Tag Archives: Internet

Former Ignitum Today Writers Who Have Published Books Part I: Shaun McAfee

Pardon us for engaging in a little self-promotion, but Catholic writers from ages 14-45 who are wondering how they can use their talents to bring others closer to God should consider writing for Ignitum Today.  For many of us, writing for this website has been a rewarding way not only to share our faith but to hone our writing and online publishing skills.  This has led some to go places, which meant even more opportunities to share the faith.

One such writer is Shaun McAfee, the author of books such as Filling Our Father’s House, St. Robert Bellarmine, and Reform Yourself!.  Here, he talks to us about how his journey to become a published book author started out with writing for Ignitum Today:

How and why did you get started writing for Ignitum Today?

Shaun McAfee:  “Writing for Ignitum Today (IT) was a smart step in my Catholic writing journey. I wanted to expand my skills and networking; I  wanted to learn from others;  and I thought joining a group-blog would be the best way of doing that. So I scanned some sites I knew but didn’t really know how to get started. Maybe it’s still there, but I noticed one day that the IT site had a link to the effect of “Want to be a writer?” I clicked and submitted my info and was soon contacted by none other than Stacy Trasancos. The rest is history.”

Please tell us the stories behind your book deals.

Shaun McAfee:  “I got my first book contract with Sophia Institute Press. I admit I never that writing a book was the sort of thing I would do—it seemed a pretty lofty goal, and I did not know what topic I could write about.  But in 2014 I got a huge idea to write about the things Catholics can learn from Protestants in evangelization. That book became Filling Our Father’s House and I really felt lucky to have such a strong title with a big time Catholic publisher.

Next, my pastor asked me to write a short book for the 50th anniversary of the founding of St. Robert Bellarmine Parish in Omaha, NE. That book became St. Robert Bellarmine. I enjoyed writing that one a lot, even though it wasn’t a huge book, and it received some nice and humble praise. Still, I was really motivated to read and write about the other saints that Robert Bellarmine interacted with during the Counter-Reformation. I noticed that 1) nobody really had written a book about the saints of the Counter-Reformation, and 2) the 500-year anniversary of the Reformation was coming, and it was a good time to do something innovative. Again, I never thought I’d be published, let alone by such a magnificent publisher, but Catholic Answers Press said “yes” to my proposal, and after a long winter of writing and a summer of editing, Reform Yourself! was published. I’m in the season of promoting that one, still, but I’m working on some other ideas in the meantime.“

What are your books about?

Shaun McAfee: “Filling Our Father’s House is a practical book that discusses the great things our Protestant brothers and sisters do to increase holiness and become such effective evangelists. It talks about everything from “having a personal relationship” to the importance of small groups and taking the faith to the streets, literally. Next, I wrote a simple book on St. Robert Bellarmine. The book discusses his life and his major works. My most recent book is Reform Yourself! with Catholic Answers Press. This is a highly practical look at the lives of the saints of the Counter-Reformation, and shows readers how to seek true reform, holiness, sanctity, and several other attributes of the Catholic life, deriving each from the lives of these special saints. I also wrote a chapter with my wife in Patrick Madrid’s Surprised by Life and have recently done the same, with my wife, for an upcoming book on Humanae Vitae with Catholic Answers Press. I’ve got some hopeful projects coming in the near future, but those are secret for now.”

Do you think your involvement with Ignitum Today helped you become a  published book author?

Shaun McAfee: “Like I mentioned, choosing to write for IT was a very smart choice. IT provided me with a nice base of support. I had an editor for the first time, I was able to solicit feedback from other writers, I was able to monitor and understand stats, find my own mistakes, respond in a combox, and was also able to learn from the finer points I noticed with the other writers. Things like productivity, interesting topics, word count, endurance, knowing when to leave and when to push myself to the next level—I was able to learn these and so much more from writing at IT. Not to mention, IT gave my writing a humble but promising platform. In the most practical of exercises, IT really gave me the opportunity to decide if I really liked writing or not. I realized at IT that it was really up to me to decide how successful I wanted to be.

Soon, I became an editor at IT, then I was asked to start and edit a blog for Holy Apostles College and Seminary, and then I founded EpicPew.com. Now, I write weekly for the National Catholic Register and contribute frequently to Catholic Answers Magazine and their Magazine Online. Writing for Ignitum Today provided a basis for a skill set that has carried me this far.”

Any advice that you have for young Catholic writers?

Shaun McAfee:  “To all those Catholic writers wondering where they’re headed, or if you have big dreams I offer you this advice: stay productive, stay as humble as possible, and always push yourself to do better. Thanks for the opportunity to share some words. “

Note:  Interested writers may contact contact Jean Seah at jean.elizabeth.seah[at]gmail[dot]com, and provide a writing sample.

In Google We Trust

Google_-G-_Logo.svgI love Google. I use that little search bar numerous times every day. If I want to know what to cook for dinner, study the history of sandpaper or find out the time in Nigeria the method is always the same…Google. And it is a rare occasion when Google lets me down. Sometimes I have only fragments of information but sure enough, more often than not, Google knows what I am after. There are even times when I know the information I need is written somewhere very close by, but instead I’ll search for the information online. There is no doubt that our ability to find information so quickly on so many popular and obscure topics is one of the primary advantages of life in the 21st century. But just as every cloud has a silver lining, so every silver lining has a cloud.

Google was given its name as a derivative of googol which is the number one followed by a hundred zeros. The mission of Google’s two founders was to organize the seemingly infinite amount of information on the web. And it would seem that they really have succeeded. With over 2 trillion searches made through Google last year, it’s clear that the world is keen to get its hands on as much information as it can. And rightly so, for information is a wonderful thing. The word ‘information’ is derived from the Latin stem informare meaning a sort of “formation of the mind”. This etymological meaning helps us to see that information is not only stuff we surround ourselves with, but in a much more profound way it shapes our very thoughts and thus the way we respond to situations.

I remember seeing the phrase somewhere, ‘What you read today, walks and talks tomorrow’. In the way that the food we eat becomes who we are in a physical sense, the information we take into our minds even more truly come out in the choices and thus the people we are. We know that an increasing proportion of adults (and children) in the Western World are entrusting their physical health to McDonalds and discovering the consequences of that. An even larger proportion of the population are entrusting their minds to Google and the online world that it controls. What we need in both cases though is a balanced diet that regulates the body and the mind.

As we have established, there is no shortage of information that can be found online but raw information is only one piece of the puzzle. In a quick handful of Google searches I can find reputable looking information on the best ways to have an affair, methods to evade tax, and abortion inducing pills that can be delivered to my door. However – and this is the clincher – the ability to actually do something is not an indication that a thing should be done.

Long before anyone was able to Google anything, the world set itself on a tangent that would open the pathway for the information revolution, and that was what we now politely refer to as the ‘Enlightenment’ or the ‘Age of Reason’ (as if complete foolishness had reigned until this point). The Enlightenment was a 17th century intellectual movement that emphasized scientific method and individualism over anything to do with faith or tradition. The Enlightened mind was one that was accountable only to itself. Information was divorced from questions of ethics and morality which were said to belong to a separate realm. Now of course there is nothing wrong with reason or science, but as has been seen in the world over and over, ideas without an ethic risk becoming inhumane, because people are not simply machines or mathematical calculations. On a purely physical level an affair is simply an interaction between two persons, but in the human world an affair destroys lives and whole families in ways that are far more than physical.

Of course I am not saying that Google is bad or using the internet is somehow a pathway to infidelity. There are far more subtle examples that affect us every day. What I am saying though is that, as with all human achievements, we should take the internet with a degree of skepticism. It’s not only about what we allow ourselves to read or believe but also the thought patterns that we allow to sink into the depths of our being. As all-knowing as Google may be, the fullness of the human experience will always be more complex than any algorithm.

Copyright 2015, Bernard Toutounji

Image, Wikimedia Commons

The Potentials and Limitations of Internet Evangelization

The existence of this website attests to the Ignitum Today team’s belief in evangelizing power of the Internet. Like all other means of communication, the Internet is useful for transmitting the word of God. The call for Catholics to place Christ at the summit of all human activities covers both offline and online activities.

As an evangelizing medium, the Internet has the following specific strengths:

1. It has a wide reach. It breaks barriers of time and distance, and can transmit a message to a broader audience. Thus, it can help plant the seed of the Gospel in the souls of those who would otherwise not be reached by the traditional means of evangelization, and can serve as a channel of God’s grace to many end-users.

2. It facilitates the mobilization of off-line activities. Rallies and meetings can be organized efficiently through the social networks, and the social networks are also great places to advertise retreats, seminars, and other activities that are beneficial spiritually.

3. Its capacity to connect like-minded people with each other makes the communion of saints more real. This strengthens the faith of believers and assures those who are still considering the Catholic faith that they will never be alone in their journey to God. On a practical level, the Internet is useful for locating churches and Sunday Mass schedules while planning a trip abroad.

4. It can communicate the truths of the Faith in the language of the times. Catholic memes are a clear example. Hipster-Jesus-Twitter

5. It enables quick, up-to-date commentary on current events, thus allowing Catholics to timely communicate the perspective of reason enlightened by Faith on these events.

At the same time, there are things that the Internet cannot do and ways in which the Internet can even hinder evangelization efforts.

1. The Internet cannot, by itself, effect conversions. Conversions are the response of human freedom to God’s grace. All that online evangelization can do is provide a channel for God’s grace, or at least not hinder the working of grace.

2. The Internet is not always conducive to an exposition of the truths of the Faith with the thoroughness they deserve. Not all questions about the Faith can be answered in a short Facebook comment and not all online content allows itself to be read with the degree of reflection needed to grasp the truths of the Faith.

3. Neither is the Internet the best venue for giving and receiving personalized spiritual advice. Evangelizing always involves “shepherding”, that is, personally guiding people according to their specific spiritual needs. This is because God deals with souls individually and not en masse. Facebook threads are not the best places to address the specific concerns of souls – especially their spiritual concerns. Online evangelization can never replace what St. Josemaria Escriva calls “the apostolate of friendship”.

4. In relation to the last item, the Internet is no substitute for the sacraments. One cannot post one’s sins online to obtain absolution – and the Internet is not protected by the sacramental seal, either.

5. Just as the Internet can make the communion of saints more real, it also, unfortunately, showcases the worst behaviour of people, including believers. In one of his hardest-hitting quotes, St. Josemaria Escriva, in #263 of The Furrow, lists some signs of lack of humility. I am sure I have, at one time or another, displayed some of them in my own online behaviour – “always wanting to get your own way”; “arguing when you are not right or – when you are – insisting stubbornly or with bad manners”; “giving your opinion without being asked for it, when charity does not demand you to do so;” “despising the point of view of others”. Indeed, the line between assertiveness and arrogance, between candor and tactlessness, can be blurred online. Because of the anonymity that the Internet provides, as well as the way it facilitates publishing one’s views without thinking first, online discussions on even Catholic topics can degenerate into “ad hominem-fests” that do more harm than good to people following them.

6. Finally, active online evangelization can give one a false sense of effectiveness and can take up time that can be used for more meaningful offline works of charity. One can easily get sucked into never-ending online discussions with like-minded people and feel flattered by the “likes” that one’s comments get, without realizing that the time could have been used by giving a listening ear to someone offline who needs it or saying a decade of the rosary for another person’s conversion.

The key to maximizing the potentials of the Internet as a means of evangelization, and to minimizing the harms inherent in the medium, is to practice prudence. Prudence in Internet evangelization means deciding on and using the best online tools for one’s apostolate (this article may help). It also means balancing one’s time online with offline apostolates that include bringing people to the sacraments. With regard to blog and Facebook comments, it means prayerfully deciding when and how to continue a discussion with a sincere questioner, or to drop a discussion with a troll. It means asking oneself before typing and clicking the “Post” button, “Is my motive to defend Christ and His Church, or to vindicate my bruised ego?”

Finally, online evangelization is no different from offline evangelization in that both are useless without prayer. It is a good habit to pray for those whom we encounter and those who will encounter us online. This will be more effective in bringing them to Christ than the wittiest ripostes we can think of during the heat of online debates.

[Not] Us Against the World

I was really happy today when I logged onto Ignitum Today and noticed this post, which deals with Christians avoiding anger, because I think that is a very good place to start the conversation I want to have. Fundamentally, the question I want to ask with this piece is this: why do we as Christians often write and comment online angrily as if we’re constantly in the middle of an argument against everyone?

My reason for writing this piece is pretty simple: I use the internet. Knowing that the internet is a dangerous place to form an opinion of anything, the reality is that each of us forms opinions based on things that we read. I think, therefore, that it is important to evaluate the way that we as Christians are perceived based on our online presence. For my money, I would bet that most opinions of Christians formed via the internet is that we are a bunch of angry, self-righteous people who disagree with most of society on just about everything.

I understand that we as Christians do disagree with many people about many things, and we have the right to have our voice heard about those things. The question, though, is whether the voice they are hearing is the voice of Christ, or a jaded modern-day Christian voice that repels much more often than it attracts.

In Pope Francis’ message for this year’s World Communications Day, the theme of which is “Communication at the Service of an Authentic Culture of Encounter,” he makes this point abundantly clear. In his message, the Pope spends time to talk about the ways that modern communications can unite us, allowing us to be closer than ever to people from around the world that we never would have been able to communicate with previously. What the Pope says is that “[t]he walls which divide us can be broken down only if we are prepared to listen and learn from one another.” You can read more of what the Pope says here: Pope Francis Communications Day Message, but the key of it all is this: our modern media can assist in communication and encounter with one another if we are willing to speak to those we normally wouldn’t and really enter into a dialogue person-to-person.

What makes me more than a little upset is when a see a Christian blogger write an article where they are very angry about something they do not need to be angry about, and then the blog they angrily and hastily wrote about some non-issue or non-related issue spreads on my social media feeds like wildfire because we want people to be angry with us. When we as Christians create this closed off mentality where we have to make every issue an us against the world issue, we are never going to do anything but lead more souls away from Christ, and that is a tragedy.

As Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI stated in 2013, the internet and social media now provide many new spaces for communication, and these “spaces, when engaged in a wise and balanced way, help to foster forms of dialogue and debate which, if conducted respectfully and with concern for privacy, responsibility and truthfulness, can reinforce the bonds of unity between individuals and effectively promote the harmony of the human family.” What I hear both of these Popes calling for is very different than what I see happening, and the challenge for all of us is to change our mentality from an angry, us-against-the-world mentality to a welcoming, engaging mindset which desires to reach out into the world and win hearts and souls for Christ.

What I propose is this: from now on when we read a story or hear about a recent development, let’s start by hearing it and not by picking it apart. Maybe if we are willing to sympathize with the other before we disagree with him or her, we’ll see the benefits of friendship and open communication as our voices are more readily heard than they currently are. If we start by truly hearing someone and respond with openness and sympathy instead of anger and outrage, then maybe our words won’t so often sting and offend but will become, as Pope Francis says so beautifully, “a balm which relieves pain and a fine wine which gladdens hearts.”

Children and Online Porn: Five Quick Stats

kids_on_computer_bw copyIn our media world children will almost certainly be exposed to images and material that can have a negative impact on their moral and psychological development. Exposure to pornography is one such concern that should be on every parent’s radar.

First, some statistics about children and exposure to online pornography:

1. One study in the US found that 93% of boys and 62% of girls are exposed to online pornography during adolescence.(1)

2. A study in the UK found that nearly 57% of 9-19 year olds who use the Internet weekly have been exposed to pornography. (2)

3. The same study found that only 16% of parents think their children have seen pornography on the Internet.(3)

4. A Dutch study found that adolescents aged 13 to 20 with frequent exposure to sexually explicit Internet material were more likely to show greater sexual uncertainty and more positive attitudes toward uncommitted sexual exploration (i.e., sexual relations with casual partners/friends or with sexual partners in one-night stands). (4)

5. Exposure to pornography among youth is often unintentional. One study in Australia found that 75% of 16- and 17-year-olds have been accidentally exposed to pornographic websites, while 38% of boys and 2% of girls have deliberately accessed them. (5)

So what to do?

Unfortunately, the reality that children will most likely be exposed to pornography online can lead to two extreme reactions which are counterproductive.

One approach well-meaning parents can take is to control the media their children consume to such a great extent that the child is led to believe that technology and the Internet are bad. This approach is actually contrary to Church teaching. In the encyclical Miranda Prorsus, Pope Pius XII wrote that technological advances are “gifts of God,” which like our own lives can be used for ill or for good. According to Communio et Progressio, a document of the Second Vatican Council, “the communications media can be seen as powerful instruments for progress.” The document goes on to say that “it is true they present difficulties but these must be faced and overcome.” In other words, media is a potential for great good. We are called to work with media to promote good in society and to teach our children to use it in accordance with Gospel values.

The Church, therefore, urges a balanced approach that requires much more from adults than either shutting down the Internet in their home altogether or having an anything goes policy. John Paul II, in his World Communications Day Message in 2004 advised parents “to regulate the use of media in the home” but “above all, parents should give good example to children by their own thoughtful and selective use of media.” John Paul II also urges parents to “join with other families to study and discuss the problems and opportunities presented by the use of the media.” (emphasis mine)

I highlight “opportunities” because when we speak to children about media and Gospel values it is important to be positive. It is necessary to have open dialogue with children about the dangers of the Internet, including, at an appropriate age, pornography. But often it is the dangers of the Internet that parents harp on while the seeds of the Gospel, and our role as Christians in planting them, are ignored.

Instead, parents can lead their children to the water of the Internet and teach them that while it is not all good for drinking; some of it is good. Children should be taught that they cannot drink everything in the media uncritically; the waters should be analyzed and strained before consuming. But it is equally imperative that children learn to identify the Gospel, even tiny seeds of it, when they see it in the media.

And most importantly, we can teach our children that as Christians, we are called to contribute clean, fresh Living Water for others to drink through our kind words and our thoughtful and patient presence  – online and offline!

Is the Internet Real?

Second question: If so, can we save it?

To the first, I think the question is rather odd. However, it is odd because it is assumed implicitly in the question we more commonly ask and the one that does not feel odd, or namely:

“Am I spending too much time online?”

This is a good question. This is an easy question. But, it is a question with an interesting implication and often not so directly but more so in how we think about it generally. I will propose to you that it is in our common sense thinking about it generally that we make the mistake. And, we can correct this mistake by using the same common sense thinking about our experience.

When we ruminate about our online experiences, we come to realize that we often contrast on-line experiences with their off-line counterparts. It is due to our natural inclination to antinomies (hot/cold, fast/slow, in/out). This dualistic way of thinking about on-versus-off line experience forms a strong paradigm that becomes a filter for how we think about either experience. In one way, this should immediately provide our intellect with a defeater for our mistake (keep reading, I’ll get there). Yet, in another way, the sharp contrast we make provides a “sort function” by which we allow ourselves to distinguish to the point of a false dichotomy. It is at the moment of the false dichotomy, the false antinomy, that the flaw of our common sense thinking is revealed.

What then in our experiences — both on-and-off-line — will provide the proper perspective to resist the false dichotomy? For starters and finishers, all of these experiences happen in reality! And, it is for that reason that I put forward to you that THE INTERNET IS REAL.

Duh.

Your REAL blog post provider

Seriously folks, I am typing this blog post sitting in a real chair, looking at a real computer, watching real characters pour onto a real screen at approximately 80wpm. You are also reading this in a state that should be obvious to you that is real. If the Internet is not real, if our experiences there do not constitute reality, if “virtual” really provides something sub-real, then I say that coloring a coloring page is not real. For if any of the aforementioned are not real, then when I sit down with a package of crayolas and disappear into the lines and counters of Tickle me Elmo armed with the color red, I am no longer living in the here and now. I have entered into that place where reality and fantasy are no longer distinguishable.

That’s dumb.

And yet I imagine that none of this post comes as a shock to you. You knew the Internet was real, but decided to read this because you thought the question was interesting. However, I’m not convinced that we think about the real-ness of the Internet quite like we should. To illustrate this point, let me describe to you what the world, off-line, might look like if it were lived like we act on-line:

  • 12% of all businesses would be strip clubs (% of websites that are porn sites)
  • 25% of every question someone would ask would be about sex (% of online searches for pornography in relationship to total searches)
  • 42.7% of people would ask to watch you or someone you know have sex with someone else (% of Internet users who watch pornography)
  • People would randomly mention “pedophile priest” in almost any conversation (go to any combox for evidence — I recently saw this in an ESPN article about football)
  • We would expect to see sexual predators lurking and openly soliciting children at almost any place young people congregate. (14% of children are solicited online)
  • A spy would be living in 50% of every home trying to steal important information from the homeowner or trying to cause harm to the home (% of computers infected with malware)

Let me submit to you a conclusion from this data: We don’t think the Internet is real so we pretend that we can do whatever we want to do without consequence. If we lived in the real world like we do “online”, the world would be a miserable place. But notice what I just did. I set up the false dichotomy!

In reality, the Internet is a part of our “real world”, and it is a fairly miserable place to live — the real world that is. You know the one with the Internet, not the one without the Internet. That was like so 1981.

So, can we save it?

What?

The Internet.

Answer: No

(for review, the first question’s answer is “yes”, the second’s is “no”)

Instead, we should think about it another way. We should realize that we are in need of saving, and we now find “us” more unregenerate than ever living in a place we call “online”. But, online isn’t a place. The desk that I’m sitting at and writing this post is a place. Topeka, Kansas is a place. People in places need saving.

Christ didn’t die for the Internet. He died for you and me even while we pretend — online — that what we do there does not in fact harm our eternal souls. However, there is no virtual heaven and hell. Only the off-line version.

So let’s use the Internet to keep people out of hell.

Hey, that might save the Internet after all.

[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’]http://www.ignitumtoday.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/08/Brent-A.-Stubbs-e1313148902233.jpg[/author_image] [author_info]Brent A. Stubbs is a father of four (+ 1 in heaven and 1 in the oven), husband of one, convert, and a generally interested person. He has a BA in Theology, studied graduate philosophy, has an MBA, is a writer (or so he tells himself) and prefers his coffee black. His website is Almost Not Catholic.[/author_info] [/author]