A Universal Apology Point One: ON AUTHORITY

A matter which I cannot address in public without some disquiet has risen again, and courtesy asks I address it.

My reluctance in taking up my pen to discuss this hideous divorce between orthodoxy and its various deviations is partly from a natural dislike of voicing disagreement with beloved brothers. If my tone seems controversial, that is due to the nature of the controversy, not due to any pride on my part. It is simply a fact that I cannot say why I think I have found the right answer without implying that those who say otherwise have not.

My reluctance again is partly from a pragmatic dislike of exposing the weakness of disunity to our mutual foes, secularists, atheists, Leftists, cultists of Political Correctness, and other jeering and famished monstrosities circling with bloodshot eyes and lolling tongues the broken bulwarks and the fading fires of our dying citadel called civilization, assaulted from without as betrayed from within.

My reluctance finally is partly from, surprisingly enough, humility. It is rare emotion for me. Frankly, I am jovially proud of nearly everything else in my life, from my excellent education, to my natural skill at writing, to my happy family life, to my towering height, to my monstrous girth, to my fine-looking beard like a manly yet silent explosion of hair. But when it comes to divine questions, I was in this matter for so long and so deeply deceived, and so thoroughly sunk into the very Marianas Trench of folly and error, that I take no delight to disagree with another reaching conclusions other than mine. From age seven upward I was an atheist, and a skillful and zealous and successful proselyte of that false doctrine, and I grew from a youth too stupid to grasp the palpably obvious, into a man too arrogant to see the blindingly obvious. So I am reluctant to give voice to my vain imaginings lest wiser men and more learned come across them, and expose them to a just mockery.

On the other hand, my loyalty to Christ and my love of truth for its own sake bids me speak, and the hope that my words might aid some other in any struggle he might have with conundrums akin to mine.

I have elsewhere given an account of the visions and miracles and ecstatic experiences which overwhelmingly and unambiguously transformed me from a zealous atheist to a zealous Christian. It was a supernatural event, and it is not within my power to repeat it for the inspection of casual onlookers.  Consequently, I do not expect to convert atheists to theism by power of reason alone, for I was not converted by reason alone, but by the Holy Spirit.

Unlike my supernatural transformation from atheist to theist, the decision which of the competing denominations to join was a natural one, and I relied upon my own unreliable nature and mother-wit to make it. It is that decision this essay is meant to recount and justify.

Reason alone makes a powerful argument that the Catholic Church is what she says she is, and contains the fullness of revelation that other denominations contain only in part. Even if that argument is not convincing to all, honesty asks me to recount why I found it convincing; and hope tells me any man approaching the question from the direction I approached it will likewise find it convincing.

For I approached the question from the outside. The mind of an atheist is so far from the mind of Christendom that it may well be another planet, and all the continents and mountains and seas of your world were like a bright dot to me, as the features of Earth seen from Mars. The differences between Greece and Italy are invisible even in outline to the Martian whose telescope distinguish features of Europe and Asia.

In particular, because an atheist has an equal disdain and contempt for all forms of religious thought, I had no preferences between you and your twin brothers.

I did not, for example, have any opinion whatsoever on the question of the two natures or one of Christ, nor whether the Spirit proceeds from the Father only versus from the Father and the Son, nor whether the Host is a memorial only or contains the real presence of the Son. I was neither attracted nor repelled by the painted statues of the Catholics nor the icons of the Orthodox, nor was I attracted nor repelled by the unornamented simplicity of the New England chapels nor by the splendor and intricacy of the Gothic cathedrals.  And I was completely lacking in that odd and phobic revulsion many a Protestant has toward the Virgin Mary.

If I deviated from a the perfect objectivity of perfect indifference, it was only in this regard: What I did possess was the typical attitudes and opinions one might expect from someone raised in mid-Twentieth Century America, to whom classical liberalism of the Enlightenment is bred into his bones, and the idea of separation of Church and State is an automatic one. Also, my attitudes and judgment were remarkably and deeply marked by the writings of the Greek and Roman philosophers and historians, particularly Epictetus, Lucretius, Thucydides, Marcus Aurelius, Seneca, but most of all Aristotle. I am and was a thoroughgoing Aristotelian. My intellect is congenitally cool and logical; I am unmoved by appeals to emotion, howsoever heartfelt.

No doubt my Nestorian or Monophysite or Russian or Greek Orthodox readers, or Protestants, or Puritans, or Mormons, or Moonies, or Arians, or Unitarians, or Albigensians, or Witches might wonder with a start of dismay how it comes to be that so wonderful and wise a person as myself could find himself freed the stench and clinging darkness of atheism only to be immediately snared in the filthy meshes of the Roman Catholic Church, so notorious in song and story as being a haunt of devils and pederasts and idolaters and cannibals.

The short answer is that I am neither so wonderful as the question supposes, nor is the Church so dark as she is painted.

When I looked into the matter, I found to my infinite shock that the songs and stories are wrong, and very nearly everything a non-Catholic says or believes about the Catholicism is either propaganda maliciously spread or propaganda unwittingly  believed.

(I say ‘unwittingly’ rather than ‘gullibly’ for I myself am as skeptical as it is possible for a human being to be, and even I did not detect any gaps or clues or inconsistencies in the nearly perfect smokescreen of falsehood erected by her enemies that surrounds the towers and walls of the beleaguered Church and blots her from honest view. In nearly every case, I was not even aware that was any controversy, much less another side of the story.)

So if you, my dear Nestorian or Monophysite or Russian or Greek Orthodox reader, or Protestant, or Puritan, or Mormon, or Moonie, or Arian, or Unitarian, or Albigensian or Witch,  had never heard the rumor that there was a Catholic rationale or apologetic or reason to support the Church, allow me to acquaint you.

Several things convinced me of the truth of the Catholic claims. I will tell them in chronological order rather than any argumentative order.

Authority: The first was the paradox of the claim by denominations accepting the Catholic teaching, such as the existence of a man called Christ, but rejecting the magisterium on whose sole authority those teaching are to be believed, or even known.

This paradox would be like hearing two messengers from a distant king, both of whom accuse the other of corrupting the message, but finding that the second messenger got his copy from the first, whom he also accuses of corrupting the message.

Canonicity: The second is the paradox of accepting the doctrines of the Incarnation and the Trinity but rejecting the Catholic Church whose Ecumenical Councils on whose sole authority those doctrines rest.

Magisterium: The third is the paradox of asserting an infallible scripture was canonized by a fallible Church; or again that an authorized scripture was authorized by an unauthorized Church.

Scriptural Authority: The fourth is the paradox of claiming an independent, self-defining or self-authorizing authority for scripture.

Unity: The fifth was the paradox of claim that Christ founded a single and unified Church against whose authority He wished His loyal followers to rebel, because His wish was for disunity.

Communion: The sixth was the paradox of the claim that His immediate followers misunderstood the meaning of the sacrament of the Eucharist instituted by Christ, but that visionaries or theologians hundreds or thousands of years after those followers, understood that meaning perfectly.

Continuity: The seventh was the paradox of the claim that Christ instituted eternal rules and disciplines for His followers which He also meant to evolve with the times, following the fickle fashions of the world.

Chastity: The eighth was the paradox of claiming to be Christian while scorning Christ’s own clear words forbidding divorce and other unchaste practices.

Historicity: the ninth was the difficulty of assigning a date at which the Church lost her authority. The date is either early or late. If late, it is a paradox to continue to accept, as canonical, her teachings after that date; and if early, it is a paradox to call yourself Christian while rejecting everything the Christians ever taught.

Ignorance: the tenth was the stunning realization that denominations other than the Catholic are naturally ahistorical.

Tradition: the eleventh was the realization that a lack of history implied a lack of universality.

Heresy: the twelfth  was a realization which sprang from seeing the pattern of historical ignorance, liturgical paucity, a lack of seven sacraments or all of them, and so on. Heresies are always simplifications of a complex and interdependent organism of ideas into a single master idea, which, upon consideration, has no warrant for supremacy.

Another peculiarity of heretical opinions is that they are rarely novel opinions, but merely a repeat of an old error.

A thirteenth, fourteenth and fifteenth convincing point was on the questions of the nuanced nature of the balanced judgement of the Church, the crass and erroneous nature of the accusations against the Church, and the sacramental life within it.

Let me address each of these points in order each in a separate essay.

NOTE: in the passages that follow I intend to use words like ‘orthodox’ and ‘heterodox’ and ‘schismatic’ and ‘heretic’ even though these fall awkwardly on the modern ear, because these words are clear and precise. I am not going to use a phrase like “a faithful follower of Christ whose opinion is at variance with the lawful authority for determining the canonicity of Christian teaching, etc.” rather than a word like “heretic” because I am constitutionally unable to substitute a cumbersome phrase for a term of art admitting of no ambiguity.

If you don’t know the difference between a “heretic” and a “heathen” then I respectfully suggest you acquaint yourself with a dictionary.  These are not swear-words nor ad copy nor meaningless emotion-noises as are the un-words used so adroitly by the Politically Correct.

Any reader for whom such words have some bad emotional connotation is asked to snap out of his silliness and cease paying heed to emotional connotations of words, which are subjective, but instead to the meaning of words, which is objective.

Or, contrariwise, I may suggest that if the word “heretic” like the word “traitor” or “pervert” has a bad connotation, I might suggest that the connotation exists because it is merited. While we all admire rebels against lawless tyrants who exceed and abuse their authority, we all condemn those who betray the trust entrusted to them, or who rebel against goodness, revolt against reason, or those whose lives are in insurrection against natural affection, and nature’s God.

Let me address the first question here:


I have several reasons for accepting that the Catholic Church is what she says she is, and not what the various break-away denominations says she is.

The first was an argument I came across way back when I was an atheist. It was a theological argument presented as a dialog between the ghost Thomas Aquinas and the ghost of Martin Luther with an imaginary C.S. Lewis on the authority of Christian tradition.

I do not recall where I came across it, nor who wrote it. I thought it was written by some bright and slightly flippant college student with too much free time on his hands, but I also thought it singularly clear and persuasive.

[N.B.: in preparing this essay, I tried to find that article again, and discovered to my infinite surprise that it was written by the great Peter Kreeft, who is indeed bright and slightly flippant, and might as well also be the reincarnation of Socrates. So it is not to be taken as any surprise that the argument was clear and persuasive.]

It had no effect whatsoever on my belief at the time. I thought it was an argument between two people arguing about nonexistent things, much  like hearing an argument about whether or not Wolverine’s claws could penetrate Captain America’s shield.

Nonetheless, such arguments can have a winner and a loser even from the point of view of a skeptical outsider, because if you grant the unreal premises, one man’s conclusions will follow and the opposite will not.

Within the logic and continuity of the comic book universe, if you can show how in Issue 301 of AMAZING  MARVEL  TEAM-UP where it was established that the admantium weapon of Ultron was shown to be able pierce the admantium-vibranium alloy of Captain America’s shield, and that Wolverine’s claws are admantium weapons, the conclusion follows logically, even concerning make-believe things, that the shield of the Red-White-and-Blue Avenger can be penetrated by the claws of the scrappy Canadian X-Man. Any continued argument on the other side must distinguish the cases (that is, say how Ultron’s feat is not proper precedent for Wolverine, or say why Issue 301 is not canonical).

In this case, the ghost of Luther argues that Christianity teaches that there is one scripture, one salvation, and one sovereign Lord; and that therefore the claim by the Catholic Church to have a magisterium, a teaching and interpreting authority in effect adds a second scripture to the first; next, that salvation is by faith alone and therefore the claim of the Catholic Church to require good works in effect adds a second means of salvation; and third, that divine grace alone saves man, not man’s cooperation in that grace, and therefore the claim of the Catholic Church that man has free will adds a second sovereign to the universe, and impugns the power of God.

On the other side, the ghost of Aquinas argues that sola scriptura, a doctrine not found in scripture, is a contradiction in terms, that it must lead to endless fissiparation not to mention that it undermines the Church authority by whose sole witness anyone knows the Bible to be authoritative; that man is indeed saved by faith alone, but that good works are a necessary outgrowth of that faith, if it be real faith; and that if sovereign God wills man to have free will, it does not impugn that will, no more than the freedom of Homer to pen Odysseus as a character who, in his tale, has free will and freely makes his character choices within that tale (as, for example the heroine in TRILBY does not when her will is robbed by the mesmerism of Svengali).

Now, without going into the details of that argument (which frankly I do not recall) this was the first time it was brought to my attention that the Catholic Church and the Protestant denominations are not making the same claims.

It is not like the old television gameshow TO TELL THE TRUTH where a man and two imposters all claim to be one and the same celebrity, and the panelists by cunning questions attempt to discover his identity before the master of ceremonies asks the real celebrity please to stand up. It is more like a law case where a mother and a daughter both claim to have the exclusive right to inherit the patrimony of an absent father, the mother basing her claim on widowhood, and the daughter asking the court to divest the mother and turn the property over to her on the grounds that the mother has mismanaged the estate.

The idea is no doubt familiar to religious believers, but this was the first time in my blissful atheist existence, that I came across the idea that the Protestant claim to speak authoritatively and magisterially on Church teachings logically presupposes the magisterial authority of the Church, that is, the Catholic Church, to establish Church teachings, such as the canon of the Bible.

Even though, as I said, to me this was as meaningless as an argument between two fanboys about the imaginary weapons made of imaginary metals wielded by imaginary superheroes, as a matter of logic, I thought the ghost of Aquinas scored a clear, perhaps even unanswerable, victory in the debate. As far as I could tell, the argument carried the day: Luther’s admantium claws could not penetrate Aquinas’s vibranium shield.

Now, let me emphasize that the reason why this argument lodged in my memory was due to sheer contrarian perversity. I had not known the Catholics (sad inmates as they were in that airless tower of superstitious darkness called the Church) could make logical arguments, much less make sound ones.

But, neither as an atheist with no dog in that brawl, nor as a Catholic vowed to live and die in the faith, to this day, do I see any error in the argument.

In effect, the Lutheran claim is a claim of the right to rebel against the teaching authority of the Church, on the grounds that the Church is apostate. Unfortunately, the sole witness for the apostasy of the Church is an alleged disagreement between Church teachings and the scriptures on which the Church relies for those teachings.

But the sole witness for the validity, canonicity, historicity, and divinity those selfsame scriptures is the authority of the Church whose members wrote them, gathered, sanctified, protected, promulgated and canonized them.



  1. Comment by Sean Michael:

    Dear Mr. Wright:

    Many thanks for writing another very interesting essay. And I look forward to the others you plan to write in this series. But, you made one small, teensy error in your twelfth argument, about heresy. The Catholic, Orthodox, and Oriental Churches has seven, not ten sacraments. I’m sure the error was due merely to haste, tho!

    I was amused by the analogy you made to fanboys casuistically analyzing their favorite comic books. I’m no better, I fear, when I think of how I do exactly the same when commenting on the works of Poul Anderson at the “Poul Anderson Appreciation Blog.” (Smiles)

    Sincerely, Sean M. Brooks

  2. Comment by dda:

    First, some editing questions/comments. I’m going to either insert in bold something I think was left out or remove something I think should be removed. It’s your choice whether or not to take my suggestions, of course.

    1. … charity in the how the question was asked…

    2. … the second messenger got his copy from the first…

    3. …asserting that an infallible scripture…>

    4. But, neither as an atheist with no dog in that brawl, nor as a Catholic vowed to live and die in the faith, to this day, I do not see an error in the argument. (I find this is a rather awkward sentence; I get what you are saying (I think) but only after re-reading it a few times. But then you’re a published writer and I’m only a commenter offering unsolicited editing advice. :-)

    Second, this line, A man whose argument consists of nothing but a curse and the single word ” ‘Tis!” merits no more answer than a blessing and the single word ” ‘Tisn’t!” makes me think of the Monty Python Argument skit. :-)

  3. Comment by DaveSomething:

    So Martin Luther is Wolverine, and Aquinas is Captain America. That works for me.

    I think you are morally obligated to assign comic book characters to other historical theologians and/or saints.

    • Comment by John C Wright:

      Easily done: Dr Fate is an Egyptian pagan, since his symbol is an Ankh, whereas Dr Strange and Dr Doom are both Tibetan Buddhists, since that is the state religion of Tibet where they both learned magic.

      Superman worships Rao of Krypton and Daredevil is a good Catholic boy who should settle down with a nice Greek Orthodox girl like Electra.

      Thor, ironically, worships the pagan god Hercules in secret, and, unbeknownst to him, Hercules has become an Asatru, and worships Thor. The theological ramifications of that are a little difficult to unravel.

      Of the Guardians of Oa, the rogue Guardian Krona actually saw the hand of God creating the universe, so he is a monotheist of some description, perhaps a Deist.

      Solomon Kane is a Puritan, and the Spectre is the incarnation of he spirit of vengeance, so both of them have very similar beliefs.

      How is that?

      • Comment by ChevalierdeJohnstone:

        I’m pretty sure it’s Superman canon that he is or at least was raised Methodist. I’m also pretty sure this was discussed somewhere outside the deep dark depths of DC comics blogs, since I’m not even close to a Superman fanboy. (I like the character, but I find the whole image and attitude of the comic towards the human race to be drearily pessimistic: humanity’s only hope is to be saved by an almost all-powerful alien who pretends to be a bumbling fool in order to fit in on Earth. This is a sad commentary on the artists’ view of the rest of their fellow humans.)

        Daredevil was always my favorite, and for some reason until this day it never clicked with me that the character is Catholic. I knew it, but didn’t realize the potential significance.

  4. Comment by Zach:

    This is why you’d find many Mormons saying that were they not convinced that the keys of Peter are in Salt Lake City rather than in Rome, they would most likely convert to Catholicism. Our contention, of course, is that there have been many dispensations of the gospel since the beginning of time, and that each has “fallen away”. Thus Moses is called to lead Israel when the order established by Abraham needs restoration.

    For Latter-day Saints, the authority of Peter was given to Joseph Smith by the laying on of hands by Peter, James, and John, appearing as heavenly messengers. We claim to be the Church of Jesus Christ, established because Joseph Smith was instructed to do so by Jesus Christ.

    While we hold the King James Bible to be canon, if there were no Bible or no Book of Mormon, we would still have our prophet and president, Thomas S. Monson, as a living oracle with authority to speak on behalf of Jesus Christ. Of all the denominations of Christianity, only Catholics can make a similar claim.

    It’s unfortunate that there are many assumptions made by Mormons about Catholics as well; more Latter-day Saints would do well to read Peter Kreeft, for example, though I think many of us are familiar with Augustine and Aquinas. Some of my assumptions about Catholicism were incorrect, and many persist in LDS communities. I think the inverse is true too, though; the boldness of the LDS claims leads many to underestimate our theological strengths.

    • Comment by John C Wright:

      This is a point I reach in more detail later, but allow me to ask a question which I mean honestly and with no disrespect. If Joseph Smith’s claim to be patriarch of the one, true, holy and apostolic church rests on his receiving the blessing from Peter, who laid hands on him, what is the status of Peter’s laying hands on Linus, he on Cletus, and he on Clement? In AD 97 dissensions troubled the Church of Corinth, and the Roman Bishop, Clement, unbidden, wrote an authoritative letter to restore peace. St. John was still living at Ephesus, yet neither he nor his interfered with Corinth. So apparently even at this early date (still within living memory of the Resurrection) the Roman Archbishop was preeminent. Do you maintain that Peter had or did not have the power lay on hands and appoint his successor as vicar of Christ? If he did not, how is his laying hands on Joseph Smith of any effect? If he did, how is his laying hands on Linus retroactively invalidated?

      • Comment by John Hutchins:

        Linus very well may have been installed as Bishop of Rome, but given that John was still alive at the time and issuing revelations and epistles that carried authority then it should be clear that Peter was ordaining a Bishop, like any other, and not passing on his Apostleship: which thing was done anciently but by way of the group of the Apostles meeting together. In fact many of the Apostles outlived Peter; none mention Linus as heading the church; instead their epistles speak as though they have the authority to lead the church and ordain, or even remove, Bishops both individually and collectively.

        Timothy was given quite a lot of authority in resolving such matters as well, but not given leadership of the whole church; it would seem very odd for Paul to have continually interfered with the workings of the churches which Timothy was over, just as it would be odd for John to interfere in a local matter of the church which was clearly resolvable by those claiming to have the stewardship of the area. The Pope doesn’t usually appear to personally intervene with a local parish, nor does it appear that anyone at the Vatican does so either; it seems exceedingly odd that the proper functioning of a bishop in a parish (or something similar) is used as an argument that it is the bishop who is the legitimate authority over the entire church and has been sent out as a representative of Christ to the whole world, and not the still living leadership of the church who was engaged in writing and publishing epistles and revelations to the whole church.

        It further doesn’t make much sense for a Bishop to be an Apostle, as an Overseer of the church in a particular location seems contradictory to being Sent Forth to all the world.

  5. Comment by Stephen J.:

    Sir, if you plan to write fourteen more essays along these lines of similar length, you will have an immensely useful book of apologetics. If you had ever considered publishing them (say through Ignatius Press), I would most certainly buy a copy.

  6. Comment by robertjwizard:

    The mind of an atheist is so far from the mind of Christendom that it may well be another planet,…

    I regret that I will not be able to participate in much of your coming posts on this subject as I have barely submerged a pinky-toe in these waters as yet. But if I may make a few, quaint comments – perhaps because I will be able to say nothing at all after this post for it will be beyond my ken.

    What I quoted from you is largely true. But I have noticed as I struggle out of atheism is there are a number of different paths or, even, forms of atheism that are closer to the road or further off the path. Perhaps not always in direct precepts, but in orientation that is indirect. For instance, the modern, Darwinian materialist has almost no kin in the philosophic tradition outside of Democritus and likely scorns the entire field of what he considers the “soft sciences”. But conversely since I convinced myself of God (still, I know, I am lame) abstractly, intellectually, I have, in hindsight, seen that my philosophic groundings actually helped me in this regard because it was in line, generally, with Western philosophic tradition.

    But of Christians talking about the nature of Christ and such related, yes, it does, to any sort of atheist, sound like a couple of pimply teenagers squabbling about comic book heroes.

    And if I may just speak personally, or, like a wanna-be fanboy. If I ever come to believe in Christ, I can’t imagine not coming into Catholicism. Not only do you get 7 extra books as a Catholic, you also get an 800 page document that could, potentially be studied in itself for decades (that would be the CCC). The emphasis of its themes hits the sublime in ways the others do not – the sanctity of life, the “idolatry” of Mary which I take (I hope correctly) to be the sacredness of motherhoodor of giving life, its take on marriage unbroken from Jesus’ statement. The numeracy of their fasts, feasts, saints, sacraments etc, that serve to keep the faith a living entity in the life. You get Thomas Aquinas – practically ends the discussion – which is also the culmination of over a thousand years of the best of philosophy. They actually make you take classes to gain admission. The Catholic tradition is exceedingly intellectual. Finally, and this one is just for me, they are as unpopular, or even more so, than the philosophical school I used to belong to. In a darkened room it is the one who is attacked that has something to offer.

    And I too have found a lot of misinformation about Catholicism once I looked into matters.

    • Comment by John C Wright:

      The difference between the different forms of atheism is a topic complex enough to merit its own essay, or even its own book. My experience was identical with yours: the brand of atheism I espoused was based on an Aristotelian and Stoic tradition, not the Materialist-Logical-Positivist tradition. I was a great fan of Lucretius, Epictetus, and Marcus Aurelius, and not so much a fan of Hume, Marx, Fraud, BF Skinner, and gross misreadings of Darwin, not to mention such intellectual luminaries as Alfred Kinsey, Hugh Hefner, William Jefferson Clinton and Frederick Nietzsche, or the other frauds and neurotics from whom the moderns take their cues.

      Because of the classical tradition in which I was educated, I could see clearly the inferiority and simplicity of the modern thought. It was like leaving a museum full of Pre-Raphealite paintings and walking into a junkyard filled with graffito or Picasso. Even the simplest basics of form, perspective, shading, representation, emotion, symbolism is ignored in modern painting; just so the simplest elements of defining one’s terms and of not defining oneself out of existence were ignored in modern philosophy.

      For example, Hume holds that the statement “only empirical facts can be known to be true” is a fact, but he ignores that it is not empirical. Marx holds the economic theory that all economic theories are ideological superstructures, i.e. lies, proposed only to maintain one’s class interest; this, despite Marx himself is a son of a middle-class merchant, and his own economic theory is proposed to overthrow the middle-class. Freud holds the idea that all ideas are controlled by subconscious forces rather than the reasons we assign to them in an act of self deception. Skinner holds the idea that all ideas are defined by the mechanistic forces in the environment, not by the will or consciousness. All these moderns define themselves out of existence.

      The tactical advantage of defining yourself out of existence is that it relieves one of the dreadful responsibility of thinking. If man is nothing more than a machine made of meat organized by a indifferent and blind process, then there are no moral laws aside from self-interest, and we are all free to commit our adulteries and abominations and fornication, and to preach bloody revolution and violent hatred against our neighbors, and to worship Caesar and Moloch, and to worship ourselves in the looking glass, and then sooth the pricks of conscience in the warm nepenthe of modern philosophy, an opiate meant to lull the dragons of reason and conscience to sleep.

      So I knew all this modern rubbish was wrong. Then I read C.S. Lewis and his mentor G.K. Chesterton. While I did not believe a word of what they said about God, I saw that they did not define themselves out of existence, but instead did the opposite. They defined man to be exactly what he was: a creature that is at once a little lower than the angels, and at the same time the saddest of beasts, and yet again as dark as a devil from hell. Man was a damnable creature while at the same time a godlike one.

      The Christian world view started making too much sense to me. I thought it was lovely but false, and the lovely part was that it kept the pagan philosophers intact for the most part, but with the more disgusting bits of pagan life, the pedo-sodomy or infanticide or gladiatorial games, excised.

      Ah, but then I found it was true. Lovely and true. Too good to believe, that is, for men like me whose faculty of belief had been wrongly trained. I was an owl blinking in the sunlight, a light too bright to see, but at no point did I disbelieve what was too good to believe. I did not doubt the infinite good; I doubted my finite beliefs.

      As you shall see on this page if you read them over the next two weeks, my thought about the Catholic Church is the same as yours. I did not then and do not now understand the point of being Christian if it means taking only part of Christianity and ignoring the whole of it, so you end up with two sacraments out of seven, mental consent to salvation but no Eucharist, Jesus but not Mary and the Saints, five hundred years of culture but not two thousand, enthusiasm but no philosophy, heart but no head.

      Americans are always suspicious of organized religion. Well, a disorganized religion is easier for a well organized enemy to sever and to conquer.

      • Comment by Tyrrell McAllister:

        For example, Hume holds that the statement “only empirical facts can be known to be true” is a fact, but he ignores that it is not empirical.

        This is a misleading simplification. Hume held non-empirical mathematical facts in a high regard similar to that of empirical facts:

        If we take into our hand any volume; of divinity or school metaphysics, for instance; let us ask, Does it contain any abstract reasoning concerning quantity or number? No. Does it contain any experimental reasoning concerning matter of fact and existence? No. Consign it then to the flames: For it can contain nothing but sophistry and illusion.

        (Emphasis added.)

        • Comment by Mary:

          Now, read that passage.

          Ask yourself, does it contain any abstract reasoning concerning quantity or number?

          Answer: No.

          Does it contain any experimental reasoning concerning matter of fact and existence?

          Answer: No.

          Consign it then to the flames: For it can contain nothing but sophistry and illusion.

          The “misleading simplification” in fact left out a trivial detail that is not relevation to the question of whether Hume is silly beyond belief, because adding math to the list of things that are not sophistry and illusion does not add the necessary thing, namely the principle that Hume is using to judge other things as sophistry and illusion.

          • Comment by Tyrrell McAllister:

            Hume is talking about throwing out *volume*, not individual passages. The volume from which that passage is drawn claims that the conclusion can be infered from empirical observations of the operations of one’s own mind. (Citations available upon request.)

            The claim that this inference can be so drawn may be false, but the book at least tries to rest its arguments on experiments that everyone can perform on themselves, plus analytic-logical reasoning. It therefore falls outside the set of those books that it commits to the flames.

            • Comment by Mary:

              Then you should have provided the passages up front instead of that piece of sophistry and illusion. Certainly you should not have at this point merely claimed to have them. Citations are to laugh. I’m not looking up your passages for you. Produce them if they say what you claim.

              • Comment by Tyrrell McAllister:

                I posted that comment from my iPhone, which was refusing for some reason to copy text from Gutenberg.org. That was why I was unable to offer citations at the time. Now that I’m on my desktop, I can give you the promised citations.

                You seem to be saying that I shirked some duty. I apologize if I did so, but I’m currently not convinced of that. I will listen to your argument that I did shirk some duty, if you wish to make one. To me it seems better to give information earlier, with citations promised later if desired, rather than to try to remember to give information later, when the citations are available.

                Do you disagree? What is your policy when you do not have citations on hand, but you expect to have them later? I don’t see a downside to committing now to give the citations later. And, on the upside, committing now makes it more likely that citations really will be given later, rather than be forgotten.

                Those citations, again, are below. All are from An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, unless otherwise stated. All emphasis is added by me. I will also point out what it was that I was promising to cite.

                First, I did not claim that Hume did prove his conclusions using only empirical and analytic evidence. I claimed that Hume believed that he had done that. He adduced evidence that he believed was empirical and analytic. That is the claim for which I offer citations. Whether that evidence in fact suffices to establish his conclusions is another matter, and not one for which I offered to provide a citation.

                Second, what are the conclusions of Hume for which he offers empirical and analytic evidence? The conclusions do not include the claim that empirical knowledge is knowledge. He takes it as an unproven assumption that our knowledge includes at least our empirical knowledge. He knows that skeptics do not grant even that much, but he is just not interested in arguing about that.

                Nor can there remain any suspicion, that this science [i.e., the empirical study of the mind] is uncertain and chimerical; unless we should entertain such a scepticism as is entirely subversive of all speculation, and even action.

                He isn’t directing his book at skeptics. He is directing it at people who accept at least empirical and analytic knowledge, but who think that there are also other kinds of knowledge.

                So, if his argument is not that empirical knowledge is knowledge, what is it? His argument is that empirical and analytic knowledge, once granted, prove that empirical and analytic knowledge are the only kinds of knowledge.

                The only method of freeing learning, at once, from these abstruse questions [of nonempirical metaphysics], is to enquire seriously into the nature of human understanding, and show, from an exact analysis of its powers and capacity, that it is by no means fitted for such remote and abstruse subjects.

                That we are to “enquire” empirically is made clear in this quote from the Treatise:

                The essence of the mind being equally unknown to us with that of external bodies, it must be equally impossible to form any notion of its powers and qualities otherwise than from careful and exact experiments, and the observation of particular effects, which result from different circumstances and situations.

                Third, I am further claiming that the Hume quote about committing volumes “to the flames” is about ignoring arguments for which no empirical evidence is offered. I believe that Hume would spare a book that (1) offers empirical and analytic evidence that (2) was thought by the author to suffice to establish the book’s conclusions, (3) given assumptions already agreed to by the intended reader. At the very least, the Hume quote that I began with is entirely consistent with his taking this view. (See the original quote.)

                Since Hume believed that his own book passed these tests, it is incorrect to read him as declaring that his own book should be committed to the flames.

                • Comment by John C Wright:

                  Hume is incorrect, uproariously so. The passages you quote do not save him from the paradox. He is making a non=empirical statement, indeed, a statement about metaphysics, when he announces that metaphysical reasoning is beyond the powers the human mind. There is not one scintilla of empirical evidence which has anything to do, one way or the other, with this universal statement about something (the essential nature of rational thought) that can never be seen, heard, smelled nor measured.

                  • Comment by Tyrrell McAllister:

                    I think that you are misreading Hume. Or, at any rate, you don’t seem to me to be addressing the Steel man version of Hume that ought to be the subject of a philosophical discussion, as opposed to an exegetical one.

                    However, it may well be that it is I who misreads you. To check that hypothesis, here is my rendering of what I take to be your argument:

                    Hume reasons as follows:

                    (1) All valid knowledge is either empirical or logical.

                    (2) Some scholastic reasoning is not either empirical or logical.

                    (3) Therefore, some scholastic metaphysics is not valid.

                    However, this arguments defeats its own premises, especially the major premise (1). Not only does Hume give no empirical or logical justification for (1), but, moreover, no such justification is possible, even in principle.

                    For, universal statements entail their own subalterns. Thus, if Hume were able to justify the universal claim (1), he would be able to justify the following particular claim:

                    (1′) Some valid knowledge is either empirical or logical.

                    Furthermore, since Hume would have justified (1), (1) would be true. Therefore, (1′) would have to have been justified using only empirical or logical knowledge. But such a justification would clearly be circular, and circular reasoning is invalid.

                    Or, to give the same argument in a different form, if Hume had justified (1′), either he would have used exclusively empirical or logical knowledge, or he would have used some other kind of valid knowledge. If he had used exclusively empirical or logical knowledge, then his argument would have been circular, and hence invalid. If he had used some other kind of valid knowledge, then (1) would be false, and hence the entire argument would be unsound.

                    In summary, Hume can give no valid justification for his claim. If his claim were true, the truth of his claim would defeat his own argument for that claim.

                    Does the argument above accurately portray your criticism of Hume? I expect that you have other criticisms as well; I’m just asking whether the above argument suffices, in your view, to justify rejecting Hume’s position.

                    • Comment by John C Wright:

                      My criticism of Hume is that he asserts that all valid reasoning is empirical, a statement that is non-empirical. So the argument you give is very close to my criticism of Hume.

  7. Comment by Rygor:

    We hear the term protestant so often that it is easy to think that we belong to an inverted form of the Roman Catholic Church called the Protestant Church. This manner of addressing sola scriptura and the supposed problems it causes is fallacious because it groups all non-catholic professedly Christian religious groups under a broad term that (i.)only addresses the group’s disagreement with Rome and (ii.)cannot, by its own definition, signify any one particular group of individuals. The fact that Roman Catholic apologists argue this way shows that their understanding is flawed from the onset. Protestant does not signify a united front against Roman Catholicism; protestant simply signifies an individual or group that has protested against the abominations of the Roman Catholic organization. Muslims argue the same way, interestingly, when attempting to cast doubt upon the Divine origin of the Word of God.

    • Comment by John C Wright:

      Fortunately, my argument does not suffer this flaw, since I do not direct any comments against a ‘Protestant Church.’ I am here investigating the logical paradox of the claim of Sola Scriptura, not the entity called ‘all non-catholic professedly Christian religious groups.’ For examples, Mormons and Christian Scientists do not profess ‘Sola Scriptura.’

      “The fact that Roman Catholic apologists argue this way…”

      Strawman argument. No one here is arguing that way.

      • Comment by WATYF:

        I was completely lacking in that odd and phobic revulsion many a Protestant has toward the Virgin Mary.

        What was that you were saying about strawmen? :Op


        • Comment by John C Wright:

          I wish it were a strawman. I have had Holocaust Deniers leave comments on my site here which were more polite and balanced than what some Mariaphobes have left. I do not accuse all Protestants of being this way, but there is clearly a thread of it running through Protestant writings.

          • Comment by WATYF:

            I’d be interested to meet some. In all my many years of living in Protestant circles, I’ve never run into them.


            • Comment by John C Wright:

              I cannot tell if this means that you think hatred of Mary is normal for Christians and that I am just overreacting to it, or if you are seriously saying that there is not a strong strain of anti-Mary feeling throughout Protestantism. I will not take the time to look up the specific comments left like bird droppings in my comments box. Let me instead just point you to a few websites:


              Now, that was what I turned up in about ten minutes of looking around. Read some or all of them at your leisure, and tell me honestly that you have never heard any comments along these lines in mainstream Protestant writing over the past 400 years or so?

              Perhaps you have not encountered it before; or perhaps you think these arguments are reasonable, and not wacko crackpot arguments.

              I call them crackpot arguments because not one, no, not one, quotes a Catholic authority to support the accusation that the Church teaches the worship of Mary. Not. One.

              This is not the way lawyers argue, nor philosophers, nor scientists. It is the way crackpots argue, people obsessed over one fixed idea.

              Back when I was a nondenominational Christian, and as openminded as it is possible for me to be, this was the one issue I could never see the point of. It is merely an accusation. There is no substance to it.

              Here is the official teaching of the Church, as expressed in Lumen Gentium (http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_const_19641121_lumen-gentium_en.html), and quoted in the Catechism (http://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p123a9p6.htm):

              “Placed by the grace of God, as God’s Mother, next to her Son, and exalted above all angels and men, Mary intervened in the mysteries of Christ and is justly honored by a special cult in the Church. Clearly from earliest times the Blessed Virgin is honored under the title of Mother of God, under whose protection the faithful took refuge in all their dangers and necessities. Hence after the Synod of Ephesus the cult of the people of God toward Mary wonderfully increased in veneration and love, in invocation and imitation, according to her own prophetic words: “All generations shall call me blessed, because He that is mighty hath done great things to me”. This cult, as it always existed, although it is altogether singular, differs essentially from the cult of adoration which is offered to the Incarnate Word, as well to the Father and the Holy Spirit, and it is most favorable to it. The various forms of piety toward the Mother of God, which the Church within the limits of sound and orthodox doctrine, according to the conditions of time and place, and the nature and ingenuity of the faithful has approved, bring it about that while the Mother is honored, the Son, through whom all things have their being and in whom it has pleased the Father that all fullness should dwell, is rightly known, loved and glorified and that all His commands are observed.”


              “There is but one Mediator as we know from the words of the apostle, “for there is one God and one mediator of God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself a redemption for all”. The maternal duty of Mary toward men in no wise obscures or diminishes this unique mediation of Christ, but rather shows His power.”


              “But it exhorts theologians and preachers of the divine word to abstain zealously both from all gross exaggerations as well as from petty narrow-mindedness in considering the singular dignity of the Mother of God.(23*) Following the study of Sacred Scripture, the Holy Fathers, the doctors and liturgy of the Church, and under the guidance of the Church’s magisterium, let them rightly illustrate the duties and privileges of the Blessed Virgin which always look to Christ, the source of all truth, sanctity and piety.”

              Now, please notice the difference in tone and approach between these statements of the orthodox faith, and the distinction made between honoring the Mother of Christ and the worship and adoration paid to Christ. Mary only points to Christ. The only reason why she is significant is that she was the mother who bore the Christ child into the world. She was not the first man on the moon nor did she invent the cure for gout.

              So, my question again, is this: are you claiming that you never heard these phobic accusations leveled against the Catholic Church, that we worship Mary on the sly because we have a secret hard-on for Isis and Juno, or are you claiming that the accusations are not a sign of phobia, but are instead reasonable and level headed?

              If you consider the accusations level headed, give me another example of a case where an entire body of over a billion people is accused of secretly doing something that they, and all their official spokesmen, universally deny? What kind of conspiratorial organizational expertize do you think that would take to pull off? We Catholics cannot even excommunicate Nancy Pelosit when she speaks out in public in favor of abortion.

              I want you to pause and savor just how lunatic the accusation is. We Catholics are all worshiping Mary as a goddess, but we all say and think that we are merely honoring the first of the saints and the (human) queen of the angels. None of us are aware of what we are doing. Not one. Either that or we are all hypocrites, and smugly do the evil anyway.

              I hope you are saying you have never met any fellows like this. Try pretending you are a Catholic for two months. They will come out of the woodwork.

              • Comment by Suburbanbanshee:

                If you watch The Journey Home’s interviews of converts on EWTN, you’ll see that the tone of a Protestant’s attitude towards Mary depends very much on the denomination and practices that form him. (And I’m sure individual psychology makes a big difference.) Some converts have big problems with accepting Mary, while others don’t have any problems with that doctrine at all.

                • Comment by John C Wright:

                  That is not the issue. I said that I did not suffer the phobia of Mary which I had seen among Protestants. I did not say nor imply that all Protestants are so affected. Then one of my readers contradicted me, saying that he had never seen any such thing. This either meant he was lucky enough not to see it, or that what I saw he had also seen but did not consider to be a phobia. Hence I gave links to what were one-sided forms of argument, indicative of phobia, containing accusations that a billion Catholic, Orthodox, Coptic, SYriacs, etc., etc., for 2000 or so years had been worshiping Mary without realizing it or admitting it. I provided a link to a Magisterial document of the Church giving the official position, and I invite one and all to examine the two for reasons of comparison and contrast.

                  So your point is well taken, but not pertinent to what the dispute here is. No one said all Protestants are Mariophobes. Just the ones who coined and use the term Mariolatry.

      • Comment by DaveSomething:

        I am fascinated to hear that Christian Scientists do not profess Sola Scriptura. If you don’t mind a tangent, what do they profess? I know virtually nothing about them, and I understand you’ve got a personal connection. ;)

        • Comment by John C Wright:

          They do not hold that the scripture is self explanatory, but say that you need to read Mrs Eddy’s textbook, SCIENCE AND HEALTH WITH KEY TO THE SCRIPTURE, to understand what the scripture actually teaches.

          They believe God is an impersonal force of pure love and pure spirit, a one cosmic mind from whom no mind is separate, that all matter is illusion and that the source of all disease and sin and death is the belief in the reality and supremacy of matter, and that any sickness can be cured by overcoming that illusion, and resting in the perfect knowledge of the omnipotence and omnipresence of God. They believe Jesus was a human prophet but that “Christ” was an enlightened state of mind anyone can achieve with faith and dedication. They have no trace of belief in the Incarnation, the Trinity, or the Doctrine of the Atonement. They believe sin and evil are likewise illusions. They do not believe in the devil or in hell, or in a Last Judgment, since all sin is illusion: no one has ever done nor suffered harm. They do not believe in the fall of man, since all separation form God is illusory. They have no sacraments and do not baptize their children, or, rather, they regard the entire Bible as metaphorical, so that a mere act of mental assent is the same as baptism.

          I maybe leaving out important clarifying points which would make this rough summary clearer.

          And yet they also claim to have no dogmas, so, technically, I suppose, one could use the Christian Science healing prayer techniques without assenting to Mrs Eddy’s personal and very heterodox theological opinions. Since in effect, Mr Eddy’s attempt was to reduce all Christian teaching to a healing ministry (every improvement in life is a type of healing, and every motion toward God is a healing) I do not think disregarding her speculations about how prayer heals is as significant as her rather strong evidence that it does. I myself am a living example of the efficacy of technique.

          My main reason for becoming Catholic was not out of any disrespect to the Christian Scientists, but only because I wanted to hear more about Christ and less about Mrs Eddy. I had the same problem with Luther and Lutheranism, and Calvin an Calvinism. (I had the opposite problem with Anglicanism: the Anglicans did not seem to have any idea at all as to why they broke with Rome, or what if anything prevents a reconciliation.)

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  9. Comment by WATYF:

    Leaving aside the fact that not all Protestants (or even most these days) deny free will, and that many (most?) Protestants accept that good works arise as a natural outgrowth of faith (and that their differences with Catholics on that topic are much more nuanced), I’d like to address a few parts of this argument…

    On the other side, the ghost of Aquinas argues that sola scriptura, a doctrine not found in scripture, is a contradiction in terms, that it must lead to endless fissiparation not to mention that it undermines the Church authority by whose sole witness anyone knows the Bible to be authoritative

    How is it a contradiction in terms? How must it lead to endless fissiparation?

    And who says any Church “authority” is necessary to empirically determine that a given set of documents were written by who they say they are written by? It simply does not follow that being able to determine that a given document was actually written by the disciples also means that you have the authority to interpret it and even add to it.

    In effect, the Lutheran claim is a claim of the right to rebel against the teaching authority of the Church, on the grounds that the Church is apostate. Unfortunately, the sole witness for the apostasy of the Church is an alleged disagreement between Church teachings and the scriptures on which the Church relies for those teachings.

    And if it isn’t simply “alleged”, then what? Does your argument really amount to, “Since the Catholic church, in the 4th century, was correct in selecting which documents are a reliable testimony, they can never be incorrect about any other issue ever for all time”…?

    Even if we grant you the premise that being able to determine the historicity of documents (which are then accepted as scripture) required any “authority” (and not just an examination of evidence that anyone could have done), we still have no reason to believe that that same authority 1) extends to anything other than “choosing scripture” and 2) eliminates the possibility that they can ever stray from that authority or be wrong about anything (or a lot of things).

    For all we know, “choosing scripture” could be the only thing for which the Catholic church was used by God, and the rest was just an exercise in human arrogance. Or for all we know, God just used whoever happened to be the prevalent Christian body at the time to do it, and He woulda used anyone else had the circumstances been different. We do, after all, believe in a powerful God who can work all things for His own will (including hardening a Pharoah’s heart in order to bring about His plan). So why do we assume that because God used the Catholic church to choose scripture that she was anything other than a tool in the hand of God, much like many tools before them?

    But the sole witness for the validity, canonicity, historicity, and divinity those selfsame scriptures is the authority of the Church whose members wrote them, gathered, sanctified, protected, promulgated and canonized them.

    Having a correct assessment of historicity is not the same as having the correct assessment of meaning and interpretation. Because, let’s face it, all of those other (plentiful) adjectives you used are derived from that one thing.

    We only believe in their “validity” because we believe their historicity.

    We only assigned them their “canonicity” because we believe their historicity.

    We only accept their “divinity” (or being divinely inspired) because we believe their historicity.

    So, again, how does it follow that a group which was capable of determining the historicity of a thing is also necessarily granted any “authority” to interpret and add to that thing, even to the point where they cannot ever be wrong?

    If the above does not follow, then it does follow that the same people who were able to determine the historicity of scripture were also capable of being incorrect when interpreting those scriptures, and that they can be held to account by the very scriptures which they approved.


    • Comment by John C Wright:

      “How is it a contradiction in terms? How must it lead to endless fissiparation?”

      Sola Scriptura is the doctrine that all Christian truths are found in scripture; but nowhere in scripture does it say all Christian truths are found in scripture; therefore if the doctrine of Sola Scriptura is a Christian truth, it is a truth not found in scripture, hence disproving itself, or it is not a Christian truth.

      It leads to endless fissiparation because no doctrine of the faith is then proof against additional reinterpretation or misinterpretation. There is no one with any final say. Every individual decides for himself the truths of the Christian faith, and he has as much right to start his own church as Christ did.

      Which is exactly what we have seen in the last 400 years. There is a new denomination founded about three times a week, or so I hear.

      • Comment by DaveSomething:

        Sola Scriptura is the doctrine that all Christian truths are found in scripture

        In fact, I believe this is a misstatement. Rather, all truths which are necessary for salvation and holiness are found in scripture (I pulled that definition from Wikipedia, which may not constitute an authoritative source, but that is the definition that my Protestant friends have used in the past). With this definition in mind, sola scriptura is not self refuting, it is simply not a truth which is necessary for salvation and holiness. Which seems to be in keeping with most Protestants’ views of Catholics, at least these days.

        I agree with you entirely regarding the endless fissiparation which it leads to, though.

        • Comment by John C Wright:

          “Christian truths” means “truths necessary for salvation” because any truth not needed for salvation, such as the chemical formula for Peanut Butter, cannot form the basis of a dispute worthy of schism and worthy of forming a new church, and has nothing to do with the teachings of Christ.

          Logically, if the Catholic Church teaches something erroneous, such as, for example, that Job rhymes with slob rather than with globe, but that error does not imperil the salvation of the soul, then there is no warrant to abolish the old church and start a new one, since the only mission of any church is to save souls.

          • Comment by DaveSomething:

            You started with “sola scriptura is self contradictory because the doctrine of sola scriptura is not contained within scripture”. You now seem to be saying “sola scriptura, even if true, is insufficient to justify splitting the church”, which is an entirely different argument.

            • Comment by John C Wright:

              No, it is the same argument. You brought up the possibility that sola scriptura refers to something abut which reasonable Christians can differ, that is, something where no Magisterial decision is needed. My comment about splitting the Church was in reference to this idea of yours, of a trivial version of sola scriptura, explaining why the particular clarification is irrelevant to the argument.

              I said, ” “sola scriptura is self contradictory because the Christian doctrine of sola scriptura is not contained within scripture” You said “What if sola scriptura is not needed for salvation, that is, not a Christian doctrine properly so called (because anything not needed for salvation is not a Christian doctrine)?” I answered “In that case it is not sola scriptura at all.” And I used “splitting the church” as the touchstone for defining the difference between what was a Christian doctrine and what was not.

  10. Comment by Eliphion:

    Quick question, and I’m sorry if it’s too personal. You state, “From age seven upward I was an atheist,” and I wondered, what were you until age seven? My apologies if this is already answered elsewhere.


  11. Comment by ChevalierdeJohnstone:

    Mr. Wright, this is now my favorite blog.

    I hope you will consider publishing, perhaps after some revising and editing for clarity, this apology and other excerpts of your philosophical discussions, in print form (perhaps as a PDF or some other nontraditional publishing format, as I don’t think we can ask your publisher to go so far outside their comfort zone and publish philosophy.)

    I do think that the blog format is the best way to discover these musings, but I fear losing these if for some reason you abandon your website or it goes down, where a print format would be more permanent. In addition, while we often think that sending a link to a website is an easy way to share information, I find that far too many people do not have the attention span to read a multi-part blog discussion, and develop false conclusions based on reading one or two posts. Whereas if one says, “Here, friend, I think you might find this book interesting,” they will find it on the bedside table once in a while, and even if they don’t manage to read the whole thing, they will not make the mistake of pretending to believe that they have understood the entire argument after only reading the first few chapters.

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