I must confess that the following is something of a rant on my behalf. Oh, its not that bad of one so don’t click away just yet. In graduate school as well as meeting people through other means, I have fairly often run into intelligent people who have converted from Protestantism to Rome. That’s fine. I usually don’t make a big deal of it. After not so long a while, they usually start poking me as to why I am not Catholic. This turns into a rather dogmatic attempt to convert me. Inveitably this ends up in a complicated theological, philosophical and historical discussion. (Translated from the Dwarvish-I have to take people out to the theological woodshed.) But what amazes me, repeatedly, is the answer I routinely get in one form or another to a simple question.
“Prior to converting to Rome, did you ever consider or seriously investigate Eastern Orthodoxy?” I’ll leave open what constitutes “seriously investigate.” The answer is usually “no.” It comes in other forms, which betray a lack of serious engagement. These are the usual dismissive reasons which I will try to roll into one. Orthodoxy is a collection of ethnic groups without a visible head and hence have no clear teaching on anything where everything is left to private judgement willy-nilly and where the intellect is evil and is devoted to being ethnically insular. When pressed, this is usually accompanied by the contradictory statement that “Well, I am a western Christian.” Now to be fair there are plenty of Orthodox parishes and individuals who may fit that description as far as being ethnically insular, but such is the case for the local Catholic parish with lots of Poles, Hispanics or Irish. Being ethnically insular is hardly the province of the Orthodox. Just ask the Dutch Reformed where practically every other family name beings with “Van” something or other. The rest of the dismissive reasons are similarly foolish.
Now in general, the negative reply just floors me. How can a reasonably well educated person simply ignore or dismiss so easily the second largest Christian tradition on the planet, which has an unquestionable antiquity and preserved apostolic orders and a sacramental life? How does that count as an informed decision? Because that is what many of the people I have met project when they speak of their conversion to Catholicism. I am not arguing that their conversion necessarily is irrational or may lack epistemic justification. Of course justification and truth are not co-extensive such that an atheist can be justified in his atheism. But it seems to me, that reasonable people, people with advanced education and had the time are guilty of being epistemically imprudent. Please note again, that I am not talking about the common man. I am talking about well educated individuals with access in many cases to primary languages, who at best go no further than reading some Bp. Ware.
If we were to reverse the situation, it becomes quite apparent how imprudent such a decision in fact is. Say some Protestant who was well educated and had reasonable time and access to a decent university library, read only Orthodox works and simply ignored or dismissed out of hand Catholicism. Would such a person be imprudent? I would think so. This is not to say that people do not make imperfect decisions all the time or that people can only do the best or reasonably good enough investigations. Fair enough. But when said persons project dogmatic certainty and try to convert me, in my weakeness perhaps, this irks me.
So, if you are on the conversion trail. Be patient. Take your time. Be fair. If you’re not, you are liable to get intellectually whacked by someone who did take their time and was fair. In which case you will become epistemically as well as spiritually unsettled, which will be bad for you and those around you.