Newman’s conclusion is that there is no philosophical or theological middle ground. If you think things through and follow the logic and put aside your prejudices and think clearly you must be atheist or Catholic. How does he come to such a conclusion?
The first question is the basic question of atheism versus theism. Is there a God or not? This is where the confusion begins. Too many arguments for atheism are actually arguments against religion: “Religious people are hypocrites” or “Religious beliefs are incredible in the face of scientific knowledge” or “Religion has prompted torture and war and bad things.” These types of arguments are often expressed in passionate and even intemperate language–generating more heat than light. These arguments may certainly be made, but they are not arguments for or against the existence of God. As such they are red herrings.
The arguments for or against the existence of God need to be rational, philosophical arguments. Can God exist? The philosopher would have to conclude that the existence of an omnipotent personality separate from the physical world is a possibility. The possibility of God’s existence, however, does not demand God’s existence. God may exist, but we still have to ask, “Does God exist?” I believe the philosophical and experiential arguments–made in many different ways–point us to the probability that God exists. However, I can understand that others are not convinced–and those atheists who hold their position from a rational, philosophical viewpoint may do so with integrity.
So the first division is made: theism or atheism. Leaving the atheists in their godless world, we now turn to the theists. The next question is whether God is personal or impersonal. Is God “the force” or “the face”? Pantheists and Buddhists would say God is not personal. God is a force not a face. Certain new age believers would agree. Humans, however, are personal, moral, rational beings, and being rational and personal is greater than to be impersonal. A dog is a higher being than a tree. If the personal is greater than the impersonal, how would it be possible for the greater to be devised from and dependent on the lesser? How could a rational person (a human being) come forth from an irrational, impersonal force? How could a rational world be created by an irrational, vague force? Can the lesser create the greater? No. Therefore we conclude that God is personal. God is rational.
Once we have determined that God is a personal being–that is to say he operates rationally and with recognizable personal qualities we must choose between polytheistic paganism and monotheism. This is not very difficult since virtually all polytheistic religions recognize their gods and goddesses to be demi-gods–lesser spiritual beings, and that there is one God above them all. The lesser gods are often considered emanations or incarnations of this one God. Therefore, worship and devotion given to the gods and goddesses in (for example Hinduism) is ultimately a devotion and worship of the one God. Put simply, polytheism is almost always a multi faceted expression of monotheism.
The “perfectly consistent mind” will therefore move from polytheism to monotheism. This is not only consistent with the essence of polytheism, but it is also philosophically consistent with the idea of God itself. By definition God is the Prime Mover and there can only be one such. The embrace of monotheism then brings us to the three monotheistic religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam
Judaism is the first and essential monotheistic religion. In a pagan and polytheistic world it asserts as its primary claim–revelation and relationship with the one true creator God. Judaism is the root of Christianity. Christianity is the fruit of Judaism. Christianity claims to be the fulfillment and completion of Judaism. The incarnation of God in human history and human form is also the completion and fulfillment of the pagan religions with their struggle between the spiritual and physical realms. It is also the completion and fulfillment of all the polytheistic religions with their myths of an incarnate God. The incarnation of God into human history makes Christianity unique and therefore Christians claim that Christianity completes and fulfills not only Judaism, but all religions.
Islam is a Christian heresy. Like Mormonism, it is an offshoot of Christianity. It is parasitic and sees itself as a fulfillment and completion of Christianity. The problem with any new religion which sees itself as a completion or ‘next step’ from Christianity is that there are too many of them which are contradictory. Islam and Bahaism and Mormonism and Unification Church and many more claim to fulfill and complete Christianity, but they clash with one another and therefore invalidate their claims. Either they are what they say they are, or they are not, and by what authority can anyone claim which one really does fulfill and complete Christianity? Either one of them is right or they all are wrong. All of them can only be self validating, and if there is no external validation they must all be invalid.
We are therefore left with historic Judeo-Christianity. One might ask, “Is not Judeo-Christianity also self validating?” No. It is validated by 5,000 years worth of historical occurrences recorded in the sacred Scriptures and church tradition–the centerpiece of which is Jesus Christ’s resurrection and the foundation and historical perseverence of the Church.
We are left with Judaism or Christianity, but we needn’t choose between Christianity and Judaism, but we must choose a form of Christianity which claims and can show that it is in direct continuity with Judaism. Catholicism does so unashamedly. Furthermore, we must choose a form of Christianity which shows historical continuity with Jesus Christ and his Apostles. Catholicism does so unashamedly. We must choose between Protestantism and Catholicism (and for the sake of simplicity I will include Eastern Orthodoxy within the ‘Catholic’ category)
If we choose Protestantism we are faced with several difficulties. Read more.