Category Archives: Catholicism

My Long and Winding Road to Catholicism – Part 2

jesus_armwrestles_satanEditor’s note: this post was originally published more than five years ago on a now defunct blog. It was originally published pseudonymously. I have done some editing to clean up the bits that I wanted to keep anonymous. I’ve also updated it a bit to reflect how my thinking has evolved over five years. But the vast majority of this text is untouched.

In Part 1 I detailed my falling out with Christianity as a young man. So how and why did I decide, from a position of agnosticism, that religion is important?

First and foremost, despite my disillusionment with religion, I’ve always maintained a belief in morality. Specifically, I’ve maintained two distinct beliefs about morality. First, society as a whole is far better off with some kind of code of morality than without one. We can argue about the specifics of which code of morality, but I think it’s pretty hard to argue that society is better off without morality. Indeed, I think it’s quite likely that civilization as we know it simply can’t exist without a shared moral code [Editor’s note: I believe this even more strongly now than I did then]. Second, I believe the overwhelming majority of individuals are better off following a code of morality, especially if others in society are doing the same. But they’re also better off even if nobody else is following such a code. There are some clear exceptions to this rule. Kings, rock stars, and a few others might be materially better off ignoring the rules – but even here, that’s not entirely clear. A king who pushes the boundaries too far often won’t remain king for very long.

It’s a hard point to argue that individuals are better off following a code of morality even if others around them don’t, and it’s something I’d have had a hard time explaining even just a few years ago. The benefits aren’t always immediate and obvious. But the short answer is that a clear code of morality makes it easier for others to interact with you and trust you, even if they don’t follow your code of morality. All they have to do is understand your code. If they understand it, and know you’re serious about it, it gives them a clear understanding of exactly how far and in what ways they can trust you. Being too trusting is a good way to get taken advantage of, sure. But being very trustworthy is a good way to build up social capital. Trust is a huge bit of grease that makes the mechanics of socialization go more smoothly, and we need other people (if only to serve as minions in our evil overlord schemes). Even pagan societies pushed men to be trustworthy, and they benefited from it. Our modern hedonistic culture often loses sight of this.

I’ve always had a strong sense of this, and as an adult I haven’t really felt like I needed a church to tell me about it. I also very firmly believe that you don’t need religion to have morality. But my marriage brought with it a new challenge. When the kids eventually come, how do you teach them to be moral? Sure, I can lead by example. But frankly, religion is very valuable as a teaching tool for this. I know from my own experience growing up that church, for all its flaws, helped teach me what it meant to be a good and moral person.

Religion also plays another role in society that we should all recognize by now: it tempers the worst sexual impulses of both men and women. The emphasis on faithful marriages that all religions traditionally have keeps both female hypergamy and male promiscuity in check, and that’s good for everybody – especially children. Oh, and there’s convincing research that married couples that regularly attend church together are quite a bit more likely to stay married.

Also, over the years I’ve come to believe something about human beings: we’re not the rational creatures that we pretend we are. Of particular relevance to the topic at hand, people need religion. I think it’s biological. A more devout Christian would argue that God gave us that need. An anthropologist might argue that we’ve somehow evolved it. I don’t think it much matters which is the case. We need religion. In the absence of anything else, we’ll start to Worship the Thunder God [Editor’s note: this was a reference to a comment left on the original posting of part 1]. We can’t help it. It’s part of who we are. The most striking modern version of this is the modern west’s cult of liberalism. Make no mistake, it’s every bit as much a religion as fundamentalist evangelicalism. Indeed, the two faiths are more alike than they are different.

George Lucas of all people once made a comment in an interview in Time magazine that has always stuck with me. I tried to track it down, but Time appears to have taken it offline. Paraphrased, he explained that we could think of the old cave man days as being a 1 on the religious scale. Things like pagan mythology could be considered a 3 or a 4. Modern religions could be viewed as somewhere around a 7 or an 8, and we’re pretty proud of ourselves for that. The thing most of us don’t realize is, the scale goes to a million.

For all of the man’s pompous asshattery (and there’s kind of a lot of it), I think he had a pretty valid point here. Not only is there a lot we don’t understand, but we don’t even have a good idea what it is we don’t understand. But there’s another good point buried in here as well, and it’s one that he probably didn’t even intend to make. Indeed, it’s a point that most of the modern educated elite seems to completely miss as well. It’s a simple and clear point, but it’s completely and utterly politically incorrect. If you even try to utter it the multiculturalists will jump down your throat for it. But if you study them abstractly for any length of time you’ll come to the inescapable conclusion that the dominant religions of the modern world are more advanced than other, older religions. And I don’t mean that in a tribalistic, “we’re better than you, neener neener” kind of way. I mean in some clear and distinct ways.

But that will be part 3.

The Whole Series

My Long and Winding Road to Catholicism – Part 1

Editor’s note: this post was originally published more than five years ago on a now defunct blog. It was originally published pseudonymously. I have done some editing to clean up the bits that I wanted to keep anonymous. I’ve also updated it a bit to reflect how my thinking has evolved over five years. But the vast majority of this text is untouched.

My conversion to Catholicism is best described as an uneasy alliance. I am not the best Catholic out there, and I’m not likely to ever be. I still have issues with the church, its theology, and its dogma. But my wife and I jointly came to the decision that it was the best choice for our family. I can’t speak for her. If she wants to tell her tale, that’s her business. I suspect that it was at least in part because she was following where I led, but she’s bright enough and educated enough and strong willed enough that she never would have let me lead her there if she didn’t want to go.

I was raised as a Protestant. Specifically, I was raised Methodist, but I don’t think it really matters much. The nit picky details of their theology may be different, but the different branches of modern liberal American Protestantism are more or less indistinguishable from each other on a day to day basis. The church I was raised in was more or less like any other SWPL protestant church, only more so. In the almost two decades since I stopped attending, it’s grown substantially, to the point where an old friend of mine once referred to it as “Fort God.”

Like most children, I didn’t much question religion when I was small. It was what all the adults told me, so it never even occurred to me to question it. Unlike most children – at least then – I was introduced to the concept of atheism fairly young. A good friend of mine declared in late middle school that he was an atheist. Like most bright people, being introduced to the concept of atheism forced me to rethink everything. And frankly, once you start thinking about it, there’s a lot to find issue with inside Christianity – especially modern “Churchianity.”

Though I didn’t understand it very well at the time, there’s also a lot of social pressure toward atheism, agnosticism, or “Christianity lite” from our “educated” classes. I was most definitely born a part of that class and lived most of my life within it. You could describe my mother’s family fairly accurately as “educational aristocracy”, but the term might not make any sense to anybody who doesn’t know my mother’s family or people like them. I didn’t have the words to express it in my youth, but at a base level “Churchianity” always seemed just silly to me. And growing up in the American south, the other flavor of Christianity I was routinely confronted with was fundamentalist evangelicalism. Although most fundamentalist evangelical Christians are nice people, and many are quite bright, frankly, the kind of thought (or lack thereof) that leads to that particular breed is… well, to me it’s always been the counterpart of radical feminism. Both breeds of “thought” are vapid, empty headed, flim flam that ignore large portions of reality.

Atheism couldn’t hold me for very long, though. Atheists will do all kinds of logical somersaults to avoid it, but true atheism requires a kind of arrogant denial of reality of its own. Like any other religion, atheism itself is an insistence that we know, definitively, all that there is to know about the universe. In a sense, every argument “proving” the non-existence of God has a kind of Black Swan problem. “God can’t exist because we have no evidence of him,” the arguments essentially go. Well, if all we ever see are white swans, we would conclude that there are no black swans. How could there be? We’ve never seen one. Every swan we’ve ever seen is white. Until whoops, along comes a single black one, disproving our argument that all swans are white.

The Christians hadn’t done a very good job of convincing me that God exists, at least not in the way that they described him. But the atheists couldn’t convince me, either. His existence being highly, stupendously, amazingly improbable is not the same is it being impossible. At the same time, it seems abundantly clear to me that there are forces at work in the world that we don’t understand. I don’t even necessarily mean anything supernatural. Relativity has been work in the universe since the beginning of time, but it’s only in the last hundred years that human beings have been able to understand it. What else is out there that science doesn’t understand yet? I’m guessing there’s a lot. Again, there are forces at work in the world that we don’t understand. God is as good a word for them as anything, and at this point in time, Science can’t explain them any better than religion.

Also, Science is still struggling with some deep and difficult questions that push up right against the boundaries of philosophy and religion. Where does conscious thought come from? What causes it? Science tells us it comes from neurons firing, but the simple fact of the matter is that we can’t replicate it. Despite decades of effort, we have no artificially intelligent computers. Indeed, we’re not really much closer to them than we were decades ago. We haven’t genetically engineered highly intelligent rats (to pick a random animal), and if we did, how would we even know that they’re intelligent? Or self aware? Science fiction has spent a lot of time dealing with this problem, but even there we find no real answers. Also, most of the hoopla about such and such an animal being as smart as or almost as smart as man is mostly bull. When you start to look into the studies, you do indeed find aspects of intelligence. But there’s nothing that brings with it the same capacity for abstract thought and reason that humanity has. Who is to say that it isn’t an eternal soul that gives us intelligence and self awareness?

Five years of undergraduate study toward a Philosophy degree didn’t really clear it up very much. Unlike most in the department, I could have skated through pretty easily. It could have been (and in some ways was) the easy path toward a college degree. For me, it was deadly serious. These were all issues that I cared a great deal about. I found a lot there to ponder: Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Nietzsche. I found a lot to ponder in the field of science, too – especially modern physics, which – when it’s not being hijacked by Richard Dawkins types – is doing more interesting philosophical work than modern philosophy (which is mostly a bunch of pseudo-intellectual, New Agey, relativistic nonsense). I didn’t really find a lot of answers, but by the end of college I did know one thing for sure: I was not ready to accept full blown atheism.

True agnostics are rare. It takes a certain uncommon kind of strength to admit that you just really don’t know about anything, much less the really important issues like religion. But for a long while, that was me. The only thing I knew for sure was that there are forces at work in the world I didn’t understand.

Tomorrow in Part 2 – how and why I came to realize that religion in general is important.

The Whole Series