Friday, September 14, 2007

The One-Minute Apologist Trashed Along With Scott Hahn's Reasons to Believe / Negative Review of The Catholic Verses

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This review (awkwardly entitled, "Books offer answers to faith questions but not all are right") appeared in The Catholic Review: 13 September 2007, page 31. I must say I am highly honored to have my book panned alongside Scott Hahn's (and for similar reasons). The article is distributed by Catholic News Service, and appeared on Tidings Online, Catholic Online, and The Mirror On-Line: The Book Nook. Something is to be said for exposure and the "free advertising," I suppose, even of a bad review.

The reviewer is Graham Yearley, who is earning a certificate of advanced study in theology at the Ecumenical Institute at St. Mary's Seminary and University in Baltimore.

The "review" exhibits, I think, a thoroughly fallacious and shallow mindset whereby ecumenism is pitted against apologetics, as if they were antithetical to each other. I've often written about this. One might opine that Mr. Yearley's academic emphasis on ecumenism has played a role in this particular opinion of his. Without seeing the sort of materials he has studied, I can't say if his school played a role in the jaundiced attitude or not. Nor do I know the slightest thing about his school. But I know that the "ecumenism vs. apologetics" mentality is quite common indeed.

Here it is, in its entirety (i.e., the portion dealing with Scott's book and my own, but his is hardly "reviewed" at all, and mine just a wee little bit):

Three new books seek to answer faith questions raised by Catholics and others, with varying degrees of success. . . .

Reasons to Believe by Scott Hahn and The One-Minute Apologist by Dave Armstrong – are guides for Catholics to defend the teachings of the church. Each author became a Catholic as an adult and each seems anxious to show that Catholics know the Bible just as well as Protestants.

Every church teaching is given ample biblical support. But sometimes the biblical support for certain teachings seems strained at best. Both authors could be accused of triumphalism, of believing that we have it right and, if everybody else doesn't have it wrong all the time, that we have the fullest and best knowledge of God's intentions. Nothing else about Catholicism annoys non-Catholics more.

But our authors don't always have it right; Armstrong doesn't seem to understand papal infallibility at all. But his book has the advantage of being concise and sometimes amusing. As The One-Minute Apologist is already in paperback, it might be wise to stow it in one's book bag or pocketbook in case a pesky Protestant comes up unexpectedly and asks a difficult question.

For a similar exercise in condemnation of alleged "triumphalism" (flowing, I believe, from this same erroneous understanding of what apologetics is about), there is a review of my book, The Catholic Verses, by "Pete", posted on that book's amazon page:
Neither Humble nor Respectful, August 11, 2007
By Pete (Philadelphia, PA USA) - See all my reviews
I bought this book largely based on the very positive reviews found here, and was surprised and disappointed to find it so different than other readers have found it. Specifically, my impressions are literally opposite to those in the second paragraph of Jonathan Prejean's review.

Personally, I found the book to be VERY emotionally laden. Armstrong seems full of a great deal of bitterness and negativity towards Protestants, and does a very poor job of remaining dispassionate. True, he makes a few formal *statements* about respect for those on the other side of the fence, and does quote Protestants extensively, but I find the entire tone and spirit of the book to be overwhelmingly bitter and defensive. The text is riddled with jabs, sarcasm, mockery, and derision toward Protestants that betray an obvious emotional investment in the subject and make it very difficult to focus on the theological content.

For example, many passages of the book are dedicated not to theological discussion, but to the recounting of specific debates the author has had online with individual Protestants, where he attempts to illustrate in detail how he bested his opponents and made them to look like ridiculous fools. He also heaps a great deal of scorn on such famous protestant thinkers as Luther and Calvin. Far from demonstrating respect for their intelligence or humbly discussing "how reasonable men can disagree," he very arrogantly attempts to portray them as intellectual idiots and as men motivated primarily by conceit and blind anti-Catholic hatred.

Overall, the impression that I got from this book was not that the author was attempting to teach his readers about spiritual truths of which he is convicted, but that his primary purpose was to demonstrate his own intelligence and skill in argument, and to malign and discredit Protestants both individually (whether Luther, Calvin, or the many "internet opponents" he so proudly shames), and as a collective "they."

Despite this unfortunate tone, spirit, and style, I did still find some of the content to be valuable. Armstrong IS clearly intelligent, very well-read, and a logical thinker and good writer. I was raised Catholic and later converted to Protestantism based on personal convictions about doctrinal truths, and I did find the book helpful in understanding more about the scriptural basis for Catholic doctrine. He presents a number of cogent arguments in defense of specific Catholic beliefs -- I just wish it were written without the emotional baggage. Catholics may not be bothered by the tone, but I would caution Protestants to read a few chapters before buying, because the style may make it difficult for you to remain emotionally detached and evaluate Armstrong's arguments for their merit.
I find this extraordinary in its sheer subjectivity. As usual with such emotional-type observations, no actual documented examples are given: nothing objective or factual that a neutral observer (or, say, the author being pilloried) could actually discuss with his critic. I'm always astounded when this happens, because I regard it as perfectly self-evident that if such accusations are made, that they ought to be backed up and substantiated by actual examples. Otherwise, the effectiveness (or persuasiveness) of the critique is about as compelling as someone going on and on about how cherry ice cream is the best on earth, while vanilla is obviously the worst.

How does one rationally argue such a thing? This review is of the same order of thought. There is no way anyone can agree or disagree with it, since it is completely subjective: almost a stream-of-consciousness rant. Even assuming this critic were right about my tone, style, and supposed interior attitude, he gives no one anything that would prove it to the slightest degree.

Armstrong seems full of a great deal of bitterness and negativity towards Protestants

How does one conclude this? Because I disagree with them, and argue vigorously that the Protestants whom I cite are guilty at times of misrepresenting Catholic teaching and giving their readers a distorted version of it? I can attest that I don't have these attitudes towards Protestants. I'm dealing with ideas, and relative, historic exegesis of Bible passages, not whole classes of people, such as the amorphous mass of "Protestants". But even one example might help illustrate the reviewer's point, would it not?

and does a very poor job of remaining dispassionate.

Oh, I'm very passionate about what I believe; guilty as charged, and proudly so. I fail to see that this is a shameful thing, however. I never claimed to be engaging in "dispassionate"scholarly work, so there is a bit of license allowed a mere exegetical amateur layman like myself.

True, he makes a few formal *statements* about respect for those on the other side of the fence

In other words, he is implying that my statement about my own opinion is equivocation and boilerplate, and contradictory to the passion of disagreeing with particulars. This doesn't follow, of course, and if he actually examined particulars, I could easily show how it does not.

I find the entire tone and spirit of the book to be overwhelmingly bitter and defensive.

Subjective; no examples. . . .

The text is riddled with jabs, sarcasm, mockery, and derision toward Protestants . . .

I definitely utilize wit and sarcasm in my writing, but there is a right and a wrong way to do that, and it can be directed towards targets for which the critic has mixed feelings: admiration in many respects, while disagreeing with others. It doesn't necessarily follow that the motivation for wit and sarcasm is outright mockery and derision.

an obvious emotional investment in the subject

Again, I am passionate about what I believe. If that is "emotional investment" then I am guilty as charged. But why should any Christian not be passionate about the most important things in life, is the relevant question. What does he expect, anyway: for an apologist to be emotionally neutral towards that which he defends? That makes no sense.

he attempts to illustrate in detail how he bested his opponents and made them to look like ridiculous fools

A jaded description, to say the least.

He also heaps a great deal of scorn on such famous protestant thinkers as Luther and Calvin.

No, I disagree with some particular arguments of theirs. If someone wants some serious scorn, they ought to read what Luther and Calvin wrote about the Catholic Church!

he very arrogantly attempts to portray them as intellectual idiots

I deny this! How does he know it is "arrogant" anyway? I certainly don't think either Luther or Calvin were "idiots". As I note on my Luther and Lutheranism page, I actually defend Luther, cite him in agreement, or take a neutral stance, in no less than sixteen papers. That is hardly considering someone an "idiot." But I will gladly critique Luther when he is far too harsh and unreasonable against Catholics. "Pete" says not one word about the ideas I am protesting in my book. And that matters a great deal, because some passion in dissent is entirely warranted, and doesn't have to reduce to mere arrogance and scorn.

as men motivated primarily by conceit and blind anti-Catholic hatred.

That is sheer nonsense. I did a search of my own Word file of the book. The word conceit never appears (let alone is it applied as an alleged primary motivation). Arrogance or arrogant are never applied to any Protestant figures. Nor do I ever accuse any of them of hate and hatred. This is why bald accusations without any examples are so absurd and meaningless. I do, however, cite Calvin literally urging people to hate at least some Catholics:

John Calvin (as a representative Protestant) makes a scathing criticism of the Catholic exegesis of Colossians 1:24, claiming that it detracts from the finished work of Christ:

Indeed, as their whole doctrine is a patchwork of sacrilege and blasphemy, this is the most blasphemous of the whole . . . What is this but merely to leave the name of Christ, and at the same time make him a vulgar saintling, who can scarcely be distinguished in the crowd?

(Institutes, III, 5, 3-4)


Calvin here is again guilty of presenting a caricature of the Catholic position, whereby it is construed as somehow opposing saints to God or regarding the saints as somehow contributing to the redemption apart from God (the characteristic Protestant dichotomous or either/or, mindset).

Calvin mistakenly thinks this is what Catholics hold. In his commentary on this verse, he repeats the falsehoods about the Catholic position, and even urges readers to hate those who are supposedly deliberately corrupting Holy Writ:

Nor are they ashamed to wrest this passage, with the view of supporting so execrable a blasphemy, as if Paul here affirmed that his sufferings are of avail for expiating the sins of men . . . I should also be afraid of being suspected of calumny in repeating things so monstrous . . . Let, therefore, pious readers learn to hate and detest those profane sophists, who thus deliberately corrupt and adulterate the Scriptures.

(pp. 130-131)

Now, is that my fault? Is it not right to object to such a thing? Why doesn't "Pete" object to this sentiment (a prime example of the sort of opinions I was critiquing)?

his primary purpose was to demonstrate his own intelligence and skill in argument

How does one reply to such unsubstantiated drivel? If indeed I made good arguments, then "Pete" simply superimposes onto the situation that I was improperly proud of this and that the mere demonstration of disputational prowess was my (as usual) "primary purpose". So he has a ready explanation either way. If the arguments are good, and succeed, he says this. If they aren't, then that's great, too, because the book would then fail in its actual purpose! Very clever, isn't it?

As "Pete" alluded to, other reviewers profoundly disagree with his take. Jonathan Prejean wrote (in direct contrast to this negative review):
One feature that distinguishes this book from many other works is the genuine respect that Armstrong bears for the other side of the aisle. . . . Armstrong makes his case strongly and convincingly while maintaining a profound respect for his opponents' intelligence.
Granted, Jonathan is my friend, but that doesn't automatically discount his opinion. J. Washum states:
Dave puts together compelling arguments and does an excellent job of presenting both sides of the argument by quoting Calvin, Luther etc...
What can I say? I leave it to readers to judge how well I have treated my opponents, and what my interior motivations and "emotions" may be. On my info-page for the book, I provide links to several excerpts: on the topics of the Church, justification, Tradition, prayers for the dead, Mary, and divorce. Read some of them and decide for yourself. And if you agree with "Pete's" assessment, please extend to me the courtesy of specifically explaining what you found offensive and why. Then I could actually objectively discuss my writing in any given instance and why I wrote and argued as I did.

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