Sunday, March 24, 2013

The fundamentalism of those who argue Argumentum Ex Silentio

The word fundamentalist has come to have only negative connotations.  It describes someone who is stubborn, unbending, arrogant, old-fashioned, etc..  When used to describe someone of Christian belief, that word will also include connotations of bigotry, chauvinism, racism, misogyny, etc..  The word fundamentalist will inevitably come up whenever Christians of different confessions, or even the same confession argue opposing sides with social issues, particularly gay marriage and abortion.  Those who argue against gay marriage and abortion are branded as fundamentalist because they may quote Scriptures, but I would argue that those who argue for supporting gay marriage and abortion on demand are just as fundamentalist as the people they decry.

I'm a teacher of all things ancient and one of the subjects I discuss at length with my classes is mythology.  Now when you consider that mythology is the realm of the fantastic, extraordinary and irrational, one might think students would gravitate instantly to that subject, but, alas such is not always the case.  For a generation which is hooked on YouTube videos, X-box games, virtual reality and such, which are fantastic and divorced from reality, I'm amazed how they try to rationalize the mythology of the Greeks and Romans.  "Well, why didn't x do y and avoid his fate?  Couldn't Achilles and Patroclus have been more than 'just friends'?"  The problems with such questions is that we are bound by the sources and what they tell us.  To make an argument and base it on what a source doesn't say, is an argument from silence or, in Latin, argumentum ex silentio.  This is a logical fallacy:  Assuming that since the text is silent on the subject, anything, whether plausible or possible, may have happened.  Qui tacet consentire--He who is silent consents.

Fundamentalists are accused of using the words of Scripture out of context and thus their arguments are false.   Yet at the same time, if stubbornness and arrogance characterize the fundamentalists, then it equally applies to those who argue ex silentio.  A typical argument will run like this:
"The Bible says homosexuality is sinful."
"But Jesus didn't say a word about homosexuality."
"But Leviticus does."
"But Jesus didn't and his message of tolerance and forgiveness should apply even to them."
"Where does Jesus say that sinful behaviors are OK, that they should just be overlooked.  Doesn't he say to the adulterous woman: Go and sin NO MORE?"
"Jesus preached tolerance...for everyone."
"Where does Jesus preach tolerance."
"He just does"

Repeat ad nauseam.

Now, keep in mind that the Church has consistently held that homosexual relations are wrong, just as heterosexual relations are wrong outside of marriage.  Jesus said nothing about either in the Gospels, but the Church has still maintained both.  Jesus never said anything specifically about abortion either, nor did St. Paul in his writings, but the Church has consistently for 2000 years maintained that abortion is destruction of God's creation and gift.  But therein lies the problem.  Both sides essentially quote Scripture.  One quotes actual words; one quotes silence and paraphrased platitudes.  And both sides are left in exactly the same connundrum as when the argument began.

The Orthodox Church has never accepted that the Scriptures are the SOLE source of dogma and doctrine. That is why many of shake our heads whenever arguments of this sort take place when both sides make  appeals to Scripture and what Scripture says nothing about.  The Argumentum Ex Silentio fundamentalist is stubborn and unbending just as much as the Word fundamentalist is.   This is why the witness of the Church is invaluable and should not take second place to the Bible.  Keep in mind that even Scripture witnesses that the Church is the bulwark and pillar of truth, not the Bible.  And the doctrine of the Church, as St. Vincent of Lerins, rests in what was taught always, everywhere and for all time (i.e. Catholic), not based on what the Scripture says ONLY. 

The Argumentum Ex Silentio fundamentalist will never admit stubbornness, but that is exactly what he is.  He relies on what is not in the written word to justify any position he may take within Christianity, no matter how crazy and off the wall it is.  The Bible Fundamentalist will pound one phrase, one verse of Scripture and hook the word allein to it (German for alone, which is what Luther did with several of his translated passages of Romans to justify his sola gratia, sola fide heresies) as that is the end all, be all.  Both extremes leave out the Church entirely.  Both extremes leave out the Holy Spirit.  Both extremes rely on themselves as the sole authority.

I will grant that I have more sympathy for the Bible Fundamentalist with regards to the social issues specifically addressed here.  However, the Bible Fundamentalist does not have my support when he tries to excise the sacraments, the priesthood, prayers, the Divine Liturgy and offices because those aren't clearly addressed in Scripture. 

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