Saturday, July 28, 2012

What G.K. Chesterton Might Tell Sensationalistic "Converts" from Catholicism

Mt. Angel Abbey
I'm at a disadvantage in this post, because for personal reasons (happily explained off my blog), it would neither be gracious nor thoughtful for me to identify the person that sparked this weekend's reflection.  In short, though, I'll say I was disappointed to read a vitriolic account of one man's journey from the Catholic faith earlier this week.  While these accounts are certainly nothing new, they do have a way of getting my dander up.  

What especially gets under my skin, I suppose, is when broad, baseless assertions are made without any attempt at either objectivity or Christ-like charity.  When the baseless opinions are woven into a garment of hate and religious bigotry, it demonstrates more than anything else, I think, that the love of Christ is either not present within the life of the writer, or, at the very least, the person's has a spiritual "blind spot" when it comes to the Catholic Church.

In this particular case, the man coming forward gave a breathless account of  having been raised in the Catholic Church only to later have found new freedom within the Baptist tradition.  Today, his livelihood apparently depends upon anti-Catholic diatribes, end-times predictions, and book censorship.  Although his posting implies a book on his conversion in the form of thumbnail image, he apparently has authored no such work.  As alluded to earlier, it is neither wise nor gracious for me in this case to mention the person's name.  (I am happy to explain why off the blog, if interested.)  If you wish to consider this blog posting, a sort of constructive venting...that's fine.  I am endeavoring, however, to offer more than that today.

If you check our own story of conversion to the Catholic Church (more of an enrichment than conversion really) at Catholic Answers, I hope the reader doesn't come away with any feelings that I bear ill will towards any of the Protestants in my life.  On the contrary, we are where we are today because of the high regard for faith, reason, and reverence with which I was raised.  Church, after all, is not entertainment; it is worship.

As a personal aside, I will share that I felt that the conversion story for This Rock, needed more positive things to say about our family's background in the Protestant tradition.  Originally, it did, but some of the positive elements were edited out by TR in order to make it a better fit for the magazine; I think that's unfortunate.  The following quote from G.K. Chesterton's wonderful work on Saint Thomas Aquinas is a powerful argument of how all believers should endeavor to debate these issues which seperate us.

We have already noted why,in this one quarrel with Siger of Brabant, Thomas Aquinas let loose such thunders of purely moral passion; it was because the whole work of his life was being betrayed behind his back, by those who had used his victories over the reactionaries. The point at the moment is that this is perhaps his one moment of personal passion, save for a single flash in the troubles of his youth: and he is once more fighting his enemies with a firebrand.  And yet, even in this isolated apocalypse of anger, there is one phrase that may be commended for all time to men who are angry with much less cause.

If there is one sentence that could be carved in marble, as representing the calmest and most enduring rationality of his unique intelligence, it is a sentence which came pouring out with all the rest of this molten lava. If there is one phrase that stands before history as typical of Thomas Aquinas, it is that phrase about his own argument: "It is not based on documents of faith, but on the reasons and statements of the philosophers themselves." Would that all Orthodox doctors in deliberation were as reasonable as Aquinas in anger! Would that all Christian apologists would remember that maxim;and write it up in large letters on the wall, before they nail any theses there. At the top of his fury, Thomas Aquinas understands,what so many defenders of orthodoxy will not understand. It is no good to tell an atheist that he is an atheist; or to charge a denier of immortality with the infamy of denying it; or to imagine that one can force an opponent to admit he is wrong, by proving that he is wrong on somebody else's principles, but not on his own. After the great example of St. Thomas, the principle stands, or ought always to have stood established; that we must either not argue with a man at all, or we must argue on his grounds and not ours. We may do other things instead of arguing, according to our views of what actions are morally permissible; but if we argue we must argue“on the reasons and statements of the philosophers themselves."

(Note: strange format problems on the above quote.  Paragraph division not exactly matching text.)

Like the successful married couple, all Christians should learn to fight with fairness and charity--even when we find ourselves in strong disagreement.  

A good place to begin in the dismantling of the fences between Catholics and Protestants might be avoidance of terms that polarize rather than unite—especially when the terms themselves offer little in the way of illumination. There is a devout and brilliant Catholic apologist who recently wrote a book defending Catholic theological positions from Protestant and secular attack.  While this author does a wonderful job explaining the Catholic perspective and pointing out some of the top issues which separate us, the book fails at times to accurately convey the subtle range of differences between the Protestant denominations. As an example, the author implies that all “fundamentalists” are Calvinists—e.g. believing in “heretical Predestinarianism”, as Joseph Pohle describes it, or “once saved always saved”.  Neither the Free Methodist nor Nazarene churches, however, fall into this category.  In fact, they share their roots in Charles Wesley, the great hymn writer.  Likewise, not all Calvinists can be broadly categorized as fundamentalists—e.g. Presbyterians.  Generalizations and labels are not the way to build dialogue or understanding.  The key to communication is to build upon our commonalities and avoid constantly emphasizing our differences.  If Catholics are properly catechized, they should have no problem explaining how our traditions have grown closer over issues like the profound gift of sanctifying grace.  They might also mention how Catholics often work together with Protestants to battle such cultural tragedies as abortion and pornography.  It’s also worth noting that some of the present divisive issues were of little or no concern to Martin Luther—for example, infant baptism or Mary’s place of honor within the Catholic Church.

As a way of concluding this post, I thought I would offer some references on the different areas shallowly and angrily discussed in this Baptist's blog.  (If you don't know of what your speaking, sometimes it's best not to place your soul in peril by opening your mouth.)

See also The Book of James

More personal recommendations:

A Call to Christian Unity

Joseph Pearce's Literary Giants, Literary Catholics

6 of the Most Unexpected Converts

Alec Guiness and Catholic Conversion

The Catholic Revival (503 notable conversions)

Does God positively set apart those persons bound for hell?  Does free will even exist?  Read about Heretical Predestinarianism .

Faith and Deeds (James 2)

14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them?15 Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
18 But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”
Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. 19 You believe that there is one God.Good! Even the demons believe that —and shudder.
20 You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless[d]21 Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. 23 And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,”[e] and he was called God’s friend. 24 You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone.
25 In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? 26 As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.

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