Catholic writer Abby Johnson has a Top 10 list of Things You Shouldn’t Say to Converts. Excerpt:
6. “Life is so much better as a Catholic.”
Okay, let’s try not go all “prosperity gospel” on new Catholics. Life is great as a Catholic. I can receive the real Body and Blood of Christ every day. Nothing could be better than that. But let’s be honest. Life as a Catholic is hard. And that’s one of the things that we embrace about our Catholic faith: suffering. And it’s beautiful. Though, if we act like all of your problems are going to go away now that you are Catholic, then we might as well join up with the Osteens. In the past 3 years, I have been challenged more than I ever was in the 31 years before that.
This has the makings of an interesting thread. Many readers of this blog are converts to a particular tradition or religion. Let’s compile a list of things people within that faith should not say to converts.
Here are a few from my point of view as an Orthodox Christian.
1. “Let me tell you why Orthodoxy is superior to [wherever you came from].”
Orthodox triumphalism can be so obnoxious, but it’s fairly common — and I have found that it usually comes from fellow converts. First of all, it’s unnecessary; if we didn’t believe that the fullness of the truth was in Orthodoxy, we probably wouldn’t have converted. Second, many of us may well retain an affection for our former churches or communions, and no doubt have friends and family still there. Leaving them might have been difficult, even painful. Third, and relatedly, spiritual smugness of this sort can be deadly, especially to a convert. Orthodoxy is a gift that we should receive humbly.
2. “Let me tell you about [this historical victimization of our Orthodox people in the old country], and why we should keep hating the [descendants of those who committed the crime].”
Making a virtue of your victimhood is unattractive, especially in a Christian. It is especially weird and destructive when American converts, usually under the influence of someone in their congregation, take national and ethnic hatreds of old-world Orthodox as their own, as if hating the same Others is a sign of true Orthodoxy. It’s very easy for enthusiastic converts to fall into this trap.
3. “The West … [gripe gripe gripe about Western civilization].”
It is enlightening and even upbuilding to stand outside of a Western religious tradition and to examine critically the customs and ways of thinking you inherited as a Westerner. But it’s immature to hate on it, as if we weren’t all Westerners, and as if everything in the West fell apart after the Great Schism, and the East continued to live in a Golden Age. For most loudmouths within an Orthodox congregation who fashion themselves Byzantine Spenglers, it’s a pose, and an unattractive one.
And by the way, here’s something that you can’t say often enough to an Orthodox convert: “Be patient, especially with yourself. This is going to be confusing at first, but it will eventually make sense.”
Over to you, readers. I’m especially interested in hearing from you who believe in non-Christian religions, and who left religion for atheism (i.e., what things should atheists not say to new atheists?).