It’s not about me, Part I: the underpinnings

Part II

Part III

A friend asked me the other day via email if I had a conversion story on my blog somewhere. I have purposefully avoided writing up a narrative of that long, drawn-out process because I was afraid that my views would be tinged with the emotions and zeal of a new convert. A year and a half out now, I think I can look back and pull together some of the threads that turned me from a contended, Evangelical/Baptist Sunday School teacher and worship team member into a traditionalist Catholic. The story won’t be linear, because my thoughts seldom run that way. I didn’t reason my way step by step into the Church, but rather, it hit me all at once that I was Catholic, and then I had to step back and work out why. I hope the picture painted will make sense come the end, but bear with me along the way.

Four and a half years ago, I attended a Baptist healthcare professional conference, where the keynote speaker, an Anglican from Canada, challenged us to ground our faith in reason–to work out why it was that we believed what we did. He peppered his talks with references from guys I’d never heard of, like Chesterton, Budziszewski, and Kreeft. I got a list of book recommendations from him, and determined that I was going to give myself a good grounding in Christian philosophy and theology. Unfortunately, or fortunately, for me, our university library had a copy of every book he recommended, so I got to work. He also recommended that I get a student subscription to the journal First Things, which would challenge me to think about my faith. And did it ever.

Not long before that conference, I’d also gotten interested in the early Church. A Catholic friend (the only serious Catholic I knew) lent me the Confessions of St. Augustine, insisting that I would find it very interesting. My view of the history of the Church at that time was something along the lines of “from the end of the New Testament to AD 1517, nothing good happened.” I then read about St. Augustine’s life, and found out that this 4th-5th century Christian was deeper in his faith than I was, and it was highly unlikely that he was Baptist. That shook up my world, not a little bit.

So, these two threads started winding together: I was reading everything I could get my hands on about Church history, philosophy, and theology. Every month’s First Things issue I devoured in a single sitting. But, I was still more-or-less a contented Evangelical–I was just a better educated one. These Catholics I was reading in First Things and elsewhere, though, they were starting to look just as Christian as myself. I started bitterly regretting the many statements I had made, disparaging Catholics as not knowing what they believed, and as idolaters or worse.

To end installment one, here’s a quote from GK Chesterton that summarizes where I was at, throughout the year 2004. This is stage one, he says. The other two, we’ll get to in time:

It is my experience that the convert commonly passes through three stages or states of mind. The first is when he imagines himself to be entirely detached, or even to be entirely indifferent, but in the old sense of the term, as when the Prayer Book talks of judges who will truly and indifferently administer justice. Some flippant modern person would probably agree that our judges administer justice very indifferently. But the older meaning was legitimate and even logical and it is that which is applicable here.

The first phase is that of the young philosopher who feels that he ought to be fair to the Church of Rome. He wishes to do it justice; but chiefly because he sees that it suffers injustice. I remember that when I was first on the Daily News, the great Liberal organ of the Nonconformists, I took the trouble to draw up a list of fifteen falsehoods which I found out, by my own personal knowledge, in a denunciation of Rome by Messrs. Horton and Hocking. I noted, for instance, that it was nonsense to say that the Covenanters fought for religious liberty when the Covenant denounced religious toleration; that it was false to say the Church only asked for orthodoxy and was indifferent to morality, since, if this was true of anybody, it was obviously true of the supporters of salvation by faith and not of salvation by works; that it was absurd to say that Catholics introduced a horrible sophistry of saying that a man might sometimes tell a lie, since every sane man knows he would tell a lie to save a child from Chinese torturers; that it missed the whole point, in this connection, to quote Ward’s phrase, “Make up your mind that you are justified in lying and then lie like a trooper,” for Ward’s argument was against equivocation or what people call Jesuitry. He meant, “When the child really is hiding in the cupboard and the Chinese torturers really are chasing him with red-hot pincers, then (and then only) be sure that you are right to deceive and do not hesitate to lie; but do not stoop to equivocate. Do not bother yourself to say, “The child is in a wooden house not far from here,” meaning the cupboard; but say the child is in Chiswick or Chimbora zoo, or anywhere you choose.” I find I made elaborate notes of all these arguments all that long time ago, merely for the logical pleasure of disentangling an intellectual injustice. I had no more idea of becoming a Catholic than of becoming a cannibal. I imagined that I was merely pointing out that justice should be done even to cannibals. I imagined that I was noting certain fallacies partly for the fun of the thing and partly for a certain feeling of loyalty to the truth of things. But as a matter of fact, looking back on these notes (which I never published), it seems to me that I took a tremendous amount of trouble about it if I really regarded it as a trifle; and taking trouble has certainly never been a particular weakness of mine. It seems to me that something was already working subconsciously to keep me more interested in fallacies about this particular topic than in fallacies about Free Trade or Female Suffrage or the House of Lords. Anyhow, that is the first stage in my own case and I think in many other cases: the stage of simply wishing to protect Papists from slander and oppression, not (consciously at least) because they hold any particular truth, but because they suffer from a particular accumulation of falsehood.


7 Responses to “It’s not about me, Part I: the underpinnings”

  1. 2 Owen May 30, 2007 at 7:46 pm

    Scott Hahn, in his account of his conversion (Rome Sweet Home) talks about his journey as being made up of three parts; first a detective story; next a horror story; finally, a love story. Pleased to find your blog via my friend TJ who I see posted above. I’m a recent convert and former Pentecostal pastor of two decades.

  2. 3 E. Campion May 30, 2007 at 8:32 pm

    Hi Owen,

    I remember your blog as you were going through conversion. Welcome! You’ll get to hear about the horror story in the next installment…

  3. 4 Owen May 31, 2007 at 12:20 pm

    Ah, you are that Eric. Now I know I know you. Forgive me for misplacing you 🙂 Yes, bring on the horror. And, I see I need to correct the Hahn title, of course what I meant to write was Rome Sweet Home because their no perspiration in the title and I reversed rome and home and, you were kind enough to not note any of it 🙂

  4. 5 E. Campion May 31, 2007 at 12:45 pm

    Owen, I changed my pseudonym a while back…when I posted on your old blog, I was participating in a now defunct group blog, Cacoethes Scribendi, if that rings any bells.

    I’ll fix the typo for you 😉

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