The Interaction between Theology and the Internet

Formerly, theology was written primarily by priests and theologians. Points of controversy were discussed by the use of theological arguments based on Tradition, Scripture, and the teachings of the Magisterium. The persons involved in this process were well-trained in the fundamentals of theology as well as in Church teaching.

Then came a trend in theology toward innovation and liberalism, which had its benefits and detriments. The benefits included new approaches to theology, such as existentialism, and new insights, such as Rahner’s anonymous Christian. But the detriments included the discarding of the scholastic approach, less respect for the Magisterium, and a loosening of strict ethical principles.

Many of the faithful, especially conservatives, lost their trust in modern-day theologians. They returned to the writings of Doctors of the Church, especially Aquinas. The benefit of this renewal of interest in scholastic theology was a correction of some modern errors. But the accompanying detriment was a rejection of any new insights into the Sacred Deposit of Faith, and a dogmatization of mere theological opinion, as long as it was ancient. This led to a rejection or at least a denigration by some Catholics of the teachings of the Second Vatican Council, which seemed to represent the new insights of 20th century theologians, rather than a reassertion of past doctrine. Councils are certainly called to teach new insights as well as reaffirm past teachings, but the errors of modernists led to an unfortunate rejection of the former. The baby was thrown out with the bath water.

What happened next was called the new Evangelization. The lay apostolate was renewed in the Church, with laypersons becoming more involved in spreading the Gospel and in taking leadership roles in the parish. The new Evangelization brought many benefits. But we are all fallen sinners, so there is always a downside. The laypersons involved in leadership in the parishes were not as well catechized as the priests and nuns who, before they declined in number, occupied most of these roles.

In the field of theology, more laypersons were teaching and writing the subject than ever before. There also arose persons who called themselves “apologists”, after the ancient practice of defending the Faith against heretics and unbelievers. Some modern apologists defend the Faith well, and also seek to inform the faithful. The internet has seen many Catholic blogs, with posts that defend and promote the Catholic faith joyfully and with few if any errors.

But other apologists are writing theology without much knowledge of theology. They teach without first having learned. The result is that they end up spreading heresy and error, under the banner of defending the Faith. This irony escapes their dullard minds. Much of this bad apologetics is offered online, and as a result errors both new and old are spread rapidly throughout the world. Heresy is presented as if it were Church teaching or sound theology. Dogmas are explained in such a way as to contradict the very dogma being presented. Every doctrine is described in a manner riddled with error. And these bad apologists are uncorrectable. They have their internet followers, who hang on their every word and complement them obsequiously. Having found thousands of supporters online, they imagine that they cannot be mistaken.

Worse still are the anonymous teachers of doctrinal error. Some Catholic bloggers, discussion group posters, and online commentators hide under cover of a pseudonym (or multiple pseudonyms). And while anonymity is not itself immoral, the misuse of anonymity online is rampant. These persons boldly claim to be teaching doctrine and correcting error, yet they are unwilling to put their real names on their claims. Why? because anonymity allows them to treat anyone who disagrees with contempt and malice.

Many times, I have witnessed poor souls seeking guidance on grave matters of morality being led into mortal sins by these anonymous false teachers. A Catholic enters a discussion group seeking an answer on a moral question. Then a group of these ignorant and arrogant persons descends upon him or her, insisting that some grave sin is moral, holy, and approved by the Church. Anyone who argues to the contrary is subject to personal attacks and harassment. It is wickedness disguised as evangelization. Some of these false teachers are simply trying to soothe their own bad conscience by convincing others to commit the same sins that they commit without repentance.

Another problem with theology on the internet is that long detailed theological arguments are ignored. Even a concise argument based on Tradition, Scripture, Magisterium seems to carry no weight at all. It is ignored in favor of poor arguments and mere rationalizations. People realize that they can find an ample number of persons online who agree with almost any opinion or point of view. And they know that any cited source from Tradition, Scripture, Magisterium can be radically reinterpreted to support whatever conclusion they prefer.

It is the latest version of Eve deciding to accept the rationalization offered by the serpent because she desires the fruit:

“I wish to eat that fruit, but it seems to be forbidden. I wonder if I can find a rationalization for my sin on the internet. Oh, yes! Here’s a Catholic blog or discussion group with just what I need.”

What tends to prevail in online arguments on Catholicism is the briefest expression of what people wish were true. Examples include: excuses to permit the use of abortifacient contraception by married couples, the claim that contraception is “morally neutral” outside of marriage, the radical reinterpretation of the Church’s traditional teaching on intrinsically evil acts as if these acts become moral with a good intention or in a difficult circumstance, and many other errors on matters of faith and morals.

There is even a new and growing trend to attack Pope Francis verbally, spreading doubt about his election, his authority, and his character. Some faithless persons are even intimating that perhaps he has, or will soon, fall into heresy. The theology on this question is quite firm: the Pope can never fall into heresy, for the prevenient grace of God prevents it. And Saint Robert Bellarmine did not say otherwise.

There are 1.3 billion Catholics in the world. The vast majority use the internet. Very few read any real theology. The internet is being used to spread grave errors on matters of faith, morals, and salvation, to the harm of many souls. I wonder how many souls will be tormented forever in Hell because of sins against religion committed on the internet. More than a few, I think.

Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and
translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.

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