Friday, August 21, 2009

Bad ways to argue against Roman Catholicism

When the Da Vinci Code was coming out, I met with an evangelical who declared that he was surprised I was arguing against the movie because "it was against Roman Catholicism." I replied that, while it was true that the book contained criticism of the Roman Catholic Church, those criticisms were in fact mostly arguments against all Christianity. I expect that the majority of readers know that the Da Vinci Code contains the claim (repeats the claim might be a better way of putting it) that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene and they had a child. Parrotting such strange fantasies as The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail, Dan Brown's book claimed that the early Church believed that Jesus was just a man, and that the deity of Christ was a doctrine imposed on the Church by Constantine at the Council of Nicea in the 4th century.

I told him so, and he went on his way. But a recent e-mail to Fighting for the Faith has set me thinking, and starting Gail Riplinger's original New Age Bible Versions (Ararat, VA, AV Publications Corp, 1995) has confirmed the need to say something about this. There are, sadly, a lot of Protestants who think that as long as they have an argument against Roman Catholicism, it must be valid. As a result they do not consider however the wider implications of the argument and the reasoning behind it.

The example of this referred to by the correspondent was The Two Babylons by Alexander Hislop, which she recommended enthusiastically. As Hislop was writing in the 1850s, we don't want to treat him too harshly. After all, he was a minister in the Scottish Highlands in the mid-19th century, and not an achaeologist, historian or anthropologist. The state of knowledge about the ancient world was sketchy at the time, and it takes time for information to travel from London and Edinburgh to Arbroath. The fact of the matter is, however, that the book is far more a work of the imagination than an account of the realities of Babylonian mythology. Hislop's vivid imagination constructed a complex web of connections between the ancient Babylonian religion and the worship of the Roman Catholic Church. The book seemed very convincing to many at the time, and is still accepted as such by many Protestants today.

Sadly, the fact is that there is no informed scholar today who would describe the Babylonian religion the way Hislop does. I'm not an archaeologist, but I know a bit about the subject from reading widely, and I know an archaeology student at one of England's top universities. I have read somewhat in the mythology of the pagan world, including Egypt and the Middle East. A lot has been learned since Hislop's death, remember! The genetic fallacy and the fallacy of false etymology are committed often by Hislop. Scottish words are derived from Chaldean roots, and pagan gods from widely separated cultures identified with one another where there is no connection. In fact, if Hislop is to be believed, practically all pagan gods are Nimrod, and practically all goddesses his wife Semiramis (in fact there is no evidence that Nimrod and Semiramis were around at the same period in history, let alone that they were married). Hislop wrongly dated the rise of the Mystery Religions to pre-Christian times when most modern scholars would date them to after the time of Christ, and thus brings in ceremonies that post-date Christ as coming from Babylon.

Hislop is a source of the argument that the letters 'IHS' stand for the Egyptian triad of Isis, Horus and Set. There are two problems with this. First of all, Isis and Horus are associated with Osiris, whose brother Set was, secondly, Set (or Sutekh), is the evil god who murdered Osiris, but his body up, and usurped his throne. As anyone with any knowledge of Egyptian mythology (or the Doctor Who story 'Pyramids of Mars') knows. It seems Hislop had to hunt around for an Egyptian god whose name begins with 'S'!

In the course of his argument, Hislop proposed that Constantine had merged the official Roman paganism with Christianity. Now, he was an orthodox Presbyterian and held to the Westminster Confession. But his arguments, that the religion of the Roman Catholic Church was mostly derived from paganism, and that Constantine corrupted Christianity, have been picked up on to attack not Roman Catholicism, but the Church of Jesus Christ. Writers hostile to all Christianity followed Hislop's lead, and used his method to attack Christianity itself and to argue that nothing in Christianity is original - which leads us right back to Dan Brown and the Da Vinci Code. Intending to attack the Church of Rome, Hislop has made a rod for Protestant backs. As a reviewer (Quoted in Woodrow The Babylon Connection? P. 20), wrote in 1859: "Mr. Hislop's argument proves too much. He finds not only the corruptions of Popery, but the fundamental articles of the Christian Faith, in his hypothetic Babylonian system". Others have seen just that - and acted accordingly!

Ralph Woodrow, once a supporter of the Hislop hypothesis, wrote an excellent book refuting it called The Babylon Connection? (Palm Springs, CA, Ralph Woodrow Evangelistic Association, 1997). Woodrow's original book, Babylon Mystery Religion was extremely popular, and is cited by Gail Riplinger in NABV. I recommend The Babylon Connection? to anyone who wants an in-depth analysis of what's wrong with Hislop.

[NOTE: I am NOT a supporter of Roman Catholicism, and I think it seriously flawed and unbiblical. I just don't think that it's a mythical 'Babylonian Mystery Religion' that never existed in reality'. I would point to books such as James White's The Roman Catholic Controversy; Mary, Another Redeemer?; McCarthy's The Gospel According to Rome, Svedsen's excellent Evangelical Answers. And for the voice of the Church of Rome, the Catechism of the Catholic Church. But I am also a believer in the importance of truthfulness, and the use of good arguments.]


The Puritan said...

HH, you just clearly are not yet able to discern foundational things. The Bible is simple. Satan is all through it in multiple names and manifestations and phenomena. Jesus is as well. Babylon = Satan. To see anything Babylonish in Romanism is like 2 + 2 = 4. You are still at a level of development where you hug the shore that is called the reverence for scholars and the authority of scholarship. And of course because this is absolute for you you will call me and anyone else who tells such things "anti-intellectual."

If you ever find yourself in direct spiritual warfare you will begin to see the basics of the spiritual world and everything that seemed multifarious and myriad before (as the scholars preach on and on) will be seen for what they are. And you will see clearly the difference between revering and fearing man (scholars, in the context of your post) and revering and fearing God alone. I know you will protest that you fear God, but currently you don't fear God *alone.*

Hiraeth said...

I fear, my dear Puritan, that you are unable to grasp the point, which is that we need to be ablse to discern good and bad arguments. Hislop's argument is flawed because, taken to its logical conclusion, it undermines not the Roman Catholic Church, but Christianity itself.

You also appear to miss another point. While Babylon in the Revelation clearly represents the world-system of the devil, there is also a historical Babylon which existed in the Middle East and was a state, just as the United States or the United Kingdom is today. That Babylon did not directly represent Satan any more than the Persian Empire which followed it. That means that we do not see a direct link between Roman Babylon orthe Babylon from which Peter wrote his epistle.

Satan is the force behind all false religion, but he moves in different ways. So the temple prostitute and the monk operate in very different ways, but are both inspired of Satan rather than God. To state that both are directly related through historical continuity is a poor argument, as well as just plain wrong. Not that this ever stopped anyone from trying.

Hiraeth said...

"You are still at the level of development where you hug the shore that is called the reverence for scholars and the authority of scholarship."

Some of us might opine that this is better than being all at sea.

It is also a darn sight better than reverencing the opinions of certain other people.

The Puritan said...

A Christian with the discernment of the Holy Spirit is able to navigate the open sea. Of course if you can do nothing more than hug the shore you won't be able to handle yourself on the open sea.

The Puritan said...

Maybe an American understands such metaphor better considering American Christians left the shore of the Old World and navigated the open sea all the way to the New World.

Hiraeth said...

Laddie, being 'all at sea' refers to the experience of being stuck there without a reliable chart. And those who rely on books which are quite simply bad find themselves in such a position.

It is all very well to despise scholarship, but we both know that there are books which are, quite simply, mistaken, although well intentioned, rather like the charts of the Irish coast which the sailors of the Spanish Armada possessed. Mistaking the lie of the land, they did not mention certain reefs and rocks, with the result that many galleons came to grief.

I'm really rather perplexed by your disparaging references to scholarship. Surely you must be aware that there is such a thing as believing scholarship as well as unbelieving scholarship?

The Puritan said...

As I stated in another thread, because your fear and reverence of man (scholars) is currently absolute for you you will (despite yourself, i.e. despite me anticipating you and letting you know you will do it) accuse me of being "anti-intellectual."

Navigating the open sea in the metaphor used requires the Holy Spirit and the Word of God, not a "reliable chart" written by an inane scholar who has never left the shore to begin with.

Highland Host said...

My dear chap, apparently you are quite willing to go with the intellectual speculations of Hislop, and parade your own intellectual accomplishments. However you cannot tell the difference between fanciful ideas (Hislop) and fact (the Roman Catholic Church as it currently exists is a manifestation of the spirit of Babylon, quite probably the chief representative therof). What Hislop does is present an argument, that argument is fallacious. Indeed, one of my concerns is that Rome could very easily, having convinced an unwary Christian that Hislop is wrong, draw that same person into her snares. I recommend that you read, for example, A.H. Sayce on Bablonian religion. Sayce was a believer and a staunch opponent of the Higher Critics, who spent much of his life excavating Biblical sites, guided by his belief in the supernatural character of the Bible

Hiraeth said...

If I accuse you of being self-contradictory, will that do instead? We are not here referring to the Bible but to poor, or rather outdated scholarship.

What you are doing is not anti-intellectual, lad, it is setting yourself up as a teacher, and rubbishing those with whom you disagree in order to make yourself appear bigger. That isn't anti-intellectual so much as self-defeating. In one place you state the value of good literature and so forth, in another you seem to be suggesting 'me and my Bible out in the woods'. (This, by the way, is a bad idea, look at what happened to Joseph Smith.)

The Puritan said...

Hiraeth, what you're doing is desperately attempting to talk about anything but the corrupt Alexandrian manuscripts and the poisonous 'bible products' based on them.

This is what happens when critical text defenders 'review' Riplinger's books. (When you types review a Hills you spend the entire review finding "ah ha!"s attempting to separate him from Bible-believing, received text Christians of today. This is what the devil does. Same with Burgon.)

You probably didn't pick up on the 'ah ha' reference. Look into the Book of Ezekiel, King James Version.

Highland Host said...

'Puritan', YOU have decided to bring up the Manuscripts, as you cannot engage with the real question in this post, namely the reliability or otherwise of the book 'The Two Babylons'. Apparently unable to deal with that, you have run away to the manuscript question. HERE the point is Hislop. Don't try to change the subject because you can't deal with criticism of his book?

I am not surprised, of course, as I know Hislop is indefensible, but if you think he's right, feel free to explain to me why.

The Puritan said...

HH, you referenced Riplinger again in this post. It's fair to point out that once again a critical text defender is talking about anything and everything other than the thesis of her books.

HH, do you believe the Pope is the anti-Christ?

Waitaminute! said...

Who darkeneth counsel with words without knowledge?
You HH concerned with truthfullness?
Hislop's bibliography of consulted works is impressive. But, wait a minute, some Jesuit scholar has found evidence that refutes Hislop's classic? Let's believe him!
I doubt that there is a scholar alive today that could hold a candle to Hislop. Nor a scholar that would even qualify to be on the KJV translation committee.
Also HH you erroneously stated that there were no Calvinists on the KJV committee. False! There were many. Please get your facts straight. The lack of honesty and scholarship are tedious to all.

Highland Host said...

My dear 'Waitaminute'. I never said there were no Calvinists on the KJV committee, I said quite the reverse, that there WERE CAlvinists on the committee, but there were also Anglo-Catholics. Hislop, frankly, is not worthy of being called a scholar in this matter, A.H. Sayce, an archaeologist who actually dug in Babylon, is a far better source.

I will say it again, Hislop is just NOT reliable, and his method of committing the genetic fallacy logically undermines Christianity itself. Have you ever checked what the qualifications for being on the AV committee were? One was being an Anglican and not being too Puritan.

I would have dealt with Hislop anyhow, Riplinger or not. In fact this post was edited to INCLUDE Riplinger's name, as originally written it did not. And self-evidently the question of someone's sources does affect the resultant work. If a writer uses bad sources, then the result will be less valuable than if good sources are used.