Thursday, March 15, 2007

Conversion Stories Alert

At the end of the second day, in a Protestant store, I came across a book written by a Protestant pastor on the Holy Spirit, and how the Holy Spirit had worked in his life. As I read it, I got this eerie feeling. I recognized what he was saying, because I had already experienced it. What he was describing was the same thing that I had been experiencing all those years, beginning with my experience of the moon, which had led me on this journey to the very point where I was right then, reading that book.

My mind was in a jumble. He was talking about the Holy Spirit. The HOLY SPIRIT. Of GOD. Of the TRINITY, that thing I had heard about as a child in the Episcopalian church, the BIG Holy Spirit that was one of the three Persons of God, Father, Son, and HOLY SPIRIT.

Wait a minute. You mean, that thing, that “interior guidance system,” that little “spirit” that had been guiding me all those years, was no less than the real HOLY SPIRIT OF GOD, of which Jesus was also a part, that distant figure from my childhood that had meant so little to me before that I had abandoned and rejected it?

I felt like I was being electrified. I looked at my arm, and the hairs were standing straight out.

I bought the book, took it home, and read the whole thing cover-to-cover that night, my mind reeling the whole time: could it be true? Is this the real Holy Spirit that’s been guiding me all this time? Is Jesus the one I’ve been looking for all these years?
The short version of why Aimee became Catholic is good but for the really indepth stuff follow the links contained in that post, as I did, and read her dual series of "how I first came to encounter Christ" (where the excerpt above is found) and "how my experience of Christ has changed during my journey from Evangelicalism to Catholicism." Very good testimony and it personally touched me ... I wasn't exactly electrified as she describes but it definitely was being used by Jesus to get a specific point across to me.

One of my favorite bloggers, whose books I am just beginning to explore, John C. Wright was interviewed by SCI FI Weekly. As fascinating as his thoughts from an author's perspective are, I was much more taken with his conversion story which is contained about halfway through the interview. For those who don't want to have to hunt down the story, I have taken the liberty of excerpting it in entirety below, although I encourage any sci-fi fans to read the whole interview. I thoroughly enjoyed it.
At some point after your first three epics were completed, you converted to Christianity, having been a resolute humanist before. How did this come about?

Wright: Now, this is a difficult question to answer, because to talk of these deep matters automatically provokes half the audience, and bores the other half. I will try to be as brief and delicate as I can.

Humanist is too weak a word. I was an atheist, zealous and absolute, one who held that the nonexistence of God was a fact as easily proved as the inequality of five and twice two.

However, my disbelief began to erode as fatherhood and war pressed upon me the realities of the world. I was a Stoic, a disciple of Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius, Cicero and Seneca, who say the ground of morality is duty; but I was also a liberal of the classical Enlightenment, which says toleration is the ground of morals. Both these strands in my philosophy were naïve: Humans cannot live by the strictness of the Stoics; humans ought not live by the laxness of the liberals, libertarians or libertines. The two strands did not match. Modern philosophy, which is based on self-interest or utilitarianism, is unsuited both for war and for fatherhood. Growing aware of the defects in my system, I sought something with more experience and wisdom.

Where is wisdom found? I read the deep thoughts of the most highly regarded thinkers of the modern age, and found them vain and shallow. The insights of Nietzsche, Freud, Sartre, Marx, Wittgenstein and other luminaries of the modern world contained simple errors in logic a schoolboy can dismiss with a laugh. Each in his own way asserted that man was irrational, and the truth unknowable: But if so, how did they prove this unreason? Using reason, or otherwise? And how exactly did they come to know the truth that truth was unknowable?

In popular culture, the books influencing the morals and values of the current age, such as Stranger in a Strange Land or Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, read like they were written by a Man from Mars, or a mental patient. They know nothing of real life.

The salient characteristic of modern philosophy is a speculative disconnection from reality. Michael the Martian and Karl Marx expect the super-humans to live together without jealousy or scarcity of resources. Money will simply overflow the collection plate, and anyone can take as much or as little as he likes. But what if someone is dishonest or selfish, comrade? Ah, but the theory does not allow for that.

In contrast, the writings of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, G.K. Chesterton, Evelyn Waugh, all read like things written by mature men. The ancients, Aristotle, Plato, Epictetus, Marcus Aurelius, Seneca, Cicero, Aquinas and even Augustine, solidly prepared the ground from which a sane, mighty and just civilization could be grown.

I reached a point in my life where on all divisive questions of morals and manners, I agreed with no one other than my hated enemies, the Christians. I knew in my cool atheist heart they must be wrong in theory; I could not explain how they were correct in practice.

I began to read history. The modernists are right to fear it. Once a man knows the context and origins of the ideas of modern times, it becomes increasingly difficult to maintain faith in them. It becomes impossible to condemn Western civilization for shortcomings that fall short only of ideals unique to Western civilization. It becomes impossible not to notice Western civilization is nothing other than Christendom.

The conclusion pressed on me was that modern thought is a parasite on Christianity, and has no intellectual life outside her. The basic motif of the modern intellectual, one endlessly repeated, is of a man sawing off the branch on which he sits. The moderns delight in assertions that, if taken seriously, would disprove the axiom used to make the assertion.

The profoundly unserious nature of modern thought astonished me, and still does. I stump my secular friends by asking them to explain to me why cannibalism is wrong. Their humanist doctrines are insufficient to give a reason for humane humanity.

History told me that everything I admired about the noble and great-souled pagans still survived in Christianity: Aristotle was still alive in Aquinas, and nowhere else. The cool rationality of Athens had been preserved by Rome. Everything in paganism from which the civilized mind recoils, as slavery, infanticide, polygamy, sodomy, had been defeated by Christianity, and made a recurrence only when and where Christianity retreats.

I reached a point in my studies of history where I was forced to grit my teeth and conclude that the progress and enlightenment of Europe was due to Christianity, not despite it; and that when Europe departed from Christian roots, barbarism and darkness unique to the ideologies of the modern age descended. The crowning achievement of the rejection of Christian norms in modern times was communism: Its crowning achievement was death in such large numbers that only astronomers can grasp them.

I knew the Christians were evil in theory; I could not explain how so much unique good came from them.

Greatly daring, I attempted an experiment in prayer, addressing a Supreme Being I knew with deep certainty did not and could not exist. My prayer was quickly and awfully answered.

A miracle occurred. I suffered a supernatural experience and found all the foundations of my carefully examined and rigidly logical philosophy swept away as if by a tidal wave of blazing and supernal light. A great and powerful spirit visited me.

The whole thing was as simple and astonishing, as easy to explain and as hard to explain, as falling in love.

I am one of those rare creatures whose belief in the supernatural is due to empirical considerations. My mysticism is entirely scientific. Alas, the second step in the experiment, when the miracle occurs, cannot be reproduced before the eyes of skeptics.

Worse yet, the experiment was like toying with radium: I was mutated and changed by the exposure.

Being still a creature of pure logic, logic requires me to conclude either that I am mad as a March Hare or that my memory and perceptions were veridical.

There is insufficient evidence for the first theory, and Occam's razor cuts against it: Assuming everything was actually coincidence or an act of the subconscious mind, would be merely to assume that these things, coincidences and the subconscious, act with more power and foresight than empiricism can confirm. It is what Karl Popper called a non-disprovable assumption. Not science: an article of faith.

I am left with the second explanation, a simpler one, postulating fewer entities: I saw whom I saw and He is that He is. My integrity as a philosopher, not to mention my pride as a man, will not allow me the evasion of a return to my former beliefs, much as I might respect them. The world is far odder than I would have believed. The oddest thing of all is joy.

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