Turns out someone was actually converted by the LARPing strategy

Back in the archives of the Why I am Catholic repository of conversion stories comes this anecdote from convert-from-Paganism Libby Edwards:

I also enjoyed comic books. (Bear with me; this will all tie together in a moment.) My favorite character was from The Uncanny X-Men, a blue, fuzzy mutant with a spaded tail and a penchant for swashbuckling with a sword. His name was Nightcrawler, and he was a devout Catholic–possibly the only devout Catholic to ever star in comic books. He was something new in my (admittedly limited) experience at the time–a Catholic clearly in love with God, and clearly happy about it.

My affection for the character soon translated to my creative free time. I started writing stories for my friends, and eventually role-playing the character in a comic book RPG. I played in other RPGs as well, and wrote on a semi-pro level in the fantasy and horror genres. Far more often than I intended, my original characters would end up Catholic, too. As a result, I was often challenged by other players and readers about my characters’ motivations, which forced me to turn to Catholic apologetics so I could accurately defend the reasoning behind my characters’ actions.

By this point, the Church was beginning to saturate everything I thought and everything I wrote, but it was when I began studying the Church in earnest (purely for research, or so I told myself) that the first real doubts began to creep in. I was thirty-five by this time, and had lived the majority of my young-adult life as a diehard Neopagan Witch. But enough doubt was sowed by the histories I read, the apologetics I devoured–and yes, the Catechism of the Church–that I began to wonder if I’d been off the mark all along. I was already in love with the trappings of the Church–the smells and bells, art and music, even the grandeur of the rituals, which is probably unsurprising given my love for the similar trappings of Neopaganism and Witchcraft. But I began reading truth in the apologetics as well. Hard truth, but Truth all the same. The rituals and spells of the Craft began to seem cheap by comparison–mere shadows of that Truth– and I was hungry for something real.

Note that LARPing raised Catholicism to the point where it was worth investigating more systematically, it wasn’t (and shouldn’t be) a proof on its own.

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  • St. Prophorius did some LARPing, and converted, but it soon cost him his life: http://www.copticchurch.net/synaxarium/1_18.html

    • Irenist

      Wow. What an amazing vignette.

  • Can I just say that I love not-quite-human religious characters? 😀

    Also, this makes me wonder what people would do if Batman or Spiderman suddenly became Mormon. XD

    • Ted Seeber

      If Batman did- authentically Mormon- I would expect him to liquidate his toys and turn the Batcave into the BEST Bishop’s Pantry ever.

      BTW, that’s also how I know that Mitt Romney is not exactly the world’s best Mormon- generous people are almost never rich.

      • TerryC

        That is just not factual. Many rich people are extremely generous. Bill Gates, whose moral stances I completely disagree with, is tremendously rich, and gives away more money each year than most of us will ever seen in our lives. Romney is required by his religion to tithe at least 10%. He gives much more. He actually gives more to charity than he pays in taxes, something I consider more the ideal situation than the opposite. Generosity does not require one liquidate all ones possession. Catholic Christianity does have a special province for those who, upon taking vows of poverty do give away all their worldly goods, but that does not mean the poverty is a prerequisite of generosity.

        • Not unlike the founder of Domino’s (an Irish Catholic (that Irish part is REALLY weird, especially for those of us used to good, Italian-American pizza)) who has done quite a bit *because* he kept his money and became a professional philanthropist.

          • Ted Seeber

            Yeah, but Tom Monaghan is a Knight of Columbus who still lives in a relatively small house, and gives away most of his income (even after the Bain Capital Sellout) to charity. If it still existed, he’d qualify for the Philadelphia Nun’s Loophole.

        • Ted Seeber

          Giving away money alone isn’t being generous. Giving away time and effort and money to the point that you are living in POVERTY is being generous.

          Re-read the parable of the Widow’s Mite. For Bill Gates to be as generous as that widdow he’d have to give away several billion a year and live in a shack.

          For a more modern version, I suggest looking up what St. Katherine Drexel lived like- saddled with an inheritance she did not earn that gave her an income of $1000/day, she gave away $995/day.

          • Giving away money alone isn’t being generous. Giving away time and effort and money to the point that you are living in POVERTY is being generous.

            I totally disagree with this statement. Where is it written that generosity requires impoverishing yourself?? It simply requires giving, particularly unasked, to those in need.

            Think about it logically: If poverty is the ideal situation, then our goal would be a world where no one had any money at all and every single person was flat broke. Unless and until we become like the lilies of the field and start photosynthesizing our food, that’s simply nonsensical.

            Besides, if charity/generosity is a virtue, and I give away all my money, then I’m no longer able to be charitable/generous. I am thus depriving myself of the opportunity to do good works, not to mention that those whom I might otherwise have helped will now perhaps go unhelped. Except by other Evil People who still have money, I guess?

        • Ismael

          “”Many rich people are extremely generous. Bill Gates, whose moral stances I completely disagree with, is tremendously rich, and gives away more money each year than most of us will ever seen in our lives.””

          Well I will also donate to charity more money than a person in a third world country will ever see in a life time, probably… that does not make me a good person, much less a better person than those poor people.

          Givin a bit of what I actually do not need does not really make me generous… at bet it does NOT make me a greedy bastard… I’d say.

          Generosity is not about how much money you give in term of number of dollars.

          This is the flaw in those ‘Good without God’ slogans I think.

          Is he really good? Or the money he gives away comes back to him because it’s tax-deductable? (I am not saying he is not good I am just raising questions).

          Also giving away something superflous is not being good. If I lose 10 or even 100 $ I might not thrill me but it won’t cripple me and I will shrug it off. If I give it away as charity it will not burden me.
          So the question would be am I being good or just pretending to be good to pacify my consciousness by giving my left-overs to the people who have nothing.

          Here I do not want to say Bill Gates is not good. I never met him… so I cannot tell. At the same time he’s not the paragon of generotity and virtue.

      • Well, maybe. But Mormonism, like most faith traditions, doesn’t have an extremely well-defined template for superhero/secret identity vigilantes. So it won’t be obvious to Brother Wayne that charity for the poor is what he is now supposed to be doing with himself. And remember that in this hypothetical its Bruce Wayne that’s getting baptized a Mormon, not Batman. People are actually fairly good at keeping their roles insulated and usually won’t collapse the distance between them without some good reason.

        To the extent Mormonism does offer a template for Batman, its the legend of the three Nephites, who operate outside formal church structures and who come and go mysteriously, which sounds a lot like what Batman is already doing.

    • deiseach

      There is a listing of superheroes and their religious affiliations, which pegs Batman as either Episcopalian or lapsed Catholic (and I could see either), Superman as Methodist, and Spiderman as generic Protestant.

      There are Mormon comic-book characters on the list, but they’re not the major list ones – sorry!

      • Wait, the WONDER TWINS are listed as Latter-day Saints? Is that because we believe in extraterrestrial life (or at least have significant -I’d say pretty obvious- pointers toward it in our scripture)?

        • Ted Seeber

          It’s because they are obviously modeled on the Osmonds 🙂

      • Just to clarify, that reaction was one of amused shock XD

      • Irenist

        I like that J. Jonah Jameson’s religion is listed only as “hates Spiderman.”

      • Tom

        One of the most interesting Catholic comic book charactors is Hellboy. He was a demon spawn of hell conjured by nazis, but captured and raised by a Catholic American soldier he remains devout his life long. An extreme example of nuture over nature.

        • Beadgirl

          I love Hellboy! I love how there’s no waffling for him, no “how can I fight my nature, maybe I’m kidding myself, maybe I can’t be good, wah wah wah.” Nope, he just keeps matter-of-factly rejecting evil over and over.

      • Will

        I assumed that the Waynes were Anglican, like most of “Gotham” old money.

        Daredevil is Catholic (and this actually came through in the movie) because Miller figured that was the only religion compatible with being both a lawyer and a vigilante.

        • Beadgirl

          As a (former) lawyer, comic-book lover, and Catholic, I find that awesome.

      • Brian Westley

        I object to “The Atheist” listed as “agnostic”

  • That is seriously cool. Though you aren’t helping my “Does goofing off at the SCA count as ‘Evangelism’ if I’m really in it for the garb and the weapons?” debate.

    • Noe

      I vaguely remember that Catholic apologist Dave Armstrong did some time in the SCA BITD, not sure it was him. I know Br. Guy Consolmagno was a SCAdian, ummm…others will come to mind.

  • Ted Seeber

    I’m surprised she missed Gambit. While Nightcrawler is overtly (and faithfully) Catholic, having once been a Priest, Gambit is stereotypically Cajun- right down to the LeBeau name and accent- and thus was formed in an intensely Catholic subculture (secular crime and Catholic morality *can* go together, most famously in the Organized Crime of the Mafia, but to a lesser extent in the do-anything-to-survive Cajun Arcadia).

  • Gia

    Is she still in the Church? Her blog doesn’t exist, and her Twitter feed cuts off in 2011…

    • kenneth

      I question whether she ever was in the Church, and more particularly whether she had ever been pagan, or for that matter, a real-life person. As a pagan myself, I’ve studied the “ex-witch” phenomenon in some depth. Now it should be said I don’t deny that any number of people find paganism in its many modern forms to be theologically or personally unsatisfying or that their spiritual search might lead them elsewhere. I have no problem with that, and in fact with no Great Commission, I have no incentive to proselytize or convert.

      At the same time, as a former journalist (it’s a lifelong disease, really), I developed a certain skill set and instinct for discerning when a story passed “the smell test” of plausibility. Many of these ex-witch conversion stories fail on that count, including the account of “Libby Edwards.” It just doesn’t have the feel and depth of a real life person writing about real life experiences. There is only the barest minimum of biographical background of the purported convert. There is no apparent online footprint of them before or after the conversion story (which is often linked to a book they’re selling). The photo, if any, looks like a stock photo or one created for a book release or blog, not the sort of image real people take in their real lives.

      For someone claiming 15 years in pagan practice, there is something awfully stilted and artificial and vague about their account of it. None of these ex-witches ever seems to know the name of that first book that “lured” them in. I have never known anyone in pagan circles to self-identify their religion/tradition as “Neopagan Witchcraft” as did Ms. Edwards. It all reads like a narrative constructed around the same stock anti-occult script used for decades. All the same elements appear time and again in these scripts:

      A bright young person of poor Christian formation gets drawn into witchcraft while spiritually and emotionally adrift. They get drawn WAY in and become big players in the scene (who no one in the scene actually remembers). They have a uniformly negative experience of it, getting drawn into cursing and all sorts of personal moral transgressions because, after all, pagans have no value system. They get “saved” from it all and thank God they made it out in one piece.

      None of this means Libby Edwards’ story can’t be true or isn’t true, but it’s one that cries out for fact checking before buy-in. Maybe this is a case of someone LARPing their way to Catholicism. Or maybe it’s Catholics LARPing their way into self-affirmation of their core belief in the inevitability of their religion in any person of good will who looks into it….

      • I will say that I am more inclined to believe her. This version of the story meets more of your requirements: http://whyimcatholic.com/index.php/conversion-stories/pagan-converts/item/52-pagan-convert-libby-edwards. It has: 1. A rather substantial biographical background (at least, it is about what I would give if I were to describe my conversion) 2. There is a much clearer “feel” of real life experiences (even if seen through the “post-conversion” lens)

        Admittedly, it is missing the actual name of the book which “drew her in”, but it is quite possible that she has forgotten the name. I will say, however, that her testimonies of witchcraft do align with some of the behavior I observed among my high school friends (a good number of which were pagan… I’m not really sure how that worked) and the testimonies I’ve read from the Vatican exorcist. While none of this necessarily means that her story is true, it does mean that it agrees with what I have seen to be the truth.

        I also think that it is important to note how it becomes difficult over time to articulate what *exactly* I believed pre-conversion. In my case it’s been 10 years since I decided to become Catholic (actually, that just happened — I decided to convert on Sept. 29, 2002 (feast of the Archangels, amusingly)), and my Protestant theology was dwindling even before that. I’ve actually read far more Luther and Calvin in the years since I became Catholic than I ever read in the years before.

        As to self-identification, I’ve referenced my former theology as “fundagelical” or “Dobson-ism”. I never would have used those terms when I was a Protestant, but I use them now as a gloss. Few people (even among Protestants) would understand terms like: memorialist, strict creationist, anti-predestination, premillenialist (with Amillennialist leanings), or that I believed that a person could only be baptized once (and as a child). It is even more difficult to explain why even as someone who has been Catholic for a decade I feel a little odd going into gaming stores (Focus on the Family taught us that good Christians thought D & D was of the devil (admittedly, this was a cause of not a little bit of hypocrisy on my part)).

        • kenneth

          I read the full account in the link you posted. It is word for word the same version posted on that link’s site, and on a number of other Catholic and Protestant web sites with conversion story sections. It is also apparently the only digital footprint anywhere online of this “Libby Edwards” person. She materialized out of nowhere with a few Tweets in spring of 2011, issued this one account of conversion, and then “poof”. Gone.

          That’s a little curious, don’t you think? An excited fresh convert with nothing else to say on the matter? No updates, no little interviews on someone’s blog or podcast? Maybe she’s a private person, but what person do you know who has exactly one, and only one entry online, and one confined to a one or two week period in one month and one year? Even non-Internet guys my dad’s age have a few bits of their past pop up online – professional licenses, mentions in hobby newsletters, alumni lists etc. Let’s recall that she also claimed to have been a long-time member of the pagan community and one in leadership roles. Nobody talks to, and about, other pagans online as much as their own kind. Somehow Ms. Edwards stayed below radar all those years.

          You say her story rings true with what you know about pagansims. Well, that’s as easy test because you admittedly know nothing of us in a direct sense. You vaguely recall some troubled guys in high school who may or may not have been pagan and Vatican exorcists have a negative opinion of us. Ms. Edward’s incredibly vague account confirms those pre-conceived biases, so it must be authentic….

          I’m willing to be proven wrong about this, if anyone can produce independent verification that this person really exists and really was a practicing pagan. I’ll even accept verification via the Victorian Era gentleman’s code of honor. If someone here (who is obviously a real person) has personally known or met “Libby Edwards,” I’ll shut up. Otherwise, my money says this is an apocryphal account, at best.

          • I find the idea that someone appears online, makes a lot of fuss, and then all-but disappears to actually be in the realm of “normal” (insert grumbling about code and projects which were extraordinarily popular two years ago but are impossible to find today). People are fickle and lose interest (and people deconvert…), and what seems like a good idea one minute may seem like a world of work the next. I would imagine that her husband (who married a pagan) and eleven-year-old (who was born to a pagan mother) would be weighing in on the matter as well.

            The fact that her story is the victim of copy-pasta is also not terribly surprising. These types of stories will frequently migrate from site to site. Sometimes they will be altered like some form of bad rumor, other times they will remain the same.

            I also think that your standard of footprint is a bit off. “Libby” could be short for “Olivia”. Depending on how you search for her name you could find up to 17 million entries.

            “You vaguely recall some troubled guys in high school who may or may not have been pagan” I am a bit curious about this line. I (clearly) remember people in high school who said that they were pagan. I remember that some of them made statements which were not dissimilar from what Ms. Edwards said. A casual search for “a witch who cannot hex, cannot heal” results in a number of independent sources, suggesting that while it may not have been the most common of pagan thoughts, it is not entirely foreign (and it is also believable that I would have heard similar in High School).

            I don’t profess to know paganism. I have never studied it as a subject, and I will likely never have more than at most second-hand knowledge. My only available standard is their word on the matter. What standard should I have used?

          • Libby Edwards

            Oh, good heavens! LOL! I stumbled across this tonight by accident–I’m a lurking fan of Leah’s blog, and had no idea she had posted this (almost a year ago now). But Kenneth: I am indeed a real person. I’m very sorry that my “disappearance” from the Internet made you disbelieve my story. When I gave up most of my social networking a couple of years ago, it was because I felt I was spending too much time online and made the decision to spend more time in the real world and with my family. I can honestly say that it never crossed my mind that my absence would cause someone to question the truthfulness of my conversion story.

            I actually DID have requests to tell my story on the air. Two separate Catholic radio programs contacted me about it. One interview fell through because of bad timing, the other came during a period of time when I was between computers–so again, a victim of bad timing.

            As someone else mentioned, I have had a fandom presence for many years (although I don’t share that readily, as very little of what I wrote and did during that time is something I’m proud of), and for better or worse, it’s not hard to find me. But that was a long time ago, at least in fandom-years, and I think I’ve been pushed off the Google front page by Libby Edwards, the dermatologist, and Libby Edwards, the photographer. 😛

            I’m so very sorry that you found my conversion story “stilted, artificial, and vague.” Much to my regret, I’m not the most fascinating writer in the world. But my conversion story IS true, and I AM a real person. These days, however, I’m a very private one.

        • Hm. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that Vatican exorcists are probably not the best source of information about neo-paganism 😉

      • Also noteworthy: it seems that there are a number of references to her blog as being something which was actually active and updated regularly. This suggests that while there is little proof of her contributions now (aside from primarily second and third hand references), that she did have a public persona *at one point*.

        • kenneth

          How long, roughly, was that blog maintained? The Tweets seemed to end rather abruptly after the conversion story was published. Yes, she did have a public persona at one point, but it seemed to have been a fairly short point in time. Borat, and everyone in the espionage and undercover law enforcement world has a public persona “at some point.”

      • Ted Seeber

        It may sound hollow to you- but that describes my life between the ages of 15 and 21 (it was fighting with Protestants in college that began to draw me back- well, that and attending Mass still whenever I could- I was addicted to liturgy, didn’t matter whose).

        It’s pretty common for cradle Catholics to dally with Paganism and Atheism in college, then “revert” to the faith when they find those to be theologically hollow.

        • kenneth

          I have no problem believing that people actually try and leave paganism or anything else. Nearly half of all Americans don’t follow the same faith they were raised in. I don’t find many of the accounts of “witch exodus” to be credible for the reasons I have outlined. Very many of them are very one-dimensional and follow a very predictable and scripted narrative. Many of the supposed converts appear to be either fictional characters or people whose account of their pagan years simply doesn’t ring true with anyone who was actually there.

          • Tricia

            I was a cradle Catholic with poor formation, who was pagan for about ten years, mainly in my 20s, and then returned to the Church. I kept a low internet profile even in my 20s (okay, I wasn’t even on the internet until my mid-20s…the main pagan-related stuff you could Google about me – if you knew my maiden name – was articles published in dead-tree ‘zines that were later put online), and I keep an even lower internet profile now. I’ve never written about my conversion online, and if I did, I might well strip out a lot of the more identifying details (which would make it sound generic, I’m sure) and I would certainly use a pen name, as I don’t particularly want everyone I know to be able to Google that part of my past.

            So while I actually agree with kenneth that there is something bland about this account, and the person seems to have no internet presence, I can easily understand the reasons why this might be so even for a true account.

            (FWIW, my personal experiences in the pagan community were generally pretty good and positive, and to some extent I even consider that time almost like a pre-evangelium that led naturally to the Church, in the Chestertonian sense of ‘the last thing the old pagans did was to get baptised’.)

          • Tricia

            Also, I note from just a little Googling that there is a Libby Edwards who has an online presence in the fanfic community dating back at least to 2003, which is entirely consistent with the account linked above. So I think she’s real.

  • “I vaguely remember that Catholic apologist Dave Armstrong did some time in the SCA”
    Not me. I didn’t even know what “LARP” or “SCA” stood for. Had to look it up . . .
    I was vaguely involved in the occult in the 70s; nothing formal, and had a medieval wedding (and love that period). That’s about the closest I get to that. Never read comic books, etc.

  • I would say, though, that my fascination for the occult and a sort of nature-worship (short of pantheism), romanticism, and love of Wagner (and his obsession with Norse mythology and “Northernness”) did have the effect on my life similar to what happened to C. S. Lewis: led me to a serious Christian commitment in the long run. Spiritual curiosity can be a good thing if we have the wisdom to follow the path that God, by His grace, is laying out before us, and locating truth.

  • Mk299

    Just a quibble – LARP is actually not mentioned in this story anywhere. Ms. Edwards just says she “role-play[ed] the character in a comic book RPG,” which was likely a pen & paper game like D&D, as most gamers distinguish between LARP and table-top gaming. LARP is often seen as the extreme fringe of collaborative storytelling games – every subculture has to look down on somebody!

    I realize that this may not have any interest for those outside the geek-sphere, but it’s a notable distinction for those inside the subculture like myself. Thanks for stories like this, though – always good to hear about other Catholic Nerds!

  • Jordan

    Converted via LARPing. The Lord indeed works in mysterious ways. Nerd power! 🙂