Writing in the Wall Street Journal opinion page on September 16, 2011, Religion News Service journalist David Gibson asked, who is stronger in the faith, Converts vs. ‘Cradle Catholics?’ This question is one that often comes up in ordinary conversation among Catholics and sometimes among sociologists. Many prominent sociologists of religion of the last half century, such as Peter Berger and Rodney Stark, have emphasized that choice of a faith rather than ascription makes one more sure of one’s beliefs, and hence more committed. Although there is much truth in the idea that using one’s free will to adhere to a faith likely strengthens one’s commitment to that faith, we should nonetheless ask, why can’t Catholics born into the faith also “choose” to be Catholic?
Much writing on conversion seems to equate choosing one’s faith with switching faiths. For example, part of the evidence Gibson gives that converts to Catholicism are likely stronger in the faith than cradle Catholics comes from a Pew Forum on Religious Life survey that asked about switching religions. But is switching religions—let’s say from Southern Baptist to Presbyterian—the only type of conversion experience one can have?
My experience interviewing mostly cradle Catholics for my book Faith Makes Us Live: Surviving and Thriving in the Haitian Diaspora showed me that [Read more...]