At some point I realized I was using phrases like “us” and “our views” while referring to Catholicism. I wondered when I began thinking of myself on the Catholic side of the fence rather than the Protestant side. I can pinpoint the beginning of this paradigm shift to a lengthy debate with a friend of mine that recently abandoned his Christianity. He belonged to a form of Calvinism and drifted away slowly. Then he finally announced his rejection of Christianity in favor of embracing a new-age pantheistic view of the universe. He now believes in a holonomic theory of the universe in which all of matter consists of energy that is consciousness.
My friend said that his new views gave him freedom to love and forgive others and conquer his sins whereas Christianity never did this for him. He complained that Christians ignore inconsistencies in the Bible (which I’ve heard from a lot of people, but never had a compelling argument presented), use the fear of Hell to convert others, over-emphasize guilt and sin, and foster hateful attitudes towards others. The list goes on but those are the highlights.
A year before his denouncement of Christianity, I remember asking my friend would he lose his faith if the theory of evolution were true? His affirmative answer gave me worry. It was just one symptom in a series of problems that I have come to identify with the Protestant break from the Catholic Church. His problems constantly seemed to be rooted in sola scriptura coupled with bad interpretations. He would believe anything if he could find a verse or even a couple words together in the Bible to support a view. One example is the idea that you should only forgive people when they repent, which he got from the verse “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him.” (Luke 17:3). I read this and see a command to not withhold forgiveness if someone repents, not a command to forgive only if they repent. An authoritative interpretation would do away with this kind of rampant Bible literalism that gives fundamentalists so much trouble with modern science.
In response to his accusation that Christians use the fear of Hell to win converts, Mother Teresa sprang to mind instantly. She was even criticized for not pushing conversion on the poor she worked with. She insisted on witnessing through actions by spreading the love of God. This is the general attitude that I find from Catholics, and I think the “win souls any way you can” attitude is strictly an evangelical downfall. It’s my theory that “shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves” (Matt 10:16) evangelism is a natural conclusion to being saved once and for all and by belief alone.
This salvation invention of Luther’s may also be the root of my friend’s other major objection: over-emphasis on sin and guilt. This is the epiphany of epiphanies for me. In reading Luther’s biography, “Luther the Reformer: The Man and his Career” I learned that all of Lutheran theology stems from belief in the total corruption of everything we do and are, which in turn came from Luther’s obsession with his own sins and the insufficiency of anything he did in front of a righteous God. While his fellow monks pointed Luther to the forgiveness of the cross, he instead came up with the following formula for salvation: Our salvation depends on our faith in Christ (i.e. belief that he is the Son of God who died for our sins), our faith depends on repentance and knowledge of our state as a sinner. Therefore, says Luther, “always a sinner, always repentant, always righteous”. Ironically, in a self-reliant effort to escape from his sinful state, Luther instead emphasized his sinfulness and elevated it to the basis for his own salvation. But his illogical and fruitless method of finding righteousness through belief and repentance alone left his followers despondent. They have no arsenal in the ongoing battle against sin to become like Christ.
Just previous to these discussions with my friend, I had read “Counterfeit Revival” by Hank Hanegraaf. His well researched history of Pentecostalism made me sick to my stomach about the shady persons initiating the charismatic renewal, a movement I had unknowingly been a part of from the ages seven to seventeen. I learned from this book the importance of knowing the history of things and the damage that can be done with Bible literalism, especially when things are taken out of context. So when these other issues came up in discussions with my friend, I was primed to take refuge in Catholic beliefs, starting to claim them as my own. Sola scriptura crumbled, authority of the Church rose from obscurity, and the practices of the Church started making so much sense in light of errors that were possible when you try to do things a different way. Chris says that if it’s anything like his conversion, this paradigm shift of mine is like getting over the top of the hill, and it’s all a fast roll down from here.