Jul 18, 2013 / 03:03 am
Radio host Al Kresta's new book is meant to help Catholics respond to the arguments of their opponents, stressing the need to love one's enemies so as to transform a culture hostile to Jesus Christ.
"It's clear that Catholicism, especially in America, is under increased attack. And it isn't as though somebody's discovered some truth about the faith that is now rejected," Kresta told CNA July 16. "It's just that Catholicism has fallen out of favor."
"American Catholics, I think for the first time since the 19th century, need to take stock and recognize that we do have enemies."
Kresta's new book, "Dangers to the Faith: Recognizing Catholicism's 21st-Century Opponents," is published by Our Sunday Visitor Press and aims to respond to the contemporary world's prominent rivals of Catholicism.
"There are right now in our society academic elites, business elites, people of great profundity, who are committed to undermining the social and cultural influence of the Catholic Church," Kresta said. "For some of them, that's what they live for."
"Sometimes they attack by abusing journalism, sometimes they abuse history, they abuse the natural sciences, and they abuse spiritual and revelational claims."
Kresta is a former Protestant minister who converted to the Church. For more than a decade he has hosted the nationally syndicated Catholic talk show "Kresta in the Afternoon."
His latest book examines and critiques the claims of New Age beliefs such the "law of attraction"; reincarnation, and other Western adaptations of Eastern beliefs; and Islam. Kresta's book examines disputes about the origins of Christianity, especially those that put forward heretical views or reject the text of the New Testament.
In talking to CNA, Kresta emphasized the Christian duty to love one's enemies and to give them a fair hearing.
"Love means listening. It means being able to represent your opponent's position in a way your opponent will recognize as fair and accurate."
He took as an example the talk show host Oprah Winfrey, whom he said has become an icon of an "American spirituality" that puts forward a "false Jesus" found neither in the New Testament nor Catholic history.
He said his book first tries to represent her views, before critically engaging her positions from a Catholic perspective.
Kresta said he needs to portray her justly: "I need to be able to say she's a generous, tolerant, energetic, entrepreneurial person – a person you'd like to be living next door to you."
Kresta added that the abuse of scientific arguments has become stronger than it had been in recent decades.
"People were very clear that science couldn't answer all questions," he said. "By the time I got to college, the idea that science could explain everything was no longer fashionable."
Yet the pendulum has swung the other way in recent years.
He credits the rebound in this view's popularity to the rise of a new, combative form of atheism after the September 11th terrorist attacks. He said the coupling of this attitude with the benefits of technology has also made it more believable for some.
"It's not uncommon to find people, including late adolescent Catholics, thinking that science is the definer of reality. They reject religion, they reject philosophy, it's all about science. I think that's growing."
There has also been a decline in the respect the Catholic tradition's art and social achievements once enjoyed.
"This new bunch doesn't even respect the Church for its music, its art, or its Mother Teresas," Kresta lamented.
To respond to these trends, Kresta advised Catholic evangelization
"We have to be able to joyfully say 'hey, you guys are missing out'," Kresta continued, saying Catholics must show critics that the faith offers "a richer life," based in Truth.
"The Catholic Church's teaching is good news; it's not bad news. That's what we have to stress."
Kresta saw the decline of Protestant nativism – the belief that America is a country primarily for white, Anglo-Saxon Protestants – and suspicion of Catholicism as an area where a formerly strong opponent of Catholicism has weakened and changed.
"Overall, our relation with evangelical Protestants has really improved in the last generation. On the life issues, we've learned to pray together, we've learned to talk about our differences in civil, rational ways."
He said that criticism of the sexual revolution has also become easier because its negative consequences are now more obvious.
However, he saw ominous signs both in the Obama administration's refusal to respect Catholic conscience concerns about the HHS mandate and in states' increasing refusals to work with Catholic agencies on adoption placements.
"It's shocking to see the Obama administration regard the Catholic Church as a 'bad neighbor.' That's very different. I don't know that we've ever seen that in America," Kresta said."I think what we see is the government erecting itself as the highest source of social morality."
Barring major changes, Kresta expects that the American government will tend to become a "new Caesar" that presents itself as "the central organizing point of our lives." This move would displace the morality of the church, the synagogue, and the family.
"I think American Catholicism is in a desperate situation. I think it's a great time to be Catholic in America, but I think it's a great time to be Catholic in America because the battle rages so clearly, and we know we have a moral clarity in what we are to do."
He saw hope in a "growing group of Catholics" committed to the Catholic faith and to being a "faithful witness" in the culture.
Kresta encouraged Catholics to stress the truth of the Catholic faith when in dialogue with others, in an effort to transform the culture for Christ.
"Once we begin backing away from the Church's teaching as true, once we begin to say that it can be tweaked and modified to suit the culture, I think we're digging our own grave."
"And I think that's what the last generation of Catholics did."
Rather than engaging and evangelizing the world, he said, Catholics began accommodating it.
"We're not separatists, we're not accommodationists – we're transformationists."