Faith Is Not A Big Electric Blanket

It’s cozy in here!

Yesterday there was a bit of a kerfluffle between the Crescat and the group Abolish Human Abortion. It started on facebook and escalated into a series of blog posts between the two, which I read with amusement that quickly turned to sadness. For her part, the Crescat seemed genuinely surprised that such deep-seeded anti-Catholicism still existed, to which I responded, “You must not have been to Texas lately.”

Yes, my friends, anti-Catholicism is alive and well. Not the obvious kind, the kind that gets hysterical in the media about how we hate gay people and want everyone to die of AIDS and answer every objection with “BUT PRIESTS RAPE LITTLE BOYS!” No, the kind that Flannery O’Conner regularly encountered in the South, among the salt-of-the-earth Evangelical culture. The kind that thinks we worship Mary, pray to the dead, are idolators, don’t read the Bible, believe in magic, and probably worst of all, make men wear dresses.

I came to the University of Dallas absolutely certain that I knew what these papists were about. And I told them so with predictable regularity. I’d ask some question, like, “why do you think Mary was born without sin?” and when they gave me their answer, I’d let them talk without listening and then explain to them what they really believed. No kidding, I actually did that. I told my friends that they worshiped graven images, followed a man instead of Christ, and had no idea what the Bible actually meant. God bless them, they took my incessant imperious apologetics in mostly incredulous silence and then changed the subject. It got old after a while and I gave it up.

What I thought then was conviction from the Holy Spirit about the Truth now seems to me suspiciously like fear. I clung to what I knew desperately, because there were only two choices: saved or unsaved. Heaven or hell. Predestined for Christ or predestined for damnation. And I had to believe I was saved. That meant keeping an iron grasp on my belief system, shutting out anything that might encourage doubt lest the whole thing come tumbling down and I find myself cast out among the damned papists.

It’s the same thing I see in this response from Abolish Human Abortion. It’s long, meandering, and mostly incoherent, but all the way through the tone is a heart-breaking combination of smugness and defensiveness. They must believe that they are right and they must defend it. There can be no truth but theirs, or the world becomes a gaping chasm underneath their feet, throwing them into a vortex of doubt and darkness.

I remember the first time I glimpsed that chasm. One of my friends used a Biblical argument for Mary’s immaculate conception, evidence from the Old Testament, no less, and I found myself at a loss. I didn’t know how to respond. Mary’s immaculate conception wasn’t spelled out in the Scriptures for anyone to read, so I had dismissed it, because “the Bible doesn’t say so!”. But this made sense. It was consistent with the Scriptures. I found myself uneasy, a little upset, and most of all, afraid. I knew, deep down, that there was truth in what he said, and what I wanted was truth…but this truth would throw everything I believed into chaos. I would have to let go, allow doubt to creep in, examine, question, and open my mind. That prospect was terrifying. More terrifying than I can put into words, but Flannery O’Connor does a pretty good job of it in The Habit of Being:

“I think there is no suffering greater than what is caused by the doubts of those who want to believe. I know what torment this is, but I can only see it, in myself anyway, as the process by which faith is deepened. A faith that just accepts is a child’s faith and all right for children, but eventually you have to grow religiously as every other way, though some never do.

What people don’t realize is how much religion costs. They think faith is a big electric blanket, when of course it is the cross. It is much harder to believe than not to believe. If you feel you can’t believe, you must at least do this: keep an open mind. Keep it open toward faith, keep wanting it, keep asking for it, and leave the rest to God. ”

I told the Crescat yesterday that it’s such a relief to be Catholic, that it’s so much less stressful now. I don’t have to defend the faith on all sides lest it collapse; it won’t collapse, because it is truth. Most of all, though, I no longer have to be afraid of finding truth outside my own belief system. There is truth everywhere, in all religions. God loves us so much that he reaches out to us in every way he can. I believe that Catholicism is the most fully realized, most complete path to Christ on this earth, but I also believe that truth is not confined to one set of doctrines, one branch of Protestantism, one prayer that must be prayed to achieve salvation. It cannot be, or it would be nothing more than Flannery’s electric blanket, keeping a select few warm, requiring nothing from them, and leaving all the rest out in the cold. Truth is so much larger than that. God is so much vaster than we imagine. And we are not passive vehicles in the terrible drama of redemption, dung-hills being covered by Christ just because.

I said on Facebook that I don’t have patience for people that rant at Catholics like this group does, telling us what we believe without actually knowing the first thing about Catholicism. But I was wrong to say that.  After all, I’m only Catholic today because my friends let me rant at them without getting angry or losing their patience. Mostly they just let me talk until I was all talked out, because only then was I able to hear.

I doubt that Abolish Human Abortion is anywhere close to being done talking at us. And even though it’s annoying to hear our beliefs mangled and misrepresented, in the interim I suggest that we just let them talk until they’re finished. When, or if, that happens, I have only one thing to say to them:

Do not be afraid to doubt. Truth will always stand against honest examination. Only the lies will crumble. 

  • Jes

    I have been following the same ‘discussions’ and I think it is very sad. The prolife movement needs a united front, there aren’t enough of us as it is. My impression is that the Abolitionists are young. Their graphics are great. They just need all seven gifts of the Holy Spirit in abundance, for which I shall pray. Starting with wisdom and right judgement.

  • Stacey

    Wonderful article and very timely for me, personally. Oddly enough, I have experienced more anti-Catholic sentiment since moving to Washington State back in June, than I ever did while living in Oklahoma. I find it so sad that this level of anti-Catholic bigotry is still tolerated in such an open manner. Here’s hoping that we can all come together and work constructively for a common cause, rather than tearing one another down!

  • Hantchu

    How did a Nice Protestant Girl like you end up at the University of Dallas, anyway?

    • calahalexander

      Two words: Scholarship money.

  • Elizabeth

    Calah, I’m afraid the first kind of anti-Catholicism is alive and well here in England. I regularly get told how evil we are. And I work in a Catholic school!

    • calahalexander

      Oh, it’s alive and well here in the States too. But the old Southern “those damn Catholics worship idols” kind of Catholicism has been forgotten in a lot of places, or written off as a myth. My point was that they’re both alive and well.

  • Rachel

    I am a long time reader of yours, and I just wanted to thank you so much for this post as well as your blog. I also attended and converted from Protestantism at UD, and in the wake of the whole A//A thing, I have found myself trying to articulate precisely why, while it saddens me, I do not feel fear. Going from the worry that if I was wrong I was somehow breaking God’s plan to trusting that God’s Truth does not depend on my ability to articulate it was such a lifted burden! On a slightly related note, I would like to say that this is far from the first of your posts to either articulate exactly the sensation that I have been struggling with, or exactly the perspective that I needed. (Also, your taste in TV shows is really awesome!) So thanks and God Bless you and your family!

  • Cordelia

    The worst conversation I’ve had like that was with a former Catholic! Educated, upright, Jesus-loving – and utterly certain that the Catholic Church’s first priorities were Marian-worship and anti-Biblical evolution. I just sputtered helplessly, completely taken aback, and didn’t know what to say…myself young enough to be her daughter, a recent convert, and a guest in her house to boot.

  • Mary B

    Thanks for your blog site and insights! Please, would you post the biblical reasoning you found compelling for the immaculate conception of Mary?

    • calahalexander

      The Biblical evidence that I found compelling was my friend recounting to me the story of Moses and the burning bush. God made Moses take his shoes up before he could come near such hallowed ground. The broader implications of this aren’t difficult to reason out. Holiness and sin cannot exist together. How could Christ possibly dwell in Mary if she were sinful? He couldn’t. She had to be free of sin in order to bear God. God gave us Scriptures but he also gave us our intellect to guide our reading of it. Just because something isn’t explicitly stated doesn’t mean we can’t use what is stated and our rational minds to find truth. I hope that makes sense.

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  • Ted Seeber

    A huge part of the reason I’m still Catholic, is because of three lines in Nostra Aetate on truth. Any religion that is willing to recognize truth in others and still have an objective morality, is the one for me.

    And there is only ONE I know of. Zen Buddhism comes a close second, but has gotten stuck on the internal observation that expectation brings suffering. Only Catholicism respects truth enough to admit that suffering itself can bring about good.

  • Josh

    @ Mary B – Matthew 16:18 and 1 Timothy 3:15 are all the Biblical support we non-firsthand-witnesses need to find the Immaculate Conception compelling and worthy of belief. (Hmmm…”witness” and “conception” make for an awkward pairing, but I think you know what I mean.)