Monday, April 19, 2004

Why I Write "Long" Papers: A Short Apologia

[Originally uploaded on 17 September 2003]

A person who has read my first book, and who likes my writing (Protestant, incidentally), wrote, asking:

I was skimming through your recent articles and must say that again the research was great as usual. Just one advice. Your articles are TOO lengthy and many people will never read them (I know since I have had that same complaint lodged against me).

Why not break them down into smaller articles, say 10-12 pages max, so that people won't feel intimidated reading them and many simply don't have the time. I would love to read all your stuff, but by the time I get to finish one it will be weeks!

I appreciate the input. My position on this has always been that I write whatever I feel "inspired" to write, with as much material and length as is necessary to refute the error I am dealing with. I often note that it is very easy to write a falsehood. That can be just a few words, such as , e.g., "Catholics worship Mary," or "Catholicism teaches that we are saved by works," or "praying to saints [i.e., asking saints to intercede, as the informed Catholic would put it] is the same thing as a seance." In order to refute those things, one could easily write entire books, or papers 300 times the length of the statement being offered.

The more lies and falsehoods, and distorted half-truths that are believed, the more it takes to blow them out of the water. So I write whatever is necessary. If there are ten different ways to answer a false charge, I'll do that, so the critics' "mouth will be shut," the next time he tries to pull something like that. Comprehensiveness is a good thing, for someone who is truly seeking to get to the bottom of an issue and fully understand it. That being the case, my papers aren't for everyone, and I don't expect them to be. If someone doesn't care for detail and length, I am happy to dissuade him from reading a great deal of my stuff (I'm the first one to direct him elsewhere).

I do, however, have a number of shorter papers (see hyper-linked listing below), such as my series of "fictional dialogues" and other brief treatments (those are only two typewritten pages in length). I also have written the short pamphlet entitled Top Ten Questions Catholics Are Asked, and a series of 44 one-page apologetic summaries, included in The Catholic Answer Bible (both published by Our Sunday Visitor). Those are my "short answers" or "quick replies," for those who prefer that sort of thing (they would certainly serve the purpose of an introduction to such subjects, for a person totally unfamiliar with them). Furthermore, I usually divide my longer papers into sub-sections, so that the reader can read whatever portions he is most interested and come back later if he wants more, or just leave it at that.

I believe that Christians ought to be challenged and to have their minds stretched, rather than succumbing to the usual cultural superficiality, lack of depth in education (especially in matters religious), unwillingness to think critically, and the overwhelming, quite common tendency of reducing complex issues to easily-remembered, catchy slogans or one-line sayings. People spend thousands of hours of time studying secular subjects in school for their own sake, or in order to obtain for themselves a career and to make a living (not to mention even more hours than that in front of the television, watching increasingly-useless and non-educational shows).

Many people seem to think I am a professor or have advanced degrees in theology. I am not, and I don't (I have a BA in sociology and no formal theological training; it is all self-taught, over now 22 years of study and apologetic / evangelistic experience). So I seem to be somewhere between a "popularizer" and an "academic" sort. I try to be more like the former, but if someone regards me as more similar to the latter, then that's fine, and I think it is a good thing, and take it as a high compliment. I'm an advocate of a "thinking man's Christianity."

At the same time, the great majority of people who give their opinion on this topic seem to think that my writing is easy to follow and to understand. That is one of the greatest compliments a writer and apologist can receive, I think. If the apologist can be understood, that is 90% of the battle. He could give brilliant, unanswerable arguments, but if they are never understood, he has accomplished little or nothing. Both the Apostle Paul and Vatican II emphasized speaking to people in terms they can understand (Paul: "I have become all things to all men that by all means I may save some . . . ").

But I digress . . . To pick up the thought of the third paragraph back: there is nothing at all with studying any subject, of course. My point is that, if people are willing to devote that much effort to studying algebra, geology, ancient history, business management, or engineering (as the case may be), then why not devote at least an equal effort to studying the most important things in life: theology, the Bible, and spirituality (or my own subject within the realm of theology and biblical exegesis and Christian history: apologetics)? Therefore, I give them enough depth to challenge and "stretch" them, in order precisely to show that Christianity is both intellectually-respectable and not as simple as might seem at first glance, and that Catholicism in particular is worthy of belief, and arguably more "biblical" than Protestantism. Christianity is a thinking-man's religion. It requires thought and study because it is true (just as with any other true knowledge in any field of study).

Unfortunately, my esteemed Protestant brethren also exhibit the tendency of extreme simplification and political-like sloganism far too often. To answer a catchy, convenient (but unbiblical and false) slogan such as "Scripture Alone" or "Faith Alone" takes a lot of work: much of it devoted to the effort of showing how the issue itself is far more complex (biblically and theologically) than the quick slogan would suggest, then to show that the Catholic opposing position is even more biblical, and more in harmony with historic Christian teaching.

I also include the length of every paper I write (which I rarely see done on other apologetic websites), so people know the amount of time that will be required, going in. In any event, my ideal in writing has always been depth and whatever amount of writing it takes to thoroughly answer an objection and to defend what I am defending, rather than to shorten material for the purpose of "presentation" or "what the market requires" or "because people don't have the time" (which I don't buy, because it is patently obvious that people make time for what they are really interested in), or some such considerations.

Not to get overly-mystical, but I simply write as I am led to write. Thoughts and ideas come into my head, and if I think they are worthwhile to promulgate, I record them for the consumption of others. It seems to be a successful methodology: it motivates me put out a lot of material, and judging from my feedback, my writings seem to be persuading and assisting people to a fair degree. Some people don't care for them due to length or other considerations. That's fine, and doesn't bother me at all, anymore than the fact that millions of people will not care for any particular piece of music or art, or a movie.

People like different things, and we can't please everyone. The writer (like the musician or artist) simply writes what he is inspired to write. If people don't care for my style or method, then there are plenty of shorter treatments out there for them to choose instead. I really don't see it as my concern. I am what I am. My concern is to do the best job I can do in any given piece of writing; to make it logical, presentable as an argument, challenging, and (hopefully) enjoyable to read as well (because I am a firm believer that education ought to be fun and enjoyable, not a drudgery).

I do try my best not to be merely repetitive, it should be noted. If a paper of mine is long, there is a lot of information in it; not mere repetition, over and over. I find that many arguments consist of a person merely stating the same thing 8, 10, 15 times, as if that repetition somehow makes the argument stronger. I submit that extreme repetition suggests that the person has not many ideas to offer, and so he keeps re-stating the few that he does have.

Thanks for asking this question. It comes up every now and again, and I thought it was worthwhile to give my opinion. That's the long and the short of it, at any rate. This short paper is long overdue; in short, some people were probably longing to see this brief explanation about lengthiness from me . . . :-)

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