A graduate of Franciscan University writes about the decay of the Apologetics Subculture

Published January 14, 2021

I had a conversation recently with a graduate of Franciscan University. Before it became more or less a full-time hatchery for MAGA Catholics, dedicated to the proposition that there is no President but Trump and Vigano is his prophet, Franciscan used to be about proclaiming fidelity to the fullness of Catholic faith as taught by the Holy Father and the Magisterium.

I know. I was in the thick of it for about a decade and spoke at sundry Defending the Faith conferences and various other soirees. But that mission has fallen on hard times and I, of course, have been unpersoned and erased by that subculture for failing to get on board the Trump Train. I still believe all that the Holy Catholic Church believes, teaches, and proclaims is revealed by God. But unfortunately for me, that includes the proposition that the Pope is not the secret enemy of the Church, as well as the proposition that failure to believe and profess that Trump is God’s only begotten President is not, in fact, a sin.

Others have noticed this bizarre paradigm shift in the mission of Franciscan, including this reader:

I feel like back in my FUS days and for a while after, the ‘in thing’ among the devout Catholics I knew was to develop convincing arguments and apologetics to convince people of everything from the existence of God to the morality of the prolife stance. Like hundreds of us set off into the world after graduating thinking “if I can just get people to listen for a bit I can change their minds”. 20-25 years ago – again at least among what was then the young people – it really seemed to be a movement of “Let’s write books and post on the (then brand new) internet why our beliefs are the truth, if people just think about it and hear our arguments and apologetics they will come to believe”.

That’s the key word: apologetics. It was THE thing. Debates and arguments to change hearts and minds.

Other than a small handful like Mark, are any of the top 100 Catholic media personalities at all concerned with apologetics these days? From what I can tell, no. They gin up outrage against “the enemies” (liberals, democrats, gay people, BLM, the Pope(!), etc), they call for martial law and police and soldiers to MAKE people obey their own brand of magisterium. Apologetics at the barrel of a gun, and punishment for all the “impure”. This is why they love the Crusaders imagery: proselytize at the tip of the sword and drive the unbelievers from the holy land (now America).This is why we get the rosaries as army ammo, the Militant! attitude, the throwing of “idols” into rivers.

They got frustrated trying to win hearts and minds, so now they are gonna MAKE people follow their rules. Dirty Harry style. Purge the Church, keep out the invaders (there’s that imagery again), reclaim America. Guns, God, and Manly Men marching the libtards out of “their” city.

20-25 years ago the faculty and most students at FUS would for the most part not condone the violent approach like this. The marriage of the US church to Trumpublicanism has changed all of that. Perhaps permanently.

It’s not the US Church. It’s a sect of white conservatives within the US Church who have abandoned faith in Jesus for the hope and promise of imposing by law, force and, if necessary, raw nihilist violence, their dream of a world without abortion, gays, and troublesome minorities in which perfect traditional Catholic piety prevails, they (alone) enjoy the benefits of trickle down economics for the wealthy, their power is unchallenged, and they do not have to do the heavy lifting of winning hearts and minds because hearts and minds have been forced to comply with their vision of a perfect world, by firing squads, if necessary. They believe in magical thinking, not prayer, and in willing away problems like the Pandemic and climate change by sheer bull-headed denial. Small wonder they hate this pope, who calls the Church to evangelize. More than half the US Church opposes this nonsense and therefore they declare that half “fake Catholics” in keeping with that will to deny reality.

But yes. Apologetics is largely dead in favor of culture war. It survives in a sort of zombified way as members of the Elect gather to congratulate each other that they are not like other men, or even like this godless liberal here, who is not even worth attempting to reason with. They have their little meetings and conferences and Marches for Life, entirely aimed at reinforcing Unit Cohesion, not at bearing witness to the world. Indeed, the mission is now largely to deliberately repel the world, since the goal is to protect Fortress Katolicus from what they now call the “invader” and to purge the Church of the impure (meaning non-MAGA Catholics, including the Holy Father).

The belief that reason and faith are compatible has been burned on the altar of MAGA Magical Thinking, with their Jericho Marches and false prophecies of Victory. Truth is whatever the MAGA press releases say it is. COVID is a hoax. Climate Change is a hoax. The election was a fraud. The pope is a heretic. Amazonian Catholics are pagans to be driven from the sacraments they seek. The genetic fallacy rules. If a thing is asserted, it matters not if it is supported by evidence. It only matters who said it. If an enemy, then it is false. If a MAGA ally, then it is true. And no amount of data or reality will change their minds because reality is whatever Trump and right wing media say it is. They have abandoned the good of the intellect and, in the process, abandoned the only thing apologetics was ever supposed to be about: showing the compatibility of Faith and human reason. They no longer believe in human reason. Just power. For the thing that used to be the Apologetics subculture, whose minds have been eaten by MAGA, language is no longer for conveying truth. It is a weapon for defeating enemies by any means necessary.

9 Responses

  1. [quote] … back in my FUS days and for a while after, the ‘in thing’ among the devout Catholics I knew was to develop convincing arguments and apologetics to convince people of everything from the existence of God to the morality of the prolife stance. Like hundreds of us set off into the world after graduating thinking “if I can just get people to listen for a bit I can change their minds”. [/quote]

    I used to think that too. Twenty years of speaking with younger generations (I’m a Gen Xer) have changed my mind. Reason and logic and truth don’t really matter to the culture anymore. It’s all about feeling. Your truth. My truth. His truth. Her truth. Their truth. What is truth anyway? It’s all about what you feel. So the traditional approach to apologetics is largely lost on millennials and those younger.

    [quote]It’s not the US Church. [/quote]

    Yup. The thing we have to keep in mind about the weeds currently growing in our garden: They may be the loudest, get the most attention, stand tallest, and seem to grow the fastest. But they are still not the majority.

    [quote]Apologetics is largely dead in favor of culture war. [/quote]

    It’s tragic. Can you imagine reading in the book of Acts if such divisions had existed amongst the Church? If the church in Rome had railed against Antioch because of their support for the Senate over Caesar?

    Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God. And don’t get the two mixed up. We pray, “THY KINGDOM” come. Our republics and democracies and kingdoms come and go. We should serve them as good citizens, but they don’t warrant our primary allegiance.

  2. What you’re describing is, I think, the last gasp of the Counterreformation. My own opinion is Second Vatican came about 300 years too late, and marked the official end, but it takes time for the full effect of any Church anything to be fully felt, even in the Church. The French Revolution (less, I think, than the American) and the violence that swept Europe in the 19th century before the violence of the 20th century sort of paralyzed the Church, and her apologetics, even her evangelization. The paralysis was noted by St. Pope Pius X in Pascendi, which led to the Catholic Action called The Confraternity of Catholic Doctrine. A few decades later in the Spirit of Second Vatican, a number of laymen stepped up with the historical approach as well. To be fair, it was all very good for a segment of the Catholic faithful and a segment of the non-Catholic population as well. Fulton Sheen got an Emmy. But it’s inadequate for most, and increasingly so. St. Pope John Paul and Pope Francis both seem to take a Personalist approach. Those of us educated by a certain Dominican master think it’s starting in the middle. But when groping about in the dark, you start where you’re at and where a lot of people are at is “I emote, therefore I am”. So maybe that’s a good place to start…

  3. Well, goshes again! There is such synergy between Mark’s columns and reality.

    I woke up early this morning, and to my great pleasure— the way a root canal is a great pleasure— i read that former NOM chairman, super-duper Qatholic-uber-alles John Eastman is quite pissibly going to join Das Trumpenfuhrer’s “legal” “defense” “team”— multiple quotes required— for his second impeachment trial, which of course isn’t going to happen because of lawless, republicanist obstructionism.

    Let this sink in. Eastman spoke before Das Trumpenfuhrer at his famously patriotic rally last Wednesday. Eastman, a veritable eminence grise of morality— at 60, he looks 80, and has “personal” “knowledge” about the “gay buccaneers” attacking all that is good and holey (multiple quote marks again necessary)– has variously claimed that he has mountains of evidence that the election was stolen from Dear Leader, and that ANTIFA was responsible for the insurrectionist coup attempt protest rally. The fact that no one so far has been able to produce any of this evidence has not deterred this source of revealed truth. The fact that Antifa doesn’t really exist as an organization, that every insurrectionist arrested thus far is in fact a known right wingnut, that the FBI has said ANTIFA had nothing to do with the insurrectionist coup attempt protest rally, simply goes to prove the vastness and thoroughness of this conspiracy to steal Amerika from its rightful owners masters Torquemadas Qoncerned Qitizens.

    Never forget those invisible mountains of invisible evidence. And the uberMorals of twice divorced Glorious Presidunce Grabby.

    His colleagues at Chapman College— no, not those kind of chaps, nor those kinds of men, because he is not homo-obsessed for nothing nohow— have finally had enough, and they reached an agreement to go their separate ways yesterday. CANCEL CUUUUUUULTURE! And a major blow against the leading expert in Mattress Tag Removal law.

    Who knew that “draining the swamp” actually meant “scraping the bottom of the barrel”? Maybe those mountains of evidence will be found there? Or is that hitting him below the barrel?

    Eastman is the perfect example of what the fornication of religion with politics has produced in this country. If we’re lucky, we might survive it.

  4. I have been thinking about the “Faithful Catholic College” movement. I think there is much more to be said about this issue. Thanks, Mark!

  5. I just need the short list of Catholic colleges that aren’t insane because I have kids who will need this info in a few short years. All I know from my homeschool “community” is The Newman Guide, but the same group also recommends I not get the COVID vaccine because it is full of tracking chips put there by Bill Gates, so………

    1. Heather, my daughter attends Duquesne University, a Spiritan school in Pittsburgh. It is wonderful and very much not insane. It does not wield its Catholic identity as a weapon but rather as the impetus for reasoned thought and genuine service. Its president, Ken Gormley, is a constitutional law expert who has recently given several interviews on whether Trump can pardon himself (his view: he can’t). We’ve been impressed with the school so far. Best wishes!

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