UNIONDALE, N.Y. (CNS) — Modern social media tools can make the centuries-old Gospel message new again for Catholics as they renew their faith and for those who have been baptized but have never embraced the faith.
That was the view of a group of workshop presenters, most of them Catholic bloggers, who examined the role of the new media efforts to proclaim the Gospel anew in various sessions during the conference of the Society of Catholic Social Scientists.
Hundreds of participants and scores of scholars, activists and others gathered recently in the Diocese of Rockville Centre for the conference, which marked the society’s 20th anniversary.
Workshops and talks addressed everything from politics to labor and economics, art, literature, and film, law and crime, and theology.
Proclaimed by Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI, the new evangelization was considered at several workshops, including one titled “And God said ‘Tweet.”
Presenters said the new evangelization is not new in its content — the Gospel — but using modern methods of communication can reach many who have heard the Gospel and even been baptized and catechized but who have not embraced it.
“They have probably heard the greatest story ever told,” the story of Jesus, but have closed their hearts to the story, said Deacon Greg Kandra, former CBS News writer and producer, and author of “The Deacon’s Bench,” a well-known Catholic blog.
“The new evangelization seeks to make them aware of how great that story is,” he said.
Being online, whether through blogs, websites, or Twitter, “does nothing original for your work” of proclaiming the Gospel, said Marc Barnes, creator of “Bad Catholic,” another Catholic blog, “but it helps you reach a ton of people.”
Part of the problem with evangelization today, Barnes said, is that much of the world “isn’t interested in hearing the word ‘God.'” So the challenge is to focus on such “transcendental” realities as goodness, truth and beauty, which can help people find God, he said.
Gary Jansen, senior editor of Image/Random House book publishing, suggested caution and discernment. “A lot of people are putting out a lot of garbage.” He urged bloggers to “be the best Catholic you can be,” and to “understand your Catholicism.”
“Most evangelization happens in the everyday moments of life,” said Donna-Marie Cooper O’Boyle, author and host on Eternal World Television Network. She uses her programs to offer support to mothers and help them find God in their struggles and joys.
“God gave each of us a voice,” said Patricia Gohn, columnist and host of “Among Women” a podcast, and encourage everyone to use that voice to touch people’s hearts “for God.”
In a plenary session, legal scholar and ethicist Robert George talked about religious freedom and current threats to conscience protection.
He said such threats did not start with the Obama administration’s contraceptive mandate requiring most religious employers to cover contraceptives for employees despite their moral objections. The mandate has a narrow religious exemption and no exemption for reasons of conscience.
George said the mandate’s proponents “reflect and manifest attitudes and ideologies that are now deeply entrenched in the intellectual world and in the elite sector of the culture more generally.”
A professor of jurisprudence at Princeton University, George is a former member of the President’s Council on Bioethics.
According to him, President Barack Obama, members of his administration, and many other federal and state officials “are advancing and supporting policies trampling conscience rights,” because “they have deeply absorbed me-generation dogmas that make nonsense of the very idea of conscience rights.”
He cited a 2008 report of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, “Limits of Conscience,” which he said proposed that “physicians in the field of women’s health be required as a matter of ethical duty to refer patients for abortion and sometimes even perform abortions themselves.”
He said he found the report shocking and frightening not only for its disregard for the sincere conscience claims of Catholics, evangelical Protestants, Orthodox Jewish and other opponents of abortion, but also in its treatment of abortion “as if it were a matter of health care.”
“If they had their way, the field of medical practice would be cleansed of pro-life physicians whose convictions required them to refrain from performing or referring for abortions,” he said.
“Enemies of conscience in” the medical establishment “now have powerful friends in the highest realms of government,” he said.
“So it falls to us to resist,” George said, “not only for the sake of defending the lives of our most vulnerable brothers and sisters — children in the womb — but also in defense of what James Madison called ‘the sacred rights of conscience … For all of us, standing up for conscience means defending principles on which our nation was founded.”
Integrating faith with social sciences was the focus of a plenary session by Paul Vitz, professor emeritus of psychology at New York University, who teaches at the Institute for Psychological Sciences in Arlington, Va.
In the 1940s, ’50s, and ’60s, Vitz said, the prevailing mode in social science was secular humanism, which saw the role of religion as declining and being replaced by a more rational, Enlightenment-based perspective.
Yet postmodernist thinkers — even secularists — Vitz said, have offered a critique of Western Enlightenment secular thought which has “greatly undermined the secular humanist assumption of its dominant future.”
“The other major critique and surprise for the secular vision has been the obvious growth and energy of religion around the world,” he said.