Saturday, June 11, 2005

Four hours with a Master Catholic Apologist

My Meeting with Dave Armstrong.

It finally happened! On a recent business trip I made to Detroit (aka "Mo-town"), I set aside a few hours to meet and get acquainted with the famed and prolific Catholic writer and apologist, Dave Armstrong, as well as his lovely family.

It is easy to form opinions of people from what one reads on-line. Many times, literary personalities are quite different from one's live persona. That has happened to me, and as a matter of personal policy, I myself try not to fall into the same error.

This is an error many fall into when it comes to Dave, since he rises to any challenges against the Catholic faith coming his way. He's exhaustive, punctilious and for most of his adversaries, quite aggravating. He's the Catholic that no one can seem to shut up, and this grates on the nerves of anti-Catholic controversialists, whether of the scholarly kind, or of demagogues, bigots, and sophists. Dave will perform a real analysis of their postulates, atomize their arguments into individual thought components, and judge every single one individually on its merits, and also within their literary context. Anti-Catholics lose patience very quickly under this kind of scrutiny; many of them escape it by attacking Dave personally.

Yet the man is completely unassuming, a simple soul, living simply with no pretensions at anything. I would say that his is a monastic life of work, prayer, and vast amounts of writing.

He drives, to put it kindly, a somewhat overused minivan with no air conditioning and squeaky breaks—"I just had them fixed"—he would remark—"I guess I'll have to take it back." If you only knew what his full-time job is, you would wonder how he can make ends meet. Of course, the man doesn't know what a credit card is, somehow I think he seldom writes a check, and a "cell-phone"—what's that?

His speech is somewhat slow, marked with sudden pauses as he switches subjects, but his interjections are linear and precise, always on point, with little ambiguity and therefore, with little space for expansion. A conversation with Dave doesn't go around in endless spirals of speculative flights of imagination or hypothesis. His statements are factual and quite finite in content, as well as quite located in space and time. To talk to Dave is to string together and alternate a chain of factual assertions, one following the other. Like all geniuses he depends on his wife greatly. It was evident to me that she was very protective of him, that she protected him from others, maybe even from himself at times, so that ill-intentioned people don't take advantage of Dave's inherent goodness. Best of all, she keeps him grounded on "the real world" and provided the necessary dose of common sense that intellectuals so often lack. In all humility, I know of what I speak firsthand.

He didn't strike me as having the mettle of a public speaker, an observation that he agrees with although for different reasons: he just doesn't like to stand "up there" and "talk down" to the rest of us. A mark of great humility, it seems to me. But also, the way he communicates would bewilder any audience. People would rush to take note of every fact he throws at you, and every fact is important, you wouldn't want to miss anything. Fifteen minutes into a Dave Armstrong lecture would burn-out most note-takers, except for the most fanatical.

Dave doesn't live in an imposing mansion where he keeps aloof in some sort of ivory tower from where he judges the world. Rather, he lives in an older, small house built early in the 20th century, non-descript, well-maintained and landscaped, a credit to his kind wife, no doubt, in a Detroit suburb. Various rooms had been divided from each other by heavy drapes, an attempt to keep the cool air blowing from the a/c's from dissipating into the hotter rooms. In the backyard lies an inflatable pool where his children and his children's friends frolic, escaping from the Detroit heat. When no one is watching, Dave jumps into the pool too.

The inner sanctum of Dave's knowledge temple is his attic. That's where he keeps his imposing library and the most eclectic music collection I've only seen in the homes of true geniuses. Rock, jazz, classical, mo-town, Wagner—lots of Wagner, of whom a bust lies carelessly atop a pile of material. There he keeps his computer, tied to the world through a modem. Music is the medium he uses to take flight, the environment inside which his mind soars. Inside that room, Dave works late into the night, to wake up early the next day and start all over, six days a week.

He was in a hurry that day, for the Detroit Pistons were playing the San Antonio Spurs and Dave didn't want to miss the game. I didn't have the heart to remind him that I lived in San Antonio and that I had a soft spot in my heart for the Spurs…

So it was that I left his home, his devoted wife, his well-behaved children, and took me back to my hotel, leaving me with wondering how the Spirit of God moves such men to such heights, and also moving me to thank God for him and the likes of him.

- Visit Dave's website, Biblical Evidence for Catholicism

- Read Dave's blog, Cor ad cor Loquitur

- Buy Dave Armstrong's books from Amazon.com