Monday, January 11, 2010

On Converts and Cradles

Convert though I may be, I find myself much more interested in what "cradle Catholics" like Arturo Vasquez of Reditus and Enbrethiliel of Sancta Sanctis have been saying of late than any of the converts who make their living in the apologetics industry. I've been reminded of a conversation I had with a Malaysian-Chinese friend in Kuala Lumpur in 1996 when I was still a Protestant.

Mr. Wong was a Methodist, a member of the ecclesial community which baptized me, but not raised me. We were outside his parish, where I had experienced a mystical revelation of the universality of the Church. (Interesting, given William S. Lind's revelation of a response to "Benedict’s Counter-Reformation" suggesting it "may open up ways in which Methodism, whose origins were as a movement in the Church rather than a separate denomination, may find its place in future, as a Church, alongside others within the universal Church" — Come All Ye Faithful.)

It was around Christmas, and Mr. Wong said to me that I was fortunate to have grown up in a Christian family. I responded, typically, that, no, we were all the same or whatever, but he quickly corrected me, and reminded me of the profound blessing that I had been given being raised by Christians. He had missed out on much being raised by pagans, he said.

A very Catholic response, the Methodist Mr. Wong's! And very different from that of the evangelicals I met abroad, who always seemed hell-bent on determining if I was a "real Christian" according to their tenets, suspect as they were of anyone born into a Christian family and country.

Of course, Christ is manifested in us as individuals, but also as families and cultures and nations. We converts are the poorer for not having been raised Catholic. 'Twould be nice if more professional Catholic converts and their followers humbly recognized this, rather than overreacted with hurt feelings and denunciations.

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11 Comments:

Blogger Dauvit Balfour said...

I had not known that Methodism began as a movement within the Church. It is something I shall have to investigate and remember, as one of my good friends from college is Methodist.

I, too, have been disappointed by the response of the converts to what Enbrethiliel and others have said. As the son of reverts, I spent the first nine or ten years of my life "worship-community" hopping, and came into the Church when my parents returned to it. Still, it wasn't until I was off in college that I think they experienced a full conversion back to the Church, having maintained many of their protestant sensibilities until that point. I went with them separately, and a little bit later.

Anyway, enough biography. What I meant to say is that I am in a unique pseudo-cradle situation, being really a convert who is beginning to realize that as cool as the stories of conversion are, and as fascinating as it is to discover Tradition and traditions, I will always be at a slight disadvantage, because the deep impressions left on me by my childhood do not bear the seal of the Church.

I love conversion stories. I've heard some great ones, and I hope someday to be part of one that is particularly on my heart, and of many others that I do not yet even know to hope for. Still, I find myself agreeing with much of what Enbrethiliel said (and with your own comments), more than with certain others.

Prosit,
Dauvit

11:05 PM  
Blogger Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

Dauvit, I believe the biographer Joseph Pearce came up with a very useful term for cases like yours when writing his biography of J.R.R. Tolkien. Remember that Tolkien came into the Church as a young boy, when his mother converted. That makes him a "cradle convert"!

*****

Sometimes I feel as I imagine Joshua did before Mr. Wong, wanting to agree that everyone is the same and that the disadvantages don't matter. Perhaps that is the view from Heaven, and all souls stand equal before God. (On the other hand . . . didn't I get that term from my recent reread of Jane Eyre by the passionately Puritan Charlotte Bronte?)

Yet it is true that converts, through no fault of their own, are at a cultural and philosophical disadvantage in the Church and this can be a source of concern if they go into teaching or apologetics. (While apologetics is traditionally the defense of the Faith, its modern incarnation is probably better described as "public relations" for the Faith.)

11:30 PM  
Blogger elena maria vidal said...

What a beautiful and very humble post! As a cradle Catholic, I see myself as a bit of a convert, for I am always learning more and growing more (I hope). Conversion is a process, a way of life, an attitude of discipleship. It is sitting at the feet of the Master and saying, "Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening."

12:01 AM  
Blogger Procopius said...

Mr. Lind writes a thought-provoking article, however, he, in protestant vein (he is a high-church Lutheran) does not quite ascertain the nature of a dogmatic pronouncement (i.e. Papal Infallibility)The dogma can be further clarified, but can be neither revoked, nor abnegated any more than can the law of gravity.
"If any will consider this, there is no need of a long treatise and of arguments. 'The Lord saith to Peter: 'I say unto thee that thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build My Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it; to thee I will give the keys to the kingdom of heaven, and what thou shalt have bound on earth shall be bound in heaven, and what thou shalt have loosed shall be loosed in heaven.' Upon one He builds His Church, and though to all His Apostles after His resurrection He gives an equal power and says: 'As My Father hath sent Me, even so send I you: Receive the Holy Ghost, whosesoever sins you shall have remitted they shall be remitted unto them, and whosesoever sins you shall have retained they shall be retained', yet that He might make unity manifest, He disposed the origin of that unity beginning from one. The other Apostles were indeed what Peter was, endowed with a like fellowship both of honour and of power, but the commencement proceeds from one, that the Church may be shown to be one. This one Church the Holy Ghost in the person of the Lord designates in the Canticle of Canticles, and says, One is My Dove, My perfect one, one is she to her mother, one to her that bare her. He that holds not this unity of the Church, does he believe that he holds the Faith? He who strives against and resists the Church, is he confident that he is in the Church? "
St. Cyprian of Carthage c. AD250

7:00 AM  
OpenID arturovasquez said...

I didn't really understand this whole blow up either. Truth be told, I think Cristina's division between convert and cradle is a bit simplistic, at least in the developed world. Here, I think the vast majority of cradle Catholics are no better than the run of the mill cosmological agnostics, just as formed by the modern ethos as everyone else. At least from my experience in Latin America, I do see people having a more organic sense of Catholicism, but whether or not this is sufficent to be laudatory is still up for debate in my opinion. I do see many benefits to the "cradle" experience, but I see these as becoming fewer and fewer as the ethos of the Church catches up to the ethos of the society in general.



My whole contention, that which really caused irrational ire in Mr. Shea, was my simple statement of fact that a mercenary class of people who "sell the Faith" in order to make a profit (albeit a negligible one, from the looks of Mr. Shea's continual self-pity stories about how much his family struggles) is not the historical norm of Catholic discourse, and we should ask if we need to subject even the Faith to the laws of supply and demand of the markets. I don't know where "convert bashing" came into it, as I don't think I ever "convert bashed". At one point, I even said that Shea was way more Catholic than a lot of people I grew up with. He just decided to avoid that part in his argument against me. He also took issue with my pithy characterization of English as an "apostate language", with which I also wanted to merely state a historical fact, but again, he decided not to take it that way.



I think the best way to really summarize the issue is that a certain cradle upbringing can be a real gift to be cherished by the adult Catholic. Sadly, that upbringing is becoming rarer and rarer, due in part to the growth of secularism as the defining note of the zeitgeist, and in part to the foolish aggiornamento of the clergy itself and their willing lay cheerleaders.

8:11 AM  
OpenID arturovasquez said...

I didn't really understand this whole blow up either. Truth be told, I think Cristina's division between convert and cradle is a bit simplistic, at least in the developed world. Here, I think the vast majority of cradle Catholics are no better than the run of the mill cosmological agnostics, just as formed by the modern ethos as everyone else. At least from my experience in Latin America, I do see people having a more organic sense of Catholicism, but whether or not this is sufficent to be laudatory is still up for debate in my opinion. I do see many benefits to the "cradle" experience, but I see these as becoming fewer and fewer as the ethos of the Church catches up to the ethos of the society in general.



My whole contention, that which really caused irrational ire in Mr. Shea, was my simple statement of fact that a mercenary class of people who "sell the Faith" in order to make a profit (albeit a negligible one, from the looks of Mr. Shea's continual self-pity stories about how much his family struggles) is not the historical norm of Catholic discourse, and we should ask if we need to subject even the Faith to the laws of supply and demand of the markets. I don't know where "convert bashing" came into it, as I don't think I ever "convert bashed". At one point, I even said that Shea was way more Catholic than a lot of people I grew up with. He just decided to avoid that part in his argument against me. He also took issue with my pithy characterization of English as an "apostate language", with which I also wanted to merely state a historical fact, but again, he decided not to take it that way.



I think the best way to really summarize the issue is that a certain cradle upbringing can be a real gift to be cherished by the adult Catholic. Sadly, that upbringing is becoming rarer and rarer, due in part to the growth of secularism as the defining note of the zeitgeist, and in part to the foolish aggiornamento of the clergy itself and their willing lay cheerleaders.

8:11 AM  
Blogger Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

By the way, I totally blame Arturo for Mark Shea's meltdown in my comments box. =P

6:05 PM  
Blogger Tracy Fennell said...

I still don't get this whole division between the two groups, and I am a convert myself.

I also think a great abuse of language goes on with allowing the term "converts" to stand in the place of certain people who others have issues with. Mark Shea is a convert. Scott Hahn is a convert. Correlation isn't causality. There are less pirates roaming the Caribbean today that in the 18th century, while the number of space flights increased in that same period. It doesn't mean that the disappearance of pirates caused man to land on the Moon. Hahn's conversion to the Faith didn't cause the problems that some have with him and others they lump with him. (Still not entirely sure what it is. Making money writing about the Faith?)

11:02 AM  
Blogger Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

Tracy, you'll have to ask Arturo about anything having to do with money!

In the meantime, I'd like to address this statement you made:

Hahn's conversion to the Faith didn't cause the problems that some have with him and others they lump with him.

You seem to think that the assertion is that conversion is a problem. It isn't. Conversion is a wonderful thing. It's the culture converts were steeped in before their conversion that can be a problem.

If that was your issue, then I hope it's clear now. =)

10:49 PM  
Blogger Tracy Fennell said...

Maybe so, but I just think it's way too dramatic to say with any certainty that converts bring a particular kind of culture when they become Catholic. The conversation hasn't been about Muslim or Hindu converts and the cultural baggage they bring with them. It has mainly been about former-Protestants. Any yet, I think every person's "journey to the Faith" is so different that is is extremely difficult to paint any ex-Protestant now Catholic culture as truly representative or meaningful. It becomes an exercise in creating a bunch of strawmen to arrange around a couple of specific people. Not all converts come from the same culture. Not every convert comes to the Church on the same path, nor for the same reasons.

I just don't see that it is a chronic and widespread characteristic as it is written about. Scott Hahn and the others serve a specific purpose I really do think so, but that isn't for everyone.

The best I can present for an argument is my own personal experience, as a white guy convert from nominal Protestantism. Growing up in Eastern New Mexico, West and Central Texas, riding the boundaries my whole life between Anglo and Hispanic worlds. My experience and background leading to my entry into the Church is my own special Grace.

5:14 AM  
Blogger Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

The conversation could have very easily been about former Hindus or Muslims bringing their cultural baggage, if someone in India had started it, you know.

I also used an example from the Philippines in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, when converts from paganism were banned from entering religious orders. It was a very prudent decision that recognised that people only a few generations removed from paganism might not be ready for the "advanced spirituality" of religious life--though, of course, missionaries did their darndest to make sure they lived and died in the Church.

You're right that it's not such a chronic and widespread characteristic nowadays--and Arturo is right that my general rule about betting everything on the cradle Catholic is not applicable in today's developed world--but that doesn't change the fact that converts from Protestantism were steeped for decades in what the Catholic Church still considers a heresy. That, at least, is a disadvantage.

I'm sorry that you took it personally.

5:56 PM  

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