There has been a trend of late by fundamentalist Christians on this forum to vilify Catholic Christianity, and though there are some isolated Catholic responses, the majority are either atheist or fundamentalist Christian. I suppose it merely reflects the demographics of the readers of the MyNews24 section. Additionally, Catholic Christians make out 7% of the South African population. This statistic only reflects the number of baptized Catholics. It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that less than half this number still consider themselves practicing Catholics, and of these probably less than half accept the whole deposit of Catholic teaching. In a country of roughly 50 million people, with a Catholic population of 3.5 million, less than 700k Catholics are likely to attend Mass with any frequency.
Most Mass-going Catholics I know fall into one of three categories:
1) the very poor, who simply do not have access to social media outlets and frankly are more concerned with putting food on the table than defending the faith,
2) the indifferent, who are only culturally Catholic and attend Mass out of habit, who might even be lapsed but are too spiritually complacent to abandon their comfort zones,
3) the doers, who spend most of their free time living their Catholic faith, which is a faith expressed much more in deed than in word.
It is therefore no surprise that many of these online attacks go unopposed, except by atheists who generally use it as fodder for their arguments against Christianity in general. Who can blame them? How does one take a religion seriously which, from the outside, appears to disagree even with itself?
There has been a push to equip practicing Catholics with the tools for successful online and face-to-face apologetics, but the priority remains, as it should, in doing what faithful Catholics have always been doing: feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, harbouring the harbourless, visiting and caring for the sick, burying the dead, instructing the ignorant, counselling the doubtful, admonishing sinners, comforting the afflicted, praying for the living and the dead.
These things, in keeping with Scripture, are the principle business of the faithful with regards to their relationship with their neighbours. Apologetics forms a tiny, though not inconsequential, part of evangelizing the culture. But it is both a passive and defensive means of engaging with non-believers: passive, because it is non-confrontational, and defensive because intellectual arguments are not sufficient means to convert others. Apologetics are for when non-Catholic Christians or non-believers make false and often slanderous claims against the faith. The initiator is always the calumniator and never the Catholic.
Apologetics deal with correcting a wrong or a negative, whereas evangelization is about showing the world, in a non-argumentative way, the True, the Good and the Beautiful about Christ and His Church. Apologetics is mostly an intellectual and verbal exercise, whereas evangelization is predominantly an active exercise, showing the world more in deed than in word the transformative power of Christ in their lives. Since we are called, first and foremost, to “preach the Gospel to all nations” and not defend it, it is our primary occupation.
With the advent of the internet and social media however, even the unschooled and uninformed have the opportunity to voice their opinions in a very public fashion. Since the internet is not vetted in any way, anyone can pass a false statement as fact. It is part laziness, part credulity, which keeps us from following up claims made in blog posts, online articles, tweets and forums such as this. A logical argument, as opposed to a statement of fact, does not necessarily require any follow-up reading, but even then the reader needs to be familiar with the basic principles of logic.
So, as our lives are spent increasingly more online (a lamentable fact), and there exists no vetting authority on the internet (not necessarily a bad thing), apologetics has become more necessary than ever. Although it should never be the priority of the practicing Catholic, and occasions for its use should not be sought out, whenever false claims about the Catholic faith arise during ordinary online activity, Catholics should be prepared and equipped to counter them with truth.
Let’s make it specific to this forum. MyNews24 is a forum for South Africans to voice their opinions and engage in online conversation. These opinion editorials (op-eds) often lead to debate, sometimes praise, usually criticism. The topics range from local and international politics, science, satire, consumerism, popular culture and very often, religion. It’s both a blessing and a curse. We have the opportunity to be exposed to viewpoints which we would rarely encounter in our day-to-day lives, viewpoints which often challenge us to re-evaluate our own. This is a very good thing. Furthermore, we have access to anecdotes and “news” which, arguably, is not censored by national and multinational news agencies and their sponsors. But the cons of an uncensored and unregulated forum are that anonymity grants people the necessary cover to treat others with disdain and disrespect, in addition to the ease with which falsehoods can be sold as facts.
Most of the religious op-eds on MyNews24 either pit religion against science and/or atheism (a false dichotomy, in the former) or pit various religious traditions (usually within Christianity) against each other. One rarely encounters op-eds which are purely evangelical in character. The majority of the op-eds are critiques, either of atheism by fundamentalists, fundamentalism by atheists or Catholicism by both. I’m relieved to find so few critiques of non-Catholic Christianity by Catholics. It is counter-productive and unnecessarily divisive. But I am disappointed to find so few Catholic apologists on this site. As I mentioned before, an apology, in philosophical terms, is a response to a distortion of truth. It is not a critique, but a rectification: a small but important distinction. And in light of so many anti-Catholic articles on MyNews24, we need Catholic apologists more than ever. Not to convert non-Catholics, but to correct the many untruths that are propagated.
Sometimes there are critiques of Catholicism which require no defense, but rather acquiescence. For example, when someone blasts the Church hierarchy for their tardiness in dealing with the sex abuse scandals, it needs no countering. But then again, when they claim that sexual abuse is particularly prevalent among Catholic clergy, it does require setting the record straight.
A particularly pernicious form of anti-Catholicism is the one that prompted the writing of this op-ed: the regurgitated claim that the Catholic Church is non-Christian and even anti-Christian. That claim, in itself, is the least worrying, since it rests on many other falsehoods. It is the top card of a house of cards. More distressing is the multitude of falsehoods that it uses to argue that position. These falsehoods are lapped up by other Christians without any further thought or research, and it is these falsehoods that apologists need to counter. We have to allow people the freedom to reach their own conclusions, but they need the real facts to start with. And with my next article I would like to present some corrections and counter-arguments, so that readers can reach more informed conclusions.
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