If you, for example, happen to land on what must be the most clicked Catholic questions and answers forum on the Internet, you will find, broadly speaking, two sections: the one where you can ask a priest or theologian, and the other parts where you can interact with other readers.
The first section offers answers generally (not always) consistent with Catholic teaching, and not deprived of a certain assertiveness at times; but depending on who writes the answer, can be extremely misleading for the faithful. I remember one instance where the relatives of a suicide were told not to worry (add here a ton of sugar), without any deeper explanation as to why they should have been, in fact, very worried. This wasn’t even Catholicism, this was bad “emotional assistance” work.
The second section was (with his various sub-sections) an attempt at making the rules as one goes along, with a mixture of well-informed and properly instructed posters and the usual crowd of “sensitive” half Sixty-Eight, half New Age Catholics having oh so much understanding for pretty much everything and being properly instructed on oh pretty much nothing.
When I was at the very beginning of my journey of rediscovery of Catholicism (I was the usual V II product: a horribly instructed lapsed Catholic, carrying with him an utterly shameful, awful system of values. Like many others, I rediscovered the religion of my forefathers outside of the usual V II-priest channels, and out of a natural thirst of knowledge and truth going past the waffle of V II priests) I found this kind of forum instructive; but rather soon I noticed that a lot of tar was mixed to the wheat, and as I became more and more knowledgeable the extent of the problem became fully known to me. I then stopped visiting such sites, focusing on the blogs of priests above suspicion and the specialised books and sources I could find in or buy from the Internet.
More amusing (I won’t even call them dangerous) are the kind of “questions and answers” places like “Yahoo answers”. These are pages you can visit for your own amusement, and they remind one of the kind of conversations cats would have about the intellectual life of dogs. It’s as beautiful an example of the blind leading the blind as few others on the Internet, and the product of the astonishing mentality according to which everyone is always entitled to open his mouth, just because he feels like it. Of course, the point system plays a role; but Good Lord, not even the promise of points should be enough to persuade people to expose their abysmal ignorance in such a way. The difference with Catholic fora, though, is that the exercises a’ la “Yahoo Answers” are so evidently amateurish that no sane person aged ten or above (fourteen, if he is the product of a progressive education) would ever consider the place a source of real knowledge in religious matters.
Of course, my esteemed half-dozen readers are of a different kind, or they would not have landed on this blog in the first place. Still, if colleagues or friends happen to touch the subject with you, you might want to warn them beforehand from the danger represented by half-baked knowledge, particularly when dished out in pages leading the uninstructed to think they represent legitimate, authentic Catholic patrimony.
What I generally do is to suggest to the “curious” that they do a very simple thing and start ordering the “Penny Catechism” from the Internet (I have given away a couple of those myself; they are so cheap you will not even embarrass the recipient, or you can “handle” them a bit and then give them up saying “take this, it’s my copy, I will buy another one”). Even a simple Penny Catechism, well-studied and properly digested, will make of an attentive reader a better Catholic than a vast number of nowadays priests and bishops, let alone of the amateurs writing on Catholic fora. After that, other Catechisms may be chosen (I find the higher Baltimore catechisms excellent for an attentive learner; the fourth has an easy-to-understand commentary too). At that point, more sophisticated books can easily be attempted and rapidly and properly absorbed, and at this point the choice is so vast that even after discarding everything remotely stinking of Vatican II one will have enough to read for more than one lifetime. But seriously, already the proper knowledge of the Penny catechism from the pewsitters would be enough to change the face of every English-Speaking country. Which must be the reason why I never see them on sale in nuChurches.
The Internet made this possible, and in fact I own to the Internet my re-discovery of Catholicism. The availability of serious texts on the net allowed me to research and instruct myself past the usual waffle I was surrounded with in my younger years, when Vittorio Messori and the likes of him were – amazingly – believed to be sources of proper Catholicism. The priest read once at school some pages of one of his books. Never in life had I met such a sugary succession of vapid common places, and inconsequential wannabe logical arguments. Even the believers among us laughed out loud at the idiocy but boy, the man sold well in the sugary atmosphere of the Seventies and Eighties, which demanded “feel good” platitudes and this ever-present idea now everything is done better and smarter. Unsurprisingly, the man supports the Medjugorje scam.
The priest couldn’t defend himself and the book from the logical remarks of seventeen years old accustomed to think logically. He abandoned the experiment. This was, by the way, the priest who once said in class (whispering in that too-clever-by-half way which conveys the message “boys, I’d get in trouble if my wisdom were known to my superiors”) that “the devil does not exist”. I kid you not. I hope they have retired him by now; and I hope he will save his soul, fat ass as he was.
Therefore, we see that the Internet is, in this as in pretty much everything, a double-edged sword. A wonderful source of knowledge and mutual enrichment (I am always rather pleased at thinking from how many countries my half-dozen readers connect to this blog…) and the source of endless drivel, trite common places, or much worse.
Use the Internet well, is the counsel I would give to your “curious” colleague or acquaintance. For example, by using it to purchase a Penny Catechism in your winter coat pocket, a small thing he can read three minutes at a time when he queue for the train ticket or at the post office.
Already this would be an excellent start.