Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Anti-Catholicism, Eisegesis and the Post Hoc Fallacy

Being a member of the Catholic Church who openly states that I believe it to be the Church intended by Christ, I often run into flak from anti-Catholics [Let me clarify of course that anti-Catholics and non Catholics are not synonymous] who assume I must be deceived or willfully in error.  Usually they start by assuming I am deceived and set out to "save" me from my "blindness."  Once I begin to respond to their errors, showing why I reject their reasoning, the reaction goes from pity to hostility.  I have had members of the Orthodox Church call on God to curse me.  I have had some Fundamentalists call me one of the reprobate (those predestined to be damned).  I've been called a Modernist by Fundamentalists and called a Fundamentalist by Modernists because I hold to the Church as having the authority as successor to the Apostles.

In the process of these discussions I tend to run into a specific set of themes by which these individuals attack the Church.  These themes run through two errors which, when rejected, shows the emptiness of their position.  However these themes also are themes that a person can easily be blind to, and when I reject their position, they conclude I am rejecting Scripture (or in the case of the Orthodox, rejecting Tradition).

Eisegesis and "The Whore of Babylon."

Eisegesis is the interpretation of a text (as of the Bible) by reading into it one's own ideas.  So if I have a preconceived notion that the Bible teaches a specific position and read the Bible with that position being assumed, it will lead me to errors because this preconceived position is the lens through which I look at Scripture.

One common example of this is the claim that the Catholic Church is "The Whore of Babylon."  Now in Revelation we do see the term used.  However the text of Revelation does not give us any statement that any specific place or group is intended as the meaning.

Now Revelation 17 describes to us this imagery:

1 Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and said to me, “Come, I will show you the judgment of the great harlot who is seated upon many waters, 2 with whom the kings of the earth have committed fornication, and with the wine of whose fornication the dwellers on earth have become drunk.” 3 And he carried me away in the Spirit into a wilderness, and I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast which was full of blasphemous names, and it had seven heads and ten horns. 4 The woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet, and bedecked with gold and jewels and pearls, holding in her hand a golden cup full of abominations and the impurities of her fornication; 5 and on her forehead was written a name of mystery: “Babylon the great, mother of harlots and of earth’s abominations.” 6 And I saw the woman, drunk with the blood of the saints and the blood of the martyrs of Jesus.

When I saw her I marveled greatly. 7 But the angel said to me, “Why marvel? I will tell you the mystery of the woman, and of the beast with seven heads and ten horns that carries her. 8 The beast that you saw was, and is not, and is to ascend from the bottomless pit and go to perdition; and the dwellers on earth whose names have not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world, will marvel to behold the beast, because it was and is not and is to come. 9 This calls for a mind with wisdom: the seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman is seated; 10 they are also seven kings, five of whom have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come, and when he comes he must remain only a little while. 11 As for the beast that was and is not, it is an eighth but it belongs to the seven, and it goes to perdition. 12 And the ten horns that you saw are ten kings who have not yet received royal power, but they are to receive authority as kings for one hour, together with the beast. 13 These are of one mind and give over their power and authority to the beast; 14 they will make war on the Lamb, and the Lamb will conquer them, for he is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those with him are called and chosen and faithful.”

15 And he said to me, “The waters that you saw, where the harlot is seated, are peoples and multitudes and nations and tongues. 16 And the ten horns that you saw, they and the beast will hate the harlot; they will make her desolate and naked, and devour her flesh and burn her up with fire, 17 for God has put it into their hearts to carry out his purpose by being of one mind and giving over their royal power to the beast, until the words of God shall be fulfilled. 18 And the woman that you saw is the great city which has dominion over the kings of the earth.”

Now, from this imagery we do see the description of a city which has power and authority and corrupts the nations around it.  Now, at the time of the writing, the city which committed fornication (this term is often used for idolatry), was known for killing the saints and making blasphemous declarations would have been the pagan city of Rome, who at this time would have been martyring the Christians under the emperor Domitian — Titus Flavius Domitianus (reigned from 14 September 81 – 18 September 96).  Imagery from Scripture such as "arrayed in purple and scarlet" do indeed represent the colors worn by the elites of the city, the Patricians (who wore a purple hem on their toga) and the Equites (who wore a red hem).

Chapter 18 of Revelation goes on to describe the fall of Babylon:

9 And the kings of the earth, who committed fornication and were wanton with her, will weep and wail over her when they see the smoke of her burning; 10 they will stand far off, in fear of her torment, and say,

“Alas! alas! thou great city,

thou mighty city, Babylon!

In one hour has thy judgment come.”

11 And the merchants of the earth weep and mourn for her, since no one buys their cargo any more, 12 cargo of gold, silver, jewels and pearls, fine linen, purple, silk and scarlet, all kinds of scented wood, all articles of ivory, all articles of costly wood, bronze, iron and marble, 13 cinnamon, spice, incense, myrrh, frankincense, wine, oil, fine flour and wheat, cattle and sheep, horses and chariots, and slaves, that is, human souls. 14 “The fruit for which thy soul longed has gone from thee, and all thy dainties and thy splendor are lost to thee, never to be found again!”

15 The merchants of these wares, who gained wealth from her, will stand far off, in fear of her torment, weeping and mourning aloud, 16 “Alas, alas, for the great city that was clothed in fine linen, in purple and scarlet, bedecked with gold, with jewels, and with pearls! 17 In one hour all this wealth has been laid waste.”

What we are seeing here is a description of a city which is a mercantile center for all sorts of luxury which has fallen.  It seems to point to pagan Rome at the time of the writing of this book.  Other Biblical Scholars think it refers to the fall of Jerusalem to the Romans in AD 70.  However, there are differing interpretations as to what St. John meant.  Studying these Scriptures seeking to understand it from the perspective of the First Century Christian who would have read it is known as exegesis — the taking of meaning from Scripture, seeking to interpret it.

However, in contrast to the exegete, the one who practices eisegesis with the notion that the Catholic Church is evil takes a line of reasoning like this:

  1. The Catholic Church corrupts people and is in Rome
  2. Revelation speaks of a city which corrupts people which seems to be Rome
  3. Therefore Revelation is speaking of the Catholic Church

See the problem with the reasoning however.  First of all, premise #1 has to be proven.  The basis of the claim is that certain individuals (Luther, Zwingli, Calvin etc.) disagreed with the Catholic Church and broke with her.  However, the infallibility of these individuals has not been established, so their claim can be in error and must be proven to be true… not assumed that it is true.

So the irony is that this "doctrine" of anti-Catholics is based on a meaning put into Scripture, and not taken from Scripture.  It has to be demonstrated their assertions (that the Catholic Church is contrary to Scripture) is true before one can go on to argue that certain Scripture verses refer to it and are proof of it.

The Post Hoc and Cum Hoc Fallacies

The Post Hoc fallacy (the full name is Post hoc ergo propter hoc which means "after this therefore because of this") is an error which assumes that because one thing happened and then another thing happened the first event must have caused the second.  The Cum Hoc fallacy (from cum hoc, ergo propter hoc meaning "With this, therefore because of this") is an error which assumes that because of two events happening close together, they must have a common cause.

One example of the post hoc fallacy can be seen in the movie "The Emerald Forest."  In it a dam is considered a threat to the way of life to some Amazonian natives, and to destroy it a flood needs to happen.  One character, one of the natives, says that the louder the frogs croak the greater the rains that come.  So they will perform rituals to persuade the frogs to croak loudly.

The error of course is that the frogs do not cause the rains, but through nature sense when a storm is coming.

There are certain post hoc fallacies which are made by anti-Catholics.  For example, certain phrases were used in Babylon (the famous one is "Queen of Heaven" applied to a deity).  Similar phrases were used by the Catholic Church.  Therefore it is alleged that Catholics took their beliefs from Babylon.  Take for example this Jack Chick tract, The Deceived)

(some panels not directly pertinent [the tract was aimed at Muslims] removed for considerations of bandwidth)

The problem with this reasoning is that based on a claim that Babylonians worshipped a goddess called the Queen of Heaven (in the Babylonian tongue) and that because some title Mary "Queen of Heaven," this means that the Catholic title must have come from Babylonian belief.

The problem with this reasoning is one can attack any belief of Christianity based on similarity.  The Trinity?  Some allege we steal this from any Triad of deities.  Some claim we stole the Trinity from the Egyptian deities, Isis, Horus and Horus, but the error are of the same line: Three deities does not mean a belief in the Trinity.   Similarity does not mean common descent.

Likewise the claim that Babylon had a "Queen of Heaven" (it should be noted that a Google search for Babylon and Queen of Heaven only turns up anti-Catholic sites, not scholarly sites) does not prove that the Catholic title was derived from Babylon. 

One can also point to the title "King of Kings" applied to Christ.  This title was also applied to Nebuchadnezzar, king of… Babylon?

You can see that under the faulty logic that similarity shows common descent, we have to assume that our belief in Jesus Christ was taken from Babylon.

Of course we know that is not true and that because one religion used a certain element (water for example is used in many religions) or title does not mean that our faith comes from that other religion.

Going back to the example of Revelation, the Post Hoc and Cum Hoc fallacies are often used with Eisegesis where something is assumed and a meaning is put into Scripture, and then any link is therefore assumed to be a direct proof of their claim.

For example, I have encountered people seeking to tell me that in Revelation, 17:9 it says:  "9 This calls for a mind with wisdom: the seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman is seated". The argument is that Rome has seven hills (an alternate rendering of mountains).  The Vatican is in Rome.  Therefore, the Catholic Church is referred to.

The problem again is that seven hills does not prove what is intended.  Jerusalem is sometimes said to be built on seven hills.  For that matter, San Francisco was also said to be built on seven hills — and is certainly today a good symbol for vice and wretchedness.

So what we see is the combination of eisegesis (putting a meaning into Scripture) and a post hoc fallacy claiming that similar phrases means the same thing to reach a conclusion which is not justified but is used to fuel anti-Catholicism.

Avoiding Errors of Interpretation

Scripture is of course not contrary to logic.  So we need to make sure that in our interpretation, our reasoning is logical.  If one wants to make a claim against the Catholic Church using Scripture, one has to show that Scripture was intended to be understood this way.  The witness of ancient Christians in the writing of the Patristics for example speak as to how the Christian faith was understood.  Do we see a tendency towards small independent churches?  Do we see ancient Christians opposed to Marian devotions?  Do we see the rejection of a hierarchy?

In all these cases, the evidence of the commentaries of the ancient Christians attests to the opposite: We see one unified body of Christ, we see a reverence (not a worship) of Mary and an insistence that proper following of the faith cannot be done apart from those in authority.

Indeed, those who were rejected as spreading a false gospel were those who denied these things: The Gnostics, the Arians, the Nestorians (who especially denied Mary's role) and so on.  They used Scripture, but their interpretation was seen as false and contrary to the consistent teaching of the Truth.

There is no case of "real Christians" who were supplanted by the Church.  There are no written objections that "Rome" added to the teachings originally held.  Look at the Patristic writings: Polycarp, Clement, Ignatius, Irenaeus.  Look at Augustine, John Chrysostom, Jerome… they all share the same faith.  The Council of Nicaea, the Council of Constantinople (from these Councils we get our Nicene Creed)… it comes from this faith.

The Anti-Catholic who wishes to argue that Catholicism drove Christianity under ground needs to explain why every "real" Christian went.  It needs to show where the Catholic Church "replaced" truth with error.

It is not enough to argue from Scripture… Satan argued from Scripture (see Matthew 4:1-11) after all.  When one argues from Scripture, the dispute is not over the inerrancy of Scripture, but of the accuracy of the interpretation.  So for the anti-Catholic to argue that verse X means that Catholic belief A is in error requires this question to be answered:

On what Basis do you justify your interpretation to be correct?

Catholics do indeed have Scriptural justification for their beliefs (an excellent book to read is Dave Armstrong's The Catholic Verses).  We can point to a consistent teaching of this justification through Scripture.

Because of this, when an Anti-Catholic tells me of his interpretation of verses to show I must "come out" from the Catholic Church, I ask them to show me that this interpretation was how the first Christians viewed Scripture as opposed to this being their own reading.

I don't deny the authority of Scripture of course… just the Anti-Catholic's authority to tell me what it means.

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