Fighting Convert Zeal

My highly controversial recent post, Another Note on Catholic Guilt, received a hit from the google search term “why do catholic converts suck” because there was a fortuitous meeting of the words “catholic” “convert” and “suck” in the post. That, and the rather disdainful accusation thrown my way in the comments that zealous converts do more to hurt the Catholic Church than any other thing, got me thinking. Not that I believe a convert does more to hurt the Faith than all the scandals and abuses in it, not at all. But there’s obviously some negative feelings toward converts out there, and I recognize a little bit of just cause behind the resentfulness. Maybe sometimes our pride does get in the way, and we hurt others.

I’ve always had a problem being judgmental. I, like so many others in this world, think I know exactly what everyone else’s problem is. Most of the time, I open my big trap and let people know exactly what I think. I’m so very “helpful” that way. Of course, most of the time people don’t listen and they just get mad, so my well meaning words are more harmful than helpful. I’ve had quite a lot of experience in this with my family. They’ve let me know that although I’m a pretty “good” person in general, my worst trait is that I judge people. Try not to think that I’m running around thinking I’m better than everyone, or that I think less of them if they do show themselves to be sinful and flawed. That’s really not the case. I just think I’m Miss Fix It. I’ve got it all figured out, so I can help you figure it out too, and you’ll be a happier person for it, and you’ll thank me so much in the end… You see how it goes.

Transfer this attitude to a new and zealous convert like me, and you get an irritating mix of “I know what you need” with “I just figured this out and it applies to everything.” Please understand, I mean no harm, in fact I mean to help. The problem is, I think way too highly of my analytical skills and am spending my time judging others rather than seeing to my own behavior. I need to act out of kindness more than judgment. And here’s the biggest realization: I should shut up about my judgments, because never in my life has anyone ever listened constructively. Even if I happen to be right about whatever judgment I have made, I am still sinning by passing judgment, and it will do nobody any good. I have been making an effort to stop for over ten years now, and have especially been trying to keep my mouth shut on my blog, but I fail.

One of the reasons I began my blog in the first place, besides wanting to trace my own conversion journey and get my head straight about it all, was that I felt an overwhelming need to put down on record all these wonderful things I’ve found out that I didn’t know before. I needed to proclaim the truth, because I had never heard it before and needed to hear it. I had to give others a chance to see what I had seen. I had to set the record straight where lies were spread before, and I knew them to be lies. That is a good thing! We are all supposed to spread the gospel and proclaim the truth. This part of a convert’s zeal is commendable, but it heads south quickly for personalities like mine.

Suddenly we doing more than just sharing our recent revelations. We’re not only analyzing other people and how they fit into this new world view, but we’re recognizing where they fall short in it, or operate contrary to it, and we let them know where we think they’ve gone wrong. I think that’s where the real sin is, when I start criticizing and trying to fix others’ behavior. I can come up with all sorts of excuses to do it: It’ll help me understand them better, I’ll be able to deal with them better, maybe I can help them, etc. But in the end, what I do is pass judgment, open my mouth, and tell others what they ought to do instead of just loving them as I have been commanded. Judgment doesn’t come from love, no matter what we tell ourselves.

My problem now is knowing where to draw the line. I need to express these truths that so many people are ignorant of. But is it a sin to call them ignorant in the first place? Is it a sin to say “You should be Catholic”? I don’t think so. But I’m getting really gun-shy, not knowing what to say or when to shut up. Apologetics is a harsh bracket, one I don’t want to jump into. But I’m putting myself out there, saying I have the truth. How do I do that without telling others they don’t have the truth? Is it possible and is it necessary to avoid that? Or should we view these offenses as acceptable casualties, and forge ahead? The Church Fathers were mean and sarcastic with their opponents, and I have to say I think they’re great, but they had much more of a place to pass judgment on heretics and erroneous beliefs. Where’s my place?

Perhaps this is why some people think converts suck. Maybe like most problems, it’s a good thing gone wrong and not knowing how far to go. I would hope people could look at us with a little sympathy and forgiveness, since we are still trying to figure things out and oftentimes our world has been turned upside down in pursuit of the truth. Please, whoever may google this post with less-than-appreciative feelings for converts, please give us a chance, and help us go the right direction without getting frustrated.

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4 Responses to Fighting Convert Zeal

  1. When I first decided to convert about 3 1/2 years ago, I found that I harbored a lot of bitterness in my heart against the Protestant faith because I had been so misled on many things. And I did go too far several times on my own blog.

    With God’s grace, I’m doing a much better job now – I just had to vent……. for about a year… 🙂

  2. lenetta says:

    I would hope I look at converts with appreciation! With the rate of people falling away from the Church, it is wonderful to see people choosing it. Plus, I need to renew my own faith constantly – every day – and to see others with a fresh love for it is a good encouragement for me.

  3. Tap says:

    You might be being entirely too harsh on yourself here, although some criticism might lead to good introspection, there is also the risk of being too timid or ‘gun-shy’ as you put it. Don’t let others intimidate you.

  4. agellius says:

    You write, “But I’m putting myself out there, saying I have the truth. How do I do that without telling others they don’t have the truth? Is it possible and is it necessary to avoid that? Or should we view these offenses as acceptable casualties, and forge ahead?”

    Not that I know anything, but what I do is simply say, “This is what I believe to be true”, and leave it to them to deduce that I consider their beliefs, where they contradict mine, to be false. For them to conclude that in doing that, I am being uncharitable, since I am implicitly accusing them of adhering to false beliefs, would be irrational; since the only way to avoid that would be never to profess any belief at all.

    In other words it may be uncharitable to go around saying “YOUR beliefs are false, and so are YOURS, and YOURS, and YOURS!!” But there’s nothing at all wrong with saying, “These are my beliefs, and this is why I believe them.”

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