Thursday, August 16, 2007

Thoughts on Born and Converted

The discussion continues on the post “Those Who Leave…” below. The discussion has ranged to being “born” in a Church/confession, and the value of that and the propriety of leaving a confession. Instead of adding to the combox, I’m posting my thoughts here.

The past year or so I have given great attention to our Lord’s word to Martha, “One thing is needful.” That, and statements like, “Seek ye first the Kingdom of Heaven.” In many respects these statements are the hermenuetical principle of Christianity, i.e, they are primary commands of our Lord. I don’t mean this in an exclusive way; certainly “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and your neighbor as yourself,” is of no lesser weight or primacy, and, well, one can fairly say all our Lord’s Words hold weight. Likewise, one can say that it is prideful cherry-picking to place yourself as judge over a text and say, “Aha, this is the key and all else is of secondary nature!”

When I say these statements of our Lord are primary, I don’t mean to suggest some new understanding. What I do mean is that these words properly order and give meaning to our life and the incarnation of the Word. There is one thing that is necessary, one priority to place ahead of all others, even family, wife, and children, Christ says, and that is the Kingdom of God. Nothing else is lasting. The Kingdom is eternal. Nothing else is life. Nothing is provides; nothing else gives true comfort. While we have many vocations and responsibilities within the Kingdom, that of honor given to parents, elders and authorities, raising children, working, acts of charity, and so forth, they are not ends in themselves. Attaining the Kingdom is the end.

One commenter wrote that what we are seeing in America is almost unprecedented historically–never before in any culture has it been the case that children do not stick with the tradition of their family. It could be true. Obviously there have been times of conversion. Think of the Greeks, the Russians, the Goths…think of the Arabs, Turks, and they Indonesians. The difference, however, is that once the cult(ure) was converted, most people stayed within the tradition, with more or less piety.

To those who convert from one tradition to another, the necessary question is, “By what right do I do this?” Maxim, a commenter, noted that for those who are secular-minded the question is never raised. Many in America (all?) are raised to be consumers, to pick and choose and consume all around them. It appears natural to them to consume religion–not much different than consuming pop music, reggae, country or some of each.

But within a Christian mind that recognizes the Providence of God, an existential crisis should occur, asking, “God placed me within this family of x, so by what right may I renounce this and become a y?” Some that have been enrolled in the catechumenate here have asked that question. Not as many as I would like.

The answer is not difficult: “By what right do I have to become a y? I have become convinced of the truth.” There can be no other answer. But this raises a few more issues. First, I fear that many people do not convert for truth. They convert for convenience or for choice and preference. I’ve asked some who have converted from one confession to another about how their families are taking it, and many of answered that their mom is just glad they’re going to a church. Likewise when folks have left my current confession to another, their parents say the same. I hear little concern for truth and falsehood.

Second, is “being convinced of the truth” just another way of saying, “I prefer this to that?” Luther famously admitted that if he could be shown from Scripture where he was wrong, he would recant. He believed that he had found the truth and could no longer teach and preach what the Catholic Church required. Fair enough. But was he correct? Both Luther and Cajetan could not be correct. One of them was clearly in possession of the Truth, or neither was. Both, however, believed that they were correct and the other wasn’t. In other words, there is an epistemological problem here. It won’t be solved in this post. I believe in objective truth. I believe that we can know it, or know some, in part (1 Cor 13). But the subjective element is the gremlin, the ghost in the machine, the great bugaboo, the monkey wrench that tears it all up.

Reason can only take us so far. Learned reason without learning submission and humility is the problem.