Yours truly on 7-30-79: my 21st birthday (back before the eternal mustache).
Itxu Díaz is a journalist from Spain. He works for the Dicax Press.
He contacted me for an interview that will be part of a feature for his site, called “Catholics Around the World”. Later, he included my story in his book, Dios siempre llama mil veces (Madrid: Encuentro, 2015), based on this interview. His questions will be in blue.
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Before your conversion you were interested in the “supernatural”. What got you interested in telepathy or magic?
I think that was a function of a certain “spiritual curiosity” or religious urge, even before I had much interest in Christianity itself. I was raised as a Methodist but I was very ignorant and knew little about my faith. For whatever reason, Christianity appeared to me boring, inconsequential, and removed from the “real world.” I hated to go to church on Sunday, and in fact, we stopped going when I was nine years old, when our inner-city congregation ceased to exist. I basically lived as a “secular pagan” for the next nine years of my life: all the way through high school.
Yet I had a curiosity that would later lead me to Christianity, once I learned more about it. In this vacuum, I became fascinated with supernatural things: probably as a result of “eery” television shows like The Twilight Zone, One Step Beyond, and so forth. I read a book about it, and then tried to actually do telepathy, ESP, the Ouija board, and other practices. It wasn’t just a game for me. I was genuinely pursuing it and thought it was a real thing.
Now I know that much of it is indeed real, but lies in the Satanic or demonic realm. I think it is a case study of any number of beliefs taking the place of Christianity, where the latter is absent for the most part. G. K. Chesterton noted that when people reject Christianity, the problem is not that they believe in nothing, but that they will believe in anything.
In your [initial, evangelical] conversion, the film Jesus of Nazareth and your depression in 1977 were two important points. What did you learn from the movie Jesus of Nazareth? How did it influence you?
Movies about Christian themes (when they are done well) have always made a powerful impression on me. Dramatic films “make it real” and possess an emotional impact that doesn’t always come across in writing. This was a case of “the right thing at exactly the right time.” It remains my favorite Christian film.
Beyond the excellence of the movie itself, as a piece of art, I think what moved me was being presented with a realistic portrayal of Jesus. I was dazzled by it. For the first time in my life I was confronted with what He was really like. By this time I had figured out (from my evangelical brother Gerry) that He was actually God in the flesh, which I hadn’t realized till about two years before (actually during another film about Jesus: The Greatest Story Ever Told). It fascinated me, while watching it: that this Person was actually God.
The Person of Jesus was so immensely appealing that I could hardly not become His disciple after that experience. He seemed like the ultimate nonconformist (something very important to me, especially at that stage of my life), and He would always give answers that were striking and unexpected. As it turned out, I gave my life over to Him as a disciple at that time, around Easter 1977. This was my “conversion to Christ through evangelical Protestantism.” It was a profound event for me, and transformed and changed my life. I’ve never been the same since.
Relating to your depression, was it an important event in your [first] conversion?
It was key, because it was highly symbolic of my previous thinking, that I didn’t need God: that I could supposedly go through life with little or no thought of him. Like most people, I had a lot of pride and a self-delusion of self-sufficiency without God: what has been called “practical atheism” (living your life as if God doesn’t exist).
Now, when a person has that amount of stubbornness and stupidity, sometimes drastic action is necessary. God loves us enough to do whatever it takes to wake us up. Going through serious, clinical depression is enough to scare the wits out of anyone, I think. I went from a very self-confident, “got it all together” person to someone who was in the deepest despair and anguish, and unable to figure out why I was depressed or how I would get out of the deep dark pit that I was in. My self-image and seeming “happiness” was annihilated. I had never experienced anything like that before, and never since that time. Thus, in my mind, in retrospect, I think the larger purpose of it in God”s providence was to cause me to finally decide to yield up my self-will (and myself, period) to God.
It was almost like I had no choice but to surrender to God and cease my rebellion against Him. I had nowhere else to go. As I was coming out of the depression, having cried out to God, I felt that I literally experienced what King David did, as he expressed in Psalm 40:1-4:
I waited patiently for the LORD;
he inclined to me and heard my cry.
 He drew me up from the desolate pit,
out of the miry bog,
and set my feet upon a rock,
making my steps secure.
 He put a new song in my mouth,
a song of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear,
and put their trust in the LORD.
 Blessed is the man who makes
the LORD his trust,
who does not turn to the proud,
to those who go astray after false gods!
When did you start to become interested in theology? Was it the reason that led you to Catholicism?
What led me to theology and Christianity was the process I briefly described above, along with the influence of my brother Gerry, who would “witness” to me now and then. Occasionally I attended his church and would squirm in my seat, because I basically knew that what the pastor was saying was correct. I just didn’t want to give my life over to Jesus, because I wanted to be my own Boss.
But God gave me a consciousness and innate sense that Christian teaching on moral issues was correct. I didn’t want to follow those teachings. I was a typical teenager of today (and probably of all times). Interest in theology came immediately after my conversion; particularly C. S. Lewis and books about prophecy by Hal Lindsey. Biblical prophecy had a great appeal to my curiosity. Generally, things have to challenge my mind or intellectual curiosity for me to become interested in them. That was as true in those days as it is now. And that is why I took quickly to apologetics, which is a a way to harmonize faith and reason.
My interest in Catholicism came 13 years later, in 1990. By then I had become a Protestant Christian apologist and campus evangelist, and had studied many many things in theology and apologetics. The initial issue that drew me into wanting to learn more about Catholicism was contraception, as a result of being in the pro-life movement and meeting Catholics there. I couldn’t comprehend what was so wrong about it. I even argued once (in a friendly manner) with a priest, and he couldn’t give me a solid reply. He was a solid pro-lifer (this is how I met him), but wasn’t up to speed with his apologetics. I was informed by a Catholic friend that no Christians (including the Orthodox and all Protestants) thought that contraception was permissible and right, until 1930, when the Anglicans first allowed it in limited cases. That shocked me to no end. Again, then, it was moral theology or questions of right and wrong that played a key role.
The next factor that led me on was an interest in studying the so-called Protestant “Reformation” and what really happened in the 16th century with Martin Luther, John Calvin, and other Protestant founders. I had read some material from the Protestant perspective; now I wanted to see what Catholics would say about it, to get a more balanced view. Once again I was astonished by what I learned. I had been brainwashed by hearing only one side, and it was usually a thoroughly biased account. There are two sides to every story, in other words.
If you had to choose just one author who was decisive for your conversion to Catholicism, who would you choose?
Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman (1801-1890). This was the third and decisive factor in my conversion to Catholicism: reading his work, Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine. What that did was explain in a coherent and intellectually brilliant fashion, how the early Church developed into the historic and current Catholic Church: how what we see today, that often seems excessive and different from the early, New Testament Church, is, in fact, the very same one, by a consistent process of development, much like an acorn grows into a large oak tree, while remaining identical to itself all along. I had been ferociously fighting against infallibility: a notion that I regarded as perfectly ridiculous; almost laughable. Cardinal Newman made short work of my pretensions.
This caused a revolution in my thought, as I realized that the Catholic Church was indeed the one true Church, and the “Church” referred to in the Bible, since the Bible never refers positively to denominations or more than one Church, or even more than one set of doctrinal beliefs in the one Church. Denominations are a category entirely foreign to the biblical, apostolic worldview. Protestants themselves know this full well, which is why they acknowledge that it is a scandalous state of affairs, and don’t try to defend it. At best, they come up with an artificial, rationalizing, non-biblical distinction between primary or central and secondary doctrines: with a wide latitude allowed for the latter. But this breaks down on many levels, upon the slightest scrutiny.
Your conversion was in 1991 and you currently work as an author of numerous books on apologetics and Catholicism. What did you do before?
After several different jobs, I became a missionary to college campuses as an evangelical Protestant, from 1985 to 1989. After that, I settled into a delivery career (payroll) all through the 90s. My first book, A Biblical Defense of Catholicism, was finished during this period, in 1996, from individual treatises all the way back to early 1991, but it took seven years to get it “officially” published. I had started my website in early 1997, that continues to this day as a blog, and now I have also associated Facebook and Twitter Pages.
People knew of my work by the end of that decade, from the website, from articles in Catholic apologetic magazines (This Rock and The Catholic Answer), starting in 1993, and from my conversion story being published in the bestseller Surprised by Truth (edited by Patrick Madrid) in 1994. Thus, when the delivery company I worked for went out of business in December 2001, two weeks after the birth of my daughter and fourth child, I made an appeal on my website to see if people thought I should do full-time apologetics. They did, and I have been doing that ever since, with an income from book royalties, donations, and additional part-time work as necessary. I’ve definitely “paid my dues” but it is a great life, doing what I passionately love. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
Do you find similarities between your conversion and Scott Hahn’s conversion?
Not many. He was already a Presbyterian pastor. So his journey had a lot more to do with painstakingly working through each theological issue where Catholics and Protestants disagree. My journey, on the other hand, had to do with moral issues (contraception), and then historical matters (including study of the Protestant “Reformation” — more properly described as a “Revolution” or “Revolt”) and the determination of where the one true, biblical, apostolic Church could be found (ecclesiology).
Right after my conversion, I worked through the various doctrines and tried to explain them to Protestants, with as much biblical support as I could find, so I did what Scott did, but after my conversion, not before; and these initial papers eventually comprised my first book. That, in turn, has been the leading theme of my subsequent apologetics career: “biblical evidence for Catholicism” (as my blog is called): trying to explain to Protestants in terms they can understand (mostly from the Bible), that Catholicism is the fullness of Christian truth and that there continues to be a visible, apostolic, institutional Church, specially guided by the Holy Spirit and granted by God the gift of infallibility.
Do you think that Catholics study and know enough about their own religion?
On the whole, no: generally speaking, they are abysmally, shamefully, shockingly ignorant, and fervent Protestants know this full well, which is one of the reasons they don’t think too highly of Catholicism: Catholics themselves are the worst witness for the faith. I experienced this myself, having run across very few Catholics during my 13 years as an evangelical, who could and would share and defend their faith. When I finally did meet such a person in the pro-life movement, it was such a curiosity to me that it led me to extensive discussions and study and ultimately conversion. It could have easily happened many years before if only a Catholic had taken the initiative to defend and explain his or her faith to me.
The irony is that Catholicism is, we believe, the fullness of Catholic truth; yet we Catholics do such a poor job of proclaiming, defending, and living out that faith. And this is one of the primary motivations for why I am an apologist: I want to educate Catholics to be confident in their beliefs, by knowing what they are in the first place, understanding them, and comprehending the reasoning behind them: why they believe what they believe. But the apologist can’t compel anyone to be persuaded. That is ultimately the job of the Holy Spirit and grace. Mostly we try to remove roadblocks, or take out objections, to make the way clear for a change of mind and allegiance.
The more I engage in Catholic apologetics, the more I am convinced myself (without exception in every study that I do) that Catholicism is the fullness of Christian truth. This is the particular blessing that comes from apologetics. You know that you know that you know that the thing is true. I have always (since 1977) been interested in learning more about what I believe to be the truth, and sharing what I have found with others, by the grace of God and as a result of His calling.
Thanks for the opportunity to share about my life and journey to the Catholic Church. I appreciate it, and I enjoyed the interview a lot. May God abundantly bless you and all your readers.