From the man who wrote the Handbook of Christian Apologetics comes “Ecumenism Without Comprise”.
Calvinist-turned-Catholic touts interfaith respect
February 06, 2010, 7:32AM
KALAMAZOO — Author Peter Kreeft packed the house at Newman’s Bookshoppe on a recent Friday night, offering his views on interfaith harmony in a lively talk.
The Jan. 29 lecture by the Protestant-turned-Catholic speaker ranged from lighthearted humor to blunt advice as he explored interfaith relations and took questions on the topic and on his own religious philosophy.
Kreeft, a 1959 graduate of Calvin College, in Grand Rapids, is a professor of philosophy at Boston College and at The King’s College in New York City. He travels the country as a lecturer and has authored more than 55 books.
About 135 people attended the event at Newman’s, a Catholic information center now located on East Michigan Avenue in downtown Kalamazoo.
One woman in the predominantly Catholic audience wanted to know how she should comfort Protestant friends after they lose loved ones without “toning down” her Catholic beliefs, including her belief in praying to patron saints. Another asked how to approach non-believers in discussions of faith.
“God has given us a very powerful tool — death,” he responded to the second question. “And every atheist — unless he is an idiot — is really agnostic. No one really knows if there is a God, so ask that person, ‘What do you think happens to you after you die?”
Kreeft advised both women to ask thoughtful questions and to carefully absorb the answers. He said it’s important to seek common ground, such as humanistic compassion and genuine concern for social justice, without making concessions about your own beliefs.
Kreeft’s presentation, titled “Ecumenism Without Compromise,” had a pointed focus on the importance of harmony between Christians and those who practice other religions as well as atheists and agnostics. But Kreeft also stressed the importance of harmony among branches of the Christian faith.
“Catholics and Protestants are both Christian denominations,” he said. “But there was a time when each thought the other was not. For hundreds of years, we condemned each other’s souls to hell.”
Kreeft, who attended Eastern Christian High School in New Jersey, decided to convert to Catholicism from Calvinism in 1959 — a move that would take his father, an elder in the Reformed Church, years to accept, he said.
“When I was very young, I asked my father, ‘Why do we Calvinists have the whole truth and no one else? We’re so few. How could God leave the rest of the world in error? Especially the rest of the Christian churches?’
“My father was a good man and a wise man. I was amazed that he couldn’t answer that.”
Kreeft’s doubts about the anti-Catholic beliefs he was raised on were heightened in college by a roommate who was becoming Anglican who simply asked the young Kreeft why Protestants do not pray to saints.
“He said to me, ‘There’s nothing wrong in you asking me to pray for you, is there? Why not ask the dead, then, if we believe they’re alive with God in heaven?’” Kreeft said.
Kreeft could not come up with an answer. He attended an Anglican liturgy shortly thereafter and, by his senior year at Calvin College, decided to convert to Catholicism.
Reverence for Mary
Kreeft discussed common misconceptions about Catholicism that can influence Protestants and others. One is the Catholic reverence for Mary, which he said is often mistaken by non-Catholics for worship of Mary as someone equal to or above the triune God — Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Sue Baldwin, 47, of Portage, expressed her concern about individuals who place so much emphasis on Mary that it can be misjudged as false worship.
“Even as a Catholic I’m sometimes uncomfortable with the way people treat this,” she said. “It can look as though Mary is being worshipped.”
Kreeft called the notion of putting Mary above Jesus sacrilegeous but said traditionally Catholics don’t do that. “It’s a heresy, and it’s wrong,” he said. “Without Mary there would be no Jesus, but Catholics do not worship Mary.”
As a matter of respect, non-Catholics should accept that Catholics are simply showing reverence for Mary, Kreeft said.
Pope sets example
Kreeft also illustrated his message of tolerance and respect for other faiths with examples from the life of Pople John Paul II.
When the pontiff kissed the Quran, the Muslim holy book, in 1999, he was unfairly criticized, Kreeft said. “He kissed the Quran, but a kiss is simply respect,” Kreeft said. “It doesn’t mean that he accepted or believed everything that was inside it or the views of the Muslims but that he just respected the people and their beliefs.
“Pope John Paul II went to the Wailing Wall too and prayed with the Jews,” Kreeft continued. “That doesn’t mean that he believes everything they believe, but it does mean that he deeply respects them.”
The two acts were prime examples of ecumenism, Kreeft said.
“The pope recognized the commonalities of his faith and theirs, and he showed respect.”
Learn More @: www.PeterKreeft.com