Summa Aesthetica has a wonderful post on Catholicism. He clearly addresses some of the issues that seem to divide Protestants and Catholics. And he also points out something that I think has long been missing in Protestant Evangelical circles. Why Evangelicals don’t read more Catholic authors, scholars, etc., but rather write them off as if they are completely worthless because they are Catholic. It seems a worthwhile discipline and practice to not only read those people you like and agree with, but also those you dislike, and disagree with.

I have come across this a lot in different seminary circles where a student will dismiss a writer or scholar….not because they have read the original material themselves….but because they read some textbook that said to stay away from this author. How can you know what Thomas Merton stood for and wrote, unless you have read him yourself. But instead I come across sites on the internet that say he is completely heretical because they disagree with some points of his. Hey…if you wrote as much as he did, you are bound to write something that not everyone agrees with. And you may even write something that is a mis-step from what one would consider an orthodox position. But does that mean he isn’t worth reading at all? Not in my opinion?

This is something that I see a lot in college ministry. A student will tell me how a certain author or scholar is bad, and not a Christian. And I ask why. And they say something like, “Well, my professor said so.” or, “My pastor said so.” I then ask, “Have you read that author?” Most of the time the answer is no. I dont’ get this view that if you read someone who you disagree with, or who doesn’t hold all the same Christian and orthodox views as yourself, you are somehow contaminating yourself. I don’t particularly agree with the philosophy of Nietzsche, or the psychology of Freud, but I think they are worth my time to read, because they have so impacted society, different movements, and the lives of many people. It seems worthwhile to know what they say, so that I can better discuss, or debate, or argue for my own position.

One of my friends believes that many Christians in the pews have simply been content to let their church, their pastors, their leaders make decisions for them. That people often sit in the pew, and would rather have others doing the thinking for them. He compares this to the story of Moses in the Old Testament, and how the Israelites seemed more content to let Moses intervene on their behalf, and go before God, rather than themselves. We often what our leaders to go on our behalf, without us having to enter into the process ourselves.

I think my friend is right. Are their bad writers out there? For sure. Are there some dangerous philosophies out there? For sure. But maybe it’s time we stop demonizing certain thinkers and writers, based solely on the fact that they don’t fit into our nice Evangelical, Christians bubbles all the time. Maybe some people, who aren’t Christian, have worthwile things to say.

Dostoyevsky has impacted my life more than any other writer. His insight into the human condition is unparalleled. So I just have to laugh when some of my friends either a) refuse to read him because he wasn’t a Protestant evangelical or b) want to debate me that since he was Russian orthodox, he probably wasn’t even a Christian.

It is time to get off my soapbox for now, but please read Summa Aesthetica’s post below, or visit his blog at Summa Aesthetica.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Why I Talk About Catholic Theology

Here is a question that many of my friends and family probably ask themselves after encountering my blog: why on earth does he keep harping on this Catholic thing?

While this weeks posts are essentially detailed answers to this question, it may help if I enumerate a few reasons at the outset.

1. Protestants (especially evangelicals) do not read Catholics — It amazes me that in the course of an undergraduate degree in Christian Studies I was never required to read any Catholic sources. The situation was not much better when I earned my MDiv. We did read some Catholic sources that were written before 1500, but I wonder whether the reasoning was, “Hey, they couldn’t help themselves…the Reformation had not yet taken place.” So, I feel it is part of my duty, as one who has begun to rediscover the great things happening in Catholic theology, to share with others who refuse to go there themselves.

2. Catholic theology is really misunderstood – I am tired of reading Protestant “scholars” that claim to summarize the Catholic position and make statements that are easily shown to be uncharitable and inaccurate. It really makes me wonder whether some of these people have read Catholic works themselves. As a result there is an amazing amount of misunderstanding on the lay level, demonstrating the awful power of “trickle-down theology.” By the time sloppy work makes its way to the pew, things get to be a mess. This is especially the case when it comes to the “easy target” issues like Mary, the Saints, the role of art in faith, etc. I want to help clear up some simple misunderstandings.

3. Sometimes Catholics are their own worst enemies – (The following critique could be made every bit as strongly of evangelicals–in fact, at some point I will make a similar critique—but for now…) Many evangelicals dismiss Catholics without a hearing because they have met some with questionable moral character. This is an irony that makes me snicker, since the age-old criticism of Catholicism is that it teaches that you can work your way into heaven. Evidently, some now think that they are not working hard enough. It is also funny because an evangelical would be the first to say that insist that people not dismiss them because of a few bad apples on the tree. Nevertheless, when Protestants see devotional practices that are more superstitious than pious, or encounter a Catholic who seems to have never seen a Bible and apparently slept through catechism, the Catholic Church as a whole is written off. Given the existence of TBN, dismissing Catholics for having kooks or scoundrels in their midst seems awfully hypocritical. Having long since reconciled myself with the beam in evangelicalism’s eye, Catholicism’s splinter does not bother me. So, one of my motivations is a desire to give a sympathetic explanation to those who are ordinarily dismissive.

4. The Linguistic Problem – To complicate everything, the Protestant/Catholic situation is marked by the same problems seen in the trans-Atlantic development of English. Although America was founded by English colonists, due to a large body of water, painfully slow travel, and the lack of communication technology, America’s linguistic patterns developed somewhat independent of its British roots. The result was the emergence of two nations separated by a common language (i.e. we have no idea what a Brit means when she says that she is about to take the lift to her flat to grab a few quid so she can get some petrol). Similarly, the Reformation severed lines of communication. Now Protestants find themselves 500 years removed from the Catholic conversation and discover that it is awfully difficult to understand one another. One of my interests is to decipher what is going on in Rome, and translate it for the rest of us who need to hear what they have to say.

I suppose more could be said, but perhaps this is enough to provide a bit of context for my recent research and writing. I am convinced that many of the sticky issues we face would be less sticky if we read each other’s work charitably. I hope this blog can be one small step towards that goal.

posted by Cameron Jorgenson at 10:27 PM