Wednesday, July 07, 2004

Response to an Orthodox Critic Concerning My Supposed Ignorance of Orthodoxy and Illegitimate Apologetic Methodology

By Dave Armstrong (7-7-04)

[Orthodox] Perry Robinson's words will be in blue; the words of Christopher Jones (a former Orthodox who is now a Lutheran) will be in red.

Note: I had to slightly modify some remarks since both Perry and I thought Christopher was Orthodox at first.

* * * * *

Hi Perry,

Note that I apologized for the word “fudge.” There is such a thing as graciously accepting an apology. Secondly, you interpreted that as me calling you a liar, but that was neither my intention nor the necessary definition of the term. In my dictionary, the first definition is “empty, foolish talk; nonsense.” Another given is “to make or put together dishonestly or carelessly; fake.” Even part of that one is not necessarily an accusation of dishonesty or “lying.” A third definition given is “to refuse to commit oneself or give a direct answer; hedge.” This was what I had in mind. You can either believe that or not, but it was my intention. And I have apologized for it (not that I think much of the comment you made which brought out my observation).

I noted that the way you seem to treat Orthodox theology and Orthodox people speaks of something else other than admiration.

I carefully noted what it is I dislike. If that is not enough for you, I can’t do anything else. Your attitude towards Catholicism is far more hostile than mine “against” Orthodoxy (as I will demonstrate below with your own words), so this is a bit silly coming from you.

Sure you may be sincere, but just not consistent.

Good. Likewise with you.

My point was that you had encountered popular views expressed by Orthodox but it doesn’t follow that those views are Orthodox views.

Of course not. But on the other hand, if a certain attitude is widespread (at least on the Internet, which – granted – does not represent the whole at all), then at some point it seems to me that one is entitled to draw some causal inferences from that. Many Calvinists, e.g., are anti-Catholic, whereas the majority of Protestants are not. So it is fair to ask why this is; to delve into Calvinist thought, theology, and history to determine why the anti-Catholic motif has become so prominent. Likewise with Orthodox. And indeed we find that many converts to Orthodoxy from anti-Catholic Protestantism bring this prejudice right along with them.

Hence you are wrong to impute them to Orthodoxy.

In the sense I have just described above, it is perfectly proper, I think, but I agree that generalization is always a tricky business.

Just like someone going off of what the nonsense that most Catholics spew.

We all have our liberals, don’t we (and our “traditionalists")? I oppose both poles, and am interested in orthodoxy within each tradition, not distortions of and dissent from same.

I generally have a good grasp of Roman theology and most Catholics I know, though there are plenty who do, wouldn’t know it if it bit them in the rear.

I agree. Don’t you think I am well aware of that, as a Catholic apologist?

If its not legit for prots to generalize about Catholics from hearsay, why is it legit for you to do so about Orthodox?

It isn’t; I agree, but I vigorously deny that this is what I have been doing. More on this below, as I reply to Christopher.

I didn’t accuse you of ethno-racism. I noted that that is what you had come into contact with and that if you spent some time and effort you would see that there is a lot more to Orthodoxy than that nonsense.

Fair enough. Thank you. I’m still looking. To be fair to the Orthodox, I should state that I am disgusted with the state of Internet discussion generally-speaking. I tried for some seven years looking for a decent forum and finally gave up. I have become just as disgusted with Catholic forums (both the liberals and “traditionalists") as with Protestant ones, or the Orthodox correspondents I have met. So I think a lot of it has to do with the medium itself. I have found, to my delight, that the blog community offers a substantially higher level of discourse and thought (this very blog is a prime example).

That said, I still have had plenty of negative encounters with Orthodox. I could name several who are not ignoramuses: they are quite well-educated and versed in Orthodoxy and Orthodox folks here would likely recognize their names. But I won’t do that because it would only cause more controversy. In any event, it is not the case that I have talked to ignorant fringe wackos and draw my conclusions from that. Unless those who are in ROCOR are placed in that undesirable category.

Now onto Christoper Jones’ remarks:

It’s not “defensive” to respond to an ad-hominem attack.

I deny that it was. As far as I am concerned, I was sticking to the ideas that Perry expressed. But I could see how it might be considered borderline.

To be “defensive” is to respond as if one had been attacked when there has been no attack; to defend oneself from actual attack is not defensive.

Again, one has to look at my actual argument. I would characterize it as an intellectual disdain, not a personal one.

Your original attack on Perry - not just the word “fudge,” but the whole thing, with its elaborate and eloquent attribution of views which Perry did not express, and its guilt-by-association with all the other Orthodox on the internet with whom you have disagreed “a million times before” - was inexcusable. And you continue to write as if the issue were the attitude, rather than the ideas, of the Orthodox.

I don’t think the prevalence of such attitudes can be quite so easily dismissed. Several commenters here (including Pontificator in his initial post, which cited an Orthodox person) have noted the same general tendency of anti-westernism among the Orthodox. There is something to this. I may have expressed myself in a dumb and/or offensive way. That is my own fault and responsibility. But it doesn’t follow from that, that the general problem here noted by several does not exist.

I recommend that you participate in these discussions when you are prepared to engage the ideas of Orthodoxy with respect, when you have read and understood some of the works of serious Orthodox theologians like Lossky, Ware, Farrell, Meyendorff, Zizioulas, and Khomiakhov.

Okay; now here is where you speak out of ignorance, because you don’t know what I have read or studied, or who I have talked to in my now eight years of almost-constant Internet dialogue. Perry asked the same thing on my blog. I answered, but it wasn’t good enough for him. Perhaps it is for you. Here is that exchange:
Since you are writing a book on Orthodoxy, what works from Orthodox writers have you consulted or plan to consult?

The book will be like most of mine: strictly laymen’s apologetics: trying to help people work through the issues of comparing and contrasting the two communions. In this case, it will often be based on many many dialogues I had with Orthodox. As for citing folks, I used Kallistos Ware’s book, The Orthodox Church, a lot; also I have read and/or cited / compiled information from books such as, e.g.:

Peter E. Gillquist, Becoming Orthodox
Stanley S. Harakas, The Orthodox Church: 455 Questions and Answers
Alexander Schmemann, The Historical Road of Eastern Orthodoxy
John Meyendorff, editor, The Primacy of Peter

I also utilize material from Fr. Seraphim Rose (several books in my library, and Frank Schaeffer’s The Christian Activist magazine.

I have heard Fr. Thomas Hopko, Franky Schaeffer, and Fr. Gillquist speak, and have had an Orthodox priest in my house for one of my ecumenical discussion groups. I also cite many Eastern fathers.
Now, you see that I read and utilize at least two of the books by people you recommended: Ware and Meyendorff.
Well I don’t take those works to be much use, except for Meyendorff and Schmemman’s and those are of somewhat limited value.
So Perry thinks Kallistos Ware is not “much use” and Meyendorff and Schmemann “somewhat limited.” Thus even you and he (in criticizing my knowledge of Orthodoxy) cannot agree as to what sources I should read in my studies. You call them “serious Orthodox theologians” but Perry thinks they are of little use and he described these elsewhere as merely “popular” works. So how can I decide even who to read in order to get a good grasp of Orthodoxy? And of course, this has long been a frustration in my dealings with Orthodox themselves.

Daniel Jones then asked Perry: “When do you believe Rome lost her orders, and for what doctrinal basis did she lose them?” Perry replied: “Basically false doctrine and cutting herself off from the Church.”

Gee whiz. That really sounds like Perry admires Catholicism more than I admire Orthodoxy, doesn’t it? I would never in a million years say such a thing about the Orthodox. Perry continued, having rejected my list of books about Orthodoxy:
I think the approach you are taking is as reliable as taking what your average Catholic thinks of Catholicism as representative of Catholicism. Hardly profitable or representative of Catholicism. This is why it is better to consult standard works, representative texts and authoritative declarations. To the extent that you rely on the God-knows-what opinions and views expressed by God-knows-who and on God-knows-what basis on the Internet the book strikes me as worthless to furthering dialog or actually engaging Orthodoxy. You won’t be engaging Orthodoxy.

If you take your book to be a corrective of false views that certain Orthodox people popularly express, the best way to do that is to get at what Orthodoxy actually teaches and not looking at what is popularly expressed by whatever loud mouth happens to cross your path.
Again, now we are back to determining what one should read to understand Orthodoxy. Christopher Jones (though a former Orthodox, so his opinion may not count for much in their eyes) likes Ware and Meyendorff. Perry Robinson does not. Now how does an outsider Catholic like myself choose between the two, and on what basis? But whatever Perry thinks of these various Orthodox (or reputed Orthodox) writers, it is not the case that my information and opinion on Orthodoxy is based solely on dealing with loose cannons on the Internet who know little about that which they speak.

Both of you are dead wrong about that, and quite presumptuous to make these charges when you clearly do not know what you are talking about in my case.

Later Perry condescended:
It might help to first figure out what other people actually believe before constructing arguments against their positions. I suppose though just limiting yourself to popular works will lend itself to those kinds of mistakes.
And so on and so forth . . .

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