Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Peter D. Williams Wins the Laurel Leaf

He has a new fan in me

Sir Thomas More, by Hans Holbein the Younger (1527)

My wife is an anglophile. It’s understandable. She has some English and Welsh in her blood. As for me, not so much. Sure, I love Downton Abbey, British comedies, and much of what can be seen on PBS Mystery and Masterpiece Theater. I love the British Invasion bands from the Sixties, and the Punk and New Wave bands from the Seventies and Eighties too. Almost all of the best actors on both stage-and-screen come from there.

There is a coldness in the rule-ridden reserve of the UK that rankles me, however, and the reflexive, knee-jerk anti-Catholicism of the place just ticks me off to no end. It seems that the Book of Martyrs and the shadow of the Spanish Armada still hang heavily over the British psyche, for both believers and atheists alike.

I only spent a few days in London at my brother-in-law’s ordination to the deaconate a couple of years ago, and although it was a nice visit, I got the distinct impression that it must be a difficult place to be a Catholic these days…

Which brings me to Peter D. Williams of Catholic Voices. I first heard Williams on Justin Brierley’s Unbelievable program, a weekly show on Premier Radio that usually pits believers and unbelievers against each other in debates that last for about an hour-and-a half. It’s a pretty interesting show if you can get past certain biases peculiar to the UK. I enjoy listening to the podcasts quite often. One time I heard Williams in a debate with a secularist about whether or not the Catholic Church was a force for good or evil.  In a way, it was an attempt to undo the debacle we suffered in the infamous Intelligence Squared debate, when Christopher Hitchens and Stephen Fry just massacred Archbishop John Onaiyekan and Anne Widdecombe. I thought Williams did a really nice job. On another occasion, William Johnstone, another apologist from Catholic Voices, debated Duncan Boyd of the Protestant Truth Society about whether or not the papacy was biblical.  I thought Johnstone did pretty well too, but I couldn’t help thinking to myself, “I wish it had been Peter D. Williams who’d debated Boyd.”

To my surprise, I just found out the other day that Williams and Boyd had in fact actually squared off once, back in 2010, just before Pope Benedict’s visit to the UK. It was on a show called Live @ 9 on Revelation TV. The topic was, get this, “whether or not Benedict’s visit was good for the country.” In effect, they were arguing about whether or not Benedict should even be allowed to make a state visit to the UK!

Catholic Voices: Peter Williams debates in Revelation TV from Jack Valero on Vimeo.

Now there are plenty of Americans, both Catholic and non-Catholic alike, who aren’t fans of Benedict, but there really aren’t that many who would question whether or not the guy should be allowed to make an official state visit to the USA, but, as you can see, the UK is a very different kind of place. Very different indeed…

Anyway, I thought Williams did a superb job dismantling the glib, but smug, mean-spirited and hateful Duncan Boyd. Not only was he knowledgeable and well-prepared to defend against the invectives being hurled against the Church, but he was patient, even-tempered and charitable, even when he was being attacked by a one-sided and exceedingly hostile audience, who openly questoned his personal integrity, sputtering in red-faced fury about his “Jesuitical arguments.” Williams was mild-mannered throughout and handled it with grace and aplomb.

Well done, Mr. Williams. You won the laurel leaf in that debate, as far as I’m concerned. I’m looking forward to hearing more from you!


Garpu said...

Yeah, the whole "Catholics can't marry royals and we don't like the idea of a Catholic PM" kind of rankles. Then again I don't think I could live in an area where the head of state (albeit a figurehead) is also head of the state-run church. (That's also what keeps me from moving to Canada.)

Jeff said...

If we're antiquated, what does that make the British royal family?

I do like the Queen, though.

There was some woman in the audience who was all wigged out because she figured that the Queen would have to give up her crown for "mixing with the Pope" in violation of the Act of Settlement.

Mike McG... said...

Great post and clip. Just spent 20 minutes preparing a response consisting of three questions but lost it in Bloggerland. Briefly:

Williams makes a case for the rehabilitation of apologetics, no? Might there be a place for a non-defensive defense of the faith? Note how he brings together intellectual rigor, composure and tone. Catholicism is regarded as implausible in many quarters.

What do you think of the convergence of the two Bills, Keller and Donohue, and the ensuing controversy?

Jeff said...

Hi Mike. When Bill Keller says this, I'm afraid I can't agree with him:

"Much as I wish I could encourage the discontented, the Catholics of open minds and open hearts, to stay put and fight the good fight, this is a lost cause. Donohue is right. Summon your fortitude, and just go. If you are not getting the spiritual sustenance you need, if you are uneasy being part of an institution out of step with your conscience — then go. The restive nuns who are planning a field trip to Rome for a bit of dialogue? Be assured, unless you plan to grovel, no one will be listening. Sisters, just go. Bill Donohue will hold the door for you."

It does go to show, however, how badly the polarization, which this blog was set up to descry and to resist, has taken hold. In my own circle of friends, I've seen people leave that I never would have expected to leave in a million years.

Jeff said...

Rather than seeing more people walk, however, I'd prefer to see whether or not we are in the last stages of an imperial style of papacy and curia, as acidly portrayed recently in Der Spiegel.

"Finally, there is clarity. The Holy See has cleared things up and made the document accessible to all: a handout on checking whether apparitions of the Virgin Mary are authentic.
Everything will be much easier from now on. The Roman Catholic Church has taken a step forward.
This "breaking news" from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) reveals the kinds of issues the Vatican is concerned with -- and the kind of world in which some there live. It's a world in which the official Church investigation of Virgin Mary sightings is carefully regulated while cardinals in the Roman Curia, the Vatican's administrative and judicial apparatus, wield power with absolutely no checks and the pope's private correspondence turns up in the desk drawers of a butler.

Jeff said...

More to your point, I wish we had more apologists here in the USA with the sophistication, charity, and demeanor of a Peter D. Williams. Bill Donohue is an embarassment.

There are some home-grown, lay apologetic ministries here wothy of mention, though. Jimmy Akin is pretty good, and as you say, Mark Shea. I thought Dave Armstrong was OK until I had a run-in with him recently on the Facebook page for Democrats for Life. He was dismissive of the whole venture in a way that I found to be disappointing.

There's Patrick Madrid, Tim Staples, and a few others, but I think Richard Gaillardetz did a pretty good job of pointing out their general shortcomings a few years ago with his article Do We Need a New(er) Apologetics?. I think he's right. I think we do.

Jeff said...

Sorry, here was the Der Speigel link.