Dan Savage’s attack on Christianity reveals something I have observed for some time, that the main attack of the atheists is against Protestant fundamentalism. They attack the Catholic Church, but more often they attack positions that are held by Bible-only Christians, and in doing so their attack is pretty effective.
The sola Scriptura position in its simplest Bible Christian understanding: “If it’s in the Bible, then God said it so that settles it!” plays directly into Savage’s hands. If the sola Scriptura position is true, and whatever is in the Bible is true, then anybody’s reading of the Bible is as valid as the next guy’s. If it is the Bible and the Bible only, Savage is right. People do pick and choose what to believe, and if that’s so, then who’s to say that Savage is wrong?
The Catholic Church–that’s who. That’s why Catholics have forever sought to correct the heresy of sola Scriptura. The Catholic Church, from which the Bible came, and through which the canon of Scripture was defined, and through whom Scripture is always rightly interpreted is the authority that tells us that it’s okay to eat scallops and shrimp and oysters but not for two guys to have sexual intercourse.
The full teaching of the Catholic Church on human sexuality, gender roles, the meaning of the human person help us interpret the Bible. They help us distinguish different levels of importance, how to judge dictums that are culturally determined and therefore dispensable and those which are eternally significant. It is the full 2000 year tradition of the Catholic Church–still growing and developing which sheds light on the complex issues of Biblical interpretation.
Of course, it would be asking too much for the enemies of the Christian faith to take the trouble to do their homework and understand the nuances of Catholic moral theology, teachings on marriage, the theology of the body and the meaning of the human person. Instead, they can throw out a few self righteous slogans, knock down the fundamentalists and march off triumphantly.
It is nice to be all ecumenical about our Evangelical brothers and sisters, but the fact that most of the high school students at Savage’s talk did not walk out–but cheered and applauded his message is what is more disturbing. It is very simple: the vast majority of those students in the United States only know a form of Christianity which is popular Evangelical Protestantism. This form of religion is, for all intents and purposes, sola Scriptura fundamentalism. Not only is this form of religion fundamentalist, but it is often legalistic, puritanical and deliberately anti-intellectual. It is also deeply anti-Catholic.
When high school and college students start thinking things through, and hear a few arguments from the new atheists and people like Dan Savage no wonder they cheer. The sola Scriptura fundamentalist position is stupid. Without any other authority than the Bible, Dan Savage’s arguments seem sensible.
No wonder the young Americans turn away from Christianity, and the greatest sadness is that as part of their fundamentalist teaching they have also been taught that Catholicism is impossible and obviously just plain WRONG.
Consequently a huge number of American teens are being turned away from Christianity altogether and fundamentalism–rather than making disciples is destroying them.
Here’s an apologetics article on the Bible and the Catholic Church: Which Came First?
And here’s a longer article on Sola Scriptura–What is Truth–An Examination of Sola Scriptura