Monday, May 4, 2009

Historical / critical method in 8 rules

April DeConick over at The Forbidden Gospels Blog is establishing 8 rules for historical study in these two posts:
Creating Jesus Ground Rules
We must say "no" to the miraculous

Essentially she is trying to answer the question of how did the early Christians come to believe Jesus was God. While the series isn't finished I suspect she is going in the direction of the typical mainstream scholarship: Jesus died, the apostles were bummed they try and make sense of it so they attach importance to his death as a center piece of their theology it gets tied to savior god myths.... I'll keep reading because Dr. DeConick is sharp.

But I thought the rules pretty good. So I'm going to repeat them here in my own words

  1. No apologetics. Study this history the way you would any other.
  2. No miracles or supernatural events.
  3. No heresy. We treat all ancient authors equally, not giving weight to the eventual winners.
  4. Religions develop in religious communities they don't fall out of the sky.
  5. All sources have human authorship.
  6. The sources were written by people in the midst of events, the authors don't understand how events will turn out.
  7. The authors are not neutral. They are writing apology and polemic and propaganda, and they need to be deconstructed as those.
  8. Our sources are dependent on the human being: physiologically, psychologically, emotionally, socially.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Review of called to communion

Adventism is a general group of denominations that came out of William Miller's groups like the Seventh Day Adventist (16million), Jehovah's witnesses (7m), and another 2 dozen smaller sects that are around another million people.

In many ways you can create a continuum from more less catholic:
Catholicism -> Episcopalian -> Presbyterian -> Congregationalist -> Baptist -> Adventist
they are sort of the opposite extreme when it comes to creeds and the traditions of the church.

To pick an example Presbyterians hold on to most church teachings, most evangelicals believe in the first 7 ecumenical councels. Adventists deny the legitimacy of every one directly deriving their interpretation from scripture and the second largest group (Jehovah's Witnesses are explicitly Arian) openly disagreeing with the first ecumenical council. William Miller had rejected the Catholic dates for various holidays and went back and used a Karaite Jewish calendar and many of the groups today won't use catholic dating for various Christian holidays. His followers called themselves "the Remnant" believing that the vast majority of the church has fallen into apostasy; that mainstream Christianity was a hindrance not a help to salvation. Through the last 150 years the Adventist heritage has included some pretty sharp language towards the Catholic church even after it went out of fashion among the rest of evangelical Christianity. Adventism has always held that the biblical prophecies regarding "Rome" aren't about the Roman state but the Roman church (as in Roman Catholic Church). They deny any connection other than a negative one to Rome. I'll link off here to the article from Catholic answers on Adventism since I think its right and gives the theme.

So another way of looking at this is these groups are not just less Catholic in practice but less Catholic in ideology. Across the board they reject key principles of the Catholic faith. It is my contention that the history of Protestantism is moving further and further away from Catholicism, seeing Catholicism as an ancient and defective form of Christianity to be replaced with a modern and more and more seeing it as a historical artifact, a form of hard supersessionism taken one step further. They have in the last 20 years also been very effective in moving out of the United States. For example the Seventh Day Adventist is roughly 80% international and growing at over 10% annually.

If one looks at Baptist theology in the last 300 years they also have had similar ideas, identifying themselves in spirit with groups like Bogomils, Albigensians, Montanist, etc.... (see History of the Baptists for a sample). "Baptists are not Protestants" was a common theme a hundred years ago. In the last hundred years with the rise of "evangelical Christianity" Protestants more and more have become baptists often in all but name and the vast majority of evangelical Christianity agrees with the baptists on every major doctrine. And the baptists themselves have moved closer to the Adventists, it is not at all unusual to hear a evangelical degraded "traditions of men", or talk of Jesus not religion. So the movement is towards denying any kind of meaningful belief in "One holy Catholic and Apostolic church". Moreover while the ties to these earlier groups from Christianson in principle are denied in practice the theology has been edging ever closer, as has been commented on multiple times (see Against the Protestant Gnostics for a good book on the convergence).

So we have a Protestant ecumenical movement that looks to make the Catholic church just another denomination. Conversely, Catholic ecumenicism seeks to reunify the churches, that is convert everyone back to Catholicism. The Protestant movement is quite popular and the view of the catholic church that is friendly while denying all of its particular claims, is popular. I was curious about how this would work in practice given these countervailing trends.

So I thought I would engage in discussion at a Catholic ecumenicalism blog entitled "Called to communion", that I had assumed would represent a good sample of the ecumenical group. Perhaps, they do, but what I found was this blog combines pride in hillbilly know nothingness with insane level of arrogance and hold that up as the grace of the infallible church. By the end of a few days on it I felt like making a donation to Jack Chick in their honor. It put me in a "Who would ever want to unify with that?" frame as far as the church. This blog is an anti-apologetic if ever I saw one. So my review is short and sweet. Stay away. This is an ecumenical blog with no interest in discussion, no intent at dialog where the people are to put it bluntly assholes.

On issue after issue after issue they were simply dead wrong on the fact. On issue after issue after issue they projected a view of the Catholic church as inherently and obviously superior. Further they actually believed themselves to be personally superior, a "we are the catholic elite". I literally had somebody tell me on the blog I had to earn the right to discuss stuff, "prove myself". Oh like the thousand plus pages I've written on church doctrine, law and history aren't proof?

Specifically their argument of the canon fell apart on dates multiple times, they had things dependent on other things that happened after; their argument on translation fell apart; and at the end their was absolute assertion that virginity pledges were part of the Jewish faith. In other words, simply factual lies defend with personal insults and attacks. A disgrace to their church. Mind you I wasn't the only one, the other protestant was having similar problems getting them to actual engage with material. There is a definite belief that a poor apologetic presented rudely becomes a better apologetic. But ultimately the specifics weren't the real problem; the real problem is that after 500 years conservative Catholics aren't willing to admit that there were structural problems that led to the reformation. A complete failure to understand that Protestants in general are happy with the outcome of the reformation, and that reunification is going to require addressing reform.

Which is interesting because the last time I was exposed to Catholic apologetics, while I thought that blog was perfectly polite my respect for the Catholic church also went down. This was due to exposure to their apologetics which I find weaker than Protestant apologetics when examined. Interestingly, one of the posters was the same on both blogs, on his own site he was capable of acting like a normal human being, but not on Called to Communion. Which ties this back to the current topic, we are discussing the negative effects of small groups with similar ideology in the previous post and I think this blog may provide an example of how this plays out. While each of these people on their own may be arrogant, limited in their breadth of theology and coming from a similar background I suspect normally they are capable of carrying on an intelligent conversation. By constructing a group composed of all people with the same frame they actually enhanced these negatives. From their own perspective they are "supporting one another" but the net effect is to make their group entirely dysfunctional for its supposed goal, which is outreach not support. So as a case study in the current topic, how small cohesive groups become abusive and oblivious to their failings, the Called to Communion blog might be of value.


See also