Wednesday, March 31, 2010


I have been asked why I am a Catholic numerous times in my life. Those who know me

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


  1. "...Jung, von Franz states, "never got tired of emphasizing again and again that every change must begin with the individual himself and not trying to improve other people. The latter he regarded as a display of the power complex." -Robert Aziz

  2. well said, it was the way Jesus lived that is the focus. it is through ripples,.. we live. further, it is our church and we will not have it taken away.