Monday, September 24, 2007

Half-Truths and Lies: Am I Merely a "Self-Published E-Pologist"? Observations on Related Polemics

I know I should just let nonsense like this roll off my back, but I'm just not that spiritual yet, folks. I admit it. Pray for me. I still have a hard time when people who have been corrected three, four, sometimes ten or more times, still repeat the same old lies, for the express purpose of trying to harm my reputation and name as an apologist. So let me offer this brief post, for the sake of the record.

Lutheran polemicist and incessant trash-talker Josh Strodtbeck posted at the Boar's Head Tavern on 9-27-07 (as "Pirate"), the following ignorant remark, that he must know to be false (having been corrected several times on his own site):
Dave Armstrong is a self-published lay Catholic e-pologist.
That was his entire comment, obviously meant as a potshot to undermine my credibility and put me in a box so that people inclined to disagree with my viewpoint could immediately dismiss my work. Of course, Josh himself is a lay Lutheran with no credentials, a former seminarian (one year), with no published works at all that I know of (not even self-published), who loves to frequent the Internet and trash all kinds of Christians and Christian groups, often acting indistinguishably from how a know-it-all would act, so what does this say about him?

Others (curiously) have used the same line:

. . . a Roman Catholic layman named Armstrong who self-published a book titled, "The One Minute Apologist."

(Lutheran pastor Paul T. McCain, June 2007)
Anti-Catholic James White was still saying this long after I had been published by Our Sunday Visitor (2002: The original Catholic Answer Bible) and Sophia Institute Press (in 2003). All these people had to do was spend five seconds on amazon or Sophia or OSV book pages to disabuse themselves of this silliness. What is so hard about that?

Now, it's true that I currently have ten self-published books out. But that is a half-truth when presented in isolation, and little better than a lie, since I also have four books published by reputable Catholic publishers (three by Sophia Institute Press: A Biblical Defense of Catholicism, The Catholic Verses, and The One-Minute Apologist) and one by Our Sunday Catholic Visitor, the largest Catholic publisher (The New Catholic Answer Bible, co-author of apologetic notes with Dr. Paul Thigpen). I also am author of a popular pamphlet published by OSV: Top Ten Questions Catholics Are Asked.

Three of these books (excepting The One-Minute Apologist) are also regularly on the amazon Top 100 for the Catholic Theology category (often even in the Top 25). They're doing very well in the small market. So to pretend that I am merely "self-published" (for crass propagandistic or polemical purposes) is ridiculous.

That means also, of course, that I am not merely an "e-pologist" (as if I should be ashamed of that in the first place). I had published magazine articles in 1993 (The Catholic Answer, This Rock) before I ever went on the Internet. My conversion story was published in a book (Surprised by Truth) in 1994. My first book was finished in 1996 before I ever had a website (and now there are four with "real" publishers), and it had a Foreword by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J. I've been on the radio about ten times and have given talks to a live audience. None of that involves the Internet. Josh can't even get that right.

Yes, I do a ton of stuff on the Internet, and it has played and continues to play a huge role in my name and work being known at all, to the extent that my friend and fellow apologist Gary Michuta kindly described me on his website last month as "the undisputed king of Catholic apologetics on the web." If that is indeed true, why in the world should I be ashamed of it, anyway? It would be an accomplishment to be proud of (in the right sense of that word), it seems to me.

But that is not all I am, as he would like to make out, as if anyone could easily get a book published by a well-known publisher, be on national radio, debate atheist philosophers and scientists, Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons, and other things that I have managed by the grace of God, to accomplish in my apologetic career. That seems to be the goal of this approach: to make out that anyone could do what I have done, and therefore to dismiss what I assert in my writing by the mere mention of the half-truths of being merely an e-pologist and/or "self-published" (that anyone can do today too).

Yet others keep spouting this, too, as if it is some unsavory thing to spread Christian (and Catholic Christian) truths over the Internet. What, would these people rather I set up a pornographic site and made a fortune? They're all on the Internet too. But because I have been successful at what I do, somehow it is to be mocked that I do a lot of it on the Internet. My friend Diane Kamer commented (on 6-9-06) on a discussion board, about this sort of mentality:

I hafta say . . . a general observation . . . a little pet peeve of mine that's been building over the years: I get a bit weary of the constant critiques of online apologists. Sometimes it seems as if "apologist" is a dirty word. Why? . . . Often it's their contra-Catholic opponents who derisively dismiss them as "epologists" - but goodness gracious, what do the opponents think they are? If you do any apologetics writing online, then that makes you an apologist (or epologist) by definition. How are you doing anything different from what the Catholic apologists are doing? And why on earth is it such a terrible thing to do anyway? Apologetics is a venerable enterprise. Sure, it's not the same thing as peer-reviewed scholarship, but no one should expect it to be. It is what it is, and what it is has a valuable place and purpose, in my humble opinion.
As a note of trivia, anti-Catholic luminary Dr. Eric Svendsen lays claim to coining the term "e-pologist":
The words “epologist/epologetics” and all their variations (e-pologist/e-pologetics) first occurred on my website many years ago. Don’t ask me the year; I don’t remember. It may have been 1997, but that’s just a guess. If you want to know where those words came from, look no further. I am the source. I coined them. And now it appears I should have patented them when I had the chance.

The words first appeared when I was making mention of certain Roman Catholic apologists who did apologetics solely or primarily online. At first, readers thought I had committed a spelling error and wrote me repeatedly to point it out. Then I was quoted on some Roman Catholic discussion forum, and one of the members there began mocking my use of the word (“what is an ‘epologist’ anyway?”) . . .

From there, Roman Catholic epologists everywhere began using the words with regularity, even creating their own “Epologetics” sections of their websites. There are now more Roman Catholic references to epologetics than Evangelical ones.

( 10-26-04 )
This seems more or less neutral and non-polemical. However, we see Svendsen (who has done a ton of Internet apologetics himself) using it in hyper-mocking terms later:
I have purged all the recent entries on this blog that referenced a certain highly emotional fundamentalist Roman Catholic e-pologist whose adolescent musings I have decided are just not worthy of my attention. I no longer think he and his views deserve the attention and free advertisement he is getting. I'd encourage others who may be dialoguing with him to do the same. He doesn't represent official Roman Catholic beliefs, and he's certainly not a recognized spokesperson for those beliefs. There is absolutely nothing to commend his views; he's demonstrated repeatedly that he is unable to engage in anything but sophistry on every level; he doesn't know how to engage in a fair handling of the biblical text; and to argue with him is to argue with a wall. I'm embarrassed to have mentioned him in the first place. On to more important things.

( 5-8-05 )
There was good reason to believe I was the recipient of this typical Svendsen personal attack, as argued by Patrick, a friend of mine, in a discussion at Steve Hays' Triablogue site, following up on a post of mine (since removed, in order to rid my site of excessive "personal" polemics of this sort). But whether I was or not, it is clear that e-pologist has often (though not always) become a derogatory term of dismissal. For example:
For those of you who have found yourselves in the sad position of debating anything with a Catholic internet e-pologist, . . .

(Frank Turk, aka Centuri0n, 9-21-05)
As for my being a layman, I stand guilty as charged. No argument there. But since Vatican II and many recent popes have enthusiastically recommended both lay apostolates and apologetics by laymen (as well as use of modern media of communication like radio, television, and the Internet), I fail to see how this is somehow a strike against me. Funny that a Protestant (of all people: the folks who push the "priesthood of all believers") would espouse the clergy-laity dichotomy and act as if laymen should sit around sucking their thumbs and letting the clergy do everything in the Church.

In any event, I am not solely an "epologist" unless these fact-challenged critics would like to argue that published paperback books, published articles in magazines, book chapters, radio talks (several times to a national audience), in-person talks, phone conversations, discussion meetings at my home, sitting at book tables at conferences, etc., are all somehow magically transformed into Internet activities.

The sky wouldn't fall down if Josh Strodtbeck stooped to a rare moment of actually providing a rational argument against a Catholic idea, minus the juvenile mockery and cynical propagandistic techniques.

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