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Religious Enthusiasm And Its Limits

Good news and bad news for atheist blogger Leah Libresco.  The good news (from my point of view, anyway), is that she has abandoned her atheism and is converting to Catholicism. The bad news? She’s going to maintain a blog throughout her conversion process. Catholic blogger Patrick Archbold is concerned:

Having a blog on a Catholic portal during your conversion process? I cannot imagine a worse fate for anyone. She has no idea what she is getting into.

How could any intellectually curious catechumen withstand the pounding she will certainly get from other Catholics the moment she poses a question or publicly tries to think through a thought that is perceived to deviate from Catholic thought by a mere 1%? I would not wish it on anyone.

A blogger friend has sometimes suggested a blogging moratorium for those going through the conversion process. I see his point.

I completely and emphatically endorse this point. If Libresco must blog during this process, I hope she will at the very least disable comments. They will not help her, and will only confuse and discourage her. It seems to me that as a general matter, some of the worst ideologues, political and religious (including atheists), are attracted to comments sections of blogs like flies to cow shit. Exposure to these people, be they of the left or the right, could douse any spark of enthusiasm and curiosity for the faith.

And not only the comments sections of blogs. Here on the Orthodox side, we have a completely crazy neo-Bolshevik transsexual blogger (really) who sets herself up as more Orthodox than any patriarch, and who screams bloody murder about anyone who crosses her crackpot orthodoxies. Every word she writes is a lie, including “and” and “the.” If I were a nascent catechumen and thought she represented anything in Orthodoxy, I would think this religion was full of loons.

The other day back East, I had lunch with one of my oldest friends, whom I hadn’t seen in many years. We caught each other up on our lives and thinking since then. We have both been through our ups and downs with religion over the years, and talked about that.

I told him that for me, the great challenge has been to figure out how to be faithful to Christianity in an orthodox (small-o) way, amid the fallenness of this world. Before, my Christianity was a more rigid, ideological, and intellectual thing — and it broke under the stresses of reality. The answer, I said, could not be in believing that orthodoxy does not matter; rather, it was to find a more realistic approach to orthodoxy, one that was not so brittle.

He told me that he worshipped in a Christian church these days, but had become pretty much a universalist. Why? This was interesting. He was still haunted by his Southern Baptist upbringing, which was, he said, extremely rigid and oppressive. He grew up in a heavily Baptist small town, where there was no other way of understanding Christianity possible. Everything was black or white — and if you deviated one bit from what you were told, he said, it was understood that you were courting hellfire.

This, I should point out, was not at all the religious milieu in which I was raised. But for my friend, the torments promised him for questioning Baptist doctrines had resulted in him having to cast off Christianity in any deep sense in order to find peace with God, and within himself. I sympathized greatly with him, remembering our own lengthy, questing discussions of philosophy and theology in college. By way of contrast, my own experience over the years has been a struggle against a religious understanding that’s lax, lukewarm or liberal to the point of abstraction from anything recognizable as historical Christianity. We have many examples of people who drifted for good from religious faith because there was no content or seriousness about it, only vague sentiment and watery piety.

Yet had I been raised in fundamentalism, as my friend was, I wonder if I would be a Christian at all today. For me, I literally could not live with the torment within myself from the things I learned about the Catholic Church. Leaving it was the most painful thing I’ve ever lived through — more painful, I think, even than experiencing the death of my sister. I have never known depression blacker than what enveloped me in those years leading up to my loss of Catholic faith — and it all might have been avoided if I had from the beginning leavened my Catholic orthodoxy with the kind of humility that comes from developing one’s tragic sense of life. It’s not entirely analogous to what my friend went through, but I bring that up to say that getting older, and more experienced, has taught me a hard lesson about being more merciful to others who honestly struggle with this stuff.

Which is another way of saying that as I’ve been forced to trust more in God’s mercy, I’ve found it easier to be merciful to others who deviate from the path of right belief. The way is narrow, and difficult. If it were only up to us, who among us would find our way?

Leah Libresco, please please please stay away from comboxes in this time. Most of the people there will not care about you; you will only be an abstraction onto which they can project their own ideology.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod’s commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written four books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Benedict Option.

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