I am a convert to Catholicism. I love the Faith; I believe it is true and good and that it helps me to live a more meaningful life.
I am also well aware that Catholicism is considered borderline insane by pop-culture, backwards in many intellectual circles and just plain baffling by many well-intentioned people.
Perhaps then it might be helpful, especially for readers and friends who are not Catholic and somewhat puzzled at my faith, to run through a series of common stumbling blocks to the Faith and to explain “Why I still believe,” despite all these things. These questions or short essays will not be me trying to beat anyone over the head with my obvious “rightness.” I was a bit overzealous in that department when I first converted because I was so convinced of the Faith and yet so frowned upon by those in my immediate circle. I regret the various hurtful, over-the-top, judgmental and pompous comments I made back then. I understand some things better now: every human has a unique and worthwhile experience and perspective, so I want to strive to respect that in others as I try to present my own.
Ironically, as opposed to my former harshness, a more personal approach actually communicates the Faith better because it sees every person as made in the Image of God and therefore endowed with infinite worth. Nineteenth century Anglican convert John Henry Cardinal Newman explained the limits of philosophical arguments:
He “contended that arguments—outside mathematics and formal logic—do not have compelling force as such, and he therefore spoke of such arguments as probable rather than demonstrative. A probable argument is one that may be found compelling by one individual, but not by another because of the different antecedent background beliefs that each brings to her or his evaluation of that argument. In is these background beliefs—what Newman called ‘that large outfit of existing thoughts, principles, likings desires, and hopes, which make me what I am,’—that make us find a probable argument compelling or not. So how we respond to an argument may be a test of us and not only of the argument. We have to become the kind of person who is open to just those arguments that directs toward the truth.” (p. 150 in God, Philosophy, Universities by Alasdair MacIntyre)
Without hopeless relativism, this admits that our experience and perspective matters when it comes to how we react to arguments. We should always be on the lookout for truth, but other factors come into play as well, for instance: do some issues concern us more than others? does our experience resonate with the experience presented? have we been hurt by someone coming from a certain perspective?
So the answers that I recount will not be hard and fast efforts at persuasion, but only my personal perspective and faith on the particular issue. I will also try to outline why the issues listed below matter and why it’s perfectly reasonable to be concerned with them.
Issues of faith and philosophy touch on the very deepest, most intimate core of our souls. No one is alien from such concerns because we all must somehow strive to live well in the world in which we find ourselves. And because we have reason, the experience of our life includes struggling to find meaning.
Our ultimate meaning necessarily includes all our experiences and feelings in addition to formal arguments, so it is only natural that disputes of this nature tend to get us agitated because they include so much that is so vital to who we are. Hopefully, then in a spirit of love and respect, this can proceed.
Here, then, is my list of the biggest stumbling blocks to the Catholic (or Christianity in general) Faith.
1. Does God exist at all?
2. Is the Bible reliable?
3. The God of the Old Testament commands the killing of people. How is that just?
4. A lot of Christians seem like hypocrites. They don’t practice what they preach and come out as hateful. Why would I want to join them?
5. Hasn’t the Church perpetrated atrocities such as the Crusades and the Inquisition? How could I trust such a group today?
6. The sexual issues: opposition women’s ordination; opposition to gay marriage; opposition to contraception. Isn’t the Church behind the times at best and downright hateful at worst?
7. It seems like there are a lot of rules. How does that make your life better?
8. Will I indoctrinate my children with this. What if they rebel?
Granted, this is sizeable list and some topics are bigger than others. This is going to be a series of posts, not a book, so not every answer is not going to answer all objections with dozens of scholarly references. The answers will be how I see the issue in my own faith life and from a Catholic perspective: some short, some long, some more involved than others. I hope what this will show is that we are all sifting through the same types of questions in an effort to be a good person (or so we hope), and that I have found the most compelling answers to existence and meaning in the person of Jesus Christ, who I believe was God made flesh 2,000 years ago, and in the Church that he founded.