Personalism and apologetics.

Author:Sich, Alexander
Position::Correspondence - Letter to the Editor

After reading Avery Cardinal Dulles' article "The Rebirth of Apologetics" (May), one would do well to consider another approach to apologetics--one that recognizes that people can also pursue "aspirations of the human heart for communion with the divine" through their vocations. Some of us are scientists; others are teachers, engineers, doctors, lawyers, businessmen, transportation workers, artists, athletes, priests, politicians, and so forth. Vocational practices and experiences influence our openness to apologetic approaches, leading some to be persuasive and others to appear to be irrelevant or even incoherent.

Will a personalist approach work equally well in every case? Does personalism have a monopoly on understanding the human heart's aspiration for communion with the divine? The answer to both questions is "no." Moreover, personalism operates from a significant epistemological weakness: to use the self or "personhood" as the basis for seeking--let alone witnessing to--the truth and the divine is to violate the cardinal rule that we ought to start from what is more known to us before proceeding to what is less known. A person knows many things before he can even acknowledge personhood.

This is not, by any means, to disparage the Pope's reminder that today's world needs witnesses more than arguments. On the contrary, it is to support this vision through an apologetics that channels the Christian witness so that it harmonizes with the outlook of the receiver's vocational experience. Focusing on the other by speaking his or her own language, rather than the subjectivistic abstractions of personalism, would better reflect the Pope's own call in Fides et Ratio "to enter into a relationship with [other human beings] which is intimate and enduring."

Cardinal Dulles seems to conclude that basing an apologetics on scientific evidence is somehow inferior to appealing to personal testimony. But for a modern-day scientist, such evidence would likely carry far more weight than arguments based on personal experience.

While it might be the case that nonscientists are less interested in proofs for the existence of God than in "a communion with the divine," it is also true that the general public's view of the world is strongly influenced by empirical claims. The general public ought to be interested in the objective truth, which is why science should be encouraged--in spite of Cardinal Dulles' claim that a scientific approach in apologetics "rarely leads to conversion."

Faith applies to mysteries beyond reason (Hebrews 11:1); knowledge applies to that which can be grasped by the intellect under its own powers--such as knowledge of the existence of God (see Wisdom 13 as a whole, but especially verse 5). The way to a scientist's heart is more often than not through his reason, and such an approach to witnessing to Christ is truly worthy of the "human...

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