There’s an article on Why I am Catholic by atheist convert RJ Stove. He reports something that I noticed myself when I first began to socialise with Catholics:
More and more my parents’ theoretical opposition to Catholicism became modified by such considerations as “Oh, of course, when we say Catholics are the enemies of free thought, we don’t mean you.” The sheer goodness- in-action (this is the least cumbersome description I can come up with) of the Schoenstatt Sisters modified not only my parents’ prejudices, but mine. Nevertheless my father certainly, and my mother probably, would have thought it grotesque in those days to believe that the nuns’ goodness had anything to do with their faith. No, somehow the nuns were good despite their faith. They presented to my father the same unlikely spectacle as an improbably obliging communist, or an improbably obliging telephone-vandal.
Stove describes the mental journey he travelled from his atheistic upbringing to the struggle with faith questions that finally saw him baptised in his forties. In the end, he says, he was overwhelmed by the sheer logic of faith.
We Catholics repeatedly make a very stupid error when we try to play the Pentecostal holy-rollers’ game. The demagogic televangelist will always do that sort of thing better than we can. Shrieking rapture is not our religion’s chief didactic glory. As to what is, Waugh admirably phrased the matter in his life of Campion: “the [Catholic] faith is absolutely satisfactory to the mind, enlisting all knowledge and all reason in its cause…it is completely compelling to any who give it an ‘indifferent and quiet audience’.” How many mainstream Australian Catholics today, I find myself wondering, have ever encountered this sentence of Waugh’s? How many would be capable of regarding Catholicism as providing anything other (let alone anything more) than the same emotional buzz as a football telecast?
…to the adult mind—even the adult mind as uninformed on vital issues as was my own—emotion is not enough: it is pitifully, painfully not enough. It can be, to a mind periodically disordered anyway, a lethal drug. What such a mind needs is a solid diet: neither the thin watery gruel of quasi-New-Age “spirituality”, nor the pure tabasco of fire- and-brimstone threats. Those who have had the privilege of reading Radio Replies will know how nourishing it is, how fair-minded its author is, and how incapable he is of intellectual sharp practice for the sake of making a cheap point. Those who have not yet read it, are in for a great and sustaining pleasure.
Stove responds to those who wonder how the priest sex abuse scandals affected him, saying:
To any atheist who might still be hesitating upon the brink of converting to Catholicism, understandably shocked beyond measure by priestly sins that cry to heaven for vengeance, I would say something like the following words:
“Those dirty criminals who rightly disgust you: do not think of them as Catholics. Unless they repent (and by now mere private repentance is no longer a legitimate option for them), they will go where St. Paul promised that they would go. Think, rather, of the saints. If you are to judge us at all we have the right to ask that you judge us, not by our worst, but by our best. Compare Catholic saints to even the most scrupulous individuals whom the anti-Catholic world has to offer. How many Gramscis would there need to be to equal, intellectually or morally, one Aquinas? How many Cecils equal one Campion? How many La Pasionarias equal one Teresa of Avila?”
“And remember this too: no genuinely Catholic instructor will ever force you into faith. Ultimately it is up to you. That is what free will means. But it would be inadvisable to reject the faith automatically without studying it. There are too many myths doing the rounds, deriving from vague memories of nineteenth- century pamphleteering scuttlebutt. Find out what Catholics actually must uphold, not what their sworn foes imagine Catholics must uphold.”
“Above all: be prepared to have your power of reason exercised, as it has never been exercised before. Some Catholic teachings seem, to most non-Catholics, presumptuous. Properly examined, they are not. If you want arrogance, do not seek out Catholic doctrine. Seek out, instead, the surrealistic nostrums peddled by your local newsagent’s weekly rags: salvation through Princess Di; the divinity of Nicole Kidman; Brad Pitt’s freedom from original sin. Anyone who’s been tempted to worship those strange gods in the past, might well be impressed, not by Catholicism’s impudence, but by its modesty.”
What detours I might have been spared, had someone spelt these things out to me.