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StrangeNotions Update and Feedback

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Update on Strange Notions

It's been an amazing seven months here at StrangeNotions.com. Since launching on May 6, thousands of contributors, readers, and commenters have joined to make this project a huge success. In fact, as far as I can tell, it's become the largest dialogue between Catholics and atheists in the last two thousand years. In just seven months we've garnered:

  • 257,000 unique visitors
  • 468,000 visits
  • 926,000 pageviews
  • 195 posts

Before I say anything else, I want to just say THANK YOU to everyone involved. If you've ever read an article or left a comment, you're a big reason this dialogue has taken off.

I thought now would be a good time to offer a few updates on the site and to solicit some feedback. First, a little news:

News and Announcements

1. Strange Notions now operates under Word on Fire. Some of you may know that I recently made a huge career transition, leaving my mechanical engineering job and accepting a new position with Fr. Robert Barron (one of our contributors here) and his Word on Fire Catholic Ministries. I'm the group's new Content Director which, among other things, puts me in charge of Fr. Barron's digital, print, and film content. It's a dream job and I couldn't be more thrilled.

Part of the transition includes bringing StrangeNotions.com under the aegis of Word on Fire. What does that mean for you? Not much. There won't be any changes to the content or commenting—no ads, fees, or shift in focus. It's mainly a brand association. Word on Fire has a similar mission to Strange Notions—to engage contemporary culture with the Big Questions of life—so they wanted to link themselves to the site. A side benefit is that the association will allow me to work on Strange Notions a little during the day, as part of my job (amazing, right?). Finally, the change will hopefully lead to more original articles here from Fr. Barron while improving the dialogue, too (more on that below.)

2. Strange Notions will now move to three articles per week. My original goal when I launched the site was to create new posts every weekday, which I've done since the beginning. But after seven months I think it's time to adjust the frequency. The more posts we have, the shallower the conversation on each post. Many times I've felt that just as conversations get going we're forced to turn our attention to the next post; it spreads our discussion too thin. Featuring only three posts per week will give us a couple days to focus on each topic. So starting this week, I'll be posting new articles on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.

In addition to these news items, I'd like to share a little feedback. Even with the site's success, I think it still faces three problems:

Three Issues to Address

1. Imbalance among commenters. When I first started Strange Notions, I expected to attract thousands of Catholics but have difficulty drawing many atheist commenters, especially the high-minded, respectful sort I was looking for. But just the opposite has been true. We've had no problem attracting non-Catholics. In fact, roughly 80% of our 39,000 comments have come from atheists (and I imagine the pageview and visitor percentages follow suit.) If you scroll down any of the most recent posts, you'll see the volume of comments skews way more toward atheists.

Now, this isn't inherently bad. In fact, I'm excited about it; I don't want to decrease the number of atheist commenters. But I am afraid it hurts the conversation in some ways. Many atheists ask good questions that go unanswered simply because there are no Catholics to respond. Similarly, we have several atheist commenters well-versed in science and philosophy but not many Catholics with similar credentials. Even worse, I've heard from Catholic commenters who no longer comment because when they do, they feel "ganged up on" since each comment draws criticism from several atheists. (This is apart from their concerns with the tone, which I'll get to in a minute.)

The good news, though, is that I think we're about to make some big headway in solving this issue. A few months back I connected with Mundelein Seminary, the Chicago school where Fr. Robert Barron and others prepare young men for the priesthood, and we've agreed to launch a new partnership between Mundelein and Strange Notions. The goal is to create a practicum course which requires seminarians to engage commenters at Strange Notions several times each semester. Though it probably won't take off for a few more months, when it does we should see a new influx of smart, charitable, philosophically-minded Catholic commenters. So be on the lookout for that!

2. Uncharitable tone and complaining. We're still having a serious problem with tone, on the part of both Catholics and atheists. A large percentage of comments are laced with smugness, sarcasm, name-calling, complaining, cynicism, rhetorical zingers, and subtle insults. None of that does anything to produce fruitful dialogue. It only fuels the culprit's ego and leaves interlocutors demeaned and disrespected.

I've done my best to weed out the negative tone by adding a couple new moderators, issuing warnings, and banning repeat offenders. We've only had to remove a small handful of commenters over the last seven months—roughly the same number of Catholics and atheists—but it's still something that plagues the site.

I'm aware that some commenters think we're too heavy-handed when it comes to enforcing our commenting policy, and that's OK. I hope everyone appreciates the charitable tone we're trying to inculcate. The sort of dialogue we're pursuing is incredibly rare in religious discussions online, and it's a main reason the site has been so successful thus far. To maintain that level, though, we have to be a little tighter with moderation than some other sites.

As we move forward, we'll continue to warn those who violate our commenting policy, regardless of their worldview, and we'll unfortunately have to ban those who repeatedly transgress.

3. Lack of guest posts. Finally, I've tried to maintain a good balance betwene posting new articles written specifically for Strange Notions and adapting articles which originally appeared elsewhere. Yet still, I continue to hear complaints about the quality of our content.

I'd love to post exclusively new content and I'd also like to feature more guest posts (especially from atheists.) But right now we just don't have a stable of capable Catholics or atheists willing to write new stuff on a consistent basis. If you'd like to submit a guest post for consideration, please send it to me via contact(at)strangenotions(dot)com.

Also, and I don't mean this harshly, if you're upset about the quality of articles or dialogue, you have two options: you can either stop visiting the site (which we'd hate, but nobody is stopping you from leaving) or you can help make it better. The best way to help is by posting smart, respectful comments and by submitting your own guest articles. But relentless complaining doesn't help anyone.

Strange Notions will only be as fruitful as the contributors and commenters make it. Together, let's be part of the solution.
So there's my update about what's been going on and where I think we can improve. I'd love to hear your own feedback, though, so please leave your thoughts in the comment box!

Thanks for being a part of this exciting adventure!

Brandon Vogt

Written by

Brandon Vogt is a bestselling author, blogger, and speaker. He's also the founder of StrangeNotions.com. Brandon has been featured by several media outlets including NPR, CBS, FoxNews, SiriusXM, and EWTN. He converted to Catholicism in 2008, and since then has released several books, including The Church and New Media (Our Sunday Visitor, 2011), Saints and Social Justice (Our Sunday Visitor, 2014), and RETURN (Numinous Books, 2015). He works as the Content Director for Bishop Robert Barron's Word on Fire Catholic Ministries. Brandon lives with his wife, Kathleen, and their five children in Central Florida. Follow him at BrandonVogt.com or connect through Twitter at @BrandonVogt.

Note: Our goal is to cultivate serious and respectful dialogue. While it's OK to disagree—even encouraged!—any snarky, offensive, or off-topic comments will be deleted. Before commenting please read the Commenting Rules and Tips. If you're having trouble commenting, read the Commenting Instructions.

  • Steven Dillon

    Well done Brandon on being such a significant part of this exciting and fruitful movement. Looking forward to the influx of Mundelein Seminarian commenters.

    I think the quality of comments is only bound to get better as this charitable and academic environment continues to attract like-minded individuals.

  • Andre Boillot

    Yet still, I continue to hear complaints about the quality of our content.

    Speaking only for myself, and hoping it will be seen as constructive criticism vs. relentless complaining, what I find difficult to tolerate is the tones of some of the content, not so much the 'quality' of the articles in general. I don't mind when authors are mistaken on a particular issue - as that seems much more conducive to one or both sides learning something - but the real bother is needing to wade through snark and stereotype in order to then be able to participate in the lively discussions that follow.

    I hope you won't think I'm too harsh when I say that there's a hypocrisy in asking your readers to be polite and charitable when discussing articles which are unnecessarily offensive to a great many of said readers. I understand that you've previously had to heavily supplement original content (content which has been far more charitable by comparison) by posting articles from other venues not dedicated to respectful dialogue, but I feel like you might be underestimating the chilling effect this 'do as I say...' style approach can have.

    All in all, congrats on having created such a popular and entertaining forum for dialogue.

    • Ben Posin

      This seems to be a reasonable and diplomatic way of putting things. And I'd add a caution: this is your (and now Fr. Barron's) baby, so you can put into effect whatever moderation policies you please. But for as long as your goal is to try to seek the truth evenhandedly , be wary of coming down on what you perceive as snark and sarcasm. As with any human being there is likely to be a tendency you'll come down harder on the side with views different than your own. That's just how people work, chalk it up to our "fallen nature" if you wish.

    • Randy Gritter

      I think often strong articles can come across as snarky when you disagree. I often feel that way about atheists articles and am quite confused when atheists complain about Catholic articles. Atheists seem to me to be about 1000 times higher on the snark-o-meter. I am not saying that to question your feeling. I am just suggesting that it might be highly subjective and therefore something we should try and be very patient with.

      I don't want articles that are boring. I want people to make their points in colorful ways. I want them to step up the challenges and not ignore important differences in the name of niceness.

      • Andre Boillot

        "I often feel that way about atheists articles"

        Seen many atheist articles on SN have you? ;)

        "I am just suggesting that it might be highly subjective and therefore something we should try and be very patient with."

        It's not easy to go back through SN archives to find old articles, but just drawing from what's on the home-page:

        Getting at the literal sense of Scripture involves not mindlessly chanting, “God said it; I believe it; that settles it” in the same way a Muslim shouts “Allahu akbar!” but reading like an adult and distinguishing between the various literary forms by which Scripture reveals to us Jesus Christ.


        Things like this (along with various other lazy stereotypes of Ivy Leagues, atheist views on objective morality, etc.) are what I'm referring to. I think you can be interesting and challenging without resorting to this.

        • Thanks for the helpful feedback, Andre. This is one thing I've definitely learned along the way.

          For example, I think Dr. Ed Feser is one of the sharpest Christian philosophers on the scene today, but he regularly favors a more polemical style (to intentionally combat the Dawkins and Hitchens of the world.)

          I'd like to continue posting his content, both old and new, but I need to be more discerning in filtering out the polemical language in order to get at the root of his arguments.

          • Argon

            Hint: Who is Feser's intended audience when he waxes 'polemical'? If it's non-believers then that's more likely to alienate them. If it's Catholics, then it's like being a cheering squad.

          • Argon, Dr. Feser explains his intentions here:


          • Andre Boillot

            I'm sorry, had to laugh.

            "Feser gives us a manly Christianity, in muscular language"

            -Said somebody in 2012.

          • Argon

            Thanks for that info.
            His opinion my opinion. Ed is welcome to continue his experiment.

          • Randy Gritter

            I would ask the same question about many atheist authors. The point is it is used frequently, it sells books, and it convinces people. Lots of modern people who are not trained in spotting fallacies are convinced more by attitude than by argument. Look at our politicians. Look at our ads. How many make a serious argument?

          • Argon

            Hi Randy. Three things:
            1) This isn't an atheist site. This is a site that attempts to demonstrate the virtues of Catholicism. In my mind, one leads best by good example.
            2) I doubt the screaming atheists are selling well to theists. So I agree with criticizing them as well for boorish behavior.
            3) Would you really want to convince people using attitude rather than good argument? There are any number of calm, respectfully written, philosophical arguments on both sides. Why seek to contribute to the noise pit?

          • 1. Nobody thinks we should not be virtuous. The question is what is the virtuous way to respond to really, really bad arguments by atheists. So bad as to be an offense not just against Catholicism but against truth and reason itself. People associate atheism with reason yet time and time again their actual arguments are so irrational it blows your mind. What is the virtuous way to communicate that?

            2. Screaming atheists are selling. Feser does not even engage the worst ones. He limits himself to those who claim some scholarly credentials. If you do that and still display stunning ignorance then you deserve to be called out.

            3. When people are being convinced the other way by attitude then how do you deal with it? You can let them dominate or you can fight fire with fire. I am not convinced of which is right but I can see why at least some Christians do what Feser does. I even think what he does is mild.

          • Argon

            Hi Randy.
            I certainly appreciate your comments. I think we will have to remain in disagreement on our opinions. I happen to have a strong Quaker background and tend to favor less emotionally visceral appeals. Not that I don't enjoy them but I don't try to sway others that way.

            1) I think a virtuous way to respond is to say something along the lines of "I find that to be an incorrect assessment and here is where I find it incoherent. The core problems are..." Don't attempt to match rage for rage. One makes mistakes that way, and yes, Ed has made mistakes in some of his replies.

            2) I'm not sure screaming atheists are really selling to anyone but themselves. It doesn't matter who Ed 'limits himself to'. One needn't engage people but the points of the argument. Quakers have two useful approaches (I think). One is 'truth to power': Calmly state what the objections are. One doesn't engage the rhetoric but the underlying 'truth'. A second is to try to identify with your opponent (Actually, to call someone else an opponent would be a bit of a misnomer under this way of thinking). This doesn't meaning one needs to agree but to at least try to comprehend how someone views themselves (i.e. typically not as a troll or unreasonable person) and proceed accordingly with charity.

            The eye for an eye approach or 'calling someone out' may be emotionally fun but in my mind an sign of immaturity.

            I can see why Feser does what he does but I won't condone it.

          • Geena Safire

            I, for one, don't mind Feser's attitude. But there are two things that rub me the wrong way in what I have read of him.

            First, his science, when he uses it, is ...umm, ...could do with a looking at by another set of eyes.

            Second, he is fond of the 'courtier's reply.' This comes from the story of The Emperor's New Clothes. In general, this has to do with someone dismissing another's critique by claiming that the critic is deficient in some elevated level of knowledge.

            One of Feser's 'go-to' guys is Aquinas. Suffice it to say that atheists today tend to not be of the opinion that they must have read Aquinas' Summa's in the original Latin in order to be 'justified' in not believing in the Catholic God, doctrine, dogma, etc. or in making any negative comment about it whatsoever.

            To such claims, most atheist commenters with which I am acquainted would reply along the lines of, "I don't need to understand the intricacies of a convoluted series of 800-year-old inductive logic in order to feel confident that it shouldn't take the intricacies of a convoluted series of 800-year-old inductive logic in order to make the case that it can be reasonable to believe in a deity."

          • "One of Feser's 'go-to' guys is Aquinas. Suffice it to say that atheists today tend to not be of the opinion that they must have read Aquinas' Summa's in the original Latin in order to be 'justified' in not believing in the Catholic God, doctrine, dogma, etc. or in making any negative comment about it whatsoever."

            Come on, Geena. That's an unfair caricature. I don't remember Dr. Feser ever denouncing anyone solely for not having read the Summa in its original Latin and then arriving at atheism.

            Dr. Feser only expects that when atheists attempt to engage and refute Aquinas' arguments, as Dawkins tries in The God Delusion, they display at least a basic familiarity with his actual terms, arguments, and mode of thought.

            I'm not aware of him falling into the "courier's reply" trap, though I do know he often references basic, introductory books to Thomistic-Aristotelian metaphysics (like his own clear and cogent primer, Aquinas, which, if you haven't read yourself, I would consider top-priority reading if you're genuinely interested in understanding Thomistic metaphysics.)

            "To such claims, most atheist commenters with which I am acquainted would reply along the lines of, "I don't need to understand the intricacies of a convoluted series of 800-year-old inductive logic in order to feel confident that it shouldn't take the intricacies of a convoluted series of 800-year-old inductive logic in order to make the case that it can be reasonable to believe in a deity."

            To be clear, this is not a refutation of Aquinas' arguments, nor is it a logically tenable position. First of all, the Catholic Church--along with Dr. Feser--never claims that you have to understand Thomistic metaphysics to know God exists. There are many other avenues including, most common of all, personal experience.

            But second, you suppose it necessary that a God, if he exists, should be simple to comprehend. You claim "it shouldn't take the intricacies [of Thomistic logic]..." but then provide no justification for this assumption.

            I'll grant that you might not find Aquinas' arguments compelling, but that's a wholly different question then whether they are valid and true.

          • cminca

            In the run up to the Iraq war Cheney's office leaked a false news story to the NYT. Cheney went on the Sunday talk shows, repeated the lies, and cited the NYTs as "proof".
            Seems to me that Catholics base their theological arguments on Aquinas, and then cite Aquinas as the "proof" of their arguments.
            Didn't make it true for Iraq. Doesn't make it true for God.

          • Cminca, this is an unfair representation. I don't know any Catholics who argue as you suggest, positing "Aquinas said it, therefore I believe it."

            Catholics readily admit that Aquinas, for all his brilliance, was certainly not infallible. For example, almost no Catholic agrees with his view of Mary's conception.

          • cminca

            First of all--I stated "it seems to me..." NOT "Catholics say "Aquinas said it, therefore I believe it."

            Second--Your statement, from directly above mine:

            "I'll grant that you might not find Aquinas' arguments compelling, but that's a wholly different question then whether they are valid and true."

            Seems like I was pretty much on-the-mark.

            Third--I was remarking on the intellectual dishonesty, not whether all Catholics believe everything that Aquinas said.

            And isn't it slightly dishonest to attempt to refute my remark about Aquinas' overall importance and impact on Catholic doctrine by citing a singular example where Catholics disagree with his scholarship?

            Because Catholic scholars are NOT negating everything Aquinas said because of a disagreement on one point--are they?

          • Geena Safire

            Thanks for your feedback, Brandon. I agree that Aquinas was wicked smart, and I'll agree that Dawkins is no philosopher and should have had Dennett give that part a look before the book was published.

            Also, I'll stipulate that the Catholic Church posits a few avenues that could lead one to consider a god-claim to be reasonable. (As skeptical as I am of the need for philosophical wrangling as a vehicle, however, I'm even more skeptical of personal experience. If you were more familiar with psychology and neuroscience, it might even give you pause for thought.)

            I did not (and do not) suppose it necessary that the proposed Catholic deity "should be simple to comprehend." I just don't believe so much should be necessary in order to make the case that it can be reasonable to believe in said deity.

            I'll grant that you might not find Aquinas' arguments compelling, but that's a wholly different question then whether they are valid and true.

            I indeed do not find them compelling. Plus, some of them are actually factually invalid and false based on advances in science over the past 800 years. As to the rest I shant tempt Feser's wrath by commenting further above my pay grade.

          • "Plus, some of [Aquinas' arguments] are actually factually invalid and false based on advances in science over the past 800 years."

            This is too vague to address specifically, but please read #6 here:


          • Geena Safire

            Feser writes (at Brandon's linked page): "Of course, many atheists are committed to scientism, and maintain that there are no rational forms of inquiry other than science. But unless they provide an argument for this claim, they are merely begging the question against the defender of the cosmological argument,"

            Actually, first, scientism isn't a thing. It's an idea made up by theists, particularly creationists.

            Second, that's not what many atheists claim.

            The theists are the ones who are claiming that a supernatural or metaphysical realm exists and things have an existence there.

            That is, the theists are the ones making the claims. The burden of proof is on the theists.

            Many atheists, and most philosophers, are not convinced by these claims nor the arguments for them.

            Feser can have all the rational forms of inquiry he wants. Think away. Rationalize away.

            However, the universe doesn't care about his logic and how he thinks things must be nor even how things ought to be. The universe is the way it is, and quite bizarre.

            Feser continues "[The position of] the defender of the cosmological argument ... is precisely that there are rational arguments that are distinct from, and indeed more fundamental than, empirical scientific arguments. "

            This is the claim that Feser & Co. make. Atheists are not making the claim. The theists are making that claim.

            Therefore it is up to the theists to support that claim. I'm not saying that they don't exist. I, for one, am just not persuaded by the arguments for some of these other rational, more-fundamental arguments.

          • Vasco Gama


            I agree with Feser that most atheists are committed to scientism, even it is the case that many of them try to demarcate form it (I would say people like you, or other atheists I know), as it is a very naïf (I would say superstitious) and unsustainable position, however, even if criticising scientism as foolish and delusional, its (atheist) critics fail to construct and propose an efficient and clear philosophical demarcation, as scientism is nothing else than a narrow (and extreme) view of philosophical naturalism (where scientism could be framed as extreme reductionism or eliminativism) that most atheists are fervorous adherents. These extreme views have a variety of proponents quite popular among new atheists, such as Pinker, Rosenberg, Krauss, and many others that you know very well (as frequently you find reasonable to quote them).

          • Geena Safire

            Hi Vasco. I can't parse your 100+ word sentence. Please try again. Also, I never even mentioned Rosenberg or Pinker, and I never quoted Krauss.

            In English, a person who is naive can be called a naïf, which is a noun. Instead of fervorous, which is archaic, you might want to use fervent.

          • Vasco Gama


            Sorry, I will rephrase it, and I hope it is clearer.

            I agree with Feser that most of the New Atheists (NA) are committed to scientism. Even it is the case that many of the NA try to demarcate form it and in some cases denounce it. I would say that people like you and other atheists I know see scientism as it is a very naïf and an unsustainable position, however, even if criticising scientism as foolish and delusional, most atheist fail to construct and propose an efficient and clear philosophical demarcation between their view and scientism. Which is only natural as scientism is nothing else than a narrow (and extreme) view of philosophical naturalism that most atheists are committed with. These extreme views (either reductivism and eliminativism) have a variety of proponents quite popular among NA, such as Pinker, Rosenberg, Krauss, and many others that you know very well (as frequently you find reasonable to quote them).

            I am not saying that you particularly quote these, sometimes you quote others (such as Patricia Churchland, or Dawkins, or Sam Harris, or any other I might forget), that may (or not) well present a slightly more moderate view (also I am not suggesting that you consistently agree with their view, or try to categorise you as a NA, however you seem to be sympathetic with them).

            I will have to add a few other things concerning your previous comment.

            «Scientism is not a thing»

            In fact it corresponds to the assumption that science is the only valuable source of true (and whatever absurdity one can claim after that).

            «that's not what many atheists claim»

            In fact it is so, if we mean new atheists (NA),there one may exclude many humanists out of this, and others that don’t identify with NA.

            « Feser continues "[The position of] the defender of the cosmological argument ... is precisely that there are rational arguments that are distinct from, and indeed more fundamental than, empirical scientific arguments.»

            «Therefore it is up to the theists to support that claim.»

            Of course, and Feser does that. Your point being?

            Besides that you are not persuaded, well so you don’t agree with his case (that was what would be expected from you, but are you defending an argument, or is it just an emotional response).

            (sorry about my English, I do my best, but sometimes it is not enough)

          • Actually, first, scientism isn't a thing. It's an idea made up by theists, particularly creationists.

            Is that true? See, for example, Tom Sorell's Scientism: Philosophy and the Infatuation with Science (260 'citations'). F.A. Hayek talks about scientism (e.g. in Studies on the Abuse and Decline of Reason), and Google Scholar: "Scientism" turns up quite a few hits. Richard J. Bernstein uses the term 'scientism' 11x in Beyond Objectivism and Relativism (4500 'citations').

            WP: Scientism mentions Sorell and Hayek, and adds Hilary Putnam, who is a very reputable philosopher. Apparently atheist philosopher Alexander Rosenberg has taken up 'scientism'. See for example Massimo Pigliucci's Is science all you need?, which responds to Rosenberg. Pigliucci himself notes he has been accused of attacking a strawman when talking about scientism (in searching his blog for 'scientism', I got "about 122 results"), and is glad that Rosenberg adopts the position to prove that he is not attacking a strawman. Note that Pigliucci is not a theist and is very much against creationism; feel free to consult his Denying Evolution: Creationism, Scientism, and the Nature of Science. For even more evidence, see the following from the Wikipedia article, primarily for the citations:

            The term "scientism" is also used by historians, philosophers, and cultural critics to highlight the possible dangers of lapses towards excessive reductionism in all fields of human knowledge.[16][17][18][19][20]

            For social theorists in the tradition of Max Weber, such as Jürgen Habermas and Max Horkheimer, the concept of scientism relates significantly to the philosophy of positivism, but also to the cultural rationalization of the modern West.[9][21] British writer and feminist thinker Sara Maitland has called scientism a "myth as pernicious as any sort of fundamentalism."[22]

            Perhaps you might admit that 'scientism' really is a thing? You can always claim that how some particular theist is using the term makes it into a straw man, but the term clearly does mean something, according to non-Christians who do not deny evolution.

          • Michael Murray

            Hi Luke, If you want a response from Geena best to talk to her over at Estranged Notions. She is banned from Strange Notions. Along with many others

            Andre B, Andrew G, Argon, Articulett, Ben Posin, BenS, Danny Getchell, Epeeist, felixcox, Geena Safire, GodHatesYou, Gwen, Ignorant Amos, Jonathan West, josh, MichaelNewsham, Mike A, Noah Luck, M. Solange O'Brien, Papalinton, Paul Boillot, Phil Rimmer, picklefactory, Pofarmer, Ray Vorkin, Renard Wolfe, Rob Tisinai, Stjepan Marusic, Susan, Zen Druid.

          • Michael Murray


          • Ignatius Reilly

            Her name belies her writing. I can surmise why she might have been banned.

          • She was absolutely atrocious to me on DC; perhaps it is because she is a school teacher and needs to vent afterward. :-) Anyhow, it doesn't do Michael Murray any good to include people like articulett and Paul Boillot in his list. I'm iffy on Pofarmer and josh as well, given my interactions with them on EN/OSTS. That should be a list of people who have posted fantastic blog comments, easily promoting the stated goal of SN, people who did get a little snarky or whatever at times but were really contributing, on the whole. Sadly, I'm not sure how well it resembles such a thing. :-/

          • Lazarus

            I don't think Michael's post was designed to now turn this into a gossip session about banned commenters here on SN. We have enough of that elsewhere.

          • Please point out where I have gossiped. I consider that a high crime:

            And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God's righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them. (Romans 1:28–32)

            Conveniently, such a thing is let out when people harp on vv26–27. Anyhow, everything I said can be backed up with copious evidence if you so-require; I already provided one link.

          • Lazarus

            Your post speaks for itself. If you do not see the gossip in your post then I have no chance of convincing you. It's a simple favor I'm asking. Let's not do that around here, at SN. It's undignified and unfair. Let's stick to the arguments and debates.

          • Really, you're going to accuse me of sinning, generally, and not explain how? I suggest you make a study of this:

            Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. (James 3:13–18)

            I do not see how anything I wrote is false or 'tattling', etc; if you can pick something like that out, then do help. Indeed, when I said "perhaps it is because she is a school teacher and needs to vent afterward. :-)", I was being extraordinarily generous to articulett, based on how she has treated me.

            Vague accusations are evil, because they presuppose that the other person can automagically see the world like you do—and if they can't do it without help, they are broken individuals and ought to be discarded. You may also consider Mt 7:1–5 and Gal 6:1–5, set over and against Mt 23:1–4 and Is 58 (search for 'finger'). I have exegeted Mt 7:1–5.

            Now, if SN folks want to ban me for what I've done, that's fine: it'll reveal something about SN. I will save this comment thread immediately after making this comment. But perhaps the person in error is not I, or not exclusively I, or not even mostly I.

          • Lazarus

            Calm down will you? Who said anything about banning? I referred to your post wherein you passed derogatory comments about certain posters, most of them banned from here (to your knowledge) and thus unable to respond. I asked you not to do that here, as I don't think most of us appreciate that type of nonsense. Look where you've gone from there. Again, I have said my piece, you do with it what you will.

          • You accused me of what I said I believe is a very bad sin. It's the kind of sin which prevents Jn 13:34–35 and Jn 17:20–23 from happening.

            What did I say that was 'derogatory'? I can factually back up everything I said, except for the nice thing which dismisses nastiness.

            Either be specific with your accusations, or stand accused of employing wisdom which is not "open to reason".

          • Lazarus

            This is what you said -

            "She was absolutely atrocious to me on DC; perhaps it is because she is a school teacher and needs to vent afterward. :-) Anyhow, it doesn't do Michael Murray any good to include people like articulett and Paul Boillot in his list. I'm iffy on Pofarmer and josh as well, given my interactions with them on EN/OSTS. That should be a list of people who have posted fantastic blog comments, easily promoting the stated goal of SN, people who did get a little snarky or whatever at times but were really contributing, on the whole. Sadly, I'm not sure how well it resembles such a thing. :-/"

            You are clearly going to defend your comment to the bitter end. My request is then denied, and I will leave this tedious discussion there.

          • Yes, I am going to defend it to the bitter end, because I don't believe I was gossiping, with the possible exception of the second chunk, below. I shall now split apart the comment under contention:

            1. "She was absolutely atrocious to me on DC;" — evidence

            2. "perhaps it is because she is a school teacher and needs to vent afterward. :-)" — me being "extraordinarily generous" (virtually the opposite of gossip)

            3. "Anyhow, it doesn't do Michael Murray any good to include people like articulett and Paul Boillot in his list." — judgment, based on evidence and evidence

            4. "I'm iffy on Pofarmer and josh as well, given my interactions with them on EN/OSTS." — evidence

            5. "That should be a list of people who have posted fantastic blog comments, easily promoting the stated goal of SN, people who did get a little snarky or whatever at times but were really contributing, on the whole. Sadly, I'm not sure how well it resembles such a thing. :-/" — not possibly gossip

            I'm not sure God will look kindly on someone who goes around pointing fingers at alleged sin, and doesn't lift a finger to help the person who is accused of sinning, understand precisely what was sin. That seems like Mt 23:1–4 behavior, or the finger-pointing behavior of Is 58. Oh and this—"Who said anything about banning?"—nobody need to have said anything. Sadly, I would not be all surprised if, in my investigation to see just how egregious (or not) the bans are which Michael Murray listed (so far, given what I've investigated, the preliminary report is: not really, David Nickol is probably right), I actually get banned. Of course, that would completely change my preliminary results. The irony would be... delicious.

          • Michael Murray

            I will save this comment thread immediately after making this comment.

            Ironically you don't need to do that. The way Disqus works if you look at the source -- which most browsers will allow -- you can find banned comments.

          • Michael Murray

            If you don't like my list feel free to make one of your own which only includes people who fit your exacting standards :-)

            My list claims only to be a list of people who identify as atheists and who have been banned from SN.

            To return to the primary point of my post. If you want to talk to Geena then you need to do so on Estranged Notions.

          • If you think that articulett could only be banned via 'exacting standards', you make your judgment extremely suspect.

          • Michael Murray

            Were you here for the incident where someone whose articles have appeared here commented that they would rather eat a turd than discuss their womanhood with articulett ? Ah dear. The good old days.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            No. That is not very nice. Although, I can guess who said it. I first became aware of SN when Stacy was doing her articles on the stillbirths of science.

          • hillclimber

            Geena, I really don't think many of the Catholic commenters here are naive about the dangers of trusting personal experience. It doesn't take a Ph.D. in neuroscience to understand that our intuitions, *taken in isolation*, have a bias toward confirming that which we want to believe. But the problem there is *selective use* of intuition, not intuition itself. It is a different matter altogether when you have a lens for viewing the world that can reconcile ALL of your intuitions, INCLUDING the intuition that tells you to trust the findings of rational data-supported inquiry.

            I suspect I take a dimmer view of both intuition AND reason than you do. I don't trust either source, on their own or together, to get me to the truth. I am COMPLETELY helpless, with no independent path to truth. I can only begin by trusting in goodness.

            Jim <-- my real name, really!

          • Geena Safire

            Just because a lot of people over the years have worked hard to weave together a consistent 'universe' called Catholicism doesn't mean that said universe is real any more than Middle Earth is real or Panem is real.

            I can only interpret that, by 'trusting in goodness' you mean that you have confidence that humans have a drive to act in ways that are beneficial for their loved ones and for their community (among other drives), and that you choose to focus your attention on behaviors that are motivated by this social/moral drive.

            The more I learn about the intricacies of the brain and how many different inputs are involved in each decision, the less I can imagine that all of my many 'intuitions' can be 'reconciled.' It would be like a teacher saying, 'Through this lens, all of my students always act in concert and harmony.' That lens may be comforting, but it is not true.

          • hillclimber

            It is true that the consistency of my worldview does not guarantee that it is real. As Descartes demonstrated, I cannot say with certainty that anything at all is real (*), nor can you! Whether you realize it or not, you and I are both stuck with nothing more than a hope / belief that "that which seems most coherent" is real.

            (*) I am relatively certain that, "I think therefore I am", but this is an infinitesimally short-lived certainty, since it seems possible that I will die some day, and I can't know for sure if the assertion will remain true if after I die.

          • Geena Safire

            you and I are both stuck with nothing more than a hope / belief that "that which seems most coherent" is real.

            That may be your hope / belief. Not mine.

            I've accepted that reality is likely not always coherent and also that I frequently cannot discern the coherence that may be present in any situation (chaos theory).

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            What is incoherent about chaos theory? Chaos theory offers a very coherent description of many unpredictable phenomena.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Actually, I think you have a key insight there. When you say you "cannot discern the coherence" that may be present in any given situation, I might rephrase that as: "I believe there is an underlying logic and coherence in this phenomenon, and that belief is supported by chaos theory. Because of the nonlinear dynamics in play, I cannot determine the exact causal logic that is involved, but I still believe (again, supported by chaos theory) that there is a causal chain underlying this.

            Related question: ever tried to produce a "random" number by coding up a random number generator? You can't make good random numbers without leveraging deep mathematical structure. Seem reasonable to me to infer that the "randomness" that we see in chaotic systems and the quantum world results from a structure that is far deeper and more beautiful and more coherent than what we put into our random number generators. "Random" is not the same thing as "arbitrary". Likewise, "chaotic" is not the same as "arbitrary".

          • Geena Safire


            The idea that the whole enchilada is coherent, however, seems highly implausible.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            But you sound like a scientist, am I right? What criteria do you apply when deciding between two possible interpretations of your data? I look for explanations that are most consistent with the totality of the data, on the assumption that all data ultimately cohere. Is there another approach?

          • Geena Safire

            As I noted, in many specific cases, like experiments, it seems best to look for an interpretation that seems to best fit the data. But that doesn't mean that everything is coherent. It just is.

        • Randy Gritter

          This offends an atheist? I would assume it might offend a fundamentalist but why an atheist? He is responding to Bill Maher so complaining about snark has a bit of a pot/kettle issue.

          • Andre Boillot


            "This offends an atheist?"

            Is it my lack of belief which leads you to give me so little credit? Lazy stereotypes offend me generally, regardless who they are made against (including Catholics), and especially when made by authors in articles featured on a site about meaningful dialogue.

            "He is responding to Bill Maher so complaining about snark has a bit of a pot/kettle issue."

            First, this gets to the point of using content not originally intended for SN (though I understand the bind that Brandon was/is in with regards to regular posting vs. original content availability). Second, in order for your pot/kettle analogy to even begin holding water, it would seem to require the assumption that audience sides with Maher (I do not). Third, it's not snark that I mind, per se (though if you're going down that route, I feel like you should try to be accurate with your larger points), but rather the prohibition against its use by commentors in light of its frequent display by authors.

          • Randy Gritter

            I guess I just read Mark Shea more and am maybe used to his style. I have heard some "God said it; That settles it" sermons and took them quite seriously. I still didn't think that quote from Shea was over the top.

            I am not trying to give you so little credit. I am trying to understand you. It has nothing to do with your lack of belief. It has more to do with reading the same articles and having a completely different reaction.

            I do agree about comments. They are a bit to quick to moderate. That being said, I would not want that job.

          • Andre Boillot


            "It has nothing to do with your lack of belief. It has more to do with reading the same articles and having a completely different reaction."

            While I appreciate your attempts to understand my point of view, I hope you'll forgive me if I point out that you seem to contradict yourself. You did not make a case that there was nothing objectionable, but rather that you didn't understand why an atheist would take offense [at a perceived slight to Muslims].

            In any case, thanks for the discussion.

          • Randy Gritter

            I guess I didn't understand why an atheist would be more offended by it than a Catholic would be. I can see how an atheist might be more offended by a caricature of atheism that is too simple. Their perspective is going to be different than mine in that case. I guess I have just seen so much mud thrown at Catholics I have grown to stop noticing.

          • Andre Boillot

            Atheists who don't mind lazy stereotypes likely wouldn't be bothered, just as Catholics who do mind likely would be.

          • MichaelNewsham

            I am a fan of Mark Shea, reading him regularly at Patheos, but this case was out of line. The objection to the post was not the "God said it" part but the 'Muslims mindlessly chanting' bit.

            I don't generally object to the snark sometimes found in the articles; what i do object to is commenters being admonished for pointing it out.

          • Pot. Kettle. Holding water.

            I see what you did there...

          • Andre Boillot

            I'd like to do some retconning of my own and pretend that was intentional...

          • In general, I think sarcasm is a problem with both atheist and Catholic writers who write primarily for their own kind. Snark becomes a substitute for wit, and we as a society generally shrug and say "close enough".

          • Randy Gritter

            I gave you credit for wit there!

          • Andre Boillot

            Haha, then by all means, retract it :)

          • cminca

            Shortly after Nancy Pelosi became Speaker of the House I was channel surfing and happened upon Sean Hannity interviewing Newt Gingrich about the lack of civility in contemporary politics.

            Hannity was fawning over Gingrich and referring to him as "Mr. Speaker" and "Speaker Gingrich". Neither ever addressed the sitting Speaker of the House of Representatives as anything but "Nancy" or "Pelosi".

            (As in "Tell me, Speaker Gingrich, why Pelosi is presiding over such a rude congress." "Well--when I worked with Nancy....")

            The point being if you are going to take Bill Maher to task over civility it would be a bit easier to argue if you weren't being smug and dismissive.

        • Danny Getchell

          Back when I was a hard-shell atheist, there was only one comment a Christian could make about my atheism that truly offended me.

          That was to say that I was an atheist because I desired to maintain a recklessly hedonistic lifestyle.

          I have seen a few Catholics here make that explicit statement. It signifies a near-complete ignorance of atheism.

          • Randy Gritter

            I can see where that comes from. I was there at one time. There was only one thing I found appealing about atheism. That was sexual permissiveness. You could sleep with who you wanted and watch whatever porn you wanted. So when I met an atheist it was easy to assume that is what they found appealing about atheism. For some it is true.

          • Eriktb

            Randy posted: "I can see where that comes from. I
            was there at one time. There was only one thing I found appealing about
            atheism. That was sexual permissiveness. You could sleep with who you
            wanted and watch whatever porn you wanted. So when I met an atheist it
            was easy to assume that is what they found appealing about atheism. For
            some it is true. Still it is uncharitable to assume that."

            I don't understand this thought process in any way, shape, or form. I have never viewed my atheist standpoint as something desirable. I view it as the most reasonable stance on an incredibly specific topic. How exactly do you go from "I don't believe in god/gods" to "hey let's bang everything that moves just because"? I'm no prude by any means, but sex does have lots of physical and emotional ramifications that have nothing to do with whether or not you believe in a deity.

            What's really being said when people insist atheists have no basis for morality is that atheists have no sense of consequences, or, that they lack the ability(or the will perhaps) to recognize they have an effect on the people/society around them. It's a position that is offensive and wrong.

          • Actually nobody thinks atheist have no sense of consequences. It is that managing consequences is not the same thing as morality. Morality is about right and wrong. It is not about complex strategies for minimizing pain and maximizing pleasure.

            So not having a sexual morality does not mean you ignore the physical and emotional ramifications of sex. It means you try and treat people right and respect yourself when you make sexual choices. I would not even suggest atheists don't do that, at least not all of them. The problem is how to determine what right is and what self-respect looks like. It is not based on anything you can't simply discard. You can say I believe in this or that moral framework but it is very easy to change it when the moral choices get hard.

            Anyway, the moral problem is a good reason to reject atheism but it is not always the reason an person chooses atheism so we need to be careful. Some are attracted to it because they want a more permissive morality but not all. We need to make the most charitable assumptions.

          • Geena Safire

            ...the reason an atheist chooses atheism...

            Thank you for the most charitable assumptions.

            However, atheism is the default position. Choosing to profess a belief in a deity is the choice.

            Morality is about right and wrong. It is not about complex strategies for minimizing pain and maximizing pleasure.

            Only a small percentage of atheists are hedonists. Morality is about acting in ways that increase the well-being and happiness of the self, loved others and increase the harmony and stability of the community. Happiness has little to do with pleasure, and much pain is necessary in working toward these goals.

      • David Nickol

        Atheists seem to me to be about 1000 times higher on the snark-o-meter.

        It would take an analysis by an unbiased researcher to evaluate that charge. But what I will say is that because of the very nature of religion (and particularly Catholicism), it takes a great deal more effort for a non-believer to avoid offending a believer than the other way around. For example, we had a recent post claiming to prove that materialism was "absurd." If an atheist purported to prove Catholicism was "absurd," no doubt many Catholics would find that offensive. So there is a kind of "double standard"—one that I am quite happy to abide by, since I do feel religious belief should in general be respected.

        When the Bible says, "The fool says in his heart,'There is no God,'" that's wisdom. But if an atheist says, "The fool says in his heart, 'There is a God,'" that is offensive!

        • Randy Gritter

          I have interacted with so many atheists that routinely call Catholicism absurd and foolish that I don't know how to respond to this.

          • David Nickol

            I have interacted with so many atheists that routinely call Catholicism
            absurd and foolish that I don't know how to respond to this.

            My point is not that many atheists might not call Catholicism absurd. My point is that in this forum it would be much more inappropriate (a fact to which I am not objecting) for an atheist to call Catholicism absurd than for a Catholic to call materialism absurd. While I think moderators try to be evenhanded, a quote from the Bible that calls people fools for not believing in God would no doubt be less likely to send up a red flag than a quote from P. Z. Myers or Richard Dawkins to the effect that people who believed in God were fools.

            I think it is somewhat of a double standard that people with religious views must be treated—in civil discourse—with greater sensitivity than people with irreligious view, but I understand the reasons for it, do not object to it, and try to abide by it myself.

            I think, by the way, that some Protestant views of Catholicism are about as scathing, if not more so, than atheist views of Catholicism. Could an atheist really make a more devastating claim against the papacy than that it is the "anti-Christ"? When I went to college (late 1960s) one of my Protestant roommates told me that before he left home his mother told him, "There's one thing I want you to promise me never to do—date a Catholic girl." I doubt that there are many atheist parents who warn their college-age children not to date theist women.

          • cminca

            I have to tell you that I've interacted with Catholics who seem to not only enjoy telling you that you are going to hell but who seem to look forward to bringing the marshmallows while they watch you burn.

            And one of those "Christians" is is a contributor to this site.

          • Randy Gritter

            A Catholic told you you were going to hell? My understanding is we are not supposed to do that. We may judge the moral gravity of acts but we may not judge a person's soul. Even if you have committed a gravely immoral act we cannot know what you level of knowledge was or what your level of psychological freedom was.

            Also, expressing pleasure at the thought of anyone going to hell is also not permitted for Catholics. God wants everyone to repent and so should we.

          • cminca

            Not literally but the message was still loud and clear.
            There is a poster on Huffington Post who's tag line is "Don't tell me you are a Christian--let me guess" or something similar. Funny that so many Christians have to announce it.
            Perhaps you know the rather famous Gandhi quote?

          • "I have to tell you that I've interacted with Catholics who seem to not only enjoy telling you that you are going to hell but who seem to look forward to bringing the marshmallows while they watch you burn.

            And one of those "Christians" is is a contributor to this site."

            Cminca, I'm so sorry you've had that experience. Needless to say, no Catholic should delight in the suffering or pain of others. The Church explicitly rejects such sadism.

            Which contributor to Strange Notions has told you that he would enjoy you going to hell and looks forward to bringing the marshmallows?

          • cminca

            I used the word "seem".

            The statement is figurative, not literal. But the message was CRYSTAL CLEAR.

            The exchange was not on this site.

            That is all I intend on saying for now.

        • josh

          As an atheist not-infrequently accused of 'being snarky' on this website, I'm gonna back David up on this point. Partly, my own personality tolerates and enjoys a lot of snark. But I moderate myself in reaction to the tone of the article and comments I'm replying to. Catholic apologists often come across to me as breathtakingly arrogant. To declare, as some do, that they have used an antiquated philosophy to prove the existence of God, which is obviously the Catholic God, from whence we can derive an absolute moral prohibition on various controversial subjects, is to me the most bombastic claim I can imagine. And it is frequently compounded with snarky dismissals of Dawkins or Hitchens or some other bete noire along with atheists in general.

          I'm one who will argue that Catholicism is demonstrably absurd, and I don't mind some spirited give and take in reply. But I've no truck with double standards.

    • Kevin Aldrich

      I hear you, Andre.

      I think the problem with posts originally written for a Catholic audience is that they make assumptions about atheists and agnostics made out of ignorance. Guest posters could get schooled in this misapprehension fast if they agree to engage in dialogue with those who comment on their guest posts.

      • picklefactory

        This was the most valuable thing about the objective morality debate from last month: the fact that both participants showed up in comments to expand upon or defend their viewpoints.

        The moderators of this site have a policy against snark and sarcasm in comments, and I have gradually come to see the value of it. But for posts that take the "throw it over the transom" approach that also include statements I would consider pretty indefensible -- Andre's mention below of the recent one that included 'mindlessly chanting "Allahu Akbar"' would be a good example -- the requirement to respond with kindness and patience or not at all begins to seem hypocritical even when the good motives of the moderators are in evidence.

        Occasionally I see calls to engage with other parts of an article or argument. I agree that the occasional ignorant statement doesn't necessarily invalidate an entire argument. On the other hand, sometimes (speaking just for myself here) I feel that it's too irritating to respond without being sarcastic; in those cases I shut up and hope that Geena or Andre will do it more tactfully than I could. In other cases it hardly seems worthwhile to pick apart an argument that barely made it out of the gate.

        Anyway, my intention was to offer up constructive criticism: if civil dialogue is the goal, I think that's the best way to achieve it.

        • Thanks, pickle. Good words, here.

        • Geena Safire

          [In cases where] I feel that it's too irritating to respond without being sarcastic ... I shut up and hope that Geena or Andre will do it more tactfully than I could

          Aw shucks! Thanks, pickle. But I can't take credit for my tact. Brandon tamed me.

          When I feel that irritated, I usually write (offline) a snarky response and wallow in my thoughts of Pyrrhic victory for a few hours. Then I come back and behave (mostly).

  • Brett Salkeld

    Hi Brandon,
    Congrats on the success of the site so far and kudos for your desire to improve it. As someone who reads many of the articles, but almost never comments, perhaps an explanation of my decision not to comment will be helpful?

    For me, the biggest problem is the massive number of comments. Often by the time I get to an article, the total comments are several times longer than the original article. I simply don't have time to engage responsibly with that kind of volume. (Heck, even if I get to one early, the prospect of having to respond to dozens of responses to one's comment is daunting enough.)

    Also, and I think this is related to both the sheer amount of comments and the preponderance of atheist commentators, my own experience of social media is that atheists have a tonne of time for this stuff. This may be grossly unfair and untrue over a larger sample size, but it is hard to keep up with one or two enthusiastically atheist friends on FB who seem to have an immense amount of time for internet debating. I have trouble imagining jumping into a debate with dozens of similarly inclined strangers as anything more than a time sink, especially when I consider that most people, like myself, can do little more than skim the comments.

    Perhaps this is all wildly unhelpful and there is not much that can be done, but this is my situation, and I imagine it represents many Catholics I know with graduate degrees in theology and philosophy and, typically, growing families.

    Might it be true that educated and articulate atheists are simply more convinced that internet argumentation makes a difference than educated and articulate Catholics, who are more likely, in my experience, to put their culture shaping energies into reading their kids good books at night?

    My hypothesis probably needs refining, and maybe it should be tossed altogether, but it seems to me that the difference we see in the comment section here is probably related to the respective worldviews and time commitments of the respective groups.

    Thanks for this forum for feedback,

    • Brett, you've just suggested that Catholics are more likely to read their kids good books at night than are atheists. Yowza.

      You speak of your experience. What does that mean? Do you actually have data on this?

      • Brett Salkeld

        I didn't mean to suggest that at all. If you look closely at my phrasing I said they are *might* be more likely to put their "culture shaping" energies there. Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe many atheists consider child-rearing (and the books involved) a major component of their "culture shaping" activity. But I very intentionally avoided saying that "Catholics are more likely to read their kids good books at night than are atheists." The point was about how they might understand "culture shaping" not about reading more or less or better or worse books.

        As to my own experience, it is simply this: I have way more kids than my atheist friends. And I spend more time reading those kids books. And they spend more time debating on the internet. And, my other Catholic friends also have more kids than my atheist friends and spend less time debating online, so I suspect I am not anomalous in this regard. I freely acknowledge that this anecdotal evidence may not be at all representative.

        And no. No data. It was a hypothesis to account for the data of this site. Like I said, it may be completely out to lunch, but the data on this site deserves some hypotheses. I'm happy to hear others, whether complementary or contradictory to my own.

        • Brett, I see where you're going, but I agree with Rob that you probably made the wrong insinuation.

          Loads of studies show that religious people generally have more children than non-believers (Catholics, Mormons, and Muslims are typically near the top of the list.) Like you, this certainly jives with my experience (we have four children and most of my atheist-couple friends have one or less.)

          Yet even though it's a statistical fact that Catholics, in general, have more children, it's a leap to assume they have less time to respond to online interlocutors than atheists. It's an interesting theory, and *perhaps* true, but you'd have a hard time proving that claim with data.

          • Brett Salkeld

            Thanks Brandon. Yes, I agree that it is tough to prove. That's why I tried to be so circumspect with my original claims. In any case, I think that the disproportion here requires some explanation, and I think that how the diverse worldviews inform how we spend our time is probably a good place to start. I'd be interested to hear other hypotheses for the disproportion. Even if they are also hard to prove with data. ;)

            I mean, am I the only one whose atheist friends on FB seem to have a huge amount of time for this stuff? If I'm not an anomaly, what are the explanations for this?

          • MichaelNewsham

            I'd suggest one reason is maybe that atheists (in America, at least) are subject to a huge discrepancy in the flow of communication. Not only do churches and other religious organisations constantly produce materials, the media discussion is generally dominated by religion. They have to jump at any chance they can get to make their voices heard.

            Plus, atheism is a growing movement with a disproportionate share of younger voices; not only may they have more time, and are more used to social media, they may experience the enthusiasm of being converts.

          • Brett Salkeld

            Those strike me as very plausible Michael. Especially the last p'graph. Thanks.

        • David Nickol

          I'm happy to hear others, whether complementary or contradictory to my own. . . .

          I don't know about your hypothesis, and I am not even sure there are more "atheist" who comment here or in other forums than "theists" or Catholics. If there is a lack of Catholic participation, here are some hypotheses of mind that I put forward in the same spirit as yours—that is, they are personal impressions, not conclusions drawn from collecting data and analyzing it.

          First, a great many Catholics don't know enough about Catholicism to defend it or to "evangelize" others. I am emboldened to say this after reading Catholic sites, both liberal and conservative, for many years and hearing liberal and conservative Catholics alike lament how "poorly catechized" contemporary Catholics are. (If anything, one is more likely to hear complaints about poorly catechized Catholics from conservative Catholics, so no one should take this comment as a criticism of Catholicism from an outsider.)

          Second, some Catholics, being convinced that the Catholic Church has all the answers, are either content not to bother debating issues ("Let questioners read the Catechism!") or feel they have responded sufficiently by quoting a Catholic authority (Aquinas not the least relied on) or simply making assertions such as claiming humans couldn't think abstractly without a immaterial soul and being convinced it is so obvious no further discussion is involved.

          Third, while "Catholic answers" to many questions are limited to what the Church teaches, atheists, skeptics, and people of religions other than Catholicism necessarily have many more points of view that are other-than-Catholic. It is not at all surprising that there should be many alternatives to a Catholic point of view.

          Fourth, it is not all that infrequent for there to be more than one opinion about what the Catholic (or even "theist") point of view is. I am not an atheist, and I was raised and educated as a Catholic, although now I am quite skeptical about many aspects of Catholicism. I often find myself defending Catholicism when it is criticized and criticizing it when it is defended, although I suppose others might see my messages differently. In any case, I will more often quote the Catechism, the CDF, encyclicals, and other authoritative documents to argue against Catholics whom I think are misrepresenting Catholicism than I do in arguing with "non-Catholics." (My father, a Protestant who actually practiced no religion, was annoyed with the term "non-Catholic," considering it arrogant to divide the world into two groups, Catholic and non-Catholic. I think he had a point.)

        • Argon

          My thoughts: Catholics might be less into evangelism than perhaps other religious groups and perhaps militant atheists. Perhaps second in line after Judaism.

    • Abe Rosenzweig

      As someone who checks in frequently, but almost never posts (probably best fro everyone), I was going to say something similar: the success of the site (hundred if not thousands of comments) is also a barrier to the site growing beyond its current shape: people will be disinclined to wade into the morass of comments, and so these huge threads actually consist of only a few voices. I genuinely don't know what could be done about that, since it seems to happen at tons of sites.

      But, wow, you sure did get obnoxious at the end there, eh? Atheists (I'm not one) don't read to their kids, in "your experience"? And, really, the huge number of active Catholic blogs and apologetic sites with loads of regular commenters belies your claim, anyhow.

      • Brett Salkeld

        I'm sorry if I was understood as saying atheists don't read to their kids. That's not what I tried to say. The point, as I tried to suggest in reply to Rob, was how such reading was viewed. I'm happy to hear an atheist give their take on how they view their culture-shaping activity. I tried to be pretty modest in my claims and am happy to hear other thoughts. I had no intention of getting "obnoxious."

        The point about active Catholic blogs is an interesting one to consider for the hypothesis though. Here's a possible refinement that follows from it: Perhaps many Catholics feel that their culture shaping energies are better spent shaping the Church's interior life than engaging outside the walls, so to speak.

        I do not commend that attitude, by the way, but I think it's probably the case for many Catholics. Pope Francis has, in fact criticized just this inward looking attitude, which can be very tempting.

        FWIW, my own inclination is only to comment on blogs where I know the writer and/or community because I feel like culture shaping happens best through real relationships, not anonymous debates.

        • David Nickol


          When Catholics offer opinions on blogs like this that might alienate or rile atheists, they must always first ask themselves that all-important question, "How far can we go?"

        • Geena Safire

          Hi Brett. I appreciated your coming out of the shadows to comment!

          Perhaps many Catholics feel that their culture shaping energies are better spent shaping the Church's interior life than engaging outside the walls, so to speak.

          I can see why this might be true. Christians, including Catholics, technically donate a higher percentage of their income than the unchurched. However, if you take out the part that goes to cover the social club, therapy, inspirational speakers, franchise fees, administration, mortgage and utilities -- that is church donations used for other than for actual charitable purposes -- the unchurched donate a higher percentage.

          This is not to say that the non-charitable stuff isn't of value -- of course it is -- but it is more insular.

    • Andre Boillot


      Consider also the disparity between Catholic and atheist authors on this site. I've found myself having far less to say in response to the few atheist-penned pieces which have been featured. Perhaps the Catholic audience feels the same way.

      • Brett Salkeld

        Good point. One wonders if the reverse would be true on an atheist site aimed at engaging Catholics?

  • Danny Getchell


    I'd rather read one article a week by an author who was willing to take an active part in its discussion, than seven a week by authors who do not. Just sayin'....

    • That gets to the problem of posting old content from other sites. It's much less likely to bring the author with it.

    • Danny, thanks for the comment. I totally agree with it and that's my desire, too. But the reality is, at least right now, most contributors are unable (or unwilling) to participate in the comment boxes. If I restrict contributions to *only* those from authors willing to actively engage commenters, our pool would be even smaller than it is now.

      That said, I continue to solicit new articles from contributors who *are* able to make this commitment, and I hope you've seen that such activity has increased over the last couple months.

  • Argon

    Several comments:

    1) Good luck on the project and I appreciate your sincerity and of those who have contributed.

    2) Articles: In all honestly, these have not been top notch.

    With a few stellar exceptions from a single physicist, much of the scientific content has been weak, poorly developed or simply wrong. Given that there really is little in contempory science that probably conflicts in any large way with current Catholic understanding, that's a real shame. Literalists, episodic Creationists and anti-Evolutionists likely have a problem with current scientific thought and there Catholic adherents of these stripes, but I understand that there is nothing in the RCC that actually requires these.

    Many of the philosophically related posts involve the classic, perennial issues that have been well discussed and analyzed by many brilliant minds over the years. These will likely never be resolved but discussion of them is interesting. While I understand the need to keep technical content within reach of an audience, I would strongly encourage liberal use of links to deeper studies, and not just those that offer a Catholic-centric perspective. For example, we recently had a post that was aligned strongly with or possibly derived from Plantigna's "Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism" (EAAN). While I don't accept the overall strength of that argument it has a rather extensive pro and con bibliography out there. Granted, Plantigna isn't a Catholic but he teaches at Notre Dame. In my opinion you lose a lot of diversity and depth of thought when you rely so heavily on only Catholic resources. Granted, evangelism is the main purpose of the site but it leaves huge gaps in the discussion.

    3) I cannot stand Disqus, LiveFyre or any of these 3rd party comment systems. Disqus & LiveFyre perform wretchedly on many tablets (I can attest to problems with the Android OS) and they really don't provide the freedom to manage comments as advertised. Even on a Microsoft OS I've lost comments I was entering when switching to a different tab in the browser and having the Disqus comment reset. There are many good sites that ripped out Disqus, LiveFyre and the like to use one of the excellent comment modules available for blogging systems.

    • Geena Safire

      Hey Brandon! I would wager that there are some Catholic scientists who would be willing to give your articles the scientific equivalent of a nihil obstat before you publish said articles here.

      If you have a stable to choose from -- with one each from physics, biology, neuroscience, psychology, etc. -- and the articles remain short -- and if you might be willing to take verbal instead of written feedback -- they might be willing to review one (or two) a month for you. You might include an agreement with your writers that they be willing to correct scientific errors in their submitted articles.

      When an article's argument depends on some science and the science is faulty, it weakens the case and distracts the discussion. Plus it's funny, but not in a good way. (And sometimes the correct science actually refutes the article's contention.)

      • Argon

        Avoid Behe though. Actually avoiding anyone associated with the Discovery Institute would be a good bet.

      • Geena, thanks for the suggestion. It's obviously a great idea, I just don't think I'll have time for all that.

        My vote is that we all just agree to make you our resident scientific expert-skeptic, and agree that any posted articles must pass the "Geena Test" :)

        • Geena Safire

          Er, uh, probably not. I know a thing or two and I'm somewhat adept at looking stuff up. But I am not an 'expert.' (Thanks anyway, though.)

          Perhaps Kenneth R. Miller, Professor of Biology at Brown University and a Catholic -- who has been active and influential in refuting the claims of cdesign proponentsists -- might already be in contact with other Catholic scientists who are interested in being active regarding proper science in the public domain.

          • Argon

            I'd second the Ken Miller recommendation.

  • David Nickol

    I sympathize with those who find the number of comments overwhelming. I am not sure Disqus is designed to handle the number of comments that are often posted here to a single OP, but then again, I am not aware of a better alternative. I have one suggestion that may be a modest improvement: Increase the depth of the "Recent Comments" panel on the right to handle more comments. Since new comments do not appear at the ends of comments sections, the easiest way to find them is in "Recent Comments," so the more comments there the better.

    The "Top Commenters" panel serves no purpose now that it is no longer updated, and it can be eliminated. I don't know that it would actually allow more space for "Recent Comments," but there is no point in keeping it if it is not updated, and I am not sure it serves a useful function even if it keeps an accurate count. This is not a competition to see who can write the most.

    • Your wish is my comand! I extended the Recent Comments everywhere but the homepage to 15 comments.

      The "Top Commenters" panel was automatically updating, it's just that nobody came near catching those top five. I agree that it's probably not all that useful and so I've removed it.

      • Andre Boillot

        -Kevin Aldrich

      • David Nickol

        Thanks! I am finding the extended Recent Comments very helpful.

  • David Nickol

    While I think this inevitably shifts Strange Notions from being a dialogue site to an outreach or proselytizing site, I am sure we all look forward to trying to undermine the faith of the Mundelein seminarians. :P

    Whatever happens with this site, it seems like a great personal and professional move for Brandon Vogt, and he is to be congratulated.

    • Randy Gritter

      What is the difference between dialogue and proselytizing? I mean atheists are proselytizing here are they not? Dialogue with the hope of making converts does not cease to be dialogue.

      • Sqrat

        Indeed. Brandon, when discussing this site with fellow Catholics, has made no bones about the fact that its purpose is "online evangelization" of atheists.

        • Randy Gritter

          Evangelization is a very different thing from proselytizing in Catholic circles. I am aware the words are not used the same way outside the Catholic bubble so we need to be careful. What we call proselytizing is pushing people to convert. That is a bad thing.

          Evangelization is simply making the truths of Catholicism more widely know and better understood. That could and even should lead to conversions but the focus is on authentic communication of Catholicism. It is a good thing.

          • Sqrat

            One of the things that I have become aware of by reading this site is that certain English-language words mean different things to Catholics than than they do to the rest of us. I am surprised that "proselytize" is one of them. Note the meanings of "proselytize" cited by David Nickol from Merriam-Webster's Online Dictionary.

            There are times when I feel the need for a Catholic-English dictionary....

          • Context is king, as they say.

          • Sqrat

            Perhaps, when using a word that means something different to Catholics than to other English speakers, people could use some HTML-like markup. For example: proselytize

          • CPE

            Here's the way Brandon described SN on Unequally Yoked:

            "StrangeNotions.com is designed to be the central place of dialogue between Catholics and atheists. The implicit goal is to bring non-Catholics to faith, especially followers of the so-called New Atheism."


            Sounds like conversion is the goal. Fortunately, the atheists (at least the ones who comment) are able to see through the BS and are no closer to converting than when they first joined the site. Let's hope the conversion rate stays at 0%.

          • Randy Gritter

            The commenters are not the most likely converts. Often dialogue mostly effects the mushy middle. That is people with one foot in Catholicism and one foot in atheism. I think there are a lot of those (mostly self-identifying as Catholic but that is even changing).

          • CPE

            I can't imagine anyone moving to catholicism based on the articles and comments on this site (I can't imagine anyone converting under any circumstances but that's a different discussion). However, I can see a person with wavering faith reading the thousands of comments which have dismantled all the pro-catholic arguments and deciding that the religion is not for them. I sincerely hope that has happened and will continue to happen.

          • "Dismantled all the pro-Catholic arguments"?

            Awful high opinion of yourself. First off, welcome to SN! Also to Disqus, and presumably the internet. If, on the other hand, you're a regular contributor who just made another profile so they could snark and snipe away, I will bring out the banhammer.

            All the arguments? I've yet to see a dismantling of one. At best, it's a state of aporeia.

          • David Nickol

            My understanding is that (to quote John Allen) evangelization "is synonymous with missionary efforts – meaning the effort to convert people, get them into church, and draw them deeper into the life of faith." On the other hand, there is something much talked about in Catholic circles (though not a topic on Strange Notions) called the "New Evangelization," which (again quoting Allen) is "outreach to baptized Catholics who have become distant from the faith."

            Pope Francis has said some interesting things about proselytizing versus evangelizing. It sounds to me a bit like he considers proselytization to be targeting those you would like to convert, and evangelization to be sharing the "good news" with everyone.

          • I think that's a fair description.

      • David Nickol

        What is the difference between dialogue and proselytizing?

        According to Merriam-Webster's Online Dictionary, dialogue is

        b : an exchange of ideas and opinions <organized a series of dialogues on human rights=
        c : a discussion between representatives of parties to a conflict that is aimed at resolution <a constructive dialogue between loggers and environmentalists=

        Proselytizing is

        1 : to induce someone to convert to one's faith
        2 : to recruit someone to join one's party, institution, or cause

      • Andre Boillot

        I'm not here to proselytize in terms of converting you to atheism. As a former Catholic, I understand how important belief is, and have always thought that imposing one's belief on somebody else was a terrible thing to do - even as a child I always resented that my protestant grandmother was forced to raise her children Catholic. Part of me cringes at the idea that anyone would feel the need to change a core part of themselves because of something that I said (I mean, who am i?). Mostly I argue to push back against what I view are lazy stereotypes concerning atheists, the role of religion in society and politics, or the self-evidence of certain religious claims. I'm well aware that one can't prove a negative when it comes to god's existence, and that there's no intrinsic tension between being a good Catholic and a good citizen, so in that sense I have no interest in proselytizing for affirmative-atheism.

  • Thanks for running this. It's been very helpful for me to read the views of both sides and find out where they fit. Hopefully we haven't given you too bad a headache in the process.

    • Not *too* bad, just unending, nearly unendurable migraines ;)

  • Methodological Naturalist

    Form my perspective, this change of venue to a priest-owned site mimics the intention of the Great Fire Wall of China: censorship.

    • MN, thanks for the comment. A couple things:

      First, it's not a priest-owned site. I still own Strange Notions and maintain complete control. Word on Fire doesn't have any requirements or restrictions concerning the content.

      Second, per our commenting rules, please use your real name when commenting (either by adding it in after your comment or choosing a new Disqus profile.) I believe I mentioned this to you before. To maintain a higher-level dialogue, we don't allow anonymous comments. So unfortunately, I'll have to remove future comments unless they contain your name.


      • Methodological Naturalist

        Thanks for the clarification on the priest business. As far as real names, no you haven't mentioned that. Posting a real name is a bit dangerous in my circumstances, so I won't be doing that.

        I've enjoyed perusing the site, good luck in your new surroundings. I won't be able to comply with your requirements.

        • Andrew G.

          For whatever reason, the requirement for real names has never really been enforced consistently.

          • Andrew, I try my best.

          • Andrew G.

            Best at what?

            "Real name" rules are foolish for many reasons; they discourage commenting by anyone vulnerable to retaliation; they privilege the dishonest (who have no difficulty making up names); they discriminate against people with rare names (John Smith can say what he likes with little risk of anyone reliably identifying which John Smith he is, whereas my name is probably unique in the world).

            I personally am in the privileged position of being able to say pretty much what I like without consequences, but I make a point of opposing ill-thought-out identity rules exactly because I recognize that many others (on all ideological sides) do not have this privilege and yet are able to contribute to the discussion.

      • Slocum Moe

        Brandon, you are a good man and nothing like Robert Barron. Once he has you firmly in his grip, the hammer will fall. This is part of the learning process of maturation that all ernest young people go through. Nothing to be done about it but to wear your hard hat, safety googles and latex barrier gear. Go with God, young man.

      • If you are going to be an absolutist about this rule, please enforce it across the board. I'd be very interested in finding out the names of those involved with the New Apologetics group. Otherwise, I don't think that they should be allowed to make posts or comment here in the future either.

        • Argon

          My email is real and I'm happy to give my name to individuals upon request. I just prefer to keep my internet footprint light as it's none of any future employer's business. If the site's moderators feel my contents are inappropriate then I'm happy with banishment.

          • I suppose that works. Our goal is to maintain respectful dialogue, which I think we all agree is hampered, to various degrees, by anonymous commenting. The more people who use their real names, the better.

          • Argon

            FWIW - If you're big on honorifics, I could be 'Dr. Argon' (Biochemistry), but I'm not big on argument by authority (by reputation perhaps, but not authority).

        • Duly noted. The problem is, it's kind of a "collection" of people posting/commenting under the one account. But next time we feature them, I'll ask for them to at least sign their first name.

      • Abe Rosenzweig

        Just to add to the chorus: "real name" rules are kind of pointless, because anyone can set up a valid email address under a pseudonym like "Tina Malouf" or "Jason Mayhew" or "Anne Rhodes" and nobody would know any better.

        • That's true, but it would be on their own conscience. Hopefully everyone here has enough self-respect, and respect for others, to exchange at least first names with each other, just as we would if conversing offline.

    • It sounds like you can continue to comment if you offer your real first name. Unless it is a very unique first name, it is unlikely that family or employers will find out you are posting here. Just a thought. It would be great if you can stick around; I enjoy your comments.

  • Jay

    I think you're doing a very nice job here Brandon, and I'm really looking forward to seeing the guys from Mundelein coming onto the blog. I went up there for the first time a month or two ago and saw Fr. Barron preach. I also got to explore the campus a little bit. Very cool...

    In regards to getting more commenters, have you tried contacting individuals from http://nonprophetstatus.com/ The founder, Chris Stedman, is a humanist chaplain at Harvard and he attempts to get the dialogue between theists and atheists/agnostics going as well. If you reach out there, you might be able to find a writer or two who would be willing to contribute to this blog.

    Keep up the good work and God bless.

  • Have you ever considered another separate site for a dialogue between Catholics and protestants/evangelicals? I have a name...Strange Devotions. ;-)

    • Randy Gritter

      Try CalledToCommunion.com

  • hillclimber

    Thanks again for a great site. Two thoughts I would like to offer:

    Generating more participation from seminarians sounds great, but I think there is another dimension of Catholic participation that should be pursued. You don't want this (I think) to only be a place where Catholics only come to provide answers. If this is about dialogue (and it is), then it should also be a place for Catholics to come with questions that atheists might help us answer. In a sense I think atheists help us evangelize ourselves. Anyone ardently seeking truth helps us evangelize ourselves. I think the site does this already, but as you look for ways to reach out to more Catholics, I would encourage you to reach out to Catholics with questions as well as Catholics with answers.

    This brings me to my second point. I wonder if you would consider formally relaxing your "use your real name" policy. You have tolerated the fact that I and others have flouted this policy (thank you), but here is why I would encourage you to make it official. I am a catechist at our local parish. In that capacity, I restrain myself a bit in the way that I articulate my faith, because I view that as my obligation as a teacher. As an anonymous commenter here, I more freely articulate my faith, sometimes even in ways that are not ostensibly in line with the catechism. I hesitate to compromise my public role as a teacher with my private role as a seeker. Should I just "man up" and use my real name? I'll leave that to you to decide, but hopefully this gives you a sense of the complications.

    • Geena Safire

      I like your idea, hillclimber. However, Catholics who have any questions regarding any facet of their faith are specifically required to bring it to a competent Catholic authority and to especially never enter the atheist's den if they have a scintilla of doubt regarding their faith, which must constantly be renewed and protected.

      (p.s. Technically, since you don't have to provide two forms of photo ID, you could consider a more human-sounding moniker. For example, "the Hill Climber is a public artwork by American artist Jeff Decker located on the grounds of the Harley Davidson Museum." That is, it should have some connection with you while, you know, not having any connection with you. Note: I'm not a moderator. Nothing official about what I say.)

      • hillclimber

        Thanks Geena. I hope you are kidding about that first part though. The Magisterium teaches a lot of stuff, and I have grown immensely from taking in that teaching and letting myself be challenged by all of it. But it is the head of the Body of Christ, it is not the whole Body. It tries to speak for the whole Body, and usually it does a very good job. I am immensely thankful that this Body has a head. But, in the same way that my brain is constantly trying to better articulate what my endocrine system tells it, so it is with the Church. The brain (the Magisterium) and the endocrine system (me) always have a complex dialogue. The brain does have the final say in where the Body walks and what it says, but at the end of the day, it can't really tell me that I'm not a part of the Body. You can cite me all the dogmas you want. I feel my living connection this ancient Body, I participate in every aspect of its sacramental lifeblood, and ain't nobody going to tell me differently.

        • Geena Safire

          Hey, it's not my Magisterium, hc. That's just what I was told, elsewhere and under another article here at SN. Go Glands!

          • hillclimber

            Thanks for the support. Maybe I will change my screen name to thyroid :)

            My advice for understanding the Church is the same as my advice for understanding a person: don't just listen to the words coming out of the person's mouth. At best, those words provide an incomplete expression of who the person really is, and at worst those words can even be a little bit of a misrepresentation. Watch the body language too.

          • hillclimber

            These lyrics are a great expression of what I am trying to say:

            The wild man he just killed my religion
            He cut it to the bone like a needed incision
            The cancerous growth of formulaic precision
            That blocks the life-blood in rebellious collision
            Cold constructs robbing faith from decision
            But where’s your rubric for the man that was risen
            He is my vision, he is my vision, be Thou my vision

            Josh Garrels, Sweet River Roll. http://joshgarrels.bandcamp.com/track/sweet-river-roll

          • Argon

            Big difference with Protestant faiths then...

    • Your second point is spot on. I would also add, that the name policy can never really be enforced because people can just make up a name that sounds real. And if that's the case, what value does it add? If we are behaving in a respectable way, our username should not matter.

      • Danny Getchell

        Well, I have to fess up here, Irenaeus. I'm not posting under my real name, which is "Throatwobbler Mangrove".

        • Geena Safire

          Ha! I refute that assertion. I claim your name is pronounced 'Throatwobbler Mangrove', but it is spelled 'Raymond Luxury-Yacht.'

          • Danny Getchell

            It's a fair cop.......

          • Geena Safire

            ...but society's to blame, so we'll be arresting them instead.

      • David Nickol

        And if that's the case, what value does the policy add? If we are
        behaving in a respectable way, our username should not matter.

        It seems to me behaving in a "respectable way" would involve following the user guidelines a site sets up. What is respectable about making up a fake name to post on a site that requires the use of real names?

        I notice that it's very rare for a publisher like the New York Times to publish letters to the editor with names withheld.

        I do understand that that a priest or business executive or a semi-public figure might have something valuable to add to a discussion but might cause them problems with their parishioner, superiors, and so on. So I think there are good cases for the limited use of pseudonyms. But I think when that is the case, the person running the site should know the true identity of the poster.

        I have always used my real name except in rare circumstances, and only where it was not required. There have been a number of instances in which I was personally attacked (not here) by people using obviously fake names. Few things are more offensive on a blog than someone making personal attacks from behind the cloak of anonymity.

    • picklefactory

      As an anonymous commenter here, I more freely articulate my faith, sometimes even in ways that are not ostensibly in line with the catechism. I hesitate to compromise my public role as a teacher with my private role as a seeker.

      From the atheist point of view, some folks do not feel comfortable publicly identifying themselves as atheists. Although I'd hardly say atheists are the world's most oppressed group, depending on the community one lives in, prejudice and discrimination directed towards atheists is a real thing.

      I do understand the desire to squash folks who might come and do shouty and disrespectful drive-bys, but those are presumably not allowed from named commenters either, and those who are inclined to do it anyway aren't likely to exercise prior restraint based on a comment policy they otherwise don't intend to abide by. IOW, policy does not much good at the cost of discouraging commenters who are afraid to come out (atheists) or questioning (Catholics).

      • Argon

        It's a peculiar thing about American politics that Barney Frank came out as an atheist after he left office but came out as gay years before. Go figure.

        It's a bit like the current policies of the Boy Scouts of America.

  • Geena Safire

    Hi Brandon. I really like what you wrote. I can only imagine how much work it is to make this site hum. Three per week would be much preferable to me.

    I'm sorry that I can't help with recruiting any additional persuasive Catholic writers for you. If I knew of one that was convincing to me, I'd probably be a Catholic, wouldn't I? (jk)

    I've made some other comments as replies under comments of related topics.

  • Geena Safire

    I think this is relevant here. It is a comment I wrote at another article, but a number of days after the article was posted, so likely it was missed. It has to do with my motivation.

    Methodological Naturalist asked: "Can you give a good reason for free thinkers to participate on this site?"

    I can't say that these are good reasons, but these are my reasons - at least the conscious ones.

    The folks here, at all positions on the map, are kind, respectful and intelligent.

    I enjoy and have always enjoyed discussing the big questions about life and meaning.

    Dialogue regarding the big questions with Catholics, at least philosophically and scientifically minded Catholics such as here, is worlds better than attempting to discuss them with creationists or fundamentalist Christians. Since we atheists stopped eating babies and the Catholics stopped burning us at the stake, we have gotten along much better together. ;-)

    I am a fan of diplomacy and better communication between folks with differences of opinion. Although their primary purpose is to be e-missionaries, my sense is that the SN Catholic folk are also trying to better understand the various atheist points of view and atheist responses to various apologetic efforts. Of course, this is done to some extent with a goal of gathering a better set of apologetics to use to e-proselytize to today's atheists. So, to that extent, I recognize that one could say the SN atheist contingent is thereby furthering the SN primary mission.

    On the other hand, I am also here to provide an atheist perspective for any naïve atheists who might peruse this site. (Naïve Catholics, of course, are forbidden to peruse such a site as SN, so I am not writing with them in mind.)

    EDIT: It also gets my goat when people get science wrong. In that sense, I have a bad case of that new ailment, siwoti - someone is wrong on the Internet.

    EDIT 2: This is not to say that I always get science right. I do not.

  • Gail Finke

    This is very exciting news!

    I am one of the Catholics who do not post. I did for a while but I found the contentious tone of the replies simply too distressing. I am not a stupid person -- in fact I am a master's candidate -- and I like to talk to people I disagree with about disagreements. But I don't enjoy being attacked and I don't attack others. I figured that answering posts was the job of someone with a different temperament than I have; I hope you can find a remedy for that.

  • Slocum Moe

    While you moderate comments, you do so much less than other Catholic sites which usually just discard anything not in support of their content or nearly so. That is why you are successful. I have seen Catholic and right wing political sites that have lived and later died because of this.

  • Vasco Gama


    Congratulations for your work on Strange Notions, in spite of any possible improvement I have to say that I appreciate the majority of the posts, even if occasionally I don’t agree with the authors. I regularly comment and enjoy debating with other commenters that mostly are atheists, with whom I am frequently in disagreement. Although not always, globally I find the dialogue stimulating, as long as one maintains a certain level of rationality, which is not always the case. I am not very impressed by the tendency to construct stereotypes, some unjustified rudeness and unfair assessment by others, if in reasonable and civilized limits, I, myself, am no flower, and sometimes go well beyond what would be desirable.

    Besides the fact that most commenters seem to be atheists, a significant part of the Catholic commenters seem to be recent converts, that for some reason or the other are more combative than the other Catholics and more prone to challenge their ideas and dialogue with atheists.

    Thanks and keep up the good work.

  • Mike

    I have enjoyed this website for the past few months. Although I must admit I usually skip the comments section. Please let me tell you a little bit about myself. I hold a Ph. D. in Chemistry and am a lifelong Catholic, my wife and I attend mass weekly and we are involved in our Parish's youth group.

    I felt compelled to introduce myself after reading that there were relatively few Catholic scientists responding to article, and I'll try to comment when appropriate in the future.

    • Thanks, Mike! We could really use your expertise and insights in the comment boxes.

  • Strange Notions is a wonderful site, and I'm glad it's doing so well.

    I'm a frequent visitor and first-time commenter. I guess as a Catholic I need to work on that. ;)

  • Congrats Brandon on your new position and on the site generally.

    It is an incredible feat to generate an article a day. I think drawing it down is a good plan, though, to keep the quality of articles high.

    I would say that rather than a site plagued with negative tone, this site has succeeded in providing a more or less civil tone and generated usually engaging discussion. I would say the two are related.

    I'm exited about engaging seminarians!

  • In fact, roughly 80% of our 39,000 comments have come from atheists (and I imagine the pageview and visitor percentages follow suit.)

    It might be interesting to do a poll asking if there are readers who don't comment, and to check the results on whether there's an untapped source of Catholics there.

    Do you advertize on any Catholic forums?

    Even worse, I've heard from Catholic commenters who no longer comment because when they do, they feel "ganged up on" since each comment draws criticism from several atheists.

    Absolutely, that kind of effect can overwhelm anyone's casual interest in a website discussion. The Mundelein practicum is a very direct solution, props on getting that going. Another thing to consider is adopting some "home rules". I'll just list some example ideas:

    * Ask commenters to limit the rate at which comment trees branch, e.g. so that only one or two people reply to any given comment.
    * Ask commenters to let the originator of a top-level comment to "own" the thread, so that they get one of the one or two replies.
    * Ask commenters to limit the number and length of arguments that they make in any given comment to, say, no more than three arguments and 500 words per comment.

  • Moussa Taouk

    This is my first contribution to this site! Thanks for putting it (the site) together. Dialogue with the intent of drawing nearer to Truth is always a welcome engagement.

    The one message that I haven't seen addressed wrt improving the site is: conversations quickly go off topic and soon become quire irrelevant to the article or question at hand. This makes it pretty frustrating when trying to follow a discussion in order to arrive at any kind of conclusions or topics to reasearch further. I'm not sure how to make such an improvement (other than anouncing for people to keep to the topic)... but such an improvement in focus would be most welcome.

  • Occasionally I come across inappropriate comments, but I'd still feel like a jerk for clicking the "flag" button. One thing that would make me feel better about it, and that may also encourage commenters who sometimes lose their tempers not to give up, is if we knew there was a moderator policy to ask the authors of slightly-out-of-bounds comments to revise them and express similar ideas more constructively.

    Maybe a few words could be added to the commenting rules to that effect.

  • Jay

    PS... Don't forget about potentially reaching out to other academic institutions... Mundelein seminary is within the Association of Chicago Theological Schools. Maybe some of the other institutions within the ACTS system might be willing to help out:


  • Yes, very well done Brandon! Onward and upward!

  • Mark Andre Augustus

    The debate might be enhanced by looking at the motivation behind some forms of atheism, namely narcism, which is distinctly on the rise during the age of materialism: "If you want to know about God, there is only one way to do it: get down on your knees. You can make His acquaintance by investigation, but you can win His love only by loving. Most people who deny God do not do so because their reason tells them there is no God, for how could reason witness against Reason? Their denial is rather because of wishful thinking. They feel they would be happier if there were no God, for then they could do as they pleased. Think a little less about whether you deserve to be loved by Him; He loves you even though you are not deserving. It is His love alone that will make you deserving. Most of us are unhappy because we never give God a chance to love us; we are in love only with ourselves.” Archbishop Fulton Sheen (Preface to Religion)