My book & the Catholic Church (re: Leah Libresco)

Leah Libresco was kind enough to link my blog after I made the move to Patheos, and gave a shout out to my “beta testing a book” project:

I’ll confess, I’ve seen more of what he’s written at Less Wrong than chez lui, but I am intrigued by his attempt to beta test his new book.  He’s putting chapters online as he writes and inviting comment and critiques, so the eventual text will be more comprehensive.

I’ve added him to my RSS feed and I’ll try to write a response to the next chapter that goes up.  It’s my impression that the book is more contra evangelicals, but we’ll see.

This is really cool, but I want to comment on the issue of my book dealing with evangelicals vs. other Christians, particularly Catholics.

I guess I probably give that impression in part because of accidents of recent intellectual history. Catholic philosophers have had relatively little impact on philosophy of religion in the past half-century. In the United States, the revival of philosophy of religion was led by Alvin Plantinga, an Evangelical, and has been so dominated by protestants, to the point that even Notre Dame’s philosophy department was dominated by Protestants when I was there.

And the fact that I have an entire chapter devoted to William Lane Craig is just due to the fact is that he beats out the vast majority of other apologists in terms of mass appeal, especially among people who actually know something about science and Biblical scholarship. I don’t know of any Catholic apologists I can say that about.

Not to say that all the noteworthy philosophers of religion are Protestant. The most influential philosopher of religion in Britain for several decades now has been Richard Swinburne, who’s Eastern Orthodox. And Eleonore Stump is Catholic. But in spite of the recognition they’ve gotten, not many people go around talking about how one of them has supposedly solved the problem of evil, or “wins all their debates.”

When it comes to problems with religion, I have to say that the modern Catholic Church is more flexible on a lot of the issues where US fundegelicals have a screwy stance, in particular evolution, Biblical inerrancy, and  the question of who’s going to Hell (not that there aren’t things to criticize the Catholic Church for here.) Arguably the worst thing about the modern Catholic Church is not its doctrine, but its deep corruption as an institution, which I definitely will work into the book at some point, perhaps in a revised version of chapter 4.

Though continuing to push its anti-condom position in the face of the African AIDS epidemic is also pretty bad. I should probably remember to include that at some point too.

And that’s just the modern Catholic Church. I’ll have quite a bit of negative things to say about Augustine and Aquinas. Especially Augustine. After doing some research on him I’ve really come to wonder where the hell the idea of Augustine as a forerunner of modern liberal theology came from.

So there’s my sketch of what I’ll have to say about the Catholic Church specifically in the book, in addition to some fairly general criticisms of religion.

(FYI, if you check out the list of chapters, chapters 1, 4, 9, and 10 are basically complete, pending revisions. Other chapters still need work, which will happen as soon as I’m no longer working two jobs.)

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  • MNb

    Hm, Augustinus of Hippo is not so relevant anymore for Catholic theology; much more for Protestantism via Luther and Calvin. Thomas Aquinas is the household name. One reason Catholic theologians are not so prominent these days is that Aquinas’ theology has been part of RCC doctrine for ages. There isn’t much left to say these days.
    And you already addressed Aquinas.

    • Chris Hallquist

      Are you kidding? Augustine was probably the most important influence on Aquinas after Aristotle and the Bible!

    • MNb

      Well, I am no expert on catholic doctrine, but you will have to explain why Luther and Calvin thought it necessary to restore Augustinus of Hippo in theology.

      • Chris Hallquist

        I’m no expert on these matters either, but if some preacher declares the need to go “back to the Bible,” does it follow that the Bible was irrelevant to everyone else’s thought? No. It’s possible that the Catholic Church has parted ways with Augustine on some issues, and that Luther and Calvin were closer to Augustine there, but it doesn’t follow from that that Augustine “is not so relevant anymore for Catholic theology.”

        On one specific issue off the top of my head, it seems that Catholics are a lot bigger on Original Sin than Protestants, and Original Sin is one of Augustine’s signature ideas.

        • http://creativefidelity.wordpress.com Dan F.

          Catholic here. Short answer: Basically, Luther and Calvin hijacked some pieces of Augustine’s work and ignored others to justify their rebellion against the Church and their rejection of various dogmas and doctrines they had to reject in order to maintain their pretense to be following God. It’s inside baseball so not sure how much atheist would care about the topic. There is a much longer answer (entire books have been written) but that’s the gist.

  • Jon Hanson

    One good reason not to talk about Catholicism all that much is that it’s in a pretty steep decline in the West, if it wasn’t for immigration it would be possible to say that American Catholicism is collapsing. I like Leah, she’s a good thinker and a compelling writer, but she’s definitely the exception and not the rule when it comes to the religious trends in the United States.

  • http://exconvert.blogspot.com Kacy

    I would say that Augustine works as a forerunner to liberal theology because of his idea of the “anagogical sense of scripture.” Fundamentalism takes a literal and true-historical view of scripture, while modern biblical scholarship has pretty much deconstructed scripture as a mythological story. Augustine, a premodern, offers an allegorical way to view scripture as an alternative to historical-critical interpretation and fundamentalism. You an still have a feel-goody god, but without having to worry about literal interpretations.

    As for influential Catholic philosophers, I suggest looking at Alister McIntyre, especially his books After Virtue and Dependent Rational Animals. Both books were introduced to me at Baylor, where I was involved in a program to groom me to be a Christian in academia. McIntyre is well known in Christian, especially Catholic, academic circles, and I think Leah has mentioned him as an influence on her thinking regarding virtue ethics.

    Also check out Rene Girard and his work on mimetic violence. He’s a philosopher, not a popular apologist, but his work is well known in Catholic circles. I’ve even heard him mentioned by the popular Fr. Barron on YouTube. (As a side note, I find it interesting that both McIntyre and Girard are former Marxists.)


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