Sunday, May 5, 2013

The Mind of an Apologist

Now and then I take up and read, without the urging of a divine voice as far as I know, a work devoted to a defense of religion or belief in God.  I think I do so in the hope that I will find one which is convincing or at least worthy of respect.  I have not yet encountered such a work, alas. 

Dorothy Sayers, known for her detective fiction and the character she created, Lord Peter Wimsey, wrote such a work or two regarding Christianity, though it's not clear that she felt she did.  One of them is called The Mind of the Maker, which I'm currently reading.

When I say it's not clear she felt she was writing as an apologist I refer to the somewhat irritated preface of that book, in which she complains that another work she wrote was taken to be in the apologetic line when it was not; it was, she maintains, simply an effort to explicate Christian doctrine, and so could not be taken as a defense of it let alone as an expression of personal beliefs.  One might infer, then, that The Mind of the Maker was similarly written as an explanation, not justification, but thus far that's an inference I find difficult to make.  I can't help but wonder if she was hedging her bets, in the hope that she could respond to any criticism of her claims by stating that they're not hers, but that of the Christian faith.

She was a friend of another apologist, C.S. Lewis.  I've read him as well, and also G.K. Chesterton.  I've been disappointed by both Lewis and Chesterton, but perhaps they didn't think they were apologists either.  Lewis struck me as illogical and gullible (in his acceptance of Christian assertions), and Chesterton struck me as someone who did not think or argue so much as relentlessly manufacture mots.

Sayers' book addresses the doctrine of the Trinity, and naturally enough references St. Augustine's De Trinitate.  It seems she feels as he felt that the concept of the Trinity is something which we can understand by analogy with similar aspects of nature, i.e. the universe, and our interaction with it.  She evidently thinks that God as creator can be understood through contemplation of the creative process engaged in by artists, including writers of fiction like herself, because artists in creation engage in a process which itself involves a trinity--Energy, Idea and Power, which come into play not necessarily in that order.  And, since this creative process involves a trinity....etc.  It's perhaps unsurprising that she associates herself with God in this fashion (although I for the life of me cannot think of God as a lawyer).

I'm not that far into the book, but already I feel myself anticipating another disappointment.  St. Augustine indulged in this sort of thing as well, finding triads of all kind in all sorts of things (for example the act of seeing) which are in or take place in nature.  Indeed, C.S. Peirce was big on triads.  The number 3 has long been considered by some to be magical or mystical.  Perhaps this means something.

However, it seems to me this imposition of categories of three on the universe is facile and artificial.  Why not categories of four or five, or more?  We can do that sort of thing with relative ease.  Impulse, Energy, Idea and Power--how's that?  Interaction, Impulse, Energy, Idea and Power.  Why not?

She responds to critics who maintain that God should not be compared to humans and ascribed human characterises by claiming that we're always anthropomorphizing.  I suppose we do, or at least do so quite often.  It doesn't follow from this, though, that God should be ascribed human characteristics, nor does it follow from this that God shouldn't be thought of as having certain human characteristics in particular.

She maintains that biblical claims that God punishes not only sinners but their innocent descendants doesn't really mean that God does anything of the sort.  It is rather a metaphor reflecting the fact that certain conduct results in adverse consequences which continue over time.  Metaphor and analogy abound in Christianity, of necessity as we cannot truly understand the divine.

Well, at this time I sigh and go on reading.  But it seems to me that the efforts of these apologists consist in ignoring that which they purport to defend, or interpreting it in manner which requires they disregard it "as is."  That's been going on for some time.  In my reading so far, apologists for established religions have invariably expounded on claims and constructed arguments which, if they are valid, don't require the acceptance of aspects of those religions which render them unique and which are seemingly essential to them in the sense they make them different from other religions.

Thomas Aquinas repeated arguments for the existence of God made long before by pagan philosophers and claimed they established the existence of the Christian God, which one would think would of necessity have been different from the god of the pagan philosophers.  If the Christian God was not different, well and good, but Thomas presumably would have been loathe to make that claim.  If the Christian God is different, has the existence of a different god been proved by the philosophers? 

An apologist for a religion whose apology does not address that which distinguishes the religion does not defend or justify that religion.  Instead, the apologist establishes that he/she is unable to defend or justify its distinctive features.  The apologist unwittingly thereby puts the veracity of the religion in doubt. 

For which, no doubt, the apologist should apologize.

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