This blog is titled “Random Catholic Convert,” which sort of begs the question: convert from what? Why Catholicism? Why random? In the past, I’ve attempted to write a post answering just those questions probably three or four times. Half-way through each of them, I start to get the worst feeling in the world: boredom. It’s bad enough to write or say something that other people find dull and uninspiring. It’s even worse when you get bored yourself at what you are writing.
Mostly, I get bored because I’ve imbibed so many apologetics books, articles, debates, and conversations that everything I write reminds me of someone else on another website or in another book who said it better. Also, I keep thinking of all the counter-arguments to my arguments, which I, then, feel I need to counter. I’m a father of a four, five, and six-year-old with a crazy work schedule. I’m sorry, but your eternal soul will have to wait. Or at least I’ll send you to someone else who has the motivation and time to usher you through the gates of eternity with their uncanny wit and air-tight argumentation.
This is how I have felt, but I think I’m finally at the point where I’m ready to explain how I got to being a random Catholic convert. I do this, if for no other reason, to express myself fully and definitively to friends and family who probably care. This is the most important decision I have ever made in my life, and to not blog about it would seem weird. It won’t be thorough. It will be more like a fly-over. However, I hope it gives you, dear reader, a sense of why someone would actually believe all this crazy religious mumbo-jumbo–all this crazy Catholic mumbo-jumbo.
Some of this might be narrative–me telling the history of how I got from there to here. Though, most of it will, hopefully, be to the point–both to spare you the trial of reading all my thoughts and to spare me the trial of late nights writing them. Since I’m sitting down to this, I might as well start at the very first question anyone asks before venturing into a spiritual and/or religious life: why believe in any God at all?
Though, if we’re honest, a lot of us really don’t begin with that question–a lot of us don’t end with it either. The question that more often gets us going full-throttle toward the religious life or keeps us planted firmly in our seats is this one: do I want to believe in God?
I mean, what if God is real, but he doesn’t end up being what you think he is or what you hoped he would be? What if you meet God and find out he actually isn’t too happy with the fact that you’re sleeping with your girlfriend or that you cheated on your finals? What if you meet God and he asks you to do things you don’t want to do, like quit your exciting, well-paying job and become a pastor?
What if you were a racist and God came to you as a black man? What if you hated illegal immigrants and God came to you as a child of refugees? What if you liked hanging around only people in line with your socio-economic status who shared your political views and God came to you as a someone with different political perspective
What if God told you that, for the greater good, your child would have to die of cancer? That he didn’t want it, but that he had to allow it and that you’d have to wait for the next life to see her again? What if God allowed your friends to betray you and the world to hate you? What if he said you had to get scourged, ridiculed, and crucified?
I’m reminded of two very different people when writing this. One is St. Teresa of Avila who, at one point, surrounded by hostile and gossiping people in her life, talked to Jesus about it. In the Catholic imagination, everything we go through, in one way or another, is either authored or allowed by God. If I get hit by a baseball, it would be wrong to say “God hit me with a baseball”, but it wouldn’t be too far from the truth. So, it wasn’t entirely wrong for her to feel that, as one Puritan writer put it, her circumstances, however difficult, were the “fingers of God” in her life. Why would God allow these people in it? She heard God answer her, “Teresa, that’s how I treat my friends.” In other words, “I give suffering to my children to help them on the path to Heaven.” To which she quipped, “No wonder you have so few friends.”
The second person I think of is the late atheist Christopher Hitchens. He did a round of debates with a pastor named Doug Wilson, and the two of them actually became friends. In a conversation the two of them were having at a Christian college, Hitchens in a somewhat disgusted tone of voice basically said that even if he believed that an all-knowing, all-powerful God existed. He would consider it his duty to oppose him with all his might for making such a horrible world and being such a horrible person.
Now, of course, the Bible isn’t just all about suffering. Every religion in the world offers some solution to the problem of pain. Jesus said he came to give abundant life and save people. Many Psalms in the Bible speak of the pure delight of knowing and following God. But to believe in any kind of God–if it’s going to mean anything at all–means at least this much: you aren’t in control of your life anymore. You are not the master of your fate. Truth has been imposed on you and you either bend to its unyielding nature (because that’s how truth is) or it breaks you. It is said that Satan became Satan because he preferred to be king of Hell rather than the servant of Heaven. If we take the story at face value, it is really Hell he is doomed to and really Heaven he can never see again.
I shouldn’t bring up Satan, though. That sounds a bit too negative for the context. Hitchens said what he said because he had a strong sense of justice. The world he, and all of us, live in is one that seems like it could do a lot better if God just made every wrong right. For many, the cognitive dissonance between a loving God existing and barrel bombs being dropped on innocent civilians is too much to take. It’s one or the other, but not both.
Why am I saying all of this in a post about why I became Catholic? Does all of this sound too harsh? Maybe it is, but I think a lot of times evangelists, preachers, and teachers, like good salesmen, put their best foot forward and emphasize the positive qualities of their products and nothing else. I understand why. And I have done that myself. If you come to believe in the same God I do, He will constantly ask you to do things you don’t want to do and accept things you don’t want to accept.
To put it bluntly, God isn’t the latest vacuum cleaner. He doesn’t really have to “sell” himself to anyone, so I don’t feel the need to be his pimp. We expect products to meet our needs and we use them and discard them when they stop doing it. But if we are decent human beings, we don’t treat our fellow men that way. They are sacred mysteries we encounter day after day who stubbornly remain who they are despite our attempts at trying to change them. If God is real, he is an even deeper mystery, even more sacred, and, yes, even more stubborn. Entering into a relationship with him could be either your greatest adventure or it could ruin you.
Truth is, if God is real it’s probably a bit of both.