An Essay on Max Weber by O.G. Rose
When lacking sacramental ontology, Protestants are susceptible to being made by their tools.
The “Protestant Work Ethic” that the sociological Max Weber identified in Protestantism is not the description of an essential dimension of Protestantism, but the description of a symptom of something deeper. That deeper problem in Protestantism is its susceptibility to Heideggerian and Deleuzian “capture” due to the Protestant tendency to reject “sacramental ontology.”
In other words, because Protestants don’t believe the universe entails a divine order that can be “discovered,” Protestants are susceptible to being controlled by the socioeconomic systems, technologies, moods, and so on of the day. When Weber identified the Protestant Work Ethic, Capitalism just happened to be the system that Protestantism was “captured by” at the time. This does not mean Weber was wrong in his observation, only that he was wrong if he thought the Protestant Work Ethic described something essential about Protestantism versus something accidental or conditional. Personally, I don’t think Weber did (he was a sociologist, after all, focused on the level of culture), but the Protestant Work Ethic can still enter the popular imagination as otherwise.
Protestantism doesn’t have to reject “sacramental ontology” in order to be Protestant: to start, this is a theological mistake that should be corrected. Afterward, the cultivation of aesthetic sensibilities and focus on beauty is a keyway for living according to a “sacramental ontology,” especially when beauty is understood as “a glimmer of the discoverable order” of the universe (what I will call “sacramental beauty”). I believe Protestantism has traditionally been much more skeptical of beauty and art than Catholicism (not to say Catholicism is entirely innocent), and to avoid “capture,” my advice to Protestants is to cultivate a general love of beauty and aesthetics grounded in sacramental ontology. Once a believer takes beauty seriously, “sacramental ontology” becomes extremely plausible, and from the other angle, when a person believes in “sacramental ontology,” trying to live according to beauty makes that ontology more real and meaningful (the ideal is to live according to “sacramental beauty”). This will also provide an ecumenical foundation for Protestants and Catholics to find common ground without either having to weaken essential beliefs.
Protestant Work Ethic
The idea that there is a unique emphasis in Protestantism on hard work, self-sufficiency, and personal responsibility. Hard work was thought to be a way that Protestants could show that they were “saved,” for though Protestants don’t believe they can be saved by “good works,” working hard was nevertheless a sign that they had been saved, elected, predestined, and so on.
The idea that the universe has a connection, “likeness,” and/or “link” with God, that beauty experienced on earth “says something” about Beauty experienced in Heaven, that the goodness of people is “somehow like” the Goodness of God, and so on. No, the beauty on earth is not equal to the Beauty in Heaven, as the goodness of people is not equivalent to the Goodness of God, but x and X are not entirely different: they do share an intelligible relationship. The same logic permeates creation: trees are somehow like Trees, waterfalls are somehow like Waterfalls, etc.
This is not to say it is easy to tell how creation is “like” Heaven or God, and it’s certainly not to say that everything that happens in creation is something that God approves of, but it is to say that God is not entirely Other from creation. The key idea is that everything that exists somehow “points” toward God, though it is up to us to determine “how” everything so “points,” which requires scripture, the Holy Spirit, grace, and so on to determine.
Based on the work of Deleuze and Heidegger, and though I know the two thinkers have key distinctions between what they mean by “capture” or “enframing,” I think the two can be thought of together in this work. To be “captured” is basically to have our technologies, economics, governments, and systems in generals “do our thinking and living for us” versus we think about and live with our systems. All systems and technologies are human creations, so another way to think about “capture” is by keeping in mind the famous line Marshall McLuhan loved: “We shape our tools, and then our tools shape us.” Likewise, we make our governments, and then our governments make us; we make our economies, and then our economies make us; we make our technologies…we make our ideologies…and so on. Every creation and “created order” brought into existence by humans can potentially “capture” them.
For more on “capture,” see “On How Do We Escape? by Justin Murphy and Johannes Niederhauser.”
Opening Notes and Assumptions
1. In no way whatsoever do I want to argue that Protestants must reject sacramental ontology, or that every Protestant does so: the work of James K.A. Smith and N.T. Wright, for example, both suggest Protestant efforts to reclaim beauty and creation in Protestant thinking. The arguments of this paper are general points, but I think they are justified seeing as Protestantism has traditionally emphasized “totality depravity” and rejected “natural theology.” Karl Barth, for example, famously denied “the Analogy of Being,” associating that Thomist thought with “the Antichrist” (I think Hans Boersma powerful critiques Barth on this point). Ultimately, my critique is leveled more at “total depravity” versus Protestantism: it just happens that Protestants generally ascribe to “total depravity” more so.
2. Please note that, in Christianity, where there is no sacramental ontology, there must be a doctrine at least like “total depravity.” If creation has no relation at all with God, then even if the state of creation is not called “totally depraved,” it is practically such. Granted, a belief that creation is “1% sacramental” will be much weaker than believing creation is “99%” sacramental, so I don’t mean to suggest that all types of sacramental ontology are equal and equally able to resist “capture.” However, I do want to claim that “total depravity” is practical inevitable without sacramental ontology, and furthermore point out that the mere “possibility” of some degree of sacramental ontology could be enough to resist “capture” entirely. This is because all Christians must logically believe that only “God knows” what percentage of creation has the capacity to be “like” Him, and so humans will have to practically consider that sacramental ontology could be very powerful and strong indeed. The very act of even wondering about sacramental ontology can dramatically reduce the power of “capture” (even if actually creation is only 1% sacramental, because only God could know this), and this is because being consciously aware about the systems of the world and their relation to God — especially when dialectical, as sacramental ontology makes possible and as will be explained — also makes us aware of the ways worldly systems are working on us. Perhaps not perfectly, but something is better than nothing. If only God can know if creation is 1% sacramental, then we will have to consider creation possibly being 99% sacramental, and with this will come all the dialectical benefits of sacramental ontology for resisting “capture.”
3. Obviously, it is a generalization to say that Protestants do not cherish and appreciate beauty, but again, I think it is a fair categorization considering the traditional Protestant view of creation being “totally depraved.”
4. This paper will also associate Protestantism with “sola scriptura.” Again, even if we reject these generalizations about Protestantism today (which I contend we should not), I certainly think they held true when Max Weber was writing his famous argument.
5. Please note that it does not necessarily follow that to be “captured” is to necessarily be worse off than a person would be if they weren’t “captured.” Perhaps Capitalism is the best socioeconomic system, and perhaps a person who wasn’t “captured” by Capitalism would try to live differently and suffer accordingly. This work is not interested in arguing that we would necessarily be better off if we weren’t “captured”; rather, it is trying to describe a situation and why Protestantism is susceptible to “capture” (and perhaps what we learn about Protestantism could apply to other groups). That said, I do think it’s the case that if people aren’t aware of “capture,” they are more likely to be worse off because of the “capture,” but not necessarily so.
6. The majority of this work will speak about Protestantism as compared to Catholicism. If it is the case that Protestantism is uniquely susceptible to “capture” due to a lack of sacramental ontology, then it would follow Catholicism is not so susceptible because it ascribes to sacramental ontology. If “sola scriptura” for some reason poises Protestants to reject sacramental ontology, then Catholics by not accepting “sola scriptura” are not so poised, and so on. But again, do note, this does not necessarily mean Catholicism is better off if we are better off when “captured.”
Critically, this paper will argue that Protestantism doesn’t have to reject sacramental ontology, only that it traditionally has, and will encourage Protestantism to reclaim sacramental ontology in order to make itself less susceptible to “capture.” Protestantism is weak today not because of something essential, but because of what it has forgotten.¹
7. I am not arguing that Protestants needs to be more rational; I am arguing that Protestants need sacramental ontology, which will reorientate Protestant rationality, but it does not follow that Protestants aren’t currently rational at all. I am saying that Protestants need not more rationality but more beauty (which entails rational implications — first things must go first).
Because Protestants believe creation was entirely separated from God due to “The Fall,” and thereby God is entirely “Other,” then there is no “natural order” to creation. Perhaps there was such an order in Eden, but until New Jerusalem, that “natural order” does not exist. Until then, the only order we can find is from the Bible (“sola scriptura”).
In mathematics, there is the famous debate on if math is “created” or “discovered.” Mathematics so perfectly explains phenomena in the universe that it feels hard to believe it was created, and yet if math is discovered, there is something Platonic and even Divine about it. This in mind, for Protestants, if the universe is to have any order, the order must be “created” by human beings (mainly, human beings inspired by the Bible and/or the Holy Spirit through the Bible). For Catholics, there is order “in” the universe that can be discovered, though that’s not to say the order is easy to discover (it takes a complex dialectic between the Bible, church, Holy Spirit, tradition, etc.)
If we believe the universe entails a “discoverable order” (DO), then there is always an order that can “triumph over” the “created orders” (COs) of the day. Perhaps the COs participate in and reflect the DO, but not necessarily, and the fact they don’t necessarily do so means the person who believes in DO must always be skeptical and aware of COs. Not because COs are necessarily bad, but because COs can entail a tendency to hide, distract people from, etc. the DO. But if COs algin with the DO, then perhaps COs can help make the DO real to us in ways that would otherwise never be possible. So again, COs are not inherently bad; in fact, they can be necessary for us to fully experience the DO. But if COs ever replace the DO, there could be problems.
In Protestantism, due to the doctrine of “total depravity” and/or Protestant interpretation of “The Fall,” the default is against the natural until the natural proves itself innocent, while in Catholicism, the default is against the unnatural until the unnatural proves itself innocent. The Protestant will err on the side of the CO, while the Catholic will err on the side of the DO. Also, and this is critical, Protestants just “read” the Bible, while Catholics “interpret” it.
Unpacking the “Bible as Divine Order” (Protestant) versus “Bible and Creation as Divine Order” (Catholic).
Critically, Protestants do believe in an “ultimate DO,” but that DO is not to be found “in nature”; instead, the DO is only to be found in and through the Bible (“sola scriptura”). Traditionally, to use vast generalities, Catholics have ascribed to “the Book of Revelation” and “the Book of Nature” (and corresponding “Book of Reason”), while Protestants have only ascribed to “the Book of Revelation.” Catholics consider both revelation and reason as used by God, while Protestants have been extremely skeptical of reason in favor of revelation. Thus, Protestants see revelation as an exclusive source of DO, while Catholics see revelation and reason both playing a part in realizing DO. As will be elaborated on, this makes Protestants far less dialectical than Catholicism, which makes Protestantism more susceptible to “capture.”
For Protestants, DO is “realized in the Bible” and “brought to” creation, and so if there is a DO in creation, it is through and thanks to a CO. This point cannot be overemphasized: if there is a DO “in” creation (versus only “in” the Bible), it is through something humans created (in other words, the best Protestants can achieve is a CO/DO, a Schrödinger-esq and anxiety-producing mixture). While Catholics can draw clear distinctions between CO and DO, the Protestant at best can achieve a CO/DO, and this makes Protestants uniquely anxious and susceptible to “capture.”
Does this mean Protestants have no defense at all against “capture?” No, but I am making the argument that they are more susceptible to “capture” because they lack a sacramental ontology (perhaps a lot more susceptible). For a Protestant to judge a CO (and stand for or against it), they must go to the Bible, study it, think, and then come back and condemn or accept the CO. If the Protestant cannot find clear and direct teachings on the CO (say involving nuclear missiles or environmentalism), the Protestant will either have to throw up their hands and say “only God knows” (and so do nothing, which could be very problematic), or try to “force” an interpretation out of the Bible that might not make much sense. Interpretation can thus become like astrology, and, like the stars, we can come to feel that everything that happens in life must fit into the Bible somehow (otherwise, we have no clue at all what to do, and we must do something, even if that “something” is “doing nothing”).
Protestants lack hope for making good decisions without the Bible — after all, they are “totally depraved” — and so if the Bible doesn’t provide clear guidance, the Protestant is in trouble. Protestants may thus try to convince themselves there is clear guidance when there isn’t, or just “leave it up to God” while assuming this a devote act of faith (yet God very well might be upset the whole time that Protestants aren’t using the reason God gave them).²
Unlike the Protestant, ascribing to sacramental ontology, the Catholic doesn’t have to force interpretation into the Bible about nuclear weapons; instead, Catholics can reason. Even if the Bible says nothing direct about nuclear weapons, the Catholic can reason about nukes in light of the person of Christ, teachings of the Bible, teachings of tradition, etc. and reach a conclusion. There is no need to “force” an interpretation to justify it (though that isn’t to say there are not teachings in the Bible that can’t help support it), because for the Catholic, reason and revelation can work together, which makes the Catholic much less likely to force revelation to say more than it does (which could frankly risk hurting the authority of scripture).
When the Catholic faces a new CO, the Catholic can theoretically judge the CO with reason right then and there: they don’t have to necessarily return to the Bible. Now, maybe the Catholic should return to the Bible, but the point is this: the fact a Catholic reasons without a Bible does not mean the conclusions are therefore by default unchristian. A Protestant, on the other hand, almost seems to think that reasoning at all beyond recitation of the Bible is unbiblical and thus unchristian. For the Protestant, the highest form of religious thought is recitation of the Bible and interpretation that is as close to “pure reading” as possible; for the Catholic, the height of religious thought is a mixture of reason and revelation.
But wait, if the Protestant will only accept the Bible for reasoning, aren’t they less likely to be susceptible to “capture” then Catholics? It would seem that way, but it’s paradoxically just the opposite. By only believing in revelation for DO, for the Protestant, DO must be brought to creation, and every CO that tries to “bring” DO to creation should be given a chance (after all, God might use it). But for the Catholic, God doesn’t need to use a CO to “bring” the DO into creation; the DO is already present. A CO can help us see it (as can revelation), but a CO isn’t necessary; in Protestantism, a CO is necessary. In COs being necessary for Protestants, Protestants become more susceptible to being overly invested in COs and consequently finding themselves “captured.”
If the Bible is trying to help us “see” the DO in creation (Catholic), as opposed to us bring the DO to creation from the Bible (Protestant), then Catholics will err on the side of being skeptical of COs while Protestants will be skeptical of what aren’t COs. As will be expanded on, this will help Catholics be more dialectical than Protestants and thus safer from “capture.”
Since for the Protestant the only possible order “like” God’s Will in the universe is a CO based on the Bible, then the only possibility of an alignment of creation with God is through humans and what humans make. This isn’t to say the Protestant thinks every CO is good, but it is to say the Protestant will not search for a DO if COs fail. Creation can only possibly be “like” God’s Will through dominion and stewardship of creation according to a CO, while for the Catholic, creation can be “like God” on its own, without human interference and innovation. COs can indeed be good too for the Catholic, but only insomuch as they “reflect” the DO, and there is the possibility of a CO being precisely why the DO is inhibited or not realized.
All this doesn’t mean Protestants are necessarily “captured” by a CO, but it does mean they are likely more vulnerable to being “captured.” Additionally, I’m not saying that Protestants will accept any and every CO uncritically, but I am saying that Protestants are more likely to start living according to a CO “thoughtlessly,” without realizing it. Protestants can only compare COs with COs to determine the one most like DO, but that means they are ultimately living according to some CO. If that is the case, they are positioned to one day think they should stop thinking about COs and instead be “obedient”; after all, if a CO can reflect DO, then there comes a time when it’s time to stop thinking about “if a CO is good” and live according to it. To think about what God tells us to do instead of do it is to act unfaithfully; likewise, if a certain CO is “like” the DO in the Bible, then it becomes disobedient and unfaithful for the Christian not to live according to the CO/DO. Thinking needs to stop and obedience begin (and it’s better for reasoning to stop anyway; after all, only revelation can be God’s vehicle).
Regarding COs, Catholics never reach a state in which thinking should stop. Yes, Catholics can be “captured” by dogmas of the church, but Protestants can be “captured” by their own dogmas, and at the least the Catholic is less likely to be accused outright of unfaithfulness for “reasoning” about Catholic dogmas. After all, Catholics think reasoning is a gift of God and capable of leading humans to God just like revelation, and if dogmas are divinely inspired, they will prove “reasonable” — reason is not an inherent threat.
For reasoning to stop would be for a tool of God to be discarded, and that would be unchristian. However, for the Protestant who believes rationality is “totally depraved,” it is good for rationality to eventually stop: if it’s used at all, it’s a tragic use for figuring out and interpreting the meaning of the Bible. The sooner rationality can be silenced, the better. No, I don’t think Protestants think when directly asked that rationality is bad, but a skepticism of rationality inevitability follows from their disbelief in any kind of “Analogy of Being.”
If thinking is pivotal for avoiding “capture,” and if Protestants are more likely to be skeptical of rationality then Catholics, then Protestants are more likely to be “captured” than Protestants (and the same could be said about any ideology that incubates a skepticism of rationality). No, I don’t mean to suggest that thinking alone can help us avoid “capture,” but if it plays a key role, then it is needed.
Catholics try to construct COs like Protestants, with the most obvious example being the Catholic church itself. The church is a CO that tries to be like the DO, but if the institution fails, the DO doesn’t vanish from the world, for the DO is still “in” the world. If the Protestant fails and their CO(s) collapse(s), the DO vanishes, creating a much more anxious situation.
Catholics do not need to be extremely possessive and anxious over their COs, especially not COs outside the church. The DO isn’t going anywhere; Catholics don’t have to worry. Less anxious and possessive, Catholics can be more critical and objective about COs and to the degree the COs actually align with the DO, all while not having to force an interpretation of the Bible to “fit” with the COs of the world. More emotionally stable, Catholics seem less likely to rationalize COs or convince themselves that they “see” a DO in COs that isn’t actually present.
Where sacramental ontology and DO are lacking, anxiety and rationalization seem more common, and both of these increase the likelihood of a person being “captured.”
With multiple ways to access the DO (reasoning and revelation; the Bible, church, tradition, and nature), thanks to sacramental ontology, Catholics can be much more dialectical than Protestants, and where there is an increase in dialectics, there is a decrease in the likelihood of being “captured.” Why? Because there are more ways to “check and balance” ourselves from entering a state of “thoughtlessness,” and furthermore our COs cannot readily arrange themselves so that our lives and thinking are “fenced in”: we have too many ways out.
If I can only understand the world through the Bible, then all the COs of the world have to do is control my “range of possible interpretations” of the Bible to control me. However, if I also believe science can be a source of knowledge, then COs have to control both my horizon of Biblical interpretation and interpretation of nature (and the interplay between the two). This is much more difficult, and even more difficult for COs if I also believe the Bible, nature, and personal experience can be sources of truth (and so on). Sure, it’s possible for COs to control the interpretative horizons of all these, but much more difficult, and it is especially difficult for COs to control the new horizons resulting from the interplay between all these sources. Could COs keep up? Theoretically, but it won’t be easy.
Problematically, in not believing in sacramental ontology and accepting “total depravity,” to resist the “capture” of COs, Protestants can consider interpretations of the Bible against other interpretations of the Bible, but that’s about it. On the other hand, Catholics can consider:
A. Interpretations of the Bible against other interpretations of the Bible.
B. Interpretations of tradition against interpretations of the Bible.
C. Interpretations of tradition against other interpretations of tradition.
D. Interpretations of nature against interpretations of the Bible (and/or tradition).
E. Interpretations of nature against other interpretations of nature.
F. Interpretations of personal experience infused with the Holy Spirit against other such personal experiences.
G. Interpretations of personal experience infused with the Holy Spirit against interpretations of nature, the Bible, and tradition.
And so.³ Protestants can certainly compare and contrast CO options, but in lacking multiple source of knowledge from and by which to compare COs, they cannot be as dialectical as Catholics. They are trapped within a single “form” of knowledge (Biblical interpretation), and so though Protestants can consider “accidental differences,” they cannot consider “formal differences” (Protestants can consider options, but they cannot consider differences, per se). They are trapped within a single form by which to know God, and it’s much easier for COs to capture a single avenue then multiple avenues. If a CO “fences in” the Bible and its interpretations, Protestants lack avenues of escape, while under the same circumstance, Catholics could still escape through tradition, reason, etc. Catholics — and any Protestant that (re)ascribes to a sacramental ontology — don’t have to use any CO at all, and that means they always have a possible escape from “capture.”
Indeed, Protestants believe COs can fail to reflect the DO in the Bible, and so I don’t mean to suggest Protestants are never skeptical of COs. The problem is that a Protestant is very unlikely to establish a CO that blends with creation or “works with” creation, for creation is “Fallen” and broken. There is no good “in” creation essentially; if there is good in the world, it is because humans created it (not “realized” it) inspired by and in light of the Bible. Humans can create something “like” the DO in the Bible, but they cannot find it. As a result, the only option for the Protestant to bring a DO into the world is through COs: they cannot easily keep a safe distance. And perhaps for a time this is fine, but if it ceases to be acceptable, Protestants might be too “captured” to notice the shift.
But it gets worse: not only are Protestants more stuck once they are “captured,” but it’s also easier for them to be “captured” in the first place.
Interpretation of a book is notably easy for a CO to capture, and in Protestants only having interpretation of the Bible by which to know DO, they are especially so vulnerable. This is because books are not alive, and we naturally force them to “meet us” where we are versus we meet the books where they are. When I read the Bible, I do not do so as a Jew under Roman occupation in 10BC; instead, I read it as an American who has grown up in Capitalism with laptops at his fingertips. Certainly, I can try to think like a Jew from 2000 years ago, and I may think I’m successful at such empathy, but it is unlikely my interpretation won’t be radically informed by my socioeconomic status.
However successfully or unsuccessfully, it is by reasoning that I can fight my tendency to interpret my socioeconomic status into the Bible. The Bible doesn’t tell me to do this — it, in fact, assumes I am a Jew or Gentile from 2000 years ago (or earlier) — and so I must do it myself without the guide of revelation, but with the understanding that I cannot interpret revelation fully unless I think like the people of its time. But if I don’t believe or trust reasoning, I will not trust my capacity to enter into the Bible’s world. And yet I will likely still think I am doing so, when really I end up reading the Bible on the terms of my world (and consequently “capturing” COs will likely sneak in).
If I follow “sola scriptura,” I can conclude that I should read the Bible on its own terms and trust that God will lead it to “meet me” in my circumstance. If reasoning is debased, I practically have to treat the Bible like it is speaking to “no particular period in history” and read it like a collection of general principles. But in this absence of historical embedment, I probably don’t end up reading the Bible as such, but instead unknowingly project my historical moment into the text. But the Bible will not tell me if I am doing this, and if as a Protestant I cannot trust reasoning, I cannot use reasoning to determine if I am so projecting my historic moment into the text. Instead, I must wait for revelation to tell me I am, of which I cannot imagine how it would.
Also, if I don’t trust reasoning, there’s no way for me to learn about and understand the historic moment in which the Bible was written. I can only learn about the historic moment of the Bible insomuch as it is presented in the Bible, but I can do no more than that. If there are ways in which the Bible is vague or general about its historic moment, it cannot be helped (but I will still unknowingly project my own historic moment into the text, inviting in “capturing” COs).
Sure, if we ask Protestants directly, they probably will not say that they don’t think they cannot learn about the historic moment the Bible is situated in outside the Bible, but practically that is the logical end of believing creation is “totally depraved” (as must follow if there is no sacramental ontology). What ends up happening (or so I’ve experienced) is that any conclusions Protestants reach outside of the Bible are treated with a kind of distrust or skepticism — the conclusions lack “weight.” What are more readily accented to are conclusions reached using the Bible and only using the Bible, without any use of external sources, even though these conclusions could be entirely wrong or secretly informed by projections and assumptions of the present moment and its COs.
Also, in my experience of Protestantism, people who don’t study outside the Bible are treated as if they are especially holy, while Christians who use reasoning to understand history, philosophy, economics, etc. are almost penalized, for why wasn’t revelation good enough for them? Did they not believe enough for the Holy Spirit to give them understanding? There is thus incentive not to use reasoning to grasp the historic moment in which the Bible was written, and so there is both vulnerability to “capture” by unknowingly projecting one’s present moment into the Bible, and by being incentivized to not reason at all. If we don’t actively reason, even if we think otherwise, we still will reason, and that reason will almost certainly reflect the “capturing” COs of the day.
Due note that if it is believed COs are the only way DO can be in the world (as carried by people from the Bible into creation), then a Protestant will not readily think it is bad that Capitalism informs his or her interpretation of scripture; in fact, Capitalism might help the Bible’s message come across. If Capitalism, as created by Christians, is an expression of the DO in the Bible, then perhaps it is necessary to be “captured” by Capitalism in order to understand the Bible: perhaps we today (thanks to Capitalism) can finally understand the Bible as God intended it to be understood all along. Thus, Protestants may prove weak to resist and deconstruct the influence of COs, not ready to quickly believe that being “captured” by a CO will necessarily keep them from experiencing the DO of the Bible (not to say Catholics do this perfectly).
The Catholic, on the other hand, in believing that creation entails DO, will believe it’s utterly necessarily to grasp the historic moment of the Bible and it’s time, for creation and all its moments are expressions of DO. To not know and fully understand the Bible and its historic moment is to forsake the expressions of the DO in history within which God chose to situate and unveil his revelation into creation. Creation is incarnational, and if the Bible is separated from its history, then its incarnational expression of DO is truncated and ruined. The historic moment of the Bible cannot be ignored for the Catholic, and if that is the case, then reasoning is necessary for fully understanding that historic moment and accordingly interpreting the Bible. We must learn to think not just like an American Capitalist if we are to understand God’s intentions, for example, and in so doing, we cannot help but think about and look at Capitalism with new and fresh eyes. This empathic act will strongly help us resist “capture.”
For Catholics, the historic moment of the Bible is not “accidental” but utterly essential, and so it is utterly essential to understand the Bible’s historic moment in order to understand revelation. The Bible just simply cannot fully explain its historic moment to us: we will have to go to external sources in order to accomplish this, and if we don’t, we will fail to understand revelation. In this way, not only should reasoning be supported by Christians alongside revelation, but it should be understood as utterly essential for following revelation. Dividing them is self-destructive.
But wait, doesn’t nature, tradition, and all the other potential sources of knowledge have to be interpreted too? Yes — interpretation is inescapable — but that’s why it’s valuable to have sources that can dialectically “check and balance” one another. If I only have the Bible to interpret, I can only check my interpretations against the Bible, as opposed to also against lived experience and rational conclusion (as inspired by Holy Spirit). The Bible, for example, may not have anything particular to say about nuclear weapons, but the Bible does provide general guidelines on when violence is justified (relative to its severity, if it’s in self-defense, etc.). If I can combine experience, reason, and revelation relative to nuclear weapons, I can begin to formulate a coherent doctrine of when use of nuclear weapons is justified (if ever), but if I’m only allowed to use the Bible, I may still try to formulate doctrine, but it will likely be extremely vague and miss the technicalities of nuclear warfare. Without reason, I cannot easily translate the general principles of revelation into specific situations (especially when they are not directly discussed in scripture); additionally, I cannot be dialectical and “check and balance” myself to avoid “capture,” meaning that (for good and for bad), even as a Christian, my view on nuclear weapons will likely not be that different from everyone else.
Without sacramental ontology, a focus on particularity proves difficult. Sacramental ontology demands a reverence for particularity and detail, but it is only through reasoning and bodily senses that particularity can be experienced meaningfully. If creation is “totally depraved,” then experiences of particularity matter litter. What matters is God, and if sacramental ontology is not at play, God is seemingly not that concerned with the particularity of our world, time, and space. Perhaps in New Jerusalem, particularity will matter again, but not now.
It should be noted that both Deleuze and Heidegger believed “capture” and “enframent” could be escaped by really looking at the world around us, in all its detail and particularity. Well, without sacramental ontology, it is unlikely the Christian will take this advice, and indeed, perhaps particularity could be viewed as a threat to knowing God. For if God is over spacetime because creation is “totally depraved,” then it is by “looking beyond creation” that God is known, not by looking at it. If “looking beyond creation” could paradoxically contribute to “capture,” then this would prove to be a problem.
If there is no sacramental ontology, then the particular time, place, culture, personhood, etc. of Jesus Christ becomes “accidental,” or at least not meaningfully “essential,” and if this is so, it is hard to think of time and space as very important to God. The teachings of the Bible then become “timeless,” which in turns makes them “general,” which may hint at why so many Protestant sermons (at least to me) seem overly-general. Furthermore, as Christ’s particularity becomes “accidental,” so my own particularity also becomes “accidental,” and my particular life, lifestyle, world, and so on prove non-essential to “God’s Mission” to save us. If anything, to stress the point, particularity is distraction.
The only way to particularity is through reasoning, and the only way to connect general or DO-based truths to our particular circumstances effectively is with rationality. “Love your neighbor as yourself” is a general truth that Christians have reason to think reflects DO, but I need rationality to determine “how to love my neighbor Dave as myself.” First, I need to determine who I am versus who Dave is; second, I need to determine what Dave considers loving relative to God’s Will; and so on. None of these particular details are presented in the Bible in regard to Dave himself, but if I am to follow the DO of the Bible, I have to figure out the particular details relative to the general truths, and that requires rationality: revelation will not fill in the specific details. I have to think, but if I distrust thinking and particularity, this will prove problematic.⁴
Reasoning is how we translate the general truths of revelation into our particular circumstances without those conclusions likely being expressions of “capture.” Sure, we can go out and try to live the general truths of revelation without trying to reason about them, but what will almost inevitably end up happening is that we will decide “the meaning” and/or “the application” of those general truths relative to the morals and standards of our day and age (without realizing it, for what else will we have?).
On the theme of problems with “total depravity” and resulting debasements of rationality: if creation has absolutely no connection or “likeness” with God, then it is not possible for God to be intelligible to us, and it is not possible to meaningfully say “Jesus was the son of God.” If the human word “good” has nothing to do with God’s “Goodness,” then why not say “God is cat” instead? All language use is arbitrary and meaningless. Perhaps because the Bible doesn’t say “God is cat?” Fair, but then we must conclude the descriptions of the Bible are DO, but how else can we understand what the Bible says other than according to the definitions of terms that are themselves not included in the Bible?
The Bible does not entail a section defining every word and term used, and therefore we must bring those definitions from outside and to the Bible. But if the Bible is the only source of DO, then we have no reason to trust the definitions we bring to the text, and yet we have little choice but to bring something.
If it is the case that we must bring definitions (and corresponding mental images) to the Bible in order to understand the Bible, then our interpretation of the Bible must be informed by some CO(s). It is not ultimately possible for us to “start” in a “pure DO” that we then “bring” to the world and build a corresponding CO “from the ground up”: from the start of our interpretation of the Bible, COs must be at play. A “pure reading” of the Bible is impossible: we must always start with a CO or CO/DO that we bring to the world and manifest. COs are built upon COs, but never in the chain of construction could there be a “pure DO,” not even at the very bottom.
For the Catholic, the fact a “pure DO” from the Bible alone is impossible is not necessarily a problem, because God uses many “ways of knowing” outside revelation. But for the Protestant, this is a significant problem, because it means reasoning must be located “beneath” any interpretation of revelation. If reasoning is “totally depraved,” that means all interpretations of the Bible will likewise be infected with “total depravity,” rendering all interpretations unreliable.
Reasoning cannot be escaped: it is not possible to read revelation on revelation’s own terms without any involvement of rationality; if we read the Bible, rationality is involved. The best we can do is acknowledge the need for rationality and use it to grasp the Bible’s historic moment (as was discussed). Again, for the Catholic, owning this reality is no trouble, but it can prove problematic for the Protestant. What likely happens is that the Protestant uses rationality but doesn’t acknowledge the use of rationality, causing the use to be unsystematic and confusing. Rationality pops up in spots without being identified as rationality, only to quickly fade away, all while it’s denied that rationality was present at all. Confusion then emerges.
Let us review the ways Protestants are uniquely susceptible to “capture.”
A. They are more likely to force interpretations to justify COs, needing COs for there to be any chance of DO to exist in the world. That, or Protestants will abstain from judging COs entirely and “leave it up to God,” but in that absence of judgment, they leave themselves open to “capture” by COs as well (or at least prove themselves unable to effectively stand against COs).⁵
B. Protestants err on the side of being “open” to COs, because if the DO is to be in the world, it must be through human creations. This means they will not be as quick to resist COs or to think that being “captured” by a CO is problematic.
C. In reason being “totally depraved,” Protestants are looking for a CO that is “like” the DO in hopes of then “turning off” rationality and becoming obedient to that CO.
D. In there being no DO in the world, Protestants are more likely to become anxious over and rationalize COs, because if there is no CO(/DO), there can be no DO at all.
E. In being far less dialectical than Catholics, Protestants possess less tools to resist “capture.”
F. In only knowing the DO through the interpretation of a book, with such interpretation being especially vulnerable to manipulation by a CO (especially without aid from reason), Protestants are especially prone to “capture.”⁶
G. If Deleuze and Heidegger are correct that “seeing” particularity helps fight “capture,” then if sacramental ontology emphasizes particularity, the loss of it hurts Protestantism.
H. It is not possible to read the Bible without any involvement of rationality, and so Protestants will likely use rationality without acknowledging that they are doing so, making it unlikely that they will formulate a systematic defense against CO “capture,” nor notice when the rationality they unknowingly use supports and/or embodies a CO.⁷
With “The Fall,” Protestants generally believe creation lost both the image and likeness of God, while Catholics believe creation lost the likeness but not the image. In Protestantism, it is believed creation basically has nothing to do with God, while in Catholicism, it is believed a connection is maintained, but “how” creation connects with God and is “like” God is not self-evident and requires work to determine. For Catholics, we must pay attention to particular details and master our minds if we are to “see” God in creation, but there is nevertheless hope we can improve. For Protestants, the more we focus on particular details, the more we can lose sight of the “big picture” of God, and the more we master our minds, the more we can be tempted to stray from revelation.
For Catholics, it is possible for creation to “point to” God. There is a “discoverable order,” but for Protestants, if creation is to “point to God,” it is because creation has been made in the image and likeness of the Bible. Protestantism easily assumes we are better off because of technology, Capitalism, social conventions, and so on, for there is no possibility of creation being “like” the DO of the Bible without COs. At worst, maybe things are neutral, but at least with COs there is a chance that the DO of the Bible is enacted in creation. Without COs, there’s no hope at all, and people need hope. If COs begin to “capture” Protestants, they may have to give up hope to escape it — a double bind. But why is “capture” so bad? If the COs reflect the DO, why in the world would we want to escape it? And so Protestant vulnerability becomes apparent.
What Weber recognized as the “Protestant Work Ethic” was a deep susceptibility of Protestantism to Heideggerian and Deleuzian “capture,” and this vulnerability is a result of Protestant rejection of sacramental ontology. Ascribing to an ontology of “total depravity,” the goal of the Protestant becomes to create a CO like the DO of the Bible — to bring Christ to the world, evangelical — and then to be “good” according to that CO (or CO/DO). Thus, if Protestants believe Capitalism embodies the DO of the Bible (as they perhaps did in Weber’s day), then it is paramount for Protestants to be good Capitalists in order to be good Christians. In this circumstance, the “Protestant Work Ethic” is accidental to the essential susceptibility of “Protestant Capture.”
Problematically, if we are captured by a CO, then it will orientate our values and understandings of good and evil. Once this occurs, escaping “capture” will likely be considered immoral or problematic (for example, once everyone is “captured” by cellphones, it can be considered irresponsible not to own one, because what if we’re in an accident?). “Capture” tends to orientate ethics around people to keep them “captured,” and likewise so it will moralize interpretations of the Bible that support the informing CO and demonize interpretations that don’t support it. Ethics will thus contribute to the entrapment, and without dialectical thinking (such as sacramental ontology makes possible), it seems radically difficult to escape that entrapment.
(Please note that if Protestants are susceptible to “capture” because they do not believe in a “natural order,” it would follow that all systems of belief that do not ascribe to a “natural order” would be similarly susceptible. The problems Protestants have fallen into could easily be the problems Atheists suffer in different ways.)
Protestants, it doesn’t have to be this way. Sacramental ontology is absolutely compatible with Protestantism: it does not have to be the exclusive property of Catholics. Certainly, there are Protestants today learning to resist Gnosticism and escapism (perhaps thanks mostly to the work of N.T. Wright), but unless we take the step of directly embracing a sacramental ontology, we will still prove weak to “capture” — our resistance will prove tepid.
The Protestant rejection of sacramental ontology is not necessary. The point of this work is to argue that Protestants should change and thus become less susceptible to “capture.” In a way, I am saying Protestants need to be more Catholic, but do not forget that Vatican II is sometimes criticized by Catholics as being “too Protestant.” Both Catholics and Protestants need to become like one another in different ways, and on the issue of sacramental ontology, it is Protestants who need to make the adjustment. I fear the consequences for not doing so are just too dire.
Again, I stress, I am not talking about all Protestants: there are plenty, perhaps notably in Pentecostalism, who accept something like sacramental ontology.⁸ Regardless, I think the abandonment of sacramental ontology is a perpetual threat in Protestantism, and here, even if there’s isn’t a single Protestant suffering this mistake right now on this planet, my hope is to defang the threat once and for all.
I do not believe “total depravity” is essential to Protestantism. In Christian theology, I see the legitimacy of something like “semi-depravity,” per se, and the potential for “total depravity” according to free will for an individual versus all of creation, but not “total depravity” as it is classically understood. “Total depravity” is not essential for Protestantism, and if you agree with me, that means you also agree sacramental ontology can be accepted by Protestants without invalidating Protestantism. This is the move I strongly think we need to make; otherwise, “capture” will probably get the best of us.
In my view, Protestants attempt to “be in the world but not of it” by following the DO laid out in the Bible, but problematically the interpretations of books are especially susceptible to influences and “capture” by the systems of the world, especially if rationality (informed by sacramental ontology) is not considered a valid aid. Protestants can rationalize this problem by believing a CO that influences their interpretation can be a reflection of the DO from the Bible, but regardless, such Protestants remain uniquely vulnerable to “capture.”
If it is the case that only something religious or ideological can possibly render “rationality” irrelevant or weak, and if such religions or ideologies make it possible to avoid reverence for “what exists” (creation, the universe, etc.), then it is religion or ideologies in which “capture” will prove most powerful. In my view, the only way to counter this is with something like sacramental ontology.
As Protestants who only “live by the book” are susceptible to “capture,” so too will prove the case for Marxists who only “live by the book” of Marx, Keynesians who follow The General Theory as if it were inerrant, and so on. All of us need to be dialectical to avoid “capture,” and anything that reduces our capacity to be dialectical will prove to be a problem. What has been argued about Protestantism in this work could just as easily apply to anyone.
Well, what does it mean to bring sacramental ontology back into Protestantism? What does that look like?
It looks like focusing on beauty; more particularly, “sacramental beauty.”
Remedy and Praxis
The Beauty of Sacramental Ontology and Aesthetic Sensibility
First, a clarification: the argument I am making in this paper may sound like I am saying Protestants need to be more rational, but that’s not the main focus. Protestants can be extremely rational about how they read the Bible: their logic and exergies can be unrivaled. I am not arguing that Protestants need to be more rational; I am arguing that Protestants need sacramental ontology. This will reorientate Protestant rationality, but it does not follow that Protestants aren’t currently rational at all. I am saying that Protestants need not more rationality chiefly but more beauty.
As argued in other works by O.G. Rose, what is rational is relative to what we believe is true, and if we are the most rational people in the world but believe something false or problematic, increases and decreases in rationality will not make a difference (I am still “captured” by and in the same structure). In fact, if I believe something false, less rationality could be better than more: it’s harder to rationalize without intelligence and logic.
The purification of reasoning is secondary to the acceptance of sacramental ontology; it just so happens that, in Christianity, an acceptance of sacramental ontology also corresponds with a revival of rationality. If sacramental ontology is true, then “total depravity” is false, and so rationality can be “like” God (if used properly, as organized by beauty). Considering this, I understand why it sounds like my argument is primarily a defense of rationality, when really it is primarily a defense of beauty. In Christianity, beauty and rationality are redeemed together.
Beauty fights “capture,” while the loss of beauty invites it. Beauty pulls us out of ourselves and makes us realize that there really is a world “out there,” that our ideas are not all there is, and in fact, ideas are much weaker than we usually realize (as discussed in “Ideas Are Not Experiences” by O.G. Rose). There is something beyond us, and if we focus on that, we can combat the “idea-ological” layer of “capture” that covers the earth. To use a Heideggerian distinction, if we believe in the earth, we can focus on the earth to resist the “capture” of the world. This doesn’t mean the world is bad, but that a life out of balance between the “world” and “earth” — like a life out of balance between CO and DO — is a life that will suffer.
What do I mean by “beauty?” I define that in “On Beauty” by O.G. Rose, and according to that definition, rightly or wrongly, an experience of beauty is indivisible from a sense of DO embodied in the world. However, I understand that most people use “beauty” to mean something like “aesthetic pleasure,” so I must clarify here that I’m not saying beauty alone is enough to save Protestantism, but the beauty of sacramental ontology. We can theoretically find COs beautiful, as we can find the work of missionaries beautiful who act on behalf of the DO of the Bible, and though this kind of beauty will be better than nothing, it will ultimately prove weak to stop “capture.” Worse yet, without sacramental ontology, our senses of beauty can themselves be expressions of “capture.”
When we believe in sacrament ontology, I do think our experience of beauty in the world increases dramatically, for now the potential for beauty “in” creation is around us all the time, as opposed to every now and then when we encounter CO/DOs. Thus, an increase of beauty in our lives can be a sign that we are ascribing to a sacramental ontology, but not necessarily. Yes, as already stated, once a believer takes beauty seriously, sacramental ontology becomes extremely plausible, and certainly an increase in one’s capacity to experience beauty increases the likelihood they will be compelled into sacramental ontology, but not necessary. The focus should be on sacramental ontology, with beauty following, but beauty must follow. Beauty could be secondary, but it is necessarily second. Why? Because otherwise sacramental ontology is just an abstract idea: it is not something lived out, and if it’s not lived, we are still vulnerable to “capture.” Ideas alone will not save us, only ways of life.
If we believe in sacramental ontology but don’t actively work to see the beauty in that sacramental ontology, or to manifest that ontology in ourselves beautifully, I don’t think the abstract notion will be enough to fight “capture.” We’ll have a better belief, sure, but we need to make that belief something we “full body” live out. This means as we accept the abstract idea of “sacramental ontology,” we also need to live in a way that makes it real to us, and for me, that means living in a way that is more beautiful and that sees more beauty.
If we don’t see beauty in the world, or see a need to live beautifully, though we may claim to believe in sacramental ontology, the belief likely means little to us. If we regularly experience beauty and belief in sacramental ontology, even if not perfectly, we have reason to think that we resist “capture.” Perhaps then what we could say is that we need “sacramental beauty” — perhaps this phrase captures the synthesis we are after.
To care about beauty is to care about particularity (focus on of which both Deleuze and Heidegger note is important for escaping “capture”), for beauty always manifests “in” a particular person, a particular formation of the sky, a particular painting, and so on. The way beauty reorganizes rationality is from “the particular up,” not “the general down.” This is a key point, and why simply increasing rationality will not necessarily improve the Protestant susceptibility to “capture.” The source of my rationality must change, and that’s what an increase of aesthetic sensibility and focus on beauty can accomplish.
However, unless this beauty is a “sacramental beauty,” I will not necessarily derive a new way of life from my observation of the particular: I may have a “moment” of deep reflection that resists “capture,” but it is questionable if that “moment” will translate into an entirely new way of life. Perhaps it will; perhaps it won’t. But if I believe in an “entirely new way of looking at the world” that insists on a “constant observation of the particular” (versus fleeting moments), then “capture” can be better resisted. Do not mistake me as saying that Heidegger and Deleuze believed mere “moments” of observing the particular could change us, but I do think that without a sacramental ontology, it will be difficult for “regular moments of observation” to translate into an entire lifestyle free of “capture.” That said, if the moments lead to a Buddhistic level of unattachment, or an appreciation of “Being beyond being(s),” this could occur.
If I believe creation is beautiful and that it is not “totally depraved,” then I will reason differently about it, but if I still hold “depraved” premises and become “more rational,” this will likely only increase my capacity to rationalize COs into the Bible and live according. Without sacramental beauty, increasing rationality will make me more susceptible to “capture,” and so the solution is not found in Protestants merely believing rationality can be good alongside revelation. If sacramental beauty is not included, increases of rationality could worsen the problem.
If we sit down and think constantly, but our thinking is not organized by (something like, at least) sacramental ontology, we will not only still prove vulnerable to “capture,” but we might be even more “captured.” This suggests why the emphasis on rationality today and “thinking more” is so misguided: without the right foundation, “increasing education” or thinking will not necessarily make the world a better place.
Where there is “total depravity,” there is radical vulnerability to “capture.” In arguing for sacramental beauty, I am arguing for the replacement of “total depravity.” That is indeed my main target, and though it may seem counter-intuitive to think that believing the world entails no DO would make us more susceptible to the influences of the world, that is indeed what occurs. Even if we don’t think the world matters, we just can’t avoid thinking about the world we live in, and if we believe our only tool for thinking about the world is through the Bible, our thinking will prove poor and incomplete. And so weakened, we will have little defenses against “capture.”
As Karen Prior notes in her tremendous Fierce Convictions on the work of abolitionist Hannah More, ‘[a] suspicion of beauty and form […] has shadowed Christian thought throughout the history of the church; sadly so, considering God is the author of all beauty.’⁹ ‘Still, More understood that more than ideas, imagination moved the world.’¹⁰ Where sacramental beauty is lacking, imagination will also prove weak, for imagination will likely be viewed as a temptation to think “beyond the Bible.” Perhaps a “literal imagination” will be acceptable — creative ways to depict what is in the Bible — but beyond that will likely be viewed as a worldly temptation. Where there is no imagination, the mind is contained, and if imagination is a keyway to avoid and combat “capture,” a Protestant attack on imagination will prove to be a Protestant contribution to making itself worldly in its efforts to escape worldliness.
In conclusion, Protestantism has been its own stumbling block, but it doesn’t have to be. “Sacramental Protestantism” is completely compatible with Protestant beliefs: all that must be adjusted versus erased is “sola scriptura” and “total depravity” (as traditionally understand). Yes, we should continue to think the Bible has “final authority,” just not “exclusive authority,” and we should think we are “semi-depraved,” just not “totally.” These are doable adjustments, and in my view, these are not actions of Protestantism abandoning Orthodoxy, but becoming more Orthodox. The choice is ours — may we choose life.
¹This line was inspired by John Abolt.
²Please note that I argue in “The Science of Things Failing” that it’s actually not possible to “take in revelation” without using rationality, so the divide between “revelation” and “reason” is a false one. Still, it must be addressed, because traditionally Protestants have lived according to it.
³With sacramental ontology, Protestants wouldn’t have to give the same weight to tradition or the church as Catholics, but in tradition and the church participating in DO, these potential sources of knowledge could gain a new weight that could help Protestants be dialectical.
⁴To allude back to my earlier point, Protestant sermons generally teach us to “love our neighbor as ourselves,” but can fail to provide details on how to figure out how to “love Dave” in his particularity.
⁵If we “leave it up to God” and do not act relative to x, we do not ascribe to a “positive value” that could resist influences and gradual infiltration by COs. If I have a hole and cover it with a steel tile, then it is unlikely something can race in and fill it. But if I leave the hole open, it’s likely only a matter of time before something comes along and falls in. Where there is an opening, there is vulnerability.
Now, if I stood by the uncovered hole and watched it like a patrolman, then I could make sure nothing came along and fell in, but I would have to watch vigilantly. Unfortunately, what tends to happen when Christians say “God only knows” is that they stop paying attention entirely; after all, if only God knows, what good will focusing on the matter accomplish? As a result, Christians can stop watching the open hole and leave to do something else. Assuming the hole represents their minds, slowly and subtly, in comes along the ideas of Capitalism, Socialism — the CO(s) of the day — to fall right in. As a result, the person who denied taking a position about x gradually and slowly slips into a position about x, often without realizing it. Such people will likely continue to claim, “only God knows,” mentally convinced that they don’t hold a position on x when asked directly, but then those same people will act and think indirectly as if x is true or false. And once people become like this, it is especially difficult for them to stop acting for or against x, because they are convinced that they aren’t acting for or against x at all. A person who has no mental position on x, only an “active” position, is an especially difficult person to convince to stop acting (such a person is “thoughtless” like Hannah Arendt discussed).
⁶To stress the argument here: living according to only an interpretation of a book makes a person weaker to resist “capture” then when a person lives according to interpretations of a book, nature, science, rationality, and so on. Diversification creates strength.
⁷Additionally, Protestants are more likely to convince themselves that they only “read” the Bible, not interpret it, and so are much more likely to deny they ever could be “captured” by COs. After all, if they’re just “reading” the Bible, how can COs sneak in? (And again, Protestants may not even consider it problematic that COs “capture,” for a CO could reflect the DO of the Bible.)
⁸That said, Pentecostalism today has its own ways in which it can be uniquely susceptible to “capture,” mainly by prioritizing the will and voice of “the Holy Spirit” above all other sources of knowledge. As interpreting the Bible is particularly vulnerable to “capture,” so too is interpretating the voice in our spirit, and the problem is only worsened if we give that voice ultimate and exclusive authority (“sola spiritus,” per se). The key to avoiding “capture” is by having multiple and equal sources of knowledge and wisdom that can dialectically balance a person out. In my opinion, Catholics seem more aware of this need for a kind of “harmony” then other Christians.
⁹Prior, Karen. Fierce Convictions. Nashville, Tenn: Nelson Books, 2014: 44.
¹⁰Prior, Karen. Fierce Convictions. Nashville, Tenn: Nelson Books, 2014: 221.
1. Unfortunately, if we believe the universe entails a “given” and “discoverable” order, that also means we are more susceptible to totalitarianism, but if we believe all order is “created,” then we are susceptible to endless revolution and the horror that can entail. Generally, Protestantism seems more susceptible to the mistakes of the French Revolution, while Catholicism seems more susceptible to the mistakes of totalitarian regimes (but do note that revolutions can lead to totalitarian regimes). This problem is discussed extensively in “Belonging Again” by O.G. Rose.
2. I am of the opinion that Protestantism has been much more susceptible to Gnosticism, escapism, Cartesianism, and the like than has been Catholicism, and I believe the lack of “sacramental ontology” has been a prime reason.
3. If it is the case that where there is “capture” there is an increase of the likelihood of “the banality of evil” (as discussed in “Belonging Again” by O.G. Rose), then Protestants also need to reclaim sacramental ontology to avoid the horrors Hannah Arendt observed.
4. Personally, without sacramental ontology, what I believe happens in Protestantism is a confused mixture of reasoning and revelation where Protestants sometimes deny they use reasoning when they actually do, all while holding up revelation as if it is not a product of interpretation and simultaneously granting authority to people who only “read” scripture (those who do additional studying say in history and philosophy to better understand revelation are not granted extra credit for doing so). Without directly owning rationality, Protestants still end up using it but in a confused and unsystematic way; without sacramental ontology, their relation to rationality is very unclear, with Protestants doing their best to avoid saying anything directly about it.
5. Without a DO, Protestants have no standard by which to determine if their CO is good or bad. They only have the Bible against which to judge their CO, but problematically the Bible must be interpreted, and COs are extremely powerful at shaping our interpretations of books. Mustn’t we interpret nature too? Yes — everything must be interpreted — but Protestants have less mechanisms to check and balance any interpretation of anything. The Protestant has interpretations of the Bible against other interpretations of the Bible, while the Catholic has interpretations of the Bible against interpretations of tradition, nature, etc. In other words, Catholicism is more dialectical, and in so being, it is more able to balance its interpretations to keep it from being “captured” like Deleuze and Heidegger warn. This isn’t to say Catholicism can’t be captured, but it is to say Catholicism is less susceptible to it.
6. It is possible that lack of a sacramental ontology is perhaps why Protestants seem more anti-science than Catholics. For the Catholic, science unveils the DO, but for the Protestant, science unveils how “totally depraved” creation operates. For the Catholic, science plays a “necessary” role, for God wants the DO of creation to be known, while for Protestants, the role of science is unclear. Science seems to matter, but not essentially, and at the end of the day, for Protestants, the Bible can tell us what we need to know over science. Revelation trumps reason, so revelation certainly trumps science. But for the Catholic, the Bible does not trump science: both are equal sources of revelation of DO.
7. If reason is “totally depraved,” it is hard not to feel that those who are unreasonable but regularly reference the Bible are holier than those who reason. Can reasonable people also reference the Bible? Indeed, but why did they become reasonable? Wasn’t revelation enough? At best, being reasonable is a neutral characteristic.
8. As Ayn Rand discussed, if we don’t consciously engage in philosophy, we will still have a philosophy, but “suck it in” like secondhand smoke from nearby cigarettes. Similarly (perhaps believing it “totally depraved”), if we don’t consciously reason, we will still reason, and consequently do it poorly. As a result, our ideas in all subjects — science, history, politics, etc. — will be expressions of “secondhand smoke,” and the likelihood of being “captured” will much higher. In whatever ways our thinking reflects “secondhand smoke” are the ways in which we are most likely “captured,” and that means whatever ideas we hold that we did not consciously reflect on dialectically will likely be ideas that hold us more than we hold them.
9. If I think there is a DO, I am less likely to be a puppet; if I think there is only a CO, I am more likely to be a slave to fashion. However, if I believe in DO, I can be a victim of “givens,” while the person who only ascribes to COs will not be so easily swayed by “givens.” Hence, a balance is indeed: “Sacramental Protestantism,” per se.
10. Protestants struggle to have a coherent category of “letting nature run its course.” Nature is “fallen” — why should it run its course? In fact, shouldn’t we assume that everything natural is bad? If there’s any hope of good in the world, surely it is through technology, and if we are to be saved from the temptations of the world, being “captured” by our technology could help.
11. Protestants can often seem to define themselves in terms of “not being Catholic,” a negative definition. A positive definition would be more useful, but it seems to me that positive definitions of Protestantism revolve around “sola scriptura” and other tenets that contribute to a rejection of sacramental ontology. This doesn’t have to be the case, but it seems common.
12. The Bible seems poorly equipped at fighting conspiracy theories alone, but if revelation is all Protestants have, then we have only a weak weapon to fight the “capture” of conspiracies.
13. Doesn’t the Protestant believe all of creation praises God? The Bible says this, yes, which means we need the Bible to hear those praises — the dilemma is not escape.
14. Without a sacramental ontology, there is no DO in creation relative to which we can be “good,” and so the loss of beauty seems to correspond with the loss of goodness. Yes, there is “goodness” as defined by a CO, but that is likely to mean our goodness is just an expression of “capture.”
15. If Protestants don’t believe in sacramental ontology, it would seem the only reason to garner a job and status would be in order to preach the Gospel from a position of power. There would be no inherent good in being an excellent artist, because there would be no inherent good in excellence in general: the good of excellence in any field would perhaps come from the increase in authority. With this power, one could preach the Gospel, and it could have more weight. Jobs, crafts, skills — all becomes means to an end.
In a belief system where art, work, and the like are not good in of themselves, it should not surprise us if there is an eruption of mediocrity. This is, for one, because of the social pressures against putting in the long hours to achieve excellence (and if it is not understood how these long hours directly help spread the Gospel, they can furthermore be viewed as immoral). Secondly, there just simply isn’t incentive to be excellent at anything other than what contributes to the CO/DO, and very few things fall within the scope of being clearly supported by the Bible outside of ministry. Where is being a doctor clearly articulated as an expression of DO? Or being a writer? They aren’t, and so, for the Protestant, it seems that the doctor to be considered “a hand of God” must explicitly fill their office with Bible verses, as the writer must explicitly write about Christian characters. Is this inherently bad? Not at all, but if these “explicit” acts are at the expense of excellence, they easily can be: they will create the impression that Christianity is mediocre, and Christianity will certainly not feel compelling. Where there is a lack of excellence and beauty, there can be a lack of “attraction” into the system of beliefs.
16. If we do not believe in a DO, it is hard to take a hard stand against the Apocalypse. In fact, it’s hard not to somewhat desire the end of the world, for that is when Jesus returns.
17. If we believe in the possibility of CO/DO, then it can be holy to be “captured.” Additionally, it can feel like we are holier for believing in “total depravity,” for the belief stresses our need for God. If the world is utterly broken, then we are utterly lost without our savior — the Protestant could accuse the Catholic of not depending on God enough. And this could perhaps be true, but the doctrine of “total depravity” could also reflect the thinking of Satan. To borrow an idea from Wendy Alec’s book, perhaps Satan believes humanity isn’t worthy enough of God, and seeks to destroy us in order to bring glory to God? Perhaps Satan thinks we are “totally depraved,” and in Satan’s love for God, disobeys God’s design and will?
18. The Christian who believes in DO believes an Atheist can participate in the DO (and not know it). For someone who does not believe in sacramental ontology, this is practically impossible.
19. Wouldn’t Protestantism, with its emphasis on faith as opposed to works, be less susceptible to capitalist capture? Seemingly, but if we live by “faith alone,” we are still going to work, but if we are not intentional about it and aware of how we work, we can end up “captured” without realizing it. Additionally, without rationality, what constitutes “having faith” ends up being “captured” too, because it’s relative to one’s interpretation of the Bible, which, as the paper explains, tends to be “captured.”
20. Aren’t Protestants more dialectical because they are more denomination? It would seem, but “Protestant Capture” is not a result of a lack of exposure to diversity, but a lack of epistemological diversity. Diversity on the surface doesn’t necessarily translate into diversity at the core.
21. We shouldn’t conflate “capture” with “imposing a single view,” as arguably is a function of the Catholic Church. If the Church’s single view is not a result “of the systems of the age doing the Church’s thinking for it,” the Church is not “captured,” just possibly wrong.
22. Isn’t Catholicism far more likely to accidentally mistake a CO for a DO, since the latter carries an inherently skepticism towards claims of DO? I don’t believe so, because Catholics don’t assume created orders are inerrant. Inerrancy is mostly a Protestant doctrine — infallibility can more shared with Catholics — which though only supposed to apply to the Bible, “practically” end up applying to the COs based on the Bible. In Protestants possibly believing the world is “totally depraved,” they ironically end up more “captured” by the world. Catholics, in seeming to be at risk of being “worldly,” end up less, precisely because they have more epistemological tools.
23. Doesn’t Calvinism, with its notions of predestination, lend itself to the notion of a divinely ordained personal vocation outside of clericalism? It can, but my point is that the doctrine of “total depravity” is more of the culprit then predestination, which is only a corollary. Furthermore, what constitutes “divinely ordained” tends to reflect “capture,” as evident by “the Prosperity Gospel.”
24. Perhaps it could be argued that each Protestant denomination is more vulnerable to “capture” than Catholicism even though Protestantism as a whole should theoretically be less vulnerable to “capture” than Catholicism. That might bet true.
25. For Catholics, sin has corrupted our ontology, but not totally. Certainly, sin is not merely moral and “accidental,” but it is also not inescapable.
26. If there is no DO, only CO/DO (and especially if in the end the world is to be destroyed), then when matters is focusing on relationships and community. Humans are eternal beings, and they will last forever: it makes no sense to focus on excellence at art, work, and so on. However, if creation will also last forever, just like people, there can be reason to seek to make creation more beautiful, good, and true.