Bob Kurland, writing for Catholic Stand, recently revisited a piece he wrote in 2014 entitled, “Evangelization: Don’t Argue on the Internet.” His newer look at this topic is called, "It Doesn’t Pay to Argue on the Internet."
I was intrigued by the title as were many, I am sure, because so many of us Catholics enjoy a thoughtful exchange and the ever-present challenge to keep a civil dialogue going while getting the chance to evangelize to some extent. I'm not sure I agree that it is "pointless" to argue on the Internet, but the blogosphere can be a daunting place when once polite exchanges become heated. Admittedly I have endured many an evening being "beaten and bloodied," as I like to call it, by liberals on social media and elsewhere. Often I've gotten to that place where I too have thought, "This is pointless." And yet, night after night, like moths drawn to a flame, there we are again trying to change people's minds.
Probably the best places to exchange ideas are where there are more people who think as we do than not. There are the ubiquitous "trolls" in every forum but we need not let them take us down into some devilish pit. What may start out as a friendly "lunge and parry" can quickly devolve into a mud-wrestling match if we are not careful. Indeed, if we find ourselves in the mud, it is time to go for the towel and throw it in. By joining discussions moderated by Catholics, we can help ourselves to a wealth of ideas provided by learned people who know their apologetics. If the level of discussion is kept to a civil plane, there is also the chance to learn a genteel way of commenting as opposed to using sarcasm and insults.
Imagine if every word you typed were being broadcast over the radio and that everyone listening knew who you were as you were saying it. Most of us would probably take a different tone than the one were are inclined to use when guarded behind our anonymous keyboards. Another thing to remember is that many of the same arguments are posited time and time again in chat rooms and on comment boxes. If we go into a discussion thread unprepared, we will be disposed of handily by those whose arguments are more practiced and well-refined than ours. It is best to know what you believe and why you believe it before you find yourself trying to defend your faith as you go along.
The most authoritative source for understanding Catholicism is the Catechism of the Catholic Church. A favorite sport of non-Catholics is to bait us with questions whose answers they are sure will prove their points. My experience has shown that a forgiving and understanding tone to these questions is the best approach. What most detractors do not seem to understand is that we didn't just wake up one day and decide to jump on some bandwagon as as means to validate our conservative viewpoints. By assuming we have, their approach toward us is to attempt to invalidate our beliefs. For the uninitiated, what is missing here is the knowledge that our faith has been unchanged for two thousand years. Added to that, we have centuries of teaching through the Magisterium. The greatest theologians throughout two millennia have affirmed and "settled" for us what the church teaches. You could no sooner get a real Catholic to jump ship than could you get a Jewish man to abandon his yarmulke. Why don't these Internet interlopers ask the Amish to drive cars or force the Muslims to eat some pork?
Part of the reason is that Catholics for too long have been casual about their faith. Even many practicing Catholics will tell you that the domestic church did not exist in their childhood homes. Their basic catechism never resonated with them and no one stopped them from picking and choosing only the parts of the faith that suited them. These "cafeteria" Catholics do not cling to their faith because its message was never fully heard by them. The result is a whole generation of somewhat Catholic faithful who would defend their faith if they only knew how.
In my personal journey, I decided to study the official Catechism of the Catholic Church because I wanted to know what I was saying "yes" to and why the church believes as it does. I needed answers to the questions that were certain to arise from my family and friends. Without understanding, I would be as lost as any non-believer as to why Catholics do what they do. I could never defend why, for example, it is reasonable to believe that God exists without hearing the explanations that the Cathechism gives. I jokingly say sometimes that if I ever find an answer that I don't think is right, I will let them know! (So far I haven't.)
My greatest wish is to keep the faith dialogue going, but to do it as a people of peace. It will be pointless to argue on the Internet without relying on the truth and without a tone of civility. You may catch some comments that contain apologies when things become heated; we are all still learning. But for my part, I still say it is worth "arguing" on the Internet if we remember that we are connected as God's children charged to love all our neighbors as ourselves.