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Life and CatholicCulture.org: Tell me what you think!

By Dr. Jeff Mirus (bio - articles ) | Feb 12, 2010

In the main, CatholicCulture.org is a highly-controlled environment which represents what a few people at Trinity Communications, beginning with yours truly, consider to be the ideal web-based environment to pursue our Catholic purposes. These purposes are essentially ordered to a single mission of effectively proclaiming the Kingdom of God. We wish to enrich the faith of our users, explain and defend the Church and her teachings, and foster the formation of authentic Catholic culture in the Church and the world.

But the entire Catholic mind is not encompassed by a few people at Trinity Communications, nor is the entirety of a full Catholic life defined by the consistent effort to instruct and inspire. Many good Catholics, equally committed to Christ and the gospel, disagree on a whole host of inessential things; all of us incorporate natural as well as supernatural goods into our lives; and even in matters of Faith we require not only serious efforts at edification but, to take just two examples, creative entertainment and relaxing humor. All of these things and more are part and parcel of authentic Catholic culture, which is always both fully human and fully open to God.

There are at present four areas in which CatholicCulture.org extends beyond its central, highly-focused and specifically Catholic mission. In this In Depth Analysis piece, I’d like to discuss each one briefly, indicating the balances we attempt to maintain. And I’d like to solicit feedback as to whether readers regard our balances as optimum, or whether they’d like to see more or less deviation from the norm in one area or another. The four areas are advertising, Sound Off!, authorial tone, and coverage of the natural components of a Christian life. Let’s take each in turn.

Advertising

The first two of these areas represent “public” input on the site, and we’ll begin with advertising. Advertisers, clearly, are not Trinity Communications. They have their own message, and they pay for the privilege of putting that message before our users. We don’t seek secular ads, and we have a strict policy against accepting religious advertising which undermines the Church or the Faith. For example, we will not accept advertising from those who advocate positions which are contrary to Catholic doctrine or disobedient to the authority of the Holy See. In addition to being wrong, such materials clearly undermine our own purposes. But there are other positions about which some people feel passionately which we at Trinity Communications find either imprudent or ludicrous, but which do not contradict Catholic doctrine or deny Church authority.

Presumably the users most often drawn to our site are those who find the general approach of Trinity Communications to be effective and salutary, because they think this approach does a good job of faithfully representing the mind of the Church. How strictly, then, should we police our advertising? For example—and I’ll be perfectly frank about this—one of our advertisers, Loreto Publications, not only specializes in materials that are generally rooted in a more narrow view of tradition than we think optimal, but also at times promotes the so-called fourth secret of Fatima, which we find so ludicrous as to be a clear indication of the lunatic fringe at work.

But while it may be foolish and misguided, it does not put one outside the pale of the Church to argue that there are two versions of the third secret of Fatima, that only half the truth has been revealed thus far, that the rest is being deliberately and mendaciously withheld, and that this is being done primarily because the untold portion of the secret thoroughly justifies the narrowly traditional worldview of the very persons who make these claims. Some people are scandalized by advertisements for the book in question; others may well be led, as I would put it, down the garden path. But the thesis is not incompatible with the Catholic Faith.

While this is a current instance, others can be readily imagined. At Trinity Communications, for example, we think it spiritually imprudent to pay any great attention to alleged apparitions and locutions before they have been approved by the competent ecclesiastical authority, and even then to remember that belief in them is completely optional, cannot be taken as a substitute for obedience to the Church, and cannot contain anything necessary for salvation that is not already present in the Gospel. And yet it would not put one outside the pale of the Church to publish and then advertise a book arguing for the authenticity of the alleged apparitions at Medjugorje, and urging people to draw encouragement and inspiration from them.

So the first question is how tightly should advertising be controlled on CatholicCulture.org? What does our community think best reflects prudence in this matter? What would our users like to see?

Sound Off!

Sound Off! represents the participation of our larger community in the purposes of CatholicCulture.org; it goes well beyond “a few people at Trinity Communications”. Again, we have a pretty tough policy against letting anything through which shows a disrespect for the Church or undermines the Faith, but some users may express themselves strongly on this or that subject. They may evidence any number of emotions from anger to bitterness, they may make points with which Trinity Communications disagrees, or they may express a misunderstanding of the Church's teaching, and yet these comments do not thereby call into question their sincere Catholicity.

You will recall that one has to be an active donor (within the past year) to sound off, and the reason is to ensure that we are not overrun with Catholic baiters who would otherwise register and pound away at everything we hold dear—thereby vastly increasing the editorial workload. But given that those who can make public comments are, in fact, donors, the dynamic is in some ways similar to that of advertisers. In a sense, people have paid for the privilege to have their say, and though we won’t let them go very far in undermining the purposes of the site, not every good Catholic has to agree with Trinity Communications, nor is it a requirement of Church membership to be able to express one’s ideas faultlessly.

So sometimes, partly depending on mood, we’ll stop a comment in its tracks if we just don’t think it will make a positive contribution to the discussion. But sometimes we’ll let some marginal comments through, and at other times I’m sure what we think is perfectly acceptable will appear marginal to others. Hence the second question: How are we doing with Sound Off!? Should it be more tightly edited, or more loosely? Do you want more challenging comments which might spark debate, insofar as we get them, even if we fear they may slightly disrupt what we want to be a thoroughly safe haven for constructive and faithful dialogue? Do you want a greater opportunity to critique your fellow users when they say something you don’t like?

Authorial Tone

Some of us, Diogenes and Phil Lawler in particular, have significant funny bones, and even I get in the mood to wax satirical from time to time—or I may get a sore lip from biting it so often. But the overwhelming majority of materials posted on CatholicCulture.org are straightforward, serious, instructional and, we hope, often inspirational. Only in the Commentary section do we occasionally introduce humor, irony or sarcasm. Mostly this occurs in Off the Record, but it is not unknown in the other blogs. Sometimes we see the same thing slipping into Sound Off! comments.

Here again, occasionally we hear from users who have been scandalized by those items which display a more biting tone. Many delight in this form of writing (which I have already explained in To Di or not to Di), but some wonder if it lacks charity, or they may simply be put off by it. This kind of tone represents a more spirited polemical style, which is actually fairly tame compared with the polemics characteristic of most earlier historical periods. The combatants are all more or less publicly engaged, and are unlikely to take it personally, but while some readers end up rolling on the floor, others find it unedifying.

Those who do can, of course, choose not to read this type of work, which in its more severe forms is restricted pretty much exclusively to one easily identifiable blog, but the question remains whether that is enough of an option. How tight a rein should be kept on authorial tone? Would you like to see a greater number of biting pieces, or fewer? More gentle humor? No humor at all? Do we needlessly narrow our market because of the more satirical pieces, or do we cement loyalty? Once again, I am very interested in hearing different perspectives from our users.

Catholic Natural

I trust that no one reading these words thinks for a moment that CatholicCulture.org covers every aspect of a thoroughly integrated Catholic life. If anyone were to live at all times with the aggressive supernatural and moral focus of this highly Catholic site, he would scarcely be human. Grace perfects nature; it does not replace it. Each of us thoroughly enjoys and participates in a whole host of natural goods, from life itself to family, home, friends, community, work, study, casual interests, hobbies and recreation.

Relatively recently we’ve added a new blog by Peter Mirus—On Business—which explores business life (as you might expect). It has a distinctly Catholic perspective, to be sure, but it doesn’t speak only about a subset of special Catholic business issues. It includes a broader range of business considerations which are naturally good and useful, and should be handled in an effective and productive manner. Unlike his father, who has always been slightly resentful of any time (except for family time) taken away from raving endlessly about Faith and Church, son Peter has a natural flair for business and is keenly interested in seeing what he can make of things for the benefit of his family, his employees, and the community at large.

In the same vein, though we don’t have a blog on family life, you can easily see that we might well offer one without restricting it to specifically Catholic considerations. The entire range of natural family life, once again certainly informed by Christ, is good; it all merits consideration and discussion, and should be well-lived. Nor do “a few people at Trinity Communications” have to look very far for this sort of writing. My daughter Mara, a young mother of two small boys, maintains a pretty special family blog at With Sugar and Cherries on Top (it also has the benefit of having been designed by Brandon Vaughan, Trinity Consulting’s web designer, who is Mara’s husband). And Phil Lawler’s wife, Leila, a more experienced mother of seven mostly grown children, holds court in her inimitable style at Our Mothers’ Daughters. (Hint: If you scroll down, you’ll see a photo of Phil and Leila from 1992—on the beach!)

Other eminently natural areas of life could be effectively treated in similar ways, and such writing raises fresh questions about the scope, or potential scope, of CatholicCulture.org. To what degree should we pay more attention to “Catholic natural”? To what degree would this weaken our core purpose, of strengthening the supernatural penetration of the Catholic thing?

I’m very interested in user input on all these questions.

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Show 5 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: sunandwine6758 - Mar. 10, 2010 5:36 AM ET USA

    I LOVE Catholic Culture and I have come to truly admire Dr. Mirus' thoughts vis à vis the Council and the West; and I write that as a self-conscious Traditionalist. But that is not too surprising as I have always defend Holy Mother Church and The Council. Keep up the great work and I will try to donate money when I can.

  • Posted by: barbf71912617 - Feb. 20, 2010 11:39 AM ET USA

    Stay the course on everything. It's CATHOLIC culture, not faithful, shouldn't be in what always feels like a "safe zone". Tone is perfect; prod the brain & tickle the bone. Without a sense of humor, either bury us or build more padded rooms. Not big on blogs, but think current Godless climate calls for all possible help. Think education & entertainment should be considered since there seems so little of either! Iff something's wrong, should be challenged with respect since we're confirmed soldiers for God.

  • Posted by: dmbca - Feb. 13, 2010 8:38 PM ET USA

    On the whole I agree with most of what you said in this article. Keep up with anything witty or amusing. It's a bit hard to know if we're being uncharitable or funny sometimes, but to be forced not to laugh at all is just asking too much. Common sense and medium-strength insensitivity needed when dealing with the ridiculous.

  • Posted by: Jeff Mirus - Feb. 13, 2010 2:43 PM ET USA

    I always appreciate the comments of jere3812, one of our long-time supporters. However, let me remind everyone that the purpose of Sound Off! is to let other readers know what you think. If you want to let the author know what you think, especially when we request feedback, it is better to use the Comment by email option which also appears after each commentary item. This method also permits unlimited length.

  • Posted by: jeremiahjj - Feb. 12, 2010 9:59 PM ET USA

    You wrote almost 2,000 words (1,902 to be exact, not including hed and byline) telling us what's on your mind. Now you want to limit us to 500 words telling you what we thought about what you wrote. Not fair, so I'll limit myself to one comment. If you think something is imprudent, chances are readers would too. Catholicculture.org falls somewhere between the New Oxford Review and First Things. You've found a good niche. Don't mess it up. There now: I saved two words for somebody else to use.

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