have often asked why it is I choose to remain Catholic. For one, I was born and raised Catholic.
I attended Catholic schools from kindergarten through college. Catholicism and its rituals and
symbols are the glue around which my family came together at important moments (birth,
death, sickness, special meals, marriage, commiseration, and celebration). I disagree with
the Church on numerous issues; however, it is my Church and my witness and voice are
needed to call the Church to be its best. To me, there is a difference between dissension and
disaffection. The most powerful reason I remain Catholic, however, is because of all the people
in my life who inspired, challenged, loved, lived, and acted as they did because their Catholic
faith called them to live life to its fullest. I love these people and enjoy each and every
opportunity offered me to match the examples they set.
I bring this up because in the last year or so I keep reading stories of Americans who
have converted to Islam online. I do not understand this concept. I understand the drive to
evangelize and convert someone to get them to abandon whatever they believed and come over
to a different way of thinking and believing; but what I don't understand is the need of some
to treat people as if they were a convertible car waiting to drop its top. Personally, I don't
care what you believe. How an individual acts is where the rubber meets the road. You can be
atheistic, agnostic, theist, deist, naturalist, or any combination of these; but are you a loving,
caring person capable of selfless acts? Do you live an honorable life attempting to be honest
and forthright? Do you have empathy for the least of your brothers and sisters? If you do,
I don't care what you call yourself.
People did not follow Jesus or find him compelling, inspiring, and intriguing because of
what He said. They followed Him because of WHO He was. They had never met anyone who
lived as He did. Loving his enemies, sitting down with tax collectors, refusing to condemn
the adulterous woman, turning the other cheek, and preaching a new idea of non-violence.
He healed and served the people. It was because people encountered his radical new way
of living that they wanted to know who He was and why He was the way He was. They desired
to know what made Him tick.
It's the same story with the Buddha or Mohammed. Their lives attracted followers who
wanted to learn how to live like them and approach life as they did. They wanted to emulate
them. At that point, what they had to say helped guide those who sought answers. I feel
certain that if all Buddha or Jesus or Mohammed or Abraham or Moses did was preach, there
would have been no one interested in following them. My parent's values were real because
of how they lived, not because of how they told me I should live.
Over the last eighteen months, three of the kindest and wisest people I have met were
Buddhists. Their kindness, care, and humanity were a stark contrast to the majority of people
surrounding me. Their attitude and warmth made me want to talk to and listen to what they
said. I wanted to know what enabled them to be so serene and different. I wanted to know
their world view and their beliefs about life and death, trust and doubt, faith and hope.
With that in mind, someone goes online and reads a sermon or text written by a Muslim
cleric. They are intrigued or attracted to the words. They read more and find it compelling.
Maybe they even correspond with the author. Then, one day, they are so moved that they
convert to Islam...What? It makes no sense! There is no logic to the transformation.
Conversion invokes a change of heart, "metanoia" in Greek; and a change of heart does not
occur by reading words on a page.
No one should be in the business of trying to convert anyone else into anything. We
should be living our lives in such a way that people are amazed. Our lives should cause people
to wonder. Mother Teresa didn't attract young women to join with her by preaching. They
saw her ministering to the poorest of the poor in the sewers of Calcutta when no one else
cared. They saw how happiness and joy filled her life and their hearts reached out with desire
to have what she had.
The only groups of people who actively work to convert others, especially through
preaching, are fundamentalists. They are right and everyone else is wrong. To them, what
you believe is more important than how you live. Christian fundamentalists preach if you
haven't accepted Jesus as your savior, you will not be saved. It doesn't matter how good you
are, how loving you act, how committed you are to people; if you don't believe what they
believe, your life is of no value and you are bound for a certain future of hellfire. For them,
there is only one way to salvation. They are the modern Pharisees.
Fundamentalism is designed for those who want to check their brain and pick up their
crayons as they enter the church door. Fundamentalism paints the world in black and white.
There are no shadings, no grays. Fundamentalism tells you the answer; and as long as you
accept it, your actions are a secondary matter. People who "convert" online are looking for
someone to give them easy answers to questions like: How did I get here? Where am I going?
What is my purpose in life? What happens after I die? They are looking for someone to
provide the answers. If you accept someone else's answers to these questions, you've given up
your greatest gift from God, your power of reason. Many of those who willingly drank down
the Koolaid at Jonestown found it scarier to reject Jim Jones' answers than to go on living.
People who convert online face the same dilemma. Once they buy into the sermons and
answers, they find a comfort level of assurance which forces them to accede to the demands
of the person they now follow even if that means recruiting others or carrying out acts of
violence. No request or requirement is too outrageous.
The fact remains that most Americans are religiously illiterate. They believe the way
they do because of parents, grandparents, culture, or accommodation. They have never
personally wondered about life or love or reached out to know God. This is a nation of
cultural "Christians" for whom it is easier to go along than to struggle for the truth; and since
they have no solid spiritual foundation, they become dissatisfied or disillusioned with their
lives. When times turn bad, they then seek new answers and give over more of their power
and influence to whoever will offer them comfort; not a pretty picture, pointless and hopeless.
I am a Catholic because it makes sense to me. The rituals and sacraments connect me
with others and enable me to try to live the best life I can. I want to cope with life's good days
and bad days. I desire to live as honestly and honorably as the people who I admire and love.
I want to have life and live life to its fullest. At the end of the day, the ripples I leave behind
matter more than any doctrine I believe or assent to. Perhaps we should be working on how
to live full, joyful lives for ourselves rather than hoping to find salvation online. In any case,
turning people into "convertibles" doesn't hold much appeal to me. A good automobile is
a good automobile. Whether or not the top folds down is totally superficial in God's eyes.
What do you think? I welcome your comments and rebuttals. Please send them to