Last week, Leah Libresco’s blog on Patheos, Unequally Yoked, made an announcement that has caused considerable discussion around the Catholic blogosphere – and, I gather, the atheist blogosphere as well. In her last post on the Atheist portal, she explains the moment (over the weekend before Easter) at which she realised that her thoughts and research had brought her to past a decision point. Then she tells us what happened next.
After I changed my mind, I decided to take a little time to make sure I really believed what I thought I believed, before telling my friends, family, and, now, all of you. That left me with the question of what to do about my atheism blog. My solution was to just not write anything I disagreed with. Enough of my friends had accused me of writing in a crypto-Catholic style that I figured no one would notice if I were actually crypto-Catholic for a month and a half (i.e. everything from “Upon this ROC…” on) . That means you already have a bit of a preview of what has and hasn’t changed. I’m still confused about the Church’s teachings on homosexuality, I still need to do a lot of work to accept gifts graciously, and I still love steam engines.
Starting tomorrow, this blog is moving to the the Patheos Catholic channel (the url and RSS will remain unchanged). Meanwhile, I’m in RCIA classes at a DC parish, so you can look forward to more Parsing Catholicism tags (and after the discussion of universalism we had last week, I think it will be prudent to add a “Possibly Heretical” category).
In more recent posts, Leah responds to those who have commented on the reasons she has given for her conversion. I haven’t had time to read all the posts yet, let alone the comments, but I’m very much struck by a comment that she quotes in Wednesday’s post. Scott, an atheist commenter says:
If I were a weird quasi-Platonist virtue ethicist, converting to Catholicism would probably be my next step too. And if I were a weird quasi-Platonist Catholic, perhaps I would feel a need to follow virtue ethics. And if I were a quasi-Platonist virtue ethicist Catholic, I might well follow it up by becoming weird. So that’s one local maximum / attractor. And I’m pretty happy as a reductionist atheist consequentialist, so that’s a good local maximum too.
That raises the disturbing possibility that I and a conservative Catholic might be equally smart, know all the same arguments, and just have ended up at two different local maxima. And that we may both be totally justified in rejecting all individual arguments against our positions, while the only genuinely convincing argument – the entire worldview of the other person – is too complicated to fit in our brains at once.
…it’s part of the answer to the “Why Catholic?” question that people want me to tackle. I ended up pretty confident (for reasons that I’ll flesh out in other posts) that both atheism and Catholicism were local maxima in exactly the way Scott describes. This is also the precis of why I didn’t just pick a nice religion like Deism or UU or certain Protestantism, as some commenters have asked. I didn’t think they seemed coherent and consistent enough.
We visited a newly atheist relative while we were up North. We stayed largely off the subject of religion till she raised it herself, and took offence when my beloved commented that we are all on our own journey. She indignantly proclaimed that she had reached her final destination; that her decision to leave the Church had been made on rational grounds after research into the basic facts. I don’t doubt for a moment that she made her decision only after long – and no doubt agonising – thought. Yet, as I pointed out to her, other people (myself among them) have carefully considered the same basic facts and drawn quite different and opposite conclusions. Who is to say that she is right and I am wrong (or, for that matter, that I am right and she is wrong)? At this point in our personal journeys, we are simply in different local maxima; standing – to use the analogy from Leah’s post – on different peaks.
I like the view from my peak, and I’m glad to the join the many others who welcome Leah up here with us.