An accusation Christians often get is trusting in a blind faith. Even within Christianity, Catholics can be accused by not using their mind in loving God. To be honest, I don’t think the accusation is unfounded, but that does not mean that all Catholics avoid using their heads (Augustine, Anselm, Aquinas, Descartes to name a few counterexamples) nor does it mean that Catholicism is opposed to the use of reason. But it is quite funny how many popular anti-Catholic arguments are based in poor logic and bad argument. There are definitely valid arguments on the side of the Protestant, but they’re not always the popular ones.
One of the topics I often get asked about concerning Catholicism is Mary and the Saints. And I really do want to talk about that, but first I feel the need to address what argument is; and by “argument” I do not meant quarreling, but rather the basic unit of reasoning. I’m actually currently taking a Logic class so I might get textbook here, but bear with me, the study of logic is basically making sense of common sense. Mary and the Saints will feature in the outro.
So basically what sparks this article is comments made on my blog and also simply anti-Catholic blogs and pages I look at for fun to remind me again and again how divided Christianity is and how far we have to go to find brotherly love again. So here is my response.
What is an argument? It consists of a set of statements in which one or more statements, called “premises,” are offered in support of another statement, called the “conclusion.” Within the generic umbrella of arguments, there are deductive and non-deductive arguments. Deductive arguments are arranged so that if the premises are true, then the conclusion is necessarily true. A good example of a valid deductive argument is:
All fruits are healthy,
Apples are fruit,
Therefore, apples are healthy.
Now this might seem formal or robotic, but we do it all the time, sometimes condensing it to imply premises like in the sentence, “Apples are fruit, so they’re healthy.” An invalid argument might look something like this:
Snakes are reptiles,
Therefore, reptiles slither.
We can easily point to a gecko and show how the conclusion doesn’t necessarily follow. Also notice that by the definition of argument (basic unit of reasoning,) I can’t just say, “Apples are healthy,” or, “reptiles slither.” At this point, both are simply assertions and have the same amount of logical support: none.
Ok to the point…
Why do I outline arguments here? Because arguments are how we dialogue, sometimes with good arguments like, “It’s raining, so I will need my umbrella,” and quite often with bad ones like, “I brought my umbrella, so it won’t rain.” Or we can just make assertions that often have no rational effect on people like, “The Catholic Church is demonic.” Ok, but why? I could say, “Christ was Beelzebub,” and have the exact same amount of support: none. My point is we believe and respond to arguments, and further, we believe the arguments that seem most likely. For example, in my case, one argument that I subscribe to is:
The earliest texts are likely to give the best account for topic it covers, (why people value primary texts)
The Catholic Church carries the earliest teachings of Christianity.
Therefore, the Catholic Church is likely to give the best account of Christianity.
I subscribe to this deductive argument because it follows a valid categorical form. HOWEVER if I were to say it guarantees the best account of Christianity, it would be an invalid argument because my premises don’t guarantee a guarantee of the best account, simply a strong likelihood.
This does put the burden of proof on the Protestant or those disagreeing with Catholicism, and so typically they’ll attack the second premise of the syllogism. But defending that premise is essentially a good chunk of my blog.
What I do want to say is that critique must be logical. Throwing unbacked assertions (which aren’t arguments) does nothing other than attempt to convince us of an emotional response, which doesn’t necessarily correlate with reality. For example, if I were to comment on a post and say “You have reached a new level of ridiculousness,” that is a simple assertion of my opinion and carries no logical weight. Now if I were to back up my critique by saying “It’s ridiculous, because a, b, and c,” I would have presented an argument to which a response can be made. But what you hear a lot of the time are mainly bare assertions arguing nothing.
In my context, some people (a blog like Sentient Christian for example) might say, “the Catholic Church is demonic,” and leave it at that. Even then, if they don’t stop there, they will offer supporting facts with the conclusion taken as a given.
Let me say here, this is an explanation not argument. An argument doesn’t assume the conclusion as given and seeks to show why it’s true. An explanation takes the conclusion as a given and merely reinforces it. Now explanations have their place when something is given and not debated like 1+1=2. We explain this in grade school to children with the truth of it being assumed. Now someone in philosophy of math might argue to the conclusion of 1+1=2 if and only if he doesn’t take its truth as a previous given.
These Anti-Catholic blogs and pages (more often than not) start with the given that Catholicism is false/demonic/Whore-of-Babylonesque and from that stance can compile various facts to support such a narrative (an explanation). To show you what I mean, I can only give you an example.
I was urged vehemently for the sake of my salvation the other week to watch this video that gave conclusive evidence that Catholicism is Voodoo. View for yourself…
Ok well if you were too lazy to watch the video, or just want to hear my point, here’s my two cents.
Sentient Christian makes some great correlations about how Voodoo and Catholicism are related. But anyone who has ever taken a class with some kind of research/statistic attribute knows that correlation does not mean causation. For example, people who ate oatmeal more often than sugar cereal as a kid are four times more likely to have cancer than those who primarily ate sugar cereals. Their breakfast choice has nothing to do with their likelihood of get cancer, but rather it is due to difference in age. Older people typically ate more oatmeal, and older people are at a higher risk of getting cancer. Correlation does not mean causation.
Mary and the Saints are gonna finish this post off. So like the Voodoo video, the same bad logic of correlation gets applied when the claim is made that the Catholic church is idolatrous because Catholics worship Mary and the Saints. SO MANY THINGS I WANT TO SAY RIGHT NOW!!! So I’ll bullet point this.
- Catholics aren’t Catholicism. Just because some Catholics do commit idolatry in worshipping Mary and the Saints doesn’t mean that the Church teaches it. Just because some Americans are racist doesn’t mean that America teaches racism. Just because some Baptists (Westboro) condemn gays to hell doesn’t mean that’s what the Baptist Church teaches. Correlation does not mean causation.
- The definition of worship is to give honor that is owed. The definition of idolatry is putting another thing in the place of God. Worshiping another thing or person does not necessitate idolatry. We pay for concert tickets or music (at varying prices) because we think the music is owed some honor (at varying degrees.)
Later, I’d love to talk about the great positives in the reverance of Mary and the Saints, but for now I just want to make these points. Too often does this horribly constructed argument get flung at the Catholic Church and it is up to all of us, Catholics and non-Catholics alike, to stand up for good reason and argumentation. Otherwise we will lose ourselves in meaningless quarreling.