The question, uttered with equal parts puzzlement and anger, surprised me. In hindsight, it should have been about as surprising as an afternoon drizzle here in Eugene, Oregon, in early spring. The question—almost an accusation, really—was made one early spring day over fifteen years ago. It was said in the middle of an intense discussion about the reasons why my wife and I had, both graduates of Evangelical Bible colleges, had decided to become Catholic.
I’m happy to note, all these years later, that I have a good and healthy relationship with the man who made the remark. We both uttered strong words that day, but time and some further conversations—more calm and measured in nature—have brought peace, if not perfect understanding.
I’ve sometimes joked, in recounting the full story to close friends, that I came up with the perfect retort several hours later: “At least I’m entering a Church that knows what the word ‘think’ means!” It would have been a low blow, but it touches on two issues that continue to resonate with me, now fifteen years a Catholic, nearly every day in some way or another.
The Mindless Scandal
The first is the intellectual life. The Fundamentalism of my youth was, in sum, anti-intellectual; it looked with caution, even fearful disdain, on certain aspects of modern science, technology, and academic study. But it wasn’t because we were Luddites or held a principled position against electricity, computers, or space exploration. The concern was essentially spiritual in nature; the guiding concern was that televisions, radios, “boom boxes” (remember?), and movies were potential tools for conveying messages—often subliminal in nature—contrary to a godly, Christian life. The general instinct was, in fact, actually sound. Only the creators of “Jersey Shore” can deny the power and influence of popular culture, and then only with a smirk. But the permeating fear was rarely controlled, critiqued, and concentrated through rigorous thought and study. It was reactionary and highly subjective, and so it became a sort of rogue agent, undermining the most innocent activities: reading the Chronicles of Narnia, listening to any “non-Christian” music, or studying art or literature not including any overt references to “Jesus” and “the Gospel”.