The College Application Stratagem or, “Sing out Louise”

The College Application Stratagem or, “Sing out Louise” June 27, 2012

One frequent question I got about my conversion was, “Uh, don’t you disagree with the Catholic Church on a lot of things? Aren’t you bisexual? And a bit of a statist when it come to public health? And various other things?  What are you going to do about that?”

I won’t paper over those inconsistencies and call them insignificant, but I don’t feel like I need to either resolve them instantly or pretend they don’t trouble me.  One reason the Catholic Church has adults go through RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation) classes is so they can make sure they actually intend to convert to Catholicism, before anyone does anything irrevocable.  (Pre-Cana marriage counseling seems to serve an analogous purpose).  This means, presumably, that my Possibly Heretical category will be in heavy usage between now and my assumed baptism in November.

Some bloggers have raised some reasonable concerns about converting in public, especially at length.  Working out one’s salvation with fear and trembling is all very well, but Patrick Archibold suggested Hell might have no fury like aggressively orthodox Catholics in combox (the kind who already lay into pretty much everyone in the Catholic channel as heretics).   Kyle Cupp disagreed, but Rod Dreher thought the only safe option was going dark, or, at a minimum turning off comments.

I spent probably too much time trying variations of “holding door shut against zombies” on google images

So let me say a little about the way I’m planning to approach the blog over the next few months.  When I was applying to college, I was always pretty strategic about my interviews and essays. I was trying to give them some sort of narrative to hang on to (becoming a “named lobster“) and making sure I didn’t give them any reason to have qualms about admitting me. Or rather, I did that for every interview save one.

I guess the best way to put it is that I conditionally sabotaged my MIT interview. I really liked the school, but I wasn’t sure if, as such a humanities nerd, I’d be a good fit for such a tech-y place. I loved the creative stuff engineering people did (and how frequently it involved explosions), but I was worried that I wouldn’t get to do as much book nerdery.

So when I went in to the interview, I wasn’t as bouncy-positive as I was everywhere else. Although I was still cheery and upbeat, I was deliberately trying to trip warning bells in my interviewer. I said flat out they I wasn’t sure I’d be happy at a tech school. If MIT thought I shouldn’t be there, I wanted to know, and I wanted to give them all the data they needed to make an informed choice.

It worked out pretty well for me. MIT gave me more details about the humanities and put me in touch with some humanities students, so I got a lot more data. Ultimately, I picked Yale instead, for mostly unrelated reasons.

That’s pretty much how I’m approaching RCIA and this blog during the countdown to my parish’s November baptisms. If there’s an irreconcilable difference here, neither the Church nor I will be well served if I keep my mouth shut.  The only chance I’ve got to see if I’m persuaded by the Church’s teachings or if I don’t understand but trust or if I’ve hit a principle I can’t give up is by picking fights and making sure the other side gets a chance to take their best shot at me.

It should go without saying that I’m not an authoritative source on Catholicism, and, frankly, neither is most of the commentariat.  Citing sources is always helpful, and I may reach out to you all for book or essay recommendation, but I’m not really going to try and crowdsource canon law.  Writing and seeing what questions people raise helps me organize my thoughts and concerns so I can bring them to my RCIA class.

There’s a lot of space on the spectrum between being a cultural Catholic who is affiliated but doesn’t see the Church as an authority and understanding and assenting to every teaching. Right now, I think the Church has the best approach to thinking about moral philosophy which isn’t the same as thinking that it’s theologians always come up with the right answer on non-dogmatic issues on the first go-round. But even on things that I’m pretty sure are just matters of personal conscience, I’ll be airing my disagreements in the hopes that, if I’m wrong, I’ll be corrected, and if I’m right, I’ll be persuasive.

I don’t trust the Church enough to be certain I’ll find myself understanding or submitting to all its said, but I definitely trust it enough to let it decide whether I can enter, provided I don’t withhold data.


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