How to Find Trustworthy Resources for Catholic Apologetics

How to Find Trustworthy Resources for Catholic Apologetics

In this article, we’ll explore why Catholic apologetic educators need to teach students and families alike how to find reliable Catholic resources. Whether it be in-person guidance, print materials, or online resources, Catholics need clear information and practical strategies they can use to find trustworthy, relevant sources. Plus, you’ll also get access to two downloadable resources to use with your students, within your family, or for your own personal faith formation:

How to Find Trustworthy Resources for Catholic Apologetics

The reality of growing up Catholic in a secular world is that almost everyone will experience a time when their beliefs are questioned and their devotion wavers. Although those experiencing a faith crisis might differ in age, appearance, and reason, they all share the same desire: to find answers to their deepest questions. They want to understand the why and how of their beliefs and to bring clarity to the confusion they feel. In order for this existential reflection to bring them closer to God rather than farther away, they need resources they can trust to guide them with reason and provide both answers and evidence.

The internet is overflowing with information—true, false, and everything in between. When we have questions about anything—How do I change a tire? How many ounces are in a cup? Why does God allow suffering?—we all find ourselves on the internet, looking for an answer.

Most of the time, the correct answer pops up as soon as we start typing the first word into the search bar. Unfortunately, with more complex topics, such as religion, politics, and social injustices, finding reliable and credible answers has become harder and harder. Despite the many questionable sources online, the internet can also be a struggling Catholic students’ best tool in the fight against secular attacks and flailing faith.

But with so much information out there, when we’re searching for the answers to those big questions… Where do we even start?

You remember that age-old saying about teaching “a man to fish”? The same thing goes for our apologetics lessons. It’s critical that apologetic educators equip students with skills that transfer beyond the classroom, so that when students need answers, and you’re not around for help, they can do the digging themselves. That’s why this article will teach you all about…

  • Why Catholic apologetic educators need to teach students how to find trustworthy sources, especially online.
  • Simple tips that will make students Catholic fact-finding experts.
  • Strategies to help Catholic kids identify inadequate, false, or deceptive sources.
  • Resources that students can turn to when they need information on tough topics.

Why Catholic Apologetic Educators Need to Teach Students How to Find Trustworthy Sources

Whether your faith is solid as a rock or a bit less sturdy, more likely than not, you’ll experience a time in your life where all or part of your belief system wavers. Even for people who grew up in the church, went to a Catholic primary school or college, and go to mass every Sunday, at some point in their lives, they will question an aspect of their faith or find themselves looking for answers. When this happens, they will seek out resources to clarify their confusion and resolve their questions.

Luckily for us, we live in the age of information. For much of history, the resources people had to turn to were limited. In the past, the most common source Catholics turned to for answers were their family, friends, and clergy. In the last few centuries, as the literacy rate has increased as well as the availability of print resources, people have been able to turn to these published materials for answers to challenging questions.

Then the internet transformed everything. This incredible technological innovation made the large world feel small. It gave people the ability to access journals, texts, studies, lectures, and scripture online. It minimized the barriers to education in a remarkable and unprecedented way.

But it also gave anyone and everyone the ability to create and publish content for the whole world to see. Whether this content is based purely on opinion or solidly on facts, website creators can claim to be “experts” and reliable “sources of information” without any true authority.

According to the Pew Research Center, more Americans now get their news via social media platforms than they do print newspapers—Facebook being the predominant platform they use. Young adults in particular are using social media as their source of information about the world more than any other outlet.

While students do learn about sources and credibility in schools, the amount of misinformation is outpacing students’ lessons on how to differentiate between fact and fiction. Younger generations have not had enough practice and education on how to scrutinize sources, be critical thinkers, and how to smartly consume content. The sad fact is, what they see, they often believe. Within a culture where students see memes, images, Instagram posts, TikToks, etc., far more prevalently than printed news sources, they are not frequently engaged in analyzing the validity of what they are intaking.

Even if younger generations move beyond social media and turn to family and friends for answers, we have to consider where those family members are getting their information as well. Whether we’re ready to face it or not, if we don’t teach Catholics to be critical thinkers and smart consumers, then a question of faith can rapidly turn into a crisis of faith.

How to Find Trustworthy Resources for Catholic Apologetics

Tips That Will Make Students Catholic Fact-Finding Experts

When students have challenging questions, we want them to think critically and try to find evidence to answer them, rather than turning away from these tough topics. As we touched on before, when questions arise for Catholic youth, they will most likely turn to the following sources:
  • Internet/Media
  • Friends
  • Family
  • Religious Educators/Clergy
  • Printed Material

Educators need to emphasize that when we have faith questions or crises we must depend on multiple trusted resources (especially in matters of faith and religion). Students should turn to a variety of sources to seek answers! These three simple tips will help them evaluate how factual a source is and get them on their way to becoming fact-finding experts. 

We've made sharing these simple tips easy! Download the 3 Tips for Identifying Trusted Catholic Resources Tip Sheet and share it with students and parents in your religious education program.

How to Find Trustworthy Resources for Catholic ApologeticsFree Download
✔   Read Closely and Critically
▪   When consuming content, ask yourself… Does it make sense? Is it plausible?
 

Identify the main idea of the text, webpage, image/graphic, or video by analyzing its features and determining what message it’s trying to convey. Is it trying to persuade you of something? Inform you of something? Entertain you in some way? Take note of anything that is surprising, out of the ordinary, hard to believe, or gives you a strong emotional reaction.

✔   Investigate the Source
▪   When consuming the content ask yourself… Does this come from a credible source? Is it unbiased?
 

Analyze who is providing the information! Look into the author's background and credentials. Find out information about the website's purpose and owner. Track down who created the image/video and for what purpose. If it’s a social media profile sharing a text, image, or video, explore the user’s content and try to find information about the account owner.

✔   Look for Corroboration and Confirmation
▪   When consuming the content ask yourself…Do other credible sources say the same thing?
 

See if the main idea and key points of the text, webpage, image/graphic, or video are in line with the information reported by other credible sources. Continue to compare what sources are saying on a similar subject until you can identify what is factual and what is false.

Strategies To Help Catholic Kids Recognize Inadequate, False, Or Deceptive Sources

#1 Encourage Healthy Skepticism
  • Explain to students that you can’t Google your way to the truth because…
    • Anyone can publish anything online.
    • Website authors can masquerade as experts without ever having to prove their credentials or expertise.
    • The order of search results populated by Google is problematic because websites can pay to be one of the top results regardless of reliability. Also, Google oftentimes filters results to show only the sites they regard as vetted, which creates a bubble of easy-to-digest information in which answers don’t vary or provide detailed explanation.
    • People create content for the sole purpose of deceiving people!

  • Remind students that people who share things on social media or publish information online do so because of a certain agenda. They want you to feel a certain way, so you take a certain action. They want you to feel a certain way, so you think a certain way.
  • Gently explain to students that even though a friend or family member could have the best intentions for us, they may not have complete and factual information. We have to be aware that the sources from which they get information may be deceptive or untrue.
  • Respectfully explain to students that religious educators or clergy might also have incomplete answers depending on the subject matter or their level of expertise.
  • Inform students that similar to the internet, anyone can now independently publish a book today. This makes it even more important to research where a text comes from and if the author is a credible source of information.
#2 Evaluating Various Elements of a Source Can Prevent Deception
 

Once students have begun the search for reliable information, they’ll need some tools to help prevent themselves from being deceived by cleverly-packaged false information. In order for students to easily and effectively determine if a source is trustworthy, it’s helpful for them to have a list of questions to think about when reviewing them:

  •  Who created the information/message?
    •  Who wrote the source really does matter! You need to ask yourself: Are they an expert? How do you know? What is their background? Are they biased?
    • If the source is not reliable or unbiased, keep searching!
  • What is the author’s agenda/purpose?
    • Is he/she trying to inform, persuade, or entertain? Is he/she trying to sell you something? How might that impact the information he/she is presenting to you?
  • How do they try to attract your attention?
    • Powerful images? Emotional writing? Shame or guilt? Belittling? Clickbait? Why do you think the author chose this strategy? What does it say about his/her purpose and/or intentions?
  • Who is the target audience and why?
    • Does the article read like it was written for educated adults? Or is the writing style and level more geared towards youth?
    • This can tell you a lot about who the writer is trying to persuade and influence. Experts on a subject will not dumb down their writing or make it silly/sarcastic/trendy.
  • How does it make you feel?
    • Does the content provide clarity and encourage you to do good or develop in a positive way?
    • If you only feel negative emotions and want to take negative actions after reading it, it’s not a source you want to turn to for help with your faith formation.

Download and share the How to Be a Catholic Doubt Detective Tip Sheet & Poster with students and parents in your religious education program! This resource can also be printed and hung as a poster in the classroom.

How to Be a Catholic Doubt Detective Tip Sheet & PosterFree Download
#3 Two Sides to Every Story/Viewpoint
 

Teach students about perspective. Explain that people can view the exact same situation and have totally different perspectives and stories. It’s good to remember when we turn to a trusted source, an educator, or adult for help that he/she may be a reliable expert on the subject, yet he/she might have a different perspective based on their personal experience.

A great way to explain perspective to students is with the Chair vs. Desk Concept! When sitting in a chair, you see one perspective of the room. If standing on the chair’s desk, you see a different perspective of the room. From on top of the desk, your view of the room is complete and you get the full picture.

With the Chair vs. Desk Concept in mind, we can digest information from sources in an analytical way. Perhaps the author/source only has knowledge to give a “chair’s view” of the topic; but other sources have the “desk’s view” or full view and can give the best advice. This same concept points towards the fact that other religions and Christian denominations have aspects of the truth, yet the Catholic Church has the fullness of truth.

#4 Train Students to Read and Research the Web Differently from Print
 

It’s critical for students to understand the Internet is a vast and uncontrolled environment when it comes to information. The way they approach online research should look different (and much more critical) than it would in a library, where the texts and articles have already gone through a thorough vetting and revision process.

Students should turn an ultra-critical eye to any and all information they see on the web. You can help them sharpen these scrutinizing tools by showing them to…

Question the purpose of every meme, Instagram post, blog article, YouTube video, online eBook, etc.
  • What students don’t understand when they see their favorite YouTuber promoting a product or Instagram story touting the amazing features of one thing or another is that these seemingly-genuine posts are actually paid ads.
  • Explain to students that companies actually hire meme creators to push certain agendas and promote products in seemingly unintentional ways.
  • You’ll also have to gently break it to them that their favorite social stars (whether it be on YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, etc.) are actually being paid to create that specific content. Although they might be honest upfront about being paid or given free product, the rest of their messaging can be entirely untrue or biased. In fact, these posts might be shared over and over again on other platforms by others who most likely won’t disclose that the original video was recorded as a paid promotion.
Discuss Bias, Satire, and Clickbait
  • Religious educators need to have pointed conversations with students about bias and how to recognize it. Explain to students what bias looks like, and how to figure out when something is actually biased when it doesn’t appear so at first. Make sure to reinforce the idea that bias in and of itself is not inherently bad, but that it is critical to understand how that bias might influence the author’s message or purpose.
  • Explain to students what satire is and looks like. It’s critical for students to understand how authors use satire to reinforce points in sometimes contradictory, ridiculous, or exaggerated ways. In order to understand when an author is using satire to prove a point, such as trying to point out flaws in an idea they oppose by bombastically promoting it, students have to be able to recognize when something is serious and when something is satirical.
  • We need to help protect our students on the internet from scams and promotions like clickbait. Religious educators need to explain to students what clickbait looks like, how it tries to ruthlessly draw students’ attention, and how to avoid websites that rely on it for funding, since it is a clear indication that the website isn’t reliable.

Resources That Students Can Turn To When They Need Information On Tough Topics

When faced with challenging topics, your students are going to go looking for answers. It’s important that you send them in the right direction when they ask, and then teach them how and where to look by themselves in the future. In order to equip your students with the ability to fend for themselves in the wide world of information (and disinformation), it’s important to build up a toolbox of resources that you guide students to use on their own.

Some great, reliable sources of information for all Catholic students, educators, and believers include…

  • God (through prayer)
  • The Catechism of the Catholic Church or the YouCat  
  • Vatican Documents like Apostolic Constitutions and Encyclicals
  • Local priests or religious educators
  • Published books written by Catholic experts, theologians, and/or educators
  • Close family members or friends
  • Trusted online resources:
             ✔   USCCB or Diocesan websites
             ✔   Credible Catholic
      • Here you can find a wealth of resources specifically designed to help educators and parents participate in the faith formation of Catholic youth.
      • Our experts have worked hard to provide information on a range of apologetics topics, including an entire Most Asked Questions video series with expert Fr. Robert Spitzer, S.J., Ph.D.
      • In our Credible Catholic Blog, you’ll find relevant and engaging articles to help Catholic educators implement apologetics lessons in their classroom.
      • Credible offers online training courses and a Master Teacher Program for teachers, parents, and catechists in the benefits of apologetics in the classroom.
             ✔   Magis Center
      • This is an incredible hub of articles, videos, and other information designed by renowned expert, Fr. Robert Spitzer, S.J., Ph.D.
      • In the Magis Center Blog, Fr. Robert Spitzer, S.J., Ph.D explores a range of topics, from “The Ideas Behind Black Holes” to “Living Well with a Disability”.
      • Another great resource is called Father Spitzer's Universe, where Fr. Spitzer answers questions on a variety of topics, including reason, faith, suffering, virtue, and the existence of God.

In Summary

While it’s wonderful when your Catholic students or children turn to you for answers when faced with a crisis of faith or challenging questions, you won’t always be around to guide them towards the truth. As Catholic educators or parents you not only need to learn the principles of apologetics to better instruct your students, but you also need to help your students understand how and where to go looking for their own answers. In the process of teaching your students and children to think with an apologist’s mindset, you’ll need to teach them to critically analyze outside sources, so they can ensure they’re getting accurate, reliable information.

 

 

 

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