how I can know that Catholics claim not to deify Mary yet believe that they do deify her. Frankly, it boggles the mind that I should have to explain this. You know that Protestants claim not to rely on Catholic authority for the canon yet you think they do rely on Catholic authority. I never called you a liar for this bit of mind reading because I understand how complex situations can be viewed differently by different people. Still, my integrity was questioned multiple times by multiple people over this completely unremarkable state of affairs, so I tried –with considerable patience, given the provocation– to patiently explain how an honest difference of opinion could exist, by explaining my reasoning for thinking that Catholics deify Mary.

                      Apparently this is more subtle than I thought, but there is a difference between trying to convince someone of X and trying to explain why you personally believe that X. When you try to convince someone of X then you have to use premises that they agree with. When you are explaining your own thinking, you only have to use premises that you agree with. So I was explaining why I believe that Catholics deify Mary and not trying to convince anyone else. When someone tried to tell me how to define “deify” in the course of this discussion, I explained why only my definition was important in that situation –because I was explaining my own thoughts.

                      This was a situational claim, not intended to apply outside of that particular explanation. In other words: for the purposes of that explanation, and that explanation alone, the words meant what I thought they meant and not what others thought they meant. Now if you want to explain to me the reasons that you think Mary is not a goddess only to justify your thinking and not to convince me, then only your meanings would be relevant. Of course you have no cause to do this because I haven’t called you a liar for disagreeing with me.

                      This means you claim the right to define our symbolic words and acts to mean what you take them to mean, on the ground that the meaning is innate

                      Again you are wrong about what I said. I don’t claim the right to define the meaning of your symbolic acts. They can mean whatever you want them to mean. Idolatry is not a symbolic act and has nothing to do with what your acts mean.

                      Why do you think so many people are calling you a liar, when the other Protestants or Mormons or whathaveyou on this site, when they are as boldly and passionately as you, are not being called a liar?

                      Well obviously they have not yet hit the right hot-button issue to get called a liar. It can’t have to do with me specifically because every time I have been called a liar it was for expressing common Protestant beliefs.

                      Once again, I did not coordinate my replies with the other people here who said that same thing about you.

                      No, but you inspired it when a few weeks ago you called me a liar for expressing the common Protestant belief that Catholic statues are idols. I thought we had resolved that misunderstanding, but apparently not since you are still calling me a liar for pretty much the same thing.

                      Of course, you still haven’t said what it is that you think I don’t really believe, so I suspect you are using the word as a random insult and do not mean it literally. Not that is makes it less offensive.

                      I’ll also note that whenever you have characterize what I have said in these discussions you have characterized it wrong, implying that you really aren’t making any effort to understand what I say.

                    • Comment by John C Wright:

                      “I was called a liar for saying that Catholics deify Mary.”

                      Because you are a liar for saying so, sir, and we all know it, you and we both.

                      Expressing insincere regret that the people you insult are so stupid as to feel insulted when you have defined your terms howsoever you feel the mood take you, well, that apology is about as honest as the statement which provoked the anger.

                      And then you deny that you are arrogating to yourself the power to define words to mean whatever nonsense you say they mean.

                      “I don’t claim the right to define the meaning of your symbolic acts. “

                      And yet you say that when I talk to a saint living in heaven, that this is an act of worship, even though I do not have the intent to worship, and you go on at length to tell me exactly what my act means and why it fits the definition you invented for idolatry.

                      At this point, I do not see how you can be so blithely unaware of what you yourself are saying.

                      “Of course, you still haven’t said what it is that you think I don’t really believe, so I suspect you are using the word as a random insult and do not mean it literally.”

                      No, sir. I mean that you are saying something neither you nor anyone could believe, and you know it. If you thought Catholic worship statues before you met a Catholic and heard him deny it, then and then only your statement could be true. Instead, hearing from a Catholic that we do no worship statues, you change the definition of the word “worship” and say we are doing it unawares, in order to reach the same conclusion and justify the statement. The justification is false, and so the statement is still false, and this time it is a knowing falsehood. Then you deny you are changing the definition of the word worship. The denial is false, and so the statement is again false.

                      Previously, I had taken your word for it when you said you meant no offense, and that it was just a misunderstanding. I too thought the misunderstanding was resolved and I retracted my accusation. However, when I heard the sophistry used as a defense to it, then I realized you had deceived me, and I was and am offended at the deception.

                      “I’ll also note that whenever you have characterize what I have said in these discussions you have characterized it wrong, implying that you really aren’t making any effort to understand what I say.”

                      Correct. I am not making any effort to listen. My disgust has overwhelmed my patience and courtesy.

                      Why should anyone listen to a loathsome bigot slander his forefathers from whom he, through his heretic leaders, learned of Christ and learned the Christian faith?

                      Nothing you believe did not come originally from us.

                      We gave you the news of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and this saves your damned soul, and in return you call us idolaters. This, because unlike you, we are not ungrateful to the Apostles and saints and martyrs who shed their blood and spent their lives to bring us this Good News, and we put up statues in their honor. They are still part of our Church, because they are still alive. You don’t even remember their names.

                      You are an ungrateful worm.

                  • Comment by John Hutchins:

                    Doc: I have found it best when matters of religion come up to nearly completely ignore everything Mary says because I am almost certain she is saying whatever is designed to make the other party the most annoyed. It does mean leaving some bothersome accusations unanswered but it over all seems to be good thing. I also believe that there are a few people that have a similar policy towards me, which if it prevents un-Christ-like exchanges is probably a good thing overall.

                    Interestingly enough in this discussion is that I do think that Mary is actually deified in the expanded sense of theosis that I have as LDS. I agree however that one shouldn’t worship her, as the angel that was one of John’s deified brethren told him repeatedly in Revelation (such as in 22:9).

                    • Comment by John C Wright:

                      As I understand it, all mainstream Christian theology agrees all true believers shall be deified after the Second Coming.

                      But it is clearly just sophistry for some Protestant to argue that Catholics hold Mary to be a goddess when no Christian of any denomination anywhere in history has ever held such a belief. Then to say, “Well, I call someone a ‘goddess’ if you ask them for help” — only a four letter word can express vividly my disgust with such a Humpty Dumpty through the Looking Glass argument.

                      In a court of law, every defendant who wishes not to be tried by a judge prays for a jury trial. That is what the motion is called: a prayer. If I petition the court for a jury trial, does that make me an idolater, and make the court a GOD?

                      Well, I can define the court to be a god by my private definition, and I can call the stoplight a god if I want also, which makes everyone obeying the traffic laws following divine commandments, and makes them all pagans. Don’t men swear at the traffic, or mutter aloud oaths and petitions to get it to move?

                      The Mormon has been on the butt-end of people making up nonsense about what the Mormon’s believe, or slandering you, or inventing all fashion of false things — I hope you will close ranks with us and speak against the slanders when the Catholic is the butt-end.

                    • Comment by John Hutchins:

                      Well, to complicate things even further:

                      The Protestants certainly have a problem with regards to Mary and the saints if they desire to hold on to any of the Ecumenical councils, which most do. One sort of has to be a restorationist sect (like LDS, Islam (if it is from Christianity), Adventist, Christian Science, etc), or something very similar (some Evangelical groups), (or Jewish) to actually have any sort of argument against veneration of the saints. I mean Polycarp appears to address the practice but not clearly enough to be certain that he is talking about it or if he is approving or denouncing it. I certainly read it as denouncing the practice but that is primarily because I reject the practice for other reasons. Protestants that wish to denounce the practice are left with the problem of how they accept anything not found strictly in the Bible (even if they agree that Polycarp is denouncing it), and even more so how they know they have the right or complete or infallible Bible (that the Bible is largely correct is the easiest of the three to answer, the other two seem to me to be more difficult for them to address).

                      I understand what docrampage is actually trying to say, well, some of it. One of the things he is trying to say that the act of bowing down to a statue, regardless of the reasons for doing so, is idolatry in his view. Which is fine, until he says that Catholics are being idolatrous, in which case he needs to show that the act of bowing down to a statue is idolatrous in terms that Catholics could ever possibly agree with, and explain why he holds that view, and explain why the Catholics should listen to his view. If he isn’t going to do that then he should probably drop the discussion and, at this point, dropping it is probably best anyways.

                  • Comment by The Ubiquitous:

                    If you say to a Hindu:

                    “You worship cows.”

                    The Hindu will say:

                    “Duh.”

                    If you say to a Catholic:

                    “You worship statues.”

                    The Catholic says.

                    “Uhm … no?”

                    Why persist in this line of questioning? The witness has answered the question. Or do you have such graces that you read the hearts of men and know us to be liars?

            • Comment by CPE Gaebler:

              I understand why Protestants should not take communion at a Catholic Mass, nor a Catholic at a Protestant service. I was speaking, however, of Protestants forbidding other Protestants, even ones who share the same beliefs about Communion, if they do not share certain other doctrines, because not being a 5-point Calvinist means you might just be an unbeliever, and would thus be sinning a la 1 Corinthians 11:27. Just don’t push them on verse 29 ;-)

          • Comment by docrampage:

            Point taken. I allowed myself to be led into speaking as if “Protestants” were a species. In fact they aren’t a species but merely a set. They have nothing in common other than the the set criteria.

            There are may well be Protestants that I would consider more doctrinally wrong than Catholics, although I don’t know of any. Maybe those snake-charming guys I’ve heard of. Or Mormons if you consider Mormons to be Protestants (most Protestants I know don’t consider them even Christians, so that would be a stretch).

            As to considering Catholics Christians, that is occasionally debated in the evangelical churches I’ve attended. The most common question is whether they truly believe in salvation by faith, which evangelicals consider the fundamental point of doctrine.

            OK, the following is intended to give Catholics insight into why some Protestants might consider Catholics non-Christians. I am not endorsing the following, nor do I intend to argue for it. I am only explaining this because Catholics seem to think that this attitude is no more than meanness and insult, when it is really a consequence of doctrines and there is no ill will behind it.

            The primary issue is this: regardless of the words they use to describe their beliefs, if Catholics believe that they have to do good works to get to heaven, do they really believe in salvation by faith in the sense that evangelicals speak of? Another issue is this: is it really believable that God is working in a church that claims membership from 90% of the population in some of the most corrupt countries in the world (in Latin America, for instance)? A church that takes in great wealth to spend on grand cathedrals and paraphernalia of gold and silver and other signs of wealth rather than giving it to the poor or using it to fund missionaries? A church that in recent years has harbored among its leaders hard-core Communists, abortion advocates, and sodomizers of children? I’ve never been in an evangelical church where such people would be allowed to remain leaders but they are allowed to remain priests (or even cardinals and bishops) in the Catholic Church. And then there are the Catholic persecutions and what evangelicals see as idols and false gods.

            • Comment by The OFloinn:

              if Catholics believe that they have to do good works to get to heaven, do they really believe in salvation by faith in the sense that evangelicals speak of?

              It’s that Bible thingie.

              if I have all faith so as to move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing.
              1 Cor. 13:2

              “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,” but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it? So also faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

              Indeed someone might say, “You have faith and I have works.” Demonstrate your faith to me without works, and I will demonstrate my faith to you from my works.

              You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone… For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is also dead.”
              James 2:14-18

              is it really believable that God is working in a church that claims membership from 90% of the population in some of the most corrupt countries in the world (in Latin America, for instance)?

              One may ask where do you think the works of God may be more needed than in places where the poor suffer under such regimes? Unless your comment is simply an anti-Hispanic sneer – which I must admit, it sure sounds like – you surely cannot suppose that at the same time that a) the masses toil under a corrupt government and b) the Catholicism of the masses has something to do with their governments?

              A church that takes in great wealth to spend on grand cathedrals and paraphernalia of gold and
              silver and other signs of wealth rather than giving it to the poor or using it to fund missionaries?

              Okay, this must be a joke, right? You have to know who operates the largest charitable organizations world wide. Which one has dioceses and parishes and missions — and saints — in every corner of the world? All with a “wealth” about equal to the endowment of Harvard University. I suppose the Church is guilty of great art and architecture, like our brothers in the Orthodox Church.

            • Comment by John Hutchins:

              Mormons don’t consider themselves to be Protestant either, but we do consider ourselves to be Christian.

              • Comment by docrampage:

                Is that universal among LDS? Or is it a new view? I seem to remember from my high school days that my Mormon friends didn’t consider themselves to be Christians.

                • Comment by John Hutchins:

                  The name of the LDS church is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, the focus is on Christ to the point that a non-lds professor of religion recently said that we aren’t christian because we speak too much of Christ. There are those members however that do say we are not christian in the sense that we don’t follow any of the creeds of Christianity, so in the same sense that Catholics and Protestants that say we are not christian are meaning when they say that. The church leadership and most members though say we are Cristian under the definition that we believe in Christ and that anyone that says otherwise is wrong in their definition of what is Christian.

                  • Comment by MissJean:

                    That professor produced a nice soundbite, but Who is Christ? To the Christian, he is both divine and man, who died to save humanity from their own sins. He is not an angel, and the archangel Michael is a creation, not divine. So there’s that.

                    I have noted elsewhere that the Japanese group that attacked a train years ago were also “Christian.” They believed that their leader was the reincarnation of Jesus and some of their teachings were indeed “Christian” because they dealt with the Christ.

                    • Comment by John Hutchins:

                      Um, you appear to be arguing against the Jehovah’s witness conception of Christ. Try these links to learn what the LDS believe of Christ:

                      http://mormon.org/jesus-christ/
                      http://jesuschrist.lds.org/SonOfGod/eng/

                    • Comment by MissJean:

                      Do I? Then what the heck are my Mormons neighbors talking about when they speak of ruling planets with acquired divinity? I guess it just goes to show that you can’t learn about someone’s religion by talking to them. :)

                    • Comment by John Hutchins:

                      I quite seriously doubt you have ever heard anyone that is LDS talk about ruling planets, though we do believe we are children of God “And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ” Romans 8:17.

                    • Comment by MissJean:

                      Doubt all you like. THEY say they’re Mormons. They also have a stockpile of food and supplies that they rotate and replenish, which they say comes out of their beliefs. So are they a sect that thinks they’re Mormons but really aren’t? I suppose I should have been tipped off when they said they were married for eternity, which was different from their regular marriage.

                    • Comment by John Hutchins:

                      Oh, I don’t doubt that you might know some Mormons, I doubt that they ever have talked about ruling planets with you unless perhaps you accused them of such and then you didn’t really listen to their explanation.

                    • Comment by MissJean:

                      I didn’t accuse them of anything. I know that the afterlife came up at one point and the divinity of Christ and the role of the Holy Spirit. It was a party, so it’s certain that I didn’t hear everything, but created beings becoming divine was definitely a theme. But does the eternal marriage and the stockpiling have anything to do with Mormonism, because I’d like to know.

                    • Comment by John Hutchins:

                      That I can believe.

                      Food storage and emergency preparedness is part of our religion. We are recommended to have a 3 month supply of food, unless we live in a place where there aren’t anti-hoarding laws in which case we are recommended to have a year supply of food. There are a few reasons that have been given for this:

                      First, self reliance. In the case of a job loss or major illness if one has the recommended supply of food and other essentials then getting through the difficult period is much easier.

                      Second, preparedness. We believe we live in the last days and that as such disasters will happen at all levels of civilization. By having the supply of food and other essentials we will be able to help ourselves and others get through whatever tough times come (though not all Mormons are yet convinced about the helping others part). Mormons are the ones that allow for the prepper community to exist and, with the exception of guns and ammunition for large portions of Mormons (most of us have less (or none)), represent the gold standard in terms of prepping.
                      http://www.providentliving.org/
                      http://www.lds.org/family/family-well-being?lang=eng

                      Eternal Marriage is certainly part of the religion and is likely where becoming divine came up. http://mormon.org/learn/0,8672,1299-84,00.html
                      http://www.lds.org/manual/gospel-principles/chapter-38-eternal-marriage

                  • Comment by Mary:

                    You’re not Christians because you are not baptized with the baptism of Christ.

                    You’re not baptized with the baptism of Christ because you do not intend to be thus baptized.

                    You do not intend so, because you do not hold that he instituted a baptism — that it was the same thing that John the Baptist practiced.

                    Nevermind that we repeatedly see in Acts that people who received the baptism of John had to receive the new baptism of Christ to be Christians.

            • Comment by Mary:

              A church that takes in great wealth to spend on grand cathedrals and paraphernalia of gold and silver and other signs of wealth rather than giving it to the poor or using it to fund missionaries?

              “It could have been sold for much and the money given to the poor.”

              Given what dunderheads the Apostles frequently were, it is perhaps only of mild interest that Judas was the one who said, but it is of considerable interest that he said it to be rebuked.

              • Comment by MissJean:

                It doesn’t even work with a collection of property for which we can reasonably figure the value: namely, the art collection. I was shocked when I learned that most of the Vatican’s budget goes toward preserving the art and making it available to the public.

                It makes more sense to say, “Let’s sell the Smithsonian collection and clear our debt!”

                Who would buy it? Honestly, who could afford to buy the great works of art? Certainly no one museum. Private collectors might skim the cream – the Pieta would make a great conversation piece in the garden – but would they make it available for public display? Or would the owner use it to make money? I myself would like a penny of every dollar spent on the image of Michelangelo’s David.

                And there would be some pieces that would be left until the end like knickknacks in the clearance bin. Less famous pieces could go on discount, like a liquidation sale. Maybe I could buy an Etruscan statuette by an unknown artist and get a free painting by a lesser-known Siglo de Oro artist!

                Not to mention, some people would buy religious art to destroy it or alter it as a statement. There’s a Dalí landscape that the Vatican loaned to the Detroit Institute of Arts several years ago that I thought would look better if the horse were changed to a unicorn and the angel wore a fedora.

        • Comment by Joseph M:

          Dear Doc,

          It seems you are the defender of traditional Protestantism here, which, given the evident overall makeup of this set of combox warriors, I totally respect you for. I also readily acknowledge that we Catholics tend to have this stereotype of Protestants in our head that makes for a bit too much eye-rolling – many of us tend to dismiss the concerns of Protestants because, it seems to us, they totally misrepresent what Catholics actually believe – ‘Marydolitry’ or ‘saved by works’, for example.

          That said, I, for one, in addition to having read a bit of Luther (Christina Liberty, Bondage of the Will, Theses) own a set a books collected at yard sales and used book stores with titles like “Why I Am a Presbyterian” or “Why I am a Member of the Church of Christ” – can’t vouch for the quality, but, hey, gave it a shot. And, over the years, I’ve attended services at, off the top of my head, Episcopalian, Methodist, Presbyterian, Evangelical, Lutheran and Unitarian churches. So, while certainly no scholar, I think I’ve taken a reasonable shot at understanding where Protestantism is coming from. (the Great Books figure into this as well.)

          And let it be noted: we – Catholics, Protestants, Jews, all men of good will and clear heads – are in this together. We are brothers in the same foxhole. (I’d have said ‘brothers and sisters’, but that would violate our host’s ‘don’t pander to the PC-niks’ rule…)

          You describe as ‘bigotry’ the impression that Protestants tend to nit-pick over doctrinal purity. It’s not really bigotry, I don’t think, but is one of those stereotypes supported by plenty of individuals’ behavior. Any Catholic who has hung around Protestants much has been told that we’re not Christians. In my experience, a Catholic is, with few exceptions, treated with anything ranging from benign contempt to out-and-out hatred by our separated brethren. So much so, that when I meet a Rev. Walter Hoye, who goes out of his way to acknowledge and thank Catholics who have stood by him, it’s a bit of a shock.

          But my experience, probably unduly influenced by my proximity to Berkeley, CA, is rather the opposite: the mainline Protestants I run into are so watered down, so devoid of any but the vaguest content, so wedded to progressive conformity, that the very idea that Scripture might lead them anywhere other than, say, the left fringe of the Democratic party would be met with blank stare or outrage.

          But the main point remains: you mention “there are limits on what is acceptable”, and Catholics will, predictably, zero in on that. How are ‘limits’ different than ‘dogmas’? How are the ‘limits’ set? By whom? What happens if you exceed them? It seems Catholics are taken to task for our reliance on men – Popes, bishops, the Magesterium in general – while the awkwardness of the Protestant situation regarding ‘limits’ gets whistled past.

          Because it’s an historical fact that it took less than 300 years to get from Luther to Unitarianism, from fist-pounding dogma to limp wristed I’m OK You’re OK mushheadedness. (BTW, love Unitarians. They throw the 2nd best parties of any religious group – after Catholics, of course.) And each step of the way, each little theological point, is just one more case of ‘limits’ getting pushed out a little more. Quick, tell me the difference between a Presbyterian and a Methodist. Trick question, right? Which Presbyterians? Which Methodists? And no fair using the beginning state – the founders of those denominations would not recognize most of their children.

          This is not, fundamentally, a theological argument – it’s an historical one. From a strictly historical POV, passing no judgement on the validity of any of the various positions, Protestantism is characterized by endless theological arguments resulting in endless factions. The only thing that unites them is their ‘Protestantism’ – there position *against* Rome. Unity, such as it is, only real when expressed as opposition.

          Anyway, thanks for taking up the argument. I’m interested in the issue from a rational, historical POV (as opposed to just pointing out how bad, for example, Medici Popes were – I think Mark Shea’s discussion answers why that’s unlikely to mean much to Catholics).

          In Christ,

          Joseph

          • Comment by docrampage:

            It seems you are the defender of traditional Protestantism here

            Well, I don’t know how traditional. And I don’t think I’ve even been much for defending Protestantism. More like attacking Catholicism. Offense is more fun than defense :).

            many of us tend to dismiss the concerns of Protestants because, it seems to us, they totally misrepresent what Catholics actually believe – ‘Marydolitry’ or ‘saved by works’, for example

            I’ve noticed this. I even had an extensive argument about it on another thread. The argument went something like this: “In the Protestant view, Catholics deify Mary”. “No they don’t”. “I understand that Catholics don’t think that they deify Mary, but Protestants think that the Catholic doctrines of Mary amount to deification.” “Liar. No we don’t.” “I’m not lying, I’m expressing what Protestants believe.” “Don’t call me a liar! Why are you so hateful? Stop lying about Catholics.”

            It gets a bit frustrating at times.

            You describe as ‘bigotry’ the impression that Protestants tend to nit-pick over doctrinal purity. It’s not really bigotry, I don’t think, but is one of those stereotypes supported by plenty of individuals’ behavior.

            Maybe it’s just because Protestants discuss doctrine. I grew up in Phoenix and I got the impression that all of the people from other parts of the country were obsessed with the weather. They would always say things like “nice day today” or “isn’t is such a bright sunny day?” or “look at how clear the sky is” or “think it will keep getting hotter this afternoon?” (answer: “yes”) or “think it will rain?” (answer: “no” unless the sky completely dark with clouds).

            These comments and questions would creep me out sort of like an apparently rational person saying, “yep, think the sun’s going to set in the West today. What direction do you think it will rise in?” Then I came to realize that in other parts of the country the weather is actually interesting. There is actually something there to talk about. It isn’t actually the same unchanging blue sky for months at a time, and bad weather can do more harm than just make you really wet. Some of our immigrants from back East never really adapted to the new reality of living in Phoenix where talking about the weather was mostly a sign that you are from somewhere else.

            I wonder if a similar situation applies to Catholics. Catholics mostly talk to other Catholics and there is no point to talking about doctrine because, like the weather in Phoenix, it is static and unchanging, and out of their control anyway. This might incline them to think it’s weird for Protestants to discuss these things, like native Phoenicians view people who talk about the weather.

            Catholic who has hung around Protestants much has been told that we’re not Christians. In my experience, a Catholic is, with few exceptions, treated with anything ranging from benign contempt to out-and-out hatred by our separated brethren.

            Well, I’m sorry if that’s true, but frankly I suspect it has as much to do with Catholic perceptions as with Protestant intolerance. There was a time when I didn’t think that Catholics are Christians, and if I got in a religious discussion with a Catholic I might well have said so, but not from hatred or contempt, or intending to hurt –it’s just a conclusion drawn from other doctrines. Maybe I’m just insensitive because if a Catholic told me that since I’m in rebellion against the Church, I’m not really a Christian, I can’t imagine that it would make me hurt or angry. Why should I care what he thinks about it? Other than as a matter of academic interest, of course.

            In fact, I suspect that Protestants, at least Protestants from the smaller denominations or non-denominational churches are as a class a lot less sensitive about such things because they are accustomed to religious arguments and aware of what a minority view they have. Catholics, by contrast can easily get to adulthood without having their views challenged by anyone religious (of course they will have their views challenged constantly by anti-religious people, but that’s different). So maybe a good part of this is simply insensitivity from Protestants rather than hostility (or alternatively, oversensitivity from Catholics).

            As more evidence for this theory, I’ll note that an absurdly large percentage of Catholics that I’ve argued with on the internet have turned out to be Catholic converts who would have had a much different history than cradle Catholics. It implies that cradle Catholics are much less likely to be willing to argue religion, and therefore may be more sensitive to conflict and more likely to mistake vigorous discussion for an attack.

            How are the ‘limits’ set? By whom? What happens if you exceed them? It seems Catholics are taken to task for our reliance on men – Popes, bishops, the Magesterium in general – while the awkwardness of the Protestant situation regarding ‘limits’ gets whistled past.

            How is this different for Protestants than for Catholics? Don’t there have to be men in the Catholic Church who answer these questions? How do they know the answer? Why couldn’t Protestants get the answers the same way? Do you think God just comes down in a burning and bush and tells the Pope the truth about doctrine? Doesn’t the Catholic method involve a council of men who seek guidance through prayer? Why can’t Protestants do that?

            From a strictly historical POV, passing no judgement on the validity of any of the various positions, Protestantism is characterized by endless theological arguments resulting in endless factions. The only thing that unites them is their ‘Protestantism’ – there position *against* Rome. Unity, such as it is, only real when expressed as opposition.

            Is unity in error better than endless factions, some of whom are not in error?

            • Comment by The Ubiquitous:

              Have you ever seen a Dominican and a Franciscan in the same room?

              Perhaps it appears that Catholics don’t discuss doctrine maybe because of sampling bias. Rank-and-file Catholics who’ve never had metanoia still attend Mass. Rank-and-file Protestants who’ve never had metanoia don’t bother coming. So Catholics have a kind of discipline even in the lower third where Evangelicals make it up as they go along.

              (I have no experience with Protestants of the magisterial variety.)

              Maybe Protestants argue doctrine, but is the Protestant faith deeper than doctrine? Can it possibly be? If basic doctrines of the faith are always up for grabs, you’ll never have the City of God as much as God’s Own Shantytown.

              … and I wonder at why you would consistently and without exception spend so much time railing at what we appear to believe when you really don’t know where we are with God. This is not an absolution of our seeming indifference but a disgust at your seeming Pietism. What graces you have that you can read the hearts of men!

        • Comment by Patrick:

          Have you ever been around during a church split?

  7. Comment by The OFloinn:

    Come now, Mr. Wright! If the atheist were as arrogant as you claim, they would give themselves self-congratulatory nicknames, like “the Illuminati” or “the Enlightened” or “the Brights.”

    • Comment by Sean Michael:

      Dear Mr. Flynn:

      Don’t many atheists secretly have such names for themselves? Except it seems many still have enough prudence to avoid using such names in public. The angry disdain some of the more public have for those who disagree with them comes across to me as AMPLY arrogant.

      Sincerely, Sean M. Brooks

    • Comment by Tom Simon:

      Don’t forget ‘the Freethinkers’. James (let us call him that) is a Freethinker, for he is free to think, and being free to think, he has stopped thinking upon reaching the One True Conclusion which every free thinker is by pure logical compulsion bound to reach. Whereas John, Jacob, Jerome, and Jehoshaphat, who are not Freethinkers, are not free to think, and thereby arrive at different stopping-points on the way to a conclusion that they freely admit they have not yet reached.

      If you are free to think, then you must have arrived at one particular conclusion, after which you do not need to think anymore; and if you are still thinking, why then obviously, you are not free to think. So saith the enlightened James.

  8. Comment by Lisieux:

    Mr Brooks:

    Irony alert…

    PS Can someone tell me how to ensure that a reply appears beneath the post to which it’s a response?

    • Comment by Sylvie D. Rousseau:

      You have to click on “Reply” after you have logged in. You should then have the title above the comment box reading “Leave a Reply to Lisieux” (for example).

    • Comment by The OFloinn:

      Specifically, you have to click the REPLY under the comment to which you are replying. If you click the REPLY at the end of the thread, you will make a reply to the thread as a whole. However, after several indentions, individual comments lose their REPLY buttons, lest the next reply be squeezed into a too-narrow column.

  9. Comment by momofthree:

    I would also like to point out (as Mr. Wright alluded) that agnostics are not usually so arrogant, and in my experience, a sizable portion of people who profess atheism are actually more agnostic in their thinking. They, however, seem far less bothered by the strong exhortations by well-known atheists than they are by the strong professions of faith from the devoutly faithful. Perhaps this is because the atheists are asking nothing of them, whereas they perceive the religious to be aiming to restrict their behavior.

  10. Ping from The Inimitable John C. Wright…:

    [...] Lemieux writes… The Inimitable John C. Wright…July 11, 2012 By Mark Shea Leave a Comment…reflects on his years as an atheist. Interesting combox discussion follows.Filed Under: Uncategorized Tagged With: Atheism, Doings on [...]

  11. Comment by toddpence:

    Atheism is arrogant?

    Religious people claim not only to know for sure that God does exist, but they also claim to know the nature and character of that God. They claim to know intimately the details of that God’s plan for humanity and precisely how to obtain eternal salvation in that God’s afterlife. Many also claim to have a “personal relationship” with this God.

    What could possibly be more arrogant than that?

    Congratulations, BTW, on this blog entry’s enshrinement at fsdt.com

    • Comment by John C Wright:

      “Many also claim to have a “personal relationship with this God.”What could possibly be more arrogant than that?”

      Rejecting that personal relationship. I was an atheist for much longer than I have been a Christian. I have never met a humble atheist, nor was I one. I have met many humble Christians, so much so that the arrogant condescending and sarcasm which comes so naturally to your lips is almost unheard-of among them. No matter whether the Christian belief is true or false, the atheist belief entails thinking oneself the moral and mental superior to all the great thinkers in history, with a few scattered exceptions (Isaac Asimov, Carl Sagan, Ayn Rand, Lucretius, Epicurus). So even if the atheists are one hundred percent correct, the price they pay for their correctness is the belief that all their forefathers are idiots.

      Atheism is not a scientific theory. One can believe the Big Bang theory and believe Steady State is wrong, or one can believe the Copernican theory and believe Ptolemy is wrong without believing that Hoyle or Ptolemy were mentally inferior or morally corrupt.

      I have yet to hear a single atheist tell me that I have made an honest mistake, or that my point of view is worth considering soberly, or that many Christian thinkers were very wise, even if they made an error about this one belief. Not one. People can believe that someone of another scientific opinion can be good and honest men. Atheists do not think Christians are good and honest men: they think we are deceiving ourselves with a childish falsehood and fairytale.

      Am I wrong about that? Do you have many comment from atheists respectful, if disagreeing, with theists that you can repeat to me to overcome the lifetime of comments going the other way I have heard?

  12. Comment by robertjwizard:

    Am I wrong about that?

    Yes, yes you are. I will take them in order. I know you didn’t ask me, but I can’t pass it up.

    I have never met a humble atheist, nor was I one. I have met many humble Christians, so much so that the arrogant condescending and sarcasm which comes so naturally to your lips is almost unheard-of among them.

    These Christians wouldn’t be the ones that comment here would they? Aside from perhaps 3 exceptions, the Christians on this board, not all the time, but enough to be considered normal, engage in condescension and sarcasm, not more but not less than myself. At the extreme you have a few who rarely engage in anything else, and let’s not forget the swaggering pride of ilion7.

    As for the atheists, I speak only for myself, but yeah, they can be a pretty crappy lot. While I wouldn’t call myself humble (unless it comes to writing then I grovel abjectly) I neither boast nor brag, nor consider myself one of the “few” with the genius brain to have figured out what a “moron” like Galileo could not. It is absurd. Which leads me to …

    So even if the atheists are one hundred percent correct, the price they pay for their correctness is the belief that all their forefathers are idiots.

    Unless there is some necessary principle here you haven’t mentioned, this is just induction by simple enumeration. Some atheists you have known thought this. Did you? How? How did you look at the work throughout history; the inventions, the systems of philosophy, the scientific discoveries, the incredible work of mathematicians, etc, etc; how did you look at them and measure yourself above them merely because they believed something you did not? If you did, how did you justify it? Unlike most atheists, I do not think you had a crass ignorance to fall back on.

    I cannot do it, I never have. I do not approve of a comparative evaluation of my intelligence (and conversely don’t do it to others). It troubles me none to know that there are and were men out there that are smarter and wiser than I, (nay, I should be thankful!) no matter their religion or lack of it. But to go around and judge my intelligence based on observing others is pure second-handedness and parasitical. I base my estimate of my intelligence on what I myself can do with it. Can I solve a logarithmic equation, understand some new subject, etc. And I find offensive the term “Brights” for just those reasons – it is a parasitical, Keating-type evaluation.

    Atheism is not a scientific theory – agreed. It is not even a theory at all. It is an absence of belief in one particular thing.

    I have yet to hear a single atheist tell me that I have made an honest mistake, or that my point of view is worth considering soberly, or that many Christian thinkers were very wise, even if they made an error about this one belief.

    You will have to ignore my post now because you will never be able to make the above claim again. Mr. Wright, I believe you make an honest mistake. I soberly consider your point of view all the time – you have actually been instrumental in clarifying a lot of my thinking on sexual mores, marriage, and family. Christian thinkers that were wise, you do realize that you guys have one of the single greatest minds in history – right?

    Atheists do not think Christians are good and honest men:

    I’m going to make you wash your mouth out with soap soon. My father is Christian and he is one of the best and most honest men I have known – ever.

    I want to meet the atheist that doesn’t think George Washington was a good and honest man. Probably one of the most moral men to have lived. If an alien race threatened our being and they asked us to justify our existence – one of the first things I would think of would be to show them the character of George Washington.

    …they think we are deceiving ourselves with a childish falsehood and fairytale.

    Well that would be a superficial view of someone who has never read any religion, philosophy or considered the big questions. Santa Clause is a fairytale, religion doesn’t deal with red-nosed reindeer, but with existence and death and living.

    I look at it this way. At once is reason a blessing and a curse that the animals never share. They know nothing of final causation because they cannot abstract, their entire experience is efficient causation, they never know death at all. Their sorrow is they cannot abstract. Ours is that because we can – we can see our end. A dog can’t look at its paw and think that one day it, like he, will be no more; I can look at my hand right now and know that one day it will whither and die that blood in my veins will cease to flow as will my journey through time.

    So, no, I don’t think it is childish. In fact there is nothing more serious. One needs to make sense of it all. Now I can read through The Bible and think, “holy crap, who can buy this stuff?”. But the answer of God I do not think is a childish fantasy.

    I think it is incorrect, but the subject matter is the most vital. And look what happens when a generation or two has it taken away from them and replaced with a big, fat zero. No answer, you are meat, and will die and none of it means anything. And then you have a culture that simmers in its own terror and lashes out at anything in blind hatred like a trapped animal with no means to find a way through all the doors that have been slammed shut.

    No, it is not childish, Mr Wright. I also don’t think of it as self deception. I just think it is an error.

    • Comment by John C Wright:

      Well, I am humbled and corrected by your example and defeated by your argument. I retract the statement. I will leave my comment and not delete it as a warning to others not to speak too hastily on the Internet.

      I also salute you for being one of the rational atheists I admire, someone willing to admit that the belief in God is not a sign of mental incompetence and moral corruption.

      I hope you will allow me to state however, that many atheists are proud, unfortunately many of the most vocal ones (Hitchens, Dawkins, and the other oafs currently representing what was once a respectable philosophical position). They are proud because they must reject the weight of tradition and history. (But, as you say, not all atheists fall to this temptation.)

      In the various secular philosophies, there is nothing wrong with being proud. Ayn Rand made a great show of characters who were proud of the fact that they were proud. She is not alone in this. The secular humanists and moral relativists also praise pride as a virtue, even though they call it self esteem. Humility is not a virtue in a worldview where one gets to legislate one’s own moral rules. (I am not accusing Ayn Rand of being a relativist! She makes it clear that one’s virtues are discovered, not legislated, and are defined by the nature of man and the nature of reality; she has particular scorn for those who legislate their own moral codes, and calls them whim-worshipers.)

      But that small caveat to one side, I tip over my king to you, and concede the game. You are right.

      • Comment by robertjwizard:

        I accept, and offer it to you to hold over my head if I ever contradict it.

        About pride. I have to admit I don’t follow Rand’s conception of pride. I find it incomplete, although I have no objection to her concept of moral ambitiousness. She never covers the risks involved in pride (proper – magnanimity) that it is very close to pride (improper – vainglory). I believe them to be different in kind, but very hard to tell apart – introspectively and in others. She lays the answers in the characterizations in her fiction books, but I can’t recall anything non-fiction or explicit.

        It is sort of akin to jealousy and envy.

    • Comment by The Ubiquitous:

      Humble Christians are all over the place. Just not online, which is largely the purview of men who love mirrors.

Leave a Reply