PROVIDENCE — Society tells people, Catholics especially, many lies about God and religion, says Patrick Madrid, a nationally-known Catholic writer and speaker, who told a Rhode Island audience how they can rebut those falsehoods.
“Truth has an effect on people if they’re willing to hear it,” said Madrid, the host of the Patrick Madrid Show on Immaculate Heart Radio — a West Coast network of Roman Catholic faith-oriented radio programs — and author of more than 20 books on Catholic topics.
During a Nov. 22 talk at the diocese’s McVinney Auditorium — titled “Answers to Lies Society Tells You” — Madrid presented some strategies to an audience of several hundred people on how they can respond to popular false claims such as God does not exist and that religion, Christianity especially, is the leading cause of violence in the world.
“Yes, horrible things have been done in history in the name of the Catholic Church and Jesus Christ,” Madrid said, “But those are aberrations. Those are not things that exemplify or represent the Catholic Church.”
To undermine those claims, Madrid said it is often helpful to employ the tactic of reductio ab absurdum — Latin for “reduction to absurdity” — that aims to disprove a statement by demonstrating how it leads to a ridiculous or absurd conclusion. As an example, Madrid told a story about how he confronted someone who had a bumper sticker on his car that said, “Question Authority.”
“Who are you to tell me to question authority?” Madrid said he told the person with the bumper sticker.
More often than not, Madrid said, the best thing to do when someone makes a false claim is to ask questions and let them explain exactly what they mean.
“The more questions you ask, the better you understand where that person is coming from, the more you can zero in on what’s not quite right with that,” said Madrid, adding that questioning the person puts them on the defensive and disrupts their “momentum” in the argument.
“Rather than giving a defense right away, you say to the person, ‘What do you mean by that?” Madrid said, adding that such a tactic puts one “in the driver’s seat” and allows them to keep the conversation calm while discovering the flaws in the other person’s argument.
“You also buy yourself some time to collect your thoughts or pray to the Holy Spirit,” Madrid said, adding that shifting the burden to the other person helps when responding to someone who argues that all religions are basically the same.
“If someone said that to you, would you be prepared to respond to that? Would you know what to say?” asked Madrid, who boiled down the argument further to show how only Christ — among the founders of other religions — claimed to be God, and that his apostles chose to die often violent deaths rather than renounce the Resurrection.
“We believe Jesus Christ is truly God who came to be one of us,” said Madrid, who also noted historical studies that refute the popular notion that Christianity, and religion in general, is a leading cause of war in world history. He noted one study that found only seven percent of wars throughout human history were religious in nature.
“So when atheists say religion is the cause of all violence in the world, it’s absolutely not true,” said Madrid, who also suggested that few Catholics are prepared to explain why they believe in God. An important principle is to use logic, not quote Scripture, when engaging with unbelievers, he said.
“That’s the one thing an atheist is not prepared for, in my experience,” Madrid said, further adding that science cannot disprove or prove the existence of God, in the same way that love and truth cannot be put under a microscope.
Proof for the existence of God is a matter for philosophy and theology, not the scientific study of the physical world.
“You can use basic logical and philosophical, rational questions, never once mentioning Jesus and the Bible,” said Madrid, who also told those in the audience to become an “aficionado” of the truth, which he said is powerful and can change the world.
“Telling the truth can be difficult, it can be scary, but you can do it,” Madrid said. “You can do it well, but you have to do it.”
David O’Connell, a parishioner of St. Martha’ Church in East Providence who attended the talk, said he often listens to Madrid’s radio show. O’Connell said the method of engagement that Madrid presented is a way to avoid falling into emotionalism when someone challenges your faith.
“Sometimes I get frustrated with people if I can’t answer properly,” O’Connell said. “But (Madrid) gives very cool-headed, logical, philosophical ways where you don’t have to be a college professor [to communicate], you can be an ordinary person.”
Steve Van Orsouw, a North Smithfield resident and a Catholic school teacher who attends St. Agatha Church in Woonsocket, said he found Madrid’s presentation “very helpful,” especially for when his students ask difficult questions about the faith.
“Sometimes I’ll just say, ‘Okay let’s move on to other things,’” Orsouw said. “But this makes me think it’s important to stop and talk about these things, and to use a different approach to help them understand the truth better so they’re more likely to embrace it.”