instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Now if I tell you that you suffer from delusions

Among my affectations is a mild disquiet over prayers for "vocations to the priesthood and religious life" during the General Intercessions. Yes, by all means let us pray for religious vocations. But why do we so rarely pray for marital vocations -- the vocation of eighty or ninety percent of Catholics? For that matter, how many religious vocations can we expect without healthy marital vocations?

Fr. Ray Blake, who blogs at Fr. Ray Blake's Blog, looks at the matter from the other end:
Vocations to the priesthood are like the canary in the mine, they are the first thing to die in an unhealthy environment. If in a few years a diocese will have only a handful of priests then within a generation the number of committed Catholics is going to match more or less the number of those priests.
And, given the old grace perfecting nature angle, if we expect lots of the religious vocations we pray for to come from good Catholic families, then in a way praying for the end of religious vocations is praying for the means of marital vocations.

Though I still think we should pray for marital vocations, if only to make parents have to think about it when their kids ask what a marital vocation is.

Fr. Blake, incidentally, has a novel suggestion for local priest shortages:
My modest alternative proposal to lay-led services or importing priests is simple, import foreign bishops! If a diocese doesn't have enough priests or faces a steep decline, the problem must be with the "High Priest","the Chief Catechist", the Bishop. It seems pretty pointless to bring in Polish, Filipino or African priests only to have them drawn into a clerical culture that does not produce fruit, what is needed is a change of that culture, which only a bishop from outside can bring about.
I don't know that only a bishop from outside can bring about that sort of change to the clerical culture, but it would certainly keep everyone on their toes.

(Link via The Curt Jester.)


Tuesday, August 28, 2012

If you want my suggestion

In a comment on my "Always Distinguish" post, Paul D. writes:
What I would like to know is at the end of the day, who do you suggest we vote for Tom?
What I have been suggesting for years is that the day doesn't end when we vote.

I've also been suggesting that we understand what we're doing when we vote for lesser evil, and that, if we do understand, we won't be happy with, much less proud of, doing it.

In another comment on a follow-up post, Paul writes:
I am interested in how Catholics can effect change in the world by being faithful and making prudent use of that faith to transform the political sphere.
This is a noble interest. I don't have much to contribute to the detailed working out of that change, but I can remind people of some of the principles by which it should be worked out. Among these principles is this:

It is always and everywhere imprudent to call evil good.

If you say you never and nowhere call evil good, I answer, "Good!"



Friday, August 24, 2012

Dear Roman Catholic members of the Republican Party:

If it bothers you when other Catholics point out the objective evil in your candidates' positions, then get better candidates.


Always distinguish

Anyone who says that Mitt Romney is pro-life is speaking a material falsehood.

Romney is not pro-life. He is anti-abortion-in-most-cases. To be anti-abortion-in-most-cases is to hold a morally evil position. To be pro-life is to hold a morally good position.

If you can't tell the difference between good and evil, then you shouldn't tell Catholics how to vote in the general election.



Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The standing political deal

We will give you the good you desire if you give us power. A lot of power. Quite possibly, in fact, more power than you think we need to give you the good you desire. But we need to use that power to tick a few things off our list of priorities that just barely edge out giving you the good you desire. Things like evening scores -- well, and running up scores. Oh, and getting more power. What good will it do anyone if we give you the good you desire, only to lose power? THEY will take away the good you desire. Or at least, THEY might. We wouldn't -- or if we did, it would be only temporarily, until we're all settled in with inexhaustible power. But let's not lose track of the fundamentals, We're the ones, the only ones, offering you the good you desire. So remember, and teach your children:
  1. Power.
  2. The good you desire.
In that order.


Sunday, August 19, 2012

A hard doing

In today's Gospel reading, we hear that
The Jews quarreled among themselves, saying,  "How can this man give us his flesh to eat?"
Jesus did indeed give them a hard saying, about which I trust you've heard a homily or two as the Lectionary makes its way through John 6 this month.

I noticed another hard saying in this chapter, one that will be read next Sunday, that I don't think I've ever heard a homily on. It's much easier to understand than, "The bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world," but it can still be hard to apply:
Jesus knew from the beginning the ones who would not believe and the one who would betray him.
Let me suggest two ways we might apply this statement of fact.

First, I think it sheds some light on what might seem like Jesus' intransigence in preaching the Bread of Life Discourse. In John's account, Jesus doesn't seem particularly concerned about the consternation His teaching causes among His disciples -- and admit it, this teaching is tough to get your head around even if you're a daily communicant.

Catholics like to use this as evidence of the truth of the dogma of the Real Presence; if Jesus were speaking figuratively, the argument goes, wouldn't He correct His disciples' misinterpretation rather than let them return to their former way of life? But that argument leaves untouched an even more fundamental question: Whatever Jesus means, wouldn't He want His disciples to understand him rather than let them return to their former way of life? Wouldn't He want to be sure He communicated His meaning to those He is teaching?

And the answer to that more fundamental question is, No, not if He knew from the beginning the ones who would not believe.

That the bread Jesus would give is His flesh for the life of the world is a hard saying. But a disciple doesn't accept a saying based on his intellectual grasp of the saying, he accepts it based on his faith in his master. A disciple asks, "What does this saying mean?," not, "Who can accept it?" (Hint: a disciple can accept it.)

There would be plenty of time to answer His disciples' questions about the Bread of Life Discourse (I might try to carve out an hour or so for that this afternoon). During the conversation recorded in John 6, though, He wasn't really asked about His saying as such, He was asked about His authority as master. His authority is a matter of faith, so it sufficed for Him to assert it and let the faith fall where it may (i.e., on those to whom it is granted by His Father).

The second application follows from the first, and it is this: We aren't Jesus. We don't know from the beginning the ones who would not believe. We are not masters called to form our own disciples. Therefore, we don't get to be intransigent and unconcerned about the consternation caused by our preaching of the Gospel to every living creature. We ought to try to make ourselves understood, because we can't make ourselves masters.


Saturday, August 18, 2012

All you beasts, wild and tame

Our world is a marvelous place. Just recently, a whole new family of spiders was discovered in a cave in Oregon. Arachnologists doubled down and named them Trogloraptors.

First known picture of T. marchingtoni.


Friday, August 17, 2012

Sub Tuum Praesidium

We fly to thy patronage, O Holy Mother of God. Despise not our petitions in our necessity, but deliver us always from all dangers, O glorious and blessed Virgin. Amen.

(Much information on this prayer can be found here.) 


Sunday, August 12, 2012

So that *was* my guardian angel I heard snickering

Yesterday I wrote:
But sometimes -- sometimes, the power of God works through a disciple in a mysterious and highly visible way. A disquietingly unsubtle way.
Today I report that I am an unwitting prophet. It turns out that, when I wrote the above, I was in the midst of a series of contingent actions that would combine with other serieses of contingent actions, about which I was wholly unaware, to produce my agreeing this morning to help with my parish's RCIA program, something I hadn't done even back in the days when I was the parish Lenten program.

Not at all disquieting, but definitely unsubtle.

The Punchline: Not only is it a good friend from my years in the Lay Fraternities of St. Dominic, who has occasionally commented on this blog and who, unbeknownst to me, transferred to my parish and was appointed our RCIA director. But her Dominican chapter is studying Forming Intentional Disciples, and she's already given a copy to our pastor.

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And the nominalists lamented

Presumptive Republican vice presidential nominee Rep. Paul Ryan earned praise in politically conservative Catholic circles for saying, while rebutting the charge that he is an Objectivist:
If somebody is going to try to paste a person’s view on epistemology to me, then give me Thomas Aquinas.
Now, I've never read any of Rand's novels; Donleavy's The Unexpurgated Code is more the sort of youthful enthusiasm I'd have to distance myself from. But I wouldn't have guessed the problem with Objectivism is its epistemology.

That said, I do think the country would be well served with moderate realists in public office. And I would love love love it if Notre Dame sponsored a disputation between Rep. Ryan and Vice Pres. Biden on the problem of universals. For its own sake, of course, but also to see how many ways the national media comes up with to paraphrase Wikipedia. The Time cover story alone -- dare I hope it be titled, "Is Idealism Dead in America?" -- would sustain me through the rest of the campaign.


Saturday, August 11, 2012

Forming Intentional Disciples, pt. 5

I've got more thoughts on the topic of forming intentional disciples, but for now let me conclude my 5-part review of the book Forming Intentional Disciples by taking as my text this passage from the final chapter, "Expect Conversion":
If we are going to seriously evangelize our own, we had better be prepared for the Holy Spirit to do things in people's lives and in our parishes that are not part of our five-year plans, things that we could never have accomplished even if they were part of our five-year plans. We have to expect and plan for conversion and the fruit of conversion. [p. 238]
Those involved in their parishes' five-year plans are referred to the rest of the chapter. Here I want to take up the idea of expecting conversion, not at the level of an individual parish, but at the level of an individual soul.

The Church teaches that every baptized Christian in a state of grace has been given by God
sanctifying grace, the grace of justification:
- enabling them to believe in God, to hope in him, and to love him through the theological virtues;
- giving them the power to live and act under the prompting of the Holy Spirit through the gifts of the Holy Spirit;
- allowing them to grow in goodness through the moral virtues.
A disciple of Jesus not only has this grace and these powers, he uses them. And when he uses the power God gives him, it works.

Sometimes, yes, in a mysterious and hidden way unknown to the disciple in this life. Seeds spring, and grow up whilst the sower knoweth not.

But sometimes -- sometimes, the power of God works through a disciple in a mysterious and highly visible way. A disquietingly unsubtle way. Maybe even a literally miraculous way.

I'm pretty sure the reason this sort of thing doesn't happen very often isn't because God doesn't want to work in our lives. I think we (in particular, I) lack the faith that God wants to be unsubtly at work in the world through our lives, the hope that He will if we ask Him to, and the love to go ahead and ask Him even if it means disquiet.

Being baptized, we can believe in, hope in, and love God as much as we want. When we first sit down, and reckon the charges that are necessary to build a tower for the Lord, we will find that, by God, we do have wherewithal to finish it. The question is, are we prepared to invest it in the tower, or will we be satisfied just building the foundation (or even merely reviewing the blueprints an hour a week).

The disciple of Jesus who is answering the daily call to conversion is prepared to invest in the tower, but he should also be prepared for God to show up, in unpredictable ways and at unpredictable times, to help out. And the disciple who prepares a place for God in his life will not be disappointed.



Friday, August 10, 2012

To no one's surprise

Mark Shea has a couple of recent posts, one linking to a post of mine about voting and one linking to my series of posts reviewing Forming Intentional Disciples.

As of this morning, about 20 different people (including me) have commented on Mark's post about voting, and 1 person (not including me) has commented on Mark's post about discipleship.

Well, that's just a dull anecdote. But it does suggest a principle (even if it doesn't establish the relevance of the principle to the Church in the United States):

Catholics who manifest their Catholic identity more by talking about Obama than by talking about Jesus aren't doing a very good job of manifesting Catholic identity.

More starkly: If Catholics would rather talk about math than discipleship, we're in trouble.



Thursday, August 09, 2012

What are the odds?

Consider an election in which N votes are cast, each for one of two candidates, A and B. The election can be modeled as a set of N independent draws from a binomial distribution in which the probability of a vote for Candidate A is p (between 0 and 1 inclusive) and the probability of a vote for Candidate B is (1-p).

If N is even, the probability of a tie is given by the formula:

P(tie) = (N)! * ((N/2)!)^(-2) * (p-p^2)^(N/2)

If I've computed everything correctly, the P(tie) curves as a function of number of votes N, for different probabilities of a vote for Candidate A p, look like this:
The blue curve, for p=0.5, is equivalent to the case where every vote is cast by flipping a fair coin. In that case, the probability of a tie falls off exponentially with the number of votes. If 10,000 votes are cast, the probability of a tie is 0.8%. That would generally be considered an improbable outcome -- though of course the probability of it happening at least once rises as the number of such elections increases. In any set of 52 elections with 10,000 voters flipping fair coins, the odds of a tie are about 1 in 3.

Given how many elections are held each year in the U.S. alone, that might make it seem like there should be a lot of ties, at least in local elections with relatively small numbers of voters. But note that the blue curve represents the highest probability of a tie assuming a binomial voting distribution. As the other curves show, if one candidate has even a slight edge, the probability of a tie falls off dramatically. In elections of 100,000 votes, voters voting 51%-49% will produce a tie about half a billion times less often than voters voting 50%-50%.

(And if you're wondering how voters voting 51%-49% could ever produce a tie -- or, for that matter, how an even number of voters voting 50%-50% could ever not produce a tie -- recall those percentages are probabilities associated with an a priori distribution, not the posterior statistics of the election.)



Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Forming Intentional Disciples, pt. 4

In Chapter 9 of Forming Intentional Disciples, Sherry Weddell confronts the fact that, not only does the typical Catholic parish in the United States not form disciples of Jesus Christ, typical parish culture actually inhibits the formation of disciples:
Until discipleship and conversion become a normative part of parish life, many [visitors] will walk in and out of our parishes untouched, and many Catholics who are disciples will continue to feel that they need to hide or minimize their newly awakened personal faith in front of other Catholics. The first thing that must be done is to deliberately and persistently break the code of silence if it is in place. The Catholic norm of silence about a relationship with God, about Jesus Christ and his story, about our own stories of following Christ, and about the need for everyone to decide whether or not he or she will follow as a disciple is stifling the emergence of a culture of discipleship and all that flows from it.
This is a ticklish proposition. It's one thing to tell parish leadership that they're leading the parish all wrong; you will not be the first person to tell them that.

But you may well be the first person to tell a fellow parishioner that they're being Catholic all wrong.

And they, quite likely, will return the sentiment.

Despite all of Sherry's war stories, I still insist that some of the friction is due to misunderstanding. I think there are Catholic disciples of Jesus who don't think of themselves as disciples of Jesus, who would agree with and support efforts to make disciples of Jesus if they could be made to see those efforts aren't protestantizing, who find the reasons for silence (or discretion, from their point of view) about discipleship more persuasive than the reasons for conversation.

I also think -- okay, guess that there are lots of Catholics who have a real but imperfect relationship with Jesus in His Church, the 2% or 5% or 20% at any given Mass to whom 90% of homilies are pitched, those who love God with a goodish bit of their hearts, souls, minds, and strengths. For such as these, there may be other ways of describing their relationship with Jesus that are as good or better than discipleship; the old three stages of the spiritual life, for example, or St. Catherine's stairs of loves, or St. Josemaría Escrivá's divine filiation. When those old assumptions that no longer hold, about the correlation between Catholic identity and discipleship, actually do hold, the old ways of ongoing formation can still work.

Here I'll mention two points on which I reserve my wholehearted endorsement of Forming Intentional Disciples. As someone typing this at his kitchen table, who has never to my knowledge formed an intentional disciple, and who can well imagine the counterarguments, I acknowledge the unmitigated cheek required to tell the professionals how to do their job, and yet: I found it a little off-putting to read of parish catechists identifying who are disciples and who are not. It may well be possible to do that within a group of people who talk about whether they are disciples, but in general -- and not challenging its usefulness or empirical validity -- the Five Thresholds of Conversion framework is a model of a certain process applied to human behavior. It is not the human behavior itself, nor is it necessarily a good model of every human's behavior.

Which is not to accuse Sherry, or anyone else, of treating everyone like a nail under the Hammer of the Five Thresholds of Conversion, it's just to point out that that hammer is not the only tool in the Toolbox of Christian Formation.

My second reservation is the observation that, in the testimonies of parish catechists, there is a high correlation (if it's not perfect correlation, it nearly is) between observed discipleship and observed getting-involved-in-parish-formation-programs. One might almost call this the Forming Intentional Catechists paradigm.

Now, there may be no one in the United States who has thought more about the variety of charisms God gives His people than Sherry Weddell. In fact, there's a section in Chapter 11 on how various charisms can be used "as aids on the journey to intentional discipleship." Clearly the book is not proposing that becoming active in parish discipleship formation programs is a necessary sign of discipleship. And, given the state of parish life in the United States, you would expect disciples to pitch in on discipleship programs in under-discipled parishes, even if their individual charisms aren't geared toward forming others.

Still, more could be said -- even in a book about discipleship within the parish -- about discipleship outside the parish.

Update: Don't miss Sherry's evisceration of my reservations in the comments.



Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Forming Intentional Disciples, pt. 3

Gotta keep writing, if I'm ever going to finish reviewing Forming Intentional Disciples and give the book to my pastor.

Having, in Chapter 1, identified -- through vision-clearing, cant-dispelling analysis of truly harrowing statistics -- the problem that the Catholic Church in the United States is failing to transmit the Catholic Faith to Catholics, and diagnosed the reason in Chapters 2 through 5 -- viz, that the Catholic Church in the United States is failing to make disciples -- Sherry goes in in the central chapters to describe the "thresholds of conversion," and how knowledge of them can help Catholic parishes to make disciples, even out of lifelong Catholics.

The five thresholds of conversion,empirically discovered by an evangelical Christian and confirmed over the Catherine of Siena Institute's eight years of Making Disciples workshops, were found to
culminate[] in a commitment to follow Jesus Christ as a disciple. Each transition to a new threshold was a genuine work of grace, empowered by the Holy Spirit, but each threshold also required real spiritual energy and real choices on the part of the person making the journey. Conversion didn't "just happen".... [pp 127-128]
The thresholds are:
  1. Initial trust, whether in Jesus, the Church, or even just some nice old lady who happened to be a Christian.
  2. Spiritual curiosity, an "essentially passive" state where one wants to know more.
  3. Spiritual openness, an acknowledgement that the person is, not yet committed, but "open to the possibility of change."
  4. Spiritual seeking, which transitions from passivity to actively seeking God and His place in their lives.
  5. Intentional discipleship, "a conscious commitment to follow Jesus in the midst of his Church as an obedient disciple and to reorder one's life accordingly."
If these thresholds are normative, then a parish that wants to make disciples ought to structure its programs and train its evangelists to meet people where they are and help them work their way across the thresholds that lie between where they are and discipleship.

How to do just that, with examples from parishes that are already at it, is the subject of Chapters 5-8.



Monday, August 06, 2012

Forming Intentional Disciples, pt. 2

Why are Catholic parishes today not forming Catholics? Riffing on Forming Intentional Disciples, let me propose an easy answer and a hard answer.

The easy answer is that Catholic parishes aren't trying to form Catholics. Too often, we settle for a passing grade in attendance at a sacramental preparation course:
...most leaders involved in sacramental prep and RCIA have had to wrestle with conflicts between individual and family expectations and whether or not someone is spiritually ready to receive both the sacrament and the sacramental grace in question. There are two common maxims that pastoral leaders often evoke as solutions in these situations. One is "The sacrament will take care of it," and the other is that "The Church will provide." [pp 105-106]
The possibility that one might receive a sacrament without receiving sacramental grace is not one we dwell on much. But sacraments are not magic. Chapter 4 contains valuable theological instruction in what the Church teaches about the "fruitfulness" of the sacraments, as well as the need for proper spiritual disposition for those who receive a Sacrament to also receive, in a fruitful way, the graces that the Sacrament provides.

In short, no, the sacrament will not "take care of" the lack of a proper disposition, and no, the Church will not provide that disposition if the receiver of the sacrament does not.

I call the above the easy answer to the question of why Catholic parishes aren't forming Catholics, because I think, by and large, most Catholics will agree with it as a generalization. At the very least, I think (okay, hope) they'd agree that a parish whose faith formation programs consisted of check-box style sacramental prep leaves much to be desired.

The hard answer, which I call hard based on the resistance to it I've seen, is that Catholic parishes don't know what fully formed Catholics are.

A fully formed Catholic is not just a Catholic who follows the precepts of the Church, can hold his own in doctrinal disputes, prays the Rosary, and is faithful to the Magisterium. A fully formed Catholic is a disciple of Jesus Christ. It was to convince Catholic leaders that all Catholics are to be disciples of Jesus, and to help Catholic leaders to make, form, and sustain disciples of Jesus, that Forming Intentional Disciples was written.

Why don't Catholics agree that fully formed Catholics are disciples of Jesus Christ? See the easy answer. As the title of Chapter 2 puts it, "We don't know what normal is." Catholic parishes don't try to form disciples, goes the line of thought, so how can being a disciple be an essential part of being a Catholic?

Part of the resistance is due to terminology. Talk of "discipleship" smacks of Evangelical Protestantism. Catholics might find it more natural to talk of "knowing, loving, and serving God in this world."

But much of the resistance is that many Catholics simply
do not know that an explicit, personal attachment to Christ -- personal discipleship -- is normative Catholicism as taught by the apostles and reiterated time and time again by the popes, councils, and saints of the Church. [p. 46]
Call it what you will, there's more to being Catholic than sacramental, liturgical, and devotional acts. If it ever was the case, it is not true today that sacramental, liturgical, and devotional acts imply the existence of an explicit, personal attachment to Christ. It is possible -- even common -- to consider oneself a "good Catholic," perhaps even "faithful to the Magisterium," without having an explicit, personal attachment to Christ.



Sunday, August 05, 2012

Forming Intentional Disciples, pt. 1

I've read Sherry Weddell's Intentional Disciples blog since she started it (with others involved in the Catherine of Siena Institute) eight or nine years ago. Sherry and I have exchanged any number of generally compatible comments on various blogs, I arranged for her to speak at a Lay Dominican Congress in 2005, and we met for dinner once when my business travels brought me to her home town of Colorado Springs.

All of which is to say that I don't claim objectivity in reviewing Sherry's book, Forming Intentional Disciples: The Path of Knowing and Following Jesus. But since the book is of a piece with what she's been writing on-line for years, and since I've thought for years that what she's been writing on-line was important, I don't hesitate to say, "Read this book. Then give a copy to your pastor."

The establishment of one fact is as critical to Forming Intentional Disciples as is the establishment of the fact that Marley was dead is to A Christmas Carol. That fact, established in uncomfortable detail in Chapter 1, is this:

Catholic parishes today are not forming Catholics.

That is to say, what American parishes typically do by way of religious education, faith formation, liturgy, and so on -- which is all the majority of lay Catholics experience in the way of religious formation within the Church -- does not typically produce someone with faith in Jesus Christ and the Church He founded.

The statistics given in Chapter 1 bear this out. The one statistic that really brought me up short came from a Pew survey, according to which only 60% of self-identified Catholics believe in a personal God, while 29% think of God as an impersonal force and 8% don't know.

When two out of five Catholics don't believe in a personal God, I have to ask myself in all sincerity: Why am I blogging about jocose lies?



Friday, August 03, 2012

The Disputations Election Challenge

Enter the Disputations Election Challenge for a chance to win some cash!

Here's how it works:
  1. Register at
  2. Vote in the 2012 general election.
  3. For each election decided by your vote, I will send you $10.
To register, just leave a comment below with your name, zip code, and the state and Congressional districts in which you live. If any of the candidates on your ballot wins by a single vote, you get $10!

Enter today!

Official Rules: Entry open to U.S. citizens only. Entrants are responsible for letting me know of any winning certified result. Entrants must register by August 31, 2012. Offer not valid where it's invalid.

UPDATE: Added the date on which registration closes. From comments received, it wasn't clear that Steps 1-3 above are to occur in chronological order. When I first posted this, I hadn't decided whether to leave registration open until the day before the election, or just for a couple of weeks. I've now decided.



Thursday, August 02, 2012

Are you an adherent of Amarmotamonaxism?

The thought occurs that I am not really a theist.

Oh, that's where I'd be placed if anyone wanted to categorize people as either atheists or theists. But that's a silly way to categorize people. It's like categorizing mammals as either groundhogs or non-groundhogs.

"Non-groundhog" isn't a species of mammal, or even a particularly useful grouping of mammals. Groundhogs may not much care about the specific differences between non-groundhogs, but that's no reason for non-groundhogs to follow suit.

And in fact, we (if I may speak for us) don't. We think of ourselves, we understand ourselves, we live as humans, not as non-groundhogs.

Similarly, we Christians don't (and if we do, I suggest we shouldn't) think of or understand ourselves as theists, we think of and understand ourselves -- perhaps, on occasion, we live -- as Christians. "Christian" is not a sub-category of "theist" in any sense meaningful to the Christian. Faith in Jesus Christ as the incarnate Son Who died for our redemption that we might live forever as children of His Father is not a specific refinement of a general belief in the existence of one or more gods. Or rather, it's a refinement as meaningful to the Christian as the refinement of "non-groundhog" to "human" is to the human.

The above may bring to mind the folktale "The Ugly Groundhog," in which the protagonist comes to realize that he is not a groundhog some time before he finds out he is a human. For him, for a time, "non-groundhog" was a meaningful category.

Similarly, one might point out that there are those whose religious opinions genuinely are no more specific than "I believe in the existence of God." Mortimer Adler held that opinion for years -- though even then, he didn't say he was an undifferentiated "theist." He called himself (with, I assume, a bit of a grin) a pagan.

People may have bare-bones, undeveloped, or inchoate religious opinions, but they don't have generic opinions. That's the difference between the Ugly Groundhog and the non-atheist. No one is a "theist" in only a generic sense, even if there is no specific name for their specific religious opinions.