Why not Roman Catholicism? Part I

For a while I was very seriously considering becoming Roman Catholic. Then I decided against it. I have in the meantime managed to clarify to myself a number of reasons why I do not think Roman Catholicism is true. Here I will provide a brief summary of some of these reasons. I discuss these points in greater detail in my forthcoming volume titled Theology of the Manifest: Christianity without Metaphysics.

1. Theological Method Roman Catholic theology operates by a certain twofold method: appeal to authority and deductive inference. It reasons like this: some authoritative figure says X, but X also entails Y, which further means Z, and therefore Z.

I think this is entirely wrong. This is how you draw out the consequences of certain complex of ideas if they are paired with a certain other complex of ideas. But this does not show that anything you believe is actually true. “Truth” is the adequacy of your ideas with the things themselves to which they refer. To quote Aristotle, truth is a matter of saying of what is that it is and of what is not that it is not. And the only way to get at the truth in this sense is through the careful examination of these things themselves as they show themselves in experience. In brief, Roman Catholicism operates by what might be called tradition-based reasoning whereas I think the appropriate method must be phenomenological.

2. Ontology Roman Catholicism teaches a “dualistic” conception of reality that divides existence into two spheres: the natural and the supernatural, the finite and the infinite, the creature and the creator, the caused and the uncaused. Importantly, these are indeed two distinct spheres. There is a certain ontological “distance” between the one category and the other.

I reject this conception of things. I think that there is only one reality, and what we call the “natural,” “finite,” “creature,” or “caused” is only a dimension or aspect of the “supernatural,” “infinite,” “creator,” “uncaused.” God brings about other things within Himself by acting upon Himself, just like you might form a fist by flexing your muscles in your arm and hand. There is thus a difference between all things and God without there being an uncrossable “distance” between them.

3. Epistemology The “dualistic” conception of reality proposed by Roman Catholicism implies that there must be a special way of knowing involved in theology. Thomas Aquinas distinguishes between the “philosophical disciplines” and “sacred science” (Summa Theologica I, q. 1, art. 1). Because sacred science has to do with the supernatural rather than the natural sphere, and because this sphere is normally and antecedently inaccessible to human beings by default, therefore sacred science functions on the basis of revelatory divine testimony, the discernment and acceptance of which is made possible by divine grace through the gift of faith. Faith is a matter of God effectively “lifting” people by His grace out of the limits of naturally possible knowledge.

I reject this because I think there is only one way to know things: by seeing the adequacy of one’s opinion about a thing with that itself in an experience. And “faith” of the sort that Thomas and others in this tradition appeal to is phenomenologically indistinguishable from a strongly held mere opinion that could just as well be false. That is because the object of “faith,” as Thomas and Roman Catholicism understand it, is not something experientially accessible.

In brief, Roman Catholicism understands the Christian religion to be principally ordered toward something beyond this manifest world that is presented to us in experience. I disagree with that. I think Christian faith has precisely to do with this manifest world of experience and the things that appear within it.

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