Flash cards work for math. Why not for religion?
Matthew Pinto and Katherine Andes, the creators of Friendly Defenders Catholic flash cards, are hoping that’s a rhetorical question. The new fifty-card set is designed to help children memorize short answers to some of the questions most frequently posed to Catholics by Protestants and Fundamentalists. The full-color, 4-by-6-inch cards cover twelve categories, including Tradition, the papacy, the Eucharist and the Mass, salvation, Mary, the saints, and the sacraments.
Each card has a question or challenge on the front and a one- or two-sentence Catholic response on the back. Responses include the text of an applicable Bible verse in addition to other supporting biblical citations and a further explanation of the topic that often includes snippets of Church history. The questioners—Challenging Chip, Curious Connie, Persistent Penny, Doubtful Dan, and Questioning Quincy—are answered by Solid Sally, Charitable Charles, Gracious Grace, Confident Carlos, and Joyful Joey.
For instance, one card has Curious Connie opining, "Catholics think Mary never sinned, but she called God her ‘savior.’ That means she must have sinned." In response, Charitable Charles says, "God did save Mary—by giving her a special grace to preserve her from sin. The angel Gabriel said to Mary . . ." which leads to the Bible verse: "Hail, full of grace. The Lord is with you" (Luke 1:28). The additional explanation says, "To be ‘full of grace’ means to be without sin. The Ark of the Covenant was created perfectly to hold the word of God—the Ten Commandments. Mary was created without sin to hold the Word of God—Jesus."
"For ages 8 to 108!" the packaging reads. But if my experience is any indication, the marketers better hope 108-year-olds find the cartoon characters more appealing than do those on the opposite end of the age group. I tried out the cards on my eight-year-old niece and some of her third-grade friends. These kids are all from solid Catholic families and attend a private parochial school where the religious emphasis is on faithfulness to the magisterium—in other words, the target market for Friendly Defenders. They thought the characters were goofy.
Once they got past that, though, they were intrigued. I talked to one of the fathers who voiced the parents’ consensus opinion. "Our daughter knows that not all people who believe in God worship him in the way he has asked us to, but at this age we haven’t really gotten into specifics."
The cards can therefore serve as a launching point for younger children to learn that not all Christians share their faith. Older children, even teen-agers, if they have been formed properly, will find that these flash cards may help them formulate succinct answers. If they are weak in their faith—well, if you can convince to use kiddie-cards, they’ll benefit even more than a knowledgeable teen.
Another problem, especially for younger children, is that the same challenge may be formulated in a different way that won’t trigger their memorized response. A playmate might say to them, "If it’s not in the Bible, it’s not from God," which requires the same response as the card that says, "The Bible alone is the ultimate authority of truth, not the Church." (The response, of course, is 1 Timothy 3:15.)
The authors acknowledge this problem. In a note explaining how to use the cards, Andes says, "Don’t be afraid to change the wording, as in real life the questions might come a little differently, and the aim is for understanding."
How would you do answering the challenges on the Friendly Defenders Catholic flash cards? Here’s a sample: "Purgatory is not necessary. You’re either saved or not saved." "It’s faith that saves you, not water." "There is no Queen of Heaven. Certainly not Mary." "Why do you wear medals of saints and the scapular? That’s superstitious." "Catholics think, ‘I can sin today and go to confession tomorrow.’" "Catholics think salvation is earned."
After the kids went to bed, the adults sat around and challenged each other with the flash cards. Most of our answers were okay, but not as on-point as the answers of Solid Sally and Joyful Joey. A good part of the evening was spent riffing on the flash-card character names when someone gave what was judged a less-than-sterling answer.
"Not quite, Lukewarm Lucy."
"Guess again, Dissenting Dick."
"Nice try, Heretic Helen."
"Wrong, Apostate Andy."
Whatever their shortcomings, Friendly Defenders Catholic flash cards are admirable for presenting the faith to young Catholics as a rational belief system that can—and should—be defended with charity.
-- Dan Trimly
Friendly Defenders Catholic Flash Cards
By Matthew Pinto and Katherine Andes
Ascension Press (2001)
ISBN: ISBN 0-9659228-1-2
Why Marxists Can’t Write Good Novels
Near the conclusion of this fine introduction to G. K. Chesterton’s philosophy of art, Thomas Peters writes, "Chesterton was ever the controversialist, not because of some psychological propensity to opposition for its own sake, but because he so passionately opposed the extant ideas and forces that are inimical to our sense of wonder and gratitude." It is a perfect summary of the essence of Peter’s book, which not only has much to offer readers interested in the arts but also those who are seeking to explain and defend the Catholic faith in a world hostile to truth and humility.
Peters begins and ends the book with comments about "wonder"––that essential trait so lacking in today’s culture. The preface opens with a pithy and revealing Chesterton quote: "I wonder at not wondering." The modern world’s lack of wonder, gratitude, and humility was a continual irritant to Chesterton, whose outlook and writing were permeated with an abundance of joy, laughter, and awe. It is part of Chesterton’s genius that he so masterfully articulated the relationship between faith and imagination, humility and true humanity. As Peters notes, an "essential point" of Chesterton’s thought about the arts is that "true imagination––and most especially Christian imagination––is grounded solidly in the soil of humility."
Of course, it used to be that the arts in Western civilization often focused on religious, exploring and depicting the relationships between creation and Creator, sinner and Savior. It is fascinating to notice that the trajectory of artistic expression over the past couple of centuries has followed the same suicidal course as established by so many failed philosophies and ideologies. Art has often been the playpen of ideologues and radicals, used to subvert Christian doctrine and the belief in objective truth.
Yet art and the human imagination offer clear evidences that man is not simply a meaningless cog in a cosmic machine, nor is he an animal who is no better or different than an ape or cockroach. Artistic expression and man’s natural longing for beauty are evidences of his divine origins and the existence of a Creator. "Art," Chesterton wrote, "is the signature of man."
In popular culture today (and, to a lesser extent, in Chesterton’s day), art is commonly created for two purposes: to shock others and to express one’s personality. Both are perversions of the true purpose of art, which is "to make the world over again." As Peters points out, this means that good art participates in some amazing way in the renewal of all things that took place through the Incarnation. However, when an artist (or anyone else for that matter) lacks humility and wonder, he becomes bored with the supposed dullness of everyday life, and reverts to expression that is superficially exciting. Lacking real imagination, such artists also lack any sense of infinity and transcendence, leading to banal, senseless works of art.
Against this view Chesterton argues "that there is no future for the modern world, unless it can understand that it has not merely to seek what is more and more exciting, but rather the yet more exciting business of discovering the excitement in things that are called dull." Much of modern art has also erred in not recognizing the rightful limits of art, which can offer brilliant glimpses of truth and beauty, but cannot ever completely contain them. Again, Chesterton warns, the artist must be humble: "Destruction awaits not the man who swims in the sea, but the man who tries to plumb it."
If Chesterton were alive today, it would be fascinating to hear his thoughts on the generally impoverished state of the arts among Christians, including Catholics. Undoubtedly he would note that when Christians abandon beautiful art and great music, their sense of the sacred suffers, their worship wanes, and their theology wilts.
In this regard, perhaps Chesterton’s most challenging statements about art have to do with its absolute and dogmatic character. As Peter’s writes, in summary, "Great art, then, is said to come from great passion, and great passion is the result of strongly held ideas and beliefs." Nihilists and hedonists rarely produce good art, just as Marxists (as Walker Percy pointed out) cannot write good novels. The best art requires a clear vision of reality, a belief in objective truth, and rock-solid beliefs, qualities that many contemporary artists simply do not possess.
Although Peters rightly admires Chesterton’s brilliance, he is quick to admit that many of Chesterton’s artistic attempts—notably his drawings and novels––are not of the highest caliber. But his thinking certainly was of the highest caliber, and The Christian Imagination is a worthwhile excursion into the thought of a man who was, Peters writes, "one of the world’s most passionate and effective opponents to the most popular ideologies of his times."
-- Carl E. Olson
The Christian Imagination: G.K. Chesterton on the Arts
By Thomas C. Peters
Ignatius Press (2000)