Earlier this month I asked a serious question and received just two responses, a believer's reply and a polemicist's reply. No one offered a secularist's reply. What does it matter?
The world continues to change and so the nature of disbelief continues to change. Those who advocate for the faith in the realm of public ideas, now a self-acclaimed professional class known as the "apologists," are supposedly the ones who explain the Catholic faith in words understandable to those who hear and who present the faith to those who might believe. What is now called "apologetics" could at any point in the past have been called evangelical writings, proselytism, catechesis or just "preaching the gospel." The Truth cannot change, but the means of its presentation can and must (I believe some bishops held a get-together 50 years ago to discuss this very topic).
These requirements expose the modern apologist class for its many defects in presentation and suitability for catechesis. Somewhere else on this blog, my co-writer quipped that modern apologists are "good at arguing people into the Church, but not so good at keeping them in the Church." Indeed, some, who will remain nameless, look at the lapsing of converts as a problem that belongs to someone else when in fact it belongs in no small part to them. Why?
"Apologetics" lags no fewer than three centuries behind the times. Current apologetics are geared entirely towards right brain religion, the religion of pure thinkers and lawyers, rhetoricians and quibblers. Aside from Luther and Cranmer, a notable number of the Reformers were lawyers. The formalized theology that emerged in the Latin Church to counter the Reformation vacillated between Jesuit casuistry and the parochial scholasticism of St. Alfonsus Maria de' Liguori, himself a lawyer. Targeted Protestants were and are offered the choice between accepting the Catholic proposition or retaining the Reformist proposition. One can believe it, but one need only think it.
Scott Hahn, Marcus Grodi and Dwight Longenecker highlight a generation of apologists who converted from clerical Protestant lives to the Catholic faith, in no small part, by reading their way into the faith, by reading the Fathers, Newman and the rest. Their arguments about the three main Protestant scandals—the Eucharist, the Papacy and the Virgin—are sensible and tailored by personal experience. And they are quite ineffective to the great majority of the irreligious.
The Constantinian Church spent most of its breath on Christological controversies, working out ways of expressing just Who Jesus is and how God can be three without being more than one. Augustine, the Cappadocian Fathers and the first few Councils dealt with this difficulty more or less effectively, although the associated politicking damaged the unity of Christendom to an extent that has still not been repaired. Still, no bishop at the Council of Ephesus was decrying the Neronian persecutions.
Modern disbelief is no longer Protestant disbelief. No exegesis on Matthew 16:18 is going to convert an agnostic with a live-in girlfriend to the papacy. Most people will not even spend the time to read full books, aside from the odd cultural phenomenon like Harry Potter. Their conversion must be a left brain conversion, or at least a left brain encounter that could effect a right brain conversion. At the Church's hands are several liturgical traditions, young enthusiasts and lay associations that could become the next evangelical force in the Church if only the apologist class would allow it. How many converted because they finally read Augustine's doctrine of justification with patience? Some. How many converted because they walked into a Sunday Mass—for any reason, curiosity, the music, anything? A great many more.
The modern pagan lacks the Roman Imperial pagan's instinct for virtue and pride in rhetorical skill. Our pagan want pleasure, a good laugh, some nice clothes and a girl. He wants enjoyable experiences, not deep thoughts. As a believer, he may think deep thoughts some day, but he will only think about God if he meets God first, and that is where the polemical slant of the apologists fails.
Society is passing post-modernism. Catholic Answers has not even reached the Enlightenment.