It’s been interesting to observe the evolution in the way people have responded to my conversion to the Catholic faith. One year ago, upon public announcement of my plan to be received into the Church, I was met with near universal support if not outright encouragement by people of various belief systems. The longer I spent being Catholic, the more I found that the same people who were once supportive began to turn on me, one by one. Their criticisms of me have ranged from gentle rebukes to mockery and contempt — but all with the same underlying complaint: I’m actually a Catholic.
I decided I was going to be Catholic, and I meant it, and I suppose that’s the problem. I never professed a different version of Catholicism from what I now believe — I simply vocalized Catholic truths as I learned them, with increased depth and understanding as time went on. Would that not be the natural progression for any person who professes adherence to any cohesive worldview that exists outside himself? Apparently not! I learned quickly that in the eyes of the world, I was welcome to believe whatever I wanted, provided I never actually thought my beliefs were true.
Consider this quote by humanist New Testament scholar Bart
Let me also stress that I’m not opposed to religion and I don’t think that all religion is oppressive — far from it. I also think that people should be free to embrace whatever religious or non-religious views they choose whether they’re Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, Pagan, agnostic, humanist, or atheist, so long as they don’t use their religious or non-religious views to silence, oppress, or harm others. Even though I’m not opposed to religion, I am opposed to strident ideology and to every kind of fundamentalism.
It’s easy for me to forget that not everyone presumes that one truth must exist and that anything that contradicts this one truth must therefore be false. Although I adhered for a time to a sort of pseudo-Teilhardian nightmare of collective human evolution toward truth (mostly due to fear that the truth may be unknowable on an individual level), I never doubted that one truth has to exist.
In our age, where the vast majority of us have been infected by Modernism beginning practically in infancy, it’s easy to lose sight of the most basic principles of logic. I always accepted the idea of objective truth in theory, probably in no small part due to my father’s Eastern Orthodox influence in my formative years, and yet, in practice, I cast myself repeatedly into the damning fires of vital immanence.
Divine Revelation was useful to me, in the same way that the rest of the trappings of religion were useful. It provided props and costumes for me to tell my own story in greater detail, or to infuse my story into the great epic of humanity. I took what was useful and ignored the rest, in whichever religion I was “exploring” at the time. When this half-baked approach became impossible — as it did when I realized that old-and-mystical Wicca was invented in the 20th century or that exotic-and-trendy Islam is morally repulsive — I moved on to the next religion and started the process anew. It was an exhausting way to live.
I had never even heard of Saint Thomas Aquinas’s arguments for the necessity of Divine Revelation. The very idea of Divine Revelation as Divine Revelation was lost on me, in spite of my upbringing. I was trying in vain to string together a raft amid the tempest as the glorious Ark sailed by, blinded to my Savior continually reaching out His hand to pull me to safety, warmth, and silence.
The Truth wants to be known. That was what I had to understand, and it was only by the grace of God that I ever came to that realization. And why wouldn’t Truth want to be known? When I wake up in the morning, the sun will rise. When I knock a mug off the table, it will fall toward the floor. It often seems that chaos is all around us, but even the chaotic events of nature and human life fall to an ultimate order. This is inescapable. Everything we experience points to it, even when it can be hard to see.
Months before my conversion, I saw Michael Knowles of the Daily Wire tweet that “Constraint breeds creativity.” I have scarcely seen a better use of three words! When art was constrained to aesthetic norms, we created beautiful things, and we knew they were beautiful. When art was freed of them, we scribbled like trained gorillas and labored to convince ourselves of our own genius. We see this same collapse taking place in architecture, music, etiquette, and fashion, to say nothing of the destruction that has been wrought by the erosion of the patriarchal family structure.
Why would the way we believe, and the very manner in which we should think, be at all different? When even the most mundane things preach order, why would Truth Himself fall silent? This is simple for a child to grasp and almost impossible for the philosophers we have become. The mark of intelligence today is to be a “free-thinker,” not to be confused with a truth-seeker, for they share no commonality.
A “free-thinking” man is intelligent only insofar as he disdains order, even as his coffee mug falls to the floor and the morning sun shines on. A “free-thinking” man believes he is better off because he is not limited by dogma. He doesn’t have to deign to fit his ideas within any one religion or philosophy; he has them all, and because he has them all, he has nothing. He is his own god, and a pathetic god, for he is the first to admit that he is not infallible and may be wrong about anything and possibly everything!
A recent correspondence from a former colleague and friend, very polite and very depressing, ended with this: “We miss the old Stef. The less dogmatic one.” Well, I don’t miss her, and I’m afraid she’s never coming back. I miss people I used to know, I miss communities I used to be a part of, but I don’t miss my supposed freedom from dogma. I don’t miss grasping in the dark, desperate to figure out what I needed to know about being human, draining my limited intellectual and emotional energy on working out if black is white and if the sky is purple.
Instead, I enjoy my morning coffee, I watch the beauty of the day’s new sun, I think about things that matter, and I try my best to create things that are beautiful. It’s not my job to help people get comfortable as they drown in an abyss of relativism and confusion. It took 25 years for me to meet a single Catholic who bothered to stretch out a hand to pull me to safety. It would be spitting in the face of my Savior to neglect to do the same, especially when I know so intimately how it feels when your soul is dead.
Above all, I’ll continue to rejoice in the gentle chains that bind me. No matter how hard life gets, I have the Truth, therefore I have everything. That’s dogma. That’s real freedom. After a life adrift, it feels pretty wonderful to have an anchor in the waves.
Stefanie Nicholas is an unexpected Catholic convert from a (very lapsed) Greek Orthodox background. The history of the Crusades played a positive role in her faith journey, and she believes firmly that the Rosary will save the world. Readers can connect with her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter @StefMNicholas.