What would a new apologetics look like? First, it would arise from the questions that young people spontaneously ask. It would not be imposed from above but would rather emerge organically from below, a response to the yearning of the mind and the heart. Here it would take a cue from the method of St. Thomas Aquinas. The austere texts of the great theological master in point of fact emerged from the lively give-and-take of the quaestiones disputatae that stood at the heart of the educational process in the medieval university. Thomas was deeply interested in what young people were really asking. So should we.
Secondly, a new apologetics should look deep and long into the question of the relationship between religion and science. For many people today, scientific and rational are simply equivalent or co-extensive terms. And therefore, since religion is obviously not science, it must be irrational. Without for a moment denigrating the sciences, we have to show that there are non-scientific and yet eminently rational paths that conduce toward knowledge of the real. Literature, drama, philosophy, the fine arts—all close cousins of religion—not only entertain and delight; they also bear truths that are unavailable in any other way. A renewed apologetics ought to cultivate these approaches.
Thirdly, our apologetics and catechesis should walk the via pulchritudinis, as Pope Francis characterized it in Evangelii Gaudium. Especially in our postmodern cultural context, commencing with the true and the good—what to believe and how to behave—is often counter-indicated, since the ideology of self-invention is so firmly established. However, the third transcendental, the beautiful, often proves a more winsome, less threatening, path. And part of the genius of Catholicism is that we have so consistently embraced the beautiful—in song, poetry, architecture, painting, sculpture, and liturgy. All of this provides a powerful matrix for evangelization. And as Hans Urs von Balthasar argued, the most compelling beauty of all is that of the saints. I have found a good deal of evangelical traction in presenting the lives of these great friends of God, somewhat in the manner of a baseball coach who draws young adepts into the game by showing them the play of some of its greatest practitioners.
When Jesus explained himself to the disciples on the road to Emmaus, their hearts began to burn within them. The Church must walk with young people, listen to them with attention and love, and then be ready intelligently to give a reason for the hope that is within us. This, I trust, will set the hearts of the young on fire.
This gives me hope and makes me feel wistful all at the same time. Most the apologetics community in the US is now consumed with the right wing culture war against Francis and with making excuses for supporting our grifting Sex Predator in Chief. Discussions of beauty mostly devolve into bitching about liturgy wars. Evangelization in general has been replaced by a search and destroy mission that aims to smoke out the gays, the liberals, the insufficiently Republican and drive them from Church while pouring boiling oil from the parapet on the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame who might pollute our purity with their views uncatechized by FOX News, Raymond Arroyo, or Liesite News. “What do you mean you were attracted to the Church by the witness of Pope Francis? What are you, some kind of liberal? You’re gay and you want Jesus? Infiltrator! Begone! You’re post-abortive? You know, I think women who have abortions deserve the death penalty.” That is the ambient noise of the subculture that regards itself as the Defenders of the Faith.
I am dying to get back to the vision Bp. Barron sees. But every morning I am confronted with a Christianist cultus of malice for the Holy Father, adoration of Trump and (most recently) thigh-slapping mockery of sexual assault victims (or whatever else the Troops are commanded to rationalize in the name of Jesus today) that I spend the day trying to put out the fires of scandal, not light the flame of faith. It grinds my soul down.
How do we create a culture of witness to the Faith that is not bogged down by the culture of Defenders of the Faith? Perhaps the place to start is by rejecting the approach to evangelization which presumes that the conversation is a confrontation between Real Catholics and Enemies. That has always seemed to me to be the core problem with the Apologetics subculture. God knoweth I have been guilty of buying into it. But it has metastasized into a monstrously toxic thing now that even sees the Holy Father as an enemy to be destroyed and labors to make war on much of the Church’s teaching.
I have to think about this more.