No True Scotsman

In the wake of a certain pastor’s decision to step down due to changes in his beliefs, his [former?] co-religionists are caught up in a restless sea of emotions that is totally understandable. But there are some among them who are being both irrational and uncharitable in their responses. These latter folks are suspicious that he ever really understood what he previously professed, or had moral or character defects that made him susceptible to “falling away.”

A lot of these opinions amount to nothing more than variations on the No True Scotsman fallacy. For these critics, the problem is with the one who has “fallen away.” If he hadn’t been ignorant (which criticism smells of Gnosticism…but I digress) of certain things, or if he had talked to the right people, or if he had gone to some other seminary than that one, or if he wasn’t identified with that theological camp, or if he had heart knowledge instead of head knowledge, or if his character wasn’t flawed in that way, he would still be a faithful [denomination goes here].

In other words, “no true Scotsman would ever change his views.”

But the truth is that this kind of thing does happen, even to sincere people who are sincerely seeking the truth. I suppose that anything I say about this will have the stink of being self-serving, given that I am a convert myself. But I’m willing to say it even of those who (may God forbid) abandon the Catholic Church. Surely it’s likely that some such decisions are made for illicit reasons. But it is certain that there are people going both ways across the Tiber (and other rivers) who are doing nothing more than the best that they can in seeking the truth and in seeking God. And until or unless we know their hearts, we’ve got no business judging their hearts even if we think that they are in error on the direction that they’re going.

I think it’s reasonable to offer these people help. I think it’s reasonable to offer insights and guidance. I think it’s unreasonable to pretend that defects are the only possible justification anyone ever has for conversion. Sometimes they just love the truth and are doing their best to pursue it, wherever it leads.

Life is messy. It just is. Sometimes we end up coloring outside the lines even though we’re trying our very best to do what’s right. That’s not the best excuse, obviously: the road to hell is paved with good intentions. But I think it’s still true that to paint converts as defective does them – does us – an injustice. We’re doing the best that we can. Pray for the convert, love him, be patient with him, but please skip the sanctimonious crap that attributes his conversion to moral failure, as though he doesn’t love the truth. It’s not that simple.

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Posted in Fides et Ratio
5 comments on “No True Scotsman
  1. davidmeyer75 says:

    When I was where this pastor is (he has rejected Sola Scriptura and Sola Fide) and even before fully embracing Catholicism, I got this a lot. Everyone has a book for you to read. If I would have read everything offered me, I would still be reading 2 years later (Ok exageration).
    Luckily most people reccommended the same book- The Shape of Sola Scriptura by Keith Mathison. Yet even after reading it again and even conversing by email with Keith himself, people still questioned my motives.

    I personally got the following:

    I was doing it for attention.
    Because I was just bored.
    I was doing it because I wanted to worship Mary.
    I was no longer satisfied with Christ (the Reformed love that one)
    I was not satisfied with my church for various reasons.
    I wanted beter music. (well, come to think of it… ;-)
    I wanted to be able to work my way to heaven.
    I was theologically a bit dumb.
    I hadnt really understood the gospel/Reformed theology/etc.
    I never really was a Christian in the first place.

    I heard all of these, some even from family. What I noted was the lack of any of the reasons I gave for my change. You would think that if I say “I converted because of X” that they would accept that. But for some reason, many people just cannot accept that. They must find a bizzare reason to explain what to them is an insane decision. They must make the convert crazy, because they consider conversion like suicide… only somewone crazy could do it. This attitude hurts. Because it is personal. It puts the convert in the light of being an “untouchable”, where nothing they do or say can justify their position. Really itis the opposite of love, which “believes all things” and hopes. ANd gives the benefit of the doubt.

  2. aquinasetc says:

    Yeppers. I can relate to much of what you say, David. Although quite frankly if music had been a motivator for me, I would be right back in Protestantism today. At least in my area, Catholics have sold their musical birthright for a mess of pottage. Ah well. :-)

    There’s a certain measure of black and white thinking that taints the way folks look at converts, unfortunately. This doesn’t mean that the truth is anything other than what it is: obviously the truth does not change. But people are people, and in this case that means that our relationship with the truth just can’t be put in tidy little boxes.

    Fred

  3. davidmeyer75 says:

    Amen.
    Btw, I will be going to GSPC tonight for a piano recital for my kids. They take lessons from Bryonie Moon, the pastors wife.
    It will be awkward for me! I havent seen anyone from there for 2 years now. I will say hi to Rory for you if I see him.

  4. Susan says:

    This is great, Fred. Before I was received into the true Church, I wrote my then pastor a letter wherin I tried to meet any foreseeable objection or attack because I realized that my real reasons were being pooh-poohed away. So, doing my best to cut him of at the pass, I mentioned that I am from Scottish/Presbyterian descent, and that I memorized Q.33 from the Westmister Shorter Catechism, right off the bat, I was so thrilled to be Reformed and to have “gotten” the gospel as the Reformed understood the gospel. If they wanted to accuse me of liking stained glass and candles so much that I was willing to put my family and myself through hell in order to enter The Church, then let them accuse me of that kind of selfish stupidity, but they were not going to accuse me of not understanding what they call the gospel.( for I am a true Scot!)
    Now, I’m being told( in love) that they believe I am still a true Christian and that I will eventually return to the Reformed camp when I get all my questions answered; in other words I’m going through a spiritual adolescence and when I come to my senses, I will see the light:)

    Susan

  5. aquinasetc says:

    Hi Susan,

    I can relate a little bit. It is no fun going through that. I was asked: if you could become Catholic what is to stop you from someday becoming something else instead? Well, I had to be honest. From a human vantage point, I suppose the answer is “nothing.” But I pray that God by His grace and mercy will keep me in the truth. We want to follow Him wherever He may lead because we love Him and He loves us. We did not choose this path, but we intend to stay on it with His help.

    Fred

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