Intellectual Fisticuffs: Mark Shea on the Apologetics Scene (With Combox Update)

   Over the years I have commented on the attempts of particular antagonists to paint yours truly as a fire-breathing zealot. Part of the ploy is to ignore the entire range of my work as a part of the attempt to make it look like I lack balance, and hence should not be worth the time one might invest in reading a book or listening to a debate or lecture. Normally, those engaging in this activity limit the amount of information they provide to a bare minimum, and try to make it sound like I spend my every waking hour opposing Group X, whether that be Rome, Salt Lake, Brooklyn, etc. Now, one might immediately wonder why anyone would do this, but the reason is not difficult to discern. This kind of tactic is employed by those who clearly know they could never defend their position in debate, and hence they wish to avoid having to do so at all costs. Since I have been active for decades now in this arena, it is better to do a pre-emptive strike so that you can have an excuse when asked why you won’t debate. It is just that simple. Even the few (like Patrick Madrid) who have ventured out to debate clearly wish to avoid taking that risk in the future, and hence they likewise seek to engage in ad-hominem tactics, joining these to unrealistic and self-serving claims of total victory in the few debates they have done (witness my current series going over the veneration debate from 2002 that Madrid has claimed was a “painfully obvious” example of how unbiblical my arguments were).
   Another glowing example of this methodology appeared in an article by Mark Shea June 18th, found here). The article is generally on the topic of the “apologetics subculture,” of which Shea has at least a cursory knowledge. He has ventured, not very successfully, into the field a few times. His 1996 OSV publication, By What Authority? An Evangelical Discovers Catholic Tradition is particularly poorly argued and documented, containing numerous rather easily proven errors of fact and argumentation. It is, however, “pop friendly,” that is, it is written to communicate with some level of clarity. Nevertheless, it is plainly intended to be apologetic in focus and application. I encountered Shea in 1997 on a Catholic web board. After a few rounds that did not go well for him, he threatened legal action if I ever posted the materials. However, in 2002 he himself posted portions of the exchange, which clearly freed me to post the encounter, which I did here.
   In any case, there is much I could comment on regarding Shea’s article (Tur8inFan found it, and may be commenting on other aspects of it in the future). I think James Swan should be most encouraged by the e-mail Shea quotes, for it is clearly about his work on Luther on his blog. But you will notice another interesting aspect of Shea’s article, one he shares with other Roman Catholics. He does not mention the names of non-Catholic apologists when he is busy skewering them. This irrational fear of mentioning names is becoming more widespread. The infamous incident where Envoy Magazine published an entire article attacking me, but refusing to use my name or even cite the article being attacked, remains the most glaring example of this kind of literary cowardice. To this day the fact that you cannot even enter www.aomin.org into the Envoy forums (the system automatically changes the address to a “0”) speaks volumes about just how much of your “mind” you can “speak” at Envoy. And of course Steve Ray’s constant gratuitous insults against the “rabid anti-Catholic” that he won’t name are well known as well.
   Now, I did find it interesting that Shea admitted an error very similar to that of Steve Ray regarding Jerome and the canon. Shea admitted that he had erred in an Envoy article. While that is refreshing, it would be nice to then hear the “correction” to the error. That is, if he was wrong then, what does he have to say now? Evidently, it doesn’t really matter how often Rome’s defenders get the facts wrong: Rome remains right all the same.

   Shea refuses to mention James Swan even when identifying his work, and, of course, when he decides to blow a fuse in railing toward yours truly, once again the “I am going to disrespect you as much as I can by not so much as even mentioning your name” tactic comes into full expression. One could speculate that Shea truly hopes most of his readers won’t understand his references. But truly, does he not realize that those who do, and who have at least some balanced familiarity with my work, will be forced to conclude that Shea lacks the most basic elements of honesty? I have often wondered what kind of mindset can lie behind the following rhetoric:

   In a related vein, I think it would be well for the apologetics subculture (particularly the one in cyberspace) to simply get some air and remember that it really is just a subculture (at least in the Catholic Church). To be sure, there are some Protestant sects out there that are pretty much about nothing but apologetics (and often, anti-Catholic apologetics). So, for instance, when a Protestant anti-Catholic apologist adopts the handle prosApologian, you pretty much know where this guys sense of identity is invested. He knows Greek and you dont. He has a degree from Wilbur Weed Unaccredited Boxtop Diploma Mill and is fond of calling himself doctor and listing his credentials. He eats and sleeps apologetics. He will fill your screen with enough gaseous ASCII to inflate the Hindenburg in pursuit of the exact parsing and declension of some Greek conjunction (all while asking if your credentials are as big as his credentials). Hes ready to rumble. Right. Got it.
   And then Catholics respond. Some of the responses are from Catholics who are interested in light. So, for instance, Akin, with a groan and a sigh, undertakes the task of replying yet again to whatever it is prosApologian is gassing on about as this weeks proof that Romanism is a false religion. Akin does so out of interest in clarity, and because hes been called dishonest by name, not out of testosterone-driven need to prove his manhood. The difference between the two is that there is, for Akin, a healthy awareness that the Faith, like life, is more than apologetics. So while the anti-Catholic zealot is filling the air with nothing but his arguments against the Faith and the glories of his spotless record of zero defeats in conflict with absolutely everybody who has ever disagreed with him, Akin is stopping to smell the roses, chat about Max Headroom, speculate on apostolic succession on other planets, comment on the X Men, post curious photos of Indian Mounds that figured in H.P. Lovecraft stories and, in short, be a normal human being.
   Not all Catholics, however, have this sense of perspective and its easy for some to get sucked into the cramped little world of endless hairsplitting that the apologetics subculture can sometimes become. And so we find volleys of 19,000 word essays fired back and forth across the web, filled with more detail than any normal person could want about the precise meaning of the word until in Matthew 1:25. But the fact is, the Faith and the world are larger than mere theological abstractions, grammar spats, and nitnoid quibbles and we Catholics don’t have to live in that hothouse. Indeed, if we do, we can often communicate a radically different vision of the Faith than you actually find in the world of incarnate, flesh and blood Catholics, who do not rest their entire faith on what Jerome thought of the Septuagint, who do not obsess over the meaning of heos hou, and who could not, for the life of them, articulate a detailed analysis of the Aristotelian roots of Thomas doctrine of Transubstantiation.

   Now, if we can get past the blast-furnace of Shea’s temper we might note the real issues. Was this section overly relevant to his entire article? Not really. Its personal on his part. But if we listen carefully, we certainly see a trend we see in others. First is the desire to marginalize me by denying the balance of my work. He wants his audience to think I wake early in the morning cursing the Papacy, work diligently (but stupidly) all day long spewing my venom, and go to bed at night happy that I fought the minions of Rome. That may keep some of his readers from considering anything I ever have to say (his goal), but what about the person who has read The Forgotten Trinity or The King James Only Controversy or The God Who Justifies or Grieving: Our Path Back to Peace and realizes that Shea is grossly misrepresenting the truth? What about the Catholics who often write and thank me for what I have done in many other fields, and who use my materials on Mormonism, or Islam? And what about those who might stumble upon my sermons and Bible Studies, and come to the realization that Shea’s outrageous straw-man can only indicate a purposeful dishonesty on his part? One is left wondering how he would excuse such blatant disregard for accuracy and truthfulness.
   Next, I have often noted a very clear indication of near panic on the part of most Roman Catholic apologists when it comes to the matter of the original languages of Scripture. A self-defense mechanism manifests itself in such situations. When you are ignorant of the subject, try to make it look like the other guy is way over-balanced the other direction. Pretend all I ever do is talk about Greek. Ignore the mountain of evidence that contradicts you and hope that your readers will not stop to ponder why it is that the defenders of The One True ChurchTM do not, generally, know the Bible in its original languages. Likewise, hope that they don’t see the conflict between first attacking your opponent’s scholarship and then admitting that somehow, despite getting one’s degrees out of a cereal box, they likewise managed to actually learn those ancient languages better than you!
   The Shea/Ray kind of dismissive tactic is a shallow cover for a serious problem in Roman Catholic apologetics today: the “converts” don’t make good long-term defenders of Mother Rome. Many of those who spearheaded the “Catholic apologetics resurgence” of the 90s were themselves converts. It was their “Pauline conversion” stories that helped stoke the fires, but the fact of the matter is, almost none of these “converts” really qualify as having had “Pauline” experiences. And now that they are in the belly of Rome, they do not seem to be able to press beyond the most basic level of theological and apologetic inquiry. They are comfortable repeating their “testimony,” but as we have seen with Steve Ray, scratch past the most shallow level and there’s nothing more to be found. Shea is cut from the same cloth. And so their straw-man attacks scream “desperation” because they truly know they have nothing more to offer. Hence the inane contrast of Jimmy Akin, stopping and smelling the roses, being a “normal human being,” in opposition to me. The fact that I preached two sermons yesterday on such issues as the vital truth of monotheism and the importance of allowing Scripture to speak with one voice (even used my Kindle for my sermon notes!), rode 24 miles the day before (I live in Phoenix, folks—you have to start anything like that well before sunrise now unless you want to spontaneously combust), have only 495 miles left to ride to reach 40,000 miles ridden since I started keeping track, joined the Million Meters Club at Concept2 Rowing back in March, will celebrate my 26th wedding anniversary this week, just finished teaching a graduate level course on Islam (fully accredited, by the way) for GGBTS, meet with my Arabic tutor in a few hours for another class, am looking forward big-time to the start of Le Tour de France on July 5th, and just posted last week my youngest child’s first blog post on the importance of God as Creator in the Christian worldview—all of that is conveniently lost on Mark Shea when he tries to find a way to avoid admitting that when it comes to the key issues he listed in his book that formed the basis of his conversion to Rome he knows in his heart of hearts he cannot answer my arguments. That isn’t because I’m special: it is because Mark Shea joined a false religion and wants others to follow him in his error, plain and simple.
   The reason I do not have to hide the names of men like Mark Shea or Steve Ray is because I do not fear them. I do not have that gnawing realization in the back of my head that keeps telling me “You can’t answer those arguments, and if you ever had to face that guy in public or private, you know you would be exposed.” I can imagine that kind of thing really gets to you after a while, resulting in the kind of bombastic, insult-filled diatribe that explodes out of the keyboards of the likes of Shea, Ray and Sippo. I truly do feel pity for men who clearly give evidence of thinking I am behind every “anti-Catholic” action taken in the Internet when I am actually up to my eyeballs in studying Arabic and the Qur’an and the hadith and the like, and only address the Roman Catholic topic when pressed to do so.
   So I will have to once again entrust my case to the fair-minded reader who can see past the bombastic “anti-Catholic zealot” lingo and see the reality: compare the presentations, positive and negative, of men like Mark Shea, Steve Ray, Art Sippo, etc., with what I have published, preached, and taught. Look at the range of their studies, the breadth of their profession of faith, and compare it fairly with my own. And then ask yourself the question, why does one side have to hide even the names of those they are lambasting, and use such obvious straw-man arguments and bogus caricaturizations? The truth is not hard to discern.

Update
   After the Dividing Line today I Googled Mark Shea’s blog. As I scanned through the comments on his expected non-substantive response I was looking for something worthwhile in the midst of all the third-grade level taunts and self-congratulatory back-slapping (here is the thread: it surely does help to explain how Shea gets away with his childish behavior: his audience matches him perfectly). In finally found something. Randy wrote: “He does have a point about very few Catholic apologists knowing the biblical languages. That is one more reason James Akin feels obliged to jump into the fray. He knows that when James White mkaes faulty linguistic arguments there are very few in St Blogs with the ability to call him on it.”
   Now what is so humorous here is that Jimmy Akin, to my knowledge, has never taught the biblical languages. In fact, in the single debate Akin and I did (on KIXL radio many years ago), Akin used an argument about the Greek of John 6 that today he identifies as silly, a point I made for a decade before he admitted it. But this comment was followed by another that again shows that the audience to which Shea appeals is made up of those who have no interest in truth, but only an interest in continuing to believe what they believe, whether it is true or not. Scott W. writes, “Amen Randy. And Catholics should get into them because when they do, some real clock-cleaning happens. Witness this great defense of Perpetual Virginity” and then gives a link (in the next comment, he messed it up on the first try) to John Pacheco’s outrageously bad, thoroughly refuted, embarrassing attempt to respond to Eric Svendsen on this very topic! One is left gasping at the bankruptcy of this spectrum of Roman Catholic apologetics that is more than happy to keep pointing to the same bad arguments without ever considering the response.