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Of debating atheists: The danger of being a full-time Catholic apologist

Trent Horn

Trent Horn: ““I think if you want to be an apologist for the faith you’ve got to make sure you’re called to it.”

TRENT Horn debates with atheists for a living.

It’s what enables him to put food on his table for his wife and son in Arizona, pay the bills, and fund travels around the world to debunk the myth that Jesus never really lived on this earth.

One of those debates took place at the University of Sydney last month.

Mr Horn, 31 and a full-time apologist, or defender of the faith, took on the question of God’s existence against secular religion lecturer and priest of the Church of Latter-Day Dude, Raphael Lataster.

The day before his debate with the Dudeist priest, Mr Horn is at a café in Brisbane, visibly worn-out from his 14-hour flight from Los Angeles, when he passes on a bold warning to future apologists.

“Abandon all hope when you enter,” he says – not a terribly positive statement for a man whose livelihood and family of three depends on his work as an apologist to live.

But Mr Horn hopes his counsel will separate those who are called from those who just want the job to be in the limelight.

“It’s a spiritually dangerous job,” he said.

“I think if you want to be an apologist for the faith you’ve got to make sure you’re called to it. 

“The worst that can happen is that you leave the faith, or, you fall into some kind of terrible sin and then you scandalise yourself which would also be really bad.”

Trent puts it down to the aspiring apologist’s deadliest vice, the sin of pride.

“There have been apologists who let pride get the best of them – they’re not even Catholic, and they’re not even Christian anymore,” he said.

“They’re people that I debate, they’ve gone rogue.” 

Some of those rogue Catholics have been on his live radio show, hosted by Catholic Answers, the apologetics ministry that took a chance on Mr Horn three years ago.

In fact, only atheists are allowed to call into his show, which airs on more than 280 radio stations across America, and on the Catholic Answers website.

But contrary to popular belief, atheists, or anyone who disagrees with Mr Horn’s ardent love and reasoning for the faith, aren’t enemies.

“When you see someone who disagrees with you, they’re not the enemy, they’re not a target – they’re someone who you should try and get to know and try to ask good questions to find out what they believe, why they believe it, and where you have common ground, and then help them see where they have cracks or flaws in their worldview,” he said.  

“That’s the thing I especially try to model and show others in my radio show and my books, is, hey, here’s the problem with this other worldview but the Catholic worldview makes more sense.”

Those on the side of the Catholic worldview have no doubt cheered for Mr Horn to win his debates.

But winning, Mr Horn says, is not the point of apologetics but a “human temptation”.

“We want to just put out our points and win as quickly as possible,” he said. 

 “So it’s just a human temptation and that’s why I think through prayer and through practice that can be overcome and you can walk people through difficult issues and you can help them to come to the truth that way.

“You can go out and there you can try and beat people up like it’s a game but this isn’t a game – this is people’s souls and lives are hanging in the balance.”

Some argue that dialoguing can’t win souls.

Mr Horn’s life experience would say otherwise.

Raised without a religious influence to a Jewish father and lapsed-Catholic mother, his worldview was built on scientific reasoning.

It wasn’t until he met a group of Catholics in high school that he wondered if God could be explained through reason.

“I mean, when I was a high school student back in the States, I had people who I met them in my high school, they were Catholics, teens my age, and youth leaders in College but they didn’t yell at me or belittle me or pepper me with arguments,” he said.  

“They talked with me and walked with me and asked questions.  

“They gently walked me through this path also and that’s how I came to become Christian and then Catholic.”

He began to teach others how to defend the faith with logic and reason and eventually turned it into a full-time job.

Mr Horn, who is an admirer of DC comics and Marvel live-action films, admits it’s hard to switch off from being an apologist.

“I’ll be sitting around with my wife’s friends and they’ll be talking about something from the Bible or reading a Scripture passage, and I’ll make notes saying, ‘Oh well there’s textual difficulties in the passage, if you look at the Greek…’,” he said. 

“I can’t even take a step back from that. 

“But it’s something that I love.  

“I love being able to find where someone has a question and get the answer basically.”

By Emilie Ng

Written by: Emilie Ng
Catholic Church Insurance

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