Monday, April 14, 2008

Will the Real Heretics Please Stand Up?

Review of David Bercot's "Will the Real Heretics Please Stand Up?"

This posting is to make available an essay--actually of book length itself--that I wrote in response to the book Will the Real Heretics Please Stand Up? by David Bercot. It's not the sort of project that I would ordinarily tackle, especially on this scale (178 pages!). But here's the story behind it.

A relative of ours had been drawn pretty strongly toward the Catholic Faith. Unfortunately, that journey ended up being diverted, then abandoned, and Bercot's book played some role in turning this person away from the Catholic Church. That miffed me, to be sure. But what really got me to look at the book in detail is when, through this family connection, it showed up at my parents' house with a note attached describing it as a good antidote to the dreaded Catholic disease. That made me very unhappy because the last thing in the world my parents need is more bogus reasons to dislike Catholicism.

I browsed it a bit while at my parents' house, then obtained a copy of the book when I returned home. Bercot's book has a certain surface plausibility and sincerity that draws the reader in. But I found, as I examined the arguments in more detail and especially as I looked up Bercot's references, that the veneer of plausibility is plastered over a very shoddy and misleading presentation of the evidence. Bercot starts out his book telling the reader that he's going to present only beliefs from the early Church that are supported by at least five witnesses. Sounds like at least an objective criterion. The problem is that Bercot frequently presents beliefs that he supports with fewer than five witnesses and sometimes with no witnesses at all. On the flip-side, there are doctrines in the early Church that were held by many more than five witnesses (e.g. baptismal regeneration, the Eucharist as a sacrifice, apostolic succession) which he summarily rejects. Then there's the hefty problem that one will sometimes look up Bercot's references (at least when they are cited correctly, so that you can look them up) and find that the text says something quite different than what Bercot asserts, even to the point of sometimes meaning exactly the opposite of what he says it means. Also, his allergy to "doctrine" and hints of problems with his Christology suggest to me that he has not completely shed his Jehovah's Witness upbringing. Overall, it's an almost entirely untrustworthy book, which makes it all the more galling that it would lead people to reject the Catholic Faith.

I started writing just a critique of Bercot specifically, for my family's benefit, but the project grew and grew until it became a sort of complete apologia for the fundamentals of Catholicism from the early Church Fathers, with Bercot as the catalyst for a particular way of presenting the information.

I am particularly happy with the chapters on "Purgatory" and "War and Capital Punishment". But I think the whole presentation is pretty strong. This work is by no means perfect (and if you catch any outright errors on my part, please let me know) but I hope it can be of some use.

See my review and critique here

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