Responding to the “What are you thinking?” comments

Responding to the “What are you thinking?” comments June 18, 2012

Now that the news has gone up on some of the other atheist blogs, some people in those threads who haven’t really read this blog before are kind of understandably flabbergasted.  What bothers me though, are the some of the “I can’t imagine why she would do something so stupid” or “this is totally incomprehensible, there’s nothing she could have found compelling” comments.  The folks writing those posts are speculating about what could have caused this, since it wasn’t data, and the leading candidate is a stroke.

The reason I’m seeing those comments over there and not over here is because it looks like those folks aren’t bothering to click through on the article.  Which I could have guessed, since hopefully a little poking around my archive here hopefully gives you some idea of what might have been drawing me here.  In contrast, the comments from regular readers here are argumentative and substantive. And friends from my college debating group were the least surprised even though plenty of them disagreed because they had the most data.  I’m not trying to beat up on the subset of atheists over in those threads doing this, since this is a common (and frustrating!) problem with the way people approach arguments.  This is just the specific instantiation of the problem that I’m running into today.

Arguments shouldn’t look one-sided, even if one side is pretty definitely correct.  Unless the other side has got a gun to every adherent’s head, there’s something about the other side that looks attractive, and you should be able to spot it.  Maybe they’re taking a real virtue to excess (the way machismo distorts courage and strength into vice) or maybe they’re directing a good desire to something that can’t satisfy it (hook-up culture), but you need to be able to spot what the adherent’s actually love about their system in order to take it out, since you actually want to attack at the strongest point.   This is why I like the Ideological Turing Test in the first place, as a test that we’re ready for battle.

So, if you have no idea where I’m coming from today, I’d prefer you pause and wait to comment until you do a little browsing through the archives.  (You could try “Radical forgiveness” and/or “Accepting gifts“).  Doing this kind of research is (1) good manners and (2) good tactics, since without it, you’re only going to be able to level very generic or vague critiques, and I’m probably not going to wobble.

– – –

And look, I’m still a giant public health nerd, so let’s take a second out of all this for a quick PSA.  Strokes are terrifying because of the long term neurological damage they cause if not addressed swiftly, but there are a list of physical symptoms and a handy mnemonic that can help you screen symptoms and act if you’re afraid a someone has had a stroke.  The acronym is F.A.S.T.

  • FFace Ask the person to smile.  Check if one side of the mouth or face sags.
  • AArms Ask the person to raise both arms to around shoulder level.  Is one lower than the other?
  • SSpeech Ask the person to talk.  Is the speech slurred or garbled?
  • TTime This one isn’t a symptom, it’s a reminder that the most important thing to do is get medical help as quickly as possible.  Call 911 FAST if you observe the symptoms above.

And good news, team. I’m fine on F&A, and the only reason my speech is hard to understand is just the usual, I talk at a NYC clip.

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  • Gerry

    It’s also true that so many comments “over there’ are from the same script. My favorite is “What about AID in Africa?”. To me, this is like blaming Smokey Bear for forest fires.

    • MichaelD

      If a little 1$ latex sheath could was scientifically shown to be effective at preventing forest fires would smokey the bear have been against their use (until 2010) or would he have been promoting them. That’s the problem with your analogy.

      • David

        Still against their use. In 2010, the pope shared his opinion on how some people could use condoms with good intentions. He was not saying that condoms were good, in themselves, or that Church teaching would be reversed.
        The analogy still works depending on what one considers to be the root cause of the epidemic. After all, if you truly want a 0% probability of infection, then condoms are not the solution.

        • Jim Kennedy

          The analogy you’re trying to draw would go something like this: If starting fires in the forest immediately after a heavy rainfall had been shown to reduce the harm caused by those forest fires, would Smokey the Bear be against them for for them…

          • Gerry

            This ain’t rocket science. If people obeyed Catholic teaching in regards to sexuality, what effect would that have on the prevalence of AIDS cases?

            Forget Smokey, even Yogi Bear could answer that one.

          • MichaelD

            More or less yes. Admittedly I’m a young Canadian and not terribly familiar with smokey the bear. But my understanding is that he’s a mascot for responsible use of campfires and wild fire prevention. So the idea that he would oppose something cheap and useful in preventing forest fires seems out of character. The original poster needs to find the mascot that’s a lot more hard line on fires. Maybe one that restricts them to indoor fireplaces.

          • David

            I think that the indoor fireplace is pretty apt because it sort of gets to the Catholic point. Sex outside of marriage, whether or not it leads to infection, is the problem. Catholics view sex as being intrinsically procreative in the same way that everyone views eating as being intrinsically nourishing. Just as you would not binge and purge your food, likewise you would not use any artificial means to prevent conception. Keeping sex between a man and woman who have a life-long comitment to each other (and to raising a family) sort of flows from that.

          • David

            But I think I’m wandering off topic. Sorry.

        • Zack

          Yes, the Vatican has a great track record when it comes to advice on that kind of thing. Celibacy for Priests, for instance, nothing went wrong with that…

    • James H, London

      Definitely. Strange, how the parts of Africa where AIDS is worst, *just happen* to be the places where Catholics make up <10% of the population (often <5%), and condoms have been promoted in schools and public billboards for years on end.

      Of course the New Democratic SA Govt. didn't help, about 10 years ago they were still insisting there was no such thing as AIDS; and the health minister, Manto Tshabalala-Msimang (don't say that while drunk!) said that wild garlic and beetroot could cure it.

  • Jay

    With respect Leah, the point of the Less Wrong post you linked to isn’t that “arguments shouldn’t look one-sided.” It’s that policy debates shouldn’t look one-sided. When there are multiple groups of large people disagreeing about what our society ought to do, it’s unlikely one group is composed entirely of evil mutants who hold their views for insane reasons. But when it comes to strictly factual questions, some debates really do seem (and are) one-sided. Heliocentrism vs. geocentrism is a one-sided debate. Evolution vs. creationism is a one-sided debate. And theism vs. non-theism is, fundamentally, a factual question, whether it’s truly one-sided or not.

    That being said, I do apologize if the confusion I expressed in my previous comment suggested a lack of appreciation for where you’re coming from, or your prior thoughts on this set of issues. I’ve read enough of your posts to think I have some understanding of your perspective, but I’m obviously open to correction if I’ve missed something important.

    • leahlibresco

      Oh, yes agreed on your main point. I think the theism question is both factual and two-sided. Not in the sense that both sides are right, but that both sides have some strong objections that the other side should be conversant with and have some kind of response to. And that there are plenty of people on either side of this truth-claim who didn’t get there by being stupid.

      Sorry, I haven’t seen your other comment yet, but I will get to it.

  • CBrachyrhynchos

    I guess that making people “wobble” isn’t especially a motivation I have for having conversations with people of faith. Most usually when I choose to argue with people of faith, it’s on the grounds that their statements about my life, community, practices, and relationships are just plain wrong, often in ways that are both ignorant and mean-spirited.

    Religious discussions on the Web would be greatly improved if people focused on explaining the Self, and not trying to argue the Other.

    • Paul

      With all due respect, CBrachyrhynchos, if you don’t have an interest in changing minds, why argue? Not trying to be flip…a sincere question. Is it to educate yourself?

      • CBrachyrhynchos

        I’d say that the root axioms of any philosophical system are as much experiential as logical. I can’t meaningfully share the experiences that are at the heart of my moral and philosophical views. I can share my thoughts about what I choose to build from them, but I don’t feel I can “convert” someone who isn’t already thinking along the same lines as I do. More importantly, I’d find such a conversion attempt psychologically uncomfortable, morally problematic, and contrary to my political praxis.

        But that just applies to claims of faith that are not my own. As I wrote above, I do argue when people overstep their knowledge and make claims about my beliefs, praxis, and community. When I feel that those are being misrepresented for the sake of argument, I feel entitled to step in and say, “that’s not generally true of atheists, and it’s certainly not true of me.” I do challenge stereotypes of other religious groups, probably not as often as I should though.

        Unfortunately a great deal of badness on the Internet is sparked by atheists making claims beyond their knowledge of Christians, and Christians making claims beyond their knowledge of atheists.

        • Paul

          OK, interesting. So would this be a fair characterization of the way you see your role?

          – Contributing – and perhaps convincing – in moral discussions among people with whom you share core principles.
          – Correcting the excesses of discussions about those core principles – discussions that you consider fundamentally futile.

          • CBrachyrhynchos

            The contributing part is fair. The second part isn’t quite fair. I think discussion of core principles can certainly be useful for the purpose of understanding how and why a person holds a particular position, even if the result is respectful disagreement. I’m not convinced that core principles can be changed on the basis of argument alone.

            To use an example, my (admittedly imperfect) support of engaged pacifism is not only a consequence of my core principles, it’s a consequence of personal and (for lack of a better term) mystical experience. Communicating the latter makes me sound like more of a madman than I already am, they’re hard to describe, and challenging/debunking experiences are not the kind of conversations I wish to have about them.

            And on another note, apologetics and anti-apologetics are not an avocation of mine, and I think they need to be in order to argue them with any kind of authority. I have enough trouble in my life juggling writing, music, and math to shoulder the burden of the merits of one philosophical tradition over another. I’m a mere householder, struggling to do the best I can day by day and breath by breath. In 24 years on the Internet, I’ve finally developed a small bit of wisdom that I’m largely ignorant outside of my own world, and playing the game of “someone is wrong on the Internet” is no longer satisfying.

        • DavidM

          “I’d say that the root axioms of any philosophical system are as much experiential as logical.” – I don’t understand this claim. Could you give an example to illustrate what you mean? So far as I can make sense of it, it seems right, but it doesn’t seem to follow that “[one] can’t meaningfully share the experiences that are at the heart of [one’s] moral and philosophical views.” With due respect, that sounds suspiciously like a rationalization for closed-mindedness.

          • CBrachyrhynchos

            Most arguments in philosophy appear to distil down to critical assumptions that are largely taken as a matter of experience and or faith. Experience is often a critical guide to those assumptions. As described elsewhere in this discussion, faith is a matter “of the heart” as well as the mind. Who am I to argue with a vision of Jesus, when I have my own visions? That I’m called by my intellect, conscience, and experience to a different set of beliefs about It/Her doesn’t strike me as license to gaslight others into doubting their experiences with God.

            It’s not that we shouldn’t talk about these things, but communicating tacit and experiential knowledge is difficult and doesn’t really transmit the knowledge in question.

        • “I’m not convinced that core principles can be changed on the basis of argument alone.”

          I’m not nearly as articulate as you are, but this statement resonated with me. Most “orthodox” Roman Catholics love to argue, and many of them (like their fundagelical brethren) seem to think arguing makes converts. I’m don’t suggest converting people is the only motive. One can certainly see from the discussion around here lately that indulging the love of argument makes many avowed Christians and humanists alike graceless and unkind. For the Christians anyway, we forget that we are not addressed by an argument; the address comes from a Person. Most of us don’t have an avocation to apologetics. When we are most true to our encounter with Christ, we are doing something rather than writing or saying something.

          I appreciated your comments and I think you express yourself very well. I’m just out of practice with this kind of thing, as I’m a busy mother and homesteader and I spend much of my time in conversation with children and chickens and geese and sheep…and they do not speak English.

          • That’s, “I don’t suggest..”

          • CBrachyrhynchos

            Thank you for your response.

  • Bonnie

    Leah, Welcome to the Catholic Church. As a cradle Catholic I am excited for you and I greatly respect your questions, thoughts, and courage. Please be assured of my prayers for you. May God give you grace.

  • deiseach

    “The reason I’m seeing those comments over there and not over here is because it looks like those folks aren’t bothering to click through on the article.”

    No, that cannot be! Atheists are rational and sensible people who make evidence-based decisions only after careful consideration of all the facts! You’re only saying that because you’re a Nazi-sympathising, anti-gay, anti-women, witch-and-heretic-and-book-burning, over-population preferring, emotionally compromised believer in discredited superstitions and patriarchal-dominated sky father cults (I think I hit all the major points in the comments to the previous post, but if I’ve left any out, please feel free to add them yoursefl).


    • You forgot “pedophile-enabling child rapist” or some combination thereof.

      • deiseach

        D’oh! How could I forget that one, except that it goes without saying?


        • Nox

          No one called her a child rapist. Pedophile-enabling kind of does go without saying.

          The reason catholic priests are able to get away with raping children is that the catholic church shelters them. The reason the catholic church is able to get away with sheltering rapists is that people choose to continue giving support to the catholic church. If you’re keeping an institution in business you are enabling them to do what they do.

          • Deb

            And the same could be said for public schools…to an even greater percentage. Do you advocate to keep public schools in business?

          • Ken

            The problems you refer to, while a terrible scandal, are mostly in the past. Currently, the Catholic Church is one of the safest places for children. Much safer than public schools.

          • Nox

            So an internal investigation commissioned by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops came to the conclusion that the catholic church isn’t that bad?

            If public schools were a private institution, and all or most of their material support came from people actually specifically choosing to support that school, and the policy of the Department of Education was to transfer teachers who are caught molesting students to different schools and not notify the authorities, and threaten the victims with expulsion to keep them silent, and the current secretary of education had personally overseen the coverup of the rape of thousands of children at institutions he ran with unilateral authority, then perhaps the comparison might hold up.

            Except it still doesn’t.

            The source for your revealing statistic as revealed by the article you cited (not a paraphrase, literally what it said): “since there are many more students in public schools than children in Catholic churches or schools, there will be more victims”. That’s the entire basis (besides PR which is the real basis) for the statistic that children are more at risk in public schools than catholic churches.

            Mrs. Libresco”s conversion to catholicism is her own choice. And it is a choice I would not interfere with if I could. Religious freedom is more important than people making the right choices. My point was that this is a choice which will have real world consequences, not just for her but for the victims of the institution she has decided to support.

          • What evidence do you have that the data from the John Jay study is faulty, Nox? If you’re going to make accusations, back them up with factual evidence.

          • Ted Seeber

            And the reason school teachers are able to get away with raping children is that the school boards shelter them.

            What, didn’t you know 4% of school teachers are pedophiles?

          • Dave

            Real funny thing that is too. One tends to wonder why it might be that so very many of these people would still agree to keep on sheltering them. If objective morals are supposed to be written on the hearts of men ,as Leah believes.

            Often seems far more like this God moves people to lack morals. Maybe God is the anti moralist. Either way seems like a mighty strange phenomenon ,that often tends to affect those within faith beliefs.

            One really wonders if these folk really do have a closer personal contact with Gods like they often profess they do,then why does it also often seem to help make their morality seem to become so very extremely human.

            Sure i understand that believers will say its because these human will still remain human. But that doesnt help answer why we do see these people change ,even if its in these negative ways.

            Does morals written by God in hearts of men?, help make these theist men lose their grasp of this Godly morality. Or is it just because, it becomes far harder for them to try and display a honestly positive change ,while the change they are involved in also involves some humans that is trying to continue to live within a ongoing lie.

            Sure theist will blame its on devils and suchlike. But that suggests that power of the devil ,is more powerful than Gods.

            So im picking its most likely because humans cant live up to Godly morals,while they remain fully human

  • Ryan

    As a fairly new, and somewhat atypical reader of your blog(neither being Christian nor athiest), I would like to congratulate you on your journey. As it is well considered, I am certain it will bear fruit whatever your conclusions.
    As a convert to a non-Christian faith, I would also like to add that you have inspired me to be more candid about my conversion and the nature therof with several individuals with whom I should have had this conversation earlier. So, beyond the congratulations, I would like to add a note of personal thanks from someone who is, to you, a stranger.

    • leahlibresco

      I wish you all the best, Ryan!

  • It’s funny how flabbergasted many people are by your conversion to Catholicism vs. deism or some other version of Christianity usually followed by that commentator’s laundry list of particular Catholic beliefs they think are unbelievable (usually comprised of a couple of true beliefs, a few partially true beliefs and a handle of stuff that’s completely wrong). I saw a lot of that in the comments over on the Friendly Atheist’s post about your move.

    Again, welcome home. 🙂

    • Emily

      Congratulations, if that’s the right thing to say! I think the continual journey & struggle of Christian life is one that will suit you, and I mean that in a good way – it appeals to me too.

      And I’ve already started being argumentative in other comments, curious to hear your thoughts.

  • math_geek

    Well when a blogger calls Catholocism “One of the most despicable, nonsensical, homophobic, misogynistic religions on the planet” its a pretty safe bet that rational debate on the subject will be a challenge.

    One of the things some commenters appear to believe is that in order to be “truly” Catholic you have to accept and believe every single thing the Church teaches. No. The very belief in an Objective Truth immediately leads me to the realization that I can’t and won’t get a perfect understanding of what that Truth is in this world. The Church itself is obligated to evaluate and reinterpret its own teachings (“usury” provides a pretty good example).

    Religion (all religion) is, as John Green puts it “a response to revelation.” It appears that your revelation was that of a Personified Morality. The religion part is what to do with that revelation.

    Also, you’re third paragraph on “argument” is fantastic. I’ve tried to argue the same thing before unsuccessfully, so I will probably be borrowing from this in the future. The only thing I can add is that humanists should like humans. Many atheists like to take the mantle of humanism, but what does it mean to like humans and have so much antipathy towards the things they seem to care about?

    • Robert

      Well the thing is that there’s a difference between being a cultural catholic (something I could call myself if I wanted to until well into my 20s) and saying “I have chosen to convert to this particular religion”.

      While it’s not reasonable to assume that the convert is going to adopt every tenet of that religion, I think it’s reasonable to expect the convert to explain what they think of and how they handle all the baggage that comes with that label. As a convert they are free to choose almost any position – there’s nothing that says that because you believe in a deity similar to or indistinguishable from X on questions of morality you must take all the bad stuff that said deity or followers express about other questions or about sub-sections of that morality.

      She could’ve described her own unique understanding of something – it would’ve encountered just as much confusion I suspect but it’s the decision to say “I want to belong to a group with a lot of baggage” that has earned the additional comments. Sure you can decide to do that by ignoring the baggage, compartmentalizing and saying “well there are other people who already do that and I can be one of them too” but this isn’t a test in which the answer MUST be one that others have already come to, so why pick a pre-packaged thing instead of make cklear your own ideas?

      Of course I expect she’ll address specific dogma, tenets and such and whether she chooses to follow them, ignore them or what in some of her follow-up. I really hope she doesn’t avoid all the negative stuff people say about catholicism because it is earned and as someone who chooses to enter a group there would be a level of intellectual dishonesty in conveniently ignoring everything you disagree with.

      • Gerry

        Hey, Robert, here’s what you just earned: “bigot”.

      • math_geek

        The Catholic Church has baggage. BAGGAGE! And a lot of it is inexcusable. Hell, even if Church teaching on Homosexuality is wrong opposing gay marriage will not be the biggest stain on the Church in this century, let alone in its history. Your problem is treating the Church like it’s the Elk lodge. You don’t “join” the Catholic Church because you want to hang out with Catholics or because you want to say something about yourself. There are far easier ways to do both. You join the Church for God, for the Sacraments, for the Cross. The “baggage” is mostly irrelevant.

        • Well said, Math_Geek.

        • Robert

          The baggage is irrelevant? The baggage is entirely related to God, the Sacraments and the Cross. As an insider it’s fine to separate them – it’s a normal process people engage in with ideas in their head.

          You misunderstand me completely if you think that I am looking at the church like a place to hang out. That’s PRECISELY why I am baffled by this. This is a person who, as an outsider, has the luxury of seeing that individual Catholics can and do choose to go against some church teachings. To do the same as a convert however requires some level of intellectual dishonesty in my opinion. I am hoping (and based on her posts, expecting) her to handle the disagreements she may have with official catholic policy and I think that will lead to some of the more interesting discussions for atheist readers.

          But even if she answers every one of those questions satisfactorily, she, not me, will still have treated the church as a place to hang out – because if that’s not the case, if she as an outsider wanted to come to a conclusion on god/morality and so on she has the luxury of saying “I believe position X on this, Y on that, Z on this and god is A” without taking the step of converting.

          This is partly why a lot of the atheist comments are “I can understand Deism, but that doesn’t get you to Catholicism”. I have no problem with the social element, but I’m not the one treating the church as merely a place to hang out, that’s such a laughable misinterpretation of what I said that it’s hard to imagine how it can be taken from my original post.

          Finally, “you join the Church for God, for the Sacraments, for the Cross” is a meaningless statement unless I know what you take each of those to mean and since you 1. Don’t think Catholics are all required to follow every church doctrine (I agree) and 2. I can’t read your mind, I would appreciate it if you explained what those mean to you.

          • math_geek

            Paragraph 1 : You don’t really do a good job of defining what the Church’s baggage is. I read your original post as meaning Church teaching on homosexuality, birth control, women priests, and the rest of the usual criticism of the Catholic Church, all of which is valid basis for criticism of the Church, her leadership, and her teachings, but really has nothing to do with why someone becomes Catholic in the first place.

            Paragraph 2 : Being Catholic isn’t a signing statement either. It’s something you do. You convert to Catholicism by attending RCIA classes, going to Mass, praying, and finally becoming baptized and confirmed. You continue your Catholicism by going to Mass, praying, going to Confession, etc etc etc. There’s a lot of ways to do this and I don’t want to declare the list of things that “every true Catholic does.” However, you keep painting “religion” as “this is what I believe.” Faith is “what I believe.” Religion is “what I’m going to do about it.”

            Paragraph 3: This implicitly assumes no intrinsic value to going to Church, participating in the Eucharist, going to Confession. If Leah wants to receive the Eucharist she needs to convert. The Church doesn’t require her to believe everything it teaches for either conversion or the Eucharist. This seems to fit in with the Screwtape Letters depiction of demons tricking humans into demanding the “perfect church” and “perfect Christians.” This is a fool’s errand.

            Paragraph 4: How does Deism square with the idea of a Personified Morality that loves us? How does that even begin to be consistent with Leah’s stated beliefs?

            Paragraph 5: Would you like that in book form? I’ll try to give a basic idea…
            God = The Father Son and Holy Spirit, the Holy Trinity, the entity described in the Nicene Creed, Jesus Christ, “God is Love,” “The Way, the Truth, and the Light.” God gave us free will and desires us to use our free will to choose to be with Him. The path towards being with God is transformative, eventually elevating us beyond our current state. To be with God we strive to be like God, and as God is Love, that heavily depends on loving ourselves and others.
            Sacraments = There are seven holy Sacraments of the Church. These Sacraments are tools God has given us so that we can work on becoming like Him. They are called “essential to our salvation” but I don’t believe that because God’s power to save surpasses our imagination. I will say that they are incredible tools and I cannot understand how someone who believes in their power would not seek them out.
            The Cross. Flannery O’Connor wrote “What people don’t realize is how much religion costs. They think faith is a big electric blanket, when of course it is the cross.” The path to Christ is HARD. Like O’Connor and the Catholic church, I believe in “hard grace” as opposed to “easy grace.” That is, that the choice to be away from God is a real and tempting one. When I said the Cross I meant both in the sense of accepting the gift that Christ gave to us by sacrificing himself for our sin, but also the command that we carry our own cross and our own burdens in an attempt to be like Him.

    • deiseach

      Don’t forget the comment about “the single greatest force for evil in the world”.

      We’re Number One! Yay! Congratulations on picking the winning team, Leah!

      • math_geek

        I saw that too. It still makes me laugh. How do we (the Catholic Church) rank ahead of the Chinese government again? In either power or evil actions?

        • Timbot2000

          Heck, how do we even rank ahead of the US government? Not really sure when the Vatican took 35% of my earnings under threat of force, inflated away another 7~10% per annum, and then claimed for itself the power to secretly charge, arrest, imprison, torture, and kill without warrant or trial, and then to formally maintain imprisonment after finding of innocence in a court of law (an amazing legal construction not even Hitler or Stalin bothered to codify).

    • Ted Seeber

      Usury has been reinterpreted, but it’s still a sin, and in fact, some would say that given Rerum Novarum and the encyclicals that followed it, usury has been stripped down to it’s bear essence of “profiting off of somebody else’s labor without sharing with the laborer”- whether that be through an interest bearing loan, dividend checks, or outright Bain-Capital style creative destruction.

      • math_geek

        So it’s sinful to have a savings account?

  • Matt

    Welcome Home!

  • I hardly know what to say that doesn’t sound like gloating. “Welcome!” will have to do.

  • Charles

    Wow. I probably get around to reading through your blog once a week, I don’t comment that often. I am totally shell shocked. I can always count on Unequally-Yoked for providing a viewpoint I agree with almost 100% of the time.

    What have you thought about your diferences with the Church? Obviously you didn’t intellectually decide to change your views on homosexuality, contraception and abortion the instant you decided to convert. I realize that these are the big decisive issues that are brought up in far more prominance than they warrent a lot of the time (either side painting ones views on contraception as if it MUST coincide with every other view, oh you like condoms then you cant be this… or oh you think condoms are bad then your nuts!) but they are the attention getters. I guess my big question is are you “working” on changing your mind to conform to the great ‘truth telling machine’ or have you resigned yourself to the idea that maybe the ‘truth telling machine’ isnt right all the time despite what it says? And to followup how do you react to the vocal proponants of Catholicism who basically say if you dont agree on X Y and Z then your out, some of whom are prominant bishops etc ?

    • Charles

      I guess what I am asking in the simplest form is “What makes one a Catholic?” – Can you make the leap and decide you are going to start believing in the “real Pressence” ? – or is there a lower level thing that “makes” you a catholic, and the higher level stuff can come, if it does, in time?

    • leahlibresco

      Tomorrow’s post!

      • Just what I wanted to ask. I can’t wait to read tomorrow’s post then.

      • Charles

        It seems to me that one can think of religious beliefs like the OSI Network Model.
        (layer 1 -7 go: Physical, Datalink, Network, Transport, Session, Presentation, App)
        So you might have layers:
        1. Natural Law / Conscience / Morality
        2. God
        3. Incarnation of Jesus
        4. Saints / Miracles / Intercessory Prayer
        5. Rituals / Mass Attendance / Etc.

        This is not a well thought out list, it is an off the cuff idea on peeling back the onion of RC views.. Lets say one believes in natural law and a god, but isnt so sure about a virign birth, can they still be Catholic? What about someone who believes everything up to vissions of Mary at Lourdes, and doesnt attend mass, or think is necassary? At what layer are you one? Obviously the sex stuff makes the headlines but do we split hairs, is somone who believes everything but doesn “believe” in the real pressence more or less catholic than someone who believes everything including the real pressence but thinks abortion should be legal (even if they think its immoral) and gays should have equal rights?

        These are the kinds of questions I think you are now suddenly uniquely suited to discuss. For obviously you decided to take the leap so there is a line that has been crossed, I am extremely interested in that line!

        • Cous

          I’m obviously not Leah, but since part of your question was about the Church generally and she’s probably got her hands full, I can pitch in to do what I do best, i.e. attempt to summarize Church teachings in combox format.

          There’s a difference between the “personal order” in which a particular person comes to arrive at the decision to convert – some people are convinced of Jesus’ divinity first and from there get to natural law; for others, it’s vice versa – and the “logical order” of those things – the fact of God’s existence would obviously precede all facts about natural law and conscience Which one are you interested in?

          As far as I know, your question of who counts as “Catholic” doesn’t have a straightforward answer; the Church keeps track of baptisms and excommunications (which coversmore ground than most people think it does; see latae sententiae excommunications), but otherwise trusts that individual persons mean what they say and do when they choose to show up at Mass, recite the Nicene Creed, and respond “Amen” when the priest says “The Body/Blood of Christ.” Does this mean you get pro-choicers, adulterers, closet heretics, pope-haters, etc. in the pews, or “Christmas pointsettas” and “Easter lilies” who only pop in twice a year? Yes. But the Church is in the business of getting the sacraments and means of salvation to as many people as she can, within the bounds of good conscience.

          Beyond that, if you’re looking for an “orthodoxy filter,” the fastest one is the Nicene Creed or Apostle’s Creed. Incarnation and dual nature of Jesus? Check. Virginity of Mary? Check. Resurrection and the communion of the saints? Check and check. But it’s a litmus test, not a comprehensive one (e.g., you won’t find transubstantiation mentioned anywhere in those Creeds, and Anglicans and other Christians recite those Creeds as well). For a that, go to the Catechism. You’ll find that Catholics are not required to believe in Marian visions or miracles, but they are required to believe in transubstantiation, the fallen nature of man, and in the sexual norms that everyone’s obsessed with these days.

          Ho-kay, moving on, there are onion layers both in doctrine and in authority.

          In terms of doctrine, certain beliefs have been held by Christians from the very beginning; others took time to unfold, to be fleshed out by study of Scripture and Tradition, e.g. the Assumption and papal infallibility, but once proclaimed by the appropriate authority (see below) they must believed by everyone. Priestly celibacy is not a doctrinal matter (the Church’s teachings on it could change, but given that her reasons behind it haven’t changed, the teaching isn’t likely to change either) but the male priesthood is.

          In terms of authority, the ultimate authority is God. The Pope and the college of bishops (the Magisterium, the teaching authority of the Church) can make proclamations that bind the whole Church, because they are representatives of the original 12 apostles, who received their authority to teach from Christ…see how the “authority genealogy” always has to end back at God? But they can also issue non-universally-binding proclamations; requirements for fasting for Communion have changed multiple times. And they can also delegate authority; in special circumstances, a bishop can delegate charge of his diocese to a priest who is not a bishop.

    • To love somebody doesn’t mean to agree with him all the time. But with true love, you want to understand him. So is with the Church, we join the Church but we don’t have to claim to follow all her decisions slavishly, before we made the decision to join Her. But after we have become a member, we grow into Her and try to understand her. The Church doesn’t demand that we behave like unthinking robots, the obedience the Church asks for is an obedience which follows from the decision of free will. If one finds hard to love the Church, to understand her, one still has the option to go away. It is a question of free will.

  • Drew

    Non-believer here, interested in hearing more, and always interested in this subject. As someone who came to this blog first from hearing the controversy, I can’t say that from reading the original blog post, follow-ups, or recommended links, that I fully understand the reasoning that went into this, but clearly there’s a lot behind it. And not everything is or can be about reasoning when it comes down to personal conviction: what someone believes, or discovers they believe, isn’t always (even: often isn’t!) under their control, subject to their choice. But it’s still always worth examining and hashing over, both alone and with others.

    Morality, whatever you think about it, is a pretty darn important subject, and it’s worth everyone’s thoughts, no matter where they come from on it or where thinking about it leads them.

  • Jesse Weinstein

    I looked through the two category links you mentioned (“Radical forgiveness”, “Accepting gifts“), but they didn’t seem to address what I’m most curious about, so I thought I’d ask here. I presume you’ve written about it before, so a simple link (or even just enough keywords to identify a specific post) will be plenty.

    The topic I’m curious about is: where’s the factual evidence for various basic elements of Catholic doctrine (e.g. those listed in the Apostle’s Creed or similar documents)? These elements appear to be factual claims, similar to claims like: “There is a cup on that table.” or “Steve Jobs attended Reed College.”

    Presumably at some time you decided the factual claims basic to Catholicism were sufficiently likely for you to believe in them — and wrote about this decision. Could you point me toward such posts?

    • What do you mean when you say “factual”? Do you mean “proof that the early Christians taught these doctrines”?

      If you mean “proof these doctrines are true,” then it seems you’re looking for scientific evidence for metaphysical concepts. It’d be akin to me saying, “Prove, with scientific evidence, that my mother loves me.”

      • Julie42

        I think what Jesse is getting at here is why she decided she believes all of these things. As an atheist, it is not hard for me to imagine myself or other atheists leaning more towards agnosticism or deism. What most of us atheists are having trouble with is that she went from not believing in any deity directly to belief in God the Father, Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ, his only begotten Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary, etc, etc.
        That’s a pretty big step to make. The basic question here is why this god? Why this denomination? She says she believes in a god now, so why does this suddenly require her to also believe in Jesus, the Virgin Mary, and everything else? What reasons does she have for those things? It’s a very fair question.
        Maybe it’s hard to grasp because Catholicism is very common and a lot of people believe in it. But really, it would be just the same as if she said, “I believe in a higher power. That higher power is God. Now I’m converting to Mormonism.” I think you would also be confused about why she came to that specific conclusion in that case.

        • CBrachyrhynchos

          Personally, I find the idea of original sin to be less believable than the idea of a deity. But I’m an unapologetic pagan that way.

          • Ken

            This one seems pretty easy to me. Our parents in the Garden of Eden suffered a fall from grace through their sin. They could not pass along to their children what they no longer possessed, i.e., grace. Hence, as their children we do not possess grace at birth due to their original sin. We need baptism and the sacraments to receive God’s grace.

          • CBrachyrhynchos

            On that, I’m strongly persuaded by Jewish critiques that argue that particular interpretation of Genesis radically misunderstands the relationship between G-d and humanity. Expulsion from the Garden of Eden isn’t damnation, and G-d can’t be estranged from humanity because then G-d is not G-d, who is always a mere breath away. The idea that She is simultaneously infinite, universal, and infinitely distant is a paradox beyond my comprehension.

          • Original sin is about the one Christian doctrine for which there is overwhelming real-world evidence.

        • Lucy

          I’m curious about this, too. And I’d LOVE to see the responses from Roman Catholics if she was investigating Mormonism.

      • If you mean “proof these doctrines are true,” then it seems you’re looking for scientific evidence for metaphysical concepts. It’d be akin to me saying, “Prove, with scientific evidence, that my mother loves me.”
        This would be true if the RCC only made metaphysical claims. However, it does not: it makes claims about physical happenings (Jesus was born of a virgin, Jesus rose from the dead). To say that science has no bearing on these things without explaining why is just a get-out clause. Here’s Russel Blackford:

        “Recall that the rise of science did not subtract from our pre-existing resources for investigating the world. Rather, it added to them; and the old pragmatic and scholarly methods and the new, distinctively scientific, ones can always be used together in any given case. We need to know whether such claims as that Jesus rose from the dead and that the universe was created by God are plausible when set against what we know overall about how the world works, both through methods that we could have employed anyway and through the distinctive methods developed by science.

        When the question is framed like that, surely we don’t think that these claims come under no pressure at all from our best empirical investigations of the world?”

        I’d add that “science cannot prove your mother loves you” is a bad argument, which I address here. In brief, it’s not the job of science (understood as “that thing scientists do”) to prove your mother loves you, but it is something that you believe based on empirical evidence.

        • Richard Bell

          I believe that it was Augustine of Hippo that suggested that if something cannot be proven directly, it is worth examining its fruits, and if those are good, then it is likely that unprovable something is true.

          Given we are talking about christianity, the good fruits had better be really good, or people will just laugh at me, so here are the best two, that I can think of: The concept that each person is of equal dignity before God is the source of human rights. The less christian a government is, the more human rights abuses there are. The belief that a rational God would create a rational Universe is the wellspring of all the sciences. Just about every university established before the Protestant Reformation was founded by the Catholic Church. It is not a fluke that much of the history of science is stories of dead christians.

          P.S.: If you read Galileo’s “Dialogue of Two Systems”, you will discover that his proof of Heliocentrism was that there was one high tide and one low tide, each day, caused by the Earth’s motion around the sun and that only a fool would attribute the tides to the Moon. Heliocentrism is correct, but Galileo’s proof was flat-out wrong. As both the ptolomaic and copernican systems both had similar degrees of error, heliocentrism was unproven, until Kepler proved that the planetary motions were elliptical

          • This looks like the fallacy called “Appeal to Consequences” (see for example). The fact (if it is fact, which I’d dispute based on Scandinavian countries) that non-Christian governments lead to human rights abuses is not evidence that Christianity is true.

            I think scientists who were Christians (as more or less everyone in the West was) might well see their work as investigating God’s creation, but again I don’t really see how that bears on the truth of Christianity, or what Galileo has to do with it.

          • MountainTiger

            The equality of individuals did not originate within Christianity; keeping to the ancient Mediterranean, Stoic philosophy was particularly keen on the intrinsic equality of individuals, including slaves. Your claim that an inverse correlation between Christianity and human rights abuses exists is also empirically highly questionable. I am unsure how to measure how Christian a government is, nor do I find the thesis persuasive given the poor human rights record of medieval and early modern European states, which repeatedly developed the tendency to persecute dissenting groups that only disappeared with the introduction of liberal principles which disavowed the idea that the state should enforce Christian doctrine. And as Paul says, even were the correlation true, it would not demonstrate the truth of Christianity but merely its utility.

      • So, I tried to reply before and the comment got swallowed. Weird. Anyway, I’ll try again without markup in case that’s what broke it:
        > If you mean “proof these doctrines are true,” then it seems you’re looking for scientific evidence for metaphysical concepts. It’d be akin to me saying, “Prove, with scientific evidence, that my mother loves me.”
        No, it wouldn’t, because “my mother loves me” isn’t a metaphysical statement, and the Creeds make claims for which we’d expect to see empirical evidence.
        On the first point, “X loves me” is a statement for which we’d expect to see empirical evidence. People who say “X loves me” without that evidence are called “stalkers” 🙂 Whether you call that evidence “scientific evidence” is semantic (I’d prefer to reserve the term for evidence produced by scientists, so I wouldn’t expect there to be scientific evidence).
        On the second point, the Creeds claim that Jesus was born of a virgin and rose from the dead. These are extraordinary claims for which we’d expect to see some pretty powerful evidence. All we’ve seen from Leah so far is that they seem like the sort of thing this Morality/Person would do as it wouldn’t want to leave us alone, but that isn’t specific enough: there are many things that the Morality/Person might do.

      • It worked. Hallelujah. Let’s try a couple of relevant links, since Leah’s a Less Wrong fan: discusses distinctions between different types of evidence. We’d expect rational evidence that a person loved us, or indeed that they rose from the dead. discusses the point that fleshed out stories sound more plausible, but are in fact less probable and so require more evidence. People questioning the transition from “Morality is a person” to “Catholicism is true” are questioning this on the basis that “Catholicism is true” is a much less probable statement than “Morality is a person”: Catholicism includes that statement (possibly: I’ve encountered keen Thomists who disagree) and much else besides. The “much else besides” must be evidenced separately.

        • Now you want scientific evidence for miracles — which, by definition, are occurrences that cannot be explained by scientific evidence — that occurred approximately 2,000 years ago.

          Given we don’t yet have access to time-travel technology, how exactly would you set up such an experiment?

          • In fact, I do not want scientific evidence, I want rational evidence, which might include the sorts of things mentioned in the Less Wrong article.
            > miracles — which, by definition, are occurrences that cannot be explained by scientific evidence
            Evidence doesn’t explain something. If you’re claiming that miracles are beyond the reach of empirical investigation (which includes, but is not limited to, science), I’d re-iterate that this just a get-out clause: “oh, of course that’s not the sort of thing we need evidence for”. Really? Do you apply the same standard to miracle claims from other religions, or do you also accept those without evidence?

          • If you claim that everything must be within the reach of empirical investigation, this is just a get-out clause buttressing an atheistic framework. When your only tool is a hammer, every problem is a nail.

          • Hey The Ubiquitious: feel free to point out where I have said that “everything must be within the reach of empirical investigation”. What sort of evidence do you look for when examining the miracle claims of other religions?

    • Jesse Weinstein

      While I appreciate all the responses to my question — all of them seemed to have misunderstood what I was actually asking for.

      I wasn’t asking *commenters* to justify Catholic claims, I was asking for links to where *Leah Libresco* had previously done so (presumably on this blog). And I’m still waiting.

      Are any of the folks who responded to me regular readers of this blog? Could some of you suggest keywords I might search on to locate the posts I asked about?

  • Stephen

    Very sad that I haven’t seen your blog until today- I cringed out of sympathy when I visited the two blogs you’ve linked, to see the reaction. As an atheist-to-Catholic convert who received a similar reaction when I “came out” as a theist, and then as a Christian, I wish you the best on that. This isn’t to say that criticism isn’t welcome, or necessary for refining your beliefs– you rightly pointed out (I believe it was in the comboxes of blaghag) that criticism of beliefs is completely fair, but criticism and “she must be doing this for an SO/had a stroke/is doing this for attention/she’s lost her intelligence” are two different games.

    I’m fully aware that support posts are much less interesting than those which are critical of you. However, it also seems to me that someone who has similar interests ( primarily metaphysics and the philosophy of religion) and similar relevant experiences can be helpful. Peace be with you!

  • Sebastian Czyszewski

    Read Meslier before making any life breaking decisions. Can you explain how did you came from “I believe morality is from god” to “bible is god’s word, satan tempting me 24/7 and pope is infallible” – that’s what catholicism is all about, whenever you want it or not =/

  • NFQ

    Leah, I hope you also take a moment to say definitively whether this is the next phase of your Turing test experiments. (Are you trying to see if an atheist can simulate a believable “conversion experience”?) I can’t quite buy that you’re serious, yet at least.

    Also, assuming you are serious, count me among your readers interested to see some sort of list of what you are actually claiming to believe when you say “I’m a Catholic.” (That prayer is effective? That heaven and hell exist? etc.) I am baffled by the thought process that runs: “perhaps a god, therefore [specific religion x].” Even if we grant your usual assumption of objective morality (which, for the record, is a big assumption) there are many more logical steps before you get to Christianity, let alone Roman Catholicism.

  • Leah, I’m not sure now what link I followed to come across your conversion announcement, but it has been interesting reading it and a few score of your posts from the archive.

    Having read those, your conversion seems unsurprising. You were criticizing PZ Meyers’ desecration of the Eucharist nearly 18 months ago after all, and talking about your desire for Lenten commitments and so forth. I despise the ‘no true scotsman’ argument, but I saw little in the brace of articles I read that seemed nearly as interested in rational skepticism as in the mysteries of the Catholic church, in particular.

    In disclosure, as a materialist atheist (read ‘have seen no evidence for anything non-materialist’ for ‘materialist’, if you will), I find both your before and after positions interesting from an intellectual and anthropological view, but persuasive from neither, but I appreciate the care and effort you put into your writing and the openness of your communication.

    I hope you find membership in the “supernatural” body of Christ satisfying, and that you mourn lightly for what you lose.

  • Nick

    Welcome to the Church! Be prepared for evil. Fear not, sin not.

    If you have a YouTube channel, link me to it so I can subscribe to you. Mine is mariomusicmadness.

  • Anonymous
  • Bill Logan

    Leah, I wish you all the best in your discernment and as you journey through RCIA. I hope it ultimately brings you closer to God. Out of curiosity, what do they have you read for RCIA?

    1) I got the impression you’ve been reading (or have read) Chesterton. If that’s correct, I’m sorry to hear that. There’s a fad for “Saint Gilbert” in some parts of the Catholic blogosphere, but you’re not obliged to share it unless you happen to enjoy bad writing. 🙂

    2) You mentioned you were still confused about the Church’s teaching on homosexuality. You might wish to look at the book “A Question of Truth: Christianity and Homosexuality” (2003) by Gareth Moore, an English Dominican. His basic conclusion is that while the Church’s teaching on homosexuality may ultimately be correct, the arguments that have been put forth to support it are quite deficient.

    • Kyle

      1) Chesterton I’m sure would be the first to admit that he was a bad writer. He was very humble like that 🙂

      2) Here’s an interesting response to Fr. Moore’s book:

      • Bill Logan

        Hi Kyle,

        1) Chesterton might admit that he was a bad writer. The question is whether or not you’d be able to understand that’s what he meant from the obfuscation he’d surround it with! In general, I’d recommend that people avoid Chesterton and read Knox instead.

        2) Thanks for the link to the article. I’ll have to read it more closely, although I think Fr. Moore, were he still alive, would have been glad people were trying to develop new arguments. I’d still recommend that Leah look at Fr. Moore’s book (and his other one, “Body in Context”). A difficulty with the Church’s teaching about sexuality is that parts of it basically come across as conclusions in search of an explanation.

        • “Thwarts natural end” is pretty clear in an A-T framework.

  • .

    ” Call 911 FAST if you observe the symptoms above.”

    Fast is an adjective, not an adverb.

    • Kyle

      You are correctly.

    • anodognosic

      I suppose you can’t run fast, then?

  • Leah, you’ve made a personal decision and you don’t have to explain this to the angry crowd.
    Through Faith the Grace of the Lord is infused into our heart, which enables us to see what the others don’t see and to be patient. Don’t care too much for what the others say. You are welcome in the Universal Church, the true Home and Family of all nations, people of all ethnic backgrounds and of different social status. The Church united people who past away long ago and the generations yet to come. There is nothing so beautiful as belonging to this Church, the Body of Christ.

    • NFQ

      It may be a personal decision, but Leah has had a blog about atheism/religion for a while now, and it would be bizarre to go through this sort of change without any explanation. Also, the “crowd” isn’t angry, just baffled and maybe a bit disappointed.

      • Life is full of surprises, isn’t it. Why not enjoy your life? I am tired of ideological fightings. You lots remind me of the infighting among Marxists, who cry out: “he has never been a real Marxist! Treason!”.

        Funny to hear you say this kind of things while you profess all to be more tolerant than the intolerant Christians. But it shows that you feel insecure about your own ideology and when someone says well I shall decide otherwise, you are disappointed.

        • Crash

          First, I haven’t seen many “no true Scotsman” fallacies about and NFQ did not mention it either. So that Marxist criticism is baseless.

          Second, Atheists are not disappointed because of insecurity. They’re disappointed because Leah joined an institution that they find immoral for a reason they find irrational. I get the feeling you haven’t read much of the atheists response at all.

    • Dave

      Many of us are not angry at all. Some of us are just extremely interested, to try and find out why it is that Leah feels objective morals,must have this need to have come from mind of Gods.

      Humans have ways to conclude some objective type views of so many things in life. We use it to help us form our building codes ,speed limits and much more .

      So why would we suddenly need this input from Gods,when instead it becomes about us forming our moral view . Does the brain and our observations and ongoing experiences etc, all suddenly stop working ?,when we need to deal with forming and further perfecting these moral views ,and only continues to work while we are concentrating on forming the building codes and speed limits and such like.

      Sure i agree that Leah doesnt need to try to explain . Fair enough . But then still , let us let it be fully known worldwide,that Leah hasnt even given us good reasons why.

      Old Jim Jones tried much the same tactic too ,by not bothering to answer those who questioned him ,by hiding himself off within a desert. And cults worldwide, will also decide to choose much the same tactics too.

      We really dont mind that much ,just so long as we are also able to make this important information public

  • atheizer

    I’d love to debate Leah on this, I left Catholicism for Atheism.

    There are a number of ways you could’ve countenanced moral laws as an atheist. e.g., necessarily true propositions ground themselves. Swinburne holds this moral ontology. I’d recommend Erik Wielenberg’s Value and Virtue in a Godless Universe on it.

    Even if atheism couldn’t support moral realism, it’s unclear whether theism can. Even if theism can and atheism can’t, there could still be independent grounds for holding atheism. e.g., Schellenberg’s Divine Hiddenness, Bayesian PoE’s etc. etc. And this is all assuming moral realism, which I take Richard Joyce to have pwned.

    • It is a popular mistake to think that religion is only or mainly about moral. It is not. It is about the eternal life, death and resurrection, the meaning of human existence, and things more profound than just morality.

      Of course a pagan or an atheist can be a moral human being. Christianity is not making “nicer citizens” out of us, but showing us to way to our salvation.

      • > It is a popular mistake to think that religion is only or mainly about moral

        However, it’s Leah’s stated reason for converting, in her original post.

        • Yes, it is her starting point to convert. Every one has his/her own path to find God, so she has her own. The initial motive which pushes us in the direction of God might be accidental, for many college educated young converts, philosophy is a starting point to search for God. But neither philosophy nor morality is substantial for religion.

        • Drew

          Right, and this is especially what I’m most interested in hearing the reasons for. I’m a non-believer, but I think morality is a terribly important riddle/idea that no one has really nailed or explained or given a great account of. Many religions claim to have nailed it, but I’ve never been able to follow the reasoning, and what I have followed seems, most charitably, an illusion or a confusion, and least charitably, outright intellectual cheating. But I’m open to the idea that there are all sorts of good arguments to be made in this arena, and even if they’re wrong, the discussion and thinking about it is important and illuminating.

      • atheizer

        Sure, I’m not talking about whether atheists can be moral. I’m talking about whether objective morality could exist if atheism was true. It seems Leah converted, at least in part, because she couldn’t ‘ground’ morality on atheism (or naturalism).

        • I find the concept “objective morality” a quite confusing term. What is the criterion of being “objective”? Today’s moral relativism is a product of modern sophism and evokes as its reaction the so called “moral objectivism”. But we can live without both of them: the moral relativism and objectivism. Of course you can invent a model and propose an ontology which supports a certain set of moral laws, but what have you won through it? Nothing but philosophical games (or slate of the hand). As a trained philosopher myself, I just can’t help wondering how useless these philosophical theories are, remind me of Gulliver’s satire.

          In question of moral, I promote a strong view of common sense, I am sure people out of their mother wit know instinctively what is wrong or false, that is, with St. Paul theologically spoken, the moral law planted in the heart of everyone, pagan and Christians alike. Look at the fairy tales and legends of all nations, they transmit a strong sense of moral, or trivial comics and motions movies of the 70s and 80s, we don’t need social workers to tell us what is wrong or right.

          Moral relativism is invented to get rid of our instinctive notion of right and wrong and reform us for the need of an industrialized society. You get instinctively a sense of honour and shame? It is bad for the modern consume industry so our experts try to persuade us that these instincts are primitive and “intolerant”. Moral objectivism is an attempt to revive Kant’s Categorical Imperative without its Christian background. But it is just useless as moral relativism is ridiculous. MacIntyre’s After Virtue shows the way out of this dilemma: the Aristotelian Ethics of Virtues is a kind of common sense Ethic and is not at all a theory of moral objectivism.

          • Correction: Swift’s Satire in Gulliver’s Travels.

          • atheizer

            I agree that the phrase ‘objective morality’ can be pretty confusing. Essentially, I’m just referring to moral realism: the position that moral judgments can be truth-apt, and at least some of these are true. So, if you think the moral judgment: “Rape is wrong” is true, I’d probably consider you a moral realist. etc.

            About models, I see a deep analogue between philosophical models and the models in physics. We’re trying to best describe reality and we use models in philosophy to paint pictures of reality. Then we can see how accurate the paintings are. This goes for epistemology, metaphysics, meteathics, philosophy of mind etc. etc.

            Thumbs up to common sense 🙂 I’d only oppose Virtue-Ethics in so far as it supports moral realism (if all its forms do).

          • Again, your consideration presupposes a certain theory of Truth, as if a judgement’s being able to bear a truth value would demand a certain kind of realism. What that’s all publicly subsidies games of academical philosophers which have no real impact for our daily life. People are living in the world and they have to get practical orientations and not philosophical theories.

            Philosophy is not like Physics, the analogy is lame. Philosophy is our reflection of reality and not modelling the reality using mathematics. Philosophy is not an empirical science and never will be one.

          • atheizer

            Of course moral realism presupposes a certain theory of truth, that’s a platitude. It needs a realist theory of truth. So what though?

            -shrug- Analytic philosophy is concerned with ‘getting to the bottom’ of things. Why it needs to effect every daily life to be important and interesting is beyond me. There’s no reason why it can’t either. I know it’s effected mine.

            I have to give you the incredulous stare for denying any analogy with physics to philosophy. lol. It doesn’t need to be empirical to share *some* characteristics. But, philosophy *does* often involve empirical evidence. It doesn’t seem like you’re very familiar with contemporary philosophy…

  • PEG

    Hi there. I found your blog through First Things (ha!) and after reading your about page and a few of your posts, I have to say I think you’re a wonderful person and I’m looking forward to reading more from you. Obviously given the team I play for (heh) I’m glad about your conversion but reading you I can say I would have been thrilled to know you before or after.

    Also if I can give you a very small piece of advice: enjoy. Conversion experiences are among the most delightful and profound I’ve experienced. Just enjoy it and don’t overthink it. You’re embarking on a very deep new personal relationship and that’s what matters.

    • Craig

      I’m pretty sure that overthinking is part of how Leah enjoys things.

  • Half the fun of leaving people stunned is watching their reactions, no? Please accept my prayers & support. I’ve found your blog interesting in the past, and I doubt that will change. An inquiring mind in sync with an inquiring soul will take unexpected journeys. May yours be amazing, fruitful, and – dare I say it? – fun. Carry on.

  • DV

    A stroke or other mental disease or defect sounds like the most reasonable explanation.

  • PJ


    Right, because the countless brilliant Catholics — painters, musicians, novelists, poets, scientists, mathematicians, philosophers, theologians, politicians — who populate history are all mentally defective. I named some of them in another thread: Augustine, Aquinas, Roger Bacon, Francis Collins, Dante, T.S. Eliot, Dostoevsky, Pedro Calderon de la Barca, Carlos Chagas Filho, Igor Stravinsky, Blaise Pascal, Evelyn Waugh, Gregor Mendel, Etienne Gilson, etc. The list could go on and on. Hans Urs von Balthasar was widely considered the most cultured man in Europe during his lifetime, by Catholics and non-Catholics alike. He wrote perhaps two score books and spoke half a dozen languages.

    • MountainTiger

      Augustine’s dislike of Greek clearly marks him as mentally defective :).

    • T.S. Eliot was Anglican, even if he was the goodish kind.

      • PJ


        • PJ

          I was naming brilliant Christians in general, but, yes, he was indeed the “good kind.” The Idea of a Christian Society is top notch.

    • … and Dostoevsky was questionable, though also the goodish kind. But your point is well taken.

      One of the reasons for staying Catholic I toy around with involves how only the Catholic Church can describe the history of the Catholic Church, warts and all, without making it sound like propoganda or a conspiracy theory. Something correlative could be said about the best among the Catholics in their respective fields. (Haven’t figured that out yet, so I’ll chew a bit more on the rest of this nut of an idea.)

  • Geste

    Yeah I’m going to stick around to see the transformation from “dude faith healing is nuts” to “all things are possible through god” lol this is going to be fun.

    • All things are possible through God, and faith healing is often a dangerous, crazy fraud. A great many Catholics, right or wrong, hold this position.

  • Dave R

    Congratulations Leah! And congratulations to us Catholics who get to welcome you, as you will be a true ornament of the Church.

  • And good news, team. I’m fine on F&A, and the only reason my speech is hard to understand is just the usual, I talk at a NYC clip.

    … then there isn’t much time! We must find you medical attention!

    Or was this misinterpreted?

  • Susan

    Congratulations Leah. As the Holy Spirit guides you and continues to take hold of you, I promise you will only know peace and joy. I have “Come Home” and never before have I ever felt such peace and joy in my life. You are going to make a difference. I just know it. God Bless You!

  • whiskersgrey

    Hi Leah,
    Just a couple of quick observations from an ex-atheist scientist (PhD in molecular physics) who crossed the Tiber many years ago.
    First, as you progress in the faith, it may come as a surprise to you, that the intellectual bent is not always given primacy: the purpose of the faith is not to learn facts about God, but to be restored to a right *relationship* with Him through Christ. (Can you say “connaître” instead of “savoir” …?)
    Sometimes, one may be required by Him to do things which require trust or faith, without existing external justification; it can take some getting used to until one recalls the claim of the Church that Jesus *is* God, and that He has the right to insist on obedience, and not just assent. (Yikes.) I sometimes suspect that a lot of modern resistance to Christianity is that Western cultures are primarily social democrat / republics rather than Kingdoms or Empires, and the idea of owing obedience by right tastes strange.
    For a sense of this, see Mark Twain’s “Captain Stormfield’s Visit To Heaven” —
    “Well, a prince of the blood don’t belong to the royal family exactly, and he don’t belong to the mere
    nobility of the kingdom; he is lower than the one, and higher than t’other. That’s about the position of
    the patriarchs and prophets here. There’s some mighty high nobility here–people that you and I ain’t
    worthy to polish sandals for–and THEY ain’t worthy to polish sandals for the patriarchs and
    prophets. That gives you a kind of an idea of their rank, don’t it? You begin to see how high up they
    are, don’t you? just to get a two-minute glimpse of one of them is a thing for a body to remember and
    tell about for a thousand years. Why, Captain, just think of this: if Abraham was to set his foot down
    here by this door, there would be a railing set up around that foot-track right away, and a shelter put
    over it, and people would flock here from all over heaven, for hundreds and hundreds of years, to look
    at it. ”
    Second, may I suggest that you grab a copy of C.S. Lewis’s “The Screwtape Letters” ? It helped to inoculate me against certain wrong attitudes of depression and spiritual pride when I wasn’t very experienced.
    Third, in addition to the prayers which you are already doing, it might be helpful to take time on a regular basis to decompress — no heavy reading, no blogging, no combox wars. Given that your conversion has become so widely remarked in the religious / atheist blogosphere, you are likely to get absolutely carpet-bombed over the coming weeks / months as various factions compete for your allegiance in a sort of tug-of-war: look at what Bob Dylan went through after he publicly announced his embrace of Christianity.
    I don’t doubt that your internal mental spam filters are excellent: but all the same, some ideas or new habits need time, undisturbed, to sink in. Sometimes you might just need time for yourself and a couple of trusted friends or mentors.
    Best wishes & prayers for you: and do not be afraid to reach out.

  • Sean

    I am happy for you, Leah. My story is not the same as yours, but I went through a similar road. That was over ten years ago, and my faith has only been strengthened by my reasoned study and investigation. I wish you all the best. I’ll keep you in my prayers. Stay honest and humble, and I think you’ll be fine. Have a chat with Edward Feser when you get a chance. God bless!

  • Valery Fabrikant

    I saw you on CNN. Your reasoning makes no sense. People say that in men, their penis often overpowers their brain. Your actions prove that in females, their vagina does the same.

  • Renee

    Come off it, though, be serious: you’re going through this religious “conversion” to marry a young Catholic man, aren’t you? Or as a stunt, a test? These are the only explanations satisfy me, one of those flabbergasted atheists, because these are the only ones that don’t necessitate my accepting that you’ve become one of those “God of the gaps” types.

  • Megan

    I understand that you converted because you felt that the Catholic Church’s moral laws were more in line with your way of thinking than any “law” you could come up with on your own. What I haven’t come across yet (I’m sorry if you’ve written about it and I haven’t seen it yet) is how you feel about the Jesus business. What I mean is, now that you’ve created a moral consistency by aligning yours with the church’s, how are you coping with the intellectual and logical INconsistencies? I mean you can’t really be a Catholic unless you believe that Jesus Christ was sent to Mary’s uterus by God to be sacrificed by the Jews to pay for our sins to offer us heaven after death. What kinds of things have you been reading and discussing to put aside the inconsistencies that idea presents when considered alongside everything we know about biology and physics?

    Thank you for sharing your story and for reading my question.


  • Kerberos

    @ Lucy (on June 18):

    “I’m not nearly as articulate as you are, but this statement resonated with me. Most “orthodox” “Roman Catholics love to argue, and many of them (like their fundagelical brethren) seem to think arguing makes converts. ”

    ## If they really think that, then they are (to put it very nicely) idiots. That ideas is not even good theology – it’s this kind of barminess that encourages the idea that Catholics don’t read the Bible. Fundangelicals certainly ought to know better.

    “I’m don’t suggest converting people is the only motive. One can certainly see from the discussion around here lately that indulging the love of argument makes many avowed Christians and humanists alike graceless and unkind.”

    ## The Net encourages these bad attitudes – there’s no danger of seeing how hurt people can be by what one says (or of being slammed in the face). It can require a great deal of self-control & self-discipline, to say nothing of charity – and the Net is the kind of medium that encourages the opposite qualities. And the NT explicitly forbids quarrelsomeness.

    “For the Christians anyway, we forget that we are not addressed by an argument; the address comes from a Person. Most of us don’t have an avocation to apologetics. When we are most true to our encounter with Christ, we are doing something rather than writing or saying something.”

    ## Beautifully said.

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