The inopportune polemicist in my email inbox

I get a lot of email, either directly or through the form on this site.  Most of it is very interesting.  Some of it makes work for me.  And sometimes I get an email which makes me rub my eyes and wonder what – or if – the author was thinking.

A couple of days ago, I had a query from someone about a page on the site.  As a postscript it asked me to explain what I thought about the catholic claims of the apostolic succession, and why we should hold to the bible, and what I thought about the period before the New Testament canon had been closed.

Now this was a bit of a nuisance.  Who is this person to me, that I should stop what I am doing in order to scribble something on these subjects? We’re all busy people.

Like most people who are not themselves Catholics – and probably like a good many who are – I don’t spend any time thinking about peculiarly Roman Catholic claims.  It’s a terrible waste of my time to do so.  They don’t impact on my world in any way.  They’re not ancient in origin, mostly arising during the medieval period, so they don’t come within my field of interest.  And, in truth, I am far more interested in history than theology.  It was a proud moment when I finally worked out what the issue was in the Nestorian dispute!  It took me a long time!

Anyway, I responded to the first query, and added a demurrer on the second.  I mildly commented that writing intra-Christian polemics was a waste of both our time in a world so bitterly hostile to Christians, and especially to the Catholic church.

If I had written a couple of days later I might have referenced the appalling episode, reported here (but not, I suspect, where anyone can see it), where a certain Christian street preacher in England named John Craven was approached by two boys who demanded he tell them what he thought about homosexuality.  He read the bible passage to them, and told them that God hates sin but loves the sinner.  They promptly insulted him, and denounced him to the nearest policeman.  The old man was arrested and held for 15 hours without food or water, and only released a couple of hours after that.  The courts had just awarded damages against the police.  That is the environment in which we live.  Why bother with in-fighting?

I wrote: and thought no more of the matter.

Today I received a further email, brushing aside my demurrer and reiterating and enlarging the demand.

I belong to a generation that is polite.  Ignoring someone is rude.  So, each time he demanded my thoughts, I wondered if I should at least say something briefly, out of couresy.  I thought for a moment on the subject; and found myself irritated at these presumptuous conundra, carefully crafted, not to inform, but to cause people to change their beliefs.  I found myself on the verge of defining exactly why I am not a Roman Catholic.  And this I do not wish to do.

The focus of the hate of the establishment is directed at the Catholic  Church.  It is so directed, under various pretexts, by people who simply wish to undermine its moral authority in order to promote their favoured vices.  The rest is simply eyewash.

But these same wicked men have just as  much loathing for all of us.  It is not because the Catholic church is Catholic, that it is abused.  It is because it is Christian.  Mr Craven was not a Catholic, yet the policemen felt no hesitation in arresting him.

So I don’t want to go here.  On the important points of our time, the Catholic Church has stood like a beacon in the world.  With its defects I am not concerned, since none of them affect me.

Yet this polemicist managed to get me to the edge of writing polemic against it.

It’s a warning, when we write about Christian subjects to non-Christians who seem friendly.  Just because someone is not an overt enemy does not mean that they are receptive to our arguments.  They may just be polite, and unengaged.  Unless people see Christ in us, they will not become Christians, whatever we say.

I also get protestant cranks write to me, from time to time.  I suppose everyone has the lunatic fringe.

But it’s a warning to be careful.

4 Responses to “The inopportune polemicist in my email inbox”


  1. Zimriel

    I admit: I have, once, sent our host an email that made him “rub [his] eyes and wonder what – or if – the author was thinking”.

    The topic was the Syrian-Arab Christian historian Agapius. As background: in early Christian scholarship – especially among critics and apologists of Christianity – Agapius is not read for his own sake. He is read for what he quotes of the Testimonium Flavianum. I, personally, thought, and think, this neglect of Agapius’s full work to be a shame.

    I had suggested that Agapius *also* be read for his preservation of Syrian-Christian material concerning the early years of Islam. Agapius after all brings here material much more extensive than what he preserves of the Testimonium, and early Islam is also closer to Agapius’s own time than is early Christianity. There is also the question of whether he has preserved a very old and now lost Syriac chronicle.

    But I didn’t express myself very well. I tend to get over-excited in such topics, at least in email form. (And, I suspect, in comment form too …)

    So I suggest, for the enthusiasts amongst us, from personal experience: take deep breaths, think about what you’ve just typed out, and keep it focused. This will keep your comment from looking like a polemicist wrote it.

  2. sftommy

    Often I find myself responding by asking such a questioner, “…well what do you think?” Which usually reveals their agenda in asking and helps promote a dialogue where they must defend their position rather than just launch a preplanned verbal attack.

  3. Mina Soliman

    Lord have mercy!

    I have noticed lately in the news an increase in attack against Christians based on supporting particular lifestyles. It’s mind-boggling that in a society that allegedly promotes freedom of expression or speech, we are entering into an oppression against freedom of belief. This is reminiscent of pressuring Christians to burn incense to the pagan gods or emperors.

    Whatever the case may be though, being someone of Apostolic Christian heritage, I might have engaged a bit in the person’s interests. Perhaps, the person thought, being that you are very much interested in ancient Christian history and theology, that you too might have been amenable to such claims and might have helped answer them for him.

  4. Roger Pearse

    We’re entering a dark period, I think.

    No, the correspondent didn’t want answers: he wanted to give me answers to questions I’m not asking. :-)



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