6-10,000-Year-Old Universe (?); “Myths” in Genesis; Straw Men; Protestant Scholarly “Authorities”; Exorcism; Symbolic Interpretation of Scripture
The late Steve Hays (1959-2020) was a Calvinist (and anti-Catholic) writer, who was very active on his blog, called Triablogue (now continued by Jason Engwer). His 695-page self-published book, Catholicism — which appears to simply be a collection of his articles on his site — has graciously been made available there for free. This is one of many planned critiques of that book. Rather than list them all in individual sections, interested readers are directed to the “Steve Hays” section of my Anti-Catholicism web page, where they will all be listed. My Bible citations are from the RSV. Steve’s words will be in blue.
[Chapter 1: Miracles]
Speaking for myself, I rarely attended Sunday school as a kid. I wasn’t raised on a cartoon version of the flood narrative. Likewise, many people come to the Christian faith as adults. They had no Christian upbringing. [p. 5]
It should be noted, however (speaking of “cartoon” versions of things), that Hays was a young-earther: typically a position held by biblical fundamentalists. In a post called “Dawkins Postmortem” (10-22-06), he wrote: “The universe is between 6000-10,000 years old, give or take.” He noted that he held this view “with certain qualifications” but they are not such as to change the essential position. Note that I am not asserting that he himself was a fundamentalist, based on this consideration alone; only that it is in fact held mostly by biblical fundamentalists, who interpret the Bible much more literally than most reputable Bible scholars among all the various sorts of Christians. Hays was operating within a certain paradigm, at any rate — whatever it was –, as we all do.
The origin of Jericho as an established city has been dated to 8,000 BC (many scholars regard it as the oldest city in the world): at which time it already had “a massive stone wall around the settlement, strengthened at one point at least by a massive stone tower” (Encyclopaedia Britannica, “Jericho”). That would mean that it was in place at about the same time that Hays thinks (if we adopt his older date) the entire universe began. And there were developments of the city (“a long period of settlement”) up to a thousand years before the universe began, according to Hays: quite a feat!
Catholic Cognitive Dissonance [p. 5: subtitle]
Citing a Catholic who referred to “biblical literalists,” Hays polemically shot back with, “Well, Catholics are literalists when it comes to the Bread of Life discourse (John 6).” [p. 5] Yes, quite true. The issue in such matters is whether it is warranted to interpret a text literally or symbolically, allegorically, or as an example of hyperbole and many other non-literal forms of expression that are found throughout the Bible. The exegete needs to determine the literary nature of any given biblical text. I’ve written at length about how there are insuperable exegetical problems if one interprets John 6 (i.e., the second part of it) non-literally. See, for example: John 6: Literal Eucharist Interpretation (Analogical Cross-Referencing and Insufficient Counter-Arguments) [8-15-09].
Hays noted the words of Ven. Pope Pius XII in Humani Generis , about the book of Genesis, and immediately set out to caricature the pope’s words and to distort his actual thoughts and intentions (something, sadly, that he habitually did in his apologetics, as I will show time and again in this series):
i) To say Gen 1-11 is metaphorical rather than historical is a rearguard action. That reflects the triumph of modernism in contemporary Catholicism. It’s certainly not the traditional view of Gen 1-11. [p. 7]
But of course, Pius XII didn’t express this heretical notion in the first place (one notes that Hays didn’t document him actually doing this). Pius XII and the Church herself are very clear about this: the early chapters of Genesis are historical in nature, but expressed in a semi-mythical, very primitive literary form, that we know little about. Pope Pius XII wrote in this Encyclical:
[T]he first eleven chapters of Genesis, although properly speaking not conforming to the historical method used by the best Greek and Latin writers or by competent authors of our time, do nevertheless pertain to history in a true sense, . . . (38; my italics and bolding)
Therefore, whatever of the popular narrations have been inserted into the Sacred Scriptures must in no way be considered on a par with myths or other such things, which are more the product of an extravagant imagination than of that striving for truth and simplicity which in the Sacred Books, also of the Old Testament, is so apparent that our ancient sacred writers must be admitted to be clearly superior to the ancient profane writers. (39; my italics and bolding)
So we have what a pope actually expressed, then we see how Hays twisted and distorted it, so that he could set forth a straw man mythical version (here’s where the true myth lies!) of what the Catholic Church teaches. The first task of the honest researcher, on the other hand, is to accurately document what his or her opponent’s position is. The above distortions of our beliefs are simply not honest. Hays was too sharp of a guy to be that ignorant. This was deliberate distortion. A sentient being with brain cells and a rudimentary understanding of logic and grammar (and a sense of fair play and intellectual honesty) can’t possibly read Pius XII’s words in Humani Generis and summarize them as expressing the notion that “Gen[esis] 1-11 is metaphorical rather than historical.”
ii) Scholars who deny the historicity of Gen 1-11, or treat it as metaphorical, don’t suddenly view the rest of the Pentateuch as historical. Scholars who take that view of Gen 1-11 don’t think the patriarchal narratives, or Exodus, or wilderness account, constitute a record of human experiences in living memory, based directly on eyewitness testimony, interviews with eyewitnesses. [p. 7]
I agree. These are the liberal dissidents and dissenters that all Christian communions are “blessed” with. The difference in the Catholic Church is that we have an authoritative magisterium (pope and ecumenical councils) that can resolve theological issues and controversies once and for all. Protestants (and even Orthodox) have no such thing. All they can do is take head count of scholars, which accomplishes nothing and is a form of the ad populum fallacy (“lots of folks — and the smart people — believe x, therefore x must be true”).
Hays, quite often, trots out names of the “usual suspect” Catholic liberal dissidents and presents their views, as if they reflect actual Catholic defined, magisterial teaching. They do not. Catholic scholars are not our authorities in the way that Protestant scholars function, as an ersatz “authority” in Protestantism. And the latter do that because they have to “fill” the void left by the Protestant institutional and theological rejection of ecumenical councils and the papacy and authoritative apostolic tradition and apostolic succession, and they can’t possibly do so. The strong Protestant tendency (easily demonstrated from the sad history of their endless denominations) is for these scholars to keep getting more and more anti-traditional and theologically liberal (even in the Protestant sense) and for entire denominations to follow their lead and walk right over the cliff.
Hays at this point switched on a dime and started discussing Catholic Mariology (anti-Catholics generally are notorious for irrational and/or deliberately evasive topic-switching), exorcism and Catholic belief in the Real, Substantial Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.
Why not interpret “Mary’s real and perpetual virginity even in the act of giving birth” as mythical or metaphorical language? [p. 8]
Because it was part and parcel of the miracle of the virgin birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We believe that He was so special (as God the Son and God Incarnate that even the birth process itself was miraculous in a unique way. When God the Son is being born, that is an event unique in the history of the world: a one-time event that will never happen again. And we believe that this was entirely proper and “fitting.”
Recently I made a biblical study of the latter concept, that is often mocked by Protestants.
Why not interpret demonic possession and exorcism as an archaic way of expressing a deeper content? [p. 8]
Simply because demons are very real and harmful creatures, just as the devil is. Catholics believe in these things, which is why we are virtually the only Christians to take exorcism seriously: something that inexorably follows from Jesus actually commanding the disciples to “cast out demons” (Mt 10:8; Mk 3:15; 16:17). After following Jesus’ orders, the disciples exclaimed like good little exorcists: “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!” (Lk 10:17). Yes they are.
But Hays (on p. 41) calls his own view “semicessationist”: meaning that “God now works miracles directly or individually, rather than working through an official intermediary (e.g. apostle, prophet, healer).” It follows logically that no Christian today can exercise the prerogative that Catholic exorcists do: to cast out demons. Only God can do that. The problem is that this novel idea is a mere “Protestant tradition of men” that isn’t found in the Bible anywhere, which explains why Hays never attempts to defend it from the Bible, in his discussion of it on pages 40-42.
Instead, he disagrees with another Protestant tradition of men from a fellow Calvinist: good ol’ Benjamin Warfield’s even more extreme complete cessationism. And so he continues the proud Protestant tradition of never-ending internal dissension (that can never be decisively resolved within their rule of faith and worldview), while we seek to follow our Lord’s express injunctions in Holy Scripture and help poor souls to be freed from horrific demonic possession. Which is more biblical: dissensions that are roundly condemned by Paul ten times or more, or liberating human beings from oppressing and possessing demons? Which pleases God more? Which is more loving and Christlike?
Why not interpret the claim that “the body and blood, together with the soul and divinity, of our Lord Jesus Christ and, therefore, the whole Christ is truly, really, and substantially contained” in a wafer as mythical or metaphorical? [p. 8]
Because the exegesis of John 6 doesn’t logically or theologically permit such an interpretation, as I explained in an article linked above. The symbolic standpoint is utterly incoherent and self-defeating.
Why not treat the Assumption of Mary as a metaphor? [p. 8]
Because if in fact the Blessed Virgin Mary was granted an entirely unmerited, gratuitous gift by God of being without original sin, then the absence of bodily decay after death (which came from original sin) leads logically to an immediate bodily resurrection, graphically expressed by her being bodily assumed into heaven.
Why not treat Marian apparitions like Fatima as mythical or metaphorical? [p. 8]
Because there were eyewitnesses of the apparitions, and associated miracles (like the miracle of the sun), and healings: none of which are merely mythical or metaphorical; they’re quite real, just as witnesses of Jesus’ resurrection experienced real, tangible events (with Thomas even touching Jesus’ physical wounds), and Jesus eating fish after His resurrection.
Devout Catholic intellectuals are by turns skeptical and superstitious. Rationalistic and fideistic. [p. 8]
This is sheer nonsense (complete with one of Hays’ trademark incomplete sentences), as just shown. The orthodox Catholic exercises faith, as all Christians do and must, but it’s a rational faith, based in part on evidences from reason, not a blind faith.
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Photo credit: The Whore of Babylon (workshop of Lucas Cranach): colorized illustration from Martin Luther’s 1534 translation of the Bible [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]
Summary: The late Steve Hays was a Calvinist and anti-Catholic writer and apologist. This is one of my many critiques of Hays’ “Catholicism”: a 695-page self-published volume.