Gutting on Catholicism

Via Massimo Pigliucci, I just read Gary Gutting’s defense of his Catholic faith. Here’s the opening:

An old friend and mentor of mine, Ernan McMullin, was a philosopher of science widely respected in his discipline. He was also a Catholic priest. I don’t know how many times fellow philosophers at professional meetings drew me aside and asked, “Does Ernan really believe that stuff?” (He did.) Amid all the serious and generally respectful coverage of the papal resignation and the election of a new pope, I often detect an undertone of this same puzzlement. Can reflective and honest intellectuals actually believe that stuff?

Here I sketch my reasons for answering “yes.” What I offer is neither apologetics aimed at converting others nor merely personal testimony. Without claiming to speak for others, I try to articulate a position that I expect many fellow Catholics will find congenial and that non-Catholics (even those who reject all religion) may recognize as an intellectually respectable stance. Easter is the traditional time for Christians to reaffirm their faith. I want to show that we can do this without renouncing reason.

Since I am one of those who reject all religion, I am certainly interested to hear what Gutting has to say. There’s something about Roman Catholicism, at least as presented by its leaders, that I have always found especially indefensible. It is already hard to believe the theological teachings about Jesus that are a part of Protestantism no less than Catholicism. But Catholicism then adds an extra level of dubiousness, by teaching that its leaders are singularly capable of interpreting scripture, that the Pope can speak infallibly under certain circumstances, that its moral teachings are definitive, and so on. I was looking forward to Gutting’s effort to make an acceptance of such beliefs seem intellectually respectable.

Alas, I was destined for disappointment. Gutting defends none of those things. In fact, what he defends is a very theologically liberal form of Catholicism. Indeed, what he defends seems like little more than a sort of vague, cultural Catholicism. I have no objection to cultural religion, as readers of this blog are aware. My atheism did not stop me from participating in two Passover seders last week. But it does seem like a bit of a cheat to say you are going to make Catholicism seem intellectually respectable, and then not address any of the reasons people ever thought it wasn’t respectable.

Gutting continues:

Toward the end of James Joyce’s “A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man,” the protagonist, Stephen Dedalus, rejects the Roman Catholic faith he was raised in. A friend suggests that he might, then, become a Protestant. Stephen replies, “I said that I had lost the faith . . . but not that I had lost self-respect.” Factoring out the insult to Protestants, I would like to appropriate this Joycean mot to explain my own continuing attachment to the Catholic Church.

Factoring out the insult to Protestants? There’s not much left of the quote after you do that.

I read “self-respect” as respect for what are (to borrow the title of the philosopher Charles Taylor’s great book) the “sources of the self.” These are the sources nurturing the values that define an individual’s life. For me, there are two such sources. One is the Enlightenment, where I’m particularly inspired by Voltaire, Hume and the founders of the American republic. The other is the Catholic Church, in which I was baptized as an infant, raised by Catholic parents, and educated for 8 years of elementary school by Ursuline nuns and for 12 more years by Jesuits. For me to deny either of these sources would be to deny something central to my moral being.

The Enlightenment and the Catholic Church? Yes, that needs some explaining. But first let me explain my attachment to Catholicism. My Catholic education has left me with three deep convictions. First, it is utterly important to know, to the extent that we can, the fundamental truth about human life: where it came from, what (if anything) it is meant for, how it should be lived. Second, this truth can in principle be supported and defended by human reason. Third, the Catholic philosophical and theological tradition is a fruitful context for pursuing fundamental truth, but only if it is combined with the best available secular thought. (The Jesuits I studied with were particularly strong on all three of these claims.)

At this point you might suspect that it’s a pretty liberal version of Catholicism that Gutting is going to defend. I have never heard a Pope or a Bishop say that Catholic teaching needs to be supplemented with secular thought. In fact, I thought the whole point of Catholic teaching was to protect us from the utter corruption of secular thought. As for speaking stirringly about the effect of Catholic education on his upbringing, that makes me understand why he might see himself as culturally Catholic, not why he would defend the intellectual respectability of Catholicism.

Moreover, it sure seems to me that, to the extent that we can know anything about where human life came from and what it is meant for, it is science, and not Church teaching, that will show the way. As for how life should be lived, I would say that is something everyone has to work out for himself. If we are looking for a fruitful context for investigating that question, a Church that claims exclusive insight into absolute truth does not come immediately to mind.

Careful readers will note that these three convictions do not include the belief that the specific teachings of the Catholic Church provide the fundamental truths of human life. What I do believe is that these teachings are very helpful for understanding the human condition. Here I distinguish three domains: metaphysical doctrines about the existence and nature of God, historical accounts from the Bible of how God has intervened in human history to reveal his truth and the ethics of love preached by Jesus.

Okay, now he’s just messing with us. The Church itself seems quite certain that its teachings represent nothing less than the fundamental truths of human life. If you’re not defending the Church’s special authority to hold forth on such questions, then what, exactly, are you defending?

You might have noticed that Gutting is being awfully vague about what he actually believes. What, exactly, does it mean to say that the Catholic philosophical and theological tradition provided a fruitful context for pursuing fundamental truth? To judge from this latest paragraph, he does not find it so fruitful that it actually leads to fundamental truth. So what then? And if it’s just bits and pieces of Jesus’ teachings that you like, well, you can have those without the baggage of the hierarchy.

This vagueness is one of the reasons I sometimes sympathize with fundamentalists over more moderate believers. With the fundamentalists, you are simply never left wondering about what they believe and why they believe it. By contrast, moderate, intellectual defenders of religion, like Gutting, frequently find it difficult to express themselves with any clarity.

The ethics of love I revere as the inspiration for so many (Catholics and others) who have led exemplary moral lives. I don’t say that this ethics is the only exemplary way to live or that we have anything near to an adequate understanding of it. But I know that it has been a powerful force for good. (Like so many Catholics, I do not see how the hierarchy’s rigid strictures on sex and marriage could follow from the ethics of love.) As to the theistic metaphysics, I’m agnostic about it taken literally, but see it as a superb intellectual construction that provides a fruitful context for understanding how our religious and moral experiences are tied to the ethics of love. The historical stories, I maintain, are best taken as parables illustrating moral and metaphysical teachings.

Traditional apologetics has started with metaphysical arguments for God’s existence, then argued from the action of God in the world to the truth of the Church’s teachings as revealed by God and finally justified the ethics of love by appealing to these teachings. I reverse this order, putting first the ethics of love as a teaching that directly captivates our moral sensibility, then taking the history and metaphysics as helpful elucidations of the ethics.

So, Catholic teaching has been a powerful force for good, except on the subject of sex and marriage where they have mostly gotten it wrong (and have thereby contributed greatly to human misery, I would add). He’s agnostic about “theistic metaphysics.” He thinks the Bible’s stories are not true as history, but teach moral lessons that he finds congenial. And he uses his own views about ethics as the guide to how he understands the Bible, in direct contravention of the usual approach. This, recall, in what was meant to be a defense of Catholicism.

As for, “…but see it as a superb intellectual construction that provides a fruitful context for understanding how our religious and moral experiences are tied to the ethics of love,” I can’t even imagine what that means.

Gutting has anticipated my objection:

Of course, I can already hear the obvious objection: “What you believe isn’t Catholicism — it is a diluted concoction that might satisfy ultra-liberal Protestants or Unitarians, but is nothing like the robust tonic of orthodox Catholic doctrine. It’s not surprising that so paltry a ‘faith’ doesn’t conflict with the Enlightenment view of religion.” My answer is that Catholicism too has reconciled itself to the Enlightenment view of religion.

Reconciled itself to the Enlightenment view of religion? Seriously? I think at this point it is fair to say that Gutting is not defending actual Catholicism as presented by Rome, but rather a fantastical, made-up version of Catholicism he finds more congenial. I had no idea that the Church was so tolerant and accepting of those who dissent from their teachings. How does Gutting defend this remarkable idea?

First, the Church now explicitly acknowledges the right of an individual’s conscience in religious matters: No one may “be prevented from acting according to his conscience, especially in religious matters” (“Catechism of the Catholic Church,” citing a decree from the Second Vatican Council). The official view still maintains that a conscience that rejects the hierarchy’s formal teaching is objectively in error. But it acknowledges that subjectively individuals not only may but should act on their sincere beliefs.

So you may follow your conscience, but if your conscience leads you away from Church teachings then you are wrong and that is it. Moreover, I would add that if you fail to meet their most recent definition of what constitutes a Christian, then you will burn in Hell for all eternity. That is not the Enlightenment view of religion.

Second, the Church, in practice, hardly ever excludes from its community those who identity themselves as Catholics but reinterpret central teachings (and perhaps reject less central ones). The “faithful” who attend Mass, receive the sacraments, send their children to Catholic schools and sometimes even teach theology include many who hold views similar to mine. Church leaders have in effect agreed that the right to follow one’s conscience includes the right of dissident Catholics to remain members of the Church. They implicitly recognize the absurdity of the claim that a dissident who has been raised and educated in the Catholic Church and has maintained, with the Church’s implicit consent, a lifetime involvement in its life is not “really” a Catholic.

I’m delighted that the Church “hardly ever” excludes those who defy their teachings (though they certainly reserve the right to do so at their whim). I do seem to remember the Church threatening to withhold the sacraments from Catholic politicians who dissent from their teachings, so forgive me if I’m less impressed than Gutting by their open-mindedness.

Gutting goes on for a few more paragraphs, but I think we have seen enough. In the end, I have no idea what it is, exactly, that Gutting wants me to find intellectually reasonable about Catholicism. He mostly rejects all of the parts that people find offensive; such as the claims of exclusive authority, the ludicrous teachings on sex and marriage, claims of having unique insights regarding the truth about humanity. What’s left seems like little more than a vague fondness for the Bible, some appreciation for the work of Catholic philosophers, and the after-effects of many years of Catholic schooling. There’s actually very little in his essay that could not have been written by a secular humanist. I fear we shall have to look elsewhere for a proper defense of Roman Catholicism.

Comments

  1. #1 darkgently
    Australia
    April 3, 2013

    As a former Catholic, I can see his problem. He wants to remain part of the Church for cultural reasons but he dissents from most Catholic teachings, so he defends his own beliefs instead. He knows that the Church considers him to be wrong but, since they tolerate him, it still counts!

    You can almost taste the cognitive dissonance.

  2. #2 MNb
    April 3, 2013

    “the Pope can speak infallibly when he chooses to do so”
    This is incorrect. The pope only is infallible in strictly limited circumstances and certainly cannot chose to do so. That’s why it happened only twice in 140 years.

    “Second, this truth can in principle be supported and defended by human reason.”
    Wrong, Mr. Gutting. Herman Philipse in his God in the Age of Science definitely has shown that no belief, including your Catholic truths, can be reasonable.

    “I know that it has been a powerful force for good.”
    And for evil. That might very well have to do a lot with the claim that Jesus is the perfect embodiment of unselfish love – an unjustified claim. There are good reasons to hold St. Franciscus of Assisi in higher regard.

    “the nature of hierarchical authority is part of what liberals contest.”
    Mr. Gutting legitimizes that hierarchical authority and its nature with his membership. He could join the Old-Catholic Church, for instance, which is far less hierarchical. Leaving the RCC to the conservatives might very well be the most effective way to undermine the hierarchical structure of the RCC.
    Obviously, like all intelligent catholics I’ve met, Gutting thinks maintaining the RCC a value in itself. As such he also legitimizes its criminal activities. I’m not referring to the pedophilia scandals, which are bad enough, but not exceptionally bad. I’m referring to this:

    http://news.yahoo.com/forced-adoptions-for-unwed-mothers-around-the-globe.html

    In the end, when it really matters, liberal catholics will betray their liberalism and defend their church. No liberal catholic stood up for Sanal Edamaruku, who was banned from his country thanks to the RCC. That’s the ultimate failure of liberal catholicism – it doesn’t practice what it preaches.

    Thanks for giving me the opportunity to tear liberal christianity apart. It’s something way too few atheists bother to do.

  3. #3 MNb
    April 3, 2013

    “Gutting is being awfully vague about what he actually believes.”
    All liberal christians essentially believe the same.
    1. There is a god; god is love.
    2. Jesus is the perfect embodiment of unselfish love.
    3. That message is the greatest ever put in words.

    “he uses his own views about ethics as the guide”
    This is not correct, though it works out that way in practice. The idea is that the tales about Jesus are the best guideline for developing a view on ethics available. Subjectivity comes in when interpreting. Liberal catholics accept not only bits and pieces, but the whole package. They use theology and apologetics to interpret it in the most liberal way possible.

    “I can’t even imagine what that means.”
    See the three points I mentioned above.

    “a fantastical, made-up version of Catholicism he finds more congenial.”
    Well, yes. That’s why he refers to Hans Küng, an important Swiss theologian.

    “I had no idea that the Church was so tolerant and accepting of those who dissent from their teachings.”
    It is. Küng and his fans have never been excommunicated. The clergy just ignores them.

    “then you will burn in Hell for all eternity”
    I am not sure, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Gutting rejected the whole idea of Hell.

    “What’s left”
    The core is that Gutting, like all liberal catholics, is emotionally attached to the RCC. So he wants to have it both ways.

    “I fear we shall have to look elsewhere for a proper defense of Roman Catholicism.”
    I fear he will answer you have written nothing to refute him. If you want to upset Gutting you have to go at the three points I mentioned above. Plus you must argue that catholicism is a failure according to those same three points. That way you hit them where it hurts most.

    1. “god is love” is meaningless;
    2. See Russell’s Why I’m not a christian for starters;
    3. That message includes its own failure.

    Gutting will not like that.

  4. #4 Eric Lund
    April 3, 2013

    “I had no idea that the Church was so tolerant and accepting of those who dissent from their teachings.”
    It is. Küng and his fans have never been excommunicated. The clergy just ignores them.

    The Church rarely resorts to excommunication these days, but it has other ways of enforcing its wishes. There are the bishops that say, in public, that politicians who do not adhere to the official Church position on certain issues (most often abortion) should be denied the sacraments, as Jason mentions in the post. There is also the example of liberation theology, which was all about empowering the poor through religion. Liberation theology was popular in Latin America in the 1980s, but it has been largely suppressed as the Vatican punished priests who supported it and promoted others who opposed it.

    Gutting seems to be defending a theoretical Catholicism, rather than the Catholic Church. The former is easier to do than the latter. Even so, Gutting is only partially successful at defending his theoretical Catholicism.

  5. #5 Jason Rosenhouse
    April 3, 2013

    MNb –

    The Pope is infallible when he is speaking ex cathedra on matters of doctrine. As far as I can tell, it is the Pope himself who decides when those conditions are met. Here’s the Catholic encyclopedia’s explanation of it.

  6. #6 Stefanus
    Tangerang, Indonesia
    April 3, 2013

    According to the First Dogmatic Constution of the RCC, ex cathedra is defined as, “when, in the exercise of his office as shepherd and teacher of all Christians, in virtue of his supreme apostolic authority, (the Bishop of Rome) defines a doctrine concerning faith or morals to be held by the whole Church” (bolds added for emphasis)

    I think that this clearly mean it is not a condition defined by the Pope himself, since the guidelines also require that the topic must be about the faith and morals

  7. #7 Jason Rosenhouse
    April 3, 2013

    Stefanus –

    I don’t think that’s clear at all. The guidelines say that the Pope can only speak infallibly on certain topics, but who actually decides when the Pope is speaking ex cathedra? My understanding was that it is the Pope himself who decides that, but I could well be wrong. If someone can point me to a document that explains this clearly I’d appreciate it.

    It’s possible that the way I phrased it was incorrect, but that would not alter the point I was making. It is the doctrine of infallibility itself that is offensive, not the mechanics of how it is actually applied. To head off another point that sometimes gets made, it is also irrelevant that the doctrine is applied so rarely. It should not exist at all in any system of thought being defended as intellectually respectable.

  8. #8 Jason Rosenhouse
    April 3, 2013

    I have altered the phrasing of that sentence to avoid the issue of who decides when the Pope is speaking infallibly. I would still appreciate some clarification of this point, if anyone is able to provide it.

  9. #9 Lenoxus
    April 3, 2013

    I’ve often wondered why popes don’t overdo/abuse the whole infallibility thing. Yes, I know they’re only infallible “sometimes”, yet it still seems that they themselves, not cardinals or others, determine these times. And apparently it’s only in regard to “morality”, but that sounds quite flexible.

    Why not say “It is now holy, just, god-ordained, yadda yadda, that I recieve a backrub, a margarita and the latest iPhone.” Yes, in principle, such a pope would recieve funny or angry looks — but isn’t it inconsistent to think ill of an infallible statement? It seems to me that if a true doctrine says Statement X is infallible, then you defer to Statement X, not to your own common sense.

    Perhaps the answer is simply that the Vatican is already everything a person could want, as played for humor in an Onion article from after John Paul II died.

  10. #10 MNb
    April 3, 2013

    @JR: “it is the Pope himself who decides when those conditions are met”
    Well, yes, as far as I know, but it is quite similar to a judge who decides if he/she is neutral enough or not to conduct a process. From your link:

    “the conditions required for ex cathedra”
    and these are rather specific. My point is that this is quite not the same as “when the pope chooses to do so”.

    “It is the doctrine of infallibility itself that is offensive.”
    The old-catholics agree with you – that’s why they split some 150 years ago. They are small, but it is remarkable how much more tolerant they are. My point is – and no liberal catholic has been able to answer it thus far – that if catholics were serious about their liberalism there is a good option available. But they all prefer to stay within the RCC.
    Next you encounter a liberal catholic I recommend you to refer to

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Old_Catholic_Church

    Papal infallibility is not the weak spot of liberal catholics. The mere existence of the OCC is a weak spot, because it’s a denomination that to a much larger extent embraces their views. We atheists should not let Gutting and co get away with it.

    “Simply to renounce it would be, as I said at the outset, to lose my self-respect — to deny part of my moral core.”
    The belief system of the OCC being very, very similar to the one of the RCC and with the OCC being far less authoritarian Gutting only can maintain this argument by finding that moral core in the parts that the OCC reject. Those include the far more liberal teachings.
    Either Gutting is a hypocrite or he is deceiving himself with

    “an intellectually respectable stance”

    We atheists should confront him with it. Without mercy.

  11. #11 deepak shetty
    April 3, 2013

    @lenoxus
    You have a broken link –
    The onion article is at http://www.theonion.com/articles/heaven-less-opulent-than-vatican-reports-disappoin,1315/

  12. #12 MNb
    April 3, 2013

    S**t – once again I wrote the opposite of what they meant. Gutting finds his moral core in the parts that the OCC reject and these parts are far more authoritarian. The OCC is the liberal version.

    Plus of course “Next time you encounter ….”

  13. #13 Roger
    April 3, 2013

    This makes more sense if you see it as a defense of his Catholic beliefs, rather than a defense of the Catholic church. One is faith; the other is an institution.

    Further, because of that faith, he likely does not feel the need to fall in lockstep with the institution to still hold respect for it, as ostensibly they share the same faith (if not the exact same approach).

    I don’t feel there’s anything inherently wrong with his defense in this context; if you’re looking for a defense of the church’s practices, he’s not providing it, because it does not seem to be his goal.

    Accepting (but not embracing) the Catholic hierarchy reminds me of those of Jewish faith who claim atheism/agnosticism, but still maintain a kosher diet, or similar religious-based observances or restrictions. Like you said, that’s an example of cultural religion (often passed down via ancestry, i.e., ethnicity). It doesn’t mean Gutting approves of the church’s various stances (again, no defense was even attempted), but he accepts its existence as an inherited part of his faith.

    Maybe I’m reading too much into it, and maybe I’m giving him too much credit. But that’s how it comes across to me. It seems that you didn’t find the defense you were seeking…because it isn’t the defense that he was trying to make in the first place (I’m reminded of the anti-vax “But that’s not the study we asked for!” cry).

    Incidentally, I doubt you’ll ever get THAT particular essay, because the complaints you lodge against the institution itself are fairly indefensible.

  14. #14 MNb
    April 3, 2013

    Apologies; I really use too many words to drive my point home. As such I look like a liberal RCC apologist. This will for at least the next 12 hours the last reaction.
    Gutting and co want to pose as liberal, progressive, enlightened catholics. They can and will shrug off papal infallibility, it not being part of their moral core. As such they still can and will maintain their pose as defenders of liberal values like gay rights. Subsequently they will ask why we liberal atheists don’t accept them as their allies (brrr). Gutting’s article fully reflects this attitude.
    Well, I don’t accept him as an ally because he is in my view not liberal, not progressive and not enlightened. I have given several reasons above why and they have only indirectly to do with papal infallibility.

  15. #15 Mu
    April 3, 2013

    Funny, I always found Catholicism easier to swallow for the reason you think it worse; you are allowed to rely on 2000 years of scripture interpretation as authoritative, and teachings are allowed to change. You’re not stuck with a bronze/iron age text and it’s literal reading (in the one authoritative translation in most cases).

  16. #16 PFessel
    Greensboro NC
    April 3, 2013

    JR: “I would add that if you fail to meet their most recent definition of what constitutes a Christian, then you will burn in Hell for all eternity.”

    This is incorrect, according to my Catholic brother, who says virtuous non-Christians may attain salvation alongside Christians in Heaven- a significant step forward from the earlier position that only baptised Christians could go to heaven.

  17. #17 Blaine
    April 3, 2013

    Gutting: “These are the sources nurturing the values that define an individual’s life. For me, there are two such sources. One is the Enlightenment, where I’m particularly inspired by Voltaire, Hume and the founders of the American republic.The other is the Catholic Church, in which I was baptized as an infant, raised by Catholic parents, and educated for 8 years of elementary school by Ursuline nuns and for 12 more years by Jesuits. For me to deny either of these sources would be to deny something central to my moral being.”

    The old Jesuit saying is: “Give me the child until he is seven and I will give you the man.”

    It sounds like Gutting is nothing more than a trained monkey.

  18. #18 couchloc
    April 3, 2013

    Mnb writes,

    “Gutting and co want to pose as liberal, progressive, enlightened catholics. They can and will shrug off papal infallibility, it not being part of their moral core. As such they still can and will maintain their pose as defenders of liberal values like gay rights. Subsequently they will ask why we liberal atheists don’t accept them as their allies (brrr)……
    Well, I don’t accept him as an ally…..”

    Part of me is not surprised by this reaction, but I think it’s unfortunate. And I think the same way about some of Rosenhouse’s comments as well. Gutting is describing a very liberal version of catholicism that places it tolerably within modern life. He rejects a literal reading of the Bible, the notion of Hell, is not opposed to gay rights, is accepting of enlightenment values, open to rational debate about social and ethical issues, etc. etc. I would think this is a very moderate version of religion to have, all things considered, in contrast to all the crazy fundamentalist, ignorant, homophobic bible thumpers around the country. If his view was more represented in the population of believers it is likely most of the social policy ills new atheists worry about with religion would just go away. And yet the purists insist this is not enough and need to heap scorn on this “hypocrite.” I think if you had any sense as a social movement trying to bring positive change, the new atheists around here would invite this man to dinner and sell tickets to his book signing.

  19. #19 MNb
    April 4, 2013

    @Couchloc: you haven’t addressed a single one of the objections I have made. Just one question. Where was Gutting when his beloved church forced Sanal Edamaruku into exile?
    Exactly. So far his social commitment and his contribution to positive change. Die Römisch-Katholische Kirche über alles.

  20. #20 jane
    April 4, 2013

    I am not a Christian and have always heartily disliked the Catholic Church. (I feel obliged for some strange reason to point this out.) Nevertheless, I believe that this post is a rare genuine example of a No True Scotsman Fallacy. This man explains his own Catholic faith in a way that is hard to revile – ergo, he’s not a real Catholic, so the fact that he’s tolerant and reasonable cannot be used to argue that Catholicism isn’t inherently hateful.

  21. #21 Lucilio Vanini
    April 4, 2013

    @jane – Exactly!

    This gets back to the old Popperian distinction between the context of discovery and the context of justification. The context of discovery in terms of religion would be discovering some worthwhile values taught by a religion( akin to picking undigested corn out of excrement ). The context of justification, or more accurately, the context of legitimation would be the rational justification of those values – without reference or dependence on the religion.

    One might find some worthwhile values in Judaism, Christianity or Islam and still recognize that the religions themselves are still piles of filth. Of course the values themselves will have nothing whatsoever to do with the religion.

  22. #22 Roger
    April 4, 2013

    @MNb,

    No offense, but I’m with Couchloc. I don’t know Gutting well enough to know where he SHOULD have been in your example. Does Gutting hold influence over the church? (I’m asking because I don’t actually know). Does he have power over the bishops, the cardinals, the pope?

    Being affiliated with a belief shouldn’t make that person responsible for the actions of humans who may share that belief. Being an atheist didn’t cause Stalin to be a mass murderer; being a mass murderer caused Stalin to be a mass murderer. It doesn’t mean atheists everywhere are guilty of inaction wrt his reign.

    Again, I’m ignorant of Gutting’s influence, so if he should have acted, and did not, then he is guilty. He’s not guilty just because of his faith.

    @Lucilio,

    I respectfully disagree. Calling the religions “piles of filth” doesn’t show much tolerance or understanding on your own part. I personally know some wonderful human beings who are inspired by their faith. Would they have been wonderful without it? Conjecture, but sure, probably. Regardless, in their mind, they find guidance and inspiration in their faith. Not murder, not bigotry, not oppression.

    If people draw positive influence, then I don’t care if they draw it from fairy tales, religion, philosophy, whatever. They can delude themselves their entire lives. I only have problems with those who draw NEGATIVE influence from religion, and yes, there are plenty of those. But again, people will be people; a greedy, evil, filthy human being will be such with or without a religion, and a good, kind human being will be such with or without a religion. Anyone who believes otherwise is childishly naive.

  23. #23 Matt
    April 4, 2013

    I’m interested in how the church decides who is a “real” Catholic. If the church requires belief in n items, and I believe in, say, only n-5 of those things, am I a “real” Catholic? I’ve heard believers say things like “It doesn’t matter what you believe, as long as you’re a good person.” What a cop out. Seems to me there are core beliefs without which you can’t be Catholic, e.g., transubstantiation. But plenty of so-called Catholics don’t REALLY believe in transubstantiation.

    The question also applies not only to which beliefs but which actions. If you use birth control–a violation of church law–are you a real Catholic? Once again, I can just hear the hedging: “Nobody’s perfect” or “we’re all sinners.” Yeah, but the point remains. If you’re gonna follow your own conscience and intellect instead of the church’s, why even bother with the pretense of faith and obedience?

  24. #24 MNb
    April 4, 2013

    @Jane: don’t worry. I see Gutting as just another catholic hypocrite.

    @Roger: “He’s not guilty just because of his faith.”
    Strawman. That’s not what I wrote. People are not only responsible for what they do, they are also responsible for what they don’t do. Gutting is not guilty for Sanal Edamaruku getting banned, he is responsible for not speaking out despite claiming holding up liberal etc values. He doesn’t practice what he preaches. I have developed a strong dislike of people who produce sweet talk about moral cores etc. but let down when action is needed. Before you mention it: I also know believers, including catholics, who inspired by their faith do jobs for which I can’t muster the courage.
    When it comes to the point humbuggers like Gutting choose sides with their church iso their beautiful principles.

  25. #25 Lenoxus
    April 4, 2013

    MnB:

    it is quite similar to a judge who decides if he/she is neutral enough or not to conduct a process.

    That’s a good parallel. Even if a judge is not beholden to another power (such as an executive or a popular vote), s/he would still be inclined not to be seen in a bad light by others. Yet matters of reputation should still, in principle, be trumped by “infallibility.”

    The truth, of course, is that people tend to care about social standing and/or the views of authorities, and thus you have situations like the Milgram experiment — or the various popes doing whatever the cardinals who elected them would want. Which may be a good thing with regards to my silly hypotheticals about a hedonist pope, but is probably also a bad thing with regards to what the Catholic Church actually needs from its leadership right now — someone willing to make authorities upset.

    Regarding comments about whether some atheists here are being mean-spirited or playing a game of “no true Catholic”… that’s a toughie. A reasonable alternative has been laid out — there are in fact Catholic alternatives to the RCC, and since the RCC continues to proclaim various rules with which liberal Catholics disagree, the lack of conversion there is a bit peculiar. At the same time, well, many of these rules are ignored by a majority of Catholics. Who gets to decide whether or not “true” Catholics believe in transubstantiation or the use of contraception — the authorities (by their words) or the laity (by their actions)?

  26. #26 Roger
    April 4, 2013

    @Matt,

    Surveys consistently turn up rates of birth control usage among Catholic women in excess of 90%. I’ve always wondered how the Vatican can possibly maintain their hard-line anti-BC stance in light of the fact that their “faithful” simply…well, disagree.

    @MNb,

    Junior High School debate terms like “Strawman” are great to detract from a point, but only if useful. (And “Out of Context” may not sound as pithy as “Strawman,” but since you took the last sentence of what I wrote, ignoring the two paragraphs that preceded it, it’s far more accurate than your Strawman claim.)

    What I literally wrote, above, was: “Again, I’m ignorant of Gutting’s influence, so if he should have acted, and did not, then he is guilty. He’s not guilty just because of his faith.” You haven’t addressed that at all; you’ve said he hasn’t spoken out when he could.

    So, again, feel free to enlighten me: what is his position that requires him to say anything about it? Was he directly asked about it, and instead opted for “No comment”?

    Plenty of “good” people don’t address every single thing in the world (a practicing Catholic is no more responsible for speaking out against every single crime of the church than Obama is responsible for speaking out against every single crime of every American citizen).

    The impression that I’ve gotten is that you feel his liberal feel-good Catholicism is a sham because he does not embrace a project you feel he should. Unless you provide the reason why, in your example, Gutting should have been compelled to decry the actions of the hierarchy, then your condemnation of his article just comes across as unrealistic expectations, biased because of a dislike for Catholicism.

    I don’t mean to come across as angry or harsh. I honestly just don’t see where your very specific complaint fits in with completely discounting Gutting’s article as not genuine. Further, I admit I am rather annoyed by the off-hand “Strawman” declaration, using it as an “I WIN!” button instead of actually addressing my point; I absolutely know you’re better than that, and was hoping you might illuminate why Gutting bears any significant responsibility for the Edarmaruku case, or how his silence on the matter somehow makes the justification of his faith into hypocrisy.

    Re: #3, I 100% agree with both your assumption of his wanting to “have it both ways,” and your 3-point summary of liberal Christianity.

  27. #27 Lucilio Vanini
    April 4, 2013

    @Roger – I think the point you are making is exactly my point. Because someone can be inspired to do wonderful things because of their religion doesn’t change matters of fact – ie, the matter-of-fact that religions are piles of filth. I was not casting aspirtions on any particular individual. I find it quite awesome that a Buddhist monk self-immolated to protest war – even though I find Buddhism a misogynistic crock of shit. I also find it quite awesome that Christian doctor friend of mine devotes his life to helping the poor and indigent because of his religion and accepts a lower standard of living – however, in the end, it is his values that he is living no matter what the source of inspiration. Do you get the distinction?

    The womanizing Jewish atheist logician Alfred Tarski converted to Roman Catholicism not because he believed any of the ridiculous paedophilic filth, but because he liked the rituals and feeling of transcendence he experienced at an RC Cathedral service. For more on this see: Alfred Tarski: Life and Logic. I mention this only because I find that most posters on this blog are woefully ill-read.

  28. #28 eric
    April 4, 2013

    Mnb:

    Well, yes, as far as I know, but it is quite similar to a judge who decides if he/she is neutral enough or not to conduct a process.

    Its more similar to a cult leader that claims they can fly across the room if they choose to do so, but they choose not to in any situation in which the claim can be reasonably tested. Infallibility is not like a claim of being unbiased, it is more like a claim of a special capability beyond what normal human beings have. And it should be treated as such; with extreme skepticism regardless of how rarely it is claimed to be used.

    Heck, an argument can be made that the less such a capability is used, the more likely it is to be a conscious, knowing confidence act. True believers are not as wary of being caught out as con-men are, because they don’t believe they can be caught out. Con men know they can be caught, so they are more cautious. The RCC’s pattern has been a reduced frequency of ex cathedra statements as independent methods of evaluation get stronger over time. Does this behavior sound like true belief to you, or a group of con-men behaving more cautiously as the cameras around them get better?

    Couchloc:

    I would think this is a very moderate version of religion to have, all things considered, in contrast to all the crazy fundamentalist, ignorant, homophobic bible thumpers around the country. If his view was more represented in the population of believers it is likely most of the social policy ills new atheists worry about with religion would just go away.

    Sure. But it seems somewhat unethical to support the co-option of a religious label just because we like the social views of the person doing the co-opting. That would be kind of like supporting a case of identity theft just because you think this particular identity thief is a nice guy.

    A far more ethical response is: “great, we love your social views. Please continue to advocate for them. But stop associating with and supporting the organization that doctrinally rejects them and in fact spends vast resources to fight against them.”

    Something like that would be my response to Gutting. By all means, continue to advocate for greater love and understanding between people. Even base it on Jesus’ teaching if you like. Advocate for acceptance of gay marriage, condom use to prevent disease, etc. But doing that while saying its Catholic and defending the RCC is somewhat problematic.

  29. #29 Pierce R. Butler
    April 4, 2013

    … the “sources of the self.”

    I would surely have become a different person were it not for a brief childhood event which put me in the hospital for six months. Today, I would not give up the lessons learned from that – but I don’t go ’round recommending massive physical trauma for general kid-raising purposes, either.

  30. #30 Richard
    Puerto Rico
    April 5, 2013

    Over at Meaning of Life TV (http://meaningoflife.tv/video.php?speaker=albacete&topic=complete) Robert Wright interviews Monsignor Lorenzo Albacete, who says, surprisingly to me, that an atheist could go to heaven. Maybe we atheists don’t understand how liberal Catholics can be without being censured. Recall the priest that Bill Maher talked to outside the Vatican in Religulous.

  31. #31 jrosenhouse
    April 5, 2013

    couchloc –

    Part of me is not surprised by this reaction, but I think it’s unfortunate. And I think the same way about some of Rosenhouse’s comments as well.

    Just out of curiosity, which of my remarks did you think crossed the line? I thought I was pretty restrained. I only got really annoyed when he started pretending that the RCC has assimilated the Enlightenment view of religion, and I think you would have to agree that’s a huge stretch.

    As for the rest of your comment, it’s the same nonsense I always get when I criticize theistic evolution. When the subject is science education I am happy to make common cause with theistic evolutionists, but that doesn’t mean their views are immune from criticism. Same thing here. Liberal Catholicism is far preferable to the hardline version, but no Catholicism at all is better still.

    I think eric has it exactly right:

    A far more ethical response is: “great, we love your social views. Please continue to advocate for them. But stop associating with and supporting the organization that doctrinally rejects them and in fact spends vast resources to fight against them.”

    Something like that would be my response to Gutting. By all means, continue to advocate for greater love and understanding between people. Even base it on Jesus’ teaching if you like. Advocate for acceptance of gay marriage, condom use to prevent disease, etc. But doing that while saying its Catholic and defending the RCC is somewhat problematic.

    jane –

    Nevertheless, I believe that this post is a rare genuine example of a No True Scotsman Fallacy. This man explains his own Catholic faith in a way that is hard to revile – ergo, he’s not a real Catholic, so the fact that he’s tolerant and reasonable cannot be used to argue that Catholicism isn’t inherently hateful.

    Sometimes we really can distinguish the true Scotsmen from the false ones. There is a central authority in Roman Catholicism, and they’re the ones who get to decide who is and is not a member of their Church. The term “Catholic” is not infinitely malleable, and at some point you have discarded so much of Church teaching that the term doesn’t mean anything anymore.

    As it happens, though, I never said he wasn’t a real Catholic. What I said was that what he is defending is far different from Roman Catholicism as presented by its leaders. Since he started his essay by claiming he was going to make it seem intellectually respectable to be a member of the RCC, I think it’s reasonable to point out that his defense is based on discarding major aspects of Church teaching.

  32. #32 MNb
    April 5, 2013

    @JR: “I only got really annoyed when he started ….”
    and I think you didn’t get annoyed enough. That’s why I mentioned the Old Catholic Church. The fact that Gutting’s membership is part of his moral core implies that his standpoint is not reasonable but based on emotion. It shows here:

    “For me to deny either of these sources would be to deny something central to my moral being.”

    @JR: “his defense is based on discarding major aspects of Church teaching.”
    His answer will be that there is much room for different views in the RCC, that he doesn’t deviate from the central dogma’s and that the interpretations of the conservatives are wrong. You should read Hans Küng (I don’t think you should, but that’s what Gutting will answer).
    I think the problem is somewhat deeper. The fact that he remains member of the RCC despite everything shows that whenever his opinions conflict with his loyalty to and emotional bond with the RCC the latter will prevail. The results are devastating.
    Ask the victims of priest rape to whom in the RCC they could go.
    Ask the unmarried mothers whose newborn babies were taken away for adoption to whom in the RCC they could go.
    Ask Sanal Edamaruku who in the RCC stood up for him.

    Nobody. That’s why I think you are too kind. I am not sure if I dislike bigotry more than hypocrisy.

    “The ethics of love I revere as the inspiration …”
    But when it matters those liberal, progressive and enlightened catholics are not there.

    @Eric: “Does this behavior sound like true belief to you …”
    That’s an impossible question, because I don’t know what a true and what a false belief is. How am I to distinguish as an atheist? Do the Old Catholics have true belief because of rejecting papal infallibility?
    Anyhow, you don’t address my main point. Papal infallibility is not as important for catholics like Gutting as we would like to be. They shrug it off.
    What pisses them off is pointing out their hypocrisy and attacking the three points I mentioned in @3.

  33. #33 couchloc
    April 5, 2013

    Jason, eric,

    Let me say the following on the issues raised. I didn’t suggest any of your particular remarks “crossed the line.” What I was saying was that I found the basic reaction to Gutting in your post unfortunate, and I was thinking of this in two senses. For one, it seems there are misunderstandings about what Gutting is arguing for as some others around here have noted (I find myself sympathetic to most of Roger’s comments). Gutting is not defending the institution of the Church but his Catholic faith. Many of your remarks seem to ignore his careful distancing of himself from those aspects of the church he disagrees with. He does not accept the catholic hierarchy, and he says he denies “the specific teachings of the Catholic Church provide the fundamental truths….” on several matters. He couldn’t be clearer on this point. (As an aside, I think the church doesn’t require belief in hell anymore.)

    The second point was that the attitude towards Gutting’s views expressed here is oddly negative. I agree with you that liberal versions are better than hardline versions, though I would prefer for both to go away. But none of that comes out in your article which is focused on whether Gutting is a ‘true catholic” and your complaints with “official catholicism.” If you want to make those complaints I suppose that’s fine. But when one steps back from these skirmishes and looks at the broader landscape I would think the response would be different than this. Gutting accepts most of the liberal social values of new atheists around here. So what exactly is the complaint about? Is this just a matter of intellectual hygiene and a need to express our distaste of his views? This seems far less important to me than seeing something like liberal catholicism in the public sphere as a mainstream view in our society, which would do worlds of good for social issues. So I tend to see the expression of liberal catholic views like this as a kind of victory for secularism and something to speak positively of. There is little real chance atheism is going to become a majority view in our society anytime soon, I presume, so what more could you want practically speaking?

    As to the comments from Eric about “associating” with the church, this is hardly decisive. As Roger notes there is a guilt by association fallacy here. But aside from this I don’t see what’s wrong with someone saying they’re going to try to bring about change from within the system. If my university has corrupt practices, I don’t necessarily quit, but I go to the faculty senate and complain and try to change things from the inside.

  34. #34 MNb
    April 5, 2013

    All catholic liberals get another chance to prove me wrong, put their beautiful principles in practice and stand up for an outsider, like Jesus did for the Samaritan.

    http://www.change.org/en-GB/petitions/drop-blasphemy-charges-against-sanal-edamaruku

    I expect a storm of protest from Gutting and co.

  35. #35 eric
    April 5, 2013

    Mnb:

    @Eric: “Does this behavior sound like true belief to you …”
    That’s an impossible question, because I don’t know what a true and what a false belief is. How am I to distinguish as an atheist?

    Do you say the same thing about John Edwards? Peter Popoff? The way you distinguish a con from a true believer is by observing whether their behavior is more consistent with one hypothesis or the other, of course. One cannot be absolutely certain (without telepathy, I suppose), but absolute certainty isn’t what I’m talking about. Just a reasonable basis for judgement. If a person claims some magical power, but protects that claim from testing via actions that are inconsistent or irrational given the hypothesis of true belief, they are likely a con. The Pope claims an access to information nobody else has, through communication with spirits, but he never actually uses it in a confirmable manner. That sounds exactly like a disreputable medium to me.

    Couchloc:

    Gutting is not defending the institution of the Church but his Catholic faith.

    There seems to be no article or faith claim that he’s defending which is uniquely Catholic. All the theological claims he’s defending fit within the category of Christian, and several of them are clearly not supported by the RCC hierarchy.

    Put another way, he starts off saying he’s going to argue about why Catholicism is rational. But there is nothing in his argument that would make Catholicism stand out as more rational than any other flavor of Christianity. And in arguing that Catholics like him are rationally rejecting the teachings of the hierarchy, he is undermining his original claim. Catholicism is not rational if rational Catholics must reject many of its tenets to arrive at a rational theology.

  36. #36 Jason Rosenhouse
    April 6, 2013

    couchloc –

    Many of your remarks seem to ignore his careful distancing of himself from those aspects of the church he disagrees with.

    Forgive me, but I’m not sure what post you read. My whole point was that Gutting started by saying that he was going to defend Catholicism, but then specifically abjured all of the things that make Catholicism so hard to defend. Far from ignoring his careful distancing from the Church, that’s precisely what I was focusing on.

    He started the essay by writing, “Can reflective and honest intellectuals actually believe that stuff?” “That stuff” referred to the beliefs of his friend the Catholic priest. But then he did not defend “that stuff.” Instead he distanced himself from virtually every aspect of “that stuff.”

    As for the rest of your comment, I don’t understand what you’re going on about. Yes, of course, liberal Catholicism is socially preferable to hardline Catholicism. So what? What does that have to do with anything that I wrote? I am criticizing Gutting for trying to prop up an organization I don’t think should be propped up, and for not making the argument in the body of his column that he said he was going to make at the start. This isn’t complicated.

    The fact that there are religious views out there more objectionable than what Gutting is defending is neither here nor there.

  37. #37 MNb
    April 6, 2013

    @Eric: who are John Edwards and Peter Popoff?

    “The way you distinguish a con from a true believer is by observing whether their behavior is more consistent with one hypothesis or the other, of course”
    Then nobody is a true believer or a true anything and the word true is meaningless. According to psychology everybody, believers and non-believers alike, frequently act against their formulated convictions, opinions etc.

    “they are likely a con”
    You present a false dilemma, because you vastly underestimate the human capacity of self delusion. In other words: the pope not willing to use his skills to communicate with some higher power in a confirmable manner makes clear he sells humbug, but not that he is a con. He easily still can genuinely be convinced that this communication happens. You know, the best liars are those who believe their own lies. Every psych can tell you that people are only partly rational beings.
    So your method fails.
    It’s still very possible to point out all kinds of inconsistencies of course.

  38. #38 couchloc
    April 6, 2013

    Jason,

    On your first point fair enough. Maybe I wasn’t reading carefully what you were saying about this and looking at your post again I see you are more careful than I was admitting. So maybe I was being too specific in my complaint.

    On the second point I think we’re just reading the article differently because I don’t think it’s a good description to say that Gutting serves to “prop up” the organization of the Church. As you made clear, the whole tenor of his article is to distance himself from the official teachings of the institutional church. So I don’t see how this serves to prop up anything so much as criticize it from within. Since I see this as a reasonable approach to take compared to many of the pernicious religious options out there, I tend to see it in a favorable light I guess.

  39. #39 couchloc
    April 6, 2013

    Eric,

    “There seems to be no article or faith claim that he’s defending which is uniquely Catholic. All the theological claims he’s defending fit within the category of Christian, and several of them are clearly not supported by the RCC hierarchy.”

    Yes and no. There’s a sense you’re right that what he’s defending is a more general form of christianity and not especially catholic. The ethics of love part is not inherently catholic but focuses on the life of Jesus which any christian could accept. But in other respects Gutting’s account is different. His point about accepting enlightenment values and his Jesuit upbringing relate to the role of “faith and reason” within the catholic church, which is not a protestant teaching or something.

  40. #40 eric
    April 6, 2013

    Couchloc

    His point about accepting enlightenment values and his Jesuit upbringing relate to the role of “faith and reason” within the catholic church, which is not a protestant teaching or something.

    No, you’re wrong. Read the end of the first paragraph and the start of the paragraph again. He is very clearly referring to Catholic beliefs. “This stuff” is the tenets of the church. He talks about reaffirming his faith. When he talks about “this stuff” he is pretty clearly not talking about defending the notion that Jesuits can be smart and educated and scientific.

  41. #41 couchloc
    April 6, 2013

    I think we must be talking past each other because Gutting is pretty clearly defending a catholic viewpoint on the relation between faith and reason, which is not a specifically protestant teaching. He says the following:

    “My Catholic education [which includes 12 years under Jesuits] has left me with three deep convictions. First, it is utterly important to know, to the extent that we can, the fundamental truth about human life: where it came from, what (if anything) it is meant for, how it should be lived. Second, this truth can in principle be supported and defended by _human reason_…..”

  42. #42 JB
    April 7, 2013

    “For those who believe in God, most of the big questions are answered. But for those of us who can’t readily accept the God formula, the big answers don’t remain stone-written. We adjust to new conditions and discoveries. We are pliable. Love need not be a command nor faith a dictum. I am my own god. We are here to unlearn the teachings of the church, state, and our educational system. We are here to drink beer. We are here to kill war. We are here to laugh at the odds and live our lives so well that Death will tremble to take us.”

    Catholicism is here to “protect” us from ourselves. This is what is predestined to fail in a long run. They can continue to confuse more than one billion people on Earth, but sooner or later, they will lose their base and world will turn to be more secular (I don´t say completely since human inclination towards artificial believes is an unexplained phenomenon).

    I´m proud to be vegan and I defend it, because it makes a change – it saves lives. Having faith in God and constantly engage in very interesting yet non-productive debates does not. I don´t want to say I disrespect Catholic church, I just mean it is no longer necessary for keeping someone faith. Just join some religious channel on youtube.

  43. #43 MNb
    April 7, 2013

    “The ethics of love … has been a powerful force for good.”
    Gutting and co get another chance to put this in practice, this time much closer to home.

    http://www.religionnews.com/2013/04/03/longtime-gay-parishioner-booted-from-church-posts/

    Because in the Old Catholics this would not have happened:

    http://www.rnw.nl/english/article/homosexuality-not-issue-old-catholic-church

  44. #44 eric
    April 7, 2013

    Couchloc:

    He says the following…

    None of which is specifically Catholic. Heck, none of them are specifically Chrisitan and one could make an argument that they aren’t even unique or specific to religion.

    When someone starts their argument by saying they will convince me how rational it is to buy a Ford Explorer Hybrid, but they then spend all their time eloquently discussing how cars are good, I do not find it a convincing argument. Their point is not supported, and such behavior very reasonably leaves a listener skeptical that the person even has an argument for buying a Ford Explorer Hybrid. Because they seem to have gone out of their way not to discuss the specific pros of Ford Explorer Hybrids.

  45. #45 couchloc
    April 7, 2013

    Eric, I think there is more to Gutting’s point with his reference to the role of human reason in his understanding of religion. He is referring to a traditional catholic teaching about the relation between faith and reason, which is distinctive to the tradition he follows. See here:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fides_et_Ratio

  46. #46 eric
    April 7, 2013

    Couchloc:

    He is referring to a traditional catholic teaching about the relation between faith and reason

    I guess we will have to agree to disagree on this, because I think his statement about “this stuff” is very clearly referring to doctrinal beliefs like Jesus rising from the dead, the trinity, and transubstantiation.

    Do you really, honestly believe that when (Gutting reports that) philosophers pull Gutting aside and ask him, “does x really believe this stuff,” the “stuff” they’re asking whether x believes is ‘the raditional catholic teaching about the relation between faith and reason?’ Seriously,, that’s what you’re claiming? Doesn’t that seem completely ridiculous to you? Isn’t it far more likely and make far more sense to interpret Gutting’s little story as referring to the “stuff” of (specifically) Catholic theology?

  47. #47 couchloc
    April 8, 2013

    Eric, you’re putting those ideas ainto Gutting’s mouth I think. Nowhere in the first paragraph does it refer to any of those ideas. The term “this stuff’ is intentionally vague and not referring to some specific set of theologicaly teachings but the notion of catholic faith. That’s why later in the article he says he is agonostic on the metaphysical claims (e.g., transubstantiation) you’re talking about. This is what he says right after the part you mention:

    “Can reflective and honest intellectuals actually believe that stuff?……Here I sketch my reasons for answering “yes.” What I offer is neither apologetics aimed at converting others nor merely personal testimony. Without claiming to speak for others, I try to articulate a position that I expect many fellow Catholics will find congenial and that non-Catholics (even those who reject all religion) may recognize as an intellectually respectable stance. Easter is the traditional time for Christians to reaffirm _their faith_. I want to show that we can do this without renouncing _reason_.”

    He is saying that catholic faith can be defended by reason, or at least that’s how I understanding it.

  48. #48 Michael Fugate
    April 8, 2013

    I would think, he was talking about the Apostles’ Creed, Nicene Creed or the reaffirmation of baptism recited on Easter.

    Do you reject Satan? 
And all his works? 
And all his empty promises?
    
Do you believe in God, the Father Almighty, creator of heaven and earth? 

    Do you believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, who was born of the Virgin Mary was crucified, died, and was buried, rose from the dead, and is now seated at the right hand of the Father?
    
Do you believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting?

    Why would it be reason and not faith the Gutting is talking about? Would Gutting answer “I do” to all of the above? Why so coy?

  49. #49 eric
    April 8, 2013

    Couchloc:

    He is saying that catholic faith can be defended by reason, or at least that’s how I understanding it.

    That is indeed what he’s saying. But he doesn’t ever actually defend catholic faith by reason. That Jesuits are academically inclined is not part of Catholic faith. It has nothing to do with their theology. And having a subset of priests who are academically inclined isnot, despite what some Catholics may argue, a characteristic unique or special to Catholicism. Practically every faith has their academics.

  50. #50 Politicalguineapig
    April 9, 2013

    MNB: There is a god; god is love.
    Okay, I’ll take a stab at that. If God is love, than He must be weak, since love weakens otherwise strong people and encourages irrationality. One could also argue that if God is strong He must be malevolent- which certainly explains a lot about His hatred and why He’d favor a fetus over the mother or a straight rapist over a man who’s only ever had consensual relationships and happens to be gay.

  51. #51 MNb
    April 9, 2013

    @Pgp: you’re stabbing the wrong one. The quote is part of the liberal catholic faith, not mine.

  52. #52 Politicalguineapig
    April 9, 2013

    MNB: Sorry, I misunderstood you. It was late. I really struggle to understand this whole ‘liberal’ faith thing, as God is basically a nasty, small-minded old man. Faith can’t evolve, and stands in direct opposition to progress. Heck, God’s against literacy.

  53. #53 couchloc
    April 9, 2013

    Eric,

    “That is indeed what he’s saying. But he doesn’t ever actually defend _catholic faith_ by reason.”

    When you write this I’m not sure what you are saying or whether to agree with you. I think when you say this you mean to say something like “he doesn’t ever defend any distinctively catholic theological teachings (e.g., transubstantiation).” And then you want to infer from this that whatever else Gutting is doing it can’t really be seen as a defense of catholic faith for that reason. Now, if that is what you mean by a defense of the catholic faith, then I agree with you Gutting is not defending it in this sense. But this is hardly surprising since he explicitly says he’s agnostic about the metaphysical claims of the catholic church. So it seems to me that the sense in which he sees himself as defending the catholic faith must be something different, and this is what I’m trying to point out. The sense in which he’s defending the faith does not concern a specific theological teaching or something (e.g., the trinity). As I’ve tried to explain, the relevant feature of his defense has to do with his catholic _approach_ to the relation between faith and reason that informs his whole discussion. He is drawing on a long tradition that decends from the Catholic encyclical “Fides et Ratio” linked to above, and, beyond that, to Aquinas’s philosophy in the middle ages that proclaims the mutual support of “truths learned by natural reason” and “truths learned by faith.” This teaching is not associated with Protestants or Mormans or Evangelicals, etc., but pertains to a specific view about how religion and reason work together to illuminate our knowledge of the world. It seems pretty clear to me that the approach Gutting is taking and which leads him into his liberal catholicism depends on this conception. So I think this aspect of his article is catholic in nature and works within a distinctively catholic tradition and can’t be described as generically christian or something. You’re sort of looking at it and saying, “he’s not defending the doctrine of transubstantiation, so it’s not catholic.” But that’s only to look at one aspect of the discussion.

  54. #54 MNb
    April 9, 2013

    @Pgp: no worries, I was amused, not insulted.

    “I really struggle to understand”
    Basically I don’t understand any faith thing. So what I do is listen and try to pick the core. I think I presented that core accurately in @3.
    Pointing out that the OT-god is nasty and narrow minded is important indeed, but not enough. God is love is also meaningless; Jesus was not that great (I think higher of Franciscus of Assisi), his message was not unique and the parts which were are not especially likable.
    Liberals don’t like it when you tell them that, because (and Gutting confirms it) they want to give themselves credibility by showing how their faith inspires to enlightened values: “You see? Because of my faith I defend gays! We are allies!” etc.
    I think way too few atheists try to shatter that illusion.

  55. #55 eric
    April 9, 2013

    Couchloc:

    When you write this I’m not sure what you are saying or whether to agree with you. I think when you say this you mean to say something like “he doesn’t ever defend any distinctively catholic theological teachings (e.g., transubstantiation).”

    Yes, that is what I am saying. As I pointed out before, when a (presumably atheist) philosopher pulls you over at a philosophy conference, and says “that Jesuit doesn’t actually believe all that stuff, does he?” then the clear and obvious implication is that the “stuff” he’s asking about is the miraculous parts of Catholic theology. The philosopher is clearly NOT asking whether the Jesuit believes academic study is valuable. After all, the philosopher probably believes that too. Why would she/he be incredulous about it?

    There is really only one good way to read “that stuff” in Gutting’s little story, and he simply doesn’t show that “that stuff” is rational.

    Now, if that is what you mean by a defense of the catholic faith, then I agree with you Gutting is not defending it in this sense. But this is hardly surprising since he explicitly says he’s agnostic about the metaphysical claims of the catholic church.

    We seem to agree on results but not on interpreting them. Your interpretation seems to be: ‘he fails to defend the actual theology, so that must not be what he’s trying to do.’ Mine is: ‘he fails to defend the actual theology, so he has failed to show that the catholic faith is rational.’

  56. #56 MNb
    April 10, 2013

    The remarkable thing is that Gutting at the end of his article more or less admits that the catholic faith is not rational.

    “My first response is that the Catholic tradition of thought and practice is the only stance toward religion that, in William James’s phrase, is a “live option” for me — the only place I feel at home.”
    In other words his faith has emotional sources. Now there is nothing wrong with this. I think atheists too often tend to downplay the emotional aspects of their unbelief. Quite some apologetics stir up negative emotional reactions in me.

  57. #57 couchloc
    April 10, 2013

    eric, I agree with what you say and think it’s a nice description of where we’ve gotten to in this discussion. All I can say about my interpretation is that that’s how it strikes me. So I’ll leave it at that.

  58. #58 hsmom
    April 12, 2013

    For an explanation of the Catholic Church’s teaching on Papal Infallibility, see the Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraphs 888-892, especially 891. It can be found on line at http://www.vatican.va for the English version it can be found here:
    http://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG0015/_INDEX.HTM

  59. #59 Politicalguineapig
    April 14, 2013

    MNB:In other words his faith has emotional sources. Now there is nothing wrong with this.
    Um, no, there is *everything* wrong with allowing one’s emotions to run rampant. Gutting is setting himself up for ruin when his emotions end up overwhelming his reasons and he has to retreat into fundamentalism. Nothing good can come out of an emotional reaction ever. This is why I don’t wear my feelings out in public; being vulnerable is for the birds, and one always needs the armor of reason.

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