Tuesday, February 11, 2014

A Lesson from Two Homilies: Don't Argue on the Internet.

From the Archdiocese of Dublin
Pope Francis Inauguration Homily
"Non in dialectica placuit Deo salvum facere populum suum" ("It is not by ar­guing that God chose to save His people"). St. Ambrose
"Fortunately, there have always been pastors who have understood more about theology than most professors.” Karl Barth

A recent  article in Crisis magazine by James Kalb reminded me of two homilies  I recently heard, and of the lesson I should have learned from these.   The homilies were given by two different priests, both foreign-born:  Fr. X, Vietnamese, one of the boat people who escaped the Communists at an early age; Fr. Y, Nigerian, a Dominican.   (Aren't we fortunate, as a missioned nation, that bread cast upon the waters has returned?)   The Crisis magazine article is about the futility of argumentation on the Internet, a conclusion with which I heartily concur.

As the quote and the title of this post suggest, argumentation is not the way to evangelize.   This was the lesson of the two homilies.   It's been a while since I heard them, so forgive me, Fr. X  and Fr. Y, if I don't recast them exactly as you spoke.    Fr. Y was discoursing on the Gospel, Matthew 10, in which Jesus sends the apostles out and tells them "And whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear your words, when ye depart out of that house or city, shake off the dust of your feet." (Matt 10:14)   In his homily Fr. Y said that one should not contest with those--family members, friends, ...--who dispute your faith.   You should state what you believe and show, by the example of your life, what your faith means to you.     Fr. X's homily took off from the moving paean on the great gift of love, in First Corinthians, "...If I have not love..".   Fr X said we have to love our enemies and those who contest with us, otherwise we are not Christians.   We cannot disparage them or wish ill for them.

All this I should try to achieve (but often fail to) in my responses to those contending on the internet.   If a Geocentrist, or a believer in the Young Earth refuses to debate honestly the scientific premises of their beliefs, I can do no more than point out where they might seek other opinions.  If an atheist refuses to read the books refuting Dawkins that I recommend--I cannot, as with giving my dog medicine, coat the pill with peanut butter and slip it into his mouth.  (One of our dogs was very adept at licking off the peanut butter and spitting out the pill.)   So, the only thing to do is to love these people (even if I don't like them) and pray for them.     Perhaps the Holy Spirit will imbue them with grace, as it did one fervent atheist,  Anthony Flew, who came to believe "There is a God".    And this is all I can hope and pray for.


Ben said...

“Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” 1 Peter 3:15

At least if we have done this, we have done well.

duhem said...

Thanks Ben... That's a good reply to give and still not argue.

Unknown said...

Greetings Dr. Kurland.

I've just discovered your blog and must say I thoroughly enjoy your writing. I am a Ph.D. biochemist in the process of entering the Roman Catholic Church, so your insight is particularly edifying for me.

If I may ask, what are the arguments you offer to a young earth creationist for an old earth? I think the best evidence for an old earth is 1) the age of the universe; 2) radiometric dating of archaeological sites like Gobekli Tepe in Turkey ( maybe >12,000 years old) or those newly discovered cave paintings in France ( maybe > 30,000-40,000 yrs). I understand the assumptions and limitations of radiometric dating, but I don't think the technology has a 6 order of magnitude error bar ( 10,000 years vs 14,000,000,000 years for ages of the earth/universe).

Your thoughts would be greatly appreciated.

I look forward to your next essay.

Harry Woodward

duhem said...

Thank you for your comment, Harry. I think the best arguments against Young Earth Creationism have been given by Kenneth Miller, a biologist at Brown University, in his book "Finding Darwin's God". The problem with "debating" with Young Earth creationists is that they deny the validity of your premises (e.g. astronomical data and physical laws showing the approximate age of the universe) while maintaining theirs, so there's no commonality of what is truth. And given premises, you can prove anything--Bertrand Russell gave as a premise that the Universe was created 2 seconds ago (or some such similar time) with implanted memories, etc., and you can't disprove that.
My next post is going to be "Are we hard-wired for faith: neuroimaging and the religious experience"...in process.. :>)
Again, thanks for your comment.