Let me set some priorities

Let me set some priorities June 19, 2012
“Let’s get down to business”

Ok, so the fact that it took me the entire day on Saturday to write my coming out post should have tipped me off that it was going to be hard to respond quickly and efficiently to some of the follow-up questions you guys have.  I’m making a list here of the most common posts people seem to want so I can focus on them.  The second list is some of the posts I want to write that are going to get interspersed in with the more meaty ones about conversion so I can stay sane and you won’t lack for discussion of medical ethics and statistics.  The second list is more for me, so the only comments on this post should be mentioning a topic you think I haven’t listed that should be high priority or mentioning a facet of a topic I have listed that you want to make sure I cover. There should definitely not be any simply “Yay” or “Grrr” messages  in this thread, since that will make it harder for me to scan through and find the content-y posts.  Here’s the top five, as far as I can tell:


  1. Wait, so who the heck are you? – Basically a clipshow post that lets new readers have a better sense of some things I think now or beliefs I abandoned
  2. How’d you get from “Morality loves me” to Catholicism? – Why did my change of heart re: God lead me to this particular God and structure.  (This may get split into “Why not Deism?” and “Ok, but even granting that, why the heck Catholicism?”)
  3. But isn’t Catholicism awful? How bad does it’s actions have to be before it self-disqualifies? – I think the title kinda says it all, but I’m disappointed that almost no one’s brought up the Cadaver Synod.
  4. So how much of this do you agree with now? What are you gonna do about it? – People have been bringing up the metaphysical (transubstantiation), ethical (queer folks like me), and structural (hierarchy).  I can’t cover everything, but I’ll do bits that will hopefully give you a broader sense of how I’m approaching this stuff.
  5. Isn’t it awfully weird to be blogging this? How is this going to work? – Not as much as you’d think, but let’s chat.


Here are some things you’ll be hearing about whether you ask for them or not:

  • the most thought-provoking blogs that critiqued my post
  • vaccine-ethics in Pakistan
  • transhumanism and extreme body modification
  • gender and the Olympics
  • the rest of the Turing Test stats
  • talking about soteriology and epistemology by talking about math
  • prayer hijinks caused by loving math too much


I’m not going to make any promises about how I mix list one and list two.  But I will be trying to get to both at a pace that isn’t too torturous for you or for me.

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  • You may be planning on covering this in #2 and #3, but I would (again) second anodognosic’s comment from the Comment Triage thread:

    Not that I expect that you’ve sprung forth with a fully formed theology, but I’ve always been most interested in your epistemology, and I am wondering how that has changed, in particular with regards to the Bible, and how you might expect it to change as you move forward

    I’m really interested how you’re dealing with all the reasons you’ve given in the past for why you don’t find Catholicism compelling. I personally find the ethics and reliability of the Bible to be the biggest barrier to accepting Christianity (though Catholics admittedly don’t seems nearly so troubled by this as Protestants) and would love to hear what epistemological standards you’re applying that pass the Bible as a Holy Book and the Church as God’s vehicle on earth (but reject other holy books and religions)

  • A Philosopher

    How about: why do you think “Morality loves you” helps with the problem? It looked like the problem was an epistemological one: if moral facts are grounded in something Form-y, how are you going to get knowledge of them? But why does adding personhood help with the problem?

    Maybe it’s because you’re going to then attribute some causal powers to the personalized Form — but why did you need to add personhood to do that? Why not Occamize and just go for causally efficacious Forms?

    • anon

      Yes, how does your “Moral Law is a Person” thought/feeling differ from the anthropomorphising of a mind to help it deal with a concept? How do we catch an internalised believable fiction (about interacting earthlings) masquerading as a reliable universal fact?

      Was it your personal experience of the divine that caused you to promote the god you have in mind to the God responsible for history’s miracles?

    • B. R. Lind

      I second this. I’d also appreciate links to older posts where you discuss the idea of moral law as something “Form-y” (as A Philosopher delightfully put it) and why you believe this to be true; I feel like you must have written about this before, but I need to review the arguments.

      • A Philosopher

        One way of putting this question: why not just be a bog-standard moral naturalist? If you think that moral facts supervene on physical facts, then you think that there’s a physical property that’s at least intensionally identical to the property of moral goodness. And there’s no apparent worry about epistemic access to the physical property. So why not run with that?

    • Drew

      Another vote for this. This is subject I’m really interested in.

      I will be upfront about my bias though: in my experience, the theistic cases for morality promise the moon but deliver very little in the end. They often quite liberally break the very rules of logic and clear explanation that secular moral philosophers are trying to work within, without acknowledging that they’ve done so, or that by doing so anyone could achieve the same results/conclusions with just about any starting point, deistic or no.

      I note these biases largely because this is a great disappointment to me, and I am honestly open to a) the idea that even ultimately unworkable arguments are worth hearing and learning form b) I honestly do think morality is a big deal, and it’s worth leaving no stone unturned or thought unthought in the pursuit of better understanding it.

    • For myself, I’d be very interested in an exploration/explanation/explosion of what you mean by “Morality loves me” or (as many have paraphrased) “morality is a person”. I guess I’m particularly interested in what defines a person, and how you recognize something as a person (as opposed to a place, a thing, or an abstraction.)

      Also, if it’s not too (no pun intended) personal, what does it feel like to be loved by Morality?

  • What are your thoughts on the mathematical proofs against Catholicism? “The infinity of mathematics disproves the infinity of God”, “Inconsistent dates for Jesus’ life and death,” “Prophecies not fulfilled at the wrong time in history”, etc.

  • deiseach

    “prayer hijinks caused by loving math too much”

    Now that is the post I want to read, because maths is my bête noire ever since I was eight and was reduced to literal tears (dripping down onto my copybook) in class because I Just. Could. Not. Get. It.

    Here, have some links as forerunners of a rapprochement on the cursed topic of the black arts of mathematics; the Vatican Post Office has just issued a stamp in honour of the 400th anniversary of the death of Fr. Christopher Clavius, S.J., who did the mathematical work for the revision of the calendar as ordered by Pope Gregory XIII (from which we get the Gregorian Calendar) and he also is the guy who popularised the use of the decimal point in Europe!

  • PJ


    Are you familiar with Eve Tushnet?

    • leahlibresco

      Yup, she’s an alum of my debate group and we’re friends.

  • PJ


    “Infinite” says less about what God is and more about what God isn’t. He is not bounded by any sort of limitation. Not even existence. As the Cappadocians would say, God does not exist — not in the sense that we exist. Speaking of the immutability of infinity of God is the realm of apophatic theology. Tertullian wrote, “That which is infinite is known only to itself. This it is which gives some notion of God, while yet beyond all our conceptions—our very incapacity of fully grasping Him affords us the idea of what He really is. He is presented to our minds in His transcendent greatness, as at once known and unknown.” Just some thoughts. I don’t mean to answer in lieu of Leah! Peace.

    • Nick

      Interesting answer on God and infinity, nonetheless. It reminds me of one saint (I forget who) that said something along the lines of, “God is not God, for our concept of God is too finite to describe the Indescribable.” (Not to scandalize)

      • This is simply called apophatic theology, or to un-Greek it, negative theology: discussing God in terms of what he/it is not, or what we cannot know about him/it. It’s very popular today among Eastern Christianity (Catholic/Orthodox/Oriental/etc.), though it has a strong tradition in Western Christianity as well. It’s not at all scandalous. Rather, it’s the tradition and approach that the theologians PJ mentioned (and probably the saint you’re thinking of) wrote from.

    • Drew

      ““Infinite” says less about what God is and more about what God isn’t.”

      Unfortunately, nearly all of the traditional properties of a philosophical God are the same: they are privative, rather than descriptive. “All powerful” is just another way of saying “without limits on power” without explaining anything about what powers that entails (all logically possible ones, presumably: but we don’t learn anything new about what that set of all possible powers contains).

      • St Thomas is a good starting point here. Summa Theologica Book I Questions 12 & 13 give the basic articulation, culminating in the question whether “affirmative propositions can be formed about God.”

        For new readers of Thomas, he writes in the structure of a medieval debate: first presenting various arguments (called objections) around a question, followed by at least one argument (“to the contrary,” often from authority) on the other side of the question. Then he gives his own opinion, followed by his responses to all the other arguments. Once his structure is understood, I find him to be a remarkably clear thinker and a good starting point – if not always the last word – for most theological questions.

        • Drew

          These don’t really address the specific problem. To be clear, I’m not making a general case that we can’t make any affirmative propositions about God (note the “nearly”), but rather that privative descriptions don’t really tell us anything new or useful when it comes to understanding whether specific things are possible, let alone real.

          IMHO, defining things to be outside of our understanding generally harms the affirmative position more than it can help it. In general, the more rules you break, the more rules can be broken by anyone taking any position.

          • I don’t think the privative definitions are intended to say anything “new or useful,” but rather to show the limits of our ability to perceive or understand. They are warning signs on the borders of crazyville.

            The value of the Thomistic approach, as I see it, is that it doesn’t pit the affirmative and the privative against one another; rather, it notes that the two approaches work together to allow a limited but real insight into something essentially beyond human comprehension. The affirmative says something true, and the privative notes the limits of the truth being spoken.

            I’m not sure where you’re coming from with “rules being broken.” What are the rules you mean, and how are they being broken?

          • Drew

            “I don’t think the privative definitions are intended to say anything “new or useful,” but rather to show the limits of our ability to perceive or understand.”

            Sure. Which severely undermines the idea that proposed acts of God have any particular explanatory power. That’s the problem.

  • Dee

    I’d like to see you tackle the difficulty of using faith before having any sort of evidence to believe in something (whether the Bible, God, afterlife, etc.). I’d be fascinated to hear your thoughts on faith, especially approaching it from your background, any sort of experimentation you do with it (ex: believing a prayer will be answered before it it, etc.) and the conclusions you come to as to its importance to both Christianity in general and Catholicism in your experience. I personally believe a lot of our spiritual journeys has to do with figuring out faith since there are a lot of things in religion you have to take on faith before you understand their evidences. I’ll be looking forward to your posts either way!

    • leahlibresco

      Can you get a little more specific on what you mean by “using faith before having any sort of evidence to believe in something”? I don’t know that I’ve done that or what it would look like.

  • MountainTiger

    On number 2, I am particularly interested in the move from a personified moral law called “God” to a creator deity.

  • A suggestion for something more like a category of posts…Since Catholicism is more than just a body of doctrine, it would be helpful to hear about your religious *experience* of Catholicism.

    It would be insightful for your new Catholic readers to see the faith experienced through fresh eyes and it would be instructive for your atheist readers to get a glimpse of your religion ‘from the inside’.

    • leahlibresco

      Sounds like another vote for math-related prayed hijinks!

  • Charles

    I would like a post with a slightly more practical taste. You mentioned that upon your epiphany moment you prayed the night office of the liturgy of the hours, and have kept that up. Where does one start with prayer who had as much trouble with it as your self (cf earlier posts on prayer). How have you reacted to things in the payers that just weeks ago you discounted? Where do you get your daily does of the night office? Why that office, why not the office of readings, or the rosary, etc? What other practical changes have you decided to make right off the bat, etc?

    Honestly I feel a lot of the “why catholicism?” stuff is gonna mostly be useless, I cant say I am capable of making that last leap of faith but I can plainly see that once one accepts a intervening deity as *REAL* things like the practical matters most atheists poke fun at a quite easy ‘gimmes’… If God exists in even a remotely close form to the claims made by Christians then an aparitionm of mary or a virgin birth here or there are not really much to worry about. It also stands that if these things are *REAL* then people would still attempt to fake them, and do so at an alarming rate compared to there *REAL* occurances. Not to mention the vatican itself says that no Catholic is compelled to believe in the actually reality of any one miracle (save for the virgin birth, etc).

    So you’re going to get a lot of questions about things that only seem silly if you are starting from a different set of premises as far as I can see. My personal issue is that even looking at it from that angle I can’t intellectually honestly make that leap! Lord would I love life to not be a meaningless excercise from the cradle to the grave.

  • Charles

    Also I could swear I saw a couple of references to RCIA, and each time thought “Hmmm, how did she find an RCIA class that would accept someone claiming to not want to convert?” – am I right that these were early hints on what was going on in your life, or am I misremembering?

    • Jason Schalow

      Charles, as an RCIA instructor I can tell you that we quite often have people in class who are not interested in converting but are there “to check it out” either on their own initiative or that of a friend/significant other. The year I went through through the program (I am also an alumni), we had a guy who flat out stated the first day of class: “I’m not here to convert. I’m just here because my wife insists on sending my kid to your school and I want to find out what you people will be teaching him.”

      Some people will come for a while and wander away, others will change their minds about the Catholic faith. Some come back more than once. BTW, the guy I mentioned above ended up becoming one of the most motivated and excited people in the class in the space of a few months and is now, many years later, still a very active member of our parish. Thus the reason we don’t ‘filter’ people based on their apparent motives.

      • Charles

        I know that Leah has posted in the past of being rejected from RCIA due to her intentions. No one ever asked what the intentions were for the RCIA class I joined, however scheduling and me deciding that there was little I would learn from that particular class caused me to leave after only a couple of meetings.

        • kenneth

          Hell, you would think that with all the renewed emphasis on evangelism in the RCC, they’d be all over walk-in business like stink on a monkey! For any sales person (and hence, missionary), walk-in business is manna from heaven. Getting someone in the door and willing to listen, even casually, is half the battle of sales. Even if the person comes out of sheer boredom or because they need a crappy essay for their community college class, you’ve got nothing to lose and some statistical chance of making a sale. Many of the people who walk out of car showrooms with a new set of keys went in with the firm resolution not to buy that day….

      • When I first started RCIA, it was with the firm intention of not converting. I was only there because my husband wanted to convert, and I figured that if we were going to be raising our (at that time, hypothetical) children in the Church I should know more about it. Well, the Church won me over during the course of the program and we ended up being confirmed together.

      • RCIA stands for “Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults” and so there is a certain point in the rite itself past which a non-convert cannot proceed. However, most parishes offer RCIA classes to any and all comers. That is, the classes themselves are only one part of the rite, and they are the least ritual part of it. Every parish I’ve encountered does the classes differently; heck, every teacher I know does it differently.

        Point being: the information is generally available, even to those not intending to convert; however, the rite itself is directed toward conversion, so there are aspects that are closed to non-converts.

  • Charles

    Also it seems to me the cadaver synod is far more reasonable than telling folks they cant have equal rights of marriage just be cause you disagree with their behaviors morality…..

    • The Church’s opposition to same-sex “marriage” is akin to her opposition to four-sided triangles. In other words, it’s more nuanced than you make it out to be.

      • Peter

        Joanna, the existence of “God” is about as akin to a four-sided triangle to many of us. Remarkable then that gay people and gay couples actually exist and four-sided triangles have yet to be found.

        • False equivalency by means of forced cleverness, five yard penalty, third down.

      • Charles

        ah same-sex marraige may in fact be nonsensical. but civil rights for cohabitating couples are very real.

        • At the risk of getting off topic: the question is what distinguishes “marriage rights” from other civil rights. For example, here in Washington state, the current law allows exactly identical social and economic rights to registered domestic partners as it does to civilly married couples. The law was specifically so written, and even called the “Everything but ‘Marriage’ Act”. Why, then, is there a need to put the name “marriage” on it, as the legislature is now attempting to do?

          The only answer I can see is that something more than economic or visitation or other benefits are sought in marriage. Therefore, if same-sex marriage really is nonsensical, then it cannot be a matter of civil rights. On the other hand, the pro-same-sex-marriage argument only makes sense if same-sex marriage really fits into a sensible definition of marriage.

      • kenneth

        Marxist economic theory and Intelligent Design “science” is also more nuanced than people generally presume, but that doesn’t make their methodologies or conclusions any more valid.

      • Drew

        There are a lot of things I disagree with, both factually and morally in that article, but I figured I’d just focus on this one:

        “Society has no interest whatsoever in just-romantic marriage without a connection to family.”

        This seems to get so many things wrong. First of all, unions that do not and cannot produce children can still be very much about making connections between families: uniting them, creating new connections. Partners supporting and loving and helping each other through life, along with a network of people to help them, is VERY MUCH what nearly all the legal arrangements of marriage functionally enable and abet with or without that couple going on to have and raise children (many couples marry without knowing if it’s even physically possible, or in the case of couples marrying after they are fertile, knowing that it’s certainly not).

        Saying that society has no interest in any of these things, end of story, is flatly ridiculous: these things are incredibly important to personal and social stability, with or without children.

        Of course, plenty of homosexual couples want and do have children in any case. In practice, we already have gay marriages, and they already, in practice, visibly are seen to provide the very social goods that this article denies the very logical possibility of.

  • Re: Soteriology through math. I’m not kidding when I tell you that graph theory helped me understand the Trinity.

    • leahlibresco

      Why would you be kidding? That sounds sensible to me.

    • Eliot, I’d like to see that. Peace, Bob

    • Faramir


      I’d be interested to hear about that. I’ve only had an introduction to graph theory, but as a math major you’ve piqued my curiosity.

      Also, I was recently browsing through the recent Turing Test posts and discovered that I’m pretty sure you’re the Elliot I met at the Dominican House of Studies a few weeks ago for the ordinations – I’m Steven. If so, then it’s pretty cool, especially since Leah mentioned in one of the results posts that she knows you personally, which I guess gives me a Leah Libresco number (a la Kevin Bacon number) of 2, for whatever that’s worth.

  • Hibernia86

    Yeah, I don’t have to stand out among 750 comments like on the coming out post. I’m glad Leah will have a chance to chat with us long time readers.

    My question deals with point two. I don’t agree with you on morality questions, but EVEN if a person believes in objective morality, how does that prove that there is a God? Couldn’t objective morality exist without a God? And if there was a God, that doesn’t mean there is objective morality (similar to how if a leader tells you to do something, that doesn’t automatically make it moral). If objective morality is a “thing” that is real, then that says nothing about whether God exists or not. God and morality are two separate things.

    My second point is yes, many people, including myself, can “feel” the presence of God. It can seem very realistic, I know. But the problem is that we can not base our beliefs on feelings. For example, when a person is depressed, they feel that their life is hopeless and maybe suicide would be the best option. But when they come out of the depression, they feel hope again. Did their situation change? No, only their outlook. Similarly, feeling God’s presence is not proof for God because we have no reason for believing that that feeling is connected to anything outside our body. If God was real, we would see him in the sky or hear him talking to us or see miracles that break the laws of physics. We don’t see that.

    Following this feeling does not lead to reliable information. Mormons have burning in the bosom, Protestants have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, Buddhists seek enlightenment, but all of that prayer and meditation does not lead to a single faith, but rather to thousands of different ones. People believe whatever they have either grown up with or are looking into. There is no convergence on one truth. In science, tests eventually push scientists toward mostly agreeing with one another. Religions, on the other hand, keep fracturing. That is why science is successful at finding truth while religion isn’t.

    I think it is likely that humans evolved to believe in God because it allowed us feel like we had control (through prayer) of a large and frightening world and gave us answers to this mysterious universe. Perhaps most importantly, it helped us deal with our fear of death. Only humans have existential crisises and so the belief if God developed in order to calm us down and let us live our life. It is similar to how we evolved to see rocks as solid even though the atoms in rocks are 99% empty space. I understand it is tempting to follow this feeling because it can seem so real, but we NEED to base our beliefs on evidence if we are to be honest.

    While I don’t agree with you, Leah, I appreciate that you are so eager to discuss this issue still. When I heard of your conversion, I thought I might need to drop your blog and replace it with another, but you willingness to discuss the issue has convinced me to stick around.

    • Re: Objective morality and God — actually, you can’t have an objective morality without God. At best, you can have what works. Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die. But I don’t want to discuss that.
      I’m more interesting in your discussion about feelings and faith. You’re exactly right — feelings do in fact lead to a fracturing of religion. Even mystical experiences can lead to fracturing, as all religions have reported them.
      The answer, and I’m aware of the objections, is that the Christian faith is based on extra information that mystical experiences and feelings. This extra information is a historical event, the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.
      So the question is really — did the Resurrection happen? And how can we, 2,000 years later, know that one way or the other?
      If the Resurrection occurred, then Christianity is true and we can dispense of our philosophical objections. If it did not, Christianity is not true.
      So did it happen?

    • Leah, I’d like to second a desire to hear the answer to Hibernia’s questions starting from “My second point is yes, many people, including myself, can “feel” the presence of God. It can seem very realistic, I know. But the problem is that we can not base our beliefs on feelings . . . ” through to “. . . . That is why science is successful at finding truth while religion isn’t. ”

      I get that question a lot myself, and while I have my own answer, I’d really love to hear yours.

      I also have an objection to the premise, “we NEED to base our beliefs on evidence if we are to be honest.” I’m not sure if you have similar objections to this point, but I’m curious as to your response to it.

    • Tom

      “There is no convergence on one truth.”

      Convergence means that as time-> infinity, f(t) approaches a limit. Since neither you nor I have any concept of absolute time or infinity, how can you claim that religion is divergent? You can’t. And using reductive logic I can say that before Pentecost zero people belonged to the Catholic Church. Now there are over a billion, or almost 20% of the world’s population. So maybe it IS converging? Also, it’s unfair to say science “converges” on truth over time and religion doesn’t. That’s based on your perception of convergence, and falsely equating something as complicated as religion with something as (relatively simple) as science. A 3rd grader can understand the rules of the scientific method and follow them. Science is awesome, but it works because if people play by the rules there is no room for interpretation, no gray area. Something is repeatable or not, statistically significant or not. Everything else gets THROWN OUT, so yeah, it can seem like science converges on truth since all the gray area is filtered. If all religion was filtered to The Golden Rule you could just as easily say that all faith has converged on Truth. Even when science is inherently wrong or incomplete it is viewed as the natural stepping stone to more accurate science. When religions get things wrong it is proof of intrinsic evil, and not the natural progression of things. If these are the standards then it cannot be possible to equate the two, especially as a test for “convergence to truth”.

      Leah, I’d like you to elaborate more on the “consequences of ideas”. From my vantage point, very few reasonable/rational people have any vested interest in the thoughts, personal beliefs, sexual orientation, religious beliefs etc of strangers. The people, ideas, dogmas, and histories are the topics but it is actually the assumed natural outcomes that are the source of all the tension. I believe it is this thought exercise, getting from “that thought, that belief, that understanding, that creed” to “will bring about this government, this culture, this goodness, this evil, this behavior, this world” that is so often incorrect, overly conservative, or hysterical. Humans are TERRIBLE risk-assessors and even worse predictors of the future, yet it is often in the risk-assessment and future prediction that people pick their battles. “I cannot vote for a Catholic because then the Papacy is governing my nation.” “I sure hope the Muslim Brotherhood doesn’t win the elections because soon the world will be covered in a brutal sharia law.” “You are an idiot. There is NO WAY legalizing birth control will be a slippery slope to legalizing abortion. That’s just hysterical.” “If we allow people to question evolution or to believe in Creationism or Intelligent design then our people will be set back a millenia. Lights out, dark ages, burning witches at the stake for pleasure.” “You believe in global warming? I bet you didn’t vaccinate your kids and now I’ve lost my herd immunity.” “You drive an SUV? thanks to your way of thinking the earth’s core is going to stop spinning and we are all going to die in weeks.” “You think gun ownership is a right? Because of rednecks like you, Trayvon Martin is dead.”

      Theists and atheists battle this way. Ideas definitely have consequences, but WHAT exactly are the consequences and how can we say what they are with any confidence? This is especially critical when it comes to morality. The basic idea of objective (outside the mind) vs subjective (i think therefore I am) morality may have huge consequences.

  • Lane

    I have three things I’d like to hear more about. You may have been planning to address these anyway (they could all be considered expansions of the topics you’ve already listed), but I figured I’d put them out there.

    1. A point I’d like for you to address before you write about #2, because I feel like some of the premises in your explanation really need some expounding before I can attempt to follow them to your conclusion: how did you get to “Morality loves me” in the first place? Actually, scratch that — how did you get to “Morality is a Person”? I admit, this one completely baffled me the first time I read it. I looked through your “objective morality” tag and couldn’t find anything. If you’ve addressed this before, can you please link me to it?

    2. An expansion of #2: “Why Catholicism?” is an interesting question, but I’d like to know, why ANY form of Christianity? You’ve so far characterized your conversion in terms of wanting to define morality and its source, but Christianity adds a whole other layer of belief to the equation. Specifically, the idea that we are born sinful and receive salvation through the sacrifice of Jesus. I know not every Christian’s belief set is the same, but that seems like the central tenant of all denominations. I can understand (if not agree with) “Morality is a Person, therefore God.” What I’m struggling with is, “Morality is a Person, therefore Christianity.”

    3. Again, you might address this when you get to #2 on your list: you were already studying Catholicism and were with Catholic friends when you came to the conclusion that God exists. Your first prayer after your conversion was a Catholic prayer. So when you said that Catholicism was the one religion that showed the most promising way to the Truth, doesn’t that seem a little… convenient? I’m sure you can understand my skepticism here.

    Thanks for listening. I’m interested to read what you have to say.

    • Martha G

      I second Lane’s question #2. Why Christianity? The answer to that question should get at a lot more than a simple ‘Why Catholocism’. Further, even though some say Catholicism does not require the rejection of other faiths, it does require that you accept it as the one /true/ faith, that all others are simply shadows of the one holy truth. And how far along that path is Leah willing to go? That path being, “My way is not only better – it’s best.”

    • Lane’s Question #1 is very interesting to me. I think it probably has a great deal of bearing on the answer to Question #2 as well, since the personality (or maybe “person-ness”?) of God is so foundational to Christianity.

  • PJ

    It’s worth bearing in mind that Catholics do not (or, perhaps more accurately, need not) believe that other religions are false. Rather, they are foreshadowings or anticipations of the true faith. Seraphim Rose, a prominent Orthodox mystic, came to Christianity (in part) by way of Daoism: He saw the Dao fulfilled in the Logos. Indeed, as C.S. Lewis pointed out, Christ is the “true myth,” the manifestation of mankind’s timeless hope for union between creature and Creator.

  • Greg

    Welcome home. I was wandering like a sheep without a shepherd for 38 years before I became a Catholic. I remember having a dream one night. I was speaking with someone, and at some point I told that person that “God is amazing giving us this free will! We can believe in our BS, live for our BS, and die for our BS. But I refuse to do that. I want to know the Truth!” I woke up in amazement.
    It is interesting that I have been ‘thrown’ into the Church by His Graces which I was unable to question but I still doubted. For six years I was living a rather shallow religious life. On the seventh year I had a personal drama in my life. I felt on my knees, and for the first time ever I told Him in Truth that I am not sure He even hears me but if He does, then I wanted to tell Him that in case He hears me, may His will be done for I don’t know any more what life is all about. All has changed that day.
    I know the Truth today. Not about the Truth. I know Him. I know where I am coming from, and where I am going to. Life is no mystery any more. Suffering makes sense. I desire only the Truth and Love. His Love and His Grace are enough for me.
    – Greg

  • Eugenia

    Just wanted to say “welcome home!” 🙂 There’s so much theological, literary, musical, artistic riches to dig through and to feed on in the Catholic Church! Enjoy!
    Have you heard of former atheist Jennifer Fulwiler? If not, you two should connect. She’s amazing.

  • The most common label that young people attach to Christians happens to be “anti-gay”. Given that you are out as a bisexual woman and blogged about it, I wonder if you could comment how likely you see your convictions about the non-intrinsec-evilness of homosexual acts being challenged or changed now that you are converting to Catholicism. Do you think that you will find yourself between the Catholics dissenting about the official teaching on sexuality?

    • Pseudonym

      That sounds like a copy of #4 to me. But I think that question could be broadened to something like this:

      Of the more controversial official pronouncements and/or teachings of the Roman Catholic Church (be it political/social, such homosexuality, contraception, abortion, stem cell research, women in the priesthood etc, or more metaphysical such as transubstantiation) do you currently agree with and which ones do you currently disagree with? Do you see yourself as a potential force for reform of the RCC, or is it too early to say?

    • Lucy

      Based on two decades of experience in orthodox Roman Catholic circles, I think you (Leah) might want to brace yourself for the reception you’ll get if you wander into those circles and even use the word “queer,” much less identify yourself as such.

      I am reading to see how you react to and interact with the neo-conservative Catholic intellectuals you are bound to encounter. Maybe it’ll be OK, but I still want to see how it goes.

  • Joe

    I was wondering if, since your conversion, have you looked back on your life and noticed signs of providence. Events that you simply dismissed before or just seemed insignificant , but have taken on new meaning since finding faith? Also, this might be too early in your conversion, but do you feel you have a specific vocation that God wants you to pursue?

    • leahlibresco

      Well, I certainly don’t need a whole post to say I’ve got no idea on the second. I’d very much like to be a parent, but there’s no guarantee I’ll find someone.

      For the first bit, my answer is *makes a wobbly gesture with my hand.* There doesn’t seem to be any limit on what can be providential, so it all is.

      • Joe

        Yeah, I know what you mean about everything being providential. When faith became more than a philosophical system, for me, the experience of providence became overwhelming. It was the first time I felt compassion for determinists.

  • Jill

    (1) I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on belief and certainty in general as they pertain to your conversion.

    To become Catholic requires that you believe the Church to contain the fullness of the truth. But how certain do you have to be of that belief? You mention epistemology & talking about math, but obviously it’s not easy to assign a p-value for the level of certainty required in the belief that “Catholicism is true”. How “sure” are you of Catholicism, and how would you describe the level of certainty you felt you had to reach before you got to the point of deciding to convert?

    (2) I’d also be interested in your thoughts on freedom of religion and freedom of conscience. (You’ll be converting to a faith that requires you, not to merely act as if something is true, but to *actually believe* in all Church dogma, and any infallible dogma to be declared down the line.)

    (Somewhat tangential) example: Catholics are required to raise their children Catholic. If your child were to renounce their faith as an adult and marry outside the Church, that would be considered an invalid marriage. (Let’s say it’s your daughter marrying a nice Jewish man in a nice mostly-secular ceremony.) Attending your own child’s wedding would be to commit the sin of scandal; your attendance is considered giving approval. How would you deal with that? Where is the respect for your own child’s freedom of conscience, especially when no child chooses the religion of their parents?

    (3) Just for reference, I did post a more lengthy comment on your coming-out post, giving you (and your readers) a bit more background on myself, in case you’re curious… you definitely got a lot of traffic on that post!

    • Quick clarification: your (somewhat tangential) example doesn’t really hit the mark. Catholic teaching on marriage is almost insanely complex, to say nothing of their practice of it. So, to risk oversimplification, Leah’s fictional daughter’s marriage to a nice secular Jewish man would be considered a valid marriage, but not a sacramental marriage. In this day and age, no scandal – sinful or otherwise – would be attached to attending the wedding.

      However, the obligation to raise children in the faith is there as one aspect of the universal mission to evangelization. This might provide a more interesting test question: what modes of evangelization are acceptable, and what modes are not? Is the mission of evangelization itself acceptable in any form? What are the implications for this mission on the freedom of non-Catholics and non-Christians?

      To my understanding, that Christians have a mission to evangelize is an absolute and non-negotiable aspect of Christian (or at least Catholic) doctrine. But there is much debate over the methods of evangelization and the manner in which each individual Christian participates in it.

      • Jill

        A lot of what I’ve read implies that it *would* be a scandal to attend a wedding where a Catholic (in the Church’s eyes) is getting married outside the church, even if it’s your own family. Here are some examples I was able to find:

        ” … if the wedding is taking place before many people who might think that you approve of your daughter being married outside of the Catholic Church, there is the matter of giving scandal. I know that not being present for the wedding can cause much family tension for years to come. But what we say about our faith in Jesus and His Church matters most. ” — Fr. Vincent Serpa, Catholic Answers Apologist


        This is a little more vague but still seems to push for not attending:
        “If a Catholic is asked to attend the wedding of a couple whose marriage is not recognized by the Church, or whose life does not promote purity and chastity, he should ask himself: “What message will I send by my attendance? Will attending such a wedding encourage or hinder the salvation of others? What will not attending accomplish? If I go, will others consider my presence to be affirming of the sin? Will I lead others to scandal? How can I best witness to the truth?” A Catholic should not affirm fornication or adultery, nor should he give the appearance to others that he condones the acts. Such appearance can cause scandal. If his actions affirm or encourage the sin, he participates in the sin.

        “There is a real concern that if a person refuses to attend the wedding, a rift in friendship could occur. This division could hinder any witness to the truth, and this concern is especially serious if the wedding involves a close friend or family member. This concern alone must not hinder our witness (cf. Lk. 12:51-53), but it can guide our actions as we fulfill our obligation to bring others to Christ. It could be that not attending would destroy any possible chance to witness the truth to the persons involved, especially if no reason is given for not attending. It could also be that not attending, and giving reasons for the absence, will help the couple choose the way of Christ. If a Catholic chooses to attend, he will want to ensure that no one considers his presence to be an affirmation of the sin.” — http://www.cuf.org/faithfacts/details_view.asp?ffID=137

        I’d be interested in seeing examples of the opposing view, of course. It just strikes me as totally unfair (and a complete disregard for freedom of conscience) that those born into a Catholic family are required to stay Catholic for the rest of their lives, or otherwise their family is required to give them the cold shoulder (to put it mildly) until they decide to act Catholic again.

  • JWR

    I am obviously most sympathetic to you on empiricism. And I’m curious to hear why you came to accept your views about Morality-as-God without analysis (or if you did do any sort of hypothesis testing, you didn’t mention it). I accept your views as a ~perfectly~ valid hypothesis – I just am confused as to how you came to accept them without any hypothesis testing.

  • Marc

    3,700+ gods since the dawn of time. Why did you choose Christianity over these?


    My opinion, you took a step back instead of leaning forward.

    • Stick around. Things are usually at a more interesting, more fair level than that.

    • Anonymous

      …that’s all you’ve got? Wow… let me introduce you to Hinduism, my friend. We’ll rapidly ramp up by many orders of magnitude.

    • R.C.


      Do be careful (as atheist-Leah always was, to her credit) to distinguish between the two definitions of the word “god.”

      The Norse/Greek pagan definition of the term was ill-defined because definitions were not important to the practice of that form of paganism (which is why they produced beautiful and entertaining stories, but none of the libraries of theology books that Christianity has produced). Still, those “gods” were not “Gods” in the capital-G Judeo-Christian sense. They were powerful beings, sometimes inscrutable, but with limits and foibles and defined areas of influence and the ability to be opposed whether they permitted the opposition or not. They did not “predate” the material world but were formed from the same stuff as it. In short: Accounting for the differences between their era and our own, they were basically very powerful and advanced space aliens. (Hmm. The Asgardians as an advanced alien race…now where’ve I seen that recently? Oh, yeah….)

      The Judeo-Christian conception of “God” is so different from this that it’s a sad failure of language that we don’t use a different word entirely, at least in conversations like these. It’s an entirely categorical difference. The Judeo-Christian God is “meta” in a way that Zeus or Poseidon is not.

      Imagine for a moment a scenario in the Star Trek series where Kirk (perhaps Evil Kirk from an alternate universe) gets to capture and conduct experiments on an Organian. (Or, if you prefer TNG, Picard captures and conducts experiments on a Q.) This might be difficult to write, because of the sheer mightiness of the Organians and the Q. It might involve some technobabble and handwaving and hanging a lantern on this or that. You might have to “bounce a graviton particle beam off the main deflector dish,” and all that. But, still, you can imagine how the writers could achieve this without necessarily creating continuity errors, changed premises, and the like.

      Now imagine the same scenario, except this time Evil Kirk captures and experiments on…Gene Roddenberry.

      That’s a very different set of writing challenges, isn’t it?

      You see how there’s a whole category of difference between the two? It’s an impressive moment in Lord Of The Rings when Merry is filled with love for the kindly king Theoden and swears service to him. But who could write the moment where Merry meets Tolkien? Y’know, and really do it justice?

      So the 3,700+ gods and counting is not a bad argument against a neo-pagan. (Although you’d quickly find that you were missing the point with many of them, as a lot of neo-pagans, to their credit, have a hard time not moving swiftly out of paganism as it originally stood, into attempting theology in the Judeo-Christian sense of the word. It’s like the evolution from Animism to Neo-Platonism on fast-forward. “The world has moved on” and there’s just not much room for a strict paganism in the ancient sense any longer.)

      But against someone who defines “deity” from within the Judeo-Christian tradition (this includes Muslims, naturally; there’s some debate, though, about whether it includes Mormons), the comparison of Zeus to Yahweh is, at best, comparing apples to Steve Jobs.

      That doesn’t mean one can’t make a parallel argument: One would have to limit oneself to “God” in the Judeo-Christian sense and then argue about rivaling theologies: Rival conceptions of the unique, all-powerful, all-good, self-existent creator and sustainer of all existence and causalities and personhoods.

      Even that argument wouldn’t be perfectly parallel. It’s not separate “gods” but one “God” being described with various attributes. But you could call that “multiple Gods” in the same colloquial sense that the mutually-incompatible portraits some people have created in describing the “historical Jesus” are “multiple Jesuses.”

      But accounting accurately for the category distinction between “gods” and “God” would need to be your first step, to make the argument credible.

  • Kathy

    All I can say is Wow and welcome home! I had never heard of you before reading of your conversion on another site. I read through the past few days and even though I don’t know you, I am so inspired by your integrity, courage and honesty..

    I have been a Catholic all of my life but it’s just in the past 10 years that I realized what a true blessing Catholicism is to the world.. I am in my 50’s and for much of my life, I embraced the parts I liked and ignored the parts I didn’t. (Those who grew up in the 60’s and 70’s know what I mean!) Needless to say, this led to much heartache while being married and raising children, mostly because of the error in which I lived my life.. Since embracing the Church’s teachings on all things, I have come to realize just how brilliant all of it is and also that there could only be one Author of all of it. I realize that it was always there and that God was so patient and allowed me the grace to find it in my own time. I am blessed to have two adult children, who even though I didn’t really raise them with a good understanding of Catholic teaching myself, God saw to it that both of them had the right people at the right time to help them to learn it. I am constantly amazed how God extended that grace to me long before I ever had any idea that was what He had in mind for me. When our family sits together every week at Mass, (we take up more than half a pew), the feeling of joy that I have is beyond human understanding. It defies reason for most of us but when you allow the Holy Spirit into your heart, it makes more sense than anything ever has before..

    Stay hungry for the Truth. Don’t ever let yourself think that you have learned all you need to know. Praying the Liturgy of Hours is such a wonderful way to embrace the truth. There are so many good sources out there. If you haven’t discovered EWTN, please check them out.. The Catholic Church is undergoing a reawakening in America as it never has in my lifetime. It is so exciting that God has allowed me to be alive and witness the transformation and to see what it taking place in our Church. Jesus has made good on His promise that He would be with us to the end of time.

    All of God’s blessings to you and yours. I love hearing stories like yours and look forward to seeing what else God has in mind for your life!

  • Brian

    Hello, Leah. I have been a lurker at “Unequally Yoked” since you first started blogging. I am pleasantly surprised by your conversion, though I am curious if your Catholicism is truly authentic. Is it a true assent of faith in all that God has revealed through his Catholic Church? Or is it a selective assent to this or that teaching? The difference is crucial.

    The Catholic Church, as I am sure you know, claims that she is the one and true Church founded by Jesus Christ. She is invested with the teaching authority of Christ himself, and she proposes a body of revealed truth with that authority for all Christians to believe. If I were to reject any one article in that body of revealed truth, I would, at least materially, be rejecting that the Catholic Church has that authority. I would be placing my own private judgment of what should be a full assent to the God who reveals. This is why a selective assent to this or that teaching entirely undermines the only good reason (the only good reason in the end, anyway) for becoming Catholic: that Jesus Christ founded the Catholic Church and invested its officers with his teaching authority under the guidance and protection of the Holy Spirit.

    A selective assent is no faith at all, for if I submit only so long as I agree, then the one to whom I submit is me. The principle of private judgment makes the assent of divine faith impossible and, therefore, leads to a total undermining of supernatural religion; what once was Revealed Truth binding on the consciences of all (since it flows from Reason and Truth himself) becomes a matter of mere human opinion. (This, btw, should help our atheist friends understand why all of Protestantism and other religions which claim no living infallible authority are simply excluded as candidates for supernatural religion. In the end, it is Catholicism which truly does not fall into incoherence.)

    I faced a very similar dilemma when I converted from practical agnosticism to orthodox Catholicism. In fact, I faced he same dilemma: I had, shall we say, difficulty with the Church’s teaching on homosexuality. But I knew that a selective assent is no assent at all; I would be leading where Christ should be leading. And when you know Christianity (and, in particular, Catholicism) is true, that simply is unacceptable. The only intellectually coherent and honest thing to do was to accept God’s grace and make a true assent of faith.


    • kenneth

      Nothing is more Catholic than selective assent!

      • Brian

        lol, if you look at the statistics, yup! I laugh to keep from crying 🙁

      • Catholic as “universal,” assuredly. In that sense, there’s nothing more Catholic than sin.

    • Martha G

      Hear hear! I’d love hear Leah’s answer to exactly this point. It cuts straight to the heart of the matter. Thank you.

    • Anonymous

      I have some honest questions. Why does a religion have to have a “living infallible [human] authority” to be a supernatural religion? Surely, that infallible human still must choose to follow the Revealed Truth… or does that particular human suddenly lose access to free will at the moment he ascends to the papacy?

      With that in mind, what is inherently incoherent with the idea that Christ is once again living… and that He is the living [supernatural] infallible authority who guides His church to Revealed Truth, which is binding on the consciences of all and certainly not a matter of mere human opinion? One can (and many good apologetics have done well to) ‘restrict’ the free will of supernatural beings, as God is the Good and all that. However, in order to follow the same course, it seems you must declare the pope a supernatural being, and then your whole argument about needing a living infallible [human] authority seems to fall into incoherence.

      Aside: Of course, I’m hearing the throngs of how only very selective papal statements are, in fact, infallible. That does not fix the problem, as I can recast the second question as, “Does that particular human suddenly lose access to free will [on those selective matters] at the moment he ascends to the papacy?”

  • You almost lost me at “…by talking about math,” but I’ve recovered.

    This may have been mentioned in a previous comment, if so, forgive me.

    My question is, why Catholicism and not Protestantism? I don’t have a hang-up about Catholicism, I’m just curious.

  • Brian


    All that said, I am excited about your conversion and what you could do to help improve relations between atheists and theists. There is a ghastly ignorance of classical theism, for one, and orthodox Catholicism among “new” atheists. A sound classical realist perspective and a sound Catholic theological perspective would do wonders to mellow these people out and lead to a lot of conversions. Think Called to Communion, but for atheists.


  • Brian

    Amelia, you might want to read my post directly above yours. There are many philosophical and historical problems which exclude all of Protestantism from consideration as a candidate for supernatural religion. A whole blog is dedicated to this, in fact:


    ^You will not find a more civil, intelligent, and more intellectually stimulating blog on this topic. Absolutely wonderful blog, and I think even many atheists (not just Protestants) would benefit from it.

  • Michael Joseph

    Leah, I appreciate your intellectual talents and often wish I were as limber. And because God is infinite I’m sure your noggin has lots to absorb too. Don’t let your brain get too far ahead of your immortal soul.


  • Peter

    Hi Leah,

    I just recently started reading and am intrigued by your conversion. I used to be Catholic myself before slipping out of it. A lot of my non-Catholic Christians friends hold the conviction that when you become saved, you cannot be unsaved. That is, you attain salvation forever and will always be a follower. Do you feel that way with Catholicism–do you think this is a forever thing? Maybe you could address the remarks on True Christians and True Atheists, and how you fit into that sort of dichotomy.

  • Congratulations on your coming to the faith. I know that Christ rejoices. If you continue to pray for His wisdom, He will open your eyes and your heart to Truth and a life that will become progressively more incredible to you. For you are now unlike the unbelievers:

    “They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart.” Ephesians 4:18

  • Dear Leah,
    I know you’re excited, and I don’t know if this is your full time job, but I cannot imagine attempting what you are attempting. Just for me, I cannot imagine sorting out all the questions I had during my conversion (not to mention feeling the joy of it) while facing withering cross-examination from people who wanted me to justify an initial conversion experience in philosophical terms.
    Becoming Catholic is about falling in love and growing in love. And we can easily enjoy the debate and end up Catholic-y, as opposed to Catholic. In other words, “Catholic” can be a label that actually gets in your way or it can be a description of your relationship with the loving God.
    As Michael Joseph said, don’t let your brain get ahead of your soul.
    In other words, I see a potential danger here.
    That all said, I’m getting a sense I should mind my own business. Best and Pax Christi, Bill

  • I want to know your favorite Saints!

    • leahlibresco

      Catherine of Alexandria is top on the list (and will presumably be my confirmation saint)

      • Mary

        There’s a reason my daughter is named Kate!

  • Shiela

    Good books to read for new converts to catholicism: The Glories of Divine Grace (by SCHEEBEN), The Way of Divine Love (TAN books, Josefa Menendez), The Dialogue of St. Catherine of Siena. May God continue to guide you in your search for truth and meaning of life. (Catechism of the Catholic Church and the Bible are the basic books for catholics)

  • Roz

    I hope this isn’t a duplicate; I didn’t have the stamina to read all the previous comments.
    I’d love it if you tagged significant posts that would together describe your journey. I’m sure it would include intellectual and philosophical landmarks, but surely there was an inner personal journey as well. (I admit it; I wish I had standing to really get to know you.) So an arc of “I’ve got this Catholic boyfriend and I think he’s flat our wrong,”, through “I’ve reasoned my way to this point now,” and “I had this conversation that started a paradigm shift,” and on to “I believe this now and I have no idea what it means for my life” (if that’s the way it seems to you).

    One reason I’m asking for this is that I’ve read you in fits and starts for a long time, but I completely missed the “I broke up with my boyfriend” post, and I’d grown to like him in abstentia.

    • Jill

      I’ll second that; I’d also like to see this!

      • Mary

        Third! Please and thank you! Perhaps a link up to your journey so far?

        • leahlibresco

          I’ll put it on my to-do list.

  • Scott Taylor

    Welcome to the family of believers. As one who has blogged on faith for many years, and have been in many heated debates, feel free to reach out to me about anything that perplexes you. I know too well the the transition from non belief to believer myself, having gone through that 5 years ago. We are with you, and excited about your conversion, but more importantly God is with you, through the trials to come.

  • Gerry

    not the same

  • Brent

    What books (or other works) were instrumental in your conversion?

  • just read an article about your recent conversion and it mentioned that you are struggling with the churches position on homosexuality…….i don’t claim to have all the answers, but i wrote a blog addressing this issues …..hope it helps 🙂 climbingoutblog.com/pluckingsplinters

  • DomS

    I’m interested in your thoughts on the authority of Scripture.

    For example, after ‘God = Morality’ would you also say ‘God = Truth’ or ‘God = Logic’, and if the Bible is God’s way of communicating morals to us (in addition to the conscience) then should we expect accuracy in the Bible on non-moral matters, and if not then who decides which bits are true?

    (word of warning: I’m very much a Protestant, and would say that most of the traditions of the established church at large (not just RC) are actually anti-Biblical)

    • DomS

      Some further thoughts:
      Perhaps a better way of framing this is: What Is the Final Authority on Morality?

      Is it the teachings of some particular religious institution, which actually makes the whims of religious leaders the final authority?
      Or is it the Word of God – reinterpreted according to whatever external ideas we subscribe to, which again is putting humans in the place of final authority?
      Or is it the Word of God – as near as we can determine the original intent of the author is, which is hopefully letting God actually be the final authority on Morality?

      This might help navigate the issue of “What does a certain group or individual believe or teach about issue X?”

      • Who is the final authority on interpreting the Word of God?

      • There’s a reason that Catholic’s are not “People of the Book” but “People of the (Living) Word (-made-Flesh)”. Before there was a New Testament, the Church existed, functioned, celebrated the Sacraments and preached the Gospel (mind you, I mean before any of the New Testament was written (at least 20 years between the Resurrection of Christ and the penning of the first of Paul’s letters), not just before it was compiled (nearly 400 years) and defined as canonical). The entire Christian paradigm is ‘anti-Biblical’ unless you allow the teaching of Christ, passed on to the Apostles and thereby to the Church to reinterpret the Old Testament.

    • Lucy

      Wow, you’re familiar with all those traditions? That’s a ton of knowledge.

  • keddaw


    I’m interested in how you get from really, really wanting objective morality to be true to believing in objective morality without solid physical or logical evidence to thinking that objective morality needs more than a Platonic form, to thinking that objective morality needs personification, to that personification creating a universe, to it actually knowing or giving a damn about humanity, to believing that it cares so much for humanity it impregnated a woman 2,000 years ago with itself made flesh to pay for the ‘sins’ of humanity, to a Church founded by that flesh that has saints that require 3 ‘official’ miracles to be confirmed in their name when we have never seen any of these miracles stand up to scientific scrutiny.

    Also, devils, angels, demons etc. You’re okay with that nonsense? Do you believe in ghosts, an afterlife, appearances by the virgin Mary, the efficacy of prayer, demonic possession -> exorcisms, an immortal soul, the power of confession to cleanse said soul, transubstantiation, miracles, Jesus’ glorious return to earth for the rapture? In short, do you really know what you’ve signed up for and how can you believe in it with essentially no evidence for it?

    • keddaw

      Just realised I posted the above comment for my own sake and it breaks Leah’s rules on this post as it is kinda covered by her upcoming posts. Feel free to remove these two…

    • I dunno, you were doing pretty good to start:

      “I’m interested in how you get from really, really wanting objective morality to be true to believing in objective morality without solid physical or logical evidence to thinking that objective morality needs more than a Platonic form, to thinking that objective morality needs personification,”

      From there it got a little belabored, but that was my central concern. Above she lists:

      “How’d you get from “Morality loves me” to Catholicism?”

      But I’d still like to hear more about how she got from “I don’t know” to “morality loves me.” I suspect it was more of a faith-based conclusion rather than a reason-based conclusion, but if that’s not the case, I’d like to hear more about what her reasoning was.

    • Ray

      Enh. Morality is a person doesn’t necessarily seem all that screwy (at least if we restrict it to certain senses of the word, rather than all of them.) After all, we speak of morality placing demands on us. And of course, if there’s no person who wants us to be moral, there doesn’t seem to be much of a point to the whole enterprise. Where I see a problem, though, is where Leah identifies this person with some poorly documented and long dead historical figure, even though there are many other plausible identifications for the person making moral demands on Leah, chief amongst them, Leah herself.

      • If Leah was just saying the source of morality is a person or persons, then that’s one thing, but the idea that morality is itself something that can be abstractly personified is I think a jump worth examining. Sort of a “comes from person(s)” vs. “is a person” difference there.

      • keddaw

        The law wants us to do, or not do, lots of things, but we don’t personify it to the extent that Leah has with morality (which doesn’t exist – I’m gonna keep banging this drum until someone, anyone, comes up with the slightest piece of evidence that objective morality exists, or, for that matter, comes up with a definition of morality that is useful!)

    • deiseach

      keddaw, out of that laundry list, I would just point out that Catholics don’t believe in ‘the Rapture’ (we’re officially amillenialists, something I never had to bother my head about until I started hanging around on American blogs which talked about the Rapture – either in praise or condemnation – and had to find out what the heck we thought on the matter).

      We do believe in the Second Coming, which is a slightly different thing. I have to say, though, that your list of What Leah Must Believe reminded me of Chesterton’s experience of a similar list (which he wrote about in an essay called “The Usual Article”) and which I am now going to quote:

      ” “How many men in the time of their passing get comfort out of the thought of the Thirty-Nine Articles, Predestination, Transubstantiation, the doctrine of eternal punishment, and the belief that Christ will return on the Seventh Day?” The items make a curious catalogue; and the last item I find especially mysterious. …As to Transubstantiation, it is less easy to talk currently about that; but I would gently suggest that, to most ordinary outsiders with any common sense, there would be a considerable practical difference between Jehovah pervading the universe and Jesus Christ coming into the room.”

  • Nolan

    As a Catholic, how do you now view your previous atheist period, and how do you view those who are still atheists? Are we deluded, obstinately refusing to accept the Holy Spirit, simply misguided, or coming to reasonable but different conclusions than you?


    Leah: Book club, specifically by means of The Golden Age trilogy by John C. Wright, a fellow Catholic convert from atheism. Sure, it was written when he was an evangelical atheist, and maybe it’s seeped in the accidents of transhumanism, but you gotta admire little passages like this:

    “… or I could accuse anyone of anything, who did not agree with my view. Such accusations are easy. But blind men and cowards sometimes have the truth. Perhaps by accident, but they do. And so do, sometimes, [REDACTED FOR SPOILER]. So we don’t discover the truth of a message by examining the man who speaks it. We examine facts. Where are the facts to support your conclusion, miss?”
    The Phoenix Exultant, p. 187

    Some atheists are a cut above.

  • Kemper Talley


    I know a named professor of physics who is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences who is a professing Catholic that came to that faith over 11 years ago. He studies a lot of natural philosophy and the writings of the early church fathers and Aquinas. He has always been able to rebut or put to task anyone that thought Catholicism was silly or likewise unreasonable. He may be able to help you with exploring some of the tougher questions. It is obvious from reading your blog for sometime that you are someone who desires the Truth above all, and as a fellow seeker of the Truth, I can say that this man has helped provide much clarity in my search.

    I’m not a Catholic (yet), but I have gained a much greater respect for it through my discussions with him. If you would like to talk to him, I can put you in contact with him. I of course would be interested in discussing these things as well, but I currently find myself in Trento, Italy.

    I look forward to reading about your continuing journey.

  • Diadhuit

    As a Catholic myself I feel Catholicism something really different from your thoughts and I am really curious to know why it.
    I would like to know also what do you feel now. I remember that you said that you didn’t feel God as a person, now I’m reading a lot of rational thoughts and I was wandering if you do feel Him.

  • DNC

    I have nothing against Cathoilcs or any Christian denomination for that matter, but it might be interesting if you would first tell us all if you converted from not believing in the existance of God, to believing in the God of the Bible, Father God, Creator of all, and His Son Jesus the Christ or Anointed One sent by Him to redeem the world from sin and to Himself. All who follow Jesus Christ as Lord and God are called Christians in the original sense which is completely devoid of any other labels such as what Christian denomination you belong to. You could then say, I am a Christian who belongs to the Roman Catholic denomination as a side note, not necessarily good or bad, but just information about what denomination you are affiliated with. I believe that you should post and comment about the belief you share, and leave the denominational aspect out of the picture; because it does gender biases that may cloud the real issue, which I believe is that you now believe that the Bible is God’s book and truely contains His Words, you believe that He is, and He is seen in the person of His only Son Jesus Christ. Is this what you believe?

  • Tim

    First visit to your blog. Clicked through from a story elsewhere of your conversion. Looked around a bit and happily saw you said you’d done a review of a book on my short list: T.M. Luhrman’s *When God Talks Back*, which a friend of mine reviewed here on another patheos portal. I read around your blog for only about 30 minutes, so forgive me if blog/literature/author recommendations are out of left field, but if you haven’t done so yet, and since you’re a new Christian who’s intellectually savvy and apparently into natural theology (yes?), you might consider checking out philosopher Alex Pruss’s blog, Prosblogion. It’s one of the best philosophy of religion sites on the web. Also, if you’ve not done so, take a look some time at the Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology. It contains by far the most up-to-date, thorough (albeit technical) treatments of the most well-known arguments of natural theology in print today. And if you don’t mind one more, since I know eudaimonia’s got to be your thing (you’re a Christian and a virtue ethicist, after all), may I suggest Dallas Willard–especially his *Renovation of the Heart*? He’s published both academic stuff (he’s a philosopher at USC) and popular spiritual writings (he’s a Christian). Other than the Bible, Willard’s popular-level spiritual formation stuff has been helpful in learning how to develop as, to use Willard’s phrase, “an apprentice of Jesus.” What makes Willard so perceptive about these issues, I think, is that, in addition to being a Christian, he has a sophisticated and satisfying account of human persons (and the nature of volition, knowledge, belief, emotions, the body, the relationships between each, and the role of each in human flourishing). His work has given me really practical guidance into how to live life well. And the guy is the real deal. A close friend of mine who studied under him once told me that Willard “reeks of authenticity.” Anyway, I appreciate the tone of your blog and I’ll be sure to check in from time to time now that I know it’s here.

  • Jason

    Seeing as I have a Masters degree in Math I’m really looking forward to the discussion on the last point “prayer hijinks caused by loving math too much”


    Anyway, I know this can’t be easy for you and I’d be lying if I said that it’s going to get easier in the short-term. Keep reading and praying and everything will sort itself out, one way or another.

  • So I’m being lazy and tagging this on the end without checking whether someone’s asked something similar.

    “Morality is a Person” looks like a category error. As far as I know (and I’m admittedly not an expert) it’s not orthodox virtue ethics. What does it mean?

    On the point of choosing Catholicism: I’ve run into some Thomists before who lead me to believe that (a) Thomist God is the official God of Catholicism, and (b) Thomist God is not a morally good (though he “grounds” morality in some mysterious sense). I’m thinking of my conversation with Ben Yachov on Stephen Law’s Evil God Challenge, here: http://stephenlaw.blogspot.co.uk/2011/12/glenn-peoples-on-evil-god-challenge.html?showComment=1324671681483#c1749647339384906100. Ben Yachov has a unique debating style so I’m open to being told he’s wrong, but he seems to know his stuff. If Yachov is correct, Catholicism seems an odd choice for a virtue ethicist seeking a being which exemplifies virtue.

    • … so my question is, I guess, which God you now believe in?

      • BenYachov

        Thanks Paul.

        Cheers man.

    • Not sure I understand what you mean by “God is not [a] morally good” or what BenYachov means by “God is not a moral agent”. Skimming the combox debate over there didn’t clarify much for me. Can you point to where BenYachov explains what he’s talking about?

      Having studied Thomas at the graduate level, this is not familiar language to me; though I have some speculations about what BenYachov might be getting at. (My guess is that there’s some distinction about whether “moral” or “agent” applies to God, but I don’t know which or how, so…) However, it’s important to know what’s meant before using such phrases as “God is not a moral agent” or “God is not morally good” in an argument.

      • Hi Robert. The “a” was a typo.

        You can pretty much find Ben’s stuff by looking for the word “agent” on that page. Ben says “A God who is not a moral agent may be ontologically good but not morally good. A God who is ontologically good may serve as the ground of moral goodness without being a moral agent.” He also mentions that “God as understood Classically cannot coherently be conceived of as being a moral agent” and “God is not a moral agent thus he has no such obligation. God is ontologically good but not coherently conceived of as morally good.”

        What Ben seems to mean by “moral agent” is something like “a being which can have moral obligations”. For instance, he doesn’t disagree with Angra saying that a lion is not a moral agent. To be a morally good person is then to be a a moral agent which acts in good ways.

        What Ben means by “ontologically good” here is that there’s some sense in which God is the bestest of the best and all other bests are somehow grounded in God, even the ones (like moral goodness, in Ben’s view) which God doesn’t really do himself. I think this is straight from Aquinas, but you’d know more about it than me.

        [I don’t think Ben has done much against Law’s argument: I may invent a concept of “godgood” which entails “a being that permits the Holocaust, Lisbon Earthquake, etc. etc.”, but it’s certainly not clear that I should worship something which is perfectly godgood, rather than perfectly good in the human sense. Such a being does not “ground” human goodness in the sense of exemplifying it, for example.]

    • BenYachov

      >Catholicism seems an odd choice for a virtue ethicist seeking a being which exemplifies virtue.

      Well not really Paul my friend. To quote Feser.

      As Davies has emphasized (at length in his book The Reality of God and the Problem of Evil), theistic personalists and classical theists also differ radically in their understanding of what it means to characterize God as good. For the theistic personalist, since God is a person comparable to us, only without our limitations, His goodness amounts to a kind of superlative moral virtue. Like us, He has moral duties; unlike us, He fulfills them perfectly. But for the classical theist, this is nonsensical. Virtue and duty have to do with habits and actions that allow us to realize the ends set for us by nature and thereby to perfect ourselves. But God, being pure actuality, cannot intelligibly be said to have ends He needs to realize or imperfections He needs to remedy. Accordingly, He cannot intelligibly be said to be “virtuous” or to have “duties” He needs to fulfill.

      God can no more be virtuous then He can be said to have perfect muscle tone. You remember that analogy right?

  • A Philosopher

    OK, another one, just for fun:

    Do you think that there are exactly three persons in the Trinity, or at least three persons? (To the best of my knowledge, Catholic doctrine is officially silent on this questions. Theologians and careful attention to the semantics of natural language determiners seem to be a bad mix.)

    If at least three, then are there infinitely many? (This strikes me as a much more stable position than exactly three, or exactly n for any finite n other than 0 or 1.)

    If infinitely many, then for which infinite cardinal kappa are there exactly kappa many?

    If the answer is that there is no kappa such that there are exactly kappa many, that entails that there is no set of the members of the Trinity. In that case, one of the axioms of impure set theory has to be rejected — namely, the axiom that there is a set of all urelements. If you reject that axiom, what’s your alternative axiomatization for impure set theory?

    • Faramir


      As a Christian (former Baptist now Catholic) and math major, I’ve wondered about the same thing. I don’t know if the Church as an official answer to this, but I think it would be that the question you’ve asked is simply unanswerable due to lack of evidence. I believe that the existence of a God possessing some of the characteristics of the God of the Bible can be demonstrated through reason apart from Scripture or religious faith. However, the fact that this God is in fact a Trinity of Three Persons is not one of those characteristics. The only reason we believe that, and the only way we could possibly “discover” it, is because God chose to reveal it to us. So barring a direct revelation from God, we’ll have to content ourselves saying that God is a Trinity of N Persons, where N>=3.

      It doesn’t stop me wondering about aliens in some far-off galaxy worshipping the Quadditarian God of the Father, the Uncle, the Holy Spirit, and the Xsxcwwfvjas (which I’m sure makes perfect sense to them).

      • Kyle

        Pretty sure the Church says exactly 3.

        • A Philosopher

          I’d be interested in sources, if you happen to have any. I’m currently at credence ~.7 that Catholic teaching is silent on the upper bound of the cardinality of the Godhead.

          (I also think it’s better for them if they are silent — the best-case version of Catholic teaching combines hyper-Trinitarianism with omniapotheosis, and has the cardinality equal the cardinality of substances.)

          • Kyle

            St. Thomas Aquinas clearly taught so.

            From the first canon of the 4th Lateran Council:

            We firmly believe and openly confess that there is only one true God, eternal and immense, omnipotent, unchangeable, incomprehensible, and ineffable, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost; three Persons indeed but one essense, substance, or nature absolutely simple; the Father (proceeding) from no one, but the Son from the Father only, and the Holy Ghost equally from both, always without beginning and end.

            I understand what you are asking, and I don’t know if there is a document that states explicitly what you are asking for, but I am 100% sure that more than 3 persons in the Trinity is heresy. If someone else has better sources than I do, that’d be great.

          • Faramir


            I certainly am ready to be corrected if the Church has taught officially in this matter, but the quote from the Lateran Council does not say that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are the *only* Persons, and thus could be interpreted as leaving open the possibility of others Whom God has chosen not to reveal to us, perhaps because we have no categories with which to understand them. I think it’s an interesting question, but certainly not worth getting worked up over.

          • Kyle

            You may be right that the Church has not explicitly stated “there are not more than 3 persons with the Divine nature” but I am 100% convinced that is the mind of the Church on the matter.
            I just don’t understand what the point of saying that God is a “Trinity of N persons, where N>=3” is. Heck, “Trinity of N persons” doesn’t even make sense unless N=3 🙂
            Cheers to the aliens and Xsxcwwfvjas though. They must have been made in the image of God using some funky optics or something 🙂

          • Faramir


            I agree with you about the mind of the Church. Maybe at some point in the future it will become a big controversy and the Church will have to dogmatically define at the Council of Ganymede (or Mars or Beijing or Nicea III – who knows?) that there are exactly 3 Persons in the Godhead. In the meantime, I just think its an interesting thing to wonder about.

      • deiseach

        I read some fanfic (by a Catholic furry – no, wait, it’s not that kind of fanfic!) where on a planet of fox-like aliens, the major faith is the Holy Duality of the Mother and the Father, and they and the Vatican entered into cautious talks where both sides agreed that each other had revelation of the true God, but humans should stick to worshipping the Trinity and foxies should stick to worshipping the Pair (since when mix’n’match theologies got involved, it got messy and usually degenerated into an unholy mess of pseudo-fertility cults and worse).

  • CW

    I’d like to hear about the your experience with RCIA and the similarities and differences between your last go around. I imagine that it feels quite different this time, but would be interested in hearing about it.

  • Larry

    Hello Leah, I’m new to your blog. I don’t agree with the step you’ve taken (having migrated in exactly the opposite direction around 15 years ago), but I certainly wish you well, and I thank you for discussing these things more intelligently and calmly than most people on either side of the debate.

    Introductions done, what I would like to ask is this:

    If your previous beliefs (virtue ethics) have led you to Catholicism, then you have a choice. Accepting (for the sake of argument) that the implication is valid, you can either accept Catholicism, or you can reject virtue ethics. Have you given adequate consideration the latter option?

    I’m sure if I dived into your archives I would find lots of argument in favour of virtue ethics. But you now know something you didn’t when you wrote those posts, namely where this position leads. At least ab initio, that would seem to be a mark against it. So have you re-evaluated those arguments from scratch, taking this new information into account?

  • Leah,

    Regarding #2 in your list, I think that’s a bit premature. I would very much like to know how you got to “morality loves me” in the first place, before you discuss how you got from there to Catholicism! For my own part, I just don’t see how God’s intervention is preferable to any arbitrary story we tell about or moral experience. So I’m very curious how you came up with the idea that morality has some kind of personhood behind it.


  • HL

    Hi Leah, might I suggest you check out the scientific and moral philosophy of Spiritism ( http://www.explorespiritism.com ), in which you will find both morality and reason.

  • ellen

    I’m not a regular reader of your blog, but want to wish you every blessing on your journey. As others have said, and I’m sure you realize, it will not be easy. Satan will increase his attacks on you – and he will be sneaky, because he knows where you are most vulnerable. But God’s grace will be more than sufficient and make sure that you ask some favourite saints for their help. I am 68 years of age, a cradle Catholic, and didn’t go to university, but I was fortunate in having been given a very good education in the faith based on the teachings of St. Thomas Aquinas. God bless you.

  • PJ

    Even as an agnostic, I was baffled by the argument that all religious claims are equal. “There’ve been 10,000 gods in history — how can you choose!?” The question implies that religious investigation is utterly impervious to logic, and that disqualification is purely arbitrary, either culturally or emotionally motivated.

    Anyway, the multiplicity of gods is largely illusory. Saint Paul explained this matter with clarity: Man traditionally worshiped many gods, yet recognized also the existence of a Higher Reality above and beyond the gods. Awareness of this “unknown god” — called many things: Brahman, the Logos, the Dao, Great Spirit, etc. — grew more acute as humanity matured. This Ultimate One is the God of Christianity: YHWH — “I Am Who Am.”

    • Mike R

      Is the Ultimate One also the God of Islam and the God of Judaism? Can Muslims and Jews come to understand that The Ultimate One is best understood as a Christian God through maturity or better logic?

      • PJ

        I believe that Muslims and Jews know the Ultimate One, but that their understanding is incomplete. There is a spectrum of opinion regarding this issue in every camp, but what is certain is that it is remarkable that the majority of humans — one out of every two humans is Jewish, Muslim, or Christian — have come to the same conclusion: that God is One; that He is eternal, infinite, and immutable; that He is omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent; that He involves Himself with the affairs of man and wishes to draw souls to Himself. Some 2500-3000 years ago, Abraham was told that he would be the father of many nations, and today the “God of Abraham” is worshiped in every corner of the globe. The faith of one desert nomad has decided the entire course of history.

  • Vinius Invictus

    I wanted to ask you this, how do you reconcile with 1 Samuel 15:3?

    What could the infants have (not) done to deserve that wrath where men are commanded to slaughter them? And what about the animals in the same verse? Do they sin too?

    Remember, this is the same god Jesus claimed to be.

    • Being slaughtered is not the ultimate punishment; Jesus does and says all sorts of things people forget about.

    • PJ

      The Israelites’ feud with the Amalekites began when the latter ambushed the former and engaged in a persistent campaign of harassment that threatened to utterly annihilate the wandering Jews. Israel was defending itself. It was do or die. “Remember what Amalek did to you on the way as you came out of Egypt, 18 how he attacked you on the way when you were faint and weary, and cut off your tail, those who were lagging behind you, and he did not fear God. 19 Therefore when the Lord your God has given you rest from all your enemies around you…” The holocaust memorial at the Hague bears this inscription from Deuteronomy: “Remember what Amalek has done to you…do not forget.”

      More importantly, the conflict with Amalek is best understood as a foreshadowing of Christ’s conquest of death.

      “8 Then Amalek came and fought with Israel at Rephidim. 9 So Moses said to Joshua, “Choose for us men, and go out and fight with Amalek. Tomorrow I will stand on the top of the hill with the staff of God in my hand.” 10 So Joshua did as Moses told him, and fought with Amalek, while Moses, Aaron, and Hur went up to the top of the hill. 11 Whenever Moses held up his hand, Israel prevailed, and whenever he lowered his hand, Amalek prevailed. 12 But Moses’ hands grew weary, so they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat on it, while Aaron and Hur held up his hands, one on one side, and the other on the other side. So his hands were steady until the going down of the sun. 13 And Joshua overwhelmed Amalek and his people with the sword.
      “14 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Write this as a memorial in a book and recite it in the ears of Joshua, that I will utterly blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven.” 15 And Moses built an altar and called the name of it, The Lord is my banner, 16 saying, “A hand upon the throne of the Lord Jacob! The Lord will have war with Amalek from generation to generation.” (Exodus 17) ”

      Moses’ out-spread arms anticipate Christ stretched upon cross. Amalek is a type of the worldly and prideful strong who take advantage of the weak and humble. The strong, as Jesus tells us, will be reduced to naught, while the weak will be raised to glory. Thus the oracle Balaam said, “Then he looked on Amalek and took up his discourse and said, “Amalek was the first among the nations, but its end is utter destruction.”

      Finally, it is worth mentioning that the Amalekites were not totally destroyed, as later Scripture makes clear, and that those verses which speak of utter destruction were hyperbolic, typical of the Bible’s oft-apocalyptic language.

      Scripture requires prayer and study to understand, you see.

      • Vinius Invictus

        Look at what I asked again. None of your verbose reply actually goes into specifically answering what was asked:

        Again, how do you reconcile with 1 Samuel 15:3?

        What could the infants have (not) done to deserve that wrath where men are commanded to slaughter them? Infants, not adults, mind you.

        And what about the animals in the same verse? Do they sin too that they deserved death? In other verses you have animals taken from enemies because they are useful… forcing a contradiction.

        Remember, this is the same god Jesus claimed to be.

        Answer specifically, please.

  • If your rebirth into Catholicism was really instigated by your problems squaring atheist moral theory, you clearly aren’t familiar with the ancient Euthyphro dilemma, nor with the writings of modern atheist philosophers, and thus such a huge decision is vastly premature. If you were at all dedicated to the skeptics’ cause, I’m sure you could analyse your own arguments and find many logical fallacies.

    • Drive-by arrogance, much? Leah’s posted about this stuff before.

  • I have taken the liberty of linking to your blog… just thought you ought to know. Welcome home.

  • David F

    I’d suggest mixing in a few math related posts on statistical and logical methods. I’d like to know which branch(es) of math interest(s) you. If you plan on pursuing statistics, do you use open source software like R ?.
    Also, I’d love to read posts on the subject of reason and faith as mutually supporting and interdependent; which maybe partly why Catholicism is where you landed (just a guess). Maybe something on Fides et Ratio by JP II. Sorry if you’ve already posted on such things; I ‘m not a regular here.

    • I too, would very much like that. And since I don’t have anything religious to criticize right now but don’t want to miss out on the pugilist fun I’ll get more specific:
      I want posts defending Leah’s Bayesianism. Because I think there is another orthodoxy she needs to convert to…

  • Michelle

    Not sure if this has been asked by someone else, but I’d really like to hear the thought process you went through in the time between having that conversation and writing your conversion post. I imagine there was quite a lot of rationalization and weighing the parts that made sense (the morality) and the parts that probably made little/no sense (virgin birth, resurrection, miracles, heaven/hell, Catholic social policies, etc.). I’m hoping that you’ll talk more in depth about your reasoning with regards to specific issues in Catholicism that really don’t make sense from a secular, science-based worldview.

    Also: all the atheist bloggers have been saying not to accuse you of not being a “true” atheist, but do you think you were a true atheist and you made a real conversion, or is this more of a realization that you believed (in some way) all along?

  • jose

    Since morality is the reason you converted, I think godless morality and why it isn’t good enough should be a topic to discuss.

  • Kyle

    I’d be interested in your prayer life, particularly if you find some prayers harder to pray than others. I know that when I converted it took a few years for my heart to catch up with my mind, and the spiritual dimension of the faith did not come alive at once.

  • What bothers a weird disgusting heretic like me is why CATHOLICISM should be considered an a fortiori leap when so far you have only advanced arguments for theism. (Speaking as someone who is really bothered by the (http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/ChristianityIsCatholic) Christianity Is Catholic meme. After all, Lewis’ retort when backed into a corner was that “the question is not why I should NOT become Catholic, but why I should.”
    So, why is this apparently taken for granted rather than joining us Swedenborgians? Or the UCC, where you would probably be less “confused” by attitudes toward homosexuality?

    • Brian

      Will, the eminent Protestant professor Dr. Carl Trueman addresses his students with precisely your question:

      “Every year I tell my Reformation history class that Roman Catholicism is, at least in the West, the default position. Rome has a better claim to historical continuity and institutional unity than any Protestant denomination, let alone the strange hybrid that is evangelicalism; in the light of these facts, therefore, we need good, solid reasons for not being Catholic; not being a Catholic should, in others words, be a positive act of will and commitment, something we need to get out of bed determined to do each and every day. It would seem, however, that if Noll and Nystrom are correct, many who call themselves evangelical really lack any good reason for such an act of will; and the obvious conclusion, therefore, should be that they do the decent thing and rejoin the Roman Catholic Church. ”


      Leah has obviously seen as well that the “default position” is Rome, and I expect her to elaborate more on that. However, there is a whole blog on the topic which might interest you:


      By far, one of the best blogs on the internet.

      • Contrarian

        I wonder about Egyptian worship and how its institutional continuity compares to that of Catholicism …

    • deiseach

      Believe me, Will, as a Roman Catholic I am longing for the “New York Times” bestseller from Don Green turned into the latest Hollywood summer blockbuster starring Tim Hynks and Alderney Tatin, which features a centuries-old, world-spanning conspiracy, the unravelling of the plot leading Our Fearless Hero and Heroine to the Ecumencial Patriarch of Constantinople and the Eastern Orthodox Church, or the President of the American Baptist Association (the Landmark Baptists).

      Nope, it’s always the Pope, the Vatican, and the Curia up to the ususal shenanigans. Why don’t the Two-Seed-in-the-Spirit Predestinarian Baptists get any love?

  • Congratulations on the trek to your conversion, from one former atheist to another. I, too, studied philosophy as an atheist, bent on disproving what seems like an illusion. But, just as you described, I found that reason alone isn’t sufficient for all the questions I had. I didn’t set out to convert to Roman Catholicism during the initial phases of my conversion some 12 years ago, but it made the most sense. I can recite the Creed and honestly believe in every word. I’ll have you in mind while praying.

  • miker42

    I read a couple of posts where you thanked people for their tone. I’m wondering what effect the conversion from atheist to theist has on your personal relationships. Keep it generic. I’m not trying to get you to name names. But you have probably heard of the Clergy Project for church leaders going the other way. I apologize for equating the position of a pastor to that of a blogger. I know it isn’t the same. But I’m sure you are aware of the types of difficulties that face people moving from theism to atheism. You don’t have to be a pastor to be disowned by your family and friends when you take the journey in that direction.

    So I’m wondering if the path leading away from atheism is as destructive to personal relationships as the path leading away from theism. Also, considering the name of your blog is taken from a quote that directs, or maybe commands, theists not to be bound with atheists, do you anticipate getting pressure from the theist side of this discussion to end current relationships with atheists? And of course, how would you handle such pressure if it comes?

  • You mentioned at one point that you have built an apologetics bookshelf. As a protestant, I’m mostly familiar with protestant apologists, but clearly you must have been reading some Catholic ones. Recently Francis Beckwith (the president-at-the-time of the Evangelical Theological Society) converted to Catholicism as well, saying at one point that most protestants just haven’t given the great Catholic apologists a fair shake. I’m open to that. In your posts on numbers 2 and 3 above, I was hoping you’d cover which authors were most influential to you and in which areas, in case someone else out there may be tempted to follow a similar path to yours.

    • Lucy

      May I suggest the authors Alexander Scmemann and Kallistos Ware? They are people you might want to read in addition to the Roman apologists.

      • Lucy

        That’s “Schmemann”

  • John D

    As a math major and a (somewhat heretical LCWR-supporting) Catholic, I’d be very interested to read about the last 2 items of list 2, particularly the prayer hijinks 🙂

  • U4ikst8

    Simply put, you have the courage to explore what you FEEL! I’m on the same journey and have vowed to (b)log it as well. Godspeed 🙂

  • Mack The Turtle

    I think the only real question is whether or not Ms. Libresco accepts that humans are the product of evolution. Because if she does, then she has to balance, on the one hand, the odd idea that God sat around waiting for our primate ancestors to reach a developmental stage where we could be imbued with morality (was it all at once? was it bit by bit? were Neanderthals given is as well, and theirs died out with them?), and on the other, that morality is the natural extension of an ever increasing brain in primates who, because their weaponry is so weak (no claws, no talons, teeth much inferior to other predators), need to maintain gregariousness
    for the purpose of survival.

  • Contrarian

    Leah, I’d enjoy seeing how you reconcile historical points of the Church’s birth with your newfound understanding of Catholicism as an institution expressing God on earth. Have you looked into historical scholarship on early Christianity?

    For example, one question that you might consider tackling (but by no means the only question in this subject): Have you studied how early Christianity fractured as soon as it began to exist, and the vast diversity of faiths in the Christian family that arose before the Roman Church gained political authority and, with it, the ability to extinguish heresies?

  • Contrarian

    Oh, and if you have the time, I think it would be handy for you to write a post indexing significant past posts by subject. You could point people to it to catch up on your philosophical journey, and it would be a good record tracking the arguments that slowly led you to Catholic philosophy.

    (I in particular would enjoy reading atheist past you defending the existence of objective metaphysical morality*, presumably the metaphysical morality which you later deduced to be a person.)

    *as distinguished from the objective empirical observation that humans frequently act according to moral codes and even more frequently espouse moral codes.

    • Contrarian

      *Ghetto edit after more poking around: Maybe just update the “Featured Series” tag and add some highlights from your philosophical journey.

      • Contrarian

        Although I personally found your discussion of objective morality in “As sure as I am of anything” very unsatisfying and would like you to revisit it with greater precision.

        I’m going to have to start a blog now, goddamn it.

  • Consider the case of the isolated tribe. Say, for our consideration we take a such a tribe from the Nicobar Islands in the deep Indian Ocean.

    Let us look at a child born in this tribe and its mother, both of whom have lived and died by the year 2012. No one preached your god’s “salvation plan” to them. They lived their own way and died.

    Will this child and its mother, in any possible way, end up in your god’s ‘heaven’ due to their ignorance of the “salvation plan” arranged by your god?

    Two things follow, if you answer in the positive:

    1. Faith is not a pre-condition, leave alone it being the only pre-condition, to being “saved”. Ignorance can be a path to salvation, too.

    2. It would be in the interest of getting more people into your god’s ‘heaven’ to keep them ignorant of the plan, lest they not be accused of not having faith in spite of knowledge, and then end up condemned.

    To summarise:

    Is any human being’s ignorance of your god’s plan for “salvation” through the death of Jesus on the cross an impediment to their personal ‘salvation’?

    If yes, why? If no, why not, in the light of true ignorance of this “plan” aforementioned?

    The Bhagavad-Gita.

    The Harvard Classics.


    Chapter XII


    LORD! of the men who serve Thee—true in heart—
    As God revealed; and of the men who serve,
    Worshipping Thee Unrevealed, Unbodied, far,
    Which take the better way of faith and life?


    Whoever serve Me—as I show Myself— 5
    Constantly true, in full devotion fixed,
    These hold I very holy. But who serve—
    Worshipping Me The One, The Invisible,
    The Unrevealed, Unnamed, Unthinkable,
    Uttermost, All-pervading, Highest, Sure— 10
    Who thus adore Me, mastering their sense,
    Of one set mind to all, glad in all good,
    These blessed souls come unto Me.
    Yet, hard
    The travail is for whoso bend their minds 15
    To reach th’ Unmanifest. That viewless path
    Shall scarce be trod by man bearing his flesh!
    But whereso any doeth all his deeds,
    Renouncing self in Me, full of Me, fixed
    To serve only the Highest, night and day 20
    Musing on Me—him will I swiftly lift
    Forth from life’s ocean of distress and death
    Whose soul clings fast to Me. Cling thou to Me!
    Clasp Me with heart and mind! so shalt thou dwell
    Surely with Me on high. But if thy thought 25
    Droops from such height; if thou be’st weak to set
    Body and soul upon Me constantly,
    Despair not! give Me lower service! seek
    To read Me, worshipping with steadfast will;
    And, if thou canst not worship steadfastly, 30
    Work for Me, toil in works pleasing to Me!
    For he that laboreth right for love of Me
    Shall finally attain! But, if in this
    Thy faint heart fails, bring Me thy failure! find
    Refuge in Me! let fruits of labor go, 35
    Renouncing all for Me, with lowliest heart,
    So shalt thou come; for, though to know is more
    Than diligence, yet worship better is
    Than knowing, and renouncing better still
    Near to renunciation—very near— 40
    Dwelleth Eternal Peace!
    Who hateth nought
    Of all which lives, living himself benign,
    Compassionate, from arrogance exempt,
    Exempt from love of self, unchangeable 45
    By good or ill; patient, contented, firm
    In faith, mastering himself, true to his word,
    Seeking Me, heart and soul; vowed unto Me,—
    That man I love! Who troubleth not his kind,
    And is not troubled by them; clear of wrath, 50
    Living too high for gladness, grief, or fear,
    That man I love! Who, dwelling quiet-eyed,
    Stainless, serene, well-balanced, unperplexed,
    Working with Me, yet from all works detached,
    That man I love! Who, fixed in faith on Me, 55
    Dotes upon none, scorns none; rejoices not,
    And grieves not, letting good and evil hap
    Light when it will, and when it will depart,
    That man I love! Who, unto friend and foe
    Keeping an equal heart, with equal mind 60
    Bears shame and glory, with an equal peace
    Takes heat and cold, pleasure and pain; abides
    Quit of desires, hears praise or calumny
    In passionless restraint, unmoved by each,
    Linked by no ties to earth, steadfast in Me, 65
    That man I love! But most of all I love
    Those happy ones to whom ’tis life to live
    In single fervid faith and love unseeing,
    Eating the blessèd Amrit of my Being!

    Here endeth Chapter XII. of the Bhagavad-Gîtâ,
    entitled “Bhakityôgô,” or “The Book of
    the Religion of Faith”

    Look up ‘God on Trial: The Verdict’ on YouTube.

  • Leah,

    This sounds like a nice list of topics to discuss, but I’m a bit worried by your comment about the “Cadaver Synod.” It suggests you think the Catholic church’s biggest problems are all in the past. But frankly, a bizarre ecclesiastical trial is nothing compared to covering up case after case of child rape. And while it would be one thing to be Catholic if the church’s crimes were all in the distant past, the men responsible for the cover-up are mostly still in power.

  • I was drawn to your blog via news reports — you’re probably overwhelmed with comments, but I hope you get to at least read over my note and perhaps, if possible, respond to it.

    Like you, I have an interest in mathematics; I was a physics major at Harvard, these days I work in tech, but I’ve maintained my interest in both physics and mathematics, not to mention philosophy. I’ve spent a great deal of time and effort carefully thinking about ethics, philosophy, atheism, and various spiritual traditions ranging from Christianity to Buddhism.

    I have to say that I tend to be strongly drawn towards arguments which can be made from minimal assumptions; that is to say, that require the fewest metaphysical assumptions which can explain observation, i.e., parsimony. Like you, I went through many stages of spiritual exploration; I began with a kind of vague agnosticism, went through an atheist phase, and eventually came around to the conclusion that there is a spiritual dimension to existence which cannot be ignored.

    For instance, I think you are correct that morality is, in some important sense, derived from the nature of reality — it’s not an arbitrary construct. However, I don’t believe it makes sense to say it is entirely objective — that is to say, morality can depend on many variable factors (for instance, morality for insects is quite different than morality for humans, and morality can legitimately vary, I believe, depending on culture — not in a totally arbitrary manner, but relative to the conditions and circumstances of a given culture and time period, because the objective conditions can change, what principles work best to guide behavior ought to change.) I’m not sure what your position on this subject is.

    Secondly, although I have a great deal of respect for Catholicism and its intellectual and spiritual ground (for instance, I am a great fan of both Simone Weil and Thomas Merton), Catholicism also strikes me as being unparsimonious in many respects. Starting from the premise that there is both a spiritual dimension to existence and some way in which one could say ethics or morality is objective (while still being somewhat relative) — those two ideas can allow for a whole class of possible explanatory systems which aren’t Catholicism. Even going to the extent of believing, as you assert you do, that morality/god is “a person” — why would that have to be just one person, incarnated at one point in one culture? What about other worlds? Aliens? Other time periods? And so on.

    But to address the “person” idea. To me, there is a fundamental philosophical problem here: to think of God or morality as “a person” who, presumably, predates the universe, to me makes little philosophical sense, because it really is a kind of deferring, or a homunculus style argument, or a circularity. If morality is objective, but it’s constructed by an entity (God, a person-like being), then where did that entity come from? If one argues that the entity simply always existed, this seems to me to be an explanation, as Feynman once said, that doesn’t explain anything. One could always propose such explanations for nearly any phenomenon — why do tides go in and out? A “tide person” is responsible? And so forth? As Stephen Colbert says, that’s akin to believing in God because “you don’t know how things work.”

    It seems far more interesting to me to consider the possibility that there could well be a personal aspect to morality/god but at the same time it’s inherent in the nature of any reality that supports life that morality or ethics be a relatively objective consequence of this. That is to say, I have a problem with the notion of God “existing prior” to the universe — to me, this is a non-explanation. It seems far more coherent to suggest that God = the universe, neither prior to it nor outside it, but is just reality, existence itself, and that reality and existence itself has an ethical structure by its very nature. This, to my mind, is compatible with Catholicism without necessarily implying Catholicism is the only systematization that could accomodate such a view.

    I will state for the record that I personally believe that no single religion can possibly capture the full extent of the nature of reality — and that religions can NEVER do so, but that most religions have some element of insight/truth. I think the more philosophically minimal approaches, however, are preferable, which is why I personally find myself most comfortable in the context of Buddhist thought and practice. Nevertheless, I certainly respect Catholicism without personally seeing any reason for myself to convert — it seems like there are far too many additional postulates one has to accept to countenance such a conversion as intellectually justified for my own intellectual taste — but then again I think there are many personal reasons why one might convert to a specific religion. Being Japanese-American perhaps is one reason I’m more attracted to the spare Zen… but also, I think, because my analytical training makes Zen more comfortable for me.

    However, I’d be curious to read a counterargument or response if you have time to address any of these ideas.

  • Kelly Harrison

    At the risk of being branded a simpleton, God bless you Leah.

  • Ben H

    Nobody has mentioned the Cadaver Synod because it’s far from the most egregious example of the horrible behaviour of the Catholic Church. See for example The Case of The Pope, which lays out a pretty iron-clad case that the current Pope covered up and enabled the rape of children, and intimidated the victims into remaining silent. In addition, the “Vatican City State” is a bogus state that has used its influence to impede the provision of sexual and reproductive health services worldwide, indirectly harming and killing many people.

    Now you may want to distinguish between Catholicism as a doctrine and the behaviour of the actual church/quasi-state, but if Catholicism does have special moral insights, it certainly doesn’t seem like the Pope’s really Catholic.

  • I would be interested in reading your thoughts on the Catholic (Aristotelian/Thomistic) tradition of Natural Law. Since your conversion was one of moving from virtue ethics to the idea that Morality is a person, and that person loves you, I’m really interested in seeing how you relate this to Natural Law. How did ultimately accept Natural Law theory, and all the moralistic conclusions Catholics justify using Natural Law (ex. anti-contraception).

    In my own life, I’ve been moved to question Natural Law because of my own negative experiences with the Catholic Church’s teachings against contraception. This is where my questioning OUT of Catholicism began, which is why I have a particular interest in seeing how someone could accept Natural Law.

    On a related note, and related to the Catholics are horrible types of posts, I’m interested in learning how you think the Biblical God is moral and loving, specifically addressing theodicy issues surrounding original sin, God telling Abraham to sacrifice His son, and the idea of blood atonement in general. BLOOD ATONEMENT!!

    I know you have a lot of comments to sort through, so I’ll continue to follow your blog in hopes that you find mine…eventually. Ultimately, I’m happy that you have found a religion that you believe is true and will work for you. Best of luck in this new chapter of your life.