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Damon Linker’s Faith Journey

Artur Rosman interviews my pal Damon Linker about Heidegger, Christianity, liberalism, politics, and his conversion to (and brief deconversion from) Catholicism. On the last point, here’s an excerpt. I won’t quote too much, because it’s really interesting and I want you to read the interview, but I’m picking it up after the experience of being at Brigham Young University led Damon, raised a secular Jew in New York, to explore Christianity. He came into the Catholic Church in 2001, and went to work for First Things shortly thereafter. Here we go:

I sometimes feel like working for First Things during the religious right’s moment of maximal influence in Washington might have been the worst possible thing I could have done to nurture my nascent faith. I never really had any, but I wanted it very much around the time of my conversion. It began to take tentative root in the months after 9/11. But then it pretty much died. Faith was always going to be fraught for me. I’m too skeptical, irreverent, too much in the habit of doubting authority, culturally too much of a secular New York Jew, to settle in easily to faith, let alone faith in a visible church. But add on priests endorsing military invasions and whispering in the ears of princes? Widespread child rape by priests and its active cover-up by the hierarchy? By the time I quit First Things in a huff in early 2005, I wanted nothing more to do with the church at all.

That proved too hasty. Unlike my friend Rod Dreher, who left Catholicism for Eastern Orthodoxy in aftermath of the sex-abuse scandal, I stayed put. I slowly returned to the church over the next few years, and we eventually resolved to raise our kids in the church as well — though it’s been a challenge at times. Neuhaus liked to say that the Catholic Church is “the Church of Jesus Christ most fully and rightly ordered through time.” That sounds nice, doesn’t it? I can’t even begin to imagine how someone could believe that.

Trust me, you’ll want to read the whole thing.

I think Damon shows real insight into why his faith failed him in that environment. I did not work at FT, but I had been in New York since 1998, and proudly — proudly — considered myself a member of Team Neuhaus. The pride I took in my status as a self-appointed member of the Catholic conservative tribe is what did me in as a Catholic. It’s a familiar story to readers of this blog, so I won’t repeat it here. When I read Damon’s words, though, I am taken back to the sense of complete confidence many of us in those circles had that we were, yes, on the Right Side of History. We were so arrogant. Well, wait, I can’t speak for anybody else. I can say that I was so arrogant. It did not occur to me that we might have been wrong about Iraq, and a lot of other things. The ongoing abuse scandal unwound me, as you know, and it fractured my deep and unquestioned faith in Father Neuhaus’s judgment. Funny, but I didn’t think about until just now that my Catholic faith fell apart at the same time that my faith in the Bush administration and the leadership of the GOP did (over Iraq and Katrina). I hadn’t thought that the two were so closely linked, but surely it couldn’t have been a coincidence. I had made such a deep emotional linkage between my Catholicism and my political conservatism, and had embraced it in such a tribal way, that they both collapsed around the same time. Huh.

I don’t like to think back on that painful period of my life, but I bet the deep and simultaneous discrediting of the two institutions I had come to identify strongly with from between 1992 to 2005 — the Catholic Church and Conservatism, Inc. — affected me at a much deeper emotional level than I realized, and the weight of each hastening the demise of the other.

Anyway, on that second point, is it really so hard to imagine how someone could believe that about the Catholic Church? I no longer believe it, but I do believe it of the Orthodox Church, which is a mess. Usually when people look out at the tens of thousands of Protestant churches, Catholicism’s unity strikes them as evidence for the exclusive ecclesiological claim Rome makes. If not the Roman church, then which church is most fully and rightly ordered through time? Key word there is “most,” because no church is fully and rightly ordered, because of time (that is, mortality, imperfection, death). Because that question is important to me, when I could no longer believe in Catholicism, all that was left was Orthodoxy. The gift of faith through Orthodoxy is one I’m bound to take better care of than the gift of faith I received through the Roman church.

(Hey readers, I’m traveling, and this is auto-posting. Please be patient; I’ll approve comments when I land in Phoenix.)

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. A veteran of three decades of magazine and newspaper journalism, he has also written three New York Times bestsellers—Live Not By Lies, The Benedict Option, and The Little Way of Ruthie Lemingas well as Crunchy Cons and How Dante Can Save Your Life. Dreher lives in Baton Rouge, La.

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