After more than a decade I still really enjoy stories of conversion to the Catholic Church. It is not motivated by a “yeah team” mentality, but I find the differences in paths of conversion quite fascinating for each individual. There are certainly some commonalities, but often very different starting points. I’ve watched pretty much every episode of the The Journey Home program and still enjoy it.
Here are some recent conversion stories that crossed my path.
One of my favorite blogs I picked up last year was Edward Feser’s blog. He recently wrote a post “The road from atheism” which explores the beginnings of his conversion from atheism to the Catholic Church. His journey has a very interesting starting point in his years as a graduate student as an Analytic Philosopher and atheist. This is a fairly long post as he started from the idea as mental processes being purely just brain activity as is the materialist understanding. It was partly his interest in this subject and some serious reading on the subject that allowed him to see some of the flaws in this understanding and looking for answers while remaining a materialist. He discusses Aquinas and how he addressed the Five Ways.
The immediate effect was that I found a way to teach the Five Ways without seeming like I was putting fish in a barrel for the students to shoot at. I still didn’t agree with the arguments, but at least teaching them was getting interesting. I recall one class period when, having done my best to try to defend some argument (the First Way, I think) against various objections, I finally stated whatever it was I thought at the time was a difficulty that hadn’t been satisfactorily answered. One of my smartest students expressed relief: She had been worried for a moment that there might be a good argument for God’s existence after all! (Anyone who thinks wishful thinking is all on the side of religious people is fooling himself.)
One of the things I admire about St. Thomas Aquinas in his arguments is that he always worked to put forward the best arguments for a position he would write against. Understanding is not necessarily agreement, but it is intellectual honesty to try to understand an argument instead of setting up straw men. Further along in his understanding he details.
I don’t know exactly when everything clicked. There was no single event, but a gradual transformation. As I taught and thought about the arguments for God’s existence, and in particular the cosmological argument, I went from thinking “These arguments are no good” to thinking “These arguments are a little better than they are given credit for” and then to “These arguments are actually kind of interesting.” Eventually it hit me: “Oh my goodness, these arguments are right after all!” By the summer of 2001 I would find myself trying to argue my wife’s skeptical physicist brother-in-law into philosophical theism on the train the four of us were taking through eastern Europe.
Another story regards Englishwoman Sally Read a rising star in the world of poetry.
“As I was writing this book, I became very aware that I didn’t know where the soul was and I didn’t know if the soul existed. And it was really driving me crazy.” Her frustration led her into discussion, and often heated debate, with a Canadian priest who was based in the coastal resort town.
“So, while I was talking to this priest about, well, is there a God and all of that kind of stuff, I kind of had this feeling as a poet that God was the ultimate poet and the ultimate Creator, and I was simply being used as an instrument,” she recalled.
It was at that point that she phoned the priest to say, “I don’t think I’m an atheist after all.” But she refused to make the intellectual leap to Christianity, insisting to her priest friend that he would never convert her.
“He was very patient and very good.” He said, ‘Christ will convert you, I’m not going to convert you … .”
“I realized that there was only one Church and the way to be closest to Christ was to be a Catholic, because it’s the Eucharist and taking Communion.”
Since then she has faced opposition from family members and shock from a socially-liberal artistic establishment. And, yet, “I’m still happier than I’ve ever been,” she said with a broad grin on her face.
Lastly, the Archdiocese of Boston’s podcast “The Good Catholic Life” replayed an interview with Chuck Hall who is currently training for the Deaconate. His journey passed from the life of a Hippy, through various forms of Protestantism, and into the Catholic Church. Another person where G.K. Chesterton played a part.
I almost wish the odious Salvage was still around, just to see the inevitable verbal sparring. But in truth, having him gone is an answer to prayer.
One more example of the power of the True Faith.
As a martial artist, trust me that he was not sparring: he was punching the air in the direction opposite to where we are.
That’s what many of these conversions are about: people who realize that their “opponent” is on a different corner and, when they turn to look, they realize that the “corner” is actually a loving family. Joining the family then becomes inevitable.
I love Edward Feser. Being a Philosophy Major and a Theology teacher, I studied Thomas’ 5 proofs and I thought I had understood them. I thought they were interesting, but flawed, so I never brought them up much in class. But when I read his book “The Last Superstition,” I finally saw the truth: they weren’t just explanations. They really were PROOFS.
Feser explained the terms, showed that Thomas’ premises were true, and that his logic was valid. Thus Thomas proved the existence of an ultimate reality that “we call God.”
I read his long conversion story too and what I loved about it is that
1. He demonstrated how it was by opening his mind to truth he found the Church.
2. He acknowledged that there was more to conversion that just Reason.
We are rational, but we are more than reason. The Church speaks to all parts of the person.
I am so happy when someone who has been out in the cold has finally come home to true happiness…