Longtime readers should be aware of my favorite definition of truth and falsehood, according to Aristotle: To say of what is, that it is or to say of what it is not is to speak the truth. While that is not all there is to the concept of truth, it is an important point. We have to say what is true about a thing, whether we agree or disagree with a position. Otherwise, if we try to refute a position by speaking falsehood (saying of what is that it is not, or of what is not, that it is) about it, we prove absolutely nothing at all.
That means that in refuting something we should speak the truth about it, whether it is about Nazism, about Communism, about racism, about conservatism or liberalism. It applies to religions as well. If we are going to reject something as being wrong, we should do so by showing why the truth about it is repugnant, and not speak falsehoods about it to deceive people away from it.
Anti-Catholicism Does Not Speak The Truth
That is why I find religiously motivated anti-Catholicism to be so perplexing. Such individuals profess to believe in God and to follow the teachings of Christ—but have no qualms whatsoever about speaking falsely about the Catholic Church. Common tactics are misrepresenting teachings, misrepresenting history, misrepresenting Scripture and distorting the defenses of the Catholic faith.
Now, it should be clear that if one believes that Catholicism is wrong and, out of a misguided sense of goodwill, wants to lead Catholics out of the Church, they should strive to understand what the Church actually believes on a subject and, with that accurate knowledge, investigate whether the Catholic belief contradicts the Scriptures in context. But that is precisely what is not being done.
Instead, the common tactic is to take a Catholic teaching that has been so frequently misrepresented that people no longer question whether the assertion is true. Then contrast that distorted teaching against a specially selected verse of Scripture. Then argue that the discrepancy shows that Catholicism is evil and must be opposed.
One Must Use Authoritative Sources When Investigating Something
If I were to write a paper on quantum physics, what would you want to know before accepting my conclusions? The first thing would be to determine whether my assertions and research were accurate. If I was uninformed about the topic or, if I was uninformed about the fundamentals, my conclusion wouldn't be worth the paper it was printed on. Any truth in the paper would be strictly coincidental, and not a reliable guide. So, when we want to learn the truth about something, we go to the sources that are authoritative. For example, we go to NASA and not to the National Enquirer when we want to learn accurately about what was discovered on Pluto. Likewise, we don't ask Planned Parenthood or NARAL to explain the reasons why people oppose abortion.
This logically follows in other areas as well. If one wants to refute Islam intelligently, one has to know what the Qur'an says. If one wants to intelligently refute Mormonism, one has to know what the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price say—because the individual Muslim or Mormon is going to write you off as an idiot if it becomes apparent that you don't understand what they believe.
Likewise, when one wants to know what the Catholic Church believes, one doesn't go to an anti-Catholic site or an anti-Catholic theologian. One goes to an source which Catholics acknowledge as having the authority to say: "THIS is what we believe." In doing so, we have to interpret the source according to the intention of the authority—not what someone thinks it means based on their own (often uninformed) readings.
So, if one wants to know what the Church believes on a subject, one goes to a source which the Church has approved. For example, the Catechism of the Catholic Church. When one wants to know what the Pope meant in a soundbite, one goes to the Vatican website and gets the whole interview or address in context. One studies the Catholic faith to see whether the accusations made against her are accurate or not. They should NOT go to Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, Spurgeon, Gerstner, Sproul or Barth.
This is common sense. If a person relies on sources which are based in hostility, the first question to be asked is whether the hostility blinds the judgment or not. Remember, there are a lot of times people have misinterpreted another's intention and held a grudge which was based on a misunderstanding on the grounds that a person refused to believe goodwill on the part of that which he or she opposed.
One Must Consider the Agenda of Those Who Attack the Church
That must be remembered. When it comes to Catholicism, there is a lot of hostility from former members. At various times, groups have broken away from the Church. Such actions are based in opposition. Was the opposition justified? There is a lot of propaganda used to exaggerate the corruption in the Church to make it appear that the entire Church taught heresy and was out for malicious self-benefit. But often the people who made such claims had a vested interest in justifying their schism—they needed to make it look as if the Church was teaching falsely.
The problem is, when someone takes the worst possible elements about a person and exaggerates them, you can make anybody look bad—and some have gone so far as to try to slander Jesus Himself. So, we need to remember that we do not accept what a person says about their enemy simply on their own say-so (that's the ipse dixit logical fallacy). When one makes an accusation, proof is required.
But proof is not the same thing as assertion. Imagine a trial where all the evidence presented was only interpreted by the prosecutor. How likely is the accused to get a fair hearing? If you answered "not likely to be fair," you are correct. (if you answered "likely to be fair," perhaps you might prefer the legal systems of Iran or North Korea). So, when it comes to seeking to refute the Catholic Church and lead people out of her, the right way to do it is to study the Church teaching so that the evidence presented is evidence that the Catholic will say, "Yes, this is true." The wrong way to do it is to make claims which the informed Catholic will say "You are either deceived or lying."
And that's the thing about the Catholic faith. When one actually does the research and presents the truth about the Catholic faith, it cannot be refuted. One can honestly say "I disagree with the Church!" (there's a vulgar but accurate saying about opinions and posteriors which I won't repeat here), but one cannot honestly say "the Church is teaching error!"
Even the Devil Cites Scripture (Matthew 4:1-10)—So Check the Context
And that brings us to the next point. The whole attack on Catholicism from a Christian perspective depends on an individual interpretation of the Bible—generally from the assumption that Protestantism (in whatever form) is true—which requires us to ask "Why should we believe your interpretation of the Bible and not mine?" Remember, there are all sorts of ways to make a Bible verse fit whatever you want—look at the denominations that try to justify "Same sex marriage" for example.
So when an anti-Catholic tries to contrast Scripture with Catholic teaching, we have to ask:
- Have they properly understood the verse of Scripture?
- Have they properly understood the Catholic teaching?
Because the fact is, while the Bible is without error, that does not make the individual interpreter infallible—again, remember the denominations which justify "same sex marriage." If the Plain Sense of Scripture was so easy to find, then Lutherans and Zwinglians should have agreed on the meaning of the Eucharist, while the Presbyterians and Baptists should agree on the meaning of Baptism. The fact is, they don’t.
See, the Catholic accepts the authority of Scripture. That's a plain statement of fact. What the Catholic rejects is blindly accepting every personal interpretation that comes down the pike about what verses mean. If one wants to sling verses against the Church, expect us to take offense when those verses are taken out of context or are misapplied against the Church.
There is a whole raft of objections against the Church, and Catholics have been refuting these claims since the beginning of the Protestant schisms in the 16th century. Basically, it is a case of the same false accusations—that we worship Mary, statues, saints, the Pope—which Catholics emphatically reject as false. The attack is essentially the logical fallacy of begging the question. The opposition to Catholic practices have always depended on a misinformed understanding of what is actually being done and an overly literalistic interpretation of Scripture.
The person of good will who thinks Catholicism is wrong and wants to “save” us from it has to recognize that God is truth and opposes lies. One who repeats falsehood is either deceiving or deceived, depending on whether the person knows the claim is false or whether the person never bothered to investigate the truth of the accusation. Since every person has the obligation to speak truthfully, the person of good will has to stop repeating false claims about the Church. This applies to false history and misrepresentations of history.
God forbade false witness, and when one feels the need to speak against something, they have the obligation to seek the truth first, because even when acting out of ignorance, slander/libel does bear that false witness. It stands to reason that if we love God, we will seek to live in a way pleasing to Him, and that means not speaking falsely.
Postscript for Catholics
One of our responsibilities in defending the faith against those who attack it is not to automatically accept what those who attack the Church claim. Many anti-Catholics sound quite confident when they say that what we believe contradicts the Bible, but their confidence relies on believing certain stock phrases are true. We have the obligation to learn our beliefs—not just what we believe, but why we believe it. When we understand these things, we will not be led astray by spurious arguments that depend Catholics being ignorant about what they believe. Remember, to pray and to study