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What is StrangeNotions.com?

StrangeNotions.com is the central place of dialogue between Catholics and atheists. It's built around three things: reason, faith, and dialogue. You'll find articles, videos, and rich comment box discussion concerning life's Big Questions.

The site was created by Brandon Vogt (brandon@brandonvogt.com) and operates under the aegis of Word on Fire.

What does "Strange Notions" mean?

The name "Strange Notions" carries a double meaning. The first sense comes from a colorful story in the biblical book of Acts. In the book of Acts, we discover the Christian convert, Paul, sailing to Athens. There he debates in the synagogue with the Jews, then in the public square, and then finally is invited to the Areopagus, a prestigious hill where Athenian philosophers gathered "for nothing else but telling or hearing something new." (Sounds like the Internet, eh?) Paul stands among the circle of pagan philosophers and appeals to what they all hold in common—devotion to truth, philosophy, poetry. His message intrigues the Athenian elite, who say, "you bring some strange notions to our ears; we should like to know what these things mean" (Acts 17:20).

This website is designed to mimic that first meeting of Christians and atheists, allowing both to discover intriguing "strange notions" on either side.

The second meaning acknowledges the fact that both Catholics and atheists think the other side's views are strange. Atheists see Catholics worshiping an invisible, three-in-one God who is not empirically evident. Catholics see atheists dismissing the Creator behind this rich and complex cosmos, a supreme Big Banger who loves the world into being. Both groups have trouble seeing why the other believes as it does.

StrangeNotions.com is meant to fade away that strangeness. In the end, we may still disagree, but at least the opposing views won't be confusing "strange notions"—we'll more clearly know what we reject, and thus what we hold, too.

What sets this website apart?

We've all seen the nastiness and anger that plague most religious discussions online. It's unavoidable. Myriad sites exist solely to bash Christianity—specifically Catholicism—and other sites take aim at atheists. So if you're looking for an echo chamber, or a good laugh at someone else's expense, you have plenty of options.

But StrangeNotions.com is different. Our goal is not to defeat anyone, embarrass them, or assault their character. Our goal is only the Truth, and to pursue it through fruitful discussion. Like Socrates, like Jesus, we embrace healthy dialogue as the path to Truth, even and especially with people we disagree with. That's why the comboxes at Strange Notions are so central and important.

If Catholics are wrong about God, then we hope our critics can correct us so that we will no longer be ignorant. We hope atheists will be open to the same kind of correction. The goal here isn't to win an argument, but to help each other find the Truth.

How will you keep discussions charitable?

We have several mechanisms to ensure the dialogue remains serious, on-topic, and charitable. First, our Commenting Rules and Tips outline how and how not to comment. Study it carefully. We point out many common fallacies, like the ad hominem and "straw man," which negate fruitful discussion. Any comments violating the policy will be immediately deleted.

Second, we don't allow anonymous comments—everyone has to log in through Disqus, Facebook, Twitter, or Google+ to provide a basic level of accountability.

Third, we have a team of several moderators to keep the discussions on track. Comments will go live when posted but they will be constantly reviewed.

Finally, the commenting system allows users to "flag" inappropriate comments so there's a "crowdsourcing" effect in play. The more you help by "flagging" bad comments the better the discussion will be for all of us.

We're convinced it's possible to discuss faith and reason with charity. After all, we do it all the time offline, and we believe it's possible here, too. However if not, it won't be for lack of trying.

Why is the content mostly Catholic?

The Catholics at StrangeNotions.com do not for one moment pretend to be neutral. It is Catholics who have constructed this arena, wrote most of the articles, and who have issued the invitation to dialogue. Thus it is possible for an atheist to regard the whole thing as a cunningly—or not so cunningly—disguised form of propaganda or proselytization. It's certainly no secret that Catholics everywhere, offline and at Strange Notions, want to bring atheists to faith.

But while we never claim to be impartial, argument is. It has a life of its own. No man can tell where it will go. While the main site and articles have a Catholic direction, the comment boxes are where the real action happens. And there we Catholics expose ourselves to atheist fire no less than they to ours. The arena is common to both and cannot finally be cheated. Like Socrates, we all agree to "follow the argument wherever it leads."

It should be noted that one of the site's primary aims is to accurately explain Catholic teaching on issues like cosmology, morality, faith, and the Bible, and then discuss those positions with atheists. Therefore the articles are primarily from a Catholic perspective.

Yet, this is a fair and open place for seeking Truth. We invite careful criticism and your comments will never be deleted simply for disagreeing.

Finally, in addition to rich comment box discussion, which so far has been dominated by atheists (over 70% of the first 5,000 comments came from atheists) we plan to host occasional atheist guest posts, interviews, and debates. So stay tuned!

Why specifically Catholic and not generally Christian?

We're all familiar with the fact that Catholics and atheists often mischaracterize each other online. Atheists are mostly assumed to be angry, caustic disparagers in the mold of Richard Dawkins, while Catholics are lumped in with Fundamentalist Protestants, many of whom deny mainstream science and hold literal, six-day creation theories. But neither depiction is fair and neither represents all members of the group. Therefore it's important to distinguish among atheists, and especially among Fundamentalist Protestants and the 2,000 year stream of Catholic luminaries like Irenaeus, Augustine, Anselm, Thomas Aquinas, Blaise Pascal, G.K. Chesterton, and Pope Benedict XVI.

Our specific goal here is to put two groups in dialogue: charitable atheists and serious-minded Catholics.

What's coming in the future?

We have plenty of new things in store like interactive YouTube debates, Q&As with renowned Catholics and atheists, and themed series on specific topics. If you'd like to see a certain theme, or if you have questions, comments, or something to share, we’d love to hear from you! Just email us at brandon@brandonvogt.com. You can also find us on Facebook or Twitter.