... about apologetics and American culture. An excerpt:
People consider you to be a Catholic apologist. What do apologetics mean to you in the context of American culture today?
America is both religious and secularized. As a result, people often mistakenly think they know what Christians or Catholics believe. Apologetics today must first clarify for Americans what Catholicism is and then show how faith fulfills the deep
aspirations of the human soul, even in 21st century America! Concretely, apologetics must address such things as the “I’m-spiritual-but-not-religious” outlook, the idea that faith means believing things you know aren’t true, why this “Jesus guy” is so important, why the Catholic Church, and what makes life about more than pleasure and building your 401k.
You’ve worked many years for Catholic Answers and Ignatius Press. How have Catholic apologetics changed or evolved in the course of your work?
I would note three changes: broader subject matter, more resources, and more sophisticated, evangelical apologists. When I started at Catholic Answers, in the late 1980s, we focused on Protestant Fundamentalism. Nowadays, social and cultural issues are important, too: human sexuality (including marriage as a civil institution), the human person, pro-life concerns, religion’s place in the public square, etc. And of course basic questions such as the existence of God, the historicity of Jesus, and the claims of the Catholic Church remain essential. Meanwhile, the resources are plentiful—books, videos, audio CDs, websites, phone apps, Catholic radio and TV, etc. What’s more, many apologists—Jimmy Akin and Trent Horn of Catholic Answers come to mind among others—are first-rate thinkers and don’t simply present other people’s arguments. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that!) Finally, people increasingly see apologetics as evangelization’s "flipside." The goal can’t be simply to win an argument, as I say in my book, to dispose people to the work of the Holy Spirit. The New Evangelization is “highway and byway” evangelization—taking Christ to people instead of waiting for them to knock at the rectory. The new evangelists see apologetics’ value and apologists see they must be new evangelists. That’s a significant change.
The media has given a lot of attention to how the collapse of families is altering the cultural landscape in America. What challenge does this reality pose for Catholic apologetics?
In some ways, we’ve been here before. The church dealt with collapsing families in pagan Rome. But, as Chesterton and Lewis noted, a post-Christian paganism differs from pre-Christian paganism, as a bitter divorcee differs from an unmarried virgin. The full impact of familial collapse we have yet to experience. The redefinition of marriage and family will have further disastrous consequences. In the meantime, we speak with hurting people who think they know all about Christianity. They know not everything is relative but they often talk and act otherwise. They’re subjects of the dictatorship of moral relativism, at least when it comes to certain areas of their lives. We talk with people who think science has disproved Christianity or that multiculturalism has discredited it. We’re surrounded by children of the sexual revolution, with whom we must speak a language they can understand. Theology of the body helps here. In all of this, we must “walk the walk” as well as “talk the talk” (make arguments). Yes, we’ll fall short. Experiencing mercy can help. Paul VI’s statement about people listening to witnesses more than to teachers is key. If we witness to mercy because we have experienced it, we’ll get “street cred.” People will be more apt to listen. People need mercy—love’s response to suffering. Pope Francis has underscored this in his unique way. But then we have to be prepared to say something worth hearing, too. We’ll need to be ready to make our case.
Read the entire interview at AmericaMagazine.org.