Thursday, May 14, 2015

On Nostalgia, Apologetics, and Apostasy

“I don’t think this was covered in Mass Confusion.”
“We remember the fish that we ate in Egypt freely: the cucumbers come into our mind, and the melons, and the leeks, and the onions, and the garlic. Our soul is dry, our eyes behold nothing else but manna.” (Numbers 11)
In addition to his series on nostalgia, His Traddiness has brought up the strange case of Michael Coren’s recent apostasy. This is assuredly a sad event and one for which we ought to offer up our prayers and fasts. It is also part of the ongoing statistical trend of Catholics leaving the Faith, or at least the practice of it, that has been happening for decades. Cradle Catholics are leaving because they are too smart not to perceive the irrelevance of what they see and hear from their prelates every week. Converts leave for these and many other reasons, not the least of which is the budding suspicion that they have been seriously deceived by the apologists who argued them into the Church.

Not all converts come in through the agency of apologetics. Some marry into the Faith, others are entranced by the beauty of our art and music, and a few just want to be a part of the same philosophical school as Thomas Aquinas. For all these, apologetics plays a secondary role, and the arguments for and against the minutiae of the Faith are not terribly worth considering. One thinks of Rex Mottram’s impatience with Fr. Mowbray’s attempts to catechize this poor, simple fellow in Brideshead Revisited.

I have indeed imparted my opinion to His Traddiness that the Catholic Answers crowd and their countless imitators on EWTN and other publishing imprints do a poor job keeping discontented Catholics in the Church. Back when I was yet unconfirmed, I must credit Catholic Answers particularly for clearing out a lot of the heretical rubble that had been keeping me from understanding what the Church actually taught. I appreciate what their staff writers and speakers did for me all those years ago, so I criticize them with no small measure of sadness.

Karl Keating, founder and occasional president of Catholic Answers, shrugged off Coren’s apostasy in a recent article, saying, “I’m not surprised to see people bouncing from one religious position to another. I’m not surprised about it, and I don’t get worked up about it.” Well, why get worked up about the loss of one of the ninety-nine sheep? All that really matters is the truth, not people: “I do get worked up about truth in advertising,” he says.

Keating is a cradle Catholic, and as such does not have a feeling for the pull that Egypt has on those who have left that pagan nation for the Promised Land flowing with milk and honey. The version of the Catholic Church promised by today’s apologists is basically the Arcadian land of 1950s triumphalism, with plenty of Vatican II quotations added in for good measure. The ur-text for Catholic Answers and other apologists is Frank Sheed’s Catholic Evidence Training Outlines, a 1925 manual with extensive instructions about how to speak publicly and deal with hecklers (easily modified for radio shows and blogging), followed by even more detailed outlines of the kinds of subjects a Catholic soapboxer in Hyde Park would have had to opine upon. The Outlines take some inspiration from St. Francis de Sales’ tracts written against the Calvinists back when that heresy was young. When Mr. Sheed was arguing petulant Anglicans into the Catholic fold, they were being received into something solid and stubbornly unprotean, with a community of fellow believers who knew what they knew and knew what they were doing. When Keating and his staff use the same arguments to push the indecisive into the twenty-first century Church, these converts are left unprepared for the pandemonium and disorientation that is about to confront them.

What happens when these CA-converted rabble call in to the radio show to point out the very obvious ecclesiastical problems, well-nigh begging for clarity and encouragement? All too often the caller is told that the priests or bishops in question are “trying their best” to deal with modern problems, that said caller should take comfort in this fact, and thank you for your call. This passive-aggressive, “Everything is Fine” approach to the confused borders on the wicked. These apologists make vocations out of the spiritual works of instructing the ignorant and counseling the doubtful (outside the Church), but fail to comfort the afflicted and counsel the doubtful within the Church.

Is it any wonder that Catholic converts apostatize, that close to one-half of them leave the Church within a year of their confirmation? The Keating answer is simply, “Oh, well. They knew the truth, and couldn’t handle it.” But in reality, these converts are undermined at every step by their parish priest, by their bishop, by their fellow Catholic, most of whom don’t believe even half of what Catholic Answers has triumphantly claimed to be the teaching and practice of the Church.

When our apologists are little more than truth-bots doling out programmed responses to every possible query, then Catholic apologetics have truly reached their final disintegration. All head and no heart, the apologist shrugs as the apostate limps back through the desert to Egypt, bruised and bloodied from the beating his supposed friends have given him. The convert nostalgically remembers his old life—being asked over to dinner to someone’s house every week after church, charitably arguing about the interpretation of some obscure Bible passage with friends at the coffee shop, not being scowled at by all of his relatives—and wonders why he is settling for scraping manna off the ground while Aaron comes by every five minutes to kick him in the ribs.

The Israelites in the desert were scourged for their own infidelity and idolatry. The Catholic convert is scourged to cover up the infidelity and idolatry of others.


  1. A fascinating and necessary perspective. Being a cradle-catholic, I never thought much of the CA crowd and apologists as they seemed to just parrot a streamlined bulletpoint of what I was taught through experience and rearing. As a result I tend to forget the impact they actually have. The trials and tribulations of a convert definitely need to be addressed as their view of the faith will necessarily differ from the cradle-catholic. In a sense, it is almost like in the early days of Christianity when the Jews didn't know how to handle the Gentile converts.

    This "There is no war in Ba Sing Se!" line really does fail in its purpose. Denial of the problems will only make things worse as those who are not content to bury their heads in the sand run the risk of falling into cynicism or worse. The answer should be to openly and honestly acknowledge the problems and resolve to fight them as the faithful in whatever small way we can.

    The church will survive. The church will endure.

  2. "Not all converts come in through the agency of apologetics. Some marry into the Faith, others are entranced by the beauty of our art and music,"

    By this comment are you referring to the strumming of guitars, polyester horse blanket vestments and Our Lady of Pizza Hut architecture?

    1. I'm guessing you already know that I am not, Prior.

  3. You make a number of excellent points. I've always admired the Catholic Evidence Guild, as it's my understanding that, if they didn't know the answer to a particular question, they would search it out and get back to the questioner with an authoritative answer. Compare that with modern catholic apologetics, which seems to have more in common with the methodology of selling of used cars (get them in the door, tell them whatever they need to hear so they'll sign on the dotted line) than it does with the methodology of the Catholic Evidence Guild.

    Too, there is the issue of the fact that the church that many are being converted into only exists mostly on paper, which is a real challenge to many people. I know several Anglicans/Catholics/Anglicans, and this factor was decisive in many of their cases.

    1. I have no doubt many Catholic apologists begin their careers with a real heart for converting non-Catholics to the Faith. The problem is in making this a career, I think. Soon after making it a career, it can become a job, and a job is just something you do every day to bring in a living. And when you're dealing with maybe dozens of queries a week, whether on the radio or online, that tends to dehumanize the people you're trying to convert. The people get reduced to the questions they ask, and all the questions either have stock answers, or else a new stock answer can be quickly researched and added to the list.

      Try asking any of the apologists who argued you into the Faith to be your confirmation sponsor, or godparent, if you're being baptized. If they are going to guide people into the Faith, they ought to be willing to follow through with that kind of lifetime commitment, yes?

  4. Thinking their pet theories are unassailable is not a problem for just a few professional apologists. Scott Hahn came to St. Therese de Lesieux in Wellington, Florida a few years ago and I was there, having bought my event ticket well in advance.

    I was there waiting for the Q & A portion because Dr Hahn was speaking, among other things, about his "Fourth Cup" thesis; distilled to its erroneous essence, Hahn teaches that Last Supper was a Seder.

    I was prepared to politely call into question his bizarre assertions and I even met him and introduced myself to him prior to the event, saying I was looking forward to the Q & A.

    Well, the Q & A went away and so I wrote an email to the woman who organized the event, copied the Pastor etc and I was given Hahn's email address.

    I emailed him and was put in contact with a grad asst and we had several lengthy exchanges - me quoting from Catena Aurea and a Lapide and he quoting Hahn relentlessly and so it went to no end point and I disengaged.

    Hahn has been all over hell and creation advancing this thesis and the local Pastors hear it as Gospel and, thus, more and more men are severed fromTradition and our Gospel becomes what the latest popular former evangelical claims it is.

    What can be done about all of this?

    Institutionally, nothing; it is only at the level of the Domestic Church that the truth will be conserved and handed on.

    Long ago, the Church failed in America (Only the Holy See of Peter is infallibly promised to never fail) and the little fun we are allowed to have is by making our own way searching for love amongst the ruins.

    And that is one major reason why men like Rad Trad are invaluable; and, maybe, somehow the Holy Ghost is assisting the formation of at least a spiritual synaxis of traditionalists on the internet; sure, its a poor substitution for real Parishes and real human connections but it is not nothing - it is something