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:
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.