Q&A with Shameless Popery + Radio Roundup

Q&A with Shameless Popery + Radio Roundup June 29, 2012

I’ve been triaging email as well as comments, but when someone contacts me for a Q&A and the first three questions are Q: Jen Fulwiler (another atheist-to-Catholic convert) recently pointed out that we Catholics are fond of giving atheists books on the faith. What do you think of this approach? and Q: Are there any books that you would recommend sharing with loved ones who are atheists? and Q. How big of a role did books play in your own conversion?, well, I guess Shameless Popery had my number. I’ve previewed two questions below, and you can read the rest chez lui.

Q. Jen Fulwiler (another atheist-to-Catholic convert) recently pointed out that we Catholics are fond of giving atheists books on the faith. What do you think of this approach?

I love giving people books on anything. But I think you have to gauge what engages the person and what background they’re coming in with. Some books might have good data, but bad tone (for example Edward Feser’s The Last Superstition has a really good introduction to Aquinas, but your atheist friend would have to have the patience of a saint to get past his snide asides at atheist writers).

And, ideally, any book exchange would be two-way. Ask your friend to share with you the books (philosophical or not) that have most informed their worldview. That way you’re tailoring your pitch to what your friend actually believes, not a straw man. If both of you are sharing recommendations and asking hard questions, it will push you both into a deeper consideration of your position, and, hopefully, the harder and more honestly you question, the easier it is for the truth to win out.

Q. In your interactions with Christians, what were the most productive techniques that you saw used in evangelizing for the faith? What were the least productive (or the counter-productive) techniques that you encountered?

In college, I ran into tabling Christians who had pretty much no familiarity with standard atheist objections (How are the truth claims of your sect differentiated from those of everyone else? Aren’t some of your requests (pray/read the bible until you feel God’s presence) tests that can never fail, even if your claims are false?). If they hadn’t grappled with common objections, I didn’t have a lot of confidence in their conclusions, whatever the pitch.

I was in a philosophical debating group, so the strongest pitch I saw was probably the way my Catholic friends rooted their moral, philosophical, or aesthetic arguments in their theology. We covered a huge spread of topics (R: Defeat McCain, R: All the World’s a Stage, R: Eat the Apple) so I got so see a lot of long and winding paths into the consequences of belief. I know this strategy may not be available to everyone, but all the more reason to bring back debating salon culture!


— — —


I like talking much more than I like writing, and two religion-related radio shows were kind enough to invite me on for conversation.  They each have some stuff you’ve heard me say on the blog before (everyone has to cover the background) but there’s some new stuff I liked commenting on.


Religion News Godcast: This is a new podcast (mine is the third episode), and I had a lot of fun talking with Dan and Kimberly.  Near the end, I got to talk a bit about how postmodernism and the rhetoric of tolerance has taken the pressure off of fights, much to my sorrow.  You can download the episode (and subscribe for their upcoming chats) at the link above.  If you don’t have iTunes, use this link.


Drew Mariani Show on Relevant Radio: To get to this one, click on the link at left, and then go to 29:50 of the Hour 2 clip on June 22nd.  Our discussion includes the following:

People are often made happy by things they shouldn’t be and not made happy by things they should be.  And we know that’s true because there exist serial killers and people who don’t love math.


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  • Ted Seeber

    I think I know why I like reading about your journey so much- your favorite reading list matches mine. Are you sure you’re not a cross sex clone of me, separated in age by 20 years? And are you sure you aren’t autistic?

    • Ted Seeber

      P.S. GEB was the reason I went from being a Marxist Liberal Dissenter to a Zen Catholic with a love for paradox. In addition to introducing me to the works of the three greats in the title, it also introduced me to the Sixth Patriarch and the Platform Sutra. While I don’t hold the Platform Sutra to be Scripture, it did also lead me back to Christ- for I saw many of the same paradoxes in Christ’s parables as I did in the Sixth Patriarch’s stories.

  • Tara S

    “We know that’s true because there exist serial killers and people who don’t love math.”

    Heart! I don’t even understand 90% of what is going on in math, but I still love it. It’s like being a five-year-old with an awesome grown-up brother. “Wow….whatcha…whatcha doin? Can I help?”

    • deiseach

      So being a non-maths lover means I’m liable to end up being a serial killer? I’d be offended…

      … if only it wasn’t true 🙂

  • Ted Seeber

    Oh, and BTW- the Doctrine of Immaculate Conception IS available for Scrutiny- but it will take you YEARS to read it all, and I don’t know of a single place I can point to you that contains all of it. I’d suggest starting at the beginning, with St. Augustine of Hippo’s Confessions and the arguments of St. Jerome, then the Marian Encyclicals of every ecumenical council up to Vatican I, when it finally became a doctrine. That’s 1200 years worth of arguing right there.

    Frankly, the Theology of the Body is MUCH easier than the Doctrine of Immaculate Conception. Oh, and while I’m *very* conservative on the Sacrament of Marriage, I’m for Civil Unions for non-believing homosexuals and non-believing heterosexuals, and don’t believe people sinning against chastity deserve the level of discrimination that they have received in the past. But be warned- most homosexuals will consider you an evil Catholic Bigot for saying so, because, as Mark Shea put it after you put him in his place, you must not only tolerate, you MUST ACCEPT!

    • Oregon Catholic

      No, not just accept, you must CELEBRATE.

  • Oregon Catholic

    Thanks for the links – I’ll give them a read and a listen.

    It would be fun to have a debate with ground rules for atheists and ground rules for Catholics that delineate the least effective arguments for each side and eliminate them from the discussion. Maybe we would actually get somewhere. I know my top three for atheists would be:
    1. You can’t use the OT to refute Catholic theology
    2. You can’t be intellectually dishonest and/or evasive about your personal philosophy. (given all the different ones atheists claim there has to be a clear understanding of each person’s world view)
    3. If you are going to bring up ‘evidence’ in your argument, you need to state what that evidence would be and defend why you think it would prove God’s existence or not.

    • Oregon Catholic

      oops, #1 was supposed to be Catholic morality. The OT points to catholic theology all day long!

    • deiseach

      I would disagree with you in that I don’t mind bringing up the Old Testament – after all, if we believe that the New is the fulfilment of the Old, and the Old is the foreshadowing of the New, I don’t mind the awkward questions there.

      I would, however, stipulate that neither side starts off by slinging insults about intellect, emotional development, sanity or acceptance of reality. If you begin by saying (or even thinking) “Well, I know your position is shaky because you’re too immature to accept the facts”, then you can’t have an honest discussion.

      Oh, and I would have thought this last goes without saying, but some trolls (I’m assuming they were trolls just looking to stir up a fight) who infested the comment threads show me that, to adapt the H.L. Mencken quote, no-one can ever underestimate the taste of the public – no comments about anyone’s attractiveness, ability to have a social life/love life, or cant about broodmares. Thank you.

    • Skittle

      It reminds me of how I longed to recommend The Blind Watchmaker to a non-denominational Christian friend, who was certainly scientifically-minded and yet spouted the strangest things about evolution, but I couldn’t because of the snide comments about Christianity. There would be no point recommending it to her, because those comments would have led her to ignore what he was saying (and probably read no further), and assume that it was simply a matter of science vs religion. And so a good introduction to evolution, which would otherwise have fitted her thought process, was rendered unusable in this case.

      I really wish people would avoid the tribal point-scoring when writing supposedly persuasive texts.

      • Skittle

        Wait, that was supposed to be a reply to the comment below.

    • anodognosic

      On #1: It’s your holy book. It’s your God being described acting in ways that we today recognize to be morally monstrous. I actually understand and to some extent accept the concept of different moral codes for different times, and that perhaps times of greater difficulty require harsher punishment for a people to survive. That’s half-persuasive to me (although, of course, it puts a bit of a dent on that whole “eternal, immutable laws of God” stuff). But if you don’t think the genocide of the Canaanites is problematic either to the nature of God or to the nature of the Bible, then I don’t think you and I have much to say to each other.

      • Sure. If you don’t show some fluency with having at least grappled with the responses, though, we hope you’re in a mood to listen. (Beginning with why murder is wrong, and whether there’s anything worse.)

        • anodognosic

          I’ve read Craig’s commentary on the question, and that’s about all the genocide apologia that I can stomach, I’m afraid. But it serves as a kind of litmus test. If someone is willing, in any context, to argue the justice and goodness of genocide, that tells me that this person is not worth listening to. Godwinning oneself has a pesky way of tainting all one’s other moral judgments, so that I wouldn’t trust even this person’s justification for why murder is wrong. And whatever good wisdom can be gleaned from such a person can more easily (not to mention palatably) be learned from a non-genocidal source.

          • Genocide is always wrong. (Part of the definition of genocide is murder, which is by definition man as aggressor.) If you’re going to say God has the same moral obligations as any number, even an infinite number of men, then I would agree with you that this God is obviously either a Demiurge or a fiction. But God is more different from us than we are from an ant. These reasons cannot be dismissed as special pleading, for they derive from the nature of God being God and not the Forgotten Realms-style “man made superpowered” sort of deity.

            Given this, there is absolutely no way you’ll give a hearing to anything else the Christian or Jewish traditions have to say? Even in the light of the prohibitions and limitations the Church insists upon in wartime?

  • N.J.P.B.

    I know I and a lot of folks agree on your assessment of Feser’s Last Superstition, but I wouldn’t let that dissuade you from his fantastic and non-polemical Aquinas, which has all the great discussion but without the sassy-ness.

    I would also keep in mind the comparable amount snide comments in the works of his opponents (Dawkins, Dennett, Hitchens et al.)

    • leahlibresco

      I liked Aquinas better. And no one’s allowed to appeal to the base behavior of their opponents. You’re not competing against them, you’re trying to put on Christ.

      • deiseach


        Also, I have been trying to apply the Eighth Commandment (Catholic numbering) in my online interactions, and it’s hard. Way back, when dinosaurs walked the earth and the nuns were teaching us the Ten Commandments, part of the requirements about “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour”, as it was explained to us, was not to indulge in gossip or backbiting, not to speak ill of another merely for the sake of getting one’s own back, or everyone else was gossiping and we just joined in, or passing on juicy tidbits for amusement and to increase our own reputation.

        And it’s hard, as I said. The tempation to hit back with sarcasm, or (what one thinks is) wit; to use other people’s words against them, or use a quicker wit or better vocabulary to make a mock of the other, or to answer them back in their own coin, and it’s so terribly easy to justify it with “but they say much worse things about us!”. I’ve had one particular instance where I had – and have – to stifle the urge to pass on an anecdote about someone. Keeping the Eighth Commandment is tough going, but it’s exactly as you said: “you’re trying to put on Christ”.

      • BenYachov

        >And no one’s allowed to appeal to the base behavior of their opponents. You’re not competing against them, you’re trying to put on Christ.

        It is a fine line since even St Paul called the Galatians “stupid” and Jesus was fierce toward the Pharasees. It may be a question of personal aesthetics some people don’t like harsh polemics. It is a matter of prudent judgement.

        Anyway I am glad you are reading Feser. His books have changed my life starting around age 40. The meat isn’t just in the pages of the book but that bibliography and footnotes are a book in themselves.

        From Feser I went on to Davies, Herbert McCabe Oderberg etc……

        Awesome stuff!

        BTW if either Feser or my Right wing politics puts you off I should point out McCabe was thought conservatively Thomistic politically was very left wing. Like a Christian Socalist with Rosary beads.

        You should read some of his works. Good stuff thought I totally disavow his belief Women Priests are possible but I don’t hold it against him since I have no reason to believe he ever went against the Church.

        • deiseach

          It may, however, be helpful to pause before making that stinging rebuke and ask oneself “Am I St. Paul? Am I Jesus? Am I even the Pope?”


  • grok87

    “Aren’t some of your requests (pray/read the bible until you feel God’s presence) tests that can never fail, even if your claims are false?)”

    There are many instances in the bible of people praying and lamenting God’s absence- particularly the psalms.Psalm 44 for example (from yesterday’s Office of Readings):

    “Awake, O Lord, why do you sleep? Arise, do not reject us for ever! Why do you hide your face and forget our oppression and misery? For we are brought down low to the dust; our body lies prostrate on the earth. Stand up and come to our help! Redeem us because of your love!”

    So, if we’re honest, not everyone who prays feels God’s presence all the time. And it’s not a linear process- ie that the more one prays and reads the Bible the more one feels God’s presence. It’s a mysterious process- as CS Lewis says “he’s not a tame lion.”
    with prayers for you

  • Ms. Libresco,

    First let me congratulate you on your conversion. I admire your courage in taking a stand that you knew would bring you a lot of heat, and your grace in responding to some predictably obnoxious criticism.

    Re: the polemical tone of my book The Last Superstition, I understand that it is not to everyone’s taste. That’s fine. However, I must object to the suggestion that the tone of the book is contrary to Christian morality. That is not true. Those who suppose that polemics are always wrong are like those who suppose that violence is always wrong in failing to make some morally crucial distinctions. I’ve defended the appropriateness of polemics under some (by no means all, but some) circumstances in several blog posts, which interested readers can find here:




    Nor is a polemical approach to adversaries by any means unusual in biblical and Church history. Christ’s harsh words against the Pharisees are well known. Elijah was sarcastic with the priests of Baal, and God with Job. Many saints have engaged in harsh polemics over the centuries. You’ll find examples in chapter 20 of a 19th century book called Liberalism is a Sin by Fr. Felix Sarda y Salvany, and a theological defense of the appropriateness of polemics under certain circumstances both in that chapter and in chapter 21. You can find the book online here:


    As the title alone indicates, that book too is bound to be offensive to some. (As the reader will discover from the introductory material, a critic of the book at the time it appeared tried to get the Vatican to condemn it. The Vatican responded by praising it.) But whatever one thinks of the overall book, the points made in the chapters I’ve referred to are sound.

    • Even if making your work polemical is not necessarily wrong, what good does it do if the polemical aspect distracts from the meat of the message? Then again, The Last Superstition: A Refutation of the New Atheism has a message: the New Atheism, as distinguished from other stripes, is intellectually bankrupt and fundamentally dishonest. This, if not the polemics, would be a reason to limit it as a recommendation. So it isn’t so much the inappropriateness of polemics in general that commenters here are probably getting at but the inappropriateness of polemics, and being careful with what message those polemics send, if we’re giving someone a book recommendation.

      Easily justified, too: Practically speaking, some folks won’t read a polemic work if it’s directed against them. Maybe this means they’re a pigheaded liar unwilling to face the consequences of their bad assumptions, and maybe not. Does it make a difference if they don’t read what you have to say to begin with?

      … but boy, is Aquinas: A Beginner’s Guide the best thing since the taqueria.

      • Thanks for your kind words about Aquinas. Re: the the tone of the other book, please keep in mind that no single book can reach every reader at the same time, and not all potential readers are gentle, fair-minded atheists like the pre-conversion Leah Libresco. There are, first of all and most importantly, a lot of people both on the religious side and on the fence who are so impressed by the absurdly self-confident rhetoric and apparent prestige of the New Atheists that they suppose there must be something powerful in their arguments, and this supposition will remain even after one has patiently explained the defects in their books. Sometimes, “breaking the spell” of a powerful rhetorical illusion requires equal and opposite rhetorical force (if I can borrow Dennett’s phrase). When you treat an ignorant bully arguing in bad faith as if he were a serious thinker worthy to be engaged respectfully, you only reinforce his prestige and maintain the illusion that he might be onto something. You thereby make it easier for people to fall into the errors the bully is peddling. Again, see the blog posts I linked to and the chapters from Fr. Sarda y Salvany for more on the reasons why polemics are sometimes not merely allowable but called for.

        I also think people overstate the extent to which atheist readers will be put off. Some atheist readers, sure. But there are also atheists whose confidence in atheism is largely sustained by the vigor and self-confidence of the people on their side coupled with the timidity, defensiveness, and halfway-apologetic responses of some people on the other, religious side. To see people from the religious side hitting back with equal force and exposing certain prominent atheists not merely as mistaken, but as ignorant and foolish, can shock some of these atheist readers out of their complacency.

        Finally, not all atheists are that sensitive. They can read a book like The Last Superstition with a sense of humor and realize (as I have made it clear in that book and elsewhere) that the polemics and sarcasm are directed not at all atheists but rather at (a) certain ideas (and a reasonable atheist should be able to carry out the intellectual exercise of separating himself from his ideas so as to look at the latter objectively) and (b) at obnoxious, puffed up atheists like Dawkins and Co. (and a reasonable atheist should be willing to admit that Dawkins and Co. are asking for it). If the shoe doesn’t fit some particular atheist, I’m not forcing him to wear it.

        • I agree entirely that “a reasonable atheist should be able to carry out the intellectual exercise of separating himself from his ideas so as to look at the latter objectively”, and also that Dawkins and Hitchens (and Co.) really are asking for polemics and sarcasm. I did not read them, but I read a couple of reviews quoting the well-know sarcasm from Terry Eagleton, a Marxist, calling them “Ditchkins”, which I found very funny. An atheist I know from another blogs told me he read them and found them “terrible”. If atheists find them worthy of a good laugh if not much else, sarcasm is probably called for. Besides, having a laugh sometimes when reading or discussing philosophy is a very good thing.

        • Pattsce

          I’ll throw this out there for what it’s worth. The Last Superstition had a Great deal to do with my conversion to Catholicism. I was never an atheist so that May have had something to do with it. That is, I had no reason to be “offended” (though, people who get offended by books like TLS (or even the New Atheist books) are a little lame to me). Anyway, I enjoyed TLS for a couple of very important reasons.

          One, I can’t Stand “new atheists.” I couldn’t stand them even before I converted. They are pathetic, childish, and whiny. And above all, they act like they’ve Won some big argument when they clearly haven’t As such, I like to see them mocked, shown up, and criticized. Maybe there’s something wrong with that, but I doubt it’s very wrong. And for all the reasons Prof. Feser pointed out, it might be very right.

          Two, I find most modern Christianity embarrassingly weak. That includes Catholicism (though Catholicism tends to be the strongest of the crowd). They don’t push back at all. They apologize or try to kill people with “niceness,” etc., as if they’re winning the battle by saying “I can see where you’re coming from; I don’t want to judge you (oh no, not that!!!), but you just have to have faith!” To the non-Christian side (or just to any person who doesn’t get off to groveling slave morality) it just comes off as pathetic. It is a serious, serious problem in modern Christianity. It’s a serious problem with the modern world (especially the West) in general, but that’s a whole different issue.

          It was so refreshing (and frankly a little inspiring) to see someone write a book like the TLS. It was like, “No, there is value here; here it is. Also you’re a moron, and here’s why, so shut up or bring something more impressive to the table.”

          I mention this because I also don’t like when people act like Christians have to be these groveling babies who can’t stand up for themselves or say anything that someone might be offended by.

        • Fair, then. Would we agree that it does not deserve a blanket recommendation the same way Mere Christianity or Orthodoxy could? It firmly falls in the category of “You Gotta Know the Guy.”

          (No claim that Lewis or Chesterton fit everyone either, but they do cover a lot of ground, and genially. They’ll do for Windex-like purposes where TLS only cleans the grout.)

          To see people from the religious side hitting back with equal force and exposing certain prominent atheists not merely as mistaken, but as ignorant and foolish, can shock some of these atheist readers out of their complacency.

          You know, some of the atheist feedback regarding TLS was not regarding the polemicism in general but this particular tone only on certain issues. Dismissing the gay marriage issue so abruptly with that same tone — not with the sensitivity and respect the Catechism insists on giving all persons — gets, if wrongly, associated with mere Christian bigotry against the persons rather than a polemic philosophical stance against the position.

          So, despite dismantling the arguments everywhere else, because the polemic here would serve the central claim of “Ditchkins,” your polemics reinforce Exhibit A in secularist anti-Catholic apologia. You won’t make everyone happy with any version of the book, but would toning it down here make sense? It seems like an easy, quick fix which would only improve a further edition.

          (It’s been a while since I checked TLS out of the library, so I don’t immediately recall how bad it was, or if it was bad at all. Apologies if this comment misrepresents your tone at this point in the book.)

  • “Chez Lui” made me think of TaleSpin. Which exposed me again to the theme song from Gummi Bears. And now it’s all about DuckTales. And then it was Darkwing Duck, a show I only realized was a cheap ripoff cash-in or even a spoof of Batman when I was in college.

    All this because I’m an unlettered plebe who did not at first associate chez lui with French but with an island bar run by a cartoon Orangutan.

    • jenesaispas

      It’s a good little word, ‘chez’- its usually translated as ‘at the house of’, which is fine when you use it in the sense of ‘chez moi’ etc. but in e.g. ‘chez le médecin’ it doesn’t make sense and ‘at’ just isn’t really an adequate equivalent, IMVHO.

      Love your blog Leah! XD

  • jenesaispas

    Sometimes I actually miss maths.
    (who knew?!)

    • grok87

      “sometimes I actually miss maths”
      Hi jenesaispas,
      ok here you go (“ask and it shall be given you”). Here’s a neat problem from “Godel, Escher, Bach”.
      1) Pick any number
      2) If it is even, halve it.
      3) If it is odd, triple it and add 1.
      4) repeat
      For example:

      The question is whether you always end up with 1? It’s been tested for zillions of numbers and you always get to 1, but there is no proof. The other thing is, the number of terms one needs to get to 1 is unpredictable. For example most starting numbers take a small number of terms for the sequence to get to 1. But starting with 27 takes 111 terms!
      It’s known as the Collatz conjecture

      • anodognosic

        I don’t know about formal proof, but the reason for this seems pretty clear: by following this procedure, you will eventually hit a power of 2, and once you do, you can repeat step 2 until you get down to 1.

        • jenesaispas

          oh well, its neat anyway. Thanks grok, I wish we things like this were on the curriculum at school.

          • grok87

            your welcome.

        • grok87

          I like the thought process. that’s how problem’s like this get solved by fooling around with ideas like that.

        • Micha Elyi

          “…by following this procedure, you will eventually hit a power of 2…”

          Oh but if only one could prove that conjecture for all natural numbers!

          By the way Grok87, the puzzle is only arithmetical for it uses no operations beyond the 4 basic ones of addition, subtraction, multiplication and division.

      • I remember thinking about this problem for weeks in college. Fun times.

  • “And we know that’s true because there exist serial killers and people who don’t love math.”
    Like Deiseach here, I don’t love math because I understand next to nothing to them, but I love the fact that math necessitate TRUTH to work. And truth wherever we find it can always bring someone farther on the path…

  • Say

    You were not an atheist.

    You were an agnostic at best. You were either on the fence about it or unclear to the definition. You’re CNN interview seemed a little insulting with the throws to intelligent arugments. You go from being an atheist, someone not led to societal prejudice by doctrine and dogma, but a free mind without the forced and hateful definitions religions impose.

    The Catholics have a long lists of things a rational mind would consider ‘ungodly’. Countless cases of homosexual pedophilia as we watch settlement after settlement handed out in the news – every month. Their stance on contraception and system of sin and forgive, have destroyed countless lives due to AIDS, and sin then save then sin then save systems. An atheist is a pure mind not influenced by hate inspiring religious dogma; you just don’t make the move from a person free from bigotry to one that is.

    It’s like going from the NAACP to the KKK; It’s like knowing the gag and then falling for it – You just don’t make that transition if you’re truly an atheist – your mind isn’t capable of the leaps of faith required to overlook a universe full of contradictions to religious beliefs and primitive mind control.

    So, Leah, you just can’t do what you say you did. You were an agnostic, not an atheist. It’s ok to admit you were wrong.

  • Say

    Pardon the typos, I typed this in a haste.

  • billybluejames

    Was Socrates the first atheist? Well, in a sense, he spoke of the gods as being the fabrication of poets. But then he did not speak of a transcendent God (singular). So in this sense he was not an atheist. The concept of single transcendent God comes directly from the Judeo-Christian tradition. The issue of the existence or non-existence of a transcendent and omnipotent God comes directly from Catholic tradition, dialogue and debate. As soon as one claims to be an atheist one has already entered into the terrain of Catholic philosophy. The question itself has already been framed by Catholic philosophers. Many non-Catholics do not even realize that proofs for the existence of God have been argued extensively by thinkers such as St Anselm, St Augustine and most importantly by St Thomas Aquinas. This is where the question began, without this tradition the philosophy of Hegel, Shopenhauer, Nietzsche and Sartre would not exist.

    In the seventies, I was a long haired teenage poet who had no interest in Catholicism, other than bashing it as superstitious and silly followers. However, I wanted to study in Europe and a private Catholic university that I heard about had a campus in Rome, Italy. I applied to that university and was accepted. In my junior year this one time atheist converted to the Roman Catholic Church. Josef and Mary Seifert were my confirmation sponsors. Josef Seifert (the well known Catholic philosopher) in addition to being my sponsor was my beloved teacher and mentor.

    I am very happy for you Leah.

    • billybluejames

      Is it more likely or logical that an infinite and immutable God is the product of human consciousness or that human consciousness is the product of God’s consciousness? Logically, the infinite cannot be born of the finite.

      Finally I should mention I did not convert to Catholicism simply because I moved from atheism to monotheism philosophically. It was only after I accepted the notion of a transcendent, immutable God that I could open myself up to the power of that God in prayer and meditation. It was then that I underwent a mystical experience that up until then would have seemed impossible, an experience that did not last hours but months leading up to my entry into the Roman Catholic Church.

      As for reading recommendations, may I suggest SEVEN STORY MOUNTAIN by Thomas Merton.

      • Since there is no evidence that God is infinite (indeed, he seems incredibly finite and all too human to me), I don’t see how this argument causes any problems for atheism…

        • billybluejames

          If God does not exist, God would not “seem” to be anything at all. “God is greater than which nothing greater can be conceived…hence, even the fool is is convinced that something exists in the understanding, at least, than which nothing greater can be conceived. For, when he hears of this, he understands it. And whatever is understood, exists in the understanding. And assuredly that, than which nothing greater can be conceived, cannot exist in the understanding alone: than it can be conceived to exist in reality; which is greater.” St. Anselm wrote this almost a thousand years ago.

  • Shannon

    Dear Leah,

    May God bless you on your journey!

    I am a convert to Catholicism, from agnosticism, which itself followed atheism. I, like you, struggled with many of the teachings on sexual morality. I had many friends who identified as LGBT and to even consider that their relationships could be sinful felt like betrayal. Reading “Love and Responsibility” by Karol Wojtyla (Blessed Pope John Paul II) changed not only my perspective on sexuality, but my outlook on life. It provides an exploration into the truth of love, the sacredness of sexuality, and the meaning and reasoning behind the Church’s teachings on sexual morality. May I recommend that you get your hands on a copy? I cannot guarantee that it will affect you as it affected me, but it might be a good place to start. Accepting the Church’s teachings on sexuality–something I long thought impossible–also allowed me to accept the Church’s authority on other matters I did or do not yet understand. That does not mean I don’t question, but my questions no assume there is an explanation–and this assumption has yet to fail me.

    May God be with you.

    In Christ,

  • Kyle

    Haha, on the Drew Mariani bit, around 42:40…
    “People are often made happy by things they shouldn’t be, or not made happy by things they should. And we know that’s the case because there are serial killers and people who don’t enjoy mathematics…and both those kinds of people are in serious error”
    Sounded like you were trying to make a light hearted joke and Drew totally missed it…got a chuckle out of me though 🙂

    • leahlibresco

      Much appreciated!

  • Jean

    To Leah: I’m not a regular reader but want to address a comment you made in one of your interview answers so I signed up for this purpose only. You are quoted as saying:

    “Some claims aren’t really available for scrutiny (the Immaculate Conception comes to mind)”

    I just want to say I believe the Immaculate Conception is available for scrutiny. In other words I believe it can be proved to be true. This is my reasoning and it is quite elementary stuff compared with St Augustine and St Jerome so I defer to them as the experts on this subject :

    Every mother experiences an innate impulse to defend and protect her child, particularly when the child is innocent and being falsely accused or punished or is suffering. It is instinctive for the mother to act in the child‘s defense. One can assume, if ever there is a moment in a mother’s life when she will be tempted to act against God’s will, it would be that moment when her child is in danger or suffering in this way. As His mother, according to Jewish custom and belief (honor thy Father and Mother), Christ subjected Himself in obedience to both His mother on earth and his Father in Heaven. Therefore, at the cross, Christ was subject to both His mother and His Father. If His mother had willed that He come down off of that cross, we would not have been able to be saved by His passion and death because Jesus would have been faced with the dilemma of disunity between His Mother and His Father’s will for Him in that moment. God could not allow this disunity to occur so that His son would be faced with this sort of choice at the moment humanity was to be saved. It was in God’s design then, that Mary will for Christ exactly what His father willed for Him. So, we can conclude that Mary had to have willed during every moment of Christ’s passion for her son to suffer and die this cruel death exactly as it happened. Since Christ knows the heart and mind of His mother, He would have known His mother willed something different for Him and He would have had to submit to her will. But how can that be possible? How is it that Mary’s will could contradict her natural born instinct as a mother to defend the innocence of her child? It is only possible, if the soul is in perfect union with God at all times, without any possible stain or weakness from original sin that would predispose her to challenge the Father‘s authority over Her son. It was because God created Her soul to be in a state of perfect union with His will at all times throughout Her life, and in doing so, Her soul is thus Immaculate at all times.

  • Socalscout

    I know you have questions about the Faith and you will find the answers I am sure. Sometimes it is difficult to determine the sources that show fidelity to the Church and those that do not.

    Check out Phatmass. I think you will enjoy the debate phorum.


    Catholic Culture has a great site review feature so you can determine the better sources. Many reputable sites recommend them.


    One of the contributors of Catholic Answers was an instructor for my Church’s RCIA program and she is very bright. Karl Keating is a great apologist and you might find him a little self righteous but that should not dissuade you from frequenting that website.


    New Advent is a great resource with a fully searchable index of the Catholic Encyclopedia as well as many documents on the faith including encyclicals and such.

    The bad part of this site is that they kind of sold out with the advertising because a lot of the advertisers are not in line with the Church. It’s a shame too because it lowers their credibility a little.


    Good luck.

  • Dan

    A conversion that does not accept the Church’s teachings on sexuality is not complete and still vulnerable. The Catholic faith truly makes sense only when accepted (and loved) in whole. A conversion is complete when the convert sees the teachings on sexuality not as a stumbling block but for what they are: a treasure.

    I remember when Anne Rice purported to have converted to Catholicism. Shortly after she announced her conversion she stated in an interview that she was still “pro-choice.” I then knew she had not truly converted because a fully converted Catholic cannot even remotely countenance the notion that anyone ever has a legitimate “choice” to kill an unborn child. As most know, Anne Rice left the Church a relatively short time after she said she had converted (and had some spiteful things to say about the Church on her way out). This is not to say that someone who is still struggling with the Church’s teachings on sexuality is destined to leave the Church.

    Insofar as the Church’s intellectual rigor is a source of faith for some, I would recommend the following writers: 1. Joseph Ratzinger (particularly “Introduction to Christianity”), 2. Flannery O’Connor (particularly her nonfiction, which is among the best Catholic spiritual writing of the 20th Century and among the best spiritual writing at any time of any American of any religion), 3. Joseph Schumacher (“A Guide For the Perplexed”). The foregoing books are not straight apologetics but are implicitly so, as they all directly confront the modern non-Catholic worldview.

    In the 20th Century Catholicism yielded a rich intellectual harvest that is a feast for any intellectually inclined Catholic. In addition to the authors listed above, great 20th Century Catholic writers include (lumping together theologians and novelists): Hans Urs von Balthasar, George Bernanos, Christopher Dawson, Henri de Lubac, G.K. Chesterton, Romano Guardini, Jacques Maritain, Francois Mauriac, Josef Pieper, Edith Stein, Sigrid Unset, and Evelyn Waugh. Non-Catholic Christians whose writings were largely in harmony in Catholicism include: Fyodor Dostoyevsky (19th Century and he wrote the Grand Inquisitor chapter in the Brothers Karamazov, I know), T.S. Elliot, and Aleksandr Solzenitzyn,

    I agree with the comments above about “Love and Responsibility” and the Theology of the Body. However, to receive those writings one must first open one’s heart to the truth about sexuality. Due in significant part to the cultural degeneration associated with the so-called sexual revolution, this is very difficult for many people today to do. The topic of the Church’s teachings on sexuality is far too vast to be addressed in a comment on a blog. I would note, however, that the crux of the problem is contraception, which is also the most difficult of the Church’s teachings to grasp. Two Flannery O’Connor quotes suggest the nature of the problem: “The Church’s stand on birth control is the most absolutely spiritual of all her sands and with all of us being materialists at heart, there is little wonder that it causes unease.” And (speaking of lesbianism but the remark also applies to contraception, which renders heterosexual sex sterile and, therefore, indistinguishable in principle from homosexual sex): “As for lesbianism, I regard that as any other form of uncleanness. Purity is the twentieth centuries (sic) dirty word but it is the most mysterious of the virtues.”

    • And this is Catholicism.

      It’s disturbing, but at least you have to admire Dan’s honesty. He’s not willing to twist the religion around to make it easier to fit into the 21st Century.

      The thought that someone would convert to this willingly… just… ugh. I’m gonna go shower now.

    • Albert

      Ms. Libresco’s been clear that she has some unsatisfactorily answered questions. She doesn’t need to be lectured about the importance of a “complete” conversion. In fact, this side of heaven, most of us will have plenty of questions unanswered or answered incompletely… maybe we haven’t sought out the answers, or maybe there aren’t any answers that satisfy us.

      Job never got the answer to his question from God.

  • Dan

    Quickly one other thing. I do public speaking on the topic of abortion (and touch upon contraception at times) and I have found that the divide between “pro-lifers” and “pro-choicers” very often – almost always – correlates with a division between the two groups on the question of what love is. The pro-life Catholic knows that suffering is part and parcel of love; this is of course what Christ’s cross both teaches and exemplifies. The pro-choicer rejects this notion, either implicitly or explicitly. This is logical given the modern worldview but I also have found that it is empirically true. All of which to say is that joyful submission to the Church’s teachings on sexuality is no small detail when it comes to Catholicism: those teachings intertwine closely with the Church’s teaching about love and that teaching is at the core of the Church’s being.

    (Also, typo in the Flannery O’Connor quote: “stands,” not “sands”).

  • Mitchell Porter

    After ruminating upon how it is that Leah decided to convert, this is the model I’ve come up with:

    1) First, adopt a realist solution to the problem of universals.
    2) Apply this to morality. There is an essence of goodness which inhabits good intentions, good acts, or good people.
    3) Think of the essence of essences as the first cause. (This makes some sense: things get their nature from the essences that inhabit them, and essences get their nature from the meta-essence that they all share, so that meta-essence is close to being the ultimate cause of everything.)
    4) Anthropomorphize the essence of essences and the essence of goodness. The first is God, the second is Christ.

    • To be fair, Step Four she resisted. Belief seemed to be involuntary. It was less “anthropomorphize” and more “accept that I already believe something like the Church’s teaching on divine personhood.”