Leah Libresco: Leaving Las Atheist

Every online Catholic’s favorite atheist is taking her awesome home-made duct-tape Wasp costume and crossing over to the Catholic portal. She makes it clear that this is still a work in progress. My reply would be: we all are.

This will be challenging for her, as it should be. I understand a bit of what she’s gone through and what she faces. Maybe my experience will be useful.

I did not come from a hard science/math background as she did, but I spent a long time in a similar worldview as Leah did. I lapsed out of Catholicism around age 18, and found my worldview shaped by Platonism. (I never was as much of an Aristotelian as she.) The Republic hit me like a ton of bricks, and the moral, ethical, and metaphysical world of Plato and Socrates seemed to be the better way of understanding the world than the faith of my youth. Plus I got to sleep in on Sundays. Double win!

I spent the next 15-odd years in a deep and consistent study of religion, mostly with Eliade and Jung as my foundation for understanding the world. My Platonism led, almost inevitably, to Gnosticism, but I tried on everything for a little while. I don’t regret that. I gained something precious from each encounter, and yet I remained deaf and blind to the truth before me. My return was a bolt from the blue. It made no sense at all, and it came to me by an encounter with the grace of God in the midst of pain and suffering. Thus, I was blessed with a twofer: assured of the reality of God, and of the purpose of pain.

I did a great deal of reading during my return, and had to make a decision. There was much in the Catholic faith that I did not yet believe, but I apprehended almost immediately that the limits were my own.

Returning to the Church was not a leap of faith. It’s not a leap of faith when you know there’s a net. Taking the catechism and saying, “I believe this in its totality, without exception,” was a leap of faith. Because I didn’t believe it. Not all of it. I had to put away pride and accept the limits to which human reason can rise in the course of one earthly life, and put my faith in the wisdom of thousands of people across millennia, guided by the Holy Spirit working through the Church founded by the incarnate God. So I conformed myself to the Church, understanding what I could understand, and accepting what I could not. I did what so many Catholics today refuse to do: I stopped thinking I could change the Church and made a decision to be changed by it.

That’s the hardest thing to do, because it forces you to betray the core impulse of human reason: vanity. Pride is the first sin. Putting it aside is the surest sign that you’re on the right path. It takes time and it’s difficult. My advice to Leah would be: push and work through and reason, argue every point, but accept that there will always be limits to what you will be able to resolve. There will always be a tension with the world and within yourself. Those tensions are a good thing. They mean you haven’t become complacent.

And some things will never be resolved, not this side of heaven. I have accepted that a few things will remain unknown and unknowable, and in doing so rendered everything else comprehensible. It was the best deal I ever made.

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About Thomas L. McDonald

Thomas L. McDonald writes about technology, theology, history, games, and shiny things. Details of his rather uneventful life as a professional writer and magazine editor can be found in the About tab.