I mentioned a few days ago that one of the atheist bloggers here at Patheos converted to Catholicism. It’s a little bizarre, and a lot of atheists are confused, as well as a few Catholics. And it has me thinking deeply about conversion.
The most popular conversion story in the Western world is that of Saul (soon to become the Apostle Paul) on the road to Damascus. It leads us to think of conversion as a sudden thing. A flash of light from heaven, a miracle witnessed, or maybe Chi-Rho appears above the sun before a big battle. But the truth is that conversion is a quiet subtle thing. There is a long gradual lead up to the turning point, and an even more gradual easing into full embrace of the new faith. It is like a large sphere buried beneath the earth, and other people can only see its zenith that breaks through the topsoil.
Conversion is a vast, internal experience that cannot be easily explained or communicated, particularly when you are in the midst of it. Though you may give signs, as Leah obviously thought she had done for weeks, the announcing of your change in religious identity still comes as a shock for most people. It’s confusing for everyone. That tipping over from one faith into another, like a ball pushed uphill until it tips over the zenith and falls away from you, is a chaotic moment in time.
Leah has atheists who are confused, incredulous and angry, and Catholics who are confusedly rejoicing, sometimes in a rabidly blind manner. There is energy and emotion swirling about this conversion in a whirlwind. I do not envy Leah her situation, as it seems she announced her conversion before she was able to properly articulate it to herself, much less others. My advice to her would have been to take a blogging sabbatical in order to sort herself out before taking the step of “coming out.”
I myself have been undergoing the process of conversion. I had been trudging through the “Slough of Despond” for months when I had an unexpected spiritual revelation that began to click everything into place for me. Like Leah, everything I believe has been turned upside down. There is a lot of emotion and chaos swirling about me, but unlike her I’ve put off announcing what specifically is changing about my spirituality. For one, my conversion doesn’t make me “less Pagan” (although I am sure some will disagree) so you need not fear I’ll be publicly reciting the shahada or calling myself a daughter of Abraham.
Despite the fact that I will still be firmly under the Pagan umbrella, and in some ways my conversion may make me more interesting and less annoying to the majority of Pagans, I haven’t fully worked out the whys and hows of this transformation to myself yet. I certainly can’t explain it to you. I have briefly spoken to only two people in the entire world about this experience, and all I could explain to them was my confusion and fear as I leave the old behind and face the new.
So while I have sympathy for Leah Libresco, and I am a fan of “brave blogging,” I think it would have been wiser for her to wait. To claim the flu, go on sabbatical and work things out in her own heart before inviting the chaos and emotional whirlwind the announcement of conversion inevitably brings. I will announce mine, eventually. It will not be today, or tomorrow. It will be on a day when I feel I can fully explain the theological and metaphysical ramifications to myself, and I feel ready to brave the feedback that such an announcement will bring.
What I will say today is that I have the utmost love and sympathy for anyone undergoing the dramatic spiritual process of conversion. Those who do know Saul left for Damascus a confused Jew and arrived an even more confused Christian, and there is no flash of light that suddenly makes everything all right.