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!”
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:
“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!
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.
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.
…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.
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.