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I have a certain strategy for doing research, finding sources, and checking facts when it comes to questions dealing with Catholicism. I've given this strategy below as an answer. I've found it to be pretty effective for finding good, reliable material.

(In my answer I've avoided giving links, or mentioning specific sites, except those that are official (like vatican.va). This isn't about listing denomination-advocacy sites that "everyone should read", in case anyone was wondering.)

For other denominations... I have no good idea. What should I do? What do you do?

Are there particular places/works that people should be seeking out, particular steps that people can just follow in order to answer the majority of standard questions?

  • This is interesting, but can I suggest editing the question down to just the question and dumping most of this content into an answer? – Caleb Feb 26 '13 at 7:37
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As a Delphi programmer, I don't go out of my way to answer C# questions on StackOverflow. As a vegetable gardener, I don't go out of my way to answer flower garden questions on gardening.stackexchange.com. As a believer in a higher power, I don't go out of my way to answer anything (anymore) on skeptics.stackexchange.com.

So far though, I think most Protestants get their information from (in order):

  1. The Bible
  2. C.S. Lewis
  3. CARM
  4. Other authors they really like
  5. Luther/Wesley/Calvin
  6. Their own pastor's sermon podcast
  7. Westminster Catechism
  8. Wikipedia
  9. Movies/TV (these are useful in answering questions about the Catholic Church)

So, this list isn't useful, but me answering for Protestants as to where they get their information is about as useful as you or I going out of our way to answer questions "from a reformed perspective". I guess if you "need the rep", but there are a good many Catholic questions incompletely answered and not enough of us to go around.

  • Definitely agree about avoiding questions one can't answer well. Where is a person going to get rep if this site is getting no visitors due to poor quality answers? In any case, it's nice for all of us to be a bit more informed. – Alypius Feb 26 '13 at 8:03
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For Catholicism, I choose from among the following magic words to add to the front of my search query:

  • Catholic
  • Catechism / Catechism Catholic Church / Baltimore Catechism
  • Catholic Encyclopedia
  • usccb (when searching for a Bible verse)

This brings me to:

  • Catholic forums, which you have to trawl through. Getting good information out of them is a bit of an art, and usually you'll just be looking for references to better material. Skimming what banned posters wrote is only good for getting a handle on what strains of thought aren't part of orthodoxy. Forums are useful for knowing what the main arguments and points of misunderstanding are.
  • Catechisms, of which the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) is the "official" version (found at vatican.va, and easier on the eyes here). These are like lesson plans for teaching fundamental points of Christian and Catholic faith. Most of what any Christian finds in them shouldn't be objectionable. Checking might allow you to add an "They view I describe seems to be pretty consistent among Christians; here's what the Catechism of the Catholic Church says:" to your questions, which will make them more neutral and comprehensive. My advice here is to avoid clobbering too much together, and to let the CCC do its own talking. Also, check if you've found the most relevant part.
  • The Catholic Encyclopedia, which is comprehensive and reliable. Some may find it occasionally heavy-handed or traditional: it was written a while ago. It's still good. This is where I often end up for things that are more historical or encyclopedic. Wikipedia too-often cuts the juicy bits out.
  • "usscb" unreliably brings me to the NABRE Bible, which has comprehensive cross-references and notes. If someone's asking about a specific verse, the answer is often in these notes, and I've found them to be pretty neutral.

Two things to keep in mind:

  1. If you're not yet familiar with Catholicism, you might want to be pretty cautious with using these resources to "prove" controversial points, since they may not mean what you think they mean. If you're not sure about something, that sort of honest uncertainty often makes for a good, clear question.
  2. These resources, like any others, can be used by any denomination. Most Christians agree on most things, or at least on most of the most important things.

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