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A Reasonable Faith

June 21, AD 2012 7 Comments

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:

Filed in: Columnists

About the Author:

  • I have been thinking about this a lot this past week. I don’t know when it happened, but I’ve only been Catholic for 7 years and at some point I stopped actively learning about my faith. I got to the point where I could function as a Catholic and simply stopped reading anything deeper than lifestyle blogs. More “how to be Catholic” than “why to be Catholic” I suppose. It’s such a shame and I’ve decided to turn that around a.s.a.p.

    I’m already starting to get excited at the idea of learning more of the why’s of Catholicism, a feeling I haven’t had since the year before and perhaps up to 2 years after my conversion.

    I’ve never heard of Jacques Maritain – I’ll have to add his writings to my ever-growing list!

    Thank you for writing this. It needed to be said.

  • TLC

    I had not heard of Leah before, but now I am so excited to read more about this! Thanks be to God! I came into the Church seven years ago as well! Thanks for the post and great reminder.

    And exactly, we need to look in the mirror – because there have been how many Church “scandals” and the world thinks we are all loonies to be Catholic. We need to remember and to admit that the Church is made up of sinful humans, thus we are capable of doing horrible things, but that’s not to say what the Church teaches is at fault (we just don’t practice it). I’m reminded of what I think Gandhi said – “I would be a Christian if it were not for the Christians!”

    So let’s keep our focus on living out the true faith in a genuine way so that others WILL want it too. And how do/can we do that? By learning it!!! Thanks again!

  • Hear! Hear! I don’t think we necessarily need to be able to tackle the Summa in order to defend our faith, however. Not all of us are frankly up to St Thomas and I don’t think you have to be a philosophical giant in order to present Catholicism rationally. (Though spelling and grammar definitely help if you’re trying to do it online.) I think the starting place should actually be reading the Catechism of the Catholic Church from cover to cover.

    Another great resource I recently discovered is this little gem of a book: How to DEfend the Faith without Raising Your Voice ( It isn’t a complete catechism but what I like about it is that it focuses on the most common hot button issues and aims at building dialogue rather than winning arguments. It dismantles the question before it gets to the answer. It first aims to build empathy: what is the nugget of truth the questioner has grabbed onto that we can understand and build on? Then it reframes the topic from the Catholic perspective rather than just trying to hammer at people who see the world from a completely different perspective.

    But the main reason we should be continually reading and learning more about our faith is not for others but for ourselves. There is more to know about the faith than a supergenius could learn in one lifetime. So you will never get to a point where you know it all.
    If I’m not moving forward, I’m probably sliding backwards.

  • douglas

    I heartily agree I believe the root cause is the failure of most priests to forcefully, and repeatedly remind the Catholics in the pews about Peter 3:15 and 2Thessalonians 2: 10. One says “be ready to give a reason for your hope” and the other says “God will give them a deceiving spirit because they have not accepted the love of the truth so that they may be saved”. If parents taught by word and example to truly love the whole truth, children might not be lost. Think how it looks to God when so many people effectively say to Him, “If you want me to know something, all you have to do is hit me over the head with it and I will probably pay attention. But I am not going to put any effort into it” What is the worst deceiving spirit possible? My guess is that thinking we are saved by believing Jesus is true God and true man but not loving the whole truth and therefore not loving Him Who IS TRUTH is the worst deceiving spirit. How many of all faiths fail to truly love the whole Truth? If only more priests would try harder to wake those in the pews up. My idea is to have t-shirts printed with the message: PARENTS SHOULD be seen truly loving the whole TRUTH so that they may be saved see 2Thessalonians 2:10

  • Nate

    I have about a 3 page wish list on amazon and the list seems to keep growing. I don’t take this post as accusatory, becasue it is a big trial to be around what we are around today. Today new converts have to be ready for weird looks and “oh you’re one of them” sighs, I think one of the things that always keeps my mind ready to read more books on the why’s ok Catholicism is the nones(non believers), it’s not that I want to read up so I can refute them with spite. There is a lot of Love they don’t see about the Truth, and it saddens me.

    In my Philosophy class we are reading Nietzsche, and it’s funny how a faith journey that book is. For a notorious atheistic thinker, you can get a lot of hope form reading that book. I think we as Catholics have a sort of double agent life. Or we are like the immigrants that give a culture away for another. Defending the hope in us was and will be a labor of love. I have handful of friends who are Atheistic, and none are like Leah, I can point to things about the Faith all day long, or to this source and that source, saying here read this look what I am telling is truth, but do they go to read no. But the word quit isn’t in my vocabulary.

  • WSquared

    This post is not accusatory at all, and I’m so very glad you wrote it. If it shakes any of us out of our complacency, then good. As Fr. Barron never tires of telling us, Catholicism is a smart tradition (search YouTube for his “dumbed-down Catholicism” video for something that does hit home in the way this post does, albeit with a bit of a laugh).

    I grew up with family members who practiced in so far as going to Mass every Sunday and every Holy Day of obligation without fail counts as practicing, but practicing did not necessarily extend to the intellect. Even when I was away from the Church, I never fully accepted the canard that Catholicism was somehow all emotional and not intellectual. Thankfully, I had taken and taught Western Civ. If we had St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Augustine, then there was no way that the Catholic faith wasn’t for smart people (although it’s not only for smart people). Actually, watching my mother become more devout and more rational as a result (which comes from learning to trust God) made quite an impression upon me when I realized that she was seeing things that I didn’t.

    I think that the thing to emphasize here is that Catholicism is a Fides-et-Ratio– Faith and Reason– faith, tradition, and religion. It actually demands that you fire on both cylinders as opposed to treating their interplay merely as a “nice idea.” Not all of us have the intellectual prowess of a St. Thomas Aquinas, sure. But that does not mean that we can’t and aren’t using our reason, nonetheless.

    Also, don’t be afraid to connect the dots. One of the things that’s wonderful about the faith is that it encourages you to do so, because it all fits together. I’m not a trained theologian or philosopher (I am, however, trained as a historian), and as a Catholic revert, I was and am still doing a lot of reading. But I don’t do that reading of Ratzinger or von Balthasar or Barron without praying the Rosary daily and partaking regularly in the Sacramental life of the Church. I’ve had moments where a lightbulb will go off vis-a-vis something that I’ve read that will illuminate my prayer life, or I will see what I am praying in what I am reading, and something will fall into place. What helped me to unpack the Traditional Latin Mass was my historian’s training, namely the issue of the relationship between form and function. I can’t get to the TLM as regularly as I would like, but I take what I’ve learned there, and use it to help me pray the Mass when I attend the Novus Ordo. So it does indeed resonate in the heart, and doesn’t just stay in the head. Both “pay it forward,” as it were.

  • WSquared

    Whoops. That should be “that does not mean that we can’t use and aren’t using our reason, nonetheless.”

    And here’s Fr. Barron’s video: