A “New Voice” at Vox Nova

A “New Voice” at Vox Nova September 17, 2018

When one logs in to the WordPress “dashboard” of the Vox Nova blog, one is immediately greeted by a small box that announces our historical statistics: 5,528 posts, 104,771 comments. That’s a lot of content, amounting to an average of 460 posts per year. But averages lie. Much of that volume is weighted toward the very active early years of the site, when an impressive group of founders – including Henry Karlson, Katerina Ivanovna, Michael Iafrate, Tony Annett,  M.Z. Forrest, Michael Joseph, Nate Wildermuth, Mary Ruebelmann, and Jonathan Jones – often posted several times a day.

Vox Nova’s founding post was made on May 16, 2007, under the title, “The Purpose of Vox Nova,” and with the subhead, “Vox nova in terra viventium,” a new voice in the world of the living. “Vox Nova is a response to the ecclesial mandate to promote the common good in every sphere of human existence,” reads the opening sentence of the post, which was itself preceded by quotations from Gaudium et Spes, Apostolicam Actuostitatem, Deus Caritas Est, and Pope Leo XIII’s Tametsi Futura ProspicientibusThe second paragraph identified the unique contribution that Vox Nova hoped to make and, I would argue, has made to Catholic online discourse: 

United in our Catholic, pro-person worldview, yet diverging in our socio-political opinions, we seek to provide informed commentary and rigorous debate on culture, society, politics and law, all while unwaveringly adhering to, and aptly applying the principles of Catholic doctrine. We are not intellectually wedded to any single political ideology. Following the example of the rich tradition of Catholic social doctrine from Pope Leo XIII to Pope Benedict XVI, we do not forge artificial blockades between “faith and morals” and “social judgments.” We do not and will not filter Catholic doctrine and morality through contrived categories in order to morph our Catholic faith and practice into some ideologically acceptable form.

Vox Nova was unique in that its writers embraced the totality of Catholic Social Teaching (CST), which made for odd reading to those who believed – and still do – that CST begins and ends with abortion, or that abortion is the one and only topic on which a Catholic may not exercise “prudential judgment.” As early as 2009, Vox Nova was impugned by a blogger named Zippy Catholic as “The Debate Club at Auschwitz” because, as he put it, Vox Nova “contributors generally take an airy academic inclusive approach to publicly discussing abortion.” The accusation wasn’t true then or now, but that slur was picked up and passed along by many, including (not surprisingly) The American Catholic and (sadly) Mark Shea, who a decade later sounds more Vox Novan than many of us.

It was during this period that I discovered Vox Nova. I had come into the Church a decade earlier as a hardline political conservative, but three experiences had begun to crack the foundations of my worldview. First, in early 2007, I said goodbye to my son as he departed for combat duty with the 3rd Infantry Division in Baghdad, Iraq. Andrew would be gone for 15 months, most of which were an agony for him and his parents. Second, I had recently stumbled upon a trove of material related to Catholic Social Teaching, very little of which read like the Republican Party platform. Third, I had recently encountered the life, work, and witness of Dorothy Day, which was transformative. Doing a web search on Day, I surfed into the Vox Nova blog and was hooked.

At first and for a long time, I was an antagonist in the comboxes, often fighting it out with Michael Iafrate and Tony Annett (then writing under the nom de plume Morning’s Minion), defending American Empire and neoliberalism with the desperation of one who wants badly to believe the myths of one’s youth despite the accumulation of contrary evidence. Eventually, I was overwhelmed by the inescapably Catholic logic of the principal Vox Nova writers, whose points of view were always grounded in and buttressed by the plain teaching of the Church as found in the social encyclicals, conciliar documents, and the Catechism.

On issue after issue I began to move in the direction of the Church, whose full teaching became for the first time the lens through which I viewed the world. My combox commentary began to reflect this shifting perspective, and in 2011 I was invited by the team at Vox Nova to write a guest piece. I wrote “Catholic Citizenship and the Dorothy Option.” Soon after I was invited to become a regular contributor.

During this time, the Vox Nova stable was undergoing transition. Many of the founders had left or would shortly do so. Others, like Annett and Karlson, forged on. New voices had emerged, including Matt Talbot, Julia O’Connell, Mark DeFrancisis, Brett Salkeld, Josh Brumfield, and later, David Cruz-Uribe and Julia Smucker (forgive me if I’ve missed anyone). I stayed on until late 2013, when I left to help start Solidarity Hall and, later, a Patheos blog called The Dorothy Option. And now, I am blessed to be back where my blogging life started, at Vox Nova, and to join old friends David, Julia, Matt, and Brett, as well as new friend Jeannine.

Why this recapitulation of Vox Nova’s history? Because as I begin my second stint here, it’s important to remind myself and you, dear readers, of how important this blog has been, not just to me, but to Catholic online discourse generally. “We understand that the grace of Jesus Christ, the Redeemer of humanity, extends to and permeates every human act, however private or public,” reads our founding post, “and that the only viable path to peace, prosperity and justice in the world is to recognize that grace saturates, sanctifies and perfects every aspect of nature. Thus, faith informs and grace affects the full scope of human effort, from the deepest devotion of spirituality to the most mundane activity in the social sphere. Vox Nova seeks to be a herald of this glorious truth and its manifold implications for culture, society and politics.”

After 12 years, 5,500 posts, and 105,000 comments, the hope of the Vox Nova founders has been realized. It is a privilege to once again be bringing their vision to life.

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