This has been big news elsewhere in the internets this week, but I haven’t yet seen it mentioned here at Ignitum Today. One of my fellow Patheos bloggers, Leah Libresco, announced on Monday that she is moving her popular blog Unequally Yoked from Patheos’ atheist portal to the Catholic portal. And she’s not moving for a change of scenery.
Leah has been picking fights with Catholics, Christians and atheists alike in the most charitably Socratic manner I’ve ever seen. She’s left no stone unturned in her quest to understand faith via reason, a quest she has undertaken with unwavering patience, unfailing good humor, and unparalleled combox decorum. Philosophically, I’m way out of my depth on her blog, but I love reading it nonetheless (thanks, no doubt, to the four painful semesters of philosophy that the University of Dallas required I endure, and the brilliant professors who required that I put forth the effort to understand). Her path to conversion reminds me a little bit of the Maritains’, who found themselves disillusioned with scientism and made a pact to commit suicide together if they didn’t find the truth to existence within a year. Leah was much less dramatic about it, of course, but she got to Catholicism in much the same way the Maritains did: lots of philosophical reading, discourse, and thinking. In short, she reasoned herself right across the Tiber.
Her announcement, combined with many of the comments and Fr. Longnecker’s recent post about the anti-intellectualism in modern Evangelical Protestantism, have gotten me thinking about just how underused and even neglected our Catholic evangelical tools are. The Catholic Church’s history is rich and multi-faceted. We’ve had some of the greatest thinkers in history provide rational, logical, philosophically sound arguments in defense of Christianity broadly and Catholicism particularly. I would really like to see some of the atheists’ in Leah’s combox who claim that the Catholic faith is an irrational fairy-tale try to dismantle the Summa with any intellectual integrity. We’ve had countless converts, from Newman to Chesterton, set out to prove Catholicism false once and for all, only to find themselves on their knees in front of the Eucharist, unable to reject Truth. And yet atheists the world over truly believe Catholicism to be irrational, Protestants insist that we worship statues and work our way into heaven, and the secular culture can’t say “Catholic” without immediately adding “sexual abuse scandals”.
Christ said his Church would be plagued with persecution, and there’s no doubt that persecution against the Catholic Church is alive and well, but the prevailing attitude I see toward Catholicism is one of dismissal. How is it that our Church, bathed in the blood of martyrs and steeped in the writings of some of the most brilliant humans who ever lived, can be so easily dismissed? It isn’t a new phenomenon. Western culture hasn’t taken the Catholic Church seriously for decades at least. Why?
I think we, the faithful, the body of our Church, are left with two choices: go shopping for a saddle, or educate ourselves in the intellectual history of the Catholic faith. I’ll admit that I’ve read the Summa only when forced, usually for a class, and always under duress. My husband has shelves filled with the writings of Jacques Maritain and I’ve never cracked the cover of a single one of them. I’ve read a few papal encyclicals, but again, only for a class or a project. Even Chesterton’s writings, entertaining and engaging as they are, sit on our bookshelves and collect dust, with only Tremendous Trifles being pulled out occasionally. If an atheist were to ask me to defend my faith intellectually, I wouldn’t be able to. Not without doing research first. And how many atheists will say, “hang on, I need to re-read a few books before I can explain what I believe and why?” I’d venture to guess pretty much none of them. Would you respect their intellectual beliefs if they did? I wouldn’t. So why should they respect mine?
It’s disgraceful. Our Church has given us this great wealth of knowledge, a veritable armory of weapons with which to defend Her, and it’s all rusting, unused, unknown, and uncared for. If we want to blame someone for the world’s dismissal of Catholicism, we only have to look in the mirror. Maybe it’s time we change that. Maybe Leah’s conversion can be a wake-up call to us to get moving and show the world that Catholicism isn’t irrational and that it can’t be dismissed, certainly not easily. But before we can show the world anything, we have to discover it for ourselves.
UPDATE: After reading back through my post, the tone strikes me as possibly accusatory. I hope that those of you who have read many of my blog posts trust that such was not my intent and that those of you who aren’t as familiar will trust that I did not intend to offer a broad-stroked accusation, for there are a great many in the Catholic blogosphere who are very well read. My post is not meant to indict; on the contrary (see, I did hang on to something from the Summa), it is simply a reflection on our American Catholic culture at large and on my frustration with it, and with myself, for failing to make use of so many avenues of grace that the Church makes and has made open to us. That being said, I’ve left the post as it was originally posted: