[The following is George Boggs's monthly guest post for November. Check out his first guest post for a short biography of George.]
“Lapsed Catholics” are a common topic
discussed among faithful Catholics. It is sometimes said tongue-in-cheek that
Lapsed Catholics – we’ll call them LCs - are the second-largest Christian
denomination. And theories about why Catholics leave the faith are as numerous
as Catholics themselves. It seems everyone has an explanation.
LCs can belong to at least two different sects. Some LCs convert to Protestantism, New Age
spirituality, or some other contemporary faith. But some LCs are “deconverts”.
Deconversion is defined in the sociological literature as “a rejection of religious
belief and affiliation”. Deconverts choose either agnosticism or atheism.
Deconverts and the reasons for
deconversion are of special interest to sociologists of religion, because they
represent individuals who reject what may have been a lifetime of religious
affiliation and faith.
Fr. Robert Barron, a noted Catholic
apologist and historian, examined hundreds of hostile comments from atheists
and agnostics on his YouTube Channel, many of whom were deconverts. And sociologist
Bradley Wright and his colleagues recently (2011) published a paper examining
deconversion per se. They analyzed
deconversion narratives written by individuals contributing to an online
community for deconverts.
Both Fr. Barron and Dr. Wright both found that
one viewpoint commonly led to deconversion: acceptance of scientism.
Scientism is the belief that everything
knowable can be learned through the methods of science. A scientistic worldview
rejects the belief that knowledge can be acquired through Divine revelation and
presumes that faith itself is a failure of reason and intelligence.
Scientism has become very popular these
days, particularly among the young and well-educated. It’s drawing large
numbers of young Catholics away from the faith as they navigate through
college. Worse, the current political and legal attempt to remove all expression
of faith from the public square is, in effect, establishment of scientism as
the prevailing national dogma.
As Christians, how are we to meet this
challenge? Because meet it we must. Remember that before Christianity was
called Christianity, it was called The Way (Acts 19: 9, 23; Acts 24: 22). Christianity
is not just about faith; Christianity is a way of life, it’s about doing faith (James 1: 22-23).
All too often, we Catholics leave
spirited public defense and apologetics to our Protestant brethren. And many
Protestant denominations lack one of the most precious treasures of the Catholic
faith: a reverence for reason. The Bl. John Paul put it beautifully when he
and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the
contemplation of truth…” (Fides et Ratio,
When we keep our faith, but fail to develop
and exercise our gift of reason, it is easy to fall into fideism. Alvin Plantinga, one of the most prominent philosophers in
the world, has defined fideism as “the
exclusive or basic reliance upon faith alone, accompanied by a consequent
disparagement of reason….”
The threat of fideism is every bit as real as the threat of scientism.
When some matter of morals or faith is controversial, the media often choose to
interview prominent fundamentalist Protestants who are fideists. The great
Doctor of the Church, St. Augustine of Hippo, warned us against fideism as far
back as the fourth century AD:
Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous
thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy
Scripture, talking nonsense on these [scientific] topics; and we should take
all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up
vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn.
of the Church, St. Robert Bellarmine (famous for his role in the Galileo affair) said:
[I]f there were
a true demonstration that the sun was in the center of the universe and the
earth in the third sphere, and that the sun did not travel around the earth but
the earth circled the sun, then it would be necessary to proceed with great
caution in explaining the passages of Scripture which seemed contrary, and we
would rather have to say that we did not understand them than to say that
something was false which has been demonstrated.
To this point, Fr. Barron’s perusals and Wright’s research both show that contempt for fideism leads
to acceptance of scientism. Fideism is therefore a root cause of Christian
deconversion, just as St. Augustine warned it would be.
us as faithful Catholics do all we can to improve our skills as apologists when
faced with scientism. Let us not fall into the trap of easy fideism. Fideism
doesn’t defeat scientism, it feeds it. Instead, let us use our faith and reason
as wings that carry our spirits to the Truth.
[Below is a brief list of reading material, with Internet links, by which Catholics can equip themselves to enter into conversations with fideists and proponents of scientism.]
Posted by Derek
Monday, November 04, 2013 |