Thursday, August 9, 2012

The YouTube Heresies - In review

I am indebted to Mr. Joe Heschmeyer (the Shameless Popery) for posting one wonderful article: Misunderstanding God: Where Atheists Go Wrong in Opposing Christianity and for providing link on Fr. Barron’s work the “Youtube Heresies”.

The YouTube Heresies by Fr. Robert Barron
In review

Father Robert Barron identifies four major patterns where Atheist uses in opposing Christianity and he labeled these four as the “YouTube heresies”. (a) deep confusion about the meaning of the word “God”, (b) deep confusion about the correct manner of interpreting the Bible, (c) deep confusion about the relationship between religion and science, and finally, (d) deep confusion about the rapport between religion and violence.

Mr. Heschmeyer provides us a simplified form:

(1) a misunderstanding of what Christians mean by God – whether God is understood as the highest Being or as the ground of Being itself;
(2) a belief that Biblical literalism is the most accurate way to understand the Bible; 
(3) a belief in scientism, “the reduction of knowledge to the scientific way of knowing,” with a concomitant belief that religion and science are antithetical; and
(4) the belief that religion is invariably violent. 

The meaning of the word “God”
(a) a misunderstanding of what Christians mean by God. – whether God is understood as the highest Being or as the ground of Being itself

In his Seven Storey Mountain, Thomas Merton recalled the first time he read Etienne Gilson's The Spirit of Medieval Philosophy and encountered a philosophically sophisticated understanding of God as ipsum esse (the sheer act of being itself). He was flabbergasted because he had assumed that God was, in his words, a "noisy and dramatic" mythological being.

Again and again, in my dialogues on YouTube, I encounter the characterization of God as a “sky fairy,” an “invisible friend,” or my favorite, “the flying spaghetti monster.” This last one comes from the militant atheist Richard Dawkins, who insinuates that there is as much evidence for God as for this fantastic imaginary creature.

Almost no one with whom I dialogue considers the possibility that God is not one being among many, not the “biggest thing around,” not something that can be categorized or defined in relation to other things. Throughout his career, Thomas Aquinas insisted that God is best described, not as ens summum (highest being), but rather as ipsum esse (the subsistent act of being itself). As such, God is not a thing or existent among many. In fact, Aquinas specifies, God cannot be placed in any genus, even the genus of being. This distinction - upon which so much of Christian theology hinges - is lost on almost everyone with whom I speak on YouTube.

One of the best indicators of this confusion is the repeated demand for “evidence” of God’s existence, by which my interlocutors typically mean some kind of scientifically verifiable trace of this elusive and most likely mythological being. My attempts to tell them that the Creator of the entire universe cannot be, by definition, an object within the universe are met, usually, with complete incomprehension.

Many atheists didn't understand what serious-minded Christians mean when they say, "God." Mr. Heschmeyer wrote, if you understand “God” to be a material, invisible entity living inside the universe, then it makes sense to expect that the search for God should be like the search for the “God particle.”   So you end up with people saying things like this:

There is not clear evidence of the existence of a God in the sense that there *is* evidence of the guy next to me in the subway, or of the millions of people who live in the same city as me, by the sheer fact that I see many of them, and the artifacts they create and leave behind, every day. No one would seriously dispute their existence. People can, and do, dispute the existence of God because the artifacts that a given God would at least have left behind do not exist.

Again, this is like arguing against the existence of God on the grounds that "I have not found Him in my test tube," or like the Soviet cosmonauts' "argument" that they had found no God in outer space. If God exists He is not found in a test tube or in space. That would make Him a chemical or a meteor. The demand that non-empirical entities submit to empirical verification is a self-contradictory demand. The belief that something exists outside a system cannot be disproved by observing the behavior of that system. Thus, we Catholics simply rejected a straw-God presented by Atheist.

Biblical Interpretation
(b) a belief that Biblical literalism is the most accurate way to understand the Bible

The second ‘heresy’ has to do with the reading of the Bible. To state it bluntly, most of my conversation partners on YouTube think that Catholics approach the Bible the way Muslim approach the Koran, namely, as a text that was directly dictated by God; and they therefore conclude that the Scriptures should be interpreted in a straightforward, unequivocal manner. I have discovered, in a word, that biblical literalism is by no means restricted to the fundamentalist camp. The comedian Bill Maher’s film Religious (my commentary on which has received 130,000 visits and over 7,500 comments) is especially instructive in this regard. Maher spends much of the movie interrogating pretty simple people concerning the Genesis account of Adam and Eve and the story of Jonah and the whale, wondering how anyone in the 21st century could possibly believes such nonsense.

One of the most basic clarifications I make is that the Bible is not so much a book as a library, which is to say, a collection of texts from a variety of literary genres. The opening chapters of Genesis are religious saga; the Songs of Songs is a love poem; 1 Samuel and 2 Samuel are theologically informed history; Paul to the Romans is a letter; Daniel is an apocalypse, etc. But most of my critics want to approach each of these texts with the same set of interpretive lenses, namely, that which is appropriate to the reading of newspapers or strictly historical texts.

In regard to Scripture, this means that the Bible is his book, not ours. But the Catholic sense, of course, is that the Bible is, as Vatican II puts it in Dei Verbum (n.13), “the words of God, expressed in human language.” Given God’s unique metaphysical makeup, it is altogether possible to speak of a divine authorship that does not compete with or preclude real human authorship. But to admit human authorship means to admit cultural conditioning, historical context, the particularity of literary genre, authorial intention, etc. in a word, it is to admit the need for interpretation.

I have found that the Catholic approach to the Scriptures, which involves deep attention to genre and a keen interest in symbolic, spiritual, and allegorical styles of reading, is largely unknown.

This is another prominently featured to all Atheist argument, as if they know that we Catholics interpret each verse in the bible literally. They don’t bother to make an extra effort on how we view each book and verses in the Bible and applying it to our day-to-day life.

(c) a belief in scientism, “the reduction of knowledge to the scientific way of knowing,” with a concomitant belief that religion and science are antithetical

A third ‘heresy’ I consistently encounter is scientism, by which I mean the reduction of knowledge to the scientific way of knowing.

The sciences - and their attendant technologies - have been so massively successful that people have come, understandably enough, to see the scientific way of knowing as the only epistemological path. 

Time and again, my conversation partners on YouTube urge me to admit that the only valid form of truth is that which comes as a result of the scientific method: observing the world, gathering evidence, marshaling arguments, performing experiments, etc. I customarily respond that the scientific method is effective indeed when investigating empirical phenomena but that it is useless when it comes to questions of a more philosophical nature, such as the determination of the morally right and wrong, the assessment of something’s aesthetic value, or the settling of the question why there is something rather than nothing.

More to it, I argue that to hold consistently to scientism involves one in an operational contradiction, for the claim that all knowledge is reducible to scientific knowledge is not itself a claim that can be justified scientifically! But this appeal to metaphysics and philosophy strikes most of my conversation partners as obscure at best, obfuscating at worst.

Mr. Heschmeyer observed that, Most of the atheists who commented seem to have started from the same philosophical assumption: that you can only know what you can prove, and that all proof is scientific proof.  In this view, “real” things are things that science can prove, while “faith” refers to the obstinate, and inherently irrational, belief in those things that aren’t “real.”  

Scientism is a self-contradictory argument. Using their own standard, that it is intellectually irresponsible to accept anything that cannot be proved scientifically; and since the premise cannot scientifically prove that the only acceptable proofs are scientific proofs (therefore intellectually irresponsible). Since the claim that all truth must be scientifically provable is not itself scientifically provable, it’s self-refuting (by the claim’s own standard, it renders itself false) Mr. Heschmeyer commented. There is no empirical evidence that the only kind of evidence we should accept is empirical evidence (or the premise that only scientific proofs count as proofs is not scientific). Therefore, scientism undermines science.

[You cannot get “thou shall not steal” out of a random quantum fluctuation in the collapsing wave packet of the void. Natural science won't ever give an adequate account of the moral truths concerning human life.]

Religion and Violence
(d) the belief that religion is invariably violent. 

A fourth ‘heresy’ has to do with religion and violence, and it is probably the most powerful and deep-seated that I confront. The events of September 11, 2001, stirred up the old enlightenment-era argument that religion is invariably violent, precisely because it is irrational. It seems that since religious people cannot offer reasonable arguments for their positions, they finally have recourse only to force when they seek to propagate their faith or when they confront religious views alien to their own. I have found that the enemies of the faith are only too well acquainted with the examples of violence and misbehavior in the history of the Church: the Crusades, the Inquisition, the witch-hunts, the persecution of Jews, and to bring things up to date, the abuse of children by Catholic clergy.

Innumerable critics ask me how I could in good faith even represent an institution that is responsible for so much mayhem. Here I am compelled to make a distinction between the divine and human dimensions of the Church, between the mystical body of Christ and the deeply flawed human beings who belong to that body. In its sacraments (especially the Eucharist), its liturgy, its apostolic governance, its Scripture, its essential teachings, and in the lives of its saints, the Church is the font of living water, the spotless bride of Christ. But this holiness does not preclude the possibility of Church people, even of the highest rank, doing stupid, violent, and immoral things. I am also not hesitant in reminding my secularist critics that the worst violence in human history – that perpetrated by Hitler, Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot in the last century – was the fruit, not of religion, but of fiercely secularist and anti-religious ideologies.

Every time atheists are talking about religion, they bring up the atrocities committed in the name of religion but they tries to get Nietzsche off the hook of having atheism blamed. (The atrocities carried out by Josef Stalin, Pol Pot and many Communists who were explicitly atheistic took the view that religion was precisely the sort of malign and evil force.)

Under the dictatorship of Joseph Stalin, millions of ordinary individuals were executed or imprisoned in labor camps that were little more than death camps. Closed down over 48 000 churches, and attempted the liquidation of the entire Christian Church.  According to the declassified Soviet archives, during 1937 and 1938, the NKVD detained 1,548,366 victims, of whom 681,692 were shot - an average of 1,000 executions a day.

"Since he is of no use anymore, there is no gain if he lives and no loss if he dies"
- Pol Pot

Victims of Pol Pot's Astrocity

“The first requisite for the happiness of the people is the abolition of religion” - Karl Marx
“Atheism is the natural and inseparable part of Communism.” - Vladimir I. Lenin
“Our program necessarily includes the propaganda of atheism.” - Vladimir I. Lenin

Mr. Rod Liddle a British journalist hit the right nail. In The Trouble With Atheism, Mr. Liddle argued that atheists can be as dogmatic and intolerant as the adherents of religion. "History has shown us," he says, "that it’s not religion that’s the problem, but any system of thought that insists that one group of people are inviolably in the right, whereas the others are in the wrong and must somehow be punished." He argues, for example, that eugenic policies are the logical consequence of dogmatic adherence to Darwinism.


The second major area of concern under this rubric is the Bible itself – more precisely, those passages that seem to indicate that God commands acts of terrible violence… Not to put too fine a point on it, they wonder how I could worship or recommend to others such a wicked God.

Although Fr. Barron gave a three line of defense for this, I would rather opt to post specifically the two of them (his second and third explanation wherein he cited the argument used by Early Church Fathers – Ireneaus and Origen)

[S]ince the Bible is “the words of God, expressed in human language,” we might be sensitive to the progressive nature of biblical revelation, a theme suggested by Irenaeus in the second century. God is slowly, gradually educating the human race in his ways, and this means that he adapts himself to varying and evolving human modes of understanding. We cannot, therefore, simply isolate one passage, one moment in the Bible and say, without further explanation, this is the final revelation of God.

A third perspective – and to my mind the most important – is that the violent passage of the Bible ought to be read as spiritual metaphors, tropes for the terrible struggle between the ways of God and the ways of sin. Origen long ago commented that, in many of the biblical stories, the Israelites should be appreciated as evocative of all that is congruent with the will of God and that the enemies of Israel.

Fr. barron even further stressed that: as the Bible not so delicately puts it, he continues on the account of Saul “hewed Agag in pieces” (1Samuel15:33). Read in a purely literalistic way, this passage is brutal indeed; but read metaphorically and spiritually, its depths open up: sometimes hacking evil to pieces is the only proper measure.

Lastly, this line of resistant may also fall under the second heresy or Biblical Interpretation
- a belief that Biblical literalism is the most accurate way to understand the Bible


  1. You know, all of us in this world have the intrinsically idea of a Supreme Being. Being image and likeness unto God, it has to be according to his will. Nobody escapes this fact though, he may argue “I don’t believe,” it does not implies this expression that God does not exist. It implies only the negation of the individual, and as such, his argument falls apart. GK Chesterton put it simply “because God exist there are atheists.” Now, as for the actual condition between Revelation and Science, the conflict arises not because they, the scientist, negates God but because, the claim that the Church holds the power to dictate in all matters of our daily life. By all matters, I meant: faith, morals, and these words either directly or indirectly embraces all human activity, so it is a huge claim from the Church, and from the pope the latter claiming to have the unique authority to speak directly from God, the Trinitarian God, and this claim I will repeat it is a huge claim. Finally, and safely I can assure that the real problem between Science and Revelation falls in the authority; the problem of who has the capacity (morally and scientifically speaking) to guide human activities. This is the heart of the matter AUTHOROTY; one time Stalin asked “how many divisions that the pope has?” see, this is a struggle over the power, which has the authority to guide human activities. Anything else besides this problem is totally scrapped. A person can say whatever he/she wishes about God but, at the end, this is a problem on authority. Lastly, the preaching of the Gospel from the Church it has been shot down since 1968, the idea of democracy inside the Church is latent. As an example of my thesis we have our lovely AMchurch, and I had heard from priests the claim that the pope may err in matters of Faith and Morals. Their claim is based incorrectly on the idea, that Science as we know it has reached the peak of wisdom which it is totally false. However, many people, I shall say billions of people seen this claim as an opportunity to escape their moral obligations before the Church of God. Which it is the Catholic Church; outside of her, there is no salvation. This last claim of the Vicar of Christ, and added to his authority both have been the stumbling block for Science if you will and for the rest of the world who, persistently and due to our falling nature, are willing to use Science and some other pseudo-philosophies to disobey the AUTHOROTY. God bless in Christ our Lord

  2. Very good blog! Do you have any suggestions for aspiring writers?
    I'm planning to start my own site soon but I'm a little lost on everything.

    Would you advise starting with a free platform like Wordpress or go for a paid option? There are so many options out there that I'm totally confused .. Any ideas? Appreciate it!


Comments submitted must be civil, remain on-topic and not violate any laws. We reserve the right to delete any comments which are abusive, inappropriate or not constructive to the discussion.
Though we invite robust discussion, we reserve the right to not publish any comment which denigrates the human person.
This is a supervised forum and the Admin of CatholicPoint retains the right to direct it.
We also reserve the right to block any commenter for repeated violations

You May Like also:

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...