We are engaged in a “culture war”. The Church has responded by calling us to embark in a New Evangelization, a renewal of the original evangelical activity launched by the Catholic Christians in the earliest centuries of Christianity. Then and there, ages ago, countless men and women fearlessly brought the Gospel of the Risen Christ to the world with unstinted Spirit-driven resolve. Now in the 21st century, we stand in recognition that evangelization is not a past duty of the Christian people. Rather, evangelization is our supreme duty as the people of God — here and now.
Many of the early Christians lost their lives as a result of their missionary activity. Many of us, however, may not be called to physical martyrdom in our lifetime; though social martyrdom—or at least an openness to it—seems in many ways immanent. In other words, we are called to engage the culture and enter into a challenging and sensitive dialogue that, although noble and necessary, may very well lead to slaughtered worldly reputations as we charitably but forcefully oppose the Culture of Death.
As defenders and restorers of the Culture of Life, we must adequately equip ourselves for the task; for it is not enough to merely participate in the controversial dialogues of today’s culture — we must participate intelligently.
To do this we must be intentional in our preparation.
Here is a basic plan to follow:
#1: Study moral relativism. You need to know what this philosophy is, the arguments for it, and the arguments refuting it. This prominent worldview of the culture underlies much of the moral confusion rising to the surface in modern times; this is because it denies the existence of objective truth.
“Who am I to tell you what to do? We shouldn’t judge. Your truth is your truth and my truth is mine!” says the moral relativist. Yet, if a man was beating his five year-old son on the sidewalk, that same moral relativist would be sure to spring into action and bring an end to the violence without pause, imposing his morality on the abusive father. Surely, in this case he would indeed judge. We should not judge hearts but we should judge actions — and we do no matter what our “personal philosophy” happens to be.
To begin studying the issue of moral relativism I recommend reading A Refutation Of Moral Relativism: Interviews With An Absolutist by Dr. Peter Kreeft. Then I recommend reading it again. Through the easy-to-read, dialogue-style that he employs, Dr. Kreeft presents the arguments for and against moral relativism in a clear and creative way.
#2: Gain an understanding of what man is. An effective apologist must have a sound grasp of basic fundamental concepts – such as the definition of “man”. If you were asked “What is man?” how would you reply?
You cannot know what is right or wrong for a man until you know what a man is. Truly, what is right for a cow is not always right for a man because we recognize that there is an essential difference in what each creature is. But what is the difference?
Indeed, man is much more than a mechanistic slave to bodily impulses, but rather, he has been endowed with an intellect and a will which allows him to know and love — this makes him different from the apes and like God.
I cannot think of a better book to get you started on understanding who and what man is than Society and Sanity: How To Live Well Together by Frank Sheed.
Praising this book authored by Sheed, the epic Catholic thinker of the 20th century, Kreeft says that “Society and Sanity is probably the best introduction to Catholic social ethics I’ve ever read.” That’s a strong statement! A telling one too. I can’t recommend this book enough.
To read Kreeft’s forward to this book, click here.
#3: Develop an understanding of God’s plan and purpose for human sexuality. There is no question that St. John Paul the Great leads the charge in this area with his Theology of the Body. Building upon the foundation of wisdom which came through other saintly Catholic Christians like St. Paul and Blessed Pope Paul VI, St. John Paul teaches that human sexuality, properly understood and within the right order of things, is good and beautiful. It is intended to foreshadow the free, total, faithful and life-giving love of God, and when it does, it unveils the future marriage of the Church with Christ that is to be enjoyed in all its fullness for all of eternity.
Prepare to be rocked by this great man’s study of how God’s glory is unveiled through the human body.
For an basic theological introduction I recommend reading Theology of the Body For Beginners by Christopher West. For a more popular Q & A format, read West’s Good News About Sex And Marriage. For a clear and logical case for traditional marriage between one man and one woman, read What Is Marriage?: Man And Woman: A Defense by Sherif Girgis.
I also highly recommend getting associated with chastityproject.com and theporneffect.com for additional study and training in understanding and intelligently defending the Church’s teachings on sexual morality.
Finally, I recommend Trent Horn’s Persuasive Pro-Life: How To Talk About Our Culture’s Toughest Issue, the best book out there today for preparing you to make a logical and charitable case for the Pro-Life position.
#4: Prepare to confront an irreligious culture. Those who do not assent to the existence of God (or who are indifferent to the possibility) leave no room for a moral authority above themselves. As a wise man once remarked: “If there is no God, everything is permitted”. Atheism, thus, can be morally destructive (it does not logically follow, however, that all atheists are immoral or morally destroyed).
Furthermore, the rejection of organized religion (such as the Catholic Church) is also a rejection of a higher moral authority than individual man and is also, like atheistic world views, ultimately destructive to man’s concept of objective morality. Atheism, indifference and the abandoning of “organized religion” is on the rise and must be addressed.
We must, then, be able to have intelligent discussions with our irreligious friends and acquaintances. To learn how to have these conversations effectively, while holding the Catholic view of God and morality, I recommend beginning with:
I also heartily recommend the phenomenal 20 Answers booklet series from Catholic Answers. For a straight-to-the-point crash course on how to address our irreligious Culture of Death with confidence and clear logic, get these booklets and study them. Included in the series are the following:
20 Answers: Atheism
20 Answers: Faith & Science
20 Answers: The Real Jesus
There are also two other booklets in the series — 20 Answer: Abortion & 20 Answers: Life Issues (also highly recommended).
#5 Observe top apologists and evangelists in action. The best way to learn anything is to learn from the best – to watch and then imitate. Even St. Paul understood this (1 Cor 11:1).
In my opinion,the Catholic Answers Live radio show is one of the greatest gifts to the New Evangelization. Why? Because it gives all New Evangelists a unique opportunity to hear theory put into practice in a real live evangelization context. For details on the live radio show click here.
All of the episodes are also available as a free podcasts.
But listening is not enough. You must study if you want to become a great proponent of the Gospel of Life. Here’s what I do:
Download an episode that suits your interests or needs. For the purposes of this post, I recommend shows like Why Are You An Atheist? or Why Are you Pro-Choice? or Why Do You Want To Redefine Marriage? for example. Then sit down with a pen and paper, and as you hear the apologists on the other end address the questions, objections and concerns of the callers, write down the arguments in clear, simple terms so that you can commit them to memory. Keep a notebook full of these notes and eventually you’ll have a nice compendium of apologetics in your own handwritings.
You may also want to put YouTube at the service of the New Evangelization and study clips from Catholic Answers Live on video, or analyze debates by people like Stephanie Gray, Trent Horn or Scott Klusendorf, for example, who are experts on life issues such as abortion and euthanasia. But always be intentional. You can always do this simply by utilizing a pen and paper as you listen or watch (studies show that writing on paper is a more effective learning strategy than typing on a laptop — FYI).