Sunday, November 27, 2011

Roland S. Martin still doesn’t get it

First, to give you some context, read this example of poor scriptural exegesis by ex-Catholic journalist Roland S. Martin in CNN Opinion. Then read Fr. John Zuhlsdorf’s thorough fisking of Martin’s arguments; if anything, Martin’s column, with its rampant misquotations and misinterpretations, is simply one more example of why sola scriptura is bad doctrine.

Chris Paulitz, one of Fr. Z’s many followers, tweeted Fr. Z’s post, with the comment: “What am I not thankful for? @rolandsmartin & his ignorance of #Catholicism.” The following (very slightly edited) exchange then took place:

Martin: I’m not ignorant of Catholicism. Spent 26 years as one. You have ignorance of the Bible. Jesus supersedes the Pope!
Paulitz: As a Catholic you surely know the Pope is the Vicar of Christ on earth. You may want to pick up a Baltimore Catechism.
Martin: Jesus tore the curtain so people would have direct access to Christ without a middle person to get to him. Read your Bible!
Paulitz: So I take it you’ve left the Church? Probably something you should have pointed out in the piece, no?
Martin: I take it you don’t know jack about Scripture? Go read your Bible and learn the Word!
Paulitz: I do, yet I’m humble enough to know it’s not every man & his Bible, it’s the Church Christ built on Peter.
Martin: Nonsense. The Bible says Christ lives in all of us.[*]
Paulitz: Of course. That doesn’t mean you can properly interpret the Bible on your own, or it’s all moral relativism.
Martin: Well, clearly you understand there is NOTHING wrong with altar girls. Stop promoting nonsense.


Okay, we can argue that Paulitz’s initial tweet was provocative, even agonistic. One hundred forty characters — not words — make barely space enough for a thoughtful quip, let alone a well-reasoned argument; there are a number of ways Paulitz could have shared the link to Fr. Z’s post without goading Martin into a string of passive-aggressive sneers and jeers. You call someone “ignorant” and 90% of the time you’ll get abuse back, even if the charge is limited to a specific subject.

But let’s take a look at Martin’s snappy comebacks and see if there’s any merit to them:

  • “Jesus supersedes the Pope!” — 1) To supersede is “to supplant” or “to take the place of” something. I’m sure Martin meant that Jesus has more authority than the Pope, which is true as the Pope’s authority is given him by Jesus through the line of Petrine succession. However: 2) If there were even one line in any of the Gospels where Jesus spoke about matters liturgical, or where he said women’s equality depends on women doing everything men do, we would be well advised to listen. None of the Scriptures Martin quoted even bear on either topic, let alone trump the Church’s preference for male altar servers or priests.
  • “Jesus tore the curtain so people would have direct access to Christ without a middle person to get to him.” — Actually, the Gospels never directly attribute the tearing of the curtain walling off the Holy of Holies to the direct action of God. The Holy of Holies was where the high priest offered the blood sacrifice to God once a year. But as Evangelicals love to point out, Jesus’ once-for-all sacrifice on the Cross obviated the need for this annual ritual; it’s much more in line with historical Christian exegesis to say God abandoned the Holy of Holies as no longer necessary. Martin’s reinterpretation of the tearing is self-serving and biblically unjustified.
  • “The Bible says Christ lives in all of us.” — Either Jesus is hyper-schizophrenic, since he has over 40,000 ideas of what he really taught, or this argument is fatuous beyond reckoning. While Christ does live in all of us, it doesn’t follow that your personal preferences reflect his voice in your mind; the fragmentation of the evangelium among the Protestants is a stunning indictment of both sola scriptura and the primacy of the individual conscience.

What is wrong with girl altar servers? The only perceptible problem is that young girls tend to take charge (become “bossy”) in mixed-sex situations, making it a less enjoyable experience for the boys and driving them out. Since most seminarians were altar servers when they were younger, it makes sense to maximize the role as a means of planting vocational seeds by restricting it to boys. But as I explained back in August, I have no axe to grind for or against girl altar servers, and won’t change my parish allegiance based on the presence or absence of females in the sanctuary.


No, the problem is that the issue of girl altar servers is a stalking horse for the ongoing argument over women priests. The pivotal premiss of the argument for ordaining women is that it’s necessary to establish the equality of women. However, this is based on the fallacious notion that the equality of women is dependent on their doing everything men can do, that there’s literally nothing men can do that women can’t do and do better (and vice versa).

In fact, Martin’s appeal to Scripture to defeat Catholic insistence on a male-only sanctuary is very much a case of selective quotation, a problem not uncommon with those who try to use the Bible as a trump card over the Vatican. 1 Corinthians 14:33-34  and 1 Timothy 2:11-12 both indicate that a woman is to be silent, to neither teach nor have authority over men, which runs contrary to some of the functions of a priest. But if “All scripture is inspired by God” (2 Tim 3:16) — theopneustos, literally “God-breathed” — then these passages are no less “God-breathed” than the irrelevant passages Martin refers to.

Despite his twenty-six years of Catholicism, Roland Martin shows once again that he just doesn’t get it. Having ninth-grade or better reading skills doesn’t make you an expert on Scripture. And your “inner voice” doesn’t necessarily belong to the Holy Spirit.


[*] These last few comments may be out of sequence; there were no time stamps I could follow.