“I guess Morality just loves me, or something…” UPDATED

You guys remember Leah Libresco, right? The favorite Philosopher Atheist of many of us, here in the Catholic portal? The adorable, ubersmart Yalie grad whom I introduced a while back, as “a smart young cookie and a life-long atheist” and whose blog began as a geeky atheist picking fights with her Catholic boyfriend?

Yeah, her, the girl whose banner has been flying at the atheist’s corner:



Well, today she makes an announcement that will startle many:

I tried to keep my eyes open for ways I could test which world I was in, but a lot of the evidence for Christianity was only compelling to me if I at least presupposed Deism. Meanwhile, on the other side, I kept running into moral philosophers who seemed really helpful, until I discovered that their study of virtue ethics has led them to take a tumble into the Tiber. (I’m looking at you, MacIntyre!).

Then, the night before Palm Sunday…I was up at my alma mater for an alumni debate. I had another round of translating a lot of principles out of Catholic in order to use them in my speech, which prompted the now traditional heckling from my friends. After the debate, I buttonholed a Christian…prodded me on where I thought moral law came from in my metaphysics. I talked about morality as though it were some kind of Platonic form, remote from the plane that humans existed on. He wanted to know where the connection was.

I could hypothesize how a Forms-material world link would work in the case of mathematics…But I didn’t have an analogue for how humans got bootstrap up to get even a partial understanding of objective moral law.

I’ve heard some explanations that try to bake morality into the natural world by reaching for evolutionary psychology. They argue that moral dispositions are evolutionarily triumphant over selfishness, or they talk about group selection, or something else. Usually, these proposed solutions radically misunderstand a) evolution b) moral philosophy or c) both. I didn’t think the answer was there. My friend pressed me to stop beating up on other people’s explanations and offer one of my own.

“I don’t know,” I said. ”I’ve got bupkis.”

“Your best guess.”

“I haven’t got one.”

“You must have some idea.”

“I don’t know. I’ve got nothing. I guess Morality just loves me or something.”

“…”

“Ok, ok, yes, I heard what I just said. Give me a second and let me decide if I believe it.”

It turns out I did.

I believed that the Moral Law wasn’t just a Platonic truth, abstract and distant. It turns out I actually believed it was some kind of Person, as well as Truth. And there was one religion that seemed like the most promising way to reach back to that living Truth. I asked my friend what he suggest we do now, and we prayed the night office of the Liturgy of the Hours together (I’ve kept up with that since). Then I suggested hugs and playing Mumford and Sons really, really loudly.

Read the rest, which is Leah’s announcement at the Atheist Portal that she will be joining us tomorrow, here in the Catholic Portal, which I expect she will keep arguing and challenging and reasoning with her big brain, and also keep us apprised of what she is discovering in the RCIA classes she is already attending, in anticipation of being received into our beautiful, maddening, enlightening church, next Easter!

It’s a brave thing to do, I think — to parse reason and see where it leads, and then to acquiesce when it takes one, as it usually (but so unexpectedly) does, to that church in Rome; the one built over the bones of Peter, and so graced by the Holy Spirit as to survive the flaws and faults of her imperfect administrators; the one of which I once wrote:

Intellectual rigor and loyalty are not mutually exclusive, as some progressives are prone to insist. What [John Henry] Newman models is, perhaps, a willingness to apply one’s own intellect to any question with enough openness as to leave room to be surprised at one’s own conclusions.

In that sense, Newman is hardly the first prominent Catholic to wonder “yes, but . . .” and then prostrate. Dorothy Day was able to reason with such openness, and she self-identified as “an obedient daughter of the church.”

Reasonable Catholicism is reasoned loyalty, or sometimes even loyalty with gritted teeth; it is loyalty that insists upon the application of reason lest its value be questioned. By the same token, intellectualism that is not tempered with loyalty ends up pickling itself in its own ego. Either one, by itself, is incomplete. Both are required.

Leah’s is a mind rather exquisitely open. Like our present pope, she is willing to discuss anything at all, to see where it leads. I’ve said before that Benedict’s willingness stems from his certainty that any discussion put forth with intellectual honesty will lead to Catholic Orthodoxy. Leah cannot yet possibly have his certainty, but she is willing to throw the intellect into our fun little crucible and have a go, on faith.

Please make her welcome to the church
and to the portal, and keep Leah Libresco in your prayers. For my part, I am commending her to Bl. John Henry Newman, for the intellectual spaciousness of her conversion, and dear St. Philip Neri, for the grounding depths of her humor.

Her updated banner will say, I believe, “a geeky convert picks fights in good faith.”

We could use a little more “good faith” in our world.

And Leah, as Paul Johnson is credited with saying, “come on in; it’s awful!”

UPDATE:
In a private note to Leah, one of our bloggers welcomed Leah and wrote,

“Welcome. I know this was hard, and will continue to be so. Don’t worry if the Catholics make it as for difficult for you as the atheists. We only do it to people we love.”

Yeah, it’s true.

Some reactions as they come in:
Deacon Greg

I like Brandon Vogt’s post:

“Today heaven is roaring with joy. I’m sure Leah’s forebearers are cheering loudest, those great intellectual converts who have paved the way for Leah and so many others—Augustine, Newman, Lewis, Chesterton, and Edith Stein.”

Indeed! And loving the new site design, Brandon!

Tom McDonald:

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.

Star Foster:

Leah may be the first, but in a site as big as Patheos I feel pretty confident she will not be the last. After all, a surprising number of our writers are already converts. Every Pagan writer except for Eric Scott is a convert. Return to Rome is written by a convert, and Carl McColman was a Druid before becoming entranced by monastic mysticism. Conversion happens, and when your faith and spirituality are hanging out in public as a religious writer, conversion can suck. Luckily, Leah is only leaving her atheism behind and gets to keep her blog and it’s prescient title.

Te-Deum’s Diane M. Korzeniewski:

I hadn’t heard of Leah before today, so I don’t know whether any Catholic writers at Patheos played a role or not. But it is still interesting. Please keep her in your prayers. As with anyone converting or reverting, be patient (Rom 14:1).
She talks philosophy, which is of interest to me, so I’ll be checking in.

Rick Rice:

…this validates my own decision to come back to Catholicism and embrace the Church with passion and so perhaps my joy in reading this is tainted somewhat by that validation but in the end, what it also does is give teeth to the assertion that all quests for truth lead to Rome. Yes, I said it. Yes, I believe it.

Joanne McPortland, noting all the “you smarter, progressive Catholics ought to get out of Dodge and find a smarter, more progressive Church” latherings flying about today, finds in Leah’s announcement, a reason to exhale:

Like me, Leah has felt the appeal of gnosticism, that thirst to know the unknowable. And at some point, she also recognized that the Unknowable wanted to know her—and that there was one place where that unfathomable fathoming might take place. Against all odds, Dodge.

Fr. Dwight:

One of the abiding problems in American Christianity is a kind of anti-intellectualism that reigns supreme in some quarters. “Ya’ll don’t wanna trust them innerleckshuls.” Those who run from the intellectual arguments often take refuge in personal religious experience of some kind. This is called fideism–and it’s a heresy. It’s often combined with Quietism– the retreat into a kind of passive religiosity which disengages from action and involvement–trusting passively in Divine Providence–to the exclusion of interaction.

I hope Leah’s presence will bring some fireworks as she enters and explores what the Anchoress calls our “Maddening, and beautiful church.”

Julie Davis: “. . .a choice bit that shows realization of internal transformation.

Calah Alexander with a really splendid post touching on her own conversion:

What I do remember was my father-in-law, the aptly named Ever-Teacher, having a long talk with me afterward about what I should have asked. He said that I should have asked to share in the burden of the cross, since that what’s conversion really is. Conversion never ends, I remember him saying. You’ll be carrying a cross the rest of your life. The only thing that will change is how much of a burden you are strong enough to bear.

Creative Minority Report: worries about the internets and hopes Leah has a good spiritual director.

Finally, Max Lindenman, for the win!
. Just go read it! :-)

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • lethargic

    To Leah: I have tears in my eyes now. I’ve read your blog from time to time … your mind is so far out there ahead of mine, but I enjoy and appreciate what I’ve gotten from you … may God bless you … and would you mind tossing up a prayer for my son, who is a geeky atheist so like you, though perhaps not so fearlessly open minded … Welcome Home, Leah!

  • Anna

    Shocking for some maybe (maybe even for her), but less so when you know where that search for Truth originates and ends. Yay, Leah!

  • http://jscafenette.com Manny

    OMG! Leah my respect for you has just SKYROCKETED! Welcome. It’s really not that bad around here. ;) Actually as a former atheist, I would say it’s way more comfortable than the sillyness of my youth.

  • http://elizabethk-fthnfort.blogspot.com/ Elizabeth K.

    I have tears in my eyes reading this. I have read and loved Leah’s blog for a couple of years now, and am so happy to welcome her home. It is awful, in the way only the one true church can be awful, and it’s also wonderful, and sometimes even awe-full.

  • Ellen

    Well, well. Some quite excellent news just when I needed it. Welcome Leah. I know that John Henry Newman, Thomas Aquinas, and Edith Stein (a trio of intellects if there ever was one) are all smiling on you.

  • Bill M.

    Expect great things from this brilliant young woman.

  • http://denythecat.blogspot.com Brian Sullivan

    When I read the other week that she was using the Liturgy of the Hours, I thought “that can’t be good–for atheism!” I guess my main concern would be that things might be happening a little too quickly, esp. to move the blog. But that’s split milk under the bridge, so to speak. Woo! and Hoo!

  • http://ascentofcarmel.blogspot.ca Jason

    It’s post like these that keep me going, and let me know I’m not alone in the world. Major support and kudos to you Leah!

  • http://jerryandtericolby@yahoo.com teri

    ”The Catholic Church is an institution I am bound to hold divine, but for unbelievers, here is proof of it’s divinity, that no merely human institution run with such knavish imbecility would have lasted a fort night.”——-Hilaire Belloc

  • drea916

    WELCOME HOME!!!!

  • Captain America

    Leah, I haven’t run across you or your blog before. (“I’ll check into it!”). But I’m struck about your aside on Macintyre; same thing happened to me! Now I’m way into Aquinas (really love Aristotle, you know) and liking what I’m learning about Dominicans. So it goes.

  • http://www.rosaryworkout.com Peggy Bowes

    Like others above, I write this through tears. I didn’t really understand much of what Leah wrote, using her “big brain” (much larger than mine…) until the end. The light bulb moment just got me. Thanks and God bless!

  • SKay

    Wonderful news.

  • gerry boos

    God bless you, Leah, for your courage in accepting God’s Grace & welcome home! G.Boos

  • atheizer

    I’d love to debate Leah on this, I moved from Catholicism to Atheism.

    There are a number of ways you could’ve countenanced moral laws as an atheist. e.g., necessarily true propositions ground themselves. Swinburne holds this moral ontology. I’d recommend Erik Wielenberg’s Value and Virtue in a Godless Universe on it.

    Even if atheism couldn’t support moral realism, it’s unclear whether theism can. Even if theism can and atheism can’t, there could still be independent grounds for holding atheism. e.g., Schellenberg’s Divine Hiddenness, Bayesian PoE’s etc. etc. And this is all assuming moral realism, which I take Richard Joyce to have pwned. :D

  • Karen

    Praise God! I always thought Leah was reasoned enough to believe!

  • jc

    Welcome aboard the Barque of Peter. We travel slowly, so that people can always come aboard, or back aboard.

    Some of the territory will be familiar. For example, we Catholics believe that miracles are scientifically impossible. It was scientifically impossible for Moses to part the Red Sea. It is scientifically impossible that bread and wine become the body and blood of Jesus. It is scientifically impossible that the sun danced at Fatima. Nevertheless …

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