Friday, June 01, 2007

Mystery, Awe, and Otherness

"Don’t get me wrong. I’m solidly in the Reformation camp. I see the [Roman Catholic Church] as a dead-end and always have. I feel sorry for anyone so seduced by a need for mystery, awe, and otherness that they’ll abandon truth for it.

"Yet I still understand why they do it."

- Dan Edelen

An interesting couple of articles has popped up about why Evangelicals become Catholic. Dan Edelen at Cerulean Sanctum makes the assertion that they do so because Evangelicals have abandoned any sense of mystery, awe, and otherness within their worship. (In all fairness, his examination of the issue has as it's purpose the finding of the problem on his side of the Tiber.)

I appreciate the mystery in Catholicism. It's beautiful. It's sublime and breathtaking. It is seductive. But beauty is, nevertheless, beauty is not the enemy of truth. It is also not the only reason that Evangelicals become Catholic. Nor, I would imagine, is it the largest reason. In fact, it offends me that people should think one gives up truth for beauty, or beauty for truth, for that matter.

Scot McKnight in a paper titled, "From Wheaton to Rome," (JETS, vol 45, no 3) writes about four reasons that Evangelicals pope. His reasons are (1) certainty, (2) history, (3) unity, and (4) authority. He does mention transcendence as an issue, but not a major issue. These reasons are far closer to my personal experience as well as the stories I hear from other converts.


Hope said...

I tend to get upset when others think they know why I did something - especially something as huge as becoming Catholic.

When I originally took RCIA in 2000 and then discerned, as best I could, that the timing was off I had a score of friends who wiped their brow and thought I'd been rescued from Hell at the last second.

There was also a score of Catholic friends who simply said, "God bless you on your journey. If it brings you back to here great. If not, God bless you." There was this underlying sense that they were not going to presume to know where God was going to take me.

That all stuck with me.

I've done far more presuming about others as well. But I really need reminding I'm not God and can't read another person's mind, let alone their heart.

DLE said...


Thanks for featuring my post from Cerulean Sanctum on MAO.

I don't want to pretend that a lack of transcendence is the main reason people leave for the RCC. My main point is that almost none of the wranglings online about this issue have discussed this as an element. And I think it's a bigger element than we believe.

Scott Lyons said...

Dan, thank you for commenting here. I appreciate your clarification. And I don't disagree with you on the importance the role of transcendence plays within "conversion" to Catholicism. But briefly, using your analogy, the attraction of the mystery and "otherness" within the Church is similar to the attraction of a man to a woman's beauty (or vice versa). It may be what initially attracts him. It is not what keeps him.

Understand also that many who become Catholic who were Evangelicals have been driven there because of a struggle with other ideas, such as authority or unity, rather than simply being surprised by the Catholic Church's beauty. Being surprised by her beauty, however, is an inevitable reaction as he or she discovers the Church.

Scott Lyons said...

"I've done far more presuming about others as well. But I really need reminding I'm not God and can't read another person's mind, let alone their heart."

Hope, you're right. I struggle with my own presumptions. It should help us be patient with our brothers and sisters who treat us poorly at times because of our decisions to become Catholic.

And we need to exhibit the grace that the Church has shown us - "God bless your journey." And pray, of course. Always pray.

Scott Lyons said...

Dan, I'd like to add that I understand that you believe the RCC is aberrant in its belief system. And I respect that you want to see people be free of that.

I respect your beliefs, I've been a reader of your blog for nearly two years. I'd love to have a conversation with you about Catholicism and why I returned to Catholicism last year. About what I've discovered and why I am excited about what I've discovered.

There are many misconceptions about the Catholic Church. There are also abuses in the Church, especially in her history. But that's something we struggle through in whatever tradition we locate ourselves in and is only a statement on humanity's brokenness.

DLE said...


I grew up in an all-Catholic neighborhood--save for my family of Lutherans and the Pentecostal preacher and his family at the end of our cul-de-sac. So I have a fairly good idea of where folks are coming from in the RCC.

The parish our neighbors were a part of happened to be one of the most active in SW Ohio, and their church was a megachurch before that term came into being. That said, I saw many disastrous people come out of that church that I had to wonder what the heck was going on. If this was one of the most respected--nearly idolozed--parishes in the country and THAT much garbage came out of it...well, you just had to wonder.

Scott Lyons said...

I understand, Dan. My family made that exodus with thousands of others near the same time, I imagine.

And there were and are some disastrous people in the Catholic Church.

Then again, if we begin to judge our churches by their fruit, perhaps we're all damned.

We are broken people. I am planning on writing a series sometime this month on the brokenness of Catholicism - and why her problems are attractional to me. More specifically, what she has done with her brokenness.