Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Why Did I Convert to Catholicism?

I'm a Catholic.

By choice.

I was born into a family that belonged to a perfectly nice, mainstream Protestant denomination: one that was known for its music. (No, not Baptist: I'll get to that.)

Whats, Whys and Wherefores That Didn't Matter

I wasn't "rejecting beliefs that my parents forced on me." What they taught me was, for the most part, reasonable - and still a part of my faith. I think it helped that my father had been brought up in a 'cultural Catholic' family, and had remembered some of what he had been taught at church.

And I didn't switch churches as a polite gesture to the family I married into.

There are a few more reasons why I didn't convert:
  • A warm fuzzy feeling
    • There are plenty of 'feel good' churches and cultural institutions
      • Whose members don't have the rules Catholics should follow
  • The music
    • There's some beautiful music in Catholic churches
    • But if I chose a church for its music, I might be a Southern Baptist now
  • To be "spiritual"
    • Near the mark
      • But not in the 'so heavenly-minded he's no earthly good' sense
  • To advance my career or connect with the community
    • Not likely
  • Out of my life-long interest in the sciences
    • Near the mark again
      • But not because I think that the sciences answer questions like "why are we here?"
So: why did I convert?

What You Believe: It's Your Decision

Before going further, please note: You don't have to be a Catholic. I'm not trying to force you to convert. (How could I?)

You don't have to believe anything in this post - or this blog. My responsibility ends when I've shared what's so.

Jesus, Peter, Popes, and Me

Back to "why did I convert?"

The short answer is that I became convinced that
  • God
    • Exists
    • Cares about people
      • Why, I probably can't understand
        • See the book of Job
          • And God's responses, when Job demanded an explanation
    • Came personally / sent His Son to save me and everybody else
      • I don't understand the Trinity, either
        • Which is, partly, why it's called a mystery
  • Jesus the Christ
    • Died for my sins
      • And everybody else's
    • Established an organization
      • And put Peter in charge of it
    • Has been taking an active interest in His outfit since then
  • The authority given Peter has been handed down over the last nearly-two-millennia
  • The building down the street is a local unit in an organization which is
    • Rooted in eternity
    • Maintained by the grace of God
    • Established by a member of the Trinity
Like I said, you don't have to believe that: But I'd recommend doing so.

There's more, like my assumption that objective reality exists: and that I'm not imagining that the whole universe - and you - are really there. I've never been that 'sophisticated.'

How Did a Nice Protestant Boy Get Mixed Up With Those Catholics?

Like just about everybody else, as a teen and young adult I started re-evaluating my beliefs. And stayed with the church my parents belonged to.

I was intrigued, though, by the wild claims I heard and read from other sources: about those terribly evil and oppressive (or misguided and deluded by evil oppressors) people called Catholics. Maybe you haven't heard of "the whore of Babylon:" if so, you haven't missed much. The area I grew us in was, I learned later, a particularly anti-Catholic pocket of America.

Although some of the artwork in Catholic churches in my area was (in my view) garish and crude: I couldn't find evidence for the sort of diabolical chicanery I kept hearing about.

The mis-match between the crazy stories and the Catholic churches I observed might not have resulted in my conversion.

Yeah, a Woman was Involved

But then I met a young woman who was of the 'I didn't realize people like her existed' variety. We got married.

Before marriage, I had to agree to a few things: including seeing to it that our children, if any, would be raised as Catholics. Fair enough: but that meant that, before I said, "yes," I'd have to find out a lot about Catholicism and the Catholic Church.

It was quite a learning curve. Turns out, a little of what I thought I knew (remember, I didn't believe the "whore of Babylon" stories) was, simply, not true. Much of the rest had been true, once, sort of: about four centuries back.

Then, there was the matter of contraceptives. I really didn't want Catholic teaching about that to be right. So, I bought a copy of Humanae Vitae (English translation), and started reading.

Then I re-read parts of it.

Frustrating: I could reject the arguments for not putting up barriers to sharing myself fully with my wife. But if I did so, I'd have to reject ideas that I really didn't (and don't) want to throw out. Like the existence of objective reality, cause and effect, the existence of a person who created everything else - including the universe we live in - and the validity of historical records.

That's not a prioritized list, by the way.

So, grudgingly, I accepted the idea that the Catholic Church, some of the best minds over the last two millennia - and God - were right, and that I hadn't been.

The first two I might have been willing to defy. God, not so much. I'm a little too aware of my finite abilities, to go toe-to-toe with Omniscience and Omnipotence.

So, I agreed that I'd be part of a Catholic family. Specifically, the husband and (God willing) father. Which brought up that "wives, obey your husband" thing in Ephesians. Some jerks use that as an excuse to make their wives into something between a pet dog and a live-in housemaid.

Me? I'd read the rest of that instruction:
"Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ loved the church and handed himself over for her"
(Ephesians 5:25)
Remember what happened to Jesus? After hours of the sort of torture that kills most people, he carried a load of wood to the spot where he was nailed to it, and left to die. That's how Christ loved the church: and that's what I'm expected to do for my wife, if the occasion calls for it.

God willing, I won't have to go through that. But I knew what I was signing up for. And, believe that I'll have to have what I've done examined in the particular judgment. Which is another topic. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1021, 1022, for starters)

That was over a quarter-century ago. My wife and I got to raise the four of our six children who survived until birth, and have seen one of our children married. So far.

And, somewhere along the line, about 20 years ago, I converted to Catholicism. Partly - mostly? - for the reasons I wrote about in "Firebase Earth" (April 5, 2009).

God, Science, and Me

I've had a lively interest in science since at least my elementary-school days. Or, at any rate, in finding out how the universe is put together, and how things work. First, like so many kids, I was interested in dinosaurs: which led to my interest in the evolution of life. Which isn't as anti-God as we're supposed to feel it is (June 29, 2009, for starters) More about that some of those "related posts," below.

I grew up in America, so I know that we're supposed to believe that faith and science, reason and religion, are supposed to be about as compatible as fire and water. Well, I've heard that people in some cultures are convinced that if they're photographed, the photographer will have captured their soul. Every culture seems to have its quirky little beliefs.

Thanks to my interest in both the sciences and history, I knew that many of the people who helped lay the foundations for contemporary sciences were Catholics: like Nicholas Copernicus and Johann Gregor Mendel.

On the other hand, there are folks like Ussher, who didn't like what scientists were saying, and made up a (remarkably clever) counter-claim.

Me? I don't think that ignorance is next to godliness, or that faith in God requires me to stop thinking. And, I certainly don't have a problem with God having apparently decided to make a creation that's bigger than what I'd have thought necessary.

I do think that it's possible to learn something about a person, by studying the things that person has made. Just as students of literature can learn about an author from books the author has written, I think it's possible to learn something about God from what he's made.

That's an idea which can be ridiculed. For example, "...the great British biologist and atheist JBS Haldane once said, when asked whether studying biology had taught him anything about the Creator: 'I'm really not sure, except that He must be inordinately fond of beetles.'..." (The Independent, June 15, 2004) The same might be said of bats and cockroaches.

Cracks like that are a good reminder to not get too certain about personal speculations.

On the other hand, I don't see the harm in sharing a few things that occurred to me. How valid any of these are, I have no idea. God seems to like
  • Spirals
    • You see the same forms repeated in
      • Sunflowers
      • Whirlpools
      • Hurricanes
      • Galaxies
  • Simplicity
    • Everything seems to be made out of a relatively small number of fundamental units
  • Immense diversity
    • A relatively small number of fundamental units seem to be what make up everything, like
      • Mushrooms
      • Planets
      • College professors
And, although models of how space-time are put together, like quantum foam, reflect our learning that the universe isn't quite as simple as Newton had reason to think it was, it's still possible for us to describe what we observe - and predict more-or-less successfully what we will observe - using that sort of applied logic we call "mathematics."

As Galileo Galilei wrote, "Mathematics is the language in which God has written the universe." (The Quotations Page)

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Background:Posts in this blog: In the news:

What's That Doing in a Nice Catholic Blog?

From time to time, a service that I use will display links to - odd - services and retailers.

I block a few of the more obvious dubious advertisers.

For example: psychic anything, numerology, mediums, and related practices are on the no-no list for Catholics. It has to do with the Church's stand on divination. I try to block those ads.

Sometime regrettable advertisements get through, anyway.

Bottom line? What that service displays reflects the local culture's norms, - not Catholic teaching.