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New Website for Atheist and Catholic Dialogue: Strange Notions the Digital Areopagus

May 15, AD 2013 23 Comments

Brandon Vogt, the awesome and brilliant Catholic blogger, writer, and speaker who has appeared in several media outlets including NPR, FoxNews, EWTN, Our Sunday Visitor, National Review, and Christianity Today, has been working for the last couple years on a huge new project, and last week it finally went live.

The project is called Strange Notions, and it’s designed to be the central place of dialogue between Catholics and atheists. As a ‘digital Areopagus’, it features intelligent articles, compelling video, and rich discussion throughout its many comment boxes.

Strange Notions


(If you can’t see the video above, click here.)

Brandon explains:

Strange Notions gets its name from St. Paul’s speech at the Areopagus in Acts 17:16-34. There he proclaimed the Resurrection to the intellectual elite of the ancient world, who responded saying, “you bring some strange notions to our ears; we should like to know what these things mean.” StrangeNotions.com helps those asking the same thing today. Readers will encounter reasonable arguments for God and the Catholic Church, maybe for the first time, and like St. Paul’s listeners leave intrigued by these “strange notions.”

The contributors include the best-of-the-best Catholic intellects, scientists, philosophers, and artists. Right now we have over thirty on board, including Dr. Peter Kreeft, Dr. Edward Feser, Fr. Robert Barron, Fr. Robert Spitzer, Dr. Benjamin Wiker, Dr. Christopher Kaczor, Dr. Kevin Vost, Christopher West, Jimmy Akin, Jennifer Fulwiler, Marc Barnes, Leah Libresco, Stacy Trasancos, Mark Shea, Carl Olson, and many more.

Did you see that? I am honored to join that list as a contributor to discuss our precious Catholic faith, and I did in fact watch the comment boxes explode with dialogue last week. There must be over 1,000 comments already, and most are from atheists. It is good dialogue, the kind that I’m certain Brandon envisioned as he was inspired to bring this project to fruition.

If you enjoy dialogue in a guarded environment where the focus is on quality and respect, dive right into the discussions or just grab a drink and read along. The content has been impressive so far. Visit the homepage and you’ll instantly see what I mean.

“Come now, let us reason together.” – Isaiah 1:18

StrangeNotions-575x412

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  • Andre

    Stacy,

    “it’s designed to be the central place of dialogue between Catholics and atheists.”

    I don’t mind that the site exists, it’s quite nice to have a gathering of the minds. However, my initial spark of intrigue at the idea of a place to dialogue in a civil and intelligent manner quickly faded. First, to be fair, there’s a lot of ignorant, angry atheists doing drive-bys. That’s not to say there aren’t a lot of atheists genuinely trying to engage in dialogue, but it’s disheartening to be associated with the riff-raff.

    Perhaps more importantly, it’s become clear that this isn’t so much a place for dialogue between equals. This seems more of a collection of the best of anti-atheist arguments Catholics have to offer. Perhaps this is why the commenting is mostly atheists so far – though it doesn’t help that most of the authors of the articles aren’t engaging in the debate (though it’s quite funny to see commenters trying to grill the author of an article that’s over 20 years old). We’re left with a valiant set of moderators running around the comment sections trying to respond on behalf of the authors, as best they know how.

    Again, it’s fine that the site is there, it’s pretty interesting in any case. I just didn’t like how they billed it as some sort of level playing field – “come discuss with us” – when really it’s all about converting the skeptics / non-believers.

    • Stacy Trasancos

      Andre,

      I appreciate your frustration, but I can testify first-hand that starting up a website brings with it a lot of unknowns (that free will thing again). Give it time to settle. I know that Brandon is trying to address the concerns of the atheists, and I know him to be a more than capable leader in the social media world. He is the expert in the Catholic cyberspace.

      You are right to notice that he picked the best of the best arguments to start the project off. That should be commendable, shouldn’t it? True some articles may be old, but whether old or new, it’s the content that counts, not the age.

      If you are left with a valiant set of moderators responding to atheist questions, then it seems you are on equal playing fields? Surely you don’t think the atheist commenters in total represent the best of the best in atheist argument? You said so yourself, the riff-raff is disheartening.

      Brandon has asked for input about the best atheist writers, so as to post them. Give it a chance.

      And don’t you ever forget this — we are ALWAYS hoping for conversion. Do you remember what the atheist Penn Jillette said?

      “I don’t respect people who don’t proselytize…If you believe that there’s a heaven and a hell and people could be going to hell or not getting eternal life…and you think that …it’s not really worth telling…because it would make it socially awkward…how much do you have to hate somebody to believe that everlasting life is possible and not tell them that?”

      • Andre

        Stacy,

        My point was that what initially seemed like an invitation for equals to share ideas and converse seems more like a place to politely be told that you’re wrong.

        I don’t mind that he’s putting the strongest arguments forward, my issue, and I’ve seriously questioned it on the site, is the tone of some of those posts when the context is supposed to be civil dialogue. That some of the articles are dated doesn’t bother me per se, but the way things are posted, you think they’re written for the site. Unless you notice and read the fine print at the end that tells you something has just been reprinted w/ the authors permission.

        “Do you remember what the atheist Penn Jillette said?”

        If your quoting Jillette thinking that his views have some cache with me, then you don’t need to add “the atheist” :)

        I don’t mind people evangelizing, I just prefer they’re honest about it.

  • Mjeck

    What’s fascinating is the many atheist’s in support of Pope Francis’ new dialogue; and yet, Catholic’s have not moved away from what Pope Francis has now called, secondary issues.

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  • http://aol Jim

    Actually, Brandon would be better off having a web site that debates
    why all the pews are empty in Europe and how this extends to the
    US in terms of dismal Mass attendence. The mystery as to why the majority of faithful swell the ranks at Christmas and Easter is far more interesting than the see-saw rhetoric over God’s existence.

  • Phil Steinacker

    I have to say that the most salient comment made here so far is by Jim. Before making the conversion of atheists a primary goal (and I don’t mean to suggest it isn’t very important), it is far more important to stop the bleeding of the faithful leaving the Church in droves, or at least their declining particpation at Mass and subsequently drifting away from living out the teachings of the Church in their daily lives.

    • Stacy Trasancos

      Phil and Jim,

      I appreciate that. We can and should do both.

  • Rick DeLano

    Jim:

    There is no mystery.

    If salvation is available outside the Catholic Church, then why not stay home and watch the Lakers, or go to the beach?

    Christmas and Easter will do just fine in that case, to borrow a turn of phrase from Oscar Wilde.

    If salvation is not available outside the Catholic Church, then why not say so?

    Only Sunday Mass attendance will do just fine in that case.

    There is a terrible disorientation in the Church today.

    Either the Church is, or is not, absolutely necessary for salvation.

    If it is, then the present age prelates are in grave dereliction of their God-given duty to preach this Truth.

    If it is not, then the Catholic Church lied for a thousand years and longer.

    I do not think the choice is a difficult one to make, from a logical standpoint.

    It is apparently a very difficult one to make, from the political standpoint.

    “For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.”

    • http://aol Jim

      Rick:
      - I’m not into basketball, however, as a long ago former lifeguard, I do
      love the beach. Fact is, salvation is available both in and outside but
      only someone well versed in trans-theology can recognize it.

      ” Either the Church is, or is not, absolutely necessary for salvation.”
      - The only necessary ingredient for salvation is a complete and
      unbiased understanding of what Jesus preached. The Church is
      biased in its interpretation, the majority of the people who make
      up the Chuch are not.

      ” If not, then the Catholic Church lied for a thousand years and longer.”
      - The Catholic Church does not lie, it makes conservative mistakes
      in interpreting scripture. Yet, in its ultimate wisdom and patience,
      it unfolds the Truth, over time, in a logical and sequenced manner
      tailored to the age.

      I don’t understand the logical and political reference to choice. ! ?

      • Rick DeLano

        Jim:

        Thanks.

        You believe salvation is available outside the Church, which view you attribute to some remarkable thing “trans-theology” (please, don’t bother).

        It is perfectly understandable, therefore, why you would iss the significance of the logical vs. political reference.

        This is because you do not believe the dogma of the catholic Church:

        “nulla salus extra ecclesiam”.

        Since Catholics have always believed it- and preached it until comparatively recently- the logical conclusion is that it has not been preached recently for political reasons.

        An alternative, perhaps, is that the Catholic Church is presently shepherded by heretics who believe “trans-theology” instead of Catholic theology, I suppose……….

        But I suspect the truth of the matter is more along the lines of simple, diabolical disorientation.

        • Andre

          Rick,

          Maybe you can do a guest post on ‘Strange Notions’, explaining that there’s no salvation outside the Church. I think everyone deserves to know for sure that they’re going to hell unless they’re practicing Catholics.

          • Stacy Trasancos

            In his 1975 encyclical, Evangelii Nuntiandi, Pope Paul VI said:

            And He has commanded us to transmit this revelation to others with His own authority. It would be useful if every Christian and every evangelizer were to pray about the following thought: men can gain salvation also in other ways, by God’s mercy, even though we do not preach the Gospel to them; but as for us, can we gain salvation if through negligence or fear or shame – what St. Paul called “blushing for the Gospel” – or as a result of false ideas, we fail to preach it? For that would be to betray the call of God, who wishes the seed to bear fruit through the voice of the ministers of the Gospel; and it will depend on us whether this grows into trees and produces its full fruit.

            Can we gain salvation if we neglect to preach the Gospel because of fear or shame? That would be to betray the call of God.

            Christ told us to Baptize, to preach, to lead people to the Church where there is salvation. We must do it.

            That doesn’t mean that we know more than God or can do things only God can do, such as save a soul in other ways. What it means is that God has commanded us to evangelize and preach the Gospel. Period. We would be sinning to tell people that they didn’t need Christ or the Church.

          • http://magisterialfundies.blogspot.com/ Rick DeLano

            There is one way, and one way only, for a man to gain salvation; that is, by being regenerated (justified).

            There is no way for this to occur, since the promulgation of the Gospel, than baptism or the desire for it.

            This is dogmatic and irreformable.

            There is, I repeat *no other way*.

            To deny this is to deny the Catholic Faith that comes to us from Christ and the Apostles.

            It seems that many deny it lately.

            By their fruits you shall know them.

  • http://aol Jim

    Rick:
    It seems all this dogma and truth talk has you perplexed. If I were
    you I’d take a long holiday from all this theological parlez-vous and try to get in touch with your higher self, your Spirit, and let God’s peace flow like a river until you are through these diabolical rapids that have put you in such a tizzy. Shalom.

  • Rick DeLano

    “It seems all this dogma and truth talk has you perplexed.”

    >> It does? I do not see what evidence you are working from here. Project much?

    If I were you

    >> Heh heh heh…….

    I’d take a long holiday from all this theological parlez-vous

    >> Hmmm. It seems that “trans-theology” involves long holidays from theology….not much of a surprise so far……

    “and try to get in touch with your higher self, your Spirit,”

    >> “Higher self”?

    Oh, my.

    It looks as though “trans-theology” pulls a familiar little dipsy-do here…. the same one the serpent pulled on poor Eve- not my “s”pirit, mind you, my “S”pirit…….

    “you shall be like gods……”

    “and let God’s peace flow like a river until you are through these diabolical rapids that have put you in such a tizzy. Shalom.”

    >> I believe that the word “diabolical” certainly applies here. Just not in the sense you perhaps expected.

  • http://aol Jim

    Rick, I really don’t want to talk about phallic symbols – Snake – or the
    Garden story references – Eve was framed – Please, no more Hunter
    Thompson jive. If you have a specific question, ok, but lets skip the
    cryptic verse. Say what you believe – about me, about anything.

  • Rick DeLano

    But I just did…..

  • http://aol Jim

    You believe the Devil is working within the Church to distort and
    confound believers. I don’t. I believe a dramatic paradigm shift
    is occuring, and like starlight, might take centuries to reach us.
    If you think the Church of 2413 is going to resemble the Church
    of 2013 then your understanding of what Catholicism is capable
    of is woefully myoptic and further discussion is fruitless.

    • Stacy Trasancos

      Jim,

      I think it’s both. The Devil is working inside the Church and outside.

  • Rick DeLano

    “You believe the Devil is working within the Church to distort and
    confound believers. I don’t.”

    >> “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” —Eph 6:12

    “I believe a dramatic paradigm shift is occuring, and like starlight, might take centuries to reach us.”

    >> To the extent the above sentence means anything at all, it would seem to be perfectly non-controversial.

    “If you think the Church of 2413 is going to resemble the Church
    of 2013 then your understanding of what Catholicism is capable
    of is woefully myoptic and further discussion is fruitless.”

    >> I suppose we could check back in 2413 and see how things look then……

  • http://aol Jim

    Amen.