“Ask me anything!” Bishop Robert Barron wrote Wednesday afternoon to kickoff his third “AMA” session on Reddit.
The platform’s “redditors” took the Los Angeles auxiliary bishop up on his offer, asking him thousands of questions on everything from his thoughts on Chicago pizza and whether he had listened to Kanye West to how free will is possible if God is all-knowing.
“What’s the best Bob Dylan album for someone who hasn’t listened to him before?” one redditor inquired.
“Probably, ‘Blood on the Tracks,'” Bishop Barron responded.
“If Thomas Aquinas was able to do a Reddit AMA, what question would you ask him?”
“I would ask him what he saw on December 6, 1273, which convinced him that, compared to it, everything he’d written seemed like straw to him,” the bishop wrote.
Bishop Barron’s AMA session had garnered more than 8,000 comments as of Thursday morning, when he was still logging on and responding to random questions about evolution, forgiveness and the purpose of worship.
In previous essays, Bishop Barron — perhaps best known as the founder of the Word on Fire media ministry — explained his delving into the social news and discussion aggregation site that has often been described as “the front page of the internet.”
“If you can make it through the plethora of obnoxious, juvenile and insulting comments, you will actually learn a great deal about what is on the minds of the Reddit audience — mostly young men between the ages of 18 and 30 — when it comes to religion,” Bishop Barron wrote in an October 2019 column for Aleteia.
Judging by the questions and comments this week on the AMA subreddit, young people are still struggling to understand the Church’s teaching on sexual ethics, gender, homosexuality and abortion. They also want to know why God allows suffering, how anyone could be Catholic given the clergy sex abuse scandals and what exactly “salvation” is to begin with, among other topics.
“As a mother whose 20-year-old son died in a car accident, not practicing his Catholic faith, how can I ever have real joy in heaven if he is not there? I still pray for him (daily),” asked one anguished redditor.
“Why do you presume he’s not in heaven? Keep praying for him. Turn him over to God,” the bishop said.
Bishop Barron engaged a few redditors who pressed him about his views on critical race theory in light of the national reckoning on racism that the country has been dealing with since Derek Chauvin, a former police officer who is white, murdered George Floyd, a Black man, last year in Minneapolis.
“I completely subscribe to the view that social injustice should be fought whenever and however it raises its ugly head. Racism, sexism, oppression of the marginalized, etc. should never be accepted in any form. Having said that, I’m not a fan of (critical race theory),” Bishop Barron wrote.
“I don’t agree with the antagonistic social theory that it proposes,” he explained. “I don’t think we should analyze society purely in terms of power relationships. I don’t like programs of collective guilt. I believe in equality of opportunity, but not forced equality of outcome.”
Responding to criticisms that he does not speak out enough on racism and that he seems to often appear on platforms hosted by politically conservative moderators, the bishop said his detractors perhaps “are not well acquainted” with his work.
“I have written and spoken extensively on Dorothy Day, Martin Luther King and Thomas Merton. I have also strongly defended the strategy of non-violent social protest, both in writing and in many of my videos,” Bishop Barron said, noting that he has also participated in podcasts for America Magazine and spoken at the headquarters of Facebook, Google and Amazon.
The bishop wrote, “My basic principle is that I want to evangelize in every corner of the society — and this means that I will appear in some venues that irritate the right and others that irritate the left. So be it!”
In 2018, Bishop Barron became the first Catholic bishop to ever host a Reddit AMA. With more than 11,000 comments, it was the third-most commented AMA that year, ranking only behind Bill Gates and Jordan Peterson. The bishop’s second AMA — in 2019 — attracted almost 15,000 comments.
Many of those commenting in this week’s AMA session seemed to be familiar with Bishop Barron, referencing statements and videos. A few asked lengthy and often rambling multi-part questions that could elicit flashbacks to White House press conferences.
One redditor asked, “What is an effective response when someone tells you they are ‘spiritual but not religious’ that will make them stop to think more deeply, particularly if they are a lapsed Catholic?”
The bishop responded: “The problem is that a spirituality divorced from religion quickly fades away. Unless one’s spirituality is rooted in formal prayer, liturgy, the sacraments, the fellowship of the community, the teaching of the tradition, etc., it will evanesce in short order.”
Meanwhile, others just wanted to know Bishop Barron’s favorite Father of the Church.
“Iranaeus,” Bishop Barron said.
There’s a lot to wade through, but you can read Bishop Barron’s AMA in full here.
Brian Fraga is a contributing editor for Our Sunday Visitor.