I grew up as an atheist in a non-religious household on Long Island, so I didn’t meet any outspoken Christians in real life until I went to college. I had seen people like Jerry Falwell on TV, but my community was so isolated from religion that, when we learned about the Reformation in AP European History, one student raised his hand to ask if Lutherans still existed.
When I went to college, and started hanging out with a politics and philosophy debating group, I met smart Christians for the first time, and it was a real shock. My idea of a Christian was the Young Earth Creationists, and now I was meeting people who not only were converts to Russian Orthodoxy and math majors, but they thought the beauty of mathematics was evidence for God.
I still thought my new friends were wrong about the existence of God, but I had to recognize I’d been pretty wrong about why they believed what they did. And if I hadn’t really understood their arguments in the past, it was only prudent to give them a second hearing.
I’d read my Dawkins and Sagan and Harris and Shermer, but a lot of these atheist books had been written against boring, anti-intellectual Christians. The God of the Gaps people who were looking for a way to stop dealing with questions. The Christians I was meeting in my debate group were fiercely intellectual and deeply curious. They didn’t seem like the kind of people who ought to still be stuck in this kind of error.
And then I started dating one of them.
We knew that religion could be a pretty big impediment to our relationship (the title of this blog comes 2 Corinthians 6:14 “Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers”). So, I made my Catholic boyfriend a deal: I’d go to Mass with him every week that he went to ballroom dance class with me. And we’d both pass books to each other to make our case.
He gave me Lewis and Chesterton (and I’ve added some others to the bookshelf), and I kept having trouble finding books to pass back. A lot of atheists are focused on rebutting evangelicals –after all, they tend to be the biggest political threat — but I had more trouble finding people who rebut the more sophisticated theologies. Worse yet, because atheism spends a lot of time playing defense, I had even more trouble finding books and blogs talking about what atheists should believe instead of what they reject.
So I started this blog to try and crowdsource my arguments and to find more people to ask me tough questions and force me to burn off the dross in my philosophy. I talked with deacons, priests, and Dominicans and attended RCIA classes (until I got kicked out). After two years of dating, arguing, and attending renaissance faires, the Catholic boyfriend and I went our separate ways.
By the time I left college, four years of debates hadn’t changed my mind about God, but I had noticed and corrected some other errors. I was now in favor of covenant marriage, I abandoned my former commitment to stoicism, and I was willing to grant that some forms of Christianity were self-consistent enough to not be self-refuting.
And, by now, I had a new project. I was trying to flesh out how my moral beliefs all fit together, and what kind of metaphysics was required for the to work. Both my atheist and Christian friends were telling me they weren’t sure my virtue ethics-y ways of thinking about goodness made sense in an atheistic world. I kept writing to see if I could prove them wrong, and dipped into Aquinas and Augustine to check if I was wrong.
And, ultimately, I decided the bit of my model of the world that didn’t fit was my atheism. Theism seemed like the most plausible bridge across the is-ought problem. Christianity seemed like the theism that best matched the moral laws I was most sure of. And Catholicism seemed like the most trustworthy form of Christianity. So I bit the bullet, signed up for RCIA (again), and am to be received into the Catholic Church on November 18th.
I got to where I am by thinking about how morality works (working through a lot of thought experiments and case studies) and then trying to figure out what that system implied. So the best way to understand my conversion might be to page through some of the posts in the Morality in Practice category (or, more specifically, the “whence moral law?” “sin-eaters/dirty hands” “radical forgiveness” “pride” and “high mask theory” tags). If you agree with me about what’s right, then we can fight about how that system has to work. If not, then we should probably start arguing at the first point where we diverge.
The one thing that’s stayed constant on this blog is my desire to notice if I’m in error. So welcome to the conversation. Play nice, but play to win. Make sure you’re arguing with your real opponent, not a default or a straw man (my commenters tend to be weird). And if you’re think you’re doing someone a service by pointing out their errors, be grateful when someone catches you out in one.
And, remember, the first virtue is curiosity.