Friday, September 2, 2016

People Are Leaving the Church Because of YOU, Bishop Barron

Warm oval vacuum

It is emblematic of the topsy-turvy world of contemporary Catholicism that Bishop Robert Barron is now considered one of the faith's top apologists.

I cannot imagine how any apologist could be less effective at evangelizing or converting anyone, or less effective at persuading potential apostates to reconsider leaving the faith. 

Here are some of the Bishop's most well-known snippets:
  1. While there may be a hell, there's a good chance that it is empty. Whatever you do, you'll probably be saved anyway.
  2. The Crusades were wrong.
  3. Many of the most famous stories in the Bible are not literally true. But that doesn't mean they're false. The Bible should be evaluated in the same way that we evaluate the novel Moby Dick.
  4. Some people put Catholicism down, but thats not completely fair. If you look at its history, it often comes close to emulating the ideals set out by Gandhi.
  5. The best way for Christians to resist ISIS is through non-violent witness.
Any one of the above arguments or claims appears almost designed to keep you out of Church (or at least out of a Catholic Church) and back at your usual seat in the saloon.

But the problem with Barron goes deeper than that. I'm talking about his personality. Evangelization isn't just about what you say or even how you say it. It's also about you. I've known Christians (including at least one of the priests at my Church) who were so likable or compelling that they could stand on the sidewalk telling jokes or reading the telephone book or playing a fiddle, and by the end of the day, they'd have five new converts.

To me, Barron has anti-Charisma. He's so smarmy, so pretentious, so superciliously "don't you see, the Bible is true, but not true in the vulgar sense that you think," that if he were trying to convince me that A = A, I'd drop everything and become a socialist.

I know some might disagree. It is said that many  Catholics love Bishop Barron. On the other hand, few traditionalist Catholics seem to like him much.

And I admit that my dislike is almost visceral. As you might now be expecting, more of that dislike will come out below. Whether that says more about me or Bishop Barron is another question. You can be the judge of it.

In this post I want to look at one specific Barron piece - something he wrote just a few days ago for National Catholic Register, characteristically titled, Apologists, Catechists, Theologians: Wake Up!

Barron laments the fact that according to a recent study, for every one person who joins the Catholic Church, six will leave. This annoys him partly because he believes that the people leaving (or their teachers) are just not thinking.
After perusing the latest Pew Study on why young people are leaving the active practice of Christianity, I confess that I just sighed in exasperation. I don't doubt for a moment the sincerity of those who responded to the survey, but the reasons they offer for abandoning Christianity are just so uncompelling. That is to say, any theologian, apologist, or evangelist worth his salt should be able easily to answer them. And this led me (hence the sigh) to the conclusion that "we have met the enemy and it is us."
What's notable about this passage is that Barron seems to be claiming that turning things around should be easy. Those who are leaving have merely bought into dumb arguments. And any Catholic "worth his salt" should be able to effortlessly knock down those dumb arguments. Hence the sigh.

Now, I think Barron is wrong about this, or, rather, it's an extremely misleading way of presenting the problem. But for the moment let's accept it - people are leaving the Church because they are stupid, or at least because they believe really stupid things - and then pause to ask the obvious question: why is this occurring?

It's telling that Barron never answers or even asks this, though he claims that the thing has been going on for fifty years. At some point in the mid-1960's, most Catholics simply stopped being intellectual. Darn.

But all is not lost. The way to combat this now is for the few surviving Catholic intellectuals (such as Barron) to exhort the slackers to (as Barron puts it) "pick up their game."
For the past fifty years or so, Christian thinkers have largely abandoned the art of apologetics and have failed (here I offer a j'accuse to many in the Catholic universities) to resource the riches of the Catholic intellectual tradition in order to hold off critics of the faith. I don't blame the avatars of secularism for actively attempting to debunk Christianity; that's their job, after all. But I do blame teachers, catechists, evangelists, and academics within the Christian churches for not doing enough to keep our young people engaged. These studies consistently demonstrate that unless we believers seriously pick up our game intellectually, we're going to keep losing our kids . . . 
This most recent survey indicates that intellectual objections figure prominently when these drifters are asked why they abandoned their faith. My cri de coeur is that teachers, catechists, theologians, apologists, and evangelists might wake up to this crisis and do something about it.
That's three uses of the word "intellectual" in less than two paragraphs. And to underline the method, he even brings in two phrases from a foreign language - j'accuse and cri de coeur.

I think they're French.

Bishop Barron wants to be an intellectual.

Bishop Barron is not an intellectual.

He's a muddle-headed suck-up who can almost always be counted on to take his claims from the current Zeitgeist and twist them (in an insult to the Zeitgeist) into propositions that wouldn't convince a twelve-year old.
Mind you, this is by no means to imply that there are no rational warrants for belief in God. Philosophers over the centuries, in fact, have articulated dozens of such demonstrations, which have, especially when considered together, enormous probative force. I have found, in my own evangelical work, that the argument from contingency gets quite a bit of traction with those who are wrestling with the issue of God's existence. What these arguments have lacked, sad to say, are convinced and articulate defenders within the academy and in the ranks of teachers, catechists, and apologists.
You see street preachers warning passerby that they will go to hell. Little did you know that in some hidden classroom, a media bishop was getting quite a bit of traction.  

It is not an exaggeration to say that Barron thinks Catholics are exiting the Church in droves because they haven't been exposed to the argument from contingency. To call that moronic is an insult to socialists.

Let's now look at the arguments that Barron claims people cite for leaving the faith - arguments that Barron thinks are "uncompelling" - as well as considering Barron's "answers" to them. Here are the arguments in Barron's words:
  1. Modern science somehow undermines the claims of faith.
  2. Religion just seems to be the opiate of the people.
  3. Christians seem to behave so badly.
Now, as it happens, I actually think #1 is a very compelling argument. Indeed, it's probably the best argument the atheists have. Modern science does seem to undermine Christian faith. Among other things, modern science appears to contradict the claims of that centerpiece of our faith, the Bible. The Old Testament tells us that God created two human beings out of dust. One of their descendants built a huge boat and put a set of each kind of animal in it in order to save them from a world-wide flood. A few thousand years later, someone walked around the area we now call Israel performing miracles - including, among other things, raising people from the dead. In turn, He was raised from the dead and He and His mother later levitated into Heaven, etc.   

But modern science tells us that human beings evolved gradually from one-celled organisms over the course of over a billion years. At the time of the flood, there probably were 60,000 species of beetle (or whatever). It would be weird to think that those beetles scuttled into the ark on their own, and Noah would almost certainly not have had time to gather them up. If a body is truly dead, it cannot revivify itself. People's living bodies don't disappear forever into the sky. And so on.

Barron elsewhere has denied some of these "literal" Biblical claims, while reaffirming that the Bible contains deeper moral or theological truths. So, in the current piece his answer to the argument is that science and faith are completely separate entities:
(T)he sciences, ordered by their nature and method to an analysis of empirically verifiable objects and states of affairs within the universe, cannot even in principle address questions regarding God, who is not a being in the world, but rather the reason why the finite realm exists at all. There simply cannot be "scientific" evidence or argument that tells one way or the other in regard to God.
Let me make four points about the above.

First of all, this response is completely unconvincing to an atheist. Indeed, in my experience, atheists just laugh at it, as it has an almost desperate ad-hoc air about it.
Faith person: There's a gorilla in my living room. 
Atheist: No there isn't. Photographs, audio recording and chemical testing have conclusively shown that there is no gorilla in your living room. Plus he wouldn't have been able to fit through the door. 
Faith person (after thinking for a bit): He's not that kind of gorilla.
I know some of you have been exposed to that supposedly brilliant stratagem and may even think it's effective. It's not. Trust me. At most it's a postponement - a way for people who are so inclined to temporarily cling to something. In my experience, that something won't be the traditional Catholic faith, or it won't be so for long. And it's precisely one of the main responses that has been strongly put forward (contra Bishop Barron) by the Church for the last fifty years. We all know the results.  

Second, it has the effect of making the Catholic faith superfluous and unattractive. I don't know about you but I want to worship and interact with a being in the world not a reason. If all the wonderful stories in the Bible are simply fictions created for the purpose of, say, relating moral truths, it's not clear why I need anything more than those moral truths. And I do not think the argument from contingency is a sufficient replacement for Adam and Eve. Or the Moby Dick version of Adam and Eve. Or whatever.

I'm not as sophisticated as Bishop Barron.

Third, Jesus was a flesh and blood being in the world (or so the Church teaches). Indeed, that's the central Christian claim - 2,000 years ago, a time recent enough to be well-encompassed by the science of archeology, among other things, God walked on Earth as a man. I became a Christian and then a Catholic largely because I became convinced that what we might call the story of Jesus, including His resurrection, was true - not true in some goopy "spiritual" way, but true in, yes, an empirically verifiable sense, at least (contra Barron) in principle. And in turn, I can imagine evidence being discovered - they find Jesus' body along with documentary evidence indicating the whole thing was a hoax - that would, so to speak, un-convince me. I think Paul is with me on this:
And if Christ be not raised, your faith is in vain.
The authors of the Gospels explicitly assert that they were eyewitnesses to incredible events - empirically observable things that actually happened in the world - and the reason they wish to relate these events is because they want to convince you that they really happened.
But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water. He who saw it has borne witness—his testimony is true, and he knows that he tells the truth—that you also may believe.
That was written by a religious fundamentalist named John.

The logical implication of Barron's view is that this design is pointless - "an analysis of empirically verifiable objects and states of affairs within the universe, cannot even in principle address questions regarding God." This is of course a rejection of the strategy of the very founders of evangelization - an odd way for a Christian apologist to proceed.

Lastly, Barron's claim that science and faith are completely separate entities was in fact condemned by the Church as a heresy. And this wasn't in, say, the fourth-century or the middle-ages or whatever, but only three or four generations ago in Pascendi Dominici Gregis (see paragraphs 6 - 16), authored by Pope Pius X. For all of Barron's harping on the "richness" of Catholic intellectual tradition, he seems oblivious to papal encyclicals, even those penned in the 20th century by saints. Obviously, the fact that Barron's view is heretical shouldn't mean anything to an atheist (although it should mean something to Barron). But a curious atheist just might ask this question: if the Church said X a hundred years ago, but now it says (you claim) Not X, on what grounds should it command my assent now?

Moving on the second argument - "Religion just seems to be the opiate of the people" - Barron responds that you could say the same thing about Atheism.
Marx's adage, of course, is an adaptation of Ludwig Feuerbach's observation that religion amounts to a projection of our idealized self-image. Sigmund Freud, in the early twentieth century, further adapted Feuerbach, arguing that religion is like a waking dream, a wish-fulfilling fantasy. This line of thinking has been massively adopted by the so-called "new atheists" of our time. I find it regularly on my internet forums. What all of this comes down to, ultimately, is a dismissive and patronizing psychologization of religious belief. But it is altogether vulnerable to a tu quoque (you do the same thing) counter-attack. I think it is eminently credible to say that atheism amounts to a wish-fulfilling fantasy . . .
That's fine as far as it goes, but it's sort of concedes a crucial point - that Catholicism acts like an opiate (whether it is or not). Ask a traditional Catholic mother of eight kids whether she thinks of her faith as an opiate. Or ask a nun or a priest or anyone who has made great sacrifices for their faith. To paraphrase the only baptized Catholic American president (who was speaking on a different issue), "we choose to become Catholics not because it is easy but because it is hard." But we do it of course because it is worth doing. That may not convince your atheist friend over the course of one beer, but it's much more compelling than "so's your Momma" (tu quoque).

By the way, Barron gets his intellectual history wrong. Marx wasn't "of course" adapting Feuerbach. Yeah, I've read a bit of Marx in between comic books. Barron is really not much of a scholar (though he wants you to think that he is). Not that that's here nor there but still.

To the last argument - "Christians seem to behave so badly" - Barron basically just says, "so what?"
God knows that the clergy sex abuse scandals of the last 25 years have lent considerable support to this argument, already bolstered by the usual suspects of the Inquisition, the Crusades, the persecution of Galileo, witch-hunts, etc., etc. We could, of course, enter into an examination of each of these cases, but for our purposes I am willing to concede the whole argument: yes indeed, over the centuries, lots and lots of Christians have behaved wickedly. But why, one wonders, should this tell against the integrity and rectitude of Christian belief? Many, many Americans have done horrific things, often in the name of America. One thinks of slave owners, the enforcers of Jim Crow laws, the carpet bombers of Dresden and Tokyo, the perpetrators of the My-Lai Massacre, the guards at Abu-Graib Prison, etc. Do these outrages ipso facto prove that American ideals are less than praiseworthy, or that the American system as such is corrupt? The question answers itself. 
Relatedly, a number of young people said that they left the Christian churches because "religion is the greatest source of conflict in the world." . . . this view has seeped into the general consciousness, but it simply does not stand up to serious scrutiny. In their exhaustive survey of the wars of human history (The Encyclopedia of Wars), Charles Phillips and Alan Axelrod demonstrate that less than 7% of wars could be credibly blamed on religion . . .
This is a popular sort of line (which is why Barron takes it) but it's not satisfactory. If Catholicism is true, one would expect it to make better people (in general or on average). Not perfect people, but better people. None of the Christian fathers or medieval theologians would have denied this. And one would also expect the great Catholic causes (or what were perceived to be great causes at the time by Catholics) to be meritorious.

On the subject of the Crusades, they were one of the central events of the Catholic experience for hundreds of years, approved and participated in by a long line of popes, saints and other prominent Catholics during the height of the Church's power. To condemn the Crusades - as Barron does elsewhere (and not merely for the sake of argument) - gives powerful ammunition to the anti-Catholic side. Even worse, it once again takes away one of the more powerful arguments for being a Catholic. For hundreds of years, we defended European civilization, at great sacrifice of blood, from a barbaric civilization worshipping a cruel and false god. What was your side doing, nailing narcissistic manifestos to doors and bitching in the salons?

Or so most Catholic apologists would have argued  . . . previous to about fifty years ago.

G.K. Chesterton, who Barron loves to quote, was an enthusiastic booster of the Crusades. Worse for Barron, he was in a sense an enthusiastic booster of religious wars. Or more accurately, Chesterton made the quite logical claim that if one's Catholic faith is the most important thing in the world (which of course it should be for any Catholic), then if anything is worth fighting for, shouldn't that be at the top of the list?

Christ and His Church are worth fighting for. Or rather, if you don't see me proclaiming that, how good an advertisement is that for my faith? If I said my wife wasn't worth fighting for, what would that say about my wife? And what would that say about me? 

Barron has recently come out as a seeming pacifist - a stance in clear opposition to historical Christian and Catholic teaching - arguing that "the non-violent stance" is the best response to ISIS aggression. For our purposes, that's another mark against his "apologetics." Most people will be repelled by this irrational sounding claim. As for the minority of Gandhi devotees who might sympathize, we might ask what reason they have to become Catholics as opposed to Hindus? After all, Hindus can still use the argument from contingency.

How does all this cash out, so to speak, on the ground? I wager that my Church - a non-SSPX traditionalist Church in downtown Chicago - is one of the only Catholic churches in the Chicago area where the majority of the parishioners believe both in the literal existence of Adam and Eve and the justice of the Crusades. Or in other words, we're one of the only churches where most of its members believe what the Church itself went out of its way to explicitly profess for the first 98% of its existence.  It's not a coincidence that my Church leads Chicago in promoting vocations, or that parish membership as well as non-parishioner attendance is thriving.

Traditional Catholic teachings are attractive, much more attractive than the post-Vatican II liberal-conservative synthesis popularized by Bishop Barron. You don't get Christians excited by claiming to be as good as Gandhi. You get them excited by claiming that the poorest soul at Catholic Mass has something infinitely greater than Gandhi ever had.   

Conversely, people are leaving the Church because of "apologists" like Barron. The people ask for bread and are given stones (though the Bishop would no doubt excitedly claim that Catholic stones are no worse than other stones). Barron shouldn't be giving lessons in apologetics; he should be taking them.

But I would be happy if he would just shut up.


  1. Is Barron the guy who had the TV show where he walked around with a goofy grin looking up at the cosmos? Or churches? I get him and Carl Sagan confused. Barron is the Catholic Carl Sagan, I think. It doesn't matter. I don't like either one of them. I'd like to play Bear Basketball with Barron, though.

    1. 1. I think you're right about the show. I've never watched it in its entirety. I was repelled by a clip I saw where Barron sucked up to Archbishop (abortion is blessing) Tutu.

      2. What is Bear Basketball, as opposed to just plain basketball, or should I as a human, not ask?

    2. I would like to give a thumbs up to the Bear.


  2. "Traditional Catholic teachings are attractive, much more attractive than the post-Vatican II liberal-conservative synthesis popularized by Bishop Barron. You don't get Christians excited by claiming to be as good as Gandhi. You get them excited by claiming that the poorest soul at Catholic Mass has something infinitely greater than Gandhi ever had."
    Well that's it in a nutshell.

    If the message is authentic, God must work to open up the dull intellects and lost souls by grace, so that even wooden-headed sinners (as I once was) perk up and start to pay attention. You can't hold their attention with NewChurch. Won't happen, it's too boring. Barron here understands there isn't enough to hold interest, as he gives the educational elites contemporary line "young people need to be engaged" (entertained) But that's not it at all, and as long as this is the only trick they come up with the church will continue to hemorrhage, which is tragic, but sadly pleasant to observe. There is something horribly gratifying about seeing the rotten ship going down with the rotten captain and crew, even if one is also onboard.

  3. "...leaving the Church...."

    To go where? My (certainly not statistically verifiable) experience has it that those who 'leave the Church' simply go to another one--typically, a non-denom 'do-good/feel-good' outfit.

    Further (again, not statistically verified), they 'leave the Church' because of issues beneath the beltline: divorce/remarriage or birth control.

    I suspect that all the rest of the arguments which +Barron presents as coming from the 'leavers' are smokescreens, by and large.

  4. Well, the argument from contingency was deemed essential by St. Thomas in his attempt to convert the Gentiles of his day (Jews and Muslims), so I tend to think that this argument, and the rest of the quinque via, are a good approach.

    1. That sounds odd to me. Do you have a source for it? Among other things, the argument can be used (and was) by Jews and Muslims as well as Christians. It allegedly proves the existence of a God, not the "christian" God per se. So why would it be thought essential or even useful to convert other non-christian theists?

    2. The five ways of Aquinas are at the very beginning of the Summa and are simply meant to convince that the one God exists through philosophical reasoning. It's not until question 27 of the Summa that he even attempts to deal with convincing the reader of the Christian God (Trinity, the persons, etc.). Aquinas follows the natural progression through baby steps. So in a sense you could say the five ways are "essential" to make an atheist concede that there is a God through reason, before taking it to the next level to convince of the Christian God through divine revelation. To your point, you could skip over the five ways if you are dealing with a non-Catholic theist who already believes that there is one God.

  5. And because of all your "conservative" compromise friends.

  6. The faith is not merely an intellectual experience or process, and certainly has not been for most Catholics through the ages. But the reduction of it to such an exercise has been going on for centuries in the West. In the 60's, it just finally reached its natural endpoint when The Asteroid hit.

    I wonder if His Excellency has read Geoffrey Hull's THE BANISHED HEART. If he hasn't, he should.

  7. "Bishop Barron is not an intellectual." Bp. Barron is, I think, what Tod Lindberg would call a Middlebrow Intellectual - an ecclesiastical equivalent of Bill Moyers.

    With a similar demeanor to Moyers, come to think of it.

    1. Excellent point. I think that nails it.

    2. That goes back to a Lindberg piece in National Review back in 1989 (I think) picking apart Moyers' PBS programs, like The Power of Myth and A World of Ideas.

      Of course, public intellectuals, as such a phenomenon exists, quite often are just "middlebrow" intellectuals. It becomes a problem when they're no longer aware of it, and attempt to claim that they are something more. And it is sobering to appreciate the decline when you contrast what passes for Catholic public intellectuals attempting apologetics today with what was on tap in the first half of the 20th century, let alone any time before it.

    3. True. I am not a towering Catholic intellect nor philosopher, nor skilled apologist, but I know one when I hear one. Fulton J. Sheen comes to mind. Oh, for him to be here for a day! I believe he would lay these men out in lavender, pun not intended, but darn, how appropriate!

  8. This cult of Chesterton among neo-catholics like Barron and Mark Shea is perplexing. Chesterton wrote SO much, it's pretty easy to cherrypick the optimistic universalist stuff they like best. But you really have to be selective to manage to avoid Chesterton's combative, downright bare-knuckled character. He was no pacifist; does no one but me remember that he walked the streets of London carrying a sword stick?

    I think they want to reduce him to a jolly "beer and bacon" rollicking fat man. I really don't know if Chesterton would convert to the Catholic Church today. Everything he condemned the Anglican Church for in his time is now true of Catholicism. If he did convert, it would have to be for completely different reasons than those he gave back in the 1920s.

    1. Yes, "the jolly 'beer and bacon' rollicking fat man." (!) Everyone wants to claim Chesterton. I don't know if you saw this on the blog back in January, but it's a rare video clip of Chesterton being inducted into the Holy Cross Crusader Society:

    2. I saw that! The first time I've ever heard GKC's voice. It is a little higher than I expected, and the accent is more educated than any voice you'll hear on British airwaves today. I was struck by how quickly and fluidly he spoke - no awkward stumbling or slowness.

  9. The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.

    1Samuel 16:7

  10. Using macaronic seems kinda kiddish; I don't think this guy has much experience. At least that's my prima facie opinion, lol.

  11. In your well known snippets of Barron, you state the following: "there may be a hell, there's a good chance that it is empty. Whatever you do, you'll probably be saved anyway." I think this is straw manning his position a little bit. He follows the Von Balthasar proposal which states that we can "hope for" or that it's theoretically "possible" that all are saved. This is not the same as saying there is a "good chance" that hell is empty. Von Balthasar enthusiasts will defend him saying that Von Balthasar most certainly believed that people were in hell, but that he was merely saying its within the realm of orthodoxy to believe it is possible that all are saved. And I have never heard Bishop Baron say that "whatever you do, you will probably be saved anyway." You need to be fair and accurate when quoting his position.

    With all that said, I still think the Von Balthasar position is erroneous. He starts with the premise that we can't judge any one particular soul to hell because we don't ultimately know the state of their soul with 100% accuracy at the moment of death. Which is fair if we take the beginning of Matthew 7 seriously. So I can't point at one person and say he is for sure going to hell. And I can't point at the next person and say he is going to hell. So the Von Balthasar position simply extrapolates this notion to every soul that ever lived or ever will live and says that it's theoretically possible all are saved. The problem of course is that we have direct words from Jesus and other parts of scripture that imply people are indeed in hell (the narrow gate that few choose, wailing and gnashing of teeth, etc.). So although we can't know which souls are in hell, there most certainly are souls in hell. The Von Balthasar position flies in the face of many church fathers who believed hell was more populated than heaven (like Augustine). The Summa implies souls are in hell as well. Check out Summa I, Q. 19, A. 6. and Summa I, Q. 23, A. 7, Reply 3.

    It's a shame that Aquinas has been replaced in seminaries with Von Balthasar, Rauner and Maritain. We should have listened to Garrigou-Lagrange's warnings about the new theology.

    1. Garrigou-Lagrange's The Principles of Catholic Apologetics ought to be required reading once again. Of curse, that would require seminaries and STD programs that still rigorously engaged Aquinas in the first place.

      Bp. Barron is always careful to clarify that Balthasar only adverted to a "hope," not an assurance, or even a likelihood, that all men are saved. But I also think that in the tone of his apologetics discourse on salvation, "likelihood" seems often implied, and he rarely seems to insert sobering caution on this point. In any event, as you say, even on its most restrained reading, Balthasar is extremely difficult if not impossible to square with Church doctrine (let alone the overwhelming witness of the doctors and Fathers of the Church, just as he is on Christ's descent into hell on Holy Saturday, as Lyra Pitstick has demonstrated so powerfully.

    2. You are of course right that one has an obligation to treat the arguments of one's opponents (perhaps especially one's opponents) fairly. The tone of my way-too-long piece varies somewhat, and points 1-5 contain hyperbole that wouldn't fly in an academic paper. (See point 4 on Gandhi).

      But in turn, Barron claims to be doing apologetics work, not academic argument. So I think it's the effect of his remarks, not what they may technically say or not say that really matters.

      But that said, and after rereading and reviewing what Barron has said about hell, I do not think I was unfair. And with respect, if I may say it, I think you are way too indulgent here with his arguments. Or rather, what you charitably out forward is certainly a more acceptable spin on them but not what he actually wrote or said.

      For his part, Barron has been extremely unfair in reacting to his opponents. At one point he equated a defense of the traditional position on hell (taken recently by Ralph Martin) to dissent on Humanae Vitae. Quite honestly, I think this is so cunningly and slanderously dishonest as to verge on the demonic. See:

      But I appreciate your comments. This post was so damn long that it may be enough, but perhaps a future short analysis on Barron and hell is in order, with fewer jokes or whatever.

    3. That's fair. Perhaps I did give too positive of spin, but even with the positive spin on his outlook on hell and Von Balthasar, it still falls short as I mentioned. I just wanted to be fair on his actual position, and I may have given him too much of the benefit of the doubt.

      I forgot about the comparison to Humanae Vitae with Ralph Martin. Here was my understanding and I'm more than happy to be corrected if I get this wrong. I don't believe he was saying that you must ascribe to the Von Balthasar theory, but that you have to at least admit that the Von Balthasar theory is possible and within the realm of orthodoxy. In other words, you are well within your right to believe the traditional doctrine on hell like Ralph Martin, but you have to at least accept the Von Balthasar position as an orthodox possibility. This is different than denying or condemning the traditional doctrine of hell. As I pointed out above though, I don't think the Von Balthasar position is within the realm of orthodoxy anyway. So in my attempt to make Baron look not as bad, we still end up at the same ultimate conclusion that he got this one wrong. So it's kind of a pointless defense on my part and not worth the argument.

      On a random side note, I enjoyed the refreshing posts on the Olympics!

    4. " have to at least admit that the Von Balthasar theory is possible and within the realm of orthodoxy."

      Which is actually something I am loathe to do.

      No, Balthsar's works on this question have not been formally anathematized (but then again, who gets anathematized at all these days?). But I find it impossible to square with existing magisterial teachings on hell and salvation.

      None of which justifies the bizarre attack Barron launched on Ralph Martin, as Msgr Pope did well to point out.

    5. I agree with you. I'm not a theologian, but I don't see how Von Balthasar can be squared with earlier magisterial teaching. I was trying to give Baron's rationale for defending Von Balthasar, but I think it falls short. Baron claimed on a podcast that Von Balthasar begins with Aquinas in his thinking. However, I provided two quotes from the Summa (see my earlier reply) that shows clearly that Aquinas can't be squared with Von Balthasar on his teaching on hell. The Augustinian approach to predestination and the slightly modified Augustinian approach by Aquinas are nowhere near Von Balthasar's novel invention.

    6. I just wrote a (much shorter) piece on Barron and Hell that I might public tomorrow. The thrust is that whether or not his view is within the realm of orthodoxy, it's not even internally coherent.

      I watched the main video again and became even more annoyed (if that's possible), partly because I think he blatantly mischaracterizes the intellectual history, implying that there was always this sort of even back and forth in the Church between the standard position and universalism. But that's really not true.

      Here's the (Protestant) historian of Christianity, Richard Bauckham:

      "The history of the doctrine of universal salvation (or apokatastasis) is a remarkable one. Until the nineteenth century almost all Christian theologians taught the reality of eternal torment in hell. Here and there, outside the theological mainstream, were some who believed that the wicked would be finally annihilated (in its commonest form, this is the doctrine of 'conditional immortality'). Even fewer were the advocates of universal salvation, though these few included some major theologians of the early church. Eternal punishment was firmly asserted in official creeds and confessions of the churches. It must have seemed as indispensable a part of universal Christian belief as the doctrines of the Trinity and the incarnation. Since 1800 this situation has entirely changed, and no traditional Christian doctrine has been so widely abandoned as that of eternal punishment. Its advocates among theologians today must be fewer than ever before. The alternative interpretation of hell as annihilation seems to have prevailed even among many of the more conservative theologians. Among the less conservative, universal salvation, either as hope or as dogma, is now so widely accepted that many theologians assume it virtually without argument."

      I think Bauckham himself is a bit misleading on the post 1800 history. Among other things the Catholic Church itself has obviously never officially embraced universalism (even though some of its theologians have). But I guess he's talking more about individual well-known Christian theologians.

      Thanks for your comment on the Olympics pieces. They were fun to write.

  12. I'm still reading through this post. Another great point:

    But a curious atheist just might ask this question: if the Church said X a hundred years ago, but now it says (you claim) Not X, on what grounds should it command my assent now?

    I often come back to this point. It usually comes up in the context of progressive claims that the Church *has* changed its teaching on some key points, so we shouldn't get bent out of shape when they're trying to change - er, "develop" - another one. Most commonly they advert to teachings on slavery, usury, religious freedom, heliocentrism, etc. (John Noonan being one of the most prominent advocates). The correct response, of course, is that the Church has not changed formal doctrine on any of these questions - I won't belabor that point.

    But the outsider's response is going to be: "Look, if a doctrine has changed, the Church was either wrong THEN, or it is wrong NOW. Which is it? And whatever the answer is, why should I accept any of its claims if it has gotten it wrong on basic questions like these?"

    At which point, if the conversation continues at all, you will get some sort of Rahnerian shuffle about contingent structures and experiences. But that's not exactly compelling to the outsider, either. Because it looks like just what it is: an intellectual dodge. Which is, unfortunately, what too often seem sto characterize the posture of Bishop Barron, as I think you rightly point out here.

  13. This article hits home. (It's all good analysis, BTW.) My 17-yr-old son got seized upon by atheistic robbers such as Dawkins and Hitchens. It's my fault for letting him have Youtube at 16. Or it's my fault for raising him in a strict Traditional school with the Latin Mass. In any case, we aren't short on apologetic material he could read or short of faithful and knowledgeable Catholics he could consult. But he's not interested in getting answers.

    With him, it's that science has the truth and religious people are hypocrites, warmongers, etc. Of course, we can all see through it, but he can't and won't. When presented with contradictions, such as how commie atheists murdered more in a century than in all of human history, he just says he's a different type of atheist. The real dilemma for him is that he hasn't shed the grace to know right from wrong. It can't sit well with him that Dawkins advocates murdering defective kids. He also admitted that Mother Teresa did good works, contrary to Hitchens. So what's the problem? Bad information, but more, weakness of will.

    Apologetics is in bad shape since the Church abandoned St. Thomas and apostatized at Vatican II. The bishops and popes are evolutionists, and can't actually answer a Dawkins. My son saw the "debate" with Pell and Dawkins. When the latter brought up Original Sin and rubbed Pell's face in it, it was all over. That's a shame because of all people, a Cardinal should be able to deftly rake Dawkins over the coals and expose what a blowhard he is. Hence, there's the much bigger problem of purging the hierarchy of Teilhardians, such as Ratzinger and Pope Francis, but that will take decades.

    1. Rebellion goes with the territory, as I'm sure you know. Give him time and a good example. He'll likely come around to the truth.

    2. Yes, that Pell vs. Dawkins debate was depressing. I think the New Atheists are quite effective "evangelists" for their cause - much more than Barron, although I know many might disagree. And I think many of their arguments are good ones given their premises. The problem to me is that the premises are too easily conceded. It's sad when a Dawkins seems to understand the doctrine of Original Sin better than a Cardinal.

      I wasn't raised as a Catholic so I might be asking you for "apologetics" tips in a few years. My oldest kids just turned 5, and I just have no idea what they'll face when they are teenagers. With all the challenges that Catholic parents will always have, I just wish we at least had the Church on our side.

    3. You're right, Kathleen. I'll take it as a good sign that we have another year with him at home. I'm not as bothered as his mother. It can be good for him to stare out into the abyss for awhile.

      Oakes - stay the course, keep the faith, love your wife. You'll find all you need.

  14. RE: The Bible cf. USCCB: God, the author of Sacred Scripture borrowed the plot of Gn 2–11 (creation, the flood, renewed creation) from creation-flood stories in Mesopotamian literature -

  15. I think most old recordings replay at a higher pitch for some reason.

  16. re: "the only baptized Catholic American president" - Ronald Reagan was baptized Catholic as an infant but was not raised in the Faith and there is a rumor that Washington was baptized a Catholic on his deathbed. I know, I'm being pedantic.

    1. Good to point out, but as I understand it, the claim about Reagan is in dispute. Do you have a definitive source?

      Most people call JFK the first and only Catholic president, but I didn't want to formulate it that way as he was such a bad Catholic in so many ways.

      That said, he made some wonderful and inspiring speeches, including the one I was referring to.

    2. I have a dear older friend who is a (piously) devout Catholic interested in my re-conversion to the Catholic faith despite my animosity and revulsion for Catholicism for more than fifty years.("Tennessee Go-Fasters & Papal Disasters" on At 74, I have tasted the duplicity and witnessed the abysmal corruption of the wealthy Catholic Church remaining embittered and outraged and cynical. Obviously this has not been good for my mental and/or spiritual health. The Catholic Church's openly sexual and monetary corruption with seeming infallible Papal protections against legal reprisals should be condemned and shuttered worldwide for the public safety. I was earnestly referred to Bishop Barron's recent utube "sermons" which purport to encourage angry Catholics not to abandon their wavering "faith" despite their church ("the Holy See") sputtering with visible moral pollution from the unprecedented wealth of the Vatican celibates to the empty benches of the local diocese with the occasional pedophile priest. Bishop Barron admits to an astonishing 37 percent drop-off of Catholic believers in the worldwide Catholic population and further testifies the Catholic Church is possessed of the Devil. Well, that's easy to see! But fear not! Barron says...Stay for the Holy Eucharist! That's his purposeful Catholicism in a nutshell. And continue to pray.....and buy his videos and send them to all of your Catholics friends who have left or are contemplating their angry exits...THIS, less than inspiration and aspiration from a man of the soiled cloth. But God bless him anyway. He is doing his moral best.

  17. Folks might find the following interesting:

    The money quote, in my opinion: "Cradle Catholics are leaving because they are too smart not to perceive the irrelevance of what they see and hear from their prelates every week. Converts leave for these and many other reasons, not the least of which is the budding suspicion that they have been seriously deceived by the apologists who argued them into the Church."

  18. Fr. Borron needs to read this:
    And listen to this:

  19. "Bishop Barron wants to be an intellectual.

    "Bishop Barron is not an intellectual."


    "He's a muddle-headed suck-up who can almost always be counted on to take his claims from the current Zeitgeist and twist them (in an insult to the Zeitgeist) into propositions that wouldn't convince a twelve-year old."



  20. One more thing:

    Throughout this whole conversation, one thing is telling. Nobody -- neither Barron nor his critics -- have mentioned the Gospel. Do you know why Catholic growth is minus-5, given the Pew stats? It's because the Catholic Church has effectively stopped teaching the Gospel. I sincerely doubt most Catholic bishops, let alone priests or laity, knows what the Gospel is (beyond some vague concept of "good news"). I doubt if any of the above-mentioned parties knows what the significance of Jesus' ministry, death and resurrection is. I'm deadly serious about this.

    Aquinas was brilliant but just reading him will not lead anybody to faith in Jesus as Messiah. Faith is not merely an intellectual proposition, as all-too-many intellectuals (and pseudo-intellectuals like Barron) would like to suggest. We are to love God with our whole mind, heart and soul. That describes passionate commitment and fundamental trust in God's character and integrity. It means taking Jesus' claims seriously, Barron or no Barron. It means going after God's own heart and not just relying on denominational or theological group identity. It means something that the Barrons of this world cannot in any way comprehend.

    BTW, have you noticed that the Catholic Church is losing adherent despite the growth of professional apologetics ministries??? The plot thickens....

  21. I think you MIGHT enjoy my blog Assorted Retorts:

    1) "I was listening to Robert Barron, a man who has more goodwill than knowledge and wisdom in my opinion. I came across some anti-Catholic hate speech."

    See this post: ... on Child Abuse and Enemies of Catholicism (and Why Some of Them Want Me Locked Up)

    2) "Biblical History was already in everyone's hands. Historia Scholastica was translted into vernacs As said, Historia Scholastica by Petrus Comestor was translated into several vernaculars and this with the full blessing of the Church. No Flemish Inquisition was burning the Rijmbijbel, which was a Flemish translation of Historia Scholastica. And obviously Petrus Comestor with his Flemish translator (and his colleagues for other vernaculars) took Genesis 1-11 as very literal history."

    I felt I had to say above under "on Protestantism and Authority", by, guess who, and it led to the dialogue on this post: ... against Two Protestants on Protestantism, Specifically Baptism and Waldensians, and on Inquisition

    3) This one is directly related to what RB himself said: ... against false sophistication of the Robber Baron of Theology

    4) So is this one, and to an already mentioned video: ... on Authority, Protestantism, Genesis (answering Robert Barron)

    5) And unlike that man, I do believe Hell and its fire exist: ... on Hell Fire (Yes, it Exists)