Book excerpt: Arguing Religion — A Bishop Speaks at Facebook and Google

This book was chosen not because I enjoy Los Angeles Auxiliary Bishop Robert Barron’s religious writing and film production, although I do.

Nor was it chosen because the picture of a Prince of the Roman Catholic Church speaking on the business campus of, first, Facebook and, then, Google to the h00test of techies makes the term “tectonic grinding” seem singularly inadequate, although I had to choke giggles at the subtitle.

Nope.

This book was chosen because Bishop Barron addresses how to talk to people who disagree with you without bullying or bellowing — an everyday event online and frequent elsewhere.

Bishop Barron, as he should, uses methods of disputation to forward his Catholic evangelizing mission.

In my own sketchy way, I encourage arguments here at Orange County Breeze that show respect among opponents and that discuss disagreements without sinking to personal insult or simply yelling or naked assertion to force silence if not agreement.

And that is why this book is excerpted here.

From “Chapter One: Faith is Not Opposed to Reason,” we join a description of an argument made by John Henry Newman in response to rationalistic critics of Christianity in the 19th Century. According to Bishop Barron…

Newman took the intriguing tack of remarking how so much of our ordinary knowing is a function of both rational and non-rational moves. He observed that we very typically give complete assent to propositions for which there is far from clinching inferential support. To cite his famous example, we assent to the claim that England is an island without hesitation, though we cannot produce an airtight syllogistic argument to that effect. Rather, the surety of our knowledge is the result of a whole congeries of experiences, testimonies, hunches, conversations, empirical observations, historical witnesses, etc., none of which in itself is perfectly convincing, but all of which, taken together and converging on the same point, push the mind to assent. Similarly, a man’s conviction that he will marry a particular woman is hardly the result of a rational demonstration; rather, it is the fruit of a long process of assessment — both rational and non-rational, both reasonable and beyond reason — of a range of evidences.

Thus, the religious person will accept the claim that God is love, but he won’t be able to justify that acceptance in any straightforwardly philosophical manner. Instead, if he reflects upon his assent, he will recognize in it elements of both reason and trust. Newman’s point is that, in this, religious assent is not qualitatively different from ordinary acts of assent, even regarding the simplest matters. And this is why he can say, in one of his sermons on faith and reason, that “faith is the reasoning of a religious mind.”

In the great temple of Jerusalem there were precincts reserved only for Jewish believers, but there was also a section called “the courtyard of the Gentiles.” There, nonbelievers could gather and garner some sense of the holiness of the place. I fully realize that there are an awful lot of people today who have rejected religion, who are angry at religious institutions, or who have bought into the atheist critics of faith. I certainly don’t expect such people to come right into the temple with eagerness and enthusiasm. But I wonder whether I might invite them into the courtyard of the Gentiles — which is to say, the arena of what I’ve characterized as natural theology or philosophical reflection on the things of God. I am not asking them to leave their brains at the door. On the contrary, I want them to pose any and all relevant questions. I would propose as common ground only the epistemic imperatives formulated by the twentieth-century Jesuit philosopher Bernard Lonergan: be attentive, be intelligent, be reasonable, and be responsible.

(Emphasis added.)

To which I would myself add: be respectful.