Friday, October 28, 2005

Tradition

Much of what I'm going to say was coincidentally mentioned by Steve Hays at his blog, but for what it is worth I'll state such things in my own idiom.

Here at PP, we don't dismiss what the writers of antiquity have to say on principle. What we do instead is to, on principle, dimiss opinion based on authority arguments or opinion not justified by scripture nor actual argumentation. Also, we do not view the age or antiquity of a belief as validating a belief in question.

Some points are very basic to this:

(i) You can't get any more authoritative than St Paul. Yet, if you read the Corinthian and Galatian epistles [among others], then you see that there were beliefs, contemporary with the apostles and St Paul, that were wrong. Legalism and works-righteousness existed in the first century, say. As the right beliefs coexisted in the early Christian Church with wrong beliefs, the mere age of something doesn't broker the issue.

(ii) Similar to (i), why attempt to work backwards from the present along some trajectory of beliefs to justify why you hold what you hold? I can go right to the source for myself --- the Biblical writings --- and don't require Saint X's musings on the topic to validate the belief.

(iii) For those Romanists who view private interpretation of the Bible as some sort of dangerous, individualistic, or anarchistic enterprise [yawn], they face the same problem.

That problem is still that they have to decide for themselves if somebody is representing the texts in question properly. RC documents appeal to scripture and other documents as well. Why should I believe their appeals if I cannot check and see things for myself? Or am I supposed to just take Mother Church's word for it?

The same biz holds when I am told that some Father's teaching is authoritative. Why is it authoritative? If it references scripture, how am I supposed to see that it is true if I can't see it for myself? Does Mother Church beam in the proposition and assent to me directly, independent of my studies?

(iv) The veneration of ancient figures is just as silly as the cultification of academic personalities today, such as Derrida. People are the same today as they were in the past. You had pseudointellectuals then, you have them now. There were bad arguments then, there are bad arguments today.

We treat the ancient writers as we would a contemporary in terms of respect and the amount of charity, leeway, etc they are granted. If I give no evidence for a claim under contention, then people won't take the claim seriously. If some early Christian writer waxes allegorical about something without warrant, I don't have to take it seriously. They were, like we are today, fallible men.

This brings me to another point. All the Roman internet apologists seem to do is to argue that their beliefs are in line with some early figure. But this doesn't go anywhere towards showing that a belief is in accordance with scripture. Why not just go to the original itself? We have faculties, and we have reason. Despite the diversity of opinion in our Lord's time here on earth, He is still recorded as quoting scripture as if He expected others to know what he meant. Paul expected his epistolary recipients to understand at least in part what he was saying. What is so hard about going back to the basics?

Oh, but there will be disagreements! But then what do you do? The answer is that you do what a responsible and intellectually mature student is supposed to do. Gather the evidence, weigh it carefully, and stake out a possibly-tentative but firm position.

Or, as one alternative, you can entrust these highest matters of your being and soul to an outside agency, and you can let somebody else do your thinking for you. You had better hope that the party to whom you've contracted your independent thought on these matters is correct.

Choose as you please.

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