Aggravated Apologetics

Apologetics is entirely compatible with reasoned argument

Truth-telling dialogue has its hazards. Patience wears thin. Distractions can demonize. So it is, gentle reader, that I return, a bit aggravated, to the dialogue with my one-time mentor and longtime radical Karl Meyer. What we share, in varying ways, is the legacy of the Catholic Worker.

I’m aggravated because Karl now writes that “all your replies are more apologetics than reasoned dialogue.” But I’m not going to vent my spleen against an old friend. I will, however, exercise that organ against someone I’ll call K. So, hang on.

First, apologetics is entirely compatible with reasoned argument. The apostle Peter urges us “to have a reason for the hope that is within you” (I Peter 3:15), and he offered an apologia for his faith and that of the first Christians. John Henry Newman, in his Apologia Pro Vita Sua, and Thomas Merton, in his Seven Storey Mountain, both wrote as eminently reasonable apologists.

Still, in the popular mind “apologetics” suggests a certain defensiveness. History makes strange bedfellows, and both George Washington and Chairman Mao are no doubt right to remind us that the best defense is a good offense. Thus motivated, K, I have a laundry list for you. I share it with the goal of afflicting the intellectually comfortable and the promise to comfort the afflicted, should my arguments render you such!

First, you report that your “view of nature and the animal ‘kingdom’ came…from my own sense of compassion and the ideas of Dr. Schweitzer.” But K, why is it more reasonable to have your brand of compassion than for, say, a taker of elephant tusks’ entrepreneurial ambition? And Dr. Schweitzer found his inspiration in the Scriptures which you now dismiss.

Second, you advise me that “If you are positing a ‘Supreme Being,’ or first cause, I see this as simply unknowable.” Frankly, K, if what you “see” matters it is because of what you think. Have you ever thought through, for a start, the cosmological argument for the existence of God? Or have you ever dealt with the question of why there is something rather than nothing at all? Sure, philosophy isn’t a thumbscrew. But it’s pursuit of wisdom is as arduous as it is amorous.

Next up, K, is your reliance on “the structures of physics and chemistry as we now have discovered them, post Newtonian, which the ancients had not yet figured out.” What’s really post Newtonian is the world of quantum physics. In this world indeterminism and chance have displaced the old determinism. And guess what? Aristotle and Aquinas both welcomed chance, with Aquinas recognizing it as one mode of God’s creation.

Lastly, K, we come to your chief outrage. “Yes,” you write, “the world is beautiful, desirable, for those of us, human, plant, animal, that survive and thrive, without brutal and unbearable pain.” The world that is beautiful is the world that is good, and it opens onto a Love we cannot fathom. But only human beings grasp that beauty and goodness and recognize its wounds. Augustine rightly asked, Unde malum? Whence evil? Your question, K, should be Unde bonum? Whence good?

A postscript, K. As the vise tightens on Ukraine, I wonder why you remain silent about what is unfolding before our eyes. You’ve not yet responded to Borys Gudziak’s letter. Surely he is not an apologist for Putin and his meretricious charge of “genocide.”


Jim Hanink is an independent scholar, albeit more independent than scholarly!

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