"We've had debates on psychology, history, systematic theology, Church doctrine, current events," mused Switzer, whose e-mail list - at http://www.onelist.com/community/TheologyandReligion - is billed as "a progressive place for the discussion of Christian theology and comparative religion, with special emphasis on Catholic theology and issues."
Switzer: "We have those who consider themselves orthodox Catholics, and those who think of themselves as more progressive."
Switzer, a Catholic school teacher, restaurateur and former seminarian from Mississippi who is pursuing a doctorate at the Institute of Religious Education and Pastoral Ministry, began the e-mail list a year ago.
The list claims more than 50 subscribers. They have included a Greek Catholic scientist in the Ukraine, an Episcopal bishop's widow in Maine, a Spanish Catholic priest affiliated with the conservative Opus Dei movement, and several of Switzer's former students from Our Lady Academy in Bay Saint Louis, Miss., including one who is now an avowed atheist.
"We have those who consider themselves orthodox Catholics, and those who think of themselves as more progressive," he said. "It is a nice mix, though there are a few moments when some individuals will get involved in a fight and won't let go of it."
Discussions on post-modernism "get people stirred up," Switzer observed, as do those on Church politics and future contenders for the papacy. As moderator, he tries to keep arguments focused as well as civil.
"The biggest thing I do as a moderator is to challenge people to be consistent, whether I agree with them or not," said Switzer. He sees the e-mail list as "an external forum for people to express their faith, explain their faith, and to challenge one another on particular issues regarding faith.
"I consider it a place to think out loud."
A teacher of high school religious studies the past eight years, Switzer was a seminarian in the Diocese of Biloxi, Miss. He left before being ordained, in 1986, and was married two years later. He and his wife live in Ocean Springs, Miss., where they own a restaurant.
Some of his favorite strands in the e-mail list have involved discussions of Thomas Aquinas and systematic theology. "Often people are bringing up questions that the Church struggled with 500 years ago," he said. "One of the things I've tried to do with the list is to help people realize there are tremendous resources available to people with faith. Where we get bogged down is when we say there is only one expression of faith.
"I try to challenge people, and accept the challenge of others. Dialogue can be the common ground. It's better to talk about what we have in common as a starting point rather than the other way around."
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