It seems a new undergraduate blogger is sweeping the American Catholic millenial imagination (and computer screen). If I’ve been asked, “Have you heard of this ‘Bad Catholic’ blog?” once in the past month, I’ve been asked six or seven times. Authored at Patheos.com by blogger Marc Barnes, ‘Bad Catholic’ has more than 10,000 likes on its Facebook page, with undoubtedly thousands more blog followers. Focusing on issues in the contemporary Church, as well as bringing Catholicism and secular culture into conversation, Barnes’ blog has not only taken young Catholics by storm, but has sparked inter-religious debate and even been noticed by the likes of Jonathan Fitzgerald in the Wall Street Journal.
A college student, Barnes’ shares his views on topics as far ranging as politicization in the Church, virtue ethics, the theology of pop music, the philosophy of modesty, and religious pilgrimages, all from the perspective of a young Catholic in the modern world and frequently through the lens of natural law. But from the title of the blog, “Bad Catholic,” one can deduce some of Barnes’ self-understanding as a curious, young Catholic (though not “traditional” or “conservative,” per his piece, “Catholic, Nuff Said”), negotiating the Church and modern world by mingling the Catechism with Top 40s song lyrics, the Church Fathers with contemporary feminist theory.
In light of some previous threads on the Catholic Conversation, in particular on the shape of the New Evangelization (NE) and on “who (or what) is influencing engaged Catholic youth,” I mention this blog as an example of what may be a burgeoning sub-group within the NE. Perhaps its the NE with a twist, chiefly, the ability to discuss issues in the Church and secular culture with an entertaining intermingling of theology, pop culture, and humorous, even irreverent rants that young readers like me find quite refreshing. Barnes seems to have adopted the philosophy of G. K. Chesterton (whom he often quotes), who was convicted that “humor can get in under the door while seriousness is still fumbling at the handle.” In other words, Barnes is using social media to bring moral, theological and cultural debate to younger Catholics in a style perhaps heretofore unseen.
Broad-stroked. Controversial. Ecclectic. Sarcastic. This is the “Bad Catholic” style. Barnes himself admits in an informal interview, “I definitely see my own blogging as being of the ‘thinking out loud’ sort, since most of the time I just have an idea for an argument and run with it, without thinking through how well it works.” Thus, he admits of having ” weaker arguments and reflections,” but suggests that “most of my Catholic readers like [these arguments] just as much as anything else,” presumably with more reverent, albeit current, discourse about contemporary Church life and culture in mind. There’s something genuine and raw about ‘Bad Catholic’ to which young readers are responding; and whether positively or negatively, he’s getting needed and lively conversations going, often first with an LOL or a gasp.
‘Bad Catholic’s’ success begs further exploration of the triangular relation between religion, media, and culture. And it surfaces the question: Could the blog’s success be an indication of a shift in the evangelization strategy of NE supporters? More generally, while sociologist continue to study the ever-increasing mediation of sociocultural relationships through social media, further research could consider how specifically inter- and intra-religious relationships are mediated through media forms like the personal blog. Likewise, studies of theology and religion, including studies of the NE, could consider how various media forms like blogging inform and alter the landscape of these religious movements themselves.