Thursday, June 18, 2015

No potpourri

Some of the feedback I received from my recent article came from old school fundamentalists. Benedict is not a saint, they said, because he was part of the great Whore of Babylon, a servant of the anti-Christ, and they'll die before they accept my vile Roman popery. I wasn't certain people like that actually existed anymore. It might be a regional thing. Here in California, 99% of my arguments about religion involve Godless heathens who either believe the Church is a reactionary fossil standing in the way of the progressive utopia, or a superstitious liberal NGO that all good libertarians should reject out of hand. Both believe the Church is a reactionary roadblock to the brave new world of the Nietzschean superman, self-created through his own reason and will.

It's difficult to speak of a "Protestant worldview" because Protestantism, by its nature, is prone to division. It encompasses everyone from the homosexual Episcopalian Gene Robinson to the toothy Joel Osteen to the white knighting Mark Driscoll to the thunderous John Hagee. Two things all Protestants have in common is 1) rejection of the papacy's authority, and 2) a belief that the Bible is to be the sole authority for the Christian faithful. For the 21st century Protestant, choosing a particular church to attend is largely a matter of personal taste. If Pastor Bob's preaching isn't meeting your spiritual needs, you can start attending Pastor Jim's church instead. Or you can found a church of your own.

Many years ago when I was wondering which church to join, the claims of Sola Scriptura troubled me. If the Bible is the sole source of authority, then why are there so many denominations? Did not our Blessed Lord pray that we all be one?

The problem is positivism. Positivism attempts to confine all meaning to a text, in this case the Bible. It purports to isolate meaning from any metaphysical assumptions. This is, of course, impossible. Any complex writing can have multiple good faith interpretations depending on the intentions of the author, the background of the reader, and the circumstances in which the text is written and read. If two good faith interpretations both taken to be true conflict with one another, then we have a contradiction. A text that contradicts itself has no meaning. The only real solution to mutually incompatible good faith interpretations is a source of authority outside the text itself that can resolve such conflicts. The logical conclusion of Protestantism is not the thousands of denominations that exist today, but a billion denominations; every individual Protestant his own one-man church.

The positivist believes that all meaningful parts of reality can be reduced to quantifiable and communicable knowledge. The post-modern correctly suspects that this is impossible but then leaps to the opposite extreme of believing that we cannot be certain about any aspects of reality, and that anyone who claims certainty about anything must be a crypto-Nazi. Positivism and post-modernism are two sides of the same coin, much like politics in the 21st century are arguments between left-liberals and right-liberals. The only question is deciding which basket of unprincipled exceptions you prefer.

1 comment:

  1. Explaining this to some of my Protestant friends has been rather difficult. Positivism isn't that hard to understand, so I think the problem isn't that they can't grasp the concept (and most of these friends are above-average intelligence, as well). Part of me wonders if the problem is that they don't want to let go of American notions of autonomy and independence, among other things.