Blogging One’s Conversion
Rod Dreher and Patrick Archbold are alarmed that former atheist blogger Leah Libresco plans to write about her conversion while in the process of becoming Catholic. Dreher worries that the ideologues who infest conversion-related comment threads “could douse any spark of enthusiasm and curiosity for the faith.” Archbold is on the same page:
Conversion is a process and Leah doesn’t know what she doesn’t know yet. It will take a lot of prayer, intellectual and spiritual assent, and perseverance. She will undoubtedly battle with herself and God many times until the conversion takes root. To go through this process in public with atheists tearing at you from one side and the holier-than-thou brigade hitting you from the other is a tightrope walk worthy of a Wallenda.
I take their point about the addition trial of undergoing public scrutiny, criticism, and ridicule while making a conversion, but I have to side with Libresco in this, and I suspect she’s up to the task. I’d do the same were I moved to convert to another religious faith or to forsake religion altogether. I’m not the proselytizing type, but I do tend to vocalize thoughts and feelings related to my faith, especially those in reference to internal struggles, doubts, and uncertainties. Mine is not a private faith. Nor, I gather, is Leah Libresco’s.
My faith, moreover, is not static. It’s a journey, in the dark, and a little different each day. You could say I’m in a constant state of conversion, moving away from some way of being religious and towards another, grappling with unanswerable questions and unceasing doubts. I have no plans to settle. My faith is fluid, sometimes serenely refreshing, sometimes a tempest. Wouldn’t want it otherwise. I know that I’d blog a conversion process because I already do.
I can’t understand why anyone, skeptic or believer, would want to mock Ms. Libresco. The tools of shame, humiliation, and derision do not seem well-calculated to persuade either the subject of the conversion experience or any observer of it that their side is in any way superior to the other.
Look, you know there’s often no Christian as fervent as a convert? (Especially a recent one?). Same with atheists. It’s human nature — in a sense, it’s nothing more than people talking enthusiastically about a new hobby or great movie they just saw. Only, you know, kinda more important to them.
With atheists, there’s often a bitter turn to it. An angry one — for the ones who, for lack of a better term, ‘converted’ to it. (I say this AS an atheist). I didn’t so much convert as just came to grips with the fact that the faith of my parents had just always been pointless ritual to me. I’d never believed in the first place.
But a lot of “first generation” athiests? They did. They believed. And I’d imagine the loss of that faith was a terrible, terrible thing. And it seems to leave many of them angry, feeling as if they were fooled, deluded, or outright lied to.
You might say they’re angry with God for not being real, or for their Church for not being true — but mostly they’re just reacting.
They get better. 🙂 Generally. We live in a pretty God-soaked culture here in the US, so there’s a bit more salt in the wounds kinda thing. (Seriously, we live in a culture where people claim atheism is a religious belief. Not having a religious belief = religions belief. I still can’t fathom that mindset).
Second generation atheists, those who were raised without a faith or religion, who never believed? Well, they’re assholes at about the same general ratio as the rest of the population. 🙂
Yes, I know. I did. I owe my religious friends a debt of thanks for being patient with me during the interim.
Having a central part of your worldview kicked over can’t be pleasant.
Even for us “never believed” sorts — seriously, I didn’t get the idea at six. Invisible dude in the sky? And you know this because of an old book? I read Grimm’s Fairy tales, and didn’t believe in trolls — well, it’s like the default.
You’re supposed to. Society expects you to. Everyone else appears to, even when they don’t act like it. You feel something is wrong with you if you don’t.
If I’d been born in most of Europe, instead of Texas, I might be more open about it. As it is, it’s not worth the fuss and bother.
Plus it’d just kill my mom. And what’s the point of telling her? So I attend church a few times a year and she feels better about it. My wife, quite religious, knows I’m an atheist and just shrugs and claims I’m a decent guy and will end up in heaven anyways. 🙂
She is putting her foot down on nanobots, for some reason she claims is religious. Me? I’m eager to welcome in my tiny, robotic overlords and ask them to start cleaning up the detritus of age. 🙂
“To go through this process in public with atheists tearing at you from one side and the holier-than-thou brigade hitting you from the other is a tightrope walk worthy of a Wallenda.”
Or a walk down down Hollywood Boulevard worthy of a Paris Hilton. Nobody chooses to bare their all in public without desiring the attention that such an action brings. In Leah’s case she’s already being rewarded with the attention she clearly desires, so let’s not also give her danger pay. In your case I have a question. What is the Catholic justification for having a public faith that does not seek to proselytize? Is there one?
You can bear witness to your faith without actively attempting to garner converts. In my case, I’m just after the attention.
Just to be clear, I am not suggesting that you or Leah are bearing witness to gain attention, as if the attention is an end in itself. However, I think it needs reiterating that bearing witness in public, like other public actions, is inherently and act seeking the attention of others. This comment is also such an act, so is my blogging, and your and Leah’s blogging about things other than your faith are too. Perhaps you’re thinking, so what? Well here’s what. When we start talking about someone’s faith, or other things like “internal struggles, doubts, and uncertainties,” the boundaries between public and private often start getting confused. Sometimes people even flat out deny the public nature of an action simply because that action is rooted in internal mental states, emotional dispositions or personal faith(s). A good recent example involves those who argue that Tim Tebow’s critics should stop discussing him altogether, because his “personal faith” is none of their business. I beg to differ. He makes it every viewer’s business when he chooses to paint bible verses under his eyes or when he prays in front of a television camera. But in Tebow’s case, of course, we’re witnessing acknowledged evangelizing. In other words he doesn’t deny the public nature of his faith nor the intent thereof. Which gets me back to your answer…
If you are honest about the public nature of your faith, or more specifically the public nature of your discussions of your faith, which you are, then you should be able to answer the question of why it is so. You say it isn’t proselytizing, and I’m assuming you’d also reject “evangelizing,” so then what is it? Why else profess or discuss faith, *in public*? This is not a trick question, there is no gotcha lurking here. I think public acts ought to have a purpose that the actors understand and can articulate.
Lastly I will readily admit that I also believe that evangelism and proselytization are often treated as dirty words by educated Christians even though their religion asks it of them, and as far as I can tell considers such intentions the reason for publicly discussing one’s faith. So I admit that I thought you were distancing yourself from a dirty word….
I will write a longer response when I have time but I fear you have misunderstood me. For others to pay attention to what one does is something that is communicated along with a public speech act. It does not mean that the attention is an end in itself.
“You can bear witness to your faith without actively attempting to garner converts. In my case, I’m just after the attention.”
That seems to beg the question. If one merely goes about one’s sectarian business, teaching by example, as it were, hoping that one’s works are noticed by others, it is just as possible that one will repel, as that one will attract, those others to one’s faith. Jesus sent his followers out to actively recruit. It seems to me that one needs to state one’s case and open oneself up to questioning in order to proselytize in any meaningful way. If I see somebody just being a generally “nice guy,” I don’t know that he is even a person of faith, much less what his denomination (or religion) is, if I assume that his good works are done for the greater glory of some Higher Power.
I write a lot at this blog (and Vox Nova) about my faith and issues related to it, but I’ve never considered my blogging to be a deliberate endeavor to proselytize.
No, your posts are generally not of that nature at all. Which is fine. You are generally questioning and testing that which you believe. Which is also fine. I don’t think that one should proselytize while questioning, but only once one is satisfied with the results of one’s questioning.
But my point was that to the extent one feels commanded to proselytize, one should not feel that one is the embodiment of the faith, with the commandment fulfilled, simply by going through the motions of one’s daily life, regardless of how faith-based one feels those motions to be. I think there needs to be conscious action directed at specific targets before one can legitimately call it “proselytizing.”