Death By A Thousand Cuts

I call my decision to become Catholic “death by a thousand cuts.” For a year I put up argument after argument against Catholicism, only to have each one struck down. Former evangelical Christian Smith’s How to Go From Being a Good Evangelical to a Committed Catholic in 95 Difficult Steps, which I highly recommend, chronicles this experience for many evangelicals. He uses Thomas Kunz’s language of “paradigm shift.” Everyone operates under a series of assumptions about life. When an anomaly pops up, something that doesn’t fit that person’s paradigm, they are usually able to explain it away. The problem occurs when there are too many anomalies. A paradigm crisis occurs, and only then are they willing to consider another paradigm.

So here’s how it works. My paradigm of Protestantism, which included the assumptions that 1) Catholics don’t adhere to the Bible, 2) the Bible is sufficient, 3) the Bible is clear, 4) everyone needs to be “born again” through a mystical experience that does not involve baptism, was steadfast 14 months ago. Here’s a few anomalies that popped up along the way. None are sufficient for someone to become Catholic, but they helped lead to a paradigm crisis.

Why don’t we take communion very often? Has it always been this way? How did the early Church make decisions? Did they only use the Bible? Was that even possible for the first 400 years? Who gets to decide the “open handed” issues? Are baptism and communion open handed issues now but were close handed in the early church?  Why have there been so many splits since the Reformation? Aren’t those splits necessitated by Sola Scriptura? Why do so many of our church services seem superficial? Why do I long for deeper meaning in worship, and seem to think it might be found in the Mass? Why does everything about our faith seem based on having the right doctrine and taking in more doctrine through sermons? Why don’t we say the Lord’s Prayer in church? Why do we evangelize in Catholic countries but pray for persecuted Catholics in the Middle East? Are Catholics saved or not? Why do so many verses in the Bible seem to indicate baptism is necessary for salvation? Why doesn’t the Bible say it’s sufficient? Why doesn’t the Bible say we are saved by faith alone? etc.

And then one day, the dam broke. Several days later I left seminary. My paradigm crisis had occurred and the shift began.

(Photo Source) 

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10 thoughts on “Death By A Thousand Cuts

  1. Your decision was swift. I admire you for that. I had to read specific books on just about every question you asked and many more as well in order to make sure that the Church was still the same Church that St. John of the Cross and many other Saints revered. I was happy to find out that it still taught the same doctrines and that the helps for our spiritual pilgrimage on earth were still intact.

  2. Hey, it’s cool – you’re Catholic! Congrats! lol. I just want to point out that there are other denominations that take communion every week. Say the Lord’s prayer, etc. I know that’s not what you’re asking but just a mention. Disciples of Christ is one of them. Happy journey friend! God bless you!

  3. Howdy again, I look at your questions and think… I can see how the Evangelicalism you’ve described to me doesn’t have sound answers. AND and I can see that the Reformed tradition you may be less familiar with does – at least, I’ve found answers that satisfy me. I wonder if you only saw two possible options in your journey: the Evangelical version of Protestantism you were familiar with, or Catholicism. I might suggest that the questions you are asking are so broad that you might want to consider additional perspectives: Reformed, Lutheran, Anabaptist, Orthodox. There are plenty of theologies and commentaries on these questions from more than just two perspectives.

    Aside from that Christian brother, I’ll add a comment relevant to this post…

    I’ve heard Christian Smith interviewed on Michael Horton’s White Horse Inn several times for various books he’s authored. I love his assessment of youth religion in America as “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.” Such an insightful perspective! I’ve also heard him interviewed about his journey to Catholicism, which I found less compelling. He didn’t seem to explain his newly adopted perspectives based on explanations of key passages of Scripture, rather he explained them as “The RC isn’t what you think” and “The RC isn’t as far apart from you as you think.” I think if that were true, we’d all be knocking on Wittenburg saying, “Can we come back?” I would rather have heard him explain something about apostolic succession, or imparted vs imputed righteousness or something. Granted he may well do this in his book, which I haven’t read.

    On the road, Lon

    • Hi Lon,

      I appreciate your comment and will respond directly. But, here’s a quote from Joshua Lim, who just graduated from a Westminster seminary and went from evangelical to Reformed to Catholic. I love this paragraph from his story because it points out the persistent problem of authority within Protestantism. Because we come from Martin Luther, each person can have his “Here I Stand” speech whenever they want. Then a split happens. Then someone else makes the speech. And another split happens. The question is, did the first 1500 years of Christianity work this way?

      “Against this anabaptist problem, the proposed ‘Reformed’ solution was quite simple: the Reformed confessions had to be restored to their proper place. Yet, it was unclear how such a recovery could not immediately devolve into the in-fighting typical of Reformed denominations (indeed, it seems impossible to even get to the point where such a devolution could occur). At least on this point, it seems that Charles Finney had a degree of truth on his side: the confessions do seem to function, at least in practice, as something like a ‘paper pope.’ It is either this, or the confessions hold no authority at all. The via media, that Reformed churches and their confessions only have a ‘ministerial’ authority does not solve anything since it is unclear what this even means, as is only more evident in controversies in P&R denominations that ceaselessly result in more and more denomination splits. If the confessions do not have, at least in practice, the same authority as the Magisterium, it does not seem that they have any authority at all. The moment someone disagrees with the confession or a given interpretation of the confession on biblical grounds, they no longer need to submit themselves to that governing body. In other words, one can consistently use Luther’s “Here I stand” speech in order to avoid church discipline–and it would be hypocritical for any Protestant denomination to condemn one who appeals to his own conscience and Scripture. And that this has actually happened throughout history is not difficult to substantiate.”http://www.calledtocommunion.com/2012/05/joshua-lims-story-a-westminary-seminary-california-student-becomes-catholic/

  4. You’re at an interesting intersection. Having grown up Catholic and then becoming an all out born again evangelical- now an atheist, I grappled with all those issues and came to focus on the broader epistemological issue: why in the world should a person be denied the kinds of answers that one needs to be saved when one has given himself to Jesus in any Christian sect? Shouldn’t that be enough to get access to the truth? There’s no good reason for what I call “the mystery element”; salvation should be about behavior, not guessing correct theology. What kind of messy, convoluted Divine Plan is that?

    Protestants and Catholics each have their strengths and weaknesses. I used to think that the one that has always been around HAS to be the right one, because god wouldn’t let us not have a grounded Church, but OT analogies of the Jews in their bad phases (yet still the “chosen people”) show that isn’t necessarily true. Then I think of the Dark Ages in the light of Jesus’ “bad fruit/bad tree” analogy. Some say that only applies to prophecy, but anyone who says that god speaks to them in prayer (let alone Papal decree) becomes god’s mouthpiece.

    Anyway, just thought I would suggest considering option C: none of the above. A non-existent entity makes for the most likely explanation for why a god would leave his followers in the dark, even when they choose to be devoted to him. Peace.

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