Sunday, January 8, 2012

I Never said I wasn't Crazy

On Christmas Day, that holy day of peace and joy, I fired a shot at the U.S.S. Shea. He treats of this on his post for The National Catholic Register. It all has to do with his quote of the - apparently - old text of the Proclamation of the Nativity from the Roman Martyrology - which he failed to preface in any way whatsoever! -  which states that the Incarnation occurred, "In the five thousand one hundred and ninety-ninth year of the creation of the world..."

I sort of flipped out and wrote in his commented box:

I hope that is a joke, Mr. Shea! I just added you to my blogger list; I’d hate to have to take you off so soon. Do you think the pope thinks the world is c. 7000 years old? Sorry if I missed the joke, but the problem is too many Catholics think that the Church actually teaches Biblical literalism, so I don’t think educated Catholics should joke about this…

and then when another commenter remarked about the origin of Mr. Shea's quote, I added:

Alright, I’ll eat a bit of crow here, seeing how it’s from the tradition. But if it’s meant to edify, I would certainly be more edified by “in the 13 billion, five thousand, one hundred and ninety-ninth year of the creation of the world…” or whatever. Again, too many Catholics are frightened of science for no reason… In some things we should leave the past in the past.

That brings us to his most recent post, linked above.

My only objection to this recent post of his is that he still seems not to grasp that fundamentalism is a problem in the Church. Thus, I added these comments today:

Dear Mr. Shea,

I should have known better (I am one of the commentators who had too much caffeine - how did you know! - the one who threatened to strike you off his blog roll), that you do not espouse the classic fundamentalism, since I have a copy of your ‘Making Senses of Scripture’ on my shelf (though I confess not to have read it all the way through yet, tee hee).

Sorry for being so irate but I teach theology to undergrads and am so worried about the stain of fundamentalism in our Church. I am a convert - the proud son of a research scientist - and was bowled-over by how many ‘fundamentalists’ I have met in this here Catholic Church over the years. I am definitely not a scientific positivist either, though (that would make conversion to Catholicism rather silly, wouldn’t it?). I think that Catholics generally don’t know their Faith and tend to think Christian = anti-science for some reason. I run into fundamentalist Catholics on a daily basis, and I guess teaching the Church’s position on faith and reason has become my apostolate; I am a little too zealous in this sometimes it seems.

Keep up the good work, Mr. Shea. BTW, you are still on my blog roll ;)

and,
I should also have mentioned that I am discussing the bad consequences of this kind of fundamentalism on my blog today: thetheologyofdad.blogspot.com

A little self-promotion there added on.

I am not sure if I can follow all the twists and turns of Shea's response - like, who does he mean to include by his phrase "What do all these complaints have in common?" When he writes,

What do all these complaints have in common? The conviction that the Proclamation is a) science (the only disagreement being whether it is good or bad science); b) people are morally bound to have some definite view of the age of the universe on pain of such punishments as being declared Out of Step with Science or else on pain of Being a Heretic (note how similar those two punishments are) and c) everybody knows science and the faith “contradict” each other.

I don't think he means to include me in that (or, maybe he does in #2?), because he treats of me shortly thereafter, when he writes,

What’s ironic about the people who were ready to strike me from their blogroll for the sin of possibly taking seriously the dating of the creation at 7000 years (I don’t, by the way) is that the guy who wrote the ancient version of the Proclamation was doing science as best he could.

I can only respond that it is great that the original drafter of the Proclamation was doing science as best he could, but in repeating it on Christmas Day, 2011, Mark Shea was not doing science as best he could! In fact, he was doing it as poorly as he could! (Or, as he says, just being lazy.)

My point is, just because you are being lazy, not being serious, not meaning any harm, whatever, doesn't mean you can yell out "The building is on fire!" in a packed theatre. Shea has a wide readership, and he should treat that seriously - at all times - at least to the extent of not allowing confused fundamentalists to find in him a bulwark for their fundamentalism!

Further, his dichotmomization of these 'two fundamentalism' constitutes a logical fallacy. There are Catholic fundamentalists, as I have said, but there are no Catholic positivists, as he seems to be suggesting. (A positivist is someone who thinks that the only true things are empirically demonstrable.)

My hero, St. Augustine, thought a lot of strange things to be the case about the world. He would not be my hero were he to be a bishop teaching these things today, or were he today tacitly allowing others to profess such things.

Yes, Shea is correct when he says that a Catholic "is not morally bound to have some definite view of the age of the universe." But Mr. Shea is morally bound not to propagate error. I employ the Socratic Method in class a great deal. I intentionally make false statements, but with the intention of stirring my students on to further insight. If I had said in the last minute of class, "Everyone knows - and Pope Benedict has said as much - that Christ did not physically rise from the dead," with no follow-up, I sin, and gravely indeed.

Who cares how old the world is? Not me. But in this day and age to represent that Catholicism is so uninterested in science that it thinks that is possible that the world is only c. 7000 years old constitutes heresy, in this case, a blatant rejection of the principles of Catholic Theology as laid out in John Paul II's Encyclical, Fides et Ratio. I would say that the fundamentalism that permits such scientific agnosticism is actually a form of Gnosticism (a terrible play on words there, I apologize!) and of Modernism, as defined by Pius IX (i.e. the error the true knowledge of the world is impossible).

Just because I am not morally obliged to have a view on the age of the world does not mean that I am not morally obliged to know what constitutes the basic scientific knowledge of the age in which I live: if memory serves me, I think St. Thomas Aquinas says as much - but where, I can't recall.
(My best guess: in his doctrine of the positive law, or his doctrine of prudence, or perhaps both.)

This kind of agnosticism throws disrepute on the Church, it scandalizes both the faithful and those God is calling to his Church. It constitutes an unfair and illegitimate obstacle to communion with the Church! Thinking people have a right to the truth of the Church - even non-Catholics have a rightful claim on us in this matter.

Okay, I am using a lot of exclamation points. I am adamant, but not angry. You know what I think would be a lot of fun? Actually meeting Mr. Shea and having a discussion about all things Catholic over a few beer. That is, after he apologizes for all his wrong-doing... ;)

4 comments:

  1. I think you're making too much of this. I don't think anyone drew from Mark Shea's article that the Church seriously teaches the world is 7000 years old. If he was trying to state that the world really is 7000 years old, you might have a case, but he's not.

    But in this day and age to represent that Catholicism is so uninterested in science that it thinks that is possible that the world is only c. 7000 years old constitutes heresy

    He doesn't. Catholicism is first and foremost interested in Divine Revelation, and the precise age of the world is not a revealed Truth. Neither is *the scientific method*.

    Most people don't think that way about science. Really, it's not a big deal. In fact, your comments are kind of what he's talking about. Science, scientific knowledge and secular knowledge are fine. They are not absolutely necessary for faithfulness.

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  2. I quickly realized he wasn't advocating that, but was concerned about the false impression is might make on others too. Thanks, Suzanne!

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  3. If I had said in the last minute of class, "Everyone knows - and Pope Benedict has said as much - that Christ did not physically rise from the dead," with no follow-up, I sin, and gravely indeed.

    How about left on a blog? You have left me shocked!

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  4. I hope you are joking, Mr. or Ms. Anonymous! The whole sentence is in the subjunctive mode, and the context implies it is an absurb notion, misleading if not denied. If it was not false, then in what would consist the sin?

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