Monday, September 5, 2011

Re, Some differences, Jack Sprat & Lawrence


Greetings from a long-time lurker. While ordinarily having little to say, this post from Lawrence caught my eye and I would like to make some comments. 

To begin with, would you not agree, Lawrence, that monotheism absolutely requires strict adherence to one central set of beliefs?  Monotheism does not, cannot, allow of free thinking. For Christians those beliefs are captured in the bible. That being the case, can you explain how encouraging bible study in order to "grow in grace" is other than encouraging acceptance of authority?

I believe, Lawrence, what you're talking about is politics, not religion.  Protestants have their own, if not priests, then high priests who dictate what is to be believed and how it is to be expressed.  For example, Calvinists believe what Calvin dictates, Lutherans believe what Luther dictates, and so on, just as Catholics believe what the Vatican dictates, or Jews believe what their leadership dictates, or Muslims their leadership.  All religious wellsprings, including the bible, are self-referential: they are right because they say they are right.  They are the authority because they say they are.  When one is right because one says one is right, there can be no how to think.  There can only be what to think.  Religious freedom is the freedom to pick a religion, not to decide what to think within that religion. Dawkins has noted that the vast majority of people have the same religion as their parents, again underscoring that religion will admit only of what to think. 

By avocation more historian than philosopher, I would wager that the Catholic Church would not be completely averse to allowing the reading of the Stoics as they would not conflict with Christian dogma.  I would also wager that not all denominations of Protestants would embrace turning outside of their religion for advice and comfort. The Puritans/Calvinists for example would not have appreciated their members reading the Stoics. In any case, Catholicism and philosophy are not mortal enemies.  However, within any religion there must be lock step acceptance of group think.  Consider, Lawrence, what would happen if freedom of thought were encouraged by a religious group.  We may as well ask what would happen if all members were singing from different hymnals on Sunday.  It would be similar to what would happen if the military encouraged freedom of thought for its members, if it let them decide for themselves whether a war is worth fighting, or how a campaign should be waged.  How long before the military disintegrates?  How long before the congregation or sect dissolves?  Religious thinking, including Protestant thinking, requires a follow the leader approach to thought. 

Using your line of reasoning that Protestants are free thinkers and Catholics are not, Galileo should have been a Protestant.  You may appreciate being reminded that Galileo was a Catholic, as was Luther himself.

And a brief mention, if not a hat tip for his prescience, to Marx.  What do you think Marx would think of the state of the country's economics?  He did after all believe that capitalism contained within it the seeds of its own destruction.  The U.S. today is the most indebted country in the world, far more indebted than the much talked about Greece or Ireland or Spain.  What keeps the U.S. going is simply that it owes so much money to creditors like communist-capitalist China, that communist-capitalist China and others have to keep it propped up, at least until they can transition out of dollars.  Everyone knows that communism was a colossal failure.  However, capitalism in the United States today is also a colossal failure Lawrence, unless you call it a success story to be the most indebted country in the world whose main export is financial disaster.  History has yet to be written as to communism-capitalism, but it can be hoped, in the spirit of the golden mean, that a blended ideology may accomplish what neither ideology was able to do alone.




One must be responsible for the ambiguity one creates (and perhaps can’t avoid) and so I won’t insult you by insisting that you should have understood my meaning. I hoped I had emphasized the inherent difference that Luther and Calvin introduced, i.e., denial the RC’s “authority” and insisting on Scripture. Their watchword was “Sola Scriptura.”

And to somewhat repeat myself, Catholics were encouraged to accept the authority of their priests whereas Protestants were expected to agree with their pastors, because after all if the Bible were self-authenticating then every true Christian would understand it in the same way. That didn’t work, and by that I mean, intelligent pastors and laymen disagreed with each other, often to the extent that one or the other would form a new denomination. Thus, we see today a great proliferation of Protestant denominations. Protestants have Sunday Schools, Catholics do not. Protestants have Bible Studies, Catholics do not. A favorite “Proof Text” for Protestants is the story in Chapter 17 of Acts about the Bereans who searched the Scriptures daily to see if what Paul and Silas were telling them was the truth. This is not a Proof Text used for Catholic authority.

I am not intending to assert that all Catholics accept authority without exception or that all Protestants are freethinkers, merely that the RC discourages its members from thinking through theology based on the Scriptures.. An RC doctrine is that Church will teach and explain Scriptures as necessary.

Now as to how I got from this Protestant predilection for searching the scriptures to studying Stoicism and various other things, it came readily to my mind that if I was in doubt about something, that I should “search the Scriptures.” I mean that to be an attitude of reading to find answers, not necessarily reading the Bible exclusively although I did that as well. A Catholic in my situation would be encouraged to ask his priests for answers. Again, these two structures, Catholic and Protestant were never followed “religiously” by all its members, and the percentage following them has probably dropped over the years, but that was my predilection, and I gather from Billy’s various notes that his predilection has been different.

As to the teachings of Luther and Calvin being equivalent to Catholic teaching, that isn’t true. Both Luther and Calvin wrote voluminously, each believing that he was interpreting Scripture truly and that any Christian who searches the Scriptures “daily” would surely agree with their writings. Church history tells us that their hopes were dashed. Luther and Calvin couldn’t even agree with each other on all points. Also, subsequent generations of Lutherans and Calvinists added to and “corrected” various teachings of their founders. Luther kept closer to the Catholic Church in as many ways as possible. He was after all a Catholic Monk when he nailed his 95 theses on the Wurttemberg door. Calvin on the other hand swept Catholic teaching away unless there was a Scriptural reason for keeping it. Thus the denominations that derive from Luther’s teachings still call themselves Lutheran. Denominations deriving from Calvin’s teachings tend to call themselves “Reformed.” And none of the latter emphasize Calvin’s teachings per se. They count their beginning from the days of the Westminster Confession (in the case of Presbyterians) or some Reformed equivalent as in “Dutch Reformed.”

Now as to becoming a free thinker, my “searching the Scriptures” caused me to disagree with what I had been taught during my college years, so I studied to find a resolution. And while I wallowed about for several years, I ended up with a resolution and am, today, a Protestant.

Billy on the other hand rejected the authority of the Catholic Church and, unless he has recanted recently, became and remained an atheist.

As to Marx, I think Marx would see the Western predicament as just another Capitalist cycle. We violated Keyne’s dicta in order to pursue Liberal goals. For example, we found a way (a sort of Ponzi scheme) to sell houses to people who couldn’t afford them. Keynes would have been appalled. As a result of that and some good-old-fashioned Capitalist greed we are having a Marxist crisis. I am not a fan of the Welfare mentality. No Western state should provide more welfare than it can afford.

After a few years of crisis you, Jack, declare Capitalism in the United States a colossal failure. After far more extensive and extended crises than ours, Marx never declared Capitalism a colossal failure. He thought a revolution was necessary to unseat it. Every few years for the past 20 or 30 there has been hand-wringing over some other nation superseding us. While still in Engineering, for example, I attended scores of classes on the way the Japanese did things because their way was so superior to ours that they were going to drive us into bankruptcy. I retired before the next round of “Advisors” could show up to conduct more classes, probably on how much better the Chinese did things than we do.

The term Capitalism in modern times has been replaced by “Liberal Democracy.” There have been so many “Welfare-type” concessions to the working man that the Capitalism of Marx’s day no longer exists. You say you have been a Lurker, Jack. Have you read any of the discussions of Francis Fukuyama’s ideas? In his The End of History and the Last Man, he presented arguments showing that there isn’t anything out there that can compete with “Liberal Democracy.” I subscribe to The American Interest which was created by Fukuyama, and which I (figuratively) “read daily” to see if what is happening in the world conflicts, in Fukuyama’s opinion, with his theory. It does not. Neither Fukuyama, nor any of the other writers in this publication think the current crisis is “the big one.” There is no “big one” in Fukuyama’s thesis. There just simply isn’t another system out there that can compete with Liberal Democracy. A lot of people may be discomfited and have to cut back or work at different less rewarding jobs, but Liberal Democracy isn’t going to collapse, at least not in Fukuyama’s opinion, and I agree with him.

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