Friday, July 3, 2015

Knox on a New Apologetics

I was reading through the recently released book The Lost Works of Ronald Knox by Catholic Answers last night.  The last section in the book is an unfinished work by Knox on apologetics.  He died before he could finish it.  In this work, which consists of three chapters, Knox realized that a new way of doing apologetics would be needed for the post-World War II world, particularly in the West.  I found this insightful quote, which I will share below, that I think is as important now as it was when he wrote it in the mid-50's.  Something to think about in the year 2015.

"I think that our Catholic apologetics, nearly all of it, strike the modern reader as inhuman.  Just because it is worked out with such mathematical precision, just because a suitable answer comes pat to every afflicts our contemporaries with a sense of malaise.  Our answers seem too glib, too 'slick'; there is something machine-made about them. They are clothed with the appearance of truth, but they do not smell of reality." -Ronald Knox in "Proving God"


Ed Rio said...

What I get from this is that there is a lack of the personal, or at least putting it into our own words. There seems to be such an emphasis on precision, which isn't bad, but at the cost of that "fire", joy, or beauty of the Truth. I've watched quite a few videos of apologists on YouTube, and many seem to be parroting the Catechism or other Church documents. Just like we need the three legs of the stool when it comes to knowing and serving God the right way, it would be good to explain and defend Church teaching with a three legged stool too... what is good, true and beautiful.

Timothy said...

Yes, I agree with you Ed. I think about this all the time, particulalry when I am teaching apologetics to high schooler. Things that we think are logical and obvious are not so much to many of the current and prior generation. Parroting the CCC or even quoting the Bible often makes little impact. It may to those who are already curious, but not to the majority of others. It is then interesting to compare and contrast what should be our "methods" not only for apologetics, but also evangelization.

rolf said...

I think Pope Francis has this 'new' evangelism figured out, like Paul in 1 Cor 13:4,13; 'Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude...So faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.'
As Ed mentioned above; quoting scripture verse and or the Catechism to someone who does not yet know Christ can be folly. Instead let them know your joy and your love, this is the Good News that Jesus brings to all! That is a lot more attractive to someone who is looking for meaning, or trying to find a missing piece of the puzzle that is their life.
I can attest to this because it took me 47 years to find Christ and his Church. And all the scripture quotes and doomsday prophecies from evangelical Christian friends of mine added years to my journey!

Timothy said...

Francis has emphasized the idea of "encounter" with Christ. Benedict did as well, but Francis had made that one of the hallmarks of his papacy. I think he may be on to something. 😀

Timothy said...

Don't get me wrong, the standard apologetics is still needed. Apostolates like Catholic Answers remain important in many ways.

Ed Rio said...

Catholic Answers is an excellent source of information. I especially like their YouTube channel. They definitely fill a need. They seem mostly for those who are further along in study or are already Catholic though.
If I had to narrow down to a short list what makes Pope Francis' style so appealing I'd have to say humility and joy. Whether atheists or Evengelicals, they all feel right at home around him. I've tried to do the same with a woman who's a Jehovah's Witness.
She knows I'm Catholic, and have politely mentioned no desire to change that, yet she still stops by. There's some common ground we have, and while I don't know if she ever convert, she has met at least one Catholic who loves God and His Word. And that helps a lot when someone like me who can remember something, but can't recall book, chapter, and verse.

Anonymous said...

Sorry to say the. standard protestant response to J W s is to be be rude and dismissive.May God forgive us.
Ed Rio ' s approach is so much more honouring to
God and much more likely to gain a hearing, to gain attention.

Anonymous said...

The thing is apologetics must not only bombarding of what the Church teaches or believes. In doing so, it must have the heart to understand and to foster, teaching what is right with the sincerity of heart through touching lives.

If we will read conversion stories, most of them were brought to the Faith because they mostly felt that they are well-loved by understanding to them the sincerest intention of the Truth to understand each of one's connection with Jesus.

Anonymous said...

We have had about fifty years of the supposedly novel approach of "heart rather than intellect, accommodation rather than precision". I find it staggering that people still pretend not only that this is the solution, but that it is new. The text of Msgr Knox is clearly dated, and actually has exactly the age one would expect of it. Shortly after this was written, in the wake of Vatican II, Catholicism turned its approach to the public around almost completely.

Well, that attempt has failed, comprehensively. I'm not saying that Catholicism would be in a better state if it had stuck to how it was - it is impossible to know what would have happened in that case. But what we do know is that a catastrophic collapse of Catholicism in the West happened while Catholicism went all out to meet the world Vatican II style, with the very change in attitude that Msgr Knox here wishes for.

Do we really need another 50 years thereof, and likely the de fact end of Catholicism at least in Europe, before we admit that as nice as this may sound, it just does not work?

Timothy said...


Very few respond to the intellectual argument alone either. Don't you think an integration of both is what is needed? Yet, I don't think leading with the intellect will be of any good use now, no matter the reason why we have arrived at the current place we find ourselves in. One could argue that in places where the Church is growing, like in Africa and Asia, it is that integration of the two that has been effective. Outside (and inside) the Church, the rise of Pentecostal/charismatic Christianity remains one of the fastest growing segments of the faith.

CarlHernz said...

Currently the state of apologetics is like the Harry Potter novels and films.

The stories are widely popular not because of the magic and wizardry but because of the ability of the now famous child protagonist to change his direction in life as evidence requires it. Each story follows the exact same formula in which Harry is faced with several new and puzzling mysterious circumstances. But just when it seems Harry has a handle on things, three-quarters into the story Harry learns that all his preconceived ideas are wrong. The real heroics is not how Harry uses his magic but how quickly Harry overcomes any cognitive dissonance, reevaluates the situation based on the new evidence he has before him (even though the latest set of new information always changes everything he knew about himself and the world around him) and goes forth to save the day.

What makes the story fiction again is not the magic. It’s fiction because people don’t react like Harry in the real world. We tell ourselves that we would change direction in life much like Harry if faced with the evidence that he does in each and every new volume, but in reality we don’t like doing that. Harry saves the day each and every time only because he is willing to accept new evidence that tells him that his current view of himself, reality and his place in the universe requires change.

Today’s apologists often live in the same fictional world, believing that everybody has a Harry Potter inside of them that is willing to accept evidence that the current view of themselves is wrong, and that their understanding of reality is consequently incorrect as is where they see themselves in relation to the universe, even in relation to God. It asks people to accept this new data and act on it.

But the truth of the matter is that you, yourself would never do that, at least not immediately or with any type of ease. Cognitive dissonance occurs when faced with data that tells us something we don't want to hear and this causes an immediate denial response known as normalcy bias. In layman terms, if someone told you that your view of yourself as a Catholic was wrong and subsequently your standing with God was, you would automatically not believe it. You would respond this way if you were a Protestant, a Hindu, a Jew, a Jehovah’s Witness, an atheist, etc. Why? It’s instinctive to each and every human.

When the Twin Towers fell on 9/11 some people in Manhattan got caught in the rubble because they did not run. They did not run not because they were stubborn or close-minded to the fact that these landmarks were falling. They did not run because of cognitive dissonance that led to normalcy bias which in turn created a panic of paralysis in these persons. Some of these people who were thus shocked at the foot of the Towers had to be pushed and dragged by others or get buried as the towers fell. Many of these were in the Towers themselves and died.

Psychology and sociology is working on developing a new field of study known currently as “wrongology.” Years of research show that if Harry Potter was as real as we are he may have never gone to Hogwarts because people don’t appreciate being told they are wrong about what they believe and will even fight before accepting truth, truth which most of us never admit to or at least find very hard to embrace.

Until apologetics catches up with the science behind “wrongology,” it will keep feeding the lie we each tell ourselves that anyone with an honest and open mind will accept the “truth” and immediately change their lives accordingly, and that only the dishonest and close-minded fool would do otherwise. In all honesty facts, figures, data, even love is not proof enough for the instinct in humans that fights to prevent us from accepting the possibility that we could be wrong, that what we believe needs to be changed, and that this might even entail changing everything we currently accept about ourselves and the universe around us.

CarlHernz said...

Before I forget, as it may not be clear in my last post, what is wrong with current apologetics is it tends to view the “apologia” as a tool for conversion. As seen on sites like Catholic Answers (while all out and good in what they do), apologetics too often gets confused with debate.

An apology, in the classical sense, is a defense for one’s actions. It is one-sided, not open to debate, and does not concentrate on convincing your audience to adopt your convictions or imitate your actions. It merely gives an “apologia,” or reason for what you did or believe. If you can demonstrate to your audience that your actions or convictions are the result of a logical path you have taken, then you have given a proper apology. Your actions and convictions become hard to argue against because your reasons for your actions and/or convictions are proven reasonable in your apology. Your convictions or actions may never even be fully explained in such an argument, by the way.

One of the best apologies is offered by the Apostle Paul at Acts chapter 26. There he gives an “apology” or defense speech for his actions before King Agrippa. He does not attempt to persuade the audience to become Christians by debate. He does not quote Scripture. He does not provide any empirical evidence.

Instead what he does is explain to his audience that he, Paul, is a man of convictions, duty and honor. As such he has always strived to follow this path. In his case this path has included being faced with situations he never expected could ever happen or be true. Paul explains that he not only comes face to face with a vision, but that the vision leaves evidence that is undeniable to him and other witnesses. The events are miraculous and inarguable from Paul’s standpoint. As such he is left with little choice but to accept their validity and preach a doctrine he once called heresy. Due to nothing else but being a man of convictions, duty and honor to truth he could do nothing less, even though it resulted in him being placed in chains.

The speech is basically: “What would you do if you were in my shoes and the exact same thing happened to you?”

At first Porcius Festus who is present has the wrong idea about what Paul is trying to say, stating: “You are mad, Paul; much learning is driving you mad.” But Paul corrects him and explains: “I am not mad, most excellent Festus; I am speaking words of truth and reason. The king knows about these matters and to him I speak boldly, for I cannot believe that any of this has escaped his notice; this was not done in a corner.”

In other words, Paul’s argument is that his response is logical due to events that are of public knowledge, and that he Paul is merely acting reasonably in the face of them. He is not trying to convince anyone that Christian doctrines are true or that the beliefs of his audience are wrong.

The chapter ends with his audience agreeing that Paul has made a clear apology, one that cannot be argued against. (Acts 26.24-32) And this is what an apology should be. If you convince someone that you logic is sound, this may interest them to look into what your convictions that you adopted consist of. But what you see on the Internet are debates, fights that attempt to prove another wrong. And such an attitude is not apologetic or evangelistic. Such is the way of proselytizing.

Thomas said...

Milton Walsh references knox's proving God quite a bit in his book "second friends" on Ronald Knox and c s lewis in chapter one titled "proving" God.