Friday, June 29, 2012

Hearts of Flesh: Leah Libresco on Her Conversion from Atheism to Catholicism

Not every atheist's conversion to Catholicism gets covered by CNN or MSNBC or The Blaze.  But Leah Libresco did.  Why?  Well, for starters, she's responsible for what was, until quite recently, a rather popular atheist blog who is the antithesis of the caricature of Catholics, that we're irrational, misogynistic drones.  Her conversion was a surprise to many, Christians and atheists alike, to say the least.  More than that, her conversion story itself is utterly unique, even compared with other conversions.


Leah was gracious enough to agree to an interview, which I think gives some real insight into what the process of converting from atheism to Catholicism is like.  I'd love to hear your reactions in the comments section, from Christians and atheists alike:

Q. Jen Fulwiler (another atheist-to-Catholic convert) recently pointed out that we Catholics are fond of giving atheists books on the faith. What do you think of this approach?


Leah Libresco
I love giving people books on anything. But I think you have to gauge what engages the person and what background they’re coming in with. Some books might have good data, but bad tone (for example Edward Feser’s The Last Superstition has a really good introduction to Aquinas, but your atheist friend would have to have the patience of a saint to get past his snide asides at atheist writers).

And, ideally, any book exchange would be two-way. Ask your friend to share with you the books (philosophical or not) that have most informed their worldview. That way you’re tailoring your pitch to what your friend actually believes, not a straw man. If both of you are sharing recommendations and asking hard questions, it will push you both into a deeper consideration of your position, and, hopefully, the harder and more honestly you question, the easier it is for the truth to win out.

Q. Are there any books that you would recommend sharing with loved ones who are atheists?

Mere Christianity, Orthodoxy, The Great Divorce, Flatland, Godel Escher Bach, The Sequences hosted at LessWrong.org

C.S. Lewis statue (Belfast, Ireland)
Yes, only the first three are Christian books. But if you want someone to change their philosophy, start by beefing up epistemology and critical thinking. The great thing about Flatland is that it’s all about learning to about abstract things in a way that’s still useful. The book is about a square that lives in a 2D world and is visited by a Sphere. The Sphere is trying to explain three dimensions to him (which he can’t really experience directly). So as he learns to think three-dimensionally, the reader learns how to think about four-dimensional topology.

It’s a great skill to have: trying to make and test predictions about worlds or features of worlds you can’t personally experience. GEB is just possibly the most beautiful book I’ve read, and, again, great at sparking critical thinking by working through a conceptual understanding of math, computer science, and music. And the LessWrong stuff doesn’t just highlight cognitive biases (you can just go to Wikipedia for that), they spend a lot of time trying to figure out practical strategies to move past them.

All the apologetics in the world won’t be of much help if your interlocutor isn’t interested in thinking about metaphysics/philosophy/ethics/etc, and I think my recommendations can help people fall in love with Truth, which is totally a gateway drug to Christ.

Q. How big of a role did books play in your own conversion?

Huge. (Not that surprising, given that they play a big role in every aspect of my life). But reading was what made me quasi-fluent in Christian philosophy. I needed that kind of background to be able to think critically about what properties divided the world with no God that I thought I lived in from the Christian world my friends claimed I lived in.

Beyond philosophy, some books, especially The Screwtape Letters and The Great Divorce were pretty good at catching me out in my moral failings, including some I hadn’t thought of as weaknesses. These books were a pretty good counterpoint to the more abstract moral philosophy I was reading.

Leah in her atheist days (at the “Reason Rally” in May)
Q. What was the strongest argument you heard in favor of theism? What was the weakest?

The weakest is almost certainly the Pascal’s Wager kind of appeal. Ideas have consequences, religious ideas especially so. If you believe in God to maximize the chance of heaven, you’re being negligent to the people (yourself included) you’ll harm by following false moral dictates. (Not all commandments are as relatively harmless as kosher dietary law),

The strongest is maybe Thomistic philosophy about objects not being able to sustain themselves in existence? Honestly, I don’t find any pitch for generic theism that convincing because the theism people tend to pitch is generally to generic to be useful. A lot of these theisms look like God of the Gaps -- just pointing to whatever you’re currently confused by and saying “God did it.”

Q. What was the strongest argument you heard in favor of Catholicism? What was the weakest?


Raphael, Christ's Charge to Peter (1515)
The weakest might be: it couldn’t have lasted this long and made it through all these scandals without a Divine Guarantor! This is offered semi-in jest, but is totally unconvincing. It’s basically the equivalent of the stock tip scams where a con artist gets a big list of email addresses and sends messages to all of them saying he’s got a preternatural ability to pick stocks. He tells half that a certain stock will rise tomorrow and the other half that it will fall. After splitting and taking both sides for several days, some fraction of marks have received only correct predictions and are likely to believe him and hand over their money, but it’s just a statistical accident. The Roman empire could have made the same claim that Catholics make now, up til when they couldn’t.

One of the strongest is the weight Catholicism places on Sacred Tradition and institutional structure. It’s pretty clear that the sola scriptura approach doesn’t yield the kind of consistency it promises (it’s like the religious equivalent of constitutional originalism). So where are you supposed to go to interpret what God has given? Catholicism does a pretty good job of creating a forum for debate without getting so loosey-goosey that everyone is essentially functioning as a prophet.

Q. Do you have any other tips for Catholics dealing with friends and loved ones who are atheists, or are struggling with their faith?

I think most of that advice would be specific to the situation. Remember that everyone has access to the natural law, so you might be of the most help to your friend just helping them stick to that (and letting them help you) even if you don’t exactly speak the same language about why those choices are correct. That way you’ve got a solid friendship and, if you like, you can talk about how you both come to your moral beliefs and try and puzzle out together how it is that you’re out of step.

Raphael, St. Paul Preaching in Athens (1515)
Q. In your interactions with Christians, what were the most productive techniques that you saw used in evangelizing for the faith? What were the least productive (or the counter-productive) techniques that you encountered?

In college, I ran into tabling Christians who had pretty much no familiarity with standard atheist objections (How are the truth claims of your sect differentiated from those of everyone else? Aren’t some of your requests (pray/read the bible until you feel God’s presence) tests that can never fail, even if your claims are false?). If they hadn’t grappled with common objections, I didn’t have a lot of confidence in their conclusions, whatever the pitch.

I was in a philosophical debating group, so the strongest pitch I saw was probably the way my Catholic friends rooted their moral, philosophical, or aesthetic arguments in their theology. We covered a huge spread of topics (R: Defeat McCain, R: All the World’s a Stage, R: Eat the Apple) so I got so see a lot of long and winding paths into the consequences of belief. I know this strategy may not be available to everyone, but all the more reason to bring back debating salon culture!

Q. What’s your favorite Bible verse?

A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. (Ezekiel 36:26)

I’m much worse than I should be at making love and charity my default approach to other people. I usually have to get there by hyper-intellectualizing, but I want to be freed to act out of genuine love instead of duty, however fervent.

When I used to think primarily in terms of duty, I didn’t care much about other people. I saw them more as multiple choice ethics questions I could ace than as, well, people. This isn’t typical of atheists or anyone else as far as I can tell, but it’s what I struggle with a lot.

Ventura Salimbeni,
St Catherine of Alexandria (1606)
Q. Who’s your favorite Saint?

St. Catherine of Alexandria. Patron saint of teachers, philosophers, librarians, and haberdashers! I love that, after her conversion, the pagan emperor sent theologians and philosophers to talk her out of it, and they all kept fighting until they all yielded and converted. And I so love pugilism expressed through debate.

Q. What’s the most exciting part about becoming Catholic?

The most exciting part is having access to grace through the sacraments. It’s like an exception to moral entropy.

Q. What’s the scariest part about becoming Catholic?

I don’t understand the Church’s teaching on queer relationships, and I don’t believe that, even if they’re right, that would be sufficient reason for civil government to deny committed same sex couples the legal protection of marriage. It’s one thing for me to personally give up dating girls while I ask for explanation (and I have the luxury of being bisexual) but my queer friends feel that I’m allying myself with an institution that wants to break up their families.

Q. What more can we, as Catholics, do to help you and others in entering into the Church?

Not all of the Church’s moral teachings make sense to me, and, when I ask questions, it’s much preferable to have people point me towards explanations than to accuse me of distrusting the Church or trying to sneak in as a heretic. Some claims aren’t really available for scrutiny (the Immaculate Conception comes to mind), but the more a moral teaching touches on quotidian life, the more I’d expect to be able to see an explanation of how the Church’s stand promotes growth in Christ. When people try to quash questions or demand more fervent trust at the first sign of confusion, they’re robbing their interlocutors of the chance to engage fully with the truth they’re ostensibly defending.



P.S.  Be sure to check out the post and comments over on Leah's side.

39 comments:

  1. At some point, I am hoping she will comment on her relationship with Jesus -- where it is now and where she thinks it will eventually be.

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  2. Fantastic interview on both ends--great questions, insightful answers! I especially liked the best/weakest format.

    I'm surprised at Leah's dismissal of the sorta-in-jest Divine Guarantor argument. It's certainly not conclusive by any means, but I think it has more value than Leah prescribes. After all, there *has been* no other global institution in history that has thrived for 2,000 years. It's a complete statistical anomaly. Even the Roman Empire didn't last a quarter of the Church's lifetime, and it wasn't nearly as expansive.

    I think it requires a bigger leap to call it a "statistical accident" than to assume there's something else behind it.

    What I love most about the interview, though, is Leah's call for Catholics to familiarize themselves with counterarguments to their beliefs. Ideally, all Catholics would have a basic grasp of the most popular atheist claims:

    - "There's no *evidence* for God's existence."
    - "Objective morality does not require God."
    - "Christianity is just one mythical religion among many."
    - "Christians are violent, evil, anti-science, simpletons."

    We Catholics *need* Leah--and more like her!--to help Catholics dialogue with non-believers.

    PS. It should go without saying that you are two of my favorite writers, and I deeply admire your clear-thinking and smarts.

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    1. PSS. This interview has inspired me. Every couple months I give talks at our parish, and I think I'll craft a series on "Catholic Answers for Atheists."

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    2. I was also surprised at her dismissal of the argument from the Church's endurance through the ages. For someone steeped in history and the history of ideas going back to the ancient world, this is certainly a decisive argument for Catholicism. But she has a science and analytic philosophy background as her reading list suggests.

      One other comment. My views have changed dramatically in my five years as a convert, and if she deepens her relationship with Christ and His Church them her views will as well. She and all converts need our prayers, for Satan is not just a liar and a murderer--he is also a thief who steals away the young and sick in faith.

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  3. I would just like to point out one small thing. While I understand her finding of Pascal's wager to be very weak, it is the popularized version of his wager that she is finding weak. When one gives a detailed attention to his wager, one sees that it gives a priority to actin and not thought. This is something Maurice Blondel makes abundantly clear in his thesis "L'Action". It is by living - with the full personal and mental assent that goes along with it - as if God exists. By acting as if God exists, one comes to see that He exists. It is about action, not thought or probabilities, that Pascal's Wager is all about. While there is an element of probabilities, he simply uses that as a means to encourage living as if God exists so as to come and discover that God does indeed exists. It is a means, not an end. Thanks, though, for the great interview!

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  4. This is great! I think the understanding of Marriage as a sacrament can help make sense of the Church's moral teaching on homosexuality, especially when it comes to the form, matter and ministers proper to the sacrament. The sacramental claims of the Catholic Church are just as unavailable for scrutiny as the dogma of the Immaculate Conception. They cannot be scrutinized or altered because they are rooted in the reality of the authority of Christ and the Church therefore lacks sufficient power to change that reality.

    Welcome, Leah! May our Blessed Mother, the seat of Wisdom, draw you forever closer to our Divine Savior who is Wisdom itself.

    In Christ,
    Steven

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  5. "The most exciting part is ... the sacraments. It’s like an exception to moral entropy."

    Moral entropy, I love the way she thinks!

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  6. This was great information and a fun read. I have been looking for books to read with a Protestant friend of mine who is showing interest in Catholicism and Leah's suggestions are perfect as I've read some of them already but had forgotten how great they are for people of different faiths to recognize the truths of Catholicism together. Leah, your conversion is leading to many more, keep up the good work!

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  7. Leah, I look forward to reading about your journey now that you've begun. I'll be interested to know if you see things differently with eyes of faith than you did before. Catholicism is a big universe to explore (bigger than the one we live in, in fact).

    "To one who has faith, no explanation is necessary. To one without faith, no explanation is possible." - St Thomas Acquinas (or, as Louis Armstrong expressed the same idea: "If you have to ask what jazz is, you’ll never know."

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    1. Of course it's bigger than the one we live in, our little universe/multiverse is a subset of what Catholic Theology covers.

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  8. As a totally orthodox, "I defer to the Magisterium" Catholic, I agree that I can't see how opposing civil same-sex marriage constitutes a clear doctrinal issue. It pretty clearly appears to be a pastoral or policy decision, which may/may not be universally applied, and may/may not be even the correct response.

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    1. Tara,

      Have you read the Vatican's own rationale for its stance against same-sex civil unions? When I was struggling with this same issue as I began to take my faith more seriously, I personally found it helpful.

      The other thing that I found helpful was to seriously examine what "marriage" is, what that term means, etc., and to understand why even cultures who embraced homosexual relations (like the ancient Greeks) viewed marriage as intrinsically heterosexual.

      I.X.,

      Joe

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    2. Joe,

      Could you provide a link to this? I've been having the same problem as Leah-- I understand the natural law reasons against homosexual acts, but I'm not sure why this must extend to civil marriages. Even if it's not a problem of doctrine, I'd still like to understand the Vatican's reasons for this.

      Thanks,

      SMD

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  9. St Francis of Assisi once said

    "Praise is reserved only for the dead"

    My first reaction to her conversion is quite a happy one but sadly after reading her objections I think I am more reserved more than ever. I think that unless that she never gets the deeper meaning of sex and marriage she will never understood not only the deeper side of being a Catholic but also just like Anne Rice be disillusioned. I recommend that she reads the life of Francis of Assisi by Celano, also the prophetic Humanae Vitae best is John Paul's Theology of the body.

    She made the right decision up there in the mind but unless she sees the truth in the heart (which is grace) she will never go far in this conversion. Unless the heart and the mind meets she can never be whole and I hope the light of Holy Spirit may shine on it

    Prayer and I know she prays now I think she needs it more that her eyes may be opened. Of course convert or not we still need to pray. :)

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  10. "More than that, her conversion story itself is utterly unique, even compared with other conversions."

    Every conversion is unique and to write 'utterly unique' is just plain stupid. You can't be a bit unique any more than you can be a bit pregnant. And the fuss that is being made! So she is intelligent. Are USA Catholics so desperate for credibility that this simple story deserves such coverage? An atheist converted to Catholicism. And is already a thorough going liberal cafeteria catholicism. Where's the story?

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  11. Kim,

    Now, while I apologize for addressing this in a public forum (I don't have your e-mail, or even know who you are), something needs to be said about your personal approach. As far as I know, your inaugural comment on this blog was about two weeks ago, when in response to a post showing the parallels between Adam & Eve and Mary & Jesus, you wrote: “I don't really understand where you are going with this - or coming from. I'd say that every Catholic I know understands all these things . . . .?”

    I can say only that this hasn't been true of any church that I've ever found myself in, including some rather vibrant and orthodox ones. Don't get me wrong: I honestly appreciate solid criticism. Sure, it stings sometimes, but it makes me a better blogger, and a better Christian witness. But your criticism just seems so bizarrely detached from reality that I don't know what to do with it. Really, every Catholic you know understands the parallel between Adam changing Eve's name in Genesis 3:20 and Jesus' transition from “Woman” to “Mother” on the Cross in John 19:25-27? Unless you're stepping away from the Beatific Vision to leave these comments, I find that hard to believe.

    This trend of negative comments that seem detached from reality has continued at least twice since then. There's the comment that I just responded to, in which you informed me that “strictly speaking,” the Deuterocanon isn’t properly Deuterocanonical from a Catholic perspective, that Proto/Deuterocanon is a Protestant distinction, and that Deuterocanon means that these Books are secondary in importance to the canon. But none of these claims are correct.

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    1. That brings us to the instant comment. You begin by contributing the following: “Every conversion is unique and to write 'utterly unique' is just plain stupid.”

      Allow me to answer this criticism by way of analogy. Imagine that you are dealing with four sequences: (1) AAAAA, (2) AAAAAA, (3) @#$MER, and (4) AAAAAAA. Strictly speaking, each of those is unique, in that no two of them are perfectly identical to any of the others. But might you not want some way of describing just how unique (3) is, compared with the rest? Perhaps by saying that it is “utterly” unique, for example, in that it is unique at every point, rather than unique in toto? In any case, this objection is pedantic, and contributes nothing to the conversation.

      You then decry “the fuss that is being made” that an atheist found Jesus Christ. How very sad. Are we doing anything in rejoicing at Leah’s homecoming that wasn’t done by the Father at the return of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:22-24)? Or that wasn’t done by the Shepherd in the return of the single lost sheep (Matthew 18:13)? That Shepherd called for everyone else to join Him in rejoicing (Lk. 15:6), and says in Luke 15:7, “I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.”

      You are right that Leah still struggles, rather openly, with specific parts of Catholic dogma.  Being a human being, conversion often takes some time, and even the Apostles struggled to understand parts of the Gospel.  But she's clearly shown a willingness to listen to the Church and learn from Her, and a willingness to order her own life around the teachings of our Mater et Magistra.  If you can find no role more productive than to try to hide the welcome mat and generally act as the older sibling to the Prodigal , I don't know what else to say other than that this is very sad for you.

      I close by quoting a wise woman, about what to do when a new convert is still working through some of their objections to Catholicism:

      “Not all of the Church’s moral teachings make sense to me, and, when I ask questions, it’s much preferable to have people point me towards explanations than to accuse me of distrusting the Church or trying to sneak in as a heretic. Some claims aren’t really available for scrutiny (the Immaculate Conception comes to mind), but the more a moral teaching touches on quotidian life, the more I’d expect to be able to see an explanation of how the Church’s stand promotes growth in Christ. When people try to quash questions or demand more fervent trust at the first sign of confusion, they’re robbing their interlocutors of the chance to engage fully with the truth they’re ostensibly defending.”

      I realize that this response is very critical, and I want you to know that I really do intend it for your own good, and for the good of anyone else affected by your comment. If at any point, I've let ego or a false sense of righteousness color it, I offer my contrition. Your brother in Christ,

      Joe

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    2. Kim's response seems to me to be the very thing some bloggers were concerned about with Leah choosing to blog through her conversion rather than take a sabbatical...the cold comments from hyper orthodox Catholics seeing any struggle with church teachings as liberal infiltration into the pure church. Utterly lacking in grace or patience.

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    3. I don't see Leah's leaning towards Catholicism as a 'liberal infiltration' I see it as very redolent of a half-hearted, half-understood, digestion of her new position. Maybe she should take a Sabbatical and read through the Catechism of The Catholic Church if she doesn't understand where the church is coming from regarding homosexuality and same-sex marriage. I fail to see how her shift towards Catholicism can be compared to the story of The Prodigal Son. He had a complete change of heart and was willing to become the least of his father's servants. Leah's conversion is being given celebrity status. Why?

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    4. Joe. I don't think I was being pedantic, just English using English rather than American English which is prone to exaggeration and superlatives. Your analogy was a brave attempt to make sense of nonsensical usage but it failed. Unique still means 'one of a kind, unlike any other'. I've covered my other points above. Leah hasn't become a Catholic. She is attending RCIA classes. So it will be a while before she might enjoy the sacraments. Well, it would be here in England.

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    5. As for American English, I think we'll hold down the fort just fine on our end.  And in any case, exaggeration and superlatives aren't all bad, are they?  Or do you have a problem with passages like Mark 9:43 and Matthew 11:11, too?

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    6. Well I'm not sure that quotations from the Gospels need to be approached in the same way as a Blog. I'll grant that there is a place for exaggeration and superlatives in many different types of English narrative but, perhaps, being of a different age and culture 'utterly unique' sounds so sensationalist that it undermines what you want to say. Still Pax. It's probably a generational and cultural difference we have between us.

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  12. An interesting post. Thank you for sharing. I'd like to recommend two short readings for Leah, on the chance she has not yet read them: Chesterton's "Saint Thomas Aquinas: The Dumb Ox" and John Henry Newman's essay on Conscience, available here: http://www.newmanreader.org/works/anglicans/volume2/gladstone/section5.html

    In Christ,

    John

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  13. Leah (that is my eldest daughter's name, btw),

    I highly recommend Edith Stein's (St. Theresa Benedicta of the Cross): Finite and Eternal Being. If you like St. Thomas argument for the cause of existence, then you will appreciate her take. She is very dense (warning). Very. Did I mention dense? : )

    Anyways, I will keep you and yours in my prayers.

    Peace in Christ,

    Brent

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  14. All,

    I mentioned it in a P.S. above, but the comments on Leah's post about the interview are worth diving into. For example, Edward Feser jumps in to defend his style in The Last Superstition, after Leah cited it as an example of a book with “good data, but bad tone” above.


    Brandon, Scott and Christian State,

    I enjoyed your counter-points on the specific arguments that Leah didn't find effective. I think that, between the three of you, the three major points that need to be mentioned should be:

    1) Sometimes, good arguments are dismissed because they're being presented (or understood) poorly;

    2) Certain arguments are of greater effectiveness and appeal for people of certain backgrounds. As Scott mentioned, those of us whose backgrounds are in history, the realization that the Catholic Church is the oldest institution on planet Earth (by far) was eye-opening for me. But for someone whose background (and passion) runs more towards the natural sciences or philosophy, different arguments are going to make a connection; and

    3) Sometimes, it just comes down to the individual. Aquinas and Anselm were both brilliant Catholics, steeped in philosophy. Yet Anselm loved the ontological argument for God, and Aquinas actually rejected it.

    I.X.,

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  15. Open address to Leah: I’m not a regular reader on this website but want to address a comment you made in one of your answers so I signed up for this purpose only. You are quoted as saying:

    “Some claims aren’t really available for scrutiny (the Immaculate Conception comes to mind)”

    I just want to say I believe the Immaculate Conception is available for scrutiny. In other words I believe it can be proved to be true. This is my reasoning:

    Every mother experiences an innate impulse to defend and protect her child, particularly when the child is innocent and being falsely accused or punished or is suffering. It is instinctive for the mother to act in the child‘s defense. One can assume, if ever there is a moment in a mother’s life when she will be tempted to act against God’s will, it would be that moment when her child is in danger or suffering in this way. As His mother, according to Jewish custom and belief (honor thy Father and Mother), Christ subjected Himself in obedience to both His mother on earth and his Father in Heaven. Therefore, at the cross, Christ was subject to both His mother and His Father. If His mother had willed that He come down off of that cross, we would not have been able to be saved by His passion and death because Jesus would have been faced with the dilemma of disunity between His Mother and His Father's will for Him in that moment. God could not allow this disunity to occur so that His son would be faced with this sort of choice at the moment humanity was to be saved. It was in God's design then, that Mary will for Christ exactly what His father willed for Him. So, we can conclude that Mary had to have willed during every moment of Christ’s passion for her son to suffer and die this cruel death exactly as it happened. Since Christ knows the heart and mind of His mother, He would have known His mother willed something different for Him and He would have had to submit to her will. But how can that be possible? How is it that Mary’s will could contradict her natural born instinct as a mother to defend the innocence of her child? It is only possible, if the soul is in perfect union with God at all times, without any possible stain or weakness from original sin that would predispose her to challenge the Father‘s authority over Her son. It was because God created Her soul to be in a state of perfect union with His will at all times throughout Her life, and in doing so, Her soul is thus Immaculate at all times.

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  16. That last answer of Leah's is very powerful, and convicting for people like me who tend to worry about heretics wanting to accomodate secular trends more than follow the truth. Something like this reminds me that a willingness to tackle the hard questions is one of the things that is so beautiful about Catholicism (particularly compared with the anti-intellectualism of much of American Protestantism).

    I'm reminded of something Ronald Knox said in his letters with Arnold Lunn when Lunn asked what Knox did with some of the moral blotches on Catholicism's record (e.g., not condemning slavery, the inquisition, etc.). Knox recalls that St. Thomas, when he was finished proving the existence of God, proceeded to detail objections to a belief in the existence of God without any attempt to refute them. He had already established that God existed. This did not mean that all objections were fully understood. But Thomas proposed that we grapple with them to better understand God better by understanding these objections.

    The same, I think, goes for moral objections. It does not follow from believing the Catholic faith, that we understand all of the faith. And admitting this, and grappling with the objections, is critical for gaining an adult understanding of the faith.

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    1. Latenter, I think I share your concern about the dangers faced, probably unknowningly, by Catholics more inclined to follow "secular trends" than "the truth". And, to me anyway, the most dangerous secular trend of all is the general acceptance that one's individual conscience is always right, is always to be followed, is the expression of one's own fundamental moral principles, and is subject to no outside authority or review. This is a relatively modern understanding of conscience and a very harmful one, especially to people of faith and most especially to Catholics. That is why I recommended John Henry Newman's essay on conscience.

      Incidentally, Father Knox's "The Belief of Catholics" is very special to me. I became a Christian in 2004 and a Catholic in 2009 and Knox's explanations played an important role in my conversion.

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  17. I wonder, from the posts and the comments if this Blog is the brainchild of a Catholic who has converted from protestantism. So many posts that are taken or offered as new insights/discoveries are very old news for those of us who were cradle Catholics in the fifties or, dare I say it, converted more than ten or fifteen years ago ...?

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    1. Its not. The contributors are both cradle Catholics. But I don't understand why you are lodging these "this is boring" kind of critiques. Isn't the normal response to that reaction just to read something else instead?

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    2. Kim, I am a convert from Lutheranism, who went straight from High Church Lutheranism to High Church Catholicism via the FSSP. I was trained one-on-one with an FSSP priest, used the Baltimore Catechism, etc. That said, there is no way to know so many things in a year's time (in my case, or the case of most who go through RCIA). Sure, I knew a lot from Protestantism, but obviously I was incorrect on so much. I am a voracious reader, but blogs like this have been instrumental in not only teaching me new insights, but also giving reinforcements and reminders of knowledge. Most importantly, the posts are extremely charitable. So for my case, this blog is one of my most frequently checked.

      It's funny, I was reading the Didache last night, and one of the teachings is that, "For some you shall reprove, others you will pray for, and others you will love more than your soul." I am in the habit of reproving everybody with a smack over the head. Blogs like this help me reprove and teach from a more charitable angle, and that's a start.

      Pax tecum.

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  18. I don't find them boring. Forgive me if I gave that impression. I DO sometimes find what is obviously a new discovery to the poster/blogger very much what I learnt over 40 years ago and most Catholics of my age, [with the exception of converts in the last three or four years which might be any age] long ago knew and accepted. I'm not so much bored as bewildered and disappointed. It's hard to know where this blog is 'coming from ..........'

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    1. Kim,

      To get a feel for where the blog is coming from, check out the Scriptural citation at the top. As for the rest, St. Francis de Sales explains it this way in his preface to The Introduction to the Devout Life,

      “The flower-girl Glycera was so skilled in varying the arrangement and combination of her flowers, that out of the same kinds she produced a great variety of bouquets; so that the painter Pausias, who sought to rival the diversity of her art, was brought to a standstill, for he could not vary his painting so endlessly as Glycera varied her bouquets. Even so the Holy Spirit of God disposes and arranges the devout teaching which He imparts through the lips and pen of His servants with such endless variety, that, although the doctrine is ever one and the same, their treatment of it is different, according to the varying minds whence that treatment flows. Assuredly I neither desire, nor ought to write in this book anything but what has been already said by others before me. I offer you the same flowers, dear reader, but the bouquet will be somewhat different from theirs, because it is differently made up.”

      Happy Independence Day,

      Joe

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  19. Hello Joe

    Well it's not quite Independence day here but Happy Independence Day all the same. Yes I know St Francis De Sales book well - after all he IS the patron of journalists.

    Your quotation from him tells me where you are 'coming from' but, admitting that these are 'old flowers' makes me less surprised that, despite their 'rearrangement' in a new 'bouquet' the scent is very familiar.

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    1. Kim,

      If I'm presenting anything new, then it's (and I'm) almost certainly wrong. God bless,

      Joe

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    2. The idea that it is a criticism to write for people who know less about your subject than you do, even though there are those who know more, is so confusing to me.

      Sheed notes in Theology and Sanity that "I played with the thought of dedicating this book To ALL WHO KNOW LESS THEOLOGY THAN I. It would have sounded flippant. But It would have been exact. There are thousands who know more theology than I, and for them I have no message: they must teach me. But there are thousands who know less, and less is not enough: I must try to teach them."

      This seems to be about what is going on here. Perhaps you're in the camp that knows more than the authors of this blog. If so, the solution is to create your own. But it does not render this blog useless just because people like you exist. There are thousands that know less about this subject than the authors of this blog, a fact which is confirmed by its thousands of weekly viewers.

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    3. Kim,

      I hear what you're saying, but I really have no idea where you're coming from. I can understand someone saying, "I don't like this song. Why are you playing it?" But I don't understand saying, "I've heard this song before. Why are you playing it?"

      The reason I still read what Joe writes is because I enjoy his zeal for the luster he still obviously appreciates on the Pearl of Great Price. I'm glad he doesn't aim for novelty when it comes to sharing the riches in the Deposit of Faith. We deal in Mysteries of Faith. We don't try to figure them out and then move on. We marvel at an unfathomable depth.

      If the scent of Joe's bouqet is familiar, thanks be to God! It means we share the Faith passed on from the Apostles.

      In Christ,

      Fr. Andrew

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    4. Fr Andrew

      If you hear what I'm saying, as well as what I've said in the past, I can't understand why you 'really don't know where I am coming from'. Other people have understood and we are all wiser so, to borrow some American usage 'Go figure'.

      We all share the faith passed on by the apostles but it's unusual to find it presented as news.

      Pax

      Kim

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  20. Her conversion doesn't impress me. One her reasons of converting are fairly weak. Two, she wasn't that big, maybe she had bad reasons she was an atheist, but I'm not going to do a cop-out and say "she wasn't a true atheist" she probably

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