Photo by Elena Mirus
Leo Brian Schafer
Catholic Values Columnist
Your conversion story bears retelling. How did you go from agnostic to the Church of Rome and now to attending a Byzantine Church?
“I was raised in a family that was Catholic, but my dad wasn’t. I was forced to go to holy Mass each week and I didn’t enjoy it. By the age of 12, I had decided that God probably didn’t exist and that this was just a story we told ourselves to get through life and kind of feel better.
“People would talk about praying as if it had some sort of impact on them, but I often thought that that was a lot like journaling, just sort of get the words out and make you feel better. So, I stopped going to holy Mass whenever I could and decided I was agnostic.
“When I was 17 years old, I was invited to go on a trip to Rome for World Youth Day and it was there that I met Christians who loved Jesus Christ, who followed what the Catholic Church taught. I saw in them a joy that my friends at home didn’t have and sort of a coherent worldview that I didn’t have, so I had a lot of questions for them.
“It was during that time that I had a few encounters with our blessed Lord in prayer and it radically changed the trajectory of my life.”
Your initial notoriety in the Catholic sphere came from your anti-porn evangelization, but in more recent years, you have changed tack somewhat with Pints with Aquinas and the Matt Fradd Show to focus more on general philosophy. What spurred this change? Has Pints with Aquinas grown bigger than you initially expected?
“I was doing a master’s degree in philosophy and I started Pints with Aquinas to get a bit of extra credit for that class. I did about 10 episodes before I promoted it in any way.
“I’ve always had an interest in apologetics. Even my book on pornography, ‘The Porn Myth,’ is an apologetic response to the pro-porn arguments from a secular perspective. I’m still really devoted to it.
“Jason Evert and I are writing a book about pornography and I just finished a course on it, so it’s not like I’ve sort of diverged entirely from that path, its more, I suppose, that people have tended to enjoy Pints with Aquinas a lot.
“I started that about four years ago and I guess that it’s relatively popular. I’m surprised that people are enjoying it so much because I’m just an amateur, not an expert on Thomas by any means. I’m pleased to see that it’s been some help to some people.”
As an interviewer, how do your tactics change when you are interviewing a Catholic like Chris Stefanick or Jason Evert versus when you are speaking with someone who is known for more secular work like Matt Walsh or Dave Rubin?
“I tend to ask the questions I want answered to my satisfaction. Especially in interviews with people who know me, and I know and trust, I feel a little more comfortable kind of pressing in on people like Jason Evert or others of that nature, playing devil’s advocate asking questions that I don’t yet know the answer.
“Dave Rubin was a different thing. I feel that that was sort of our first time to chat, so we were kind of getting to know each other. I don’t like to ambush people.
“Even with Jason (Evert) or any of those guys, I wouldn’t want to put them in a very uncomfortable position so that they felt like I was cornering them, but I’m fully confident that people like Jason, and Brant Pitre, and Scott Hahn know their stuff and so I know that I can ask them hard questions without them feeling like they’re threatened.
“If I’m interviewing someone for the first time, I feel less comfortable pinning them to the wall because I don’t want to be a jerk.”
Your work has gained support from Catholic and secular circles; however, you were barred from speaking at Google in 2019. Does negative criticism like this effect what you put out, and how do you deal with negative criticism?
“It was a badge of honor that Google would ban me. I flew to California, they put me up in a hotel, and it was only after I arrived that I got a phone call from somebody who said, ‘Things are escalating quickly here at Google and people are saying things like you’re a homophobe, an islamophobe, and it’s not looking good. So, when you get here, you can’t talk about anything transgender related or anything like that.’
“Within an hour, they called me and said that I had been banned. They told me not to make a statement, that Google would be making an official statement, and so I waited for that. It was definitely a ban, it wasn’t a cancel, like they didn’t have the space – it was because of things I had to say about homosexual acts or Islam.
“That’s fine, they’re welcome to do that, they’re a private company. I thought that they were pretty petty. I did a video on it, showing the tweets (that they banned me over), and I thought that (the tweets) were more than charitable.
“Anyway, that’s that. It doesn’t bother me. I’m more concerned when people I really respect caution me or tell me that I’m venturing to a not-good place. That causes me pause. I tend to be less interested in what YouTube comments say or what random people say. I care less about that, but I care about what people I trust say.”
How has the recent pandemic situation affected how you work?
“This is actually the first speaking engagement I’ve had since everything went down in March. I was speaking in Chicago and everything kind of fell apart while I was there; and I was supposed to fly from Chicago to somewhere else to give a men’s conference and just over the course of a couple of days it fell apart, and it was remarkable.
“I’ve spent a lot more time doing YouTube. I’ve spent a lot of money on a studio in my office and I’ve been able to crank out a lot more high-quality content.”
How did it feel to be back?
“It was nice. I’m liking being at home, but it’s just a tremendous joy to be back at it, speaking to 500-plus people about important topics that effect people’s lives and praying with people after. I was there until about 12:30 chatting with people after and it was just a joy. People just kept saying ‘sorry for keeping you,’ but I don’t see it that way at all. It’s just an honor for people to be so honest with you and share what’s going on in their life.”
What has your greatest blessing been in the past months?
“I gave up the internet last month, and that’s been my greatest blessing. I didn’t go on email or anything for a month, so that was a nice decision. I engage in activities that are good and be with my family, so I’d say that that was my greatest blessing.”
Your newest ministry at the beginning of the year was scheduled to be a barnstorming tour of Africa spreading the mission of apologetics. How did you decide to do this, and why was now the time?
“I was in Uganda a couple years ago and I led an apologetics retreat and it was just a tremendous joy. But I was quickly aware that these folks who are the leaders of the community just have not had sort of the benefit of people like Scott Hahn and Karl Keating and Pat Madrid and all these excellent folks who have helped us to understand the Catholic faith.
“When I was up there talking, the questions they would ask were so elementary. These people were being taken out of the faith and into these health and wealth prosperity groups. I would simply answer their questions and they would respond the way I respond to Scott Hahn, and I’m no Scott Hahn, you know?
“I thought, ‘These people really need to understand the faith.’ When you live in an economically desperate environment, you are more susceptible to a more Protestant prosperity gospel.
“I prayed about it and felt confident that I should go back. This year I was supposed to go to three African countries to teach about apologetics in conjunction with the leaders in those countries. The plan was to load up suitcases with rosaries and books and catechisms.
“I asked if I could send books there, and they said that people have done that in the past, and we know it arrives at the customs, but it gets taken (or) stolen. Even the Thomas Aquinas seminary where I was staying didn’t even have a copy of the Summa. That whole plan got cancelled due to COVID, but my plan is to go back there next year in August.”
You were one of the first movers in the Catholic podcast field. What is the next frontier for new media evangelization?
“Video. Definitely. Video is kind of exploding right now.”
Who is taking advantage of video technology the best right now?
“Ascension Presents has been doing a really great job for a while now. They’ve really been the ones to pioneer the way there. Father Mike Schmitz is just terrific. Bishop [Robert] Barron, of course, has done a lot of work.”
About a year ago, you interviewed Michael Voris of St. Michael’s Media, and that became one of your most notable interviews. Who is the next sort of big name on your list?
“I like to interview people that I find interesting, so I would like to interview people like Anthony Esolen. I’d like to host a debate with Ed Feser. I’m trying to do monthly debates on my show. There are a lot of Protestants that watch the channel so I’m trying to be attentive to them and respectful to the fact that they’re kind of venturing into territory that is new for them so I’m trying to be as respectful as I can.”
Pornography is a problem that isn’t really talked about on campus, but it is a problem doubtless. Can you give some concrete advice to students who are struggling to overcome this addiction, and have already tried an accountability partner, prayer and Covenant Eyes?
“I would remind people of the seriousness of the issue. Pornography is a mortal sin that can damn our souls to hell for all eternity and I think that that’s important to keep in the forefront as we are striving to be free of this.
“I think too that it will destroy our marriages and make us less interesting people and can negatively impact our brain and sexual functions. If you’re not treating overcoming porn as seriously as you would overcoming cancer, then you’re not treating it seriously enough. That’s kind of the first step.
“I would also say that the pieces of advice that we’ve heard before, Covenant Eyes, accountability, etc., these things have to be consistently implemented. Not something that we try once and say that it didn’t work, so I’m not going to try it again.
“When you think about it, accountability is just having a friend that I love who won’t leave me when he sees me at my worst. That’s something you should have regardless.
“I think finding an SA (sexaholics anonymous) group, finding a certified sex addiction therapist would be really a great idea, and then realizing that freedom from any kind of habitual sin is less of a destination and more of a daily choice. If a person takes 10 steps forward, and takes one step back, he hasn’t taken 11 steps back, but he often treats it as such.
“People should rejoice in their victories and be grateful, look up at our blessed Lord who loves them and isn’t ashamed of them and wants us to lean on him. Any anger and agitation and frustration we feel at ourselves is usually a result of our pride. We don’t like seeing ourselves falling back into the things we said we wouldn’t fall back into.”
We talk a lot about discernment on campus, probably too much. We have a lot of people on campus who are in majors that are very broad. What led you to decide to make this your job, with all the options?
“It was a happy accident. It wasn’t like I set out to do something like this, it was more like I was passionate about different issues and so began to talk to whoever would listen.
“Father Bob Bedard was the founder of the Order of the Companions of the Cross, and he used to say that since discernment became fashionable, no one has made a decision since. We hide behind pious language when instead we’re acting like cowards.
“I think that a time of discernment is a good idea but then we need to make a bloody decision. We sometimes think that Our Lord knows what he wants us to do, but then says that there’s no way that we can figure it out, and that’s unreasonable. It doesn’t work like that.
“We need to discern, not over discern. Feel free to mess up, make mistakes, think you had the right idea and then realize that you were wrong. Over-spiritualizing things can be a bad idea. Sometimes we ask ourselves, ‘What do I need to do?’ Well, what do you want to do? Do that. Unless it’s sinful, do that.”