I have some extremely exciting news that I've been keeping under wraps for some time, and this morning it finally came out. At 9:00am ET, I launched StrangeNotions.com, a major evangelistic project which was two years in the making.
Strange Notions is designed to be the central place of dialogue between Catholics and atheists. One implicit goal is to bring non-Catholics to faith, especially followers of the so-called New Atheism. As a 'digital Areopagus', the site includes intelligent articles, compelling video, and rich discussion throughout its comment boxes.
(If you can't see the video above, click here.)
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 by 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. Open-minded atheists will encounter reasonable arguments for God and his Church, maybe for the first time in their lives, and like St. Paul's listeners they’ll leave intrigued by these strange notions.
I've gathered several top Catholic minds to contribute to the site. Right now we have over 30 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 Trascanos, Mark Shea, Carl Olson, and many more. The project has also received several great endorsements including these:
"Brandon Vogt is at the cutting edge of using the Internet and social media as a tool for evangelization...I believe that his latest endeavor, StrangeNotions.com, is an excellent example.”
— Bishop Christopher Coyne, Archdiocese of Indianapolis
"Brandon Vogt brings his energy, enthusiasm, and prodigious intellectual gifts to the Catholic conversation and demonstrates how social media can be used effectively to advance the mission of the Gospel."
— Fr. Robert Barron, founder of Word on Fire Catholic Ministries
This site is timely for several reasons:
- On May 12 the Catholic Church around the world will celebrate World Communications Day. Pope Benedict XVI, shortly before he stepped down, composed this year's official message which he titled, "Social Networks: Portals of Truth and Faith: New Spaces for Evangelization." This project embodies that theme as it uses social networks as "new spaces" to evangelize.
- Over the last ten years, the number of self-identified atheists in America has increased 500%. They're one of the country's fastest growing religious groups yet almost no Catholics engage them. Strange Notions is a frontier project in this needed effort.
- In the midst of the Year of Faith and the New Evangelization, this is a creative example of using "new ardor, new methods, and new expressions" to evangelize.
Any way that you could cover the site, either with a blog post, an interview, or by sharing the video trailer would be a huge help.
If you have any questions, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. And please tell me what you think in the comment boxes!
By now, you've likely heard the big news that Pope Benedict XVI is retiring on February 28. I was recently asked to share my thoughts on the Pope's legacy in 300 words or less. Here's what I wrote:
As an Evangelical Christian in 2008, “God’s Rottweiler" worried me. From what I knew he was a cold and stodgy disciplinarian with a hyper-traditionalist streak, more likely to crack a whip than save a soul.
But then I became Catholic. After devouring his books and studying his addresses, I discovered a much different man. Three traits particularly stuck out, and they remain keys to understanding his legacy:
First, his commitment to reason. In the Pope’s important Regensburg lecture in 2006, he noted, “Even in the face of such radical skepticism it is still necessary…to raise the question of God through the use of reason.” Throughout his pontificate Pope Benedict affirmed that faith and reason are not enemies; they’re friends. He’s shown that the mind is a road to God.
Second, his evangelical focus. In a recent speech to Filipino prelates, Pope Benedict summed up the Church’s mission: “to propose a personal relationship with Christ.” That’s what Catholicism is all about—friendship with the Risen Lord. And it’s why Pope Benedict has poured himself into the New Evangelization, an effort to re-propose this relationship to a distant world.
Third, his embrace of the new media. From launching a new Vatican website, to using an iPad, to tweeting to millions of people in eight languages, the Pope is no stranger to technology. “Without fear,” he told a group of bloggers, “[the Church] must set sail on the digital sea.” Yet who pictured an octogenarian Pope leading the way? Over the years, the Pope has keenly recognized that most people are online, so that’s where he’s steered the Church.
We don’t know who the Holy Spirit will choose as his successor. We don’t know what travails lie ahead. But we do know that Pope Benedict has charted a sure future for the Church, one that is eminently reasonable, deeply evangelical, and firmly committed to new methods of evangelization.
For most Catholics this is both exciting and terrifying. We know this technology is powerful. And we know that we should be using it. But much of the Church is simply afraid to dive in. They're wary of the dangers, they don't know where to start, and they're unsure how to move forward.
That's why Matt Warner, Josh Simmons, and I created the Digital Church Conference, a one-day guide to the digital continent. Through several talks, interactive demos, and panel discussions, we teach people everything they need to know, from perfecting their website, to building social networks, to evangelizing online.
On Wednesday, we're putting on our third Digital Church Conference, this time for the Archdiocese of Cincinnati (more details here). But we'd love to take it to every diocese in the country, including your own. The Church badly needs help in this area of extraordinary potential.
So can you please help spread the word? Pass this message on to your pastor, parish staff, diocese, communication director, or your bishop. Share the video on Facebook, Twitter, or your blog. We'd also love to do a guest post or interview on your website. We'd be grateful for any help you can give.
PS. If you ever need graphics, logos, websites, or video trailers for a project, I highly recommend Cory Heimann at Likable Art. Cory designed the video trailer above. As you can see, he's phenomenally talented. He's also strongly Catholic. Check out his past work and then reach him at email@example.com.
Today's interview is a little unusual. First, it took place about a year ago, so I've waited awhile to post it. Second, I was actually the person being interviewed. Nevertheless, since it was such a great conversation with one of the Church's most fascinating leaders, I thought I'd share it here.
Back in November 2011, I had the pleasure of chatting with Cardinal Timothy Dolan. He invited me onto his weekly radio show, then called "A Conversation with the Archbishop and now called "Conversation with Cardinal Dolan", and along with co-host Fr. Dave Dwyer we had a blast. Cardinal Dolan was just as warm, funny, and gracious as he comes across in his preaching and writing.
At the time, my book on the Church and new media just came out, for which Cardinal Dolan wrote the Afterword. So we discussed the book, including the reasons why Catholics are generally hesitant toward new media, how we can begin to change that picture, and shining examples we can turn to for inspiration.
1:07 - Summary of The Church and New Media book
1:28 - The Incarnation as the ultimate communication
3:00 - Does the Church need to communicate better?
4:00 - Is the Church lagging behind with new media?
6:27 - Fr. Barron's YouTube evangelism
7:52 - The digital Areopagus
8:26 - How can Church leaders get help with new media?
10:00 - With this digital revolution, are Catholic newspapers dead?
11:57 - Stories from Brandon's blog
12:46 - What are some recommended Catholic blogs?
13:44 - Negative effects of new media
14:30 - Cardinal Dolan's online Lenten video
15:16 - Virtual tour of St. Patrick's Cathedral
15:46 - New media giving the Church a human face
16:17 - Pope Benedict's digital example
17:05 - Other recommended Catholic websites
18:26 - If Jesus walked the earth today, would he use new media?
Cardinal Dolan: What I praise with the technological revolution within the Church is the full activity of our laypeople. This is an area where our laypeople, and our young people, are leading and showing us the way. We bishops marvel at the blogs and websites of committed, educated laypeople. Is that correct, Brandon? Do you think I'm on to something?
Brandon Vogt: You are, you hit the nail on the head. And that's precisely why these tools are such great gifts from God. When you look at the demographics of the Church, the most distant demographic has long been the young adults. They're the ones least likely to come to Mass, and least likely to participate in the sacraments, yet these are also those who are most active in these new media realms. So it seems in a certain sense that, believing in the Providence of God, that he has dropped these tools to us at this particular time in history to act as a bridge between the Church and those who are most distant from her.
Cardinal Dolan: I don't know if you'd agree or not, Brandon, but I've heard it said that the Catholic Church was one of the first religions to get into the newspapers. Rare would be the diocese that didn't have a newspaper, and if I understand correctly as a historian, that really got started back with St. Francis de Sales, who to this day is the patron of the Catholic press. But although we made tremendous strides with newspapers, when television and radio came, we didn't keep up. Yeah, we had some stars like Archbishop Fulton Sheen, but in general we didn't keep up and the great progress we made with newspapers did not continue. Some people today are even saying the days of newspapers are over. Would dioceses be better off getting rid of their diocesan newspaper and investing heavily in these other technologies? What do you think?
Brandon Vogt: I don't think the days of print and newspapers are over. You know, some people are even pronouncing the death of the book which, as a bibliophile, terrifies me. I don't think the days are over, but I think the solution is more both/and rather than either/or. What I like to encourage dioceses to do is dedicate one full-time staff person to online ministry. It needs to be separate from your communications and public relations departments, which are typically more reactive. Online ministry is more proactive and conducive to conversation, engagement, and community. A great place to look for somebody like that is the Catholic colleges. Or look to a young graduate who is probably savvy with these skills and who could really help a diocese or a parish.
Check out Cardinal Dolan's blog, The Gospel in the Digital Age and be sure to follow him on Facebook and Twitter.
Why should the Church use new media?