Friday, February 12, 2010

Why Catholic Apologetics doesn't work

I have been reading the rhetoric of the Church's enemies, and the response of good Catholics, with increasing despair. As a philosopher, with familiarity with political philosophy in particular, it is clear to me that this is a dialogue of the deaf. The Church's critics aren't interested in a profound understanding of the Church's position, but neither are they as stupid as it is tempting to believe. Not only is their position quite clearly worked out, but many of their key assumptions are accepted unwittingly by Catholic spokemen.

I have written a long blog post on this debate: you can read it all here; below are some extracts. the secularist’s lights the Church arbitrarily picks out one group of people, whose with a homosexual inclination, and tells them they may not seek sexual fulfilment: she casts them as second-class citizens, to face either a half-life of impossible self denial, or moral condemnation. And really, the first option is itself a kind of moral condemnation, because the Church is condemning their only route to sexual self-expression. Saying that the Church condemns homosexuality is a convenient short-hand for this argument.

What the separation of Church and State, aka ‘State neutrality’, means is that the State withholds from using religious arguments and claims in justifying public policy, in order to avoid privileging one religion over another. Since the state has to use some basis for policy decisions (as I have discussed here), it uses a conception of rationality and associated conception of justice which are supposed to be uncontroversial: common ground. The conception of justice protects us from criminals and guarantees contracts, so we can all get on with pursuing the good life as we understand it.

...the ideology of ‘equality’ is, as David Cameron so memorably puts it, ‘a bottom-line, full essential’. It follows closely from a conception of justice based on Enlightenment rationality, of allowing each person to pursue his own desires without interference. When a ‘gay school pupil’ is taught the Faith in a Catholic school, or a Catholic parish declines to employ a catechist with an immoral lifestyle, these are barriers to those people joyfully pursuing their desires, and therefore are infringements of justice. The religious or private context can and should (on this argument) lend no protection from prosecution.

An effective apologetics has to address the issues over which the secularists disagree with the Church, and not concede the assumptions which make their position correct and the Catholic position incoherent. The issues we need to press are these: the hedonism at the basis of modern political calculations is sterile and unsatisfying; and the state should not be neutral between value claims—something which is not even possible—but accept the correct values. This approach does not guarantee success, but we will at least be engaging in a useful debate, and not ‘beating the air.’

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