Friday, July 6, 2012

Agreeing To Disagree

Looking at the last part of Michael Griener's series on why he is not Catholic. It is more than a little disappointing. He details how his opinion or the teaching of his protestant tradition is different from the Catholic church's teaching on many points. Then he just assumes his opinion is obviously right. Often protestants will provide some biblical argument explaining why they think their opinion is right. He does not even go there. He just does not seem to get his mind around the fact that not everyone thinks like him. That other churches, including the Catholic church, use the same New Testament he does and arrive at very different doctrines. It shows how far we have to go in raising the authority issue that someone who is reasonably highly thought of as a protestant pastor can address the question of Catholicism at some length and totally miss the authority issue. Not just getting the wrong answer but not even coming close to the right question. Just treating his own opinion or his own tradition as infallible and thinking that is going to be convincing. Either he does not get out much or the Catholics who have been talking about this need to get out even more.

He did raise one point that is worth a comment. He tells the story of his daughter trying to date a Catholic.
He was a nice young man, polite, kind, and a fellow student at her little Christian high school. He was also a Catholic from a devout Catholic family. As the non-dating stage of their relationship went on, it became apparent that he was “really” a Catholic, even though he attended a non-Catholic Christian school. My daughter assured me that his faith was genuine and that their religious difference would mean little. I told her I did not question his relationship with Jesus, but I suggested she was underestimating the differences in the faiths.
Look at what is happening here. He is saying that this boy is a Christian yet there is a difference in the faiths. That is not biblical. St Paul says in Eph 4:5 that all Christians have one faith. What we have together in Jesus is supposed to bring us together. People that you would not expect to get along should become friends because they are both Christians. But the opposite is happening here. A young couple that seems like they like each other has to split up because of their religion.

In John 17:23 Jesus prays,"May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me." Here we have the opposite. Not only is complete unity not happening supernaturally but even the natural human bonds are being broken. Our unity is supposed to let the world know Jesus is really from God and that God does love them. Those are pretty important truths. So what happens when we do the exact opposite of what Jesus prays for? When we let religion divide Christian from Christian? The world might still see something of God but there is a lot that is not of God obscuring it, a lot of pride and a lot of judging.

It has become politically correct to say Catholics are not evil and many Catholics have a good relationship with Jesus. But that only makes sense up to a point. Having their child contemplate marrying a Catholic is too much for most protestants. It makes sense. Realistically the new family is going to end up choosing to be Catholic or protestant. Both sides dislike that idea. Catholics can articulate why. They believe valid sacraments are important and the protestant church does not have them. Protestants have more trouble saying why their child becoming Catholic is worse than their child moving to another protestant denomination. They say the Catholic church is a Christian church but not really. 

The truth is the differences go quite deep. Protestants can't really process that. They want to believe that anyone who accepts Jesus as their savior and accepts the bible as the word of God is part of the family of God and all the differences will be minor. It just is not true. There are different doctrinal frames of reference that are a hugely important. If the protestant admits they exist he has a problem. He has to address the question of which one is the right one. That is precisely the question being ducked in this article. 

When you ask that question, which tradition, which philosophical framework, which paradigm is the correct one? Supposing you try and answer it objectively and not assume something from your tradition. Then Catholicism wins from almost any angle you look at it. It is more logical. It is more biblical. It is more historical. It is more workable. It is more beautiful. It is more global. It has produced more saints and a greater variety of saints. It has inspired more great art. It's claims are more testable and have been tested for a longer time. 

This is why this question never really gets faced. It does require a bit more abstract thinking but not all that much. Most are capable of doing that analysis. But when the thinking leads to unpleasant conclusions then they just think about something else. That is what struck me about the article. Even with this incident with his daughter and even choosing to write about Catholicism it is so easy to duck the central question. I was there once. Twenty years ago I would have done exactly the same thing. So I shall pray for Pastor Michael and his daughter Michal because these are important questions. Not just important for their spiritual walk but for the witness that Christians give to the world.


  1. Really good article. My marriage is a 'mixed-marriage' and I can attest to the challenges. This article helped me reframe a little on the causes of tension we have.

  2. Thadeus
    I am glad you found it helpful.

    God bless you.

  3. Great article. It really makes me rethink Paul's warning "not to be unequally yoked with unbelievers" - in some ways it seems being unequally yoked with a Protestant of a different denomination is worse than being yoked with an outright unbeliever. At least the lines are clearly drawn with the unbeliever, where as the mixed marriage between different denominations almost mocks the entire Sacrament since both parties claim to be under the same banner and same rulebook but disagree on a wide range of issues. From what I understand, mixed marriages used to be looked down upon even among Protestants, so the proliferation of mixed marriages seems to signify a total watering down of Christianity in society since it directly promotes religious indifferentism.

  4. Thanks for the comment Nick.

    Mixed marriages do point out the denial we are in. We used to admit that the differences were huge and just treat each other as unbelievers. Now we say they are believers. We are all part of one big Body of Christ. But when a family tries to live that out it does not really work. We are doing something very wrong. Catholicism can explain exactly what that is. Protestants really can't. They think we are doing what Jesus envisioned and it just isn't working. But that just does not make sense.

    We just can't claim to have unity unless we have a way to come to the same answer on important doctrinal questions. Did Jesus give us a way to do that or did He not?

  5. Ah, your original point really hit me just now. I didn't see the 'apologetics' value as much as the 'food for thought' value of your thesis. That Catholics can make sense of this while Protestants cannot is huge. It requires one recognize the need and existence of a perfect doctrinal standard, not merely the theoretical possibility (i.e. Scripture being sufficient by not being able to translate that into an actual formal and infallible set of dogmas). I focused on the religious indifferentism that resulted, while you were pointing in the opposite direction, that this points to the need for a Magisterium.

    The following quote is from one of Pope Leo's XIII Encyclicals that I saved because it was so good:

    "43. Care also must be taken that they do not easily enter into marriage with those who are not Catholics; for, when minds do not agree as to the observances of religion, it is scarcely possible to hope for agreement in other things. Other reasons also proving that persons should turn with dread from such marriages are chiefly these: that they give occasion to forbidden association and communion in religious matters; endanger the faith of the Catholic partner; are a hindrance to the proper education of the children; and often lead to a mixing up of truth and falsehood, and to the belief that all religions are equally good."

    It is this quote that came to mind when I spoke of religious indifferentism via mixed marriages. The attitude (as we're all aware) is that husband and wife wishing to find peace end up watering down the things that divide, even a mother telling the children things like "I don't think daddy wont go to hell just because he's Baptist", which directly puts the children on the road to indifferentism.

  6. Actually they are often already steeped in indifferentism. That is how I ended up marrying a Catholic. I told myself that it didn't matter. We both loved Jesus and that was enough. It turned out to be true but only because one of us, namely me, changed his tradition. So I am glad my wife had not read Pope Leo's XIII Encyclicals!