Charlie's Blog: A Response to PZ Myers


A Response to PZ Myers

. . .I’m still unconvinced by these conversion stories. I guess in order to get a believable answer we’re going to have to strap a few of them to a gurney and wheel in the lasers and giant arcing electricity machines.

Recently, famed atheist PZ Myers posted on his Pharyngula blog a post entitled Why are atheist conversion stories by Christians so damned unconvincing?. I come across many atheist articles on Twitter, and I let them go. But this one was particularly interesting because PZ asked this question, "So I’m still left with the mystery of why — why do people convert to Catholicism?" That question intrigued me because I used to be an atheist, and I am now a Catholic. Should I answer the question? Here is my answer.

People convert to Catholicism for a variety of reasons. Some people convert to appease a spouse or relatives. Others convert to spit in the eyes of those relatives. Beyond those two reasons, I cannot think of any other illegitimate reasons to convert to Catholicism except that you were put up to it by the Freemasons to infiltrate the Church and destroy it from within. Such conversions are lacking in sincerity.

I am a sincere convert because I converted after becoming convinced that the Roman Catholic Church possessed the truth of God's love for me. This is the part where PZ turns apoplectic. He can't believe that anyone could buy into such nonsense, so he offers some psychobabble explanation for the real reason people like me convert:
I have my suspicions, but these true believers will never confess to them, and most likely are even unaware of their motivations. I think a clue is in Price’s comment above: the credibility of the “imposing wealth, power, tradition, even architecture, of the social-ecclesiastical world”. Catholicism in particular is very good at bombing you with the immense weight of its traditions. It’s a kind of tribalism where you choose your tribe not because of a careful assessment of its positions, but because it looks the most powerful.
I think if PZ visited my parish he would have to eat these words. My parish is a century old, and it looks every bit of those hundred years. The roof leaks. The bell barely works. Yet, it is on the historic register because it is old. I have been to many newer parishes that look like they were built yesterday and look nothing like the cathedrals you see in Europe. I have seen churches that make me proud to be Catholic, and I have seen others that could only be improved with a wrecking ball. We can move on to many of the battles and controversies over power and tradition. And I must mention that sex abuse scandal that taints us with the prominent signs posted on the bulletin boards for how to report sex abuse.

PZ presents conversion to Catholicism as a fetish of sorts for the smells and bells of the Catholic Church. This argument may have held some weight in 1950, but it is not so great in the "Spirit of Vatican II" era that has stripped the Church of much of its dignity, beauty, holiness, and truth. This argument amounts to liking Chinese food because you love the look of the plates and have a thing for chopsticks. Then, you see the person eating the food with a plastic fork from a styrofoam container.

I think aesthetics matter, but they are not the reason for my conversion to Catholicism. I suspect this argument may explain why some Westerners convert to Buddhism, Hinduism, and Islam. Such religions seem exotic and new to those raised in dull Protestant churches. But I belong to a religion of mighty cathedrals and plastic rosary beads. When you see a guy take communion in cargo shorts and flip flops then dips out before the end of Mass, the romance of it is pretty much killed.

So, if I did not convert for the sake of my wife or because I dig incense and stained glass windows, why did I convert? PZ answers his own question about the need to strap people like me to a gurney and wheel in the lasers and giant arcing electricity machines. This is PZ trying to be humorous except he forgets that with Catholicism instruments of torture were actually used on those who believe in Christ. Torture and execution have a way of separating the sincere wheat from the insincere chaff. 

They sawed St. Simon the Zealot's body in two starting from the crotch and working their way down. That is a heavy price to pray for being a zealot for Christ, but no one reported him recanting his faith. This is just one of thousands of excruciating deaths people have offered up for their Lord. You may say these are all myths and legends, but the recent murders of Christians by ISIS should help us to dismiss such nonsense.

I don't know if this answer is believable enough for PZ Myers. What I do know is that I doubt that PZ would willingly choose to suffer in the same way for his atheism as these Christians do for their faith. You don't get any prizes for dying for atheism. You just get dead.

Suffering and dying for Christ doesn't prove that Jesus lived, died, and rose from the dead. But it does dismiss the foolish notion that these people are insincere. The fact is that such tragic suffering seems to fuel conversion and make people want to become Christians and Catholics. Why? Why would anyone want to sign up for any of this if they didn't believe it was true?

I believe that Jesus Christ was truly God and truly man. I believe He died in atonement for my sins, and He rose again from the dead never to die again. He ascended into Heaven, and He will come again to judge the living and the dead. And He founded the Roman Catholic Church to let the world know these things and to bring everyone who believes in Him into the loving embrace of communion with Him. I believe that God loves me very much, and I choose to love Him back. And this is why I am Catholic. If none of this turns out to be true, then all my life and sacrifice has been in vain, and I am a fool. But as someone who was an atheist, I can tell you that I was an atheist because I didn't want to hate God but preferred to believe He just wasn't there. You can't hate what doesn't exist. Yet, God revealed to me in His way that He was still there, and He corrected my misunderstanding about suffering in the world. God exists, and He is good. And He loved us so much that He was willing to suffer and die for us. And there are people who love Him so much that they are willing to suffer and die for Him.

Suffering proves sincerity. It removes doubt concerning intentions. The cross of Christ is foolishness for people like PZ Myers. I know because it was foolishness for an atheist like me. People may die for their country or for their families or for an abstract principle like freedom. But to die for the human race? Is the human race even worth dying for? Would PZ be willing to die for a humanity that cursed him and spit on him? Yet, Jesus died for all the atheists who curse Him and spit on Him even now.

So, why does an atheist like me become a Catholic? Why did I change my mind about Jesus Christ? What great scientific fact or philosophical argument moved me to faith? None of those arguments swayed me. I was converted out of love. My wife loved me before I even knew her. She prayed for me to the Blessed Mother who prayed for me to her Beloved Son. And, in His love for me, He reached out to me after all the years I had spit on Him and cursed Him. He let me know that He still loved me, and He always would. And I chose to love Him back.