Oxymoron means “sharp dullness”. It describes a figure of speech when two words are put together which are self-contradictory. For example, “accurate rumors” is an oxymoron. Why? Because by definition, a rumor is not yet deemed to be accurate. Other examples could include: “insane logic”, “public secret”, “instant classic”, or my favorite, “government intelligence”. However, over the years I have come to believe that “Roman Catholic Scholarship” is an oxymoron. I don’t believe that one can be a Roman Catholic and be a scholar at the same time. Well, let me put it another way: I don’t believe that one can be a true Roman Catholic and be a scholar at the same time. Why, because being a Roman Catholic militates against what makes someone a scholar in my opinion.
I know, I know . . . I don’t ever write this this. Well, this polemical. It seems as if I am discrediting Roman Catholic scholarship with a heavy hand by an ad hom fiat. Please know that this is not what I mean to do. There are going to be plenty of people thrown under the bus with this one. In fact, let me start by saying this: there are many Roman Catholics I deeply respect. I am not anti-Catholic. As well, there are many Roman Catholic’s who I believe qualify as scholars. However, once they become a scholar (and I am talking about theology here), as I will explain, they have to depart to some degree from Rome. I am not saying that they actually depart from their core Catholic beliefs. I am simply saying that they must suspend their commitment to Rome in order to meet what I believe to be an essential characteristic of scholarship.
Most of you would not think of yourself as scholars. I understand that. I don’t think of myself as such either. However, I would assume that you attempt to be good students. Namely, you attempt to be students of truth.
Let me back up a bit.
Rene Descartes and Doubt
Rene Descartes is often thought of as the father of modernity. He gets a bad wrap these days, especially by our postmodern and emerging friends. I think some of the bad wrap is justified. Particularly his quest for indubitably. How is that for a word? Don’t try to say it out loud at home. Indubitably is the quest for absolute and perfect certainty. Rene Descartes (and many of his modernistic buddies) wanted their beliefs to be beyond the ability to be wrong. Like 1 plus 1 equals 2, Descartes wanted all matters of faith to share such comforting certainty (indubitably). I can’t get into all the fallacies here, but let’s just say that this quest was not only impossible, but unnecessary. Our beliefs do not have to be infallible before we are justified in possessing them. However, Descartes methodology had many redeeming elements that provide benchmarks of inquiry, learning, and knowledge. The first and most important thing that Descartes taught was that we are to doubt. Doubt everything!
Doubt gets a hard wrap in religious circles. In fact, we are often told that the opposite of faith is doubt. For many, doubt is only what unbelievers do. It is true that doubt can be a bad thing, but it largely depends on the context and how you understand it. Doubt can be, and very ofter is, healthy. In fact, I argue that doubt is a necessary first step to true conviction, understanding, and real faith. Let me explain. Continue reading