Over at Where Peter Is, Matt Kappadunkel has an excellent idea:
I grew up in Southern California, home to the burgeoning Catholic apologetics movement that began in the 1990s and maintains a prominent presence today. St. Joseph Radio, based in Orange, and Catholic Answers in El Cajon began their operations in the area. Apologists like Tim Staples, Karl Keating, and Jesse Romero taught practically in my backyard. During this time, my father listened to talks by popular figures like Dr. Scott Hahn on cassette tapes during his three-hour round-trip daily commute. I also listened to and read Catholic apologetics material during this time, and as a result I received extensive catechesis in the faith during my teens and early twenties. The apologists’ passion for the Catholic faith deepened my desire to share it with others.
Moreover, discovering Catholic apologetics at this time of my life was truly providential. During the 90s, my family became very active in the Catholic Charismatic Renewal. I admired the preaching and valued the spiritual gifts of the priests and lay Catholics involved in this movement, but at the same time I also became curious about the evangelical preachers and faith healers like Benny Hinn that I saw on the Trinity Broadcasting Network. I thank what I learned about Catholic apologetics at this formative time for preventing me from following the evangelical Protestant path.
Recently, I have been reflecting on the upheaval in the Church and in Catholic culture that has resulted from the Coronavirus pandemic and the spotlight that has been shining on racial injustice over the past year. I now realize that Catholic apologetics should not only focus on the beliefs of those outside the Church who challenge Catholic beliefs, but in must also address those within the Church who do the same.
Apologetics comes from the Greek word apologia (ἀπολογία) meaning a defense—as in a rebuttal to a claim, accusation, or charge. The literal translation of apologia is “from reason.” Catholic apologetics, understood in this manner, is offering defense from accusations against the faith by utilizing reason. The apologetics I learned in my tweens certainly satisfied this definition, preparing me to answer challenges from non-Catholics such as, “Why do Catholics worship statues?” and “Why do Catholics pray to the saints?”
But we should not limit the defense of the faith to baseline challenges like these, as relevant as they are.
The Prophet Isaiah exhorts, “Make justice your aim: redress the wronged, hear the orphan’s plea, defend the widow” (1:17).
As Catholics, our defense of the faith must include the defense of the people who are oppressed. Oppression is the result of sin—namely “structures of sin,” as Pope St. John Paul II described in Sollicitudo Rei Socialis (36). Our Catholic witness demands that we work to combat these evils. If we do not love and defend the marginalized, many of whom Jesus names in Matthew 25:35-36, we are not following Jesus, and therefore we are not living our faith.
While this may not sound revolutionary—after all, Scripture and the ministry of Jesus validate defending and caring for the oppressed—many Catholics openly disregard social justice, deploring it as political or leftist in nature. The Catholic Church has a wealth of apologetics resources to defend the faith from challenges by non-Catholics, but there is much room for growth in drawing attention to and developing resources to uphold the teachings of the faith that are so often challenged (or even rejected) by our fellow Catholics.
The USCCB has a resource on “Seven themes of Catholic Social Teaching.” This is an excellent primer for Catholics to learn the basis from Scripture and Tradition for the preferential option for the poor and vulnerable, workers’ rights, and human dignity, among many other important themes. When Catholics challenge the Church on matters of social justice practices, apologists ought to be directing these individuals to the Church’s teachings and Scriptural citations for social ministries, just as they would if someone challenged transubstantiation or the succession of Peter. Given its rootedness to Scripture and Tradition, it is wrong to dismiss the social teachings as leftist when they are wholly orthodox. This is an area where Catholic apologetics can undergo its own metanoia and become apologists of the Catholic faith comprehensively. Many people, including a large number of Catholics, are ignorant of these teaching or reject them outright. Yet despite the widespread confusion and dissent on these teachings, many apologetics organizations clearly treat Catholic social teaching a lower priority than other doctrines and traditions of the Church, if they mention it at all.
One specific area of metanoia for the Catholic apologetics movement is in its silence amid the recurring loss of Black lives in the US.
There are not many fields in which I would claim a measure of expertise. But this happens to be one of them. I was in the thick of the Catholic apologetics movement for some 20 years. I can attest to what Matt talks about in terms of the great benefits I received from it. I learned my Faith, in huge part, from the work of Catholic apologists and I am grateful for it. More than this, as somebody who did a lot of work writing it myself, I also learned my faith in that way as well. As C.S. Lewis put it, “Any fool can write learned language”. The real trick is putting Catholic teaching into plain English that a normal person can read and understand. I deeply believe that if you can’t do that, you either don’t believe it or don’t understand it, or both.
And, of course, for me at any rate, my deep attraction to writing about the Faith came from the fact that one of my core motivations in life is telling other people about ideas that move or liberate me and watching the lights come on for them. That’s why I started writing about the Faith and that’s why I have kept at it.
That said, however, the past few years have educated me more deeply about something to which I was partially blind.
I have long seen that there is a huge danger to putting apologetics first and evangelization second. Apologetics is the handmaid of evangelization. Evangelization is the proclamation of Jesus Christ, crucified and risen. It starts with the person you are speaking to and leads to the person of Jesus. It is good news. Often, somebody’s intellect will have difficulties with that news. That is where apologetics comes in, clearing road blocks and answering questions. That’s all it can do: clear the road. It cannot impart faith. Only the Holy Spirit can do that.
However, for a considerable percentage of Catholics, this order is reversed, and apologetics comes first, often consuming evangelism in the process and leaving only a sort of belligerent culture war imitation of apologetics that proclaims, not good news, but something more like an aggressive challenge along the lines of, “Godless libs. So stoopid! Amirite? Hey libs! Why don’t you stop worrying about climate change and the COVID Hoax and admit God is real? Oh right! Because that will get in the way of your fornicating and trying to take our guns and Bibles!”
Increasingly, over the past 20 years apologetics stopped being about the Faith and became more about reinforcing a narrative of self-pity and imaginary persecution in the voice of conservative white Christians.
The result has been such pernicious things as the Catholic Answers Vote Guide, which taught a generation of Catholics that the only moral issues they need concern themselves with were abortion, euthanasia, ESCR, human cloning, and gay marriage–which eventually got whittled down to the de facto belief that Opposition to Abortion Taketh Away the Sins of the World. And from there, we arrive at the grotesque spectacle of an MAGA Qatholic subculture in the Church that actively labors to fight the Church’s teaching on everything from capital punishment
…to Catholic Vote shilling for the Gun Cult:
…to Catholic Vote calling for more oppression of refugees at the border:
….to Catholic Vote joining the braindead MAGA stampede to panic over Critical Race Theory:
…to Catholic Vote and Liesite News and a host of other deadly right wing Catholic media making war on public health sanity in a pandemic that has killed nearly a million Americans.
At the heart of all this is subtle but poisonous shift in focus in the apologetics community’s outlook. At its best, apologetics was there to do the work of teaching those who wanted to understand the often confusing and baffling world of Catholic theology and history. When it is good, it can often do a wonderful job of the work of mercy called “Instructing the Ignorant”. Many is the time I have profited from a clear explanation some point I found unintelligible, or become acquainted with some fascinating new idea in the rich treasure of the Catholic intellectual tradition.
But there has always been a dark seed in the apologetics subculture too. It is the subtext of what I can only describe as the Presumption of Victimhood. To be sure, the world does not want for persecution of Catholics and Christians. We are living, right now, in the greatest period of Christian and Catholic persecution in history.
But the thing is: it does not affect white conservative MAGA Christians in the US. They are in clover. They are rich. They are unmolested. They enjoy unparalleled religious liberty.
Not that there is *no* religious persecution in the US. There is. And it is enthusiastically supported–by white MAGA Christians and Catholics who persecute brown Christians at the border, as well as LGBTQ Christians whenever possible, and other religions, particularly Islam, up to and including deportation and abandonment to violence and death.
But they are blind to it all because they have deeply internalized a narrative of endless self-pity. They are somehow the victims constantly.
Pandemic? They are the victims, even as they selfishly do all in their power to spread it by defying sane public health.
Insurrection? It was all everybody else’s fault. Trump is our real president and the riot was Antifa, or peaceful tourists, or the FBI, which do not need to be investigated Because Reasons. But anyway, Trump won because God said so and MAGA Christians are the Real Victims.
The Victim Posture has become the defining trait of the conservative apologetics subculture. Instead of a joyful defense of good news, it has become the sullen sneer at “libtards” (an insult that tramples over the forgotten dignity of the mentally disabled in a headlong rush to land a punch). And nobody, not even the Pope, is now safe from the Inquisitorial search of the Apologetics Subculture for hated enemies to ostracize from the besieged and imaginarily persecuted Fortress Katolicus as it hunkers down to shoot arrows and pour boiling oil on imagined “attackers” who still come seeking the Faith and finding only culture war.
All of which is to say, I agree that apologetics badly needs a makeover. I would start with a resolution to jettison the fantasy that American Catholics are persecuted. We’re not. We’re living the life of Reilly, unless we are POC.
Which bring us to the next point: Matt is absolutely right that the apologetics community needs to undergo radical surgery and be severed from being joined at the hip to the MAGA Freak Show. Not only is it not magisterial, is an antichrist scam that uses the unborn as human shields to justify agendas that are not merely irrelevant to, but mortally opposed to the Magisterium.
Finally, the apologetics community needs to actually learn the basics of Catholic Social Teaching and not simply discard it in favor of whatever crap Tucker Carlson is selling today.
I hope Matt writes more about this. He’s on to something.
The purpose of apologetics isn’t to convince the unbelievers of anything, Mark. It’s largely unconvincing to anyone who isn’t already convinced. The purpose of apologetics is to reassure the believers that they’re right and to keep them in the club. That is what enables and maintains MAGATry among conservative Qhristians. Especially WITHIN MAGATry,
it is the epitome of that kind of anti-intellectualist ideology that marks today’s evangelical and radtrad culture warrior. It’s just a collection of talking points and essays based on culture-warrior ideals. I doubt any non-believers are convinced at all. So much of it just sounds surreal, not convincing.
When I was young, I read everything of CS Lewis that I could find. I was young and I wanted to believe. It took a while for me to see that so much of what he had to say was not convincing at all, but merely sounded convincing. He was quite good at that, but once the methodology got exposed, it was very hard not to see it. Madman, liar, or KING!!!, but not business model, legend, amalgamation of several characters. One could almost argue that ironically enough, Lewis inadvertently set me on the path to atheism.
Some people are clever apologists, but not clever enough to disguise it. Evangelicals and radtrads— not that I think there is much of a difference—tend to believe evangelical and radtrad hucksters’ claims about their own products. Indeed, their flocks possess no method of critically assessing those claims. And I am sure that this is just as true for Catholics. One need only look at the followers of Church Militant, a site run by an alleged former homosexual which exists solely to tell gullible radtrads that homosexuality is dangerous and homosexuals cannotbe trusted. It’s the sheep agreeing with the wolf that he can protect them better than any sheep. The sheep that follow CM likewise seem to possess no method to critically assess anything.
Just send money and go Qonservative. And remember that Francis is Bergoglio non Papa. .
Your arrogant claim to be the Objective Center with all believers as self-deluding suckers who only read what they want to hear is, no doubt, consoling to you, but remains insulting nonetheless. For myself, I read apologetics in order to find out what Christians believed and then decide if I believed it myself. Given that I did not know what Christians and Catholics thought and therefore had no preconceived ideas (except prejudices against Catholics before learning what the Church actually taught) I can tell you that I did not have any convictions to reinforce yet. It is, of course, just as arrogant to declare that you read in order to reinforce your secret wants and wishes, which is why I don’t do it. I just wish that you would stop arrogantly talking down to believers. You come off as a prick when you do it.
I didn’t say any of that, Mark. You did. I have never once called you or anybody here a deluded sucker. But you have accused me of it many times. And yet, I have consistently said I don’t care what you or any other religious person believes. I have said consistently that if it makes your life better and you a better person, I’m all for it. That hasn’t changed. What I have said consistently is that I care about what you do with it.
Because that is what your whole article is about as far as I can tell. You also care.
I didn’t say you only read what you want to read. You did. As far as I can tell from your history, you’ve been a Christian for a long long time. If you’re still reading apologetics, then you are agreeing with what I commented.
You wrote: “ But there has always been a dark seed in the apologetics subculture too. It is the subtext of what I can only describe as the Presumption of Victimhood. To be sure, the world does not want for persecution of Catholics and Christians. We are living, right now, in the greatest period of Christian and Catholic persecution in history. But the thing is: it does not affect white conservative MAGA Christians in the US. They are in clover. They are rich. They are unmolested. They enjoy unparalleled religious liberty.”
I’m agreeing with you- that was the point of what i wrote— and that means I’m talking down to Christians?
There’s a close cousin/ ancestor(?) to the victim posture of apologetics, which was probably also inherited from right-wing politics… I don’t know what to call it, but it involves selectively interpreting/ misrepresenting/ highlighting questionable science that supports articles of faith. I keep thinking back to how Catholic Answers platformed Joseph Nicolosi and his very harmful science about the origins of homosexuality, and for how long what I heard in that episode influenced how I thought of LGBTQ folks. I tuned into an episode just a month or two ago and found that they’re STILL soft-pedaling “pray-away-the-gay” garbage. And there’s common canards about divorce rates among NFP-using couples, abortifacient effects of hormonal birth control, etc. If you question this stuff on the grounds that the stats are garbage or the science is wrong, you’re branded a heretic. Apologetics needs to adopt a stance of humility about what we don’t know, not overplaying disinfo just because it’s helpful for making an argument. Being honest will not drive people away from the faith. Quite the contrary- people inevitably find out the truth, and then they start to wonder, “what else were the apologists lying about?”
They do this because there is a great deal at stake for the homo-hating homos who promote it. Of course it is all nonsense, and always has been. As wardell pomeroy, Co-author of the Kinsey studies, told me over 40 years ago, “more nonsense has been written on the subject of homosexuality than any other subject on earth, except for the nature of God.” This is all about deflection away from those h-h-h’s, becuase that is how they protect themselves.
But there is a further problem, and you hit it exactly. we are told that faith alone is enough, yet they are constantly looking for evidence. the eucharistic miracles are yet another case in point. A short but relevant digression. A few years ago, I was in a lengthy discussion over here ln Mark’s blog with a fundamentalist Catholic. He was desperate to provide evidence that his faith was “true”, whatever that means. So he cited as “proof” a recent Polish eucharistic miracle. I went and googled this, and although the Eucharistic miracles are a dime a dozen, and not one has ever been proved as far as I could tell, at least according to actual rigorous, scientific testing. So I looked up this one in particular, just to see what there was. He was both mis-citing the story and mis-citing the evidence. The “evidence” was the only written document, a press release from the archbishop, hardly a disinterested party, and a news story repeating mostly the press release. The host turn red after it was dropped into a container, possibly one with water in it. There was no reference at all to “the greatest atheist and scientific minds in Europe“ confirming that the host was heart tissue, and certainly, NO NAMES. Rather, one Polish doctor, a highly religious Catholic woman, certified it. The chain of evidence was highly questionable. And, as with every other Eucharistic miracle, the actual proof seem to be lacking. And of course, there have been studies done with the actual communion wafers, and not a one of them was anything but wheat and water. So much for transubstantiation. If transubstantiation were real, we would find a great quantities of heart tissue in the salvers. But we don’t.
He admitted that perhaps the story had not been vetted properly, but certainly, the other Eucharistic miracles were true, whatever true means in this case. Of course, none had been proven to be true. Assertions of faith were made, but not assertions of evidence.
I wrote to him: “ The first real problem is that you want to believe, and you want to have your faith validated, and you’re even willing to use science, which otherwise you would have ignored, to prove that your faith is true and validated, and ignore it if it does not validate what you want to believe. Thus the chain of evidence question in this particular miracle is highly relevant. If I told you I was sleeping with your wife, or could turn your $500 dollar investment in me into $1 million, you wouldn’t believe me without evidence. But this you will believe on the flimsiest “evidence” possible. At the same time, you really don’t want it both ways. You have absolutely silly stuff like a single communion wafer turning into heart tissue with a ridiculously low standard of proof, when it would be relatively simple to turn a whole pile of them into heart tissue, right in front of all of those famous atheist scientists, easily replicable to unlimited “atheist scientists”, thus convincing the entire world that the Christian story is true. But that has NEVER happened, has it, because god needs to “test our faith”. Why he needs to test our faith is never explained, and Real proof is never forthcoming. You would be upset if it did, because that takes the magic away from your faith.”
It was a highly instructive conversation to me. Faith when you don’t need it, evidence when you do. I think The guy eventually banned byMark.
“If transubstantiation were real, we would find a great quantities of heart tissue in the salvers.”
Uh…that’s not how transubstantiation works. If transubstantiation were real, then we would never find any heart tissue in the salvers.
I appreciated reading Catholicism vs. Fundamentalism when I was a teen, but I don’t think my heart was entirely in the right place. Karl Keating and my Dad were friends.
It was a little insignificant book called “He and I” that converted my heart when I was about 15. I don’t really care if it was Jesus speaking to the heart of the woman who wrote it. Regardless, it spoke the truth about love.
It pretty much broke through the hard shell on my heart and brought about a profound repentance for everything that I had taken for granted. It had nothing to do with being right as a Catholic. It had everything to do with being wrong as a supposedly practicing Catholic, and feeling so deeply sorry for that. Protestant Christians often get the heart of the matter right, but the theology wrong. At the end of the day, being able to love is far superior to having the “knowledge of angels”.
Oh, so glad you brought up the especially weird subculture of Eucharistic miracles apologetics. It’s another great example where we could let our guard down, show some humility, and admit what we don’t know, and I bet the Holy Spirit could work so much more through that than our hubris. Don’t pretend that we know what causes homosexuality and how to “fix” it, and don’t pretend that Eucharistic miracles are falsifiable. There’s this salesmanship quality to this sort of apologetics that belies the lack of confidence… “If it’s not true, why haven’t scientists disproven it yet?” I found it interesting to compare the engagement of the scientific community with the Shroud of Turin as compared to Eucharistic miracles. There’s plenty of ways to falsify the Shroud (radiocarbon dating, investigate methods of production, etc.). Some would say it has already been proven false. Thus, it’s of great interest to skeptics. But, there’s no way to prove a Eucharistic miracle false… “Oh, see you got some heart tissue there… Where’d you get it from? Oh, so-and-so from the 8th century said it used to be bread? OK, well it’s heart stuff now, guess I’m done here.” It’s not worthy of a response of anyone who would challenge it.
I think we can safely assume that the Aristotelian language of transubstantiation is a bit much for you. I myself have recently, and scientifically, been trying to verify the liberal claim that all men are equal by measuring the length of my cousins, and have come to the conclusion that the claim is hogwash.
Thanks. I agree.
according to Mark, I am looking down from my lofty heights at poor deluded suckers. I think i am asking for intellectual honesty and consistency, same as you, same as Mark. My comment about Lewis was a case in point. Madman, liar, or king are not the only choices, and are not intended to convince an unbeliever- and don’t.
That argument was for believers, same as MAGAtry apologetics are for those interested in MAGAtry.
I have to admit it has been at least 40 years since I read aristotle. nice to read to find out where we have been, but not about where we’re going. But we would agree about using aristotelian measurements on your cousins, whose natural state is at rest and, let us not forget, your male cousins have more teeth than your female cousins. You should be able to reason your cousins’ lengths into equality. I already have, and I don’t even know any Belgians, except you and M. Poirot.
But that was the problem. He thought facts could be known without observation. “Science” for him just meant a bit more speculation based on nature and a bit less on metaphysical concepts. Sound like anything we’re talking about? And surely that was in itself his biggest now-scientific mistake. Of course, Aristotle is not the real culprit, but generations of scholars that venerated the letter and the spirit of his thoughts, and constrained the culture in a straitjacket from which we aren’t completely free even today.
Sound like any thing *cough* natural *cough cough* law *cough* we’re talking about?
I didn’t know we were looking for facts. To me it seemed you were looking to fasify a claim that was never made (regarding transubstantiation that is, on the matter of finding heart tissue in buckets of water you are on more solid ground).
There are Christians who seek to ”prove” what cannot be proven. Apparently there are also atheists who seek to disprove what was never claimed as scientifically falsifiable. I think this all makes for a wonderful low-brow intellectual fight in a college pub.
Me, I hold to truths that are not falsifiable. I don’t claim they are, either. These truths do not include eucharistic miracles of the ”there is literally blood flowing from this statue of Mary, but noone but me can see it” kind.
Correction: Bleeding statues of the Mother of God are not *eucharistic* miracles, of course.
Sometimes we’re looking for facts, sometimes not. Absence of evidence is not equivalent to evidence of absence. But if we look and look and look, and never find evidence where previous evidence has indicated that we might probably expect to find evidence, that begins to be evidence of absence.
But, as you say, “ Me, I hold to truths that are not falsifiable. I don’t claim they are, either. “ and this is why I say, not falsifiably, that the ultimate answers to ultimate questions ultimately don’t matter— except when they do. To you, they do. To me, they don’t.
as I said to mark, I really don’t care what people believe although, if they put it out there, then it is fair game for discussion. Hence my conversation about eucharistic miracles. You’re a smart man, which is something I admire, and you don’t want to fall into that hole. I cannot prove or disprove what is not falsifiable, and more than I can with any ease “reason” someone out of what what they were not reasoned into to begin with. I can only state what i think is true.
Here’s an example. Ever since I was a young man, I have always felt that there is “someone” watching out for me. Can I prove it? no. Do I want to? Also no. Could it just be me, watching out for me? By my own precepts, ABSOLUTELY. But as I have also said, we all of us need our metaphors, and usually, not one of those metaphors is falsifiable. Pace Mark’s assertion, I don’t use my metaphor for myself to assert that I am morally, scientifically, or humanly superior to other people. I certainly don’t use it to justify bad actions. Quite the contrary, I quite irrationally believe that if I started acting like an a$$hole, my “protection” would leave me.
So, i don’t care what people believe. What i care about is what they do with it.
You’ll have to explain that to the believers in eucharistic miracles.
Of course. I would not have though that you did believe that. I knew what you meant— they are the same type of “miracle”.
I believe in miracles. I’ve told you about a few that have happened to us. There is just no other way to explain what happened. I’m also a sceptic, and get annoyed at miracle chasers. The unexplainable miracles that occurred were life and death situations. After that, there are just too many coincidences, interesting occurrences, and possible interventions to quantify or remember. There have also been a couple of dreams unlike any other I’ve ever had, that seemed supernatural. Both were awe inspiring and I think, designed to encourage. I wish I would dream like that on a regular basis , but have never had another one that was even remotely similar. In one of the dreams, I have reason to believe I was conversing with my guardian angel–he, (it?) told me some surprising things that I challenged. It happened over 15 years ago but has been very helpful in forming my opinion about a bias I might have otherwise succumbed to.
And just for the record, I never think of eucharistic miracles, but wouldn’t be surprised if some were real. The one about the doubting priest is pretty cool. He had to be humble enough to admit that he was a bit of a fraud until then. I once heard a sermon explaining that the name “Thomas” means “twin”. The priest said that all human beings are the twin of doubting Thomas, but that doesn’t really affect me. I don’t obsess over the parts of Catholicism that require faith. If anything I obsess over being a talent-burying bum.
Even though I am an atheist, I have also had things happen to me that I simply cannot explain. As I said to arteveLde, i’ve felt ever since I was a young man that I have been very fortunate in having, you might say, a guardian angel. I’m very grateful for having that, whatever that might be. But I don’t really ask questions about it, or wonder what it might be.
When I was a boy, I met the boy who became my best friend. His family became my family. They made sure I came out OK. With that experience, I started then to think that maybe somebody was actually looking out for me.
My brothers never had that. I look at my two brothers, both totally different messages but in totally different ways. I’ve probably mentioned them before. One died 19 years ago of murder or suicide or both in the Mexican desert. The other is known in his beach town as the town arsewhole. Imagine people saying, “oh! Kk! Don’t pay him no never-mind. He’s the town arsewhole.” I would die of shame myself.
@Ben, it’s interesting that a great intellectual like Edith Stein became Catholic after reading Teresa of Avila’s Autobiography. It’s full of stories that are beyond the norm to say the least, but Teresa is pretty funny, and matter of fact, and is compelled to write by order of her confessor. If she was annoyed enough at Jesus she’d say snappy things back at him, particularly when he asked embarrassing or overly burdensome tasks of her. Sometimes after receiving the Eucharist she would levitate in front of the other nuns which made her upset. She considered it, and the curiosity of the nuns an embarrassment.
It wouldn’t surprise me that that would happen. People respond to real people and real experiences for more than they really respond to whatever comes out of cans.
Ben, I hope my comment back to turns up. The internet here is really wonky. I was half way through with deleting something I wrote and then it told me I’d submitted a duplicate response. Oh well.
Maybe I was off topic. I was talking about my temptation to reincarnation, Anthony Bourdain, and A$$holes that are very wounded.
*back to you