Lumpers, Splitters, and Historical Honesty

I could not help but think of a recent post at CTC while preparing for class on Turkey and the United States today. In his chapter from Islam and the West, “Other People’s History,” Bernard Lewis takes aim at those who accuse Orientalists (those who study the Middle East, China and India for starters) of intellectual imperialism, as if the study of non-western civilizations arises from a “predatory” or “larcenous” interest in “other people’s cultural possessions.” He goes on to say that scholarship should be competent, fair, honest, and not distorted by “loyalties and purposes.” But these considerations “are of no importance to those who believe that all scholarship or, rather, all scholarly discourse is ideological and that their ideology, and therefore their scholarly discourse is better or stronger because it is openly avowed and, more especially, because it is theirs.” He goes on to describe this disregard for even-handed scholarship in the following way:

“You want to study in my archives, read my literature, talk to my people, work on my history? Then you must pay your respects to my point of view, you must promote my national aspirations as I may from time to tie define or redefine them.” To comply with this requirement, the historian must choose for himself and demand of others a presentation of history that includes only what in the present climate of opinion is seen as positive and excludes, and if called upon denies, anything that in the present climate of opinion is seen as negative. (122)

This description of biased history resembles Ken Howell’s description of the “Classic” Roman Catholic approach, in “Three Frameworks for Interpreting the Church Fathers,” for examining the early church (and arguably for the rest of Roman Catholic history). What Howell describes is not necessarily cynical about “objective” historical frameworks. But he does affirm that “true” historical account has to conform to a certain bias in favor of “the home team.”

An honest historian working within the Classic Catholic Framework (CCF) will face all the diverse and varied expressions of Christian belief brought forth from the relevant texts. He will, however, ask different questions about those texts from those who work in the CPF (Classic Protestant) or the MCF (Modern Critical). Central to inquiry in the CCF is the notion of witness. Witnesses point to something greater and more enduring than themselves. In the CCF, the goal is to study the relevant witnesses in order to discover the deposit of faith which is the doctrinal content of the Christian faith. This approach assumes continuity across space and time. That continuity may not be total or exhaustive but it has essential qualities and characteristics which are transmitted over time.

Howell’s goes on to contrast this with how Protestants approach the early church:

The problem posed by the Protestant interpretation of early church history was as follows: how do you know what in the Fathers should be taken as binding and what should not? The Protestant answer was clear if not always easy to apply in practice: measure the Fathers against Scripture. Of course, the learned Roman Catholics believed this was an insufficient answer. How does one know if one’s interpretation of Scripture, which is being used as the criterion of judging the Fathers, is correct? The criterion of “the unanimous consent of the fathers” turned the Reformation’s answer on its head. It said that the way we know what interpretations of the Scriptures are legitimate is by the universality, antiquity, and consensus of the fathers. In this view, what was unanimous among the fathers, such as the real presence of Christ’s body and blood in the Eucharist, was binding on the church. What was not unanimous, such as how the creation narratives of Genesis were to be interpreted, was not binding.

I know that in Reformed circles some historians have argued, following the Dutch Calvinist w-v notion, that “objective” history is impossible and that the bias of faith in understanding the past adds value — it sees the hand of God at work or the importance of religious “values” where a non-believing historian miss them. Howell not only seems to follow this rejection of academic neutrality, but he adds criteria for studying the past that in my view rig the game before it even starts. He says that a historian needs to find continuity and unanimity among the church fathers.

This is sometimes what historians call lumping. That is, they take all positions and force them into a kind of consensus so that difficulties, tensions, even contradictions are ironed out of history. On the other side are splitters who recognize disagreements, discrepancies, rivalries, and discontinuities. I myself prefer the splitting model if only because the vacuous term “evangelical” is supposed somehow to make sense of the Assemblies of God and the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, or Calvinism is supposed to make sense of Scott Clark and Nelson Kloosterman.

If you pushed most historians, even though they complain about lumpers in their ranks, most would concede that the craft of history errs on the side of splitting because humans rarely agree, ideas are contested, and free societies (at least) inherently nurture disagreements (though the history of the human race is littered with intellectual combat). This is why Howell’s use of the word “honest” is curious. A Roman Catholic historian who must find consensus and unanimity may be honest. But people who see differences where others see the same thing can well ask whether the lumpers are truly being fair to the past. Funny, not even the Bible approaches salvation history as a lumper does it is hard to imagine a time in the sagas of the Israelites or the really early church (REC) when everyone agreed.

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45 thoughts on “Lumpers, Splitters, and Historical Honesty

  1. In biology, “lumpers” are those who favor combining various species into existing families; “splitters” are those who favor splitting out genera and species into different families.

    In the North American lepidoptera scene, the lumpers have decisively won on the basis of genetic studies. My copy of Howe’s Butterflies of North America (1975) has about 2x the number of families as Kaufman’s Field Guide (2006). No, not that Kaufman.

    Random fact for the day.

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  2. Darryl,

    Howell not only seems to follow this rejection of academic neutrality, but he adds criteria for studying the past that in my view rig the game before it even starts. He says that a historian needs to find continuity and unanimity among the church fathers.

    Unless it is possible to compare paradigms, and the results under different paradigms. Then the ‘game’ is not necessarily “rigged.” And comparing paradigms is precisely what Ken is doing in that article, not stipulating one paradigm’s criteria.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

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  3. Using the word “paradigm” is actually an example of lumping. Unless you are willing to allow someone to dissect your paradigm critically you are really not playing fair. Once a paradigm becomes a black box that is beyond questioning you have merely accepted it on faith and you can’t demand someone else is duty-bound to do likewise.

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  4. Paradigm – A set of assumptions, concepts, values, and practices that constitutes a way of viewing reality for the community that shares them, especially in an intellectual discipline.

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  5. When we were doing historicity of Jesus courses, and surveys of the synoptics, the way they handled supernatural claims of Jesus from a textual criticism standpoint was to almost without exception render such statements as examples of historical interloping. IOW, members/scribes of the community of faith in transcribing oral tradition would insert declarations of faith into the text and record them as historical sayings of Jesus. It was on this basis that much of liberation theology became grounded in a political Jesus(not a supernatural one). It was also the basis for the Jesus seminar and other Jeffersonian type renderings of the gospels. If true, one can almost imagine CTC lauding this behavior(of the interlopers) as paradigmatic reality/truth, and example of God’s ‘developing and unfolding’ the tradition. Everyone else just calls it an example of poor historical textual criticism.

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  6. It would be interesting to set the “Catholic Paradigm” and the “Conservative Reformed Protestant Paradigm” side-by-side and see how many assumptions, concepts, values, and practices of each can be empirically proven and how many are based on faith. If we draw up our lists and agree that we each have X items that are based on faith, I would hope we would all be humble enough to admit that neither side has an unquestioned monopoly on the truth. At least one side seems unwilling to do this, though (in fact, they use their alleged superiority as a marketing gimmick to the other side’s members).

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  7. Erik, don’t get it twisted. CTC isn’t the RC paradigm. Think Mass and sacerdotalism. Rome isn’t first a propositionally based religious expression. Think liturgy and rites.

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  8. Bryan, Ken is saying that a Roman Catholic historian must look for unity in the church fathers. He doesn’t say what happens when the historians finds disunity. So Ken is recommending an approach to the early church that Neuhaus and others at First Things use when looking at evangelical Protestants (as in Evangelicals and Catholics Together). I suppose this is a form of lumping of which you do not approve since you seem to be a splitter when it comes to Protestants and Roman Catholics. Either way, it’s an opinion for you since the magisterium has not ruled (as far as I know) what historians are supposed to do.

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  9. Sean – Point taken. I have spent my entire life around Catholics (who hasn’t) and none of them have ever “witnessed” to me about Catholicism. I think this is what you mean when you say CTC is bringing a Protestant methodology to Catholicism that is rather idiosyncratic.

    I’ve mentioned this before, by my wife & her twin sister grew up in an irreligious home and they were both “searching” toward the end of high school. She asked a Catholic friend about how one becomes a Catholic and the friend told her “you’re either born into it or you’re not.” They went to college and were snapped up by the Baptist student ministry.

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  10. Maybe that should be our standard rejoinder to CTC – “Have someone you go to church with who has been a Catholic their whole life give me their opinion on X and then we’ll talk.” Of course they could do the same thing to some of us. Most of the guys who post a lot here didn’t grow up Reformed. Maybe those of us on both sides are still in our cage phase.

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  11. Darryl,

    Ken is saying that a Roman Catholic historian must look for unity in the church fathers.

    He’s saying so much more (in this article) than what a Catholic historian “must” do. As I said above, he is comparing paradigms not merely stipulating one paradigm’s criteria or methodology.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

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  12. ‘Erik, don’t get it twisted. CTC isn’t the RC paradigm. Think Mass and sacerdotalism. Rome isn’t first a propositionally based religious expression. Think liturgy and rites.’

    This reminds me of a paragraph from Roger Scruton’s recent book on the Church of England;

    ‘…the Roman Catholic Church inherited from antiquity a similar habit of consecrating life through pious observances: the lighting of lamps, the laying of offerings, the genuflecting, crossing, bowing and whispering that change the place where they occur from an empirical to a transcendental location. But the Protestant spirit rebels against those habits. And it rebels on behalf of the word’

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  13. Bryan, but he is also saying that a Roman Catholic historian must look for unity. He has laid about the program of study before starting investigation. So it is like an ECTer looking at evangelicals and seeing what he wants to see — “look at all they agree with me about, let’s ignore what divides us.” For some RC’s this approach drives them to Rome and wild claims about the early church, for others it drives them into the arms of evangelicals. Pick your poison.

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  14. It seems to me paradigms are tricky things.

    If it’s true that we all view Scripture, life, et al. through a certain paradigm (or a set of paradigms if you’re like me and apparently kinda like that cognitive dissonance thing), then it is very difficult to evaluate other paradigms because we are already looking through our own paradigm(s). And we can’t really criticize another person’s paradigm when we’re looking through our own paradigm because to do so is begging the question when we bring up objections.

    This means that in order to understand another’s paradigm truly we must first assume his or her paradigm. The problem, however, is that we are still thinking within the bounds our own paradigm.
    In order to remedy this, we must try to see our current paradigm wanting in one way or another so that we can evaluate the other paradigm on its own merits. But in doing so we are neither acting out of the first paradigm we had, nor are we exactly in the new paradigm we are evaluating. So there must be a kind of “transition paradigm” between paradigms that is neither the original nor the evaluated paradigm. Yet if this transition paradigm is an actual paradigm in and of itself, then how did we get from our original paradigm to the transition paradigm in order to evaluate the other paradigm?

    Based on this, I can see why so many of us prefer the “I’m right, you’re wrong” paradigm.

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  15. Stuart, I just wish I had a pair of dimes for every time I lately read the word “paradigm.” I’d have extra gas money.

    But even for those of us who rest our heads every night on the right-wrong model, it’s still possible to conceive of something like good Catholics, Baptists, and Republicans and bad ones. The good Catholic submits to papal authority (the bad one resists), the good Baptist demands a re-baptism of a Reformed adult (the bad one is latitudinarian), and the good Republican resists more taxes and bigger government (the bad one embraces them).

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  16. What do we do when other people’s paradigms kind of suck?

    I guess the same thing we do when someone else’s wife is mean & ugly. Wish them well and be grateful we’re not married to them.

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  17. stuart: It seems to me paradigms are tricky things.

    If it’s true that we all view Scripture, life, et al. through a certain paradigm (or a set of paradigms if you’re like me and apparently kinda like that cognitive dissonance thing), then it is very difficult to evaluate other paradigms because we are already looking through our own paradigm(s). And we can’t really criticize another person’s paradigm when we’re looking through our own paradigm because to do so is begging the question when we bring up objections.

    This means that in order to understand another’s paradigm truly we must first assume his or her paradigm. The problem, however, is that we are still thinking within the bounds our own paradigm.
    In order to remedy this, we must try to see our current paradigm wanting in one way or another so that we can evaluate the other paradigm on its own merits. But in doing so we are neither acting out of the first paradigm we had, nor are we exactly in the new paradigm we are evaluating. So there must be a kind of “transition paradigm” between paradigms that is neither the original nor the evaluated paradigm. Yet if this transition paradigm is an actual paradigm in and of itself, then how did we get from our original paradigm to the transition paradigm in order to evaluate the other paradigm?

    Based on this, I can see why so many of us prefer the “I’m right, you’re wrong” paradigm.

    RS: But behind this “I’m right, you’re wrong” paradigm” is the paradigm of the self and why the self always thinks that it is right.. Your first statement, “It seems to me paradigms are tricky things”, seems like a good paradigm, but if it refers to all paradigms then even that statement is tricky. A paradigm is awfully close to that W-W thing that Dr. Hart does not like to mention.

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  18. Stuart,

    I’ve always liked the affirm/deny structure. At least then even when you can’t talk to each other-CTC paradigmatic trump cards-at least you know where the lines still are; Sola Scriptura, Sola Fide, Sola Gratia, Sola Christus, Soli Deo Gloria, we affirm. Rome denies. This discussion is only ever this difficult with the Prot-catholic trying to re-orient the arguments and evangelicals who don’t know their heritage.

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  19. I guess one has to use emoticons on a blog to show one is being sarcastic or satirical. Humor is obviously wasted on the humorless (and that, of course, includes a guy like me who tries to use humor but is obviously unsuccessful).

    So I’ll try again . . . with less satire . . .

    No one can avoid a “right or wrong paradigm” of sorts, unless, of course, they say yes to everything. And it is true that viewing things through a certain paradigm shapes the way we look at the evidence (I read Stephen Covey in the 90s, who was touting paradigms a long time before CTC jumped on the bandwagon), so I think it is a good thing to think about the hows and whys of our viewpoints.

    Yet all the talk about paradigms when we disagree can be just another way of avoiding the hard work of actually engaging an argument. It’s easy for me to say, “Well, you’re just looking at the evidence through your paradigm and that’s why you don’t understand” but what I’m doing is avoiding further engagement, saying “I’m right, you’re wrong” in a less conspicuous way, and all the while seemingly making myself look smarter than the average bear.

    Zrim, if had a penny for every time I’ve read a CTC guy say that someone was begging the question, I’d be richer than you with your dimes for paradigms program.

    And Richard, you’re absolutely right to point out that my statement “Paradigms are tricky things” is a paradigm of sorts, and if it refers to all paradigms then even that statement is tricky. You have just proved the point that paradigms are tricky. We usually can’t see them while we’re using them, we have a hard time working without them, we can criticize someone else’s paradigm without seeing the holes in our own, and if we apply some paradigmatic statements to themselves we get unexpected results. Tricky! (place emoticon of your choice here)

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  20. Howell tells us: The criterion of “the unanimous consent of the fathers” turned the Reformation’s answer on its head.

    Bryan tells us the game of paradigm mongering is not rigged and the universal consent of the ECFs on the doctrine of popery is under development.

    Cunningham said the only thing the ECFs agreed on was the doctrine of Scripture.

    CtC says the ECFs agreed that they were agreed and the magisterium agrees with that.

    And some of us are left asking, who is the performative liar in the bunch?

    Meanwhile, now that the CtC has reviewed Dr. Superstition’s The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, a paradigm review of King & Webster’s Holy Scripture will be forthcoming.
    We predict a paragraph per volume.

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  21. Stuart, I’m picking up what you’re laying down. But now I can’t get that “Subvert the Dominant Paradigm” bumper sticker out of my head.

    PS, emoticons are so Methodist.

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  22. Richard, the sky is blue and the earth is round. If you say it’s green and flat, I say you’re wrong. Does that mean my self is on the throne? Why does your paradigm always sound so fundamentalist, as in no account of the intermediary?

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  23. Talk of foundational paradigms and epistemological self-consciousness make me uncomfortable; it’s like Van Til on steroids. It suggests that Scripture itself is not the final paradigm the Spirit uses to change our understanding, but that to understand Scripture correctly our paradigms must change first. I think most Calvinists would say that their paradigm on free will changed because they finally understood the Scripture on election and inability, not the other way around.

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  24. Erik, if you’re this, I’ve changed my mind about Disordered Soul as the name of my new rock band. Van Til on Steroids sounds sooooooo much cooler.

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  25. There should be a “reading” between “you’re” and “this” in the previous comment. Confounded iPad touch screen! (A tell-tale sign that one is operating out of a paradigm of self-interest . . . always blaming the equipment, not the operator).

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  26. Thanks, Erik. I’m looking forward to getting your check for start-up costs in the mail.

    I’ve already started on the lyrics of our first single . . . My Worldview is Better than Yours.

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  27. Darryl,

    but he is also saying that a Roman Catholic historian must look for unity. He has laid about the program of study before starting investigation.

    No, because the program of study through the motives of credibility is not the same as the program of study from the stance of Catholic faith. Your criticism conflates those two. Ken is speaking as one who is already a Catholic, after having already studied the motives of credibility as a non-Catholic. He’s not dictating how a non-Catholic must do anything. So your criticism leaves off the prior stage of investigation, as though Ken is taking a presuppositional approach. But in fact, the Catholic has already discovered (through study) this unity, and then under the guidance of faith seeks out still more this unity and continuity. This is not an imposition on the data of what is not there, but the discovery of further unity and continuity that is there. The person who approaches the data with the assumption that there can be no such unity will fail to see what is actually there, if there is, in fact, unity there. So that stance closes one off to the possibility of discovering this about reality. Your ‘lumper and splitter’ criticism is, again, merely an ad hominem (because it criticizes the person making the argument, rather than argument itself). If you object to his argument, you should point out which premise is faulty, or how the conclusion does not follow from his premises.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

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  28. Bryan,

    It seems like what you are always saying is it is impossible to look at Catholicism and see the truth of it unless you set whatever paradigm aside and have an open mind. If you truly have an open mind you’ll conclude it’s true. If you don’t conclude it’s true, then obviously you didn’t set your paradigm aside and have an open mind. It seems like you don’t leave the possibility open that someone can honestly consider the claims of Catholicism and find them to be false. That’s why we say you run a rigged game.

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  29. Bryan – The person who approaches the data with the assumption that there can be no such unity will fail to see what is actually there, if there is, in fact, unity there. So that stance closes one off to the possibility of discovering this about reality.

    Erik – Say it’s 20 degrees outside but I don’t want to believe it. I go outside in my bathing suit under the mistaken belief that it is actually 80 degrees outside. Does my “stance” that it is 80 and not 20 keep me from “discovering” that I’m freezing my ass off?

    If Catholicism is as clearly true as you make it out to be I would think it would be more obvious to everyone (beginning with the Reformers).

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  30. Bryan, what does Ken’s former status have to do with this? If that really matters, then everyone studying history should start in a former paradigm and then convert to another. What you say is the discovery of unity and truth is a foregone conclusion. Why can’t it be, let’s see if unity is there or not there. That may work if you need to submit to the church and never doubt it can err. But that is not critical scholarship and Rome then goes back to all those pre-Vatican II caricatures (which is largely the version of Rome you’re offering). The Vatican as Roman Catholicism 7.0. You’re around 4.0.

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  31. The second single to be released by Van Til on Steroids will feature guest musician Bryan Cross . . . Don’t Go Beggin’ the Question ‘Cause it’s My Paradigm.

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  32. Stuart,
    I know this has a Weird Al feel to it, but how’s this for a list of singles:
    1. “Ain’t too proud to beg the question”
    2.”Paradigm by the Catholic light”
    3.”Musta got lost” (in some other paradigm)
    4. “Carry on my wayward son”(you’ll find Rome when you are done)

    Just a sampling.

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  33. Is it just me or is Reformed theology much better suited for the approach that CTC takes to apologetics than Catholic doctrine? We have Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, and Irresistible Grace in our arsenal to explain why many hear the gospel message and reject it. We don’t have to chide the hearer who rejects it or scrutinize their “paradigm”. We just understand that they may not be elect and that is the reason they don’t “get it”. We don’t set up a special website aimed at a specific audience (say, left-handed atheists from the midwest) to get them to see things our way. We just proclaim the gospel knowing that some will accept it and some will not. What exactly is the Biblical grounds for all of this paradigm talk anyway? We have biblical grounds for Calvinism.

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  34. Erik, It’s their protestant slip showing. Take a look at all the ‘popular’ RC apologists, they’re all former protestants. They’re bringing their protestant undergirding of word and proposition based religious expression to Rome, and quite frankly laughingly(think what we call incredulity, they call audacity), to a ‘deposit of faith’ you couldn’t make cohere internally apart from a fideistic claim to supernatural and ‘faith’ declarations or D.O.D. And even that D.O.D. has to abide a supernaturally enabled ‘charitable’ evaluation, in order to withstand scrutiny. Of course, the response back is; “you abide a skeptical philosophical approach which fails to supply the required philosophical certainty that renders your evaluation of our ‘propositional religious claims’ D.O.A.” Wash, Rinse, Repeat. It’s unassailable.

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  35. Rome has no intention of being ‘ecumenical’ other than as an avenue to bring ‘seperated brethren’ into full communion with the Roman See. It’s like a boxer entering into a contract with Don King, he’s gonna get his.

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  36. Sean – D.O.D.?

    The thing about apologetics is that is supposed to make whatever the apologist is promoting seem more clear and logical to the target than it seemed before. Think Paul Little’s “Know Why You Believe”. I don’t think CTC is succeeding on this front. If someone is looking for a warm, squishy place to take away their nagging doubts about the Christian faith it might work for that person (a la Jeremy Tate, Jason Stellman) — at least for awhile.

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  37. Erik, Development of doctrine. I can’t tell if it’s succeeding or not. As a former RC, I find their approach to RC incongruous to how most RC’s understand and practice their faith. Zrim, notes that those who are faithful to the magisterium are ‘good catholics’. I don’t endorse such a view. RC, particularly since Vat II, has been much more honoring of pew practice and how God is working among the ‘faithful’ as indicative of the ‘unfolding’ of the deposit and how God is leading the RCC. I agree with Darryl, in that, CTC is pushing an older version of RCC which is not in step with how the RCC has largely sought to portray and manifest itself since Vat II. There’s a battle for the ‘soul’, if you will, of RCC and CTC is in the minority, and according to their 3 legged stool of authority, including pastoral interpretation and application of Vat II, CTC is not faithful to represent RCC as she’s been developing since ’65.

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  38. Sean, and I would add that complicating this battle for the soul is the poster boy (pardon the apparent disrespect) that the last two popes have become as brands for Rome. Vatican 2 clearly moved the church away from the top-down papal theories of Vatican 1. Now even the laity are “infallible” along with the entire church. And the church is now more conciliar and collegial among the bishops than it was even in 1950. But Rome has the problem of JPII who became the celebrity pope and revived all of those older pieties surrounding papal supremacy. JPII may not have had the imperial authority of his predecessors. But he was more popular (and populist) than any of them. That gives a whole new layer to theories of papal supremacy.

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  39. Mr. Cross tells us:

    So your criticism leaves off the prior stage of investigation, as though Ken is taking a presuppositional approach. But in fact, the Catholic has already discovered (through study) this unity, and then under the guidance of faith seeks out still more this unity and continuity. This is not an imposition on the data of what is not there, but the discovery of further unity and continuity that is there.

    IOW you presuppose that the unity and continuity, that the truth is discoverable through study. Because, you umm, discovered it. According to your presuppositions. Pot, circle, argument, black.

    The person who approaches the data with the assumption that there can be no such unity will fail to see what is actually there, if there is, in fact, unity there.

    Likewise you approach the data with the presupposition that there is unity and fail to see what is actually there, if in fact there is no unity. But isn’t implicit faith much easier in the long run than a men of Jabez one eyed charade?

    So that stance closes one off to the possibility of discovering this about reality.

    Reality? According to whose paradigm? A reality that trumps all paradigms? A paradigm that norms all other paradigmatic norms. Come on, the pope said it, I believe it, that settles it, now get with it.

    IOW the CtC is now – performatively, not ex cathedra – saying that even though you’re betrothed to The One True Paradigm, it’s still OK to do a little cheating on the side with another chippie. If her name is “reality”. (She sounds pretty hot, just going by her name.)

    Your ‘lumper and splitter’ criticism is, again, merely an ad hominem (because it criticizes the person making the argument, rather than argument itself). If you object to his argument, you should point out which premise is faulty, or how the conclusion does not follow from his premises.

    But this is not inconsistent with:

    Suppose ye that I am come to give peace on earth? I tell you, Nay; but rather division: For from henceforth there shall be five in one house divided, three against two, and two against three. Luke 12:51,52.

    Lumper? Splitter?

    Unity in the Roman version of the historical truth is the embrace of the Iron Maiden that performatively crushes any argument that the Roman church is catholic and apostolic, never mind Christian. Somehow that got left out of the paradigmatic boiler plate fine print.

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