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.