Daily Archives: August 10, 2012

Why I’m Not Roman Catholic (Redux)

A user at the CARM forums linked to the original version of this post.  While I’m happy for the traffic surge that produced, I disagree with a substantial portion of the post and I only addressed that in the comments.  So I should correct any misconceptions the original post might produce about my theology, since I’ve come to a much different conclusion about Roman Catholicism in recent months of study.

In fact, I flirted with becoming a Catholic again, chronicling my thought process here:

  1. The Temptation to Become Catholic Again
  2. The Centrality of the Church
  3. The Perpetual Virginity of Mary

The temptation centered around a major problem I have with Protestantism: disagreement and in-fighting.  Against classical Reformation theology, I reject sola scriptura and perspicuity of Scripture.  I also embrace a high church concept — though that isn’t against Protestant theology, it flies against sola scriptura and makes waves with the world.

So it was tempting to become Catholic.  It really wouldn’t be that big of a step, I thought.

But it turns out it is, for I can’t get on board with the Marian dogmas, veneration of saints, and universal primacy of the Pope (including papal infallibility).  As I detail in #3 above, the Perpetual Virginity of Mary is largely unsupported and is poorly argued — but is earlier than other dogmas which means it’s one of the best developed.

I’ve found recently in two snippets from the news and the book Justification by Hans Kung that the Roman view of justification is essentially the same as the Reformed view.  I admit that I haven’t read Justification carefully enough, but I’m assured that that is the conclusion of the book.  Man is justified before God solely on the basis of grace through faith, plus nothing.  That is the Reformed view as well as the Catholic view.

However, Catholicism differs from the Reformed view of grace significantly.  Grace is dispensed through the sacraments in Catholicism.  In the Reformed view, it is God’s discretion upon whom grace is given; in other words, it is a free gift and not of works (Eph 2:8-10).  Since grace is unmerited favor, it makes no sense to work for it.  Ever.  God bestows grace upon whom he will (see Rom 9).

Worshiping anyone or anything other than God is idolatry; Scripture makes that clear (see, for example, this post from TurretinFan).  Therefore, I see no justification for the veneration of saints, angels, or the Virgin Mary.

The rubber justification is that latria is paid to God, while dulia is offered to the saints and Mary.  Latria is pure worship, while dulia is more like a deep reverence.  This is a distinction without a difference.  One should err on the side of caution, especially in light of the first commandment’s harsh penalty proscriptions for idolatry.

Consider the severe punishments that God pronounces on the entire nation of Israel for her disobedience and idolatry.  Consider the judgments of the pagan nations in the Promised Land due to their idolatry.  This is something that God takes very seriously.  So should we!

Finally, papal infallibility seems to make Roman Catholicism into a cult. The power of the pope to define doctrine ex cathedra, thus binding all Roman Catholics to that teaching for all time, is too much power to vest in one man.  This sort of behavior is seen in all of your finer cults — the power hungry, unquestioned leader.  What Velma once referred to as “the Papa Smurf figure” in the first Scooby Doo movie.

Let’s be clear.  I do not think Roman Catholicism is a cult.  I know that the Popes have all been very careful and reverent about their use of papal infallibility.  They ask the Cardinals for opinions.  And, since the authority of papal infallibility has been recognized almost 200 years ago, it has only been used twice.

Cults, by contrast, use this unquestionable leader mentality to their advantage.

We don’t see that here.

Also, I have come to respect the Catholic position of natural law and many of the arguments from Sacred Tradition.  Catholicism, I find, is closer to the Bible than 99% of modern Protestantism.  It deserves not the contempt of our brethren, but respect.

And, of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention excellent Catholic writers like Dave Armstrong (who I was really wrong about — Sorry, Dave!) and Jennifer Fulwiler.  And don’t forget one of my favorite Catholic bloggers (and fellow geek) Jimmy Akin.

I’m not a Protestant out of mere preference, as many are.  I understand the theological issues that divide us.  One day, I pray we are one body as Christ prayed in the garden.  But for now, there are many issues to be settled and I caution those who are Catholic out of preference or Protestant out of preference to study those issues and find out what you really believe.

I think I laughed quicker than the Thinking Theist did when I attempted to read The God Delusion years ago. This argument fails on many levels — the main one being that when one infers an explanation, it is NOT necessary to explain the explanation. We need only defend it as the best explanation.


The ultimate Boeing 747 gambit is the central argument of Richard Dawkins’s book “The God Delusion.” I will be going through the premises he lays out and see if they stand up to scrutiny.

  1. One of the greatest challenges to the human intellect, over the centuries, has been to explain how the complex, improbable appearance of design in the universe arises.

I agree.

2. The natural temptation is to attribute the appearance of design to actual design itself. In the case of a man-made artefact such as a watch, the designer really was an intelligent engineer. It is tempting to apply the same logic to an eye or a wing, a spider or a person.

I agree.

3.The temptation is a false one, because the designer hypothesis immediately raises the larger problem of who designed the designer. The whole problem we started out with was the problem of explaining…

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The Indictment Among the Rhetoric

Yesterday, I spoke of the Blog for WWGHA totally messing up Christian doctrine.  Mere rabbit trails compared to what the author really wants us to answer for him.

Thomas is asking for a theodicy that makes sense of the events of the last few years:

How can anyone love a “God” who allows hundreds of thousands of people to die in a tsunami, or dozens of people to get shot innocently in a movie theater? What parent would allow you siblings to die while they looked on laughing.

Semantically, Thomas is actually asking for a personal reason Christians can love a God that passively allows tragedy to occur.  But I’m going to interpret him charitably here, assuming Thomas is asking for a theodicy: a logically argued resolution to the problem of evil in a world run by an omnipotent, omniscient God who could end evil but doesn’t.

Infinite wisdom, as the author of the target piece argues, isn’t really all that satisfying.  Neither is the related “mystery” of God.

I’ve never really been that big a fan of the “free will defense,” since the Bible shows God quashing free will.  However, the instances of God upholding free will vastly outnumber the instances of him preventing sin.  So I think that free will, while not the answer, is a component of the bigger picture.

Greater good isn’t all that great by itself.   Strobel’s Case for Faith has a great analogy about a bear trap.  Suppose a bear is caught in a trap and you decide to free it.  You can’t possibly do so without causing the animal more pain than he’s in, and there’s no possible way to explain to the animal that his increased pain will actually lead to total freedom.  And so he’ll lash out at you while you try to free him in a misplaced effort to defend himself.

We lash out at God for people dying in tsunamis and for innocents getting shot in a movie theater.  But what if all this is just part of the ultimate plan designed to free us from this bear trap?  What if the pains we see and the suffering we endure are really leading up to the day when none of this pain and strife will be necessary?  When the metaphorical hunter finally releases our leg and we can scamper pain-free into the woods?

I don’t think it’s the whole picture, but I think that the greater good defense has some merit to it.

This means I see merit to both free will and the greater good.  And I think a synthesis of the two is the answer to all questions related to theodicy.  Which leads me toward something I might call the Education Defense for Evil — it is necessary to have evil in this world to reveal God’s full character (wrath, love, and mercy), bring full glory to God at the culmination of history, and to reveal our own nature.

Evil serves a purpose (greater good) without being God’s purpose (free will).

I confess that while I’ve thought about this for a while now, I have little in the way of previous theodicy by any great thinker to back it up.  The idea needs more development, but it is something I foresee I will be writing and researching more in the future.  This seemed as good a time as any to introduce it, since I could scarcely criticize Thomas from WWGHA in the previous post without actually answering the one conundrum that was worthwhile.