Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

The renewal of your minds

Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect. --Romans 12:2

I wish I could remember where I read about the Muslim converts to Christianity who, when asked what inspired them to convert, said that they had fallen in love with the person of Jesus. His gentleness and patience, His erudition and intelligence, His love -- Jesus Himself was the force that led them to break with Islam and take the dangerous step of converting. In Great Books, David Denby (who describes himself as a not that observant Jew) reads the Gospels and is struck by his first real encounter with Jesus. He is amazed at His vivid personality, His quick wit and self-possession, and how easy it is to love Him. Although he encounters other Christian thought in his re-reading of the Great Books of western civilization, they don't strike him with the same force as a direct encounter with Jesus.

A few months ago a dear friend observed to me, about the Catholic blogsphere, that she rarely saw any mention of Jesus. Plenty of internal doctrinal baseball; plenty of liturgical spats; some devotional stuff; some Marian reflections; but not much meditation on Jesus Himself. I don't know if anyone reading my writing would feel that he'd just had an encounter with Jesus. I feel certain that Joe Citizen, surfing the 'net, stumbling across Catholics arguing amongst themselves about politics or economics or liturgy, would not recognize that Jesus was there in their midst. Where is the "renewal of your minds"? Where is the sharp wit without cruelty or self-absorption? Where is Jesus?

I think there is a place for snark: writing without wit is thick porridge, and Jesus himself showed up the Pharisees on more than one occasion. Too often, though, snark devolves into fisking and point-scoring and one-upsmanship that ceases to serve any purpose than to salve the ego of the snarker. Without underlying charity, snark is no more than a "resounding gong or a clashing cymbal" (1 Cor. 13:1), pure noise.

I particularly enjoyed the recent exchange between Pentimento, responding to a post about single mothers with charity and mercy, and Embrethelil, who illuminates her original posting without defensiveness or rancor. This kind of discussion, in which the principals enlarge and examine their positions with neither biting personal jabs nor mutual saccharine soppiness, is refreshing.

Another post I can't stop thinking about is Eric Brown's wrenching conversion story, in which he is drawn into the Church by Jesus Himself: "My focal interest was with the figure of our Lord, with Christology and soteriology—ecclesiology became an interest much later. I was obsessed with the Lord and I wanted to know everything about Him." Although he comes to accept the Church's authority to rule on matters of sexual morality and women's ordination, he writes that:
Strikingly, my comfort with dissent and the choice of others to dissent from church teaching not only assisted my conversion, it helped me to convert and ultimately become orthodox. If I had an inkling of suspicion that such matters were more than mere prevalent Christian opinions in a slowly evolving human world, but rather unchangeable teachings, I would not have been so content to focus my energies on other teachings—the ones that drew me in, which basically allowed me to come across everything I would need to know, so that when the time came, the teachings I did not want to accept, were acceptable because I would be able to see the relevance and the deep harmony of all the teachings with one another.
What drew him in was Love -- not the sharp, self-satisfied apologetics practiced on the internet.


Anonymous said...

But not all Catholic discussion is meant to be evangelistic, nor should it be. People do need to discuss other stuff much of the time.

I'm a Protestant who reads this and other Catholic blogs (Welborn, Shea, et al) and two Orthodox blogs (Dreher, Larison), but no Protty blogs. The anti-intellectualism that infects Protestantism nowadays, including the belief that absolutely everything they do or say or write must perform service for evangelism, has gotten bad enough that I've completely stopped reading Protty writers. Yes, it's that bad. Lord, how we need another C. S. Lewis to cut through this crap.

If Catholics start focusing on evangelism all the time, to the degree that they no longer just write about stuff, I'll have to go elsewhere.


BettyDuffy said...

I think that most Catholics, if they are spending much time on the internet blogging, do so with the unstated purpose of hopefully attracting a convert or two. Which rather than being a more pressing reason to mention Jesus, seems like a reason to mask his presence, and sneak up on their readers either with the feminity of Christ's mother, or with a reasoned argument that cannot be refused. Jesus comes with baggage, sorry to say (and not how I personally feel), but we assume that anyone who's ripe for the picking already has a concept of Jesus with which they won't easily part. If we can lure them in with some of the other aspects of Catholicism we find most refreshing, then they can, in a sense be surprised by Jesus, in the Eucharist, say. But this is just a hypothesis for the reluctance of many Catholic bloggers to mention him. I suppose another option is that we really aren't that comfortable with him ourselves, which IS a concern.

I appreciate your putting Jesus out there in such a snarkless and reasoned manner. It's a question worth investigating.

mrsdarwin said...


I don't read any Protestant blogs either, for specifically the reasons you mention, and I actually have a low threshold for unadulterated evangelical single-mindedness. But I did a search on DarwinCatholic -- my own blog! -- and found that we hadn't mentioned the name Jesus since April (and then only in a Scripture citation), and before that in February of 2007. I think that's a problem. I'm glad you enjoy reading us (or, more likely, Darwin!) and we're not going to change our tone, so no worries there.

Betty, I agree with what you say, and the possibility of attracting converts was something I was thinking about. Darwin writes and comments on the Catholic political blogs, and reading over his shoulder I'm often struck by how the discussion would sound to someone who (not knowing anything of the personalities involved) clicks on the comments and stumbles into a sandbox kicking match. Perhaps I'm making a point as much about keeping things civil as much as reflecting Jesus, but it seems to me that it would be hard to convert someone or even convince them your point of view by pure snark and rudeness.

I've always liked the tone you've set on your site, BTW.

Meredith said...

I don't have time for a long comment but wanted to thank you for such a refreshing insight.

Catholic Mutt said...

Interesting thought. I admit I haven't gotten much past the concept of letting out what I'm thinking, so there's not much planning there. I do think it's very important to keep the tone respectful. I actually like when someone disagrees with me in a respectful way, because it helps me to learn.

mrsdarwin said...

Well, never mind. I've just realized that the search feature doesn't show the results in chronological order, so we have mentioned Jesus far more frequently than once every two years. Darwin was suspicious about that statistic...

Jennifer @ Conversion Diary said...

What drew him in was Love -- not the sharp, self-satisfied apologetics practiced on the internet.

This is such a great point.

As you know, I totally agree since my conversion was so heavily influenced by online discussions (I wrote about it for Inside Catholic a while back here.) The thing that did it for me was the tone. I would watch debates among atheists and Christians and was blown away by how kind the Christians remained, even in the face of all these horrible insults. I often thought, "If we atheists have such a lock on truth, why are we such a**holes so much of the time?"

I'm not sure how much mentioning the name of Jesus would have gotten my attention since I thought of "Jesus" as just a mild-mannered hippie who sat around and sung kumbaya with everyone a few thousand years ago (I'd never heard of the Resurrection until college -- seriously), but seeing his love in the words of his followers certainly got my attention.

Anonymous said...

jennifer wrote: "I would watch debates among atheists and Christians and was blown away by how kind the Christians remained, even in the face of all these horrible insults."

Are you serious? My experience, I'm afraid, has largely been the opposite. I have on many occasions been terribly embarassed by the behavior of fellow Christians online. For example, I mentioned above that I read blogs by Amy Welborn, Mark Shea, and Rod Dreher, all of whom I respect. However, I rarely bother to read their discussion forums, because the folks who inhabit those forums - most of whom are Christians - are too frequently loud-mouthed fools and bigots. And then there's the aforementioned problem of just plain idiocy that permeates the Protestant sector of the Christianosphere.

If I wasn't already a Christian, my experience with Christians online certainly would not have drawn me in.


Darwin said...


It probably depends a lot on the venue and the topic. I recall participating in lengthy comment threads back on Reluctant Atheist and the early days of Et-Tu Jen (did comments on the old RA posts get truncated at some point, Jen, I seem to recall much longer threads than I'm seeing there now, or am I thinking of Et-Tu stuff), and I would agree that the christians talking there were generally much more positive conversational partners than the atheists. Of course, since the topic had to do with an atheist becoming a Christian, there was a tendency for atheit commenters to show up with a "What the F! is wrong with you godiots worshipping the old man in the sky" attitude, while Christians tended to be on their most welcoming behavior.

Certainly, the internet brings out the worst in a range of people, but though I've long stopped reading Shea and Dreher regularly because of the toxic combox atmostphere (and sometimes the toxic atmosphere in general) I'd tend to see the atmostphere at places such as PZ Myers' Pharyngula as being more toxic than any of the Christian sites I've tried.

Some of that may just be that huge amounts of profanity tend to register as abrasive with me, while some of the things that I've seen to upset atheists such as "I'll pray for you" don't strike me as being so. (Though certainly, promises to "pray for" someone can be used as a passive aggressive weapon at times even among Christians.)

Enbrethiliel said...


My experience may be unusual in that people--other Christians--had nothing to do with it. I mean, they helped, but they hardly tipped the balance no matter what they did. Jesus had everything to do with it, of course, but I can't really say I was attracted to Him.

What drew me back to the Church was the realisation that She might actually be right where the world was wrong (as Uncle Gilbert has put it). What sealed the deal for me was the honest conviction that She is what She says She is. Only after I got over that hurdle did I learn to love Jesus at all.

Marie said...

Amateur thinker about this stuff here, but found this an interesting point -- not just in blogs but overall, Catholics don't say "Jesus" a lot. Frankly, I don't feel very comfortable even saying his name in conversation, although I'll happily note the "Divine Mercy" or the "Sacred Heart of Jesus". In trying to figure out why, I'm ashamed to say I think "Jesus" has become something of a brand. I feel like I'm hawking something if I use it, and something not necessarily awfully Catholic. Now I have to figure out how to address that in myself. . .

Anonymous said...

I thought that most blogs had topics, I come here for intellectual reading, to conversion diary for spiritual insights, to catholic caveman for orthodox persepective, and others for humor or devotions. If I'm looking for Jesus, I look for blogs or other sites that focus especially on Him.

As a recent convert I love all aspects of lay Catholic thought that I find from you bloggers, thanks and keep it up!

K. Bernadette

Daddio said...

Great post. I'd virtually given up reading anything other than Autoblog and my own email. (Online reading, that is. I read a couple of real books, what a concept.) Lots of big pissing contests out there, to put it less eloquently than you did.

Daddio said...

Marie makes an interesting point. We don't say His Most Holy Name very often, do we. Is it out of reverence? I think I refer to "the Lord" more often in my own daily life.

Go see Tim Staples some time, now there's a Catholic who uses the name Jesus a lot (and he says it in three or four syllables when he gets really fired up).

lissla lissar said...

Hm. I think part of the reason I don't say His name that often is because of the baggage that Betty notes, and partly (and I hope more? But maybe I'm flattering myself) because my relationship with Him isn't something I want loud public discussion about anymore than I want to discuss the intimate details of my marriage in a public forum. It touches my outer life, it's something my outer life is built on- but it's still private.

I think some of that is shyness and timidity. I hope not all.

Also, I would like to add an undignified and ridiculous fangirl Squee! at being on the same comments page as many of my favourite bloggers.

I plan to grow up soon after I have my next kid. I really do.