I put the following notes together shortly before beginning the process leading to conversion:
I want to become a Catholic because:
1. Grand philosophical reasons:
- I believe in a God with purposes. That’s the only way I can make sense of a world in which there is real good and evil, or for that matter understand how the world can make sense at all. If good—right purpose—is objective, then it seems that the purpose of things is part of the way things are. It is hard to conceive of that without reference to a person whose purposes the nature of things reflects, simply because it is hard to conceive of purpose without an agent. Beyond that, we can’t even think without trusting that our thoughts are part of some greater scheme of things upon which we are entitled to rely. So faith in the fundamental goodness of things seems necessary for knowledge.
- I believe that God does particular things. What sense does it make to say God has purposes unless that is so? The creation of the universe with just the qualities it needs to make life possible, and the creation of man, would be examples.
- Since God does particular things it’s important to know what they are. Their particularity means that we can’t just reason out what they are. It follows that some sort of revelation is necessary. The idea of revelation—the Word of God given to men—is a difficult one. The Christian and Catholic account seems best: the message is a person with authority rather than a book, and that person is always with us in some continuing and concrete way. The message is a person because the point is to know God, and God is a person. Further, a person is known through his continuing concrete presence and dealings.
2. Personal reasons
Basically they flow out of the philosophical reasons. Religion is basic after all. The scheme of things by which I am connected to the world must be understood as the work of God, otherwise I couldn’t be justified in relying on it. So without God what connection can I have with the world? And without the church what definite connection can I have to God?
The particulars include:
- Dissatisfaction with how I’ve led my life—inertia, dissipation, family issues—and dissatisfaction with the state of the world. In which direction lies hope?
- My relation to American life and the civilization of which America is part. What is the source of the things that are good in that and what is the answer to what is bad?
- Specific situations in which the Church is right contra mundum, e.g., contraception.
- The Latin mass. A perfect presentation of the coming of God into our midst and his relation to our lives and the life of the church as those things actually are.
3. Problems with the Church:
- General skepticism. Is it really all true? Maybe we don’t really know anything but just bumble on.
- It’s a big step. How can anyone decide something as big as a whole way of life and outlook on things? The answer, I suppose, is that it has to creep up on you so by the time the decision comes it has already been made and there’s no choice because there’s no place else to go.
- Pervasive disarray in matters of faith and morals reaching to very high levels makes the visible church much less clearly visible. That undermines the whole theory somewhat:
- I recognize that the pope’s the one to decide how he does his job, but it seems to me he does outreach to excess. Everything is his friend. Human rights are his friend. The EU is his friend. His views on capital punishment also worry me, not so much because I’m convinced I know the right answer as for the spectre they conjure up of a pope deciding on his own to create new doctrine based on current views or his own theories. After all, our basic concern is with what’s right and true, and it’s easier to square that concern with the authority of the pope if the pope looks like he’s just standing up for what the church has always and everywhere believed. New departures are troubling for that reason, and the explanations given didn’t seem adequate.
- Various wobblings as to social doctrine are bothersome too. If John XXIII in Mater et Magistra says “the time has come to promote in agricultural regions the establishment of those industries and services which are concerned with the preservation, processing and transportation of farm products,” and you think for some reason it would be a lot better to let people keep on putting canneries in urban areas, are you a cafeteria Catholic? Various popes have said there is no Christian socialism. Is there a Christian libertarianism? What are the limits?