GodSpy 2.0: Engaging Secular Culture
After a lengthy hiatus, today—Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent— we resume publishing GodSpy in a new daily blog/magazine format.
It’s never been our style at GodSpy to do much public navel-gazing about what we’re doing. We prefer to let individual writers have their say, and focus on what’s happening in the outside world. So forgive me for not explaining more, in this first blog entry, about the thinking behind these changes.
With our new format, every day you’ll see easy-access links to news articles of particular interest to Catholics from the secular press, right at the top of the page. (You can also read quotes from these stories and comment on them on pages devoted to the articles).
Further down the page, on the left, you’ll find a monthly magazine that will feature narrative journalism and personal essays. They’ll usually be about topics and perspectives that the secular press either ignores or treats superficially. Today, we have seven new articles by an excellent roster of veteran and new Catholic writers: David Scott, Austen Ivereigh, Harold Fickett, Eve Tushnet, John Murphy, Joseph Prever, and Msgr. Lorenzo Albacete, on topics ranging from Barack Obama to the band Radiohead. I’ll be commenting on these articles over the next week, and invite you to register as a Godspy member and comment on them as well
In the top featured spot below the Top Stories link, and continuing further down the page on the left, you’ll find regular Opinion blog postings from our rotation of Contributors, inviting you to engage in a far-reaching, engaging, fun, and even, at times, wild conversation about events and issues in the world. We want to raise the level of honesty about religion and the human experience well beyond where it is now in the media.
We also have a section at the bottom right that will bring you the most relevant and interesting reviews on current Books, Movies, and Music, as well as comments and ratings from GodSpy members.
That’s a quick description of the new format. But I’d also like to re-explain our mission, which hasn’t changed (you can find our original mission statement here), and has only become more urgent (you can also view our visual mission statement here).
GodSpy was launched in 2003 specifically to reach Catholics (and other Christians and seekers, too) who are looking for God at the edge, where the certainties of faith intersect with the shifting, unsettling realities of modern, secular life. GodSpy’s mission is to show—through compelling, personal writing—that being a committed, believing, orthodox Christian is compatible with being a thinking, feeling, culturally engaged person of the twenty-first century.
GodSpy represents just one cultural expression of what it means to be a Christian. After all, the Church is called to penetrate every culture with the Gospel of Jesus Christ, following St. Paul’s call to “test everything,” and “retain what is good” in each (1 Thess 5:19).
But it’s our firm belief that the problem of encountering contemporary, western, secular culture—the particular post-Christian way of life that dominates media, science, education, business and the arts, in the U.S., Europe, and beyond—requires a special approach, one that can be traced back to St. Paul, who said:
To those outside the law I became like one outside the law—though I am not outside God's law but within the law of Christ--to win over those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, to win over the weak. I have become all things to all, to save at least some. All this I do for the sake of the gospel, so that I too may have a share in it (I Cor 9:21-23).
Obviously, Paul’s motivation for this—and ours—is love; the yearning to share the love of God with our brothers and sisters. This is the foundation for all Christian action. But there is another, practical aspect to this approach. We firmly believe that only this sort of radical Christianity can break through the misconceptions and prejudices that blind secular culture to the fact that Jesus Christ is the answer to the questions that haunt people today.
In a post-modern world caught between the irrational certainties of religious fanatics and the dictatorship of “whatever” relativism, GodSpy tries to offer an alternative—a Catholic vision that shows it’s possible both to believe and think critically, to stand firm and remain open to reality, to live by moral absolutes and love unconditionally.
To reach the most skeptical, Godspy emphasizes Catholic thinkers and writers who are most credible to secular audiences, artists who can convincingly show that truth, beauty and goodness are compatible with mystery, freedom and desire. We try to showcase nonfiction writing that fulfills what the acclaimed Catholic fiction writer Flannery O’Connor once said: "there is no reason why fixed dogma should fix anything that the writer sees in the world . . . dogma is an instrument for penetrating reality.”
In the end, what we’re trying to do is illustrate, however imperfectly, what Pope Benedict XVI explained in his encyclical, Deus Caritas Est (God is Love) : that salvation doesn’t require an escape from our humanity—it runs right through it.
Pope John Paul II said it like this:
Man is the primary route that the Church must travel in fulfilling her mission: he is the primary and fundamental way for the Church, the way traced out by Christ himself, the way that leads invariably through the mystery of the Incarnation and the Redemption . . . man in all the truth of his life, in his conscience, in his continual inclination to sin and at the same time in his continual aspiration to truth, the good, the beautiful, justice and love. —Redemptor Hominis
For those who may be wondering where GodSpy is “coming from,” we are, first and foremost, Catholic, in that we’re obedient to the teachings and authority of the Catholic Church. But we’re also an independent media organization dedicated to the highest standards of excellence in magazine publishing, covering stories about dramatic and controversial events, and providing commentary and lively discussion on matters of faith and culture. We don’t see a contradiction here. Instead we see a paradoxical balance between obedience and freedom. Our extreme obedience to the core beliefs of our Church makes it possible for us to be open to everything and everyone in the world. One of the most penetrating religious observations I’ve ever heard was from our theological advisor, Msgr. Lorenzo Albacete, who said, “We’ve got to be more secular than the secularists.” By that he meant what his mentor, Msgr. Luigi Giussani, the founder of the lay movement Communion & Liberation, meant, when he wrote that as a Christian, "I see what you see, but I see more." Our faith makes us completely open to mystery. The result should be, as the Catholic philosopher Adrian Walker has written, that “Catholics are interested in everything and afraid of nothing.” Far from constraining our freedom, the Church makes it possible for us to engage the world freely and fearlessly.
In terms of the “social questions,” or political issues, we will hew closely to the Pope and his representatives, abiding by the four pillars of Catholic teaching: life, family, justice, and peace. We believe that these four pillars—clearly reflected in the Church’s tradition—are evident in the Gospels, and in the stance the early Christians within the Roman Empire took on behalf of unborn life (against abortion), babies (against infanticide), women (against divorce), slaves (for equal dignity) and enemies (favoring reconciliation).
In regard to internal Church matters, we follow Pope John XXIII’s citation of the dictum: "In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.” Especially the unity part. In Church matters (and in general), you won’t find us trashing other Catholics (or other people). We will usually give people inside and outside the Church the benefit of the doubt, and assume they are acting in good faith (even when they’re wrong) unless otherwise indicated. It’s possible to be civil without abandoning your principles.
At the center of GodSpy you’ll find a wide-range of believing, lay Catholic writers with tremendous expertise, as reflected in their publications (see our Contributors page). Many times, they will approach subjects from different angles, while being united in trying to view the whole human experience from the heart of the Gospel. Contributions will also be made by Orthodox and evangelical Christians, as the Church’s journey towards unity includes the common destiny of all humanity.
We invite you to join us on this mission to communicate the Gospel to a radically secular world.