Atheist Blogger Leah Libresco Becomes a Catholic


Warning: this is another long post. Apologies, but I have a lot to say on this.

Not sure if y’all heard, but the atheist blogger behind Unequally Yoked is now Catholic.

Here’s a whole bunch of stories and reactions for you to chew on, starting with Leah’s blog posts (after the fold, obviously):
This is my last post for the Patheos Atheist Portal
Doing Comment Triage [check back for updates]
Responding to the “What are you thinking?” comments
Thanks for your patience and persistence. Here are some charts.
Let me set some priorities
The (Epistemic) Floor is Made of Lava
A little about the queer stuff

And now that we got Leah’s POV, let’s get all the rest of the stories…

Gather.com – Atheist Leah Libresco Converts to Christianity
The Blaze – See This Atheist Blogger‘s Stunning Announcement That She’s Converting to Catholicism
Catholic News Agency – Author of atheist blog announces she will become Catholic
CNN – Prominent atheist blogger converts to Catholicism

Freethought Blogs:
Blag Hag -We’ve lost an atheist blogger…to Catholicism
Zinnia Jones – Congratulations, Leah Libresco
Camels with Hammers – On Atheist Blogger Leah Libresco’s Conversion to Catholicism and Her Atheistic Detractors
The Unincredible HALLQ – Religious conversions happen because of people’s personal relationships
Pharyngula – Joe the Plumber is simply not very bright
(For the record, PZ Myer’s post is less about Leah and more about Joe the Plumber and an incredibly stupid interview he gave. It’s the only one, however, in which PZ gives his opinion [however brief] about Leah’s reasons for her conversion.)

Atheist Universe – We Have Failed Leah L[i]bresco

That’s not everything there is on the intertubez, but it’s all my lazy self is will to dig up, so there! :P

The rest of this post will be addressing Leah directly.

You’ll notice, Leah, on page 2 of the Atheist Universe post, that I commented. My comment was a tad harsh, I grant, and I’ll go ahead and apologize for the tone of it and for what could be construed as (but was not intended to be) a cheap shot. I hope you can forgive me.

But I am flabbergasted. Now, I have to tell you that I only started reading Unequally Yoked during the recent SSA Blogathon. Then I found out about your conversion, and decided to go back into the archives. I did read some of the posts you suggested to help explain your conversion.

So here are my thoughts:

I think you do a good job of explaining why you have come to believe in a higher power.

Honestly.

In fact, I really don’t care that you’re no longer an atheist. If this is where your journey of doubt and questioning has led you, then I’m happy for you. I’ve never had a hard time accepting that atheists can become theists. Of course, part of that is because of how I define the two terms:
Theism – The belief in a higher power or powers
Atheism – The lack thereof
So, of course, my definitions are very basic and rather vague, especially since my definition for theism includes all forms of deism and so on. I also have a blog about the differences between knowledge and belief that goes in to a little more detail (I also bring it up because I’ll be using it again later in this post). So I have no problem with the idea that an atheist can become a theist.

But I do have issues with certain leaps.

I think an example of this unbelievable leap even you could agree with is an atheist becoming a “Born-Again”, YEC, Conservative, Evangelical, Bigoted Christian. I really do tend to believe that such Christians who claim to have once been atheists (like VenomFangX on YouTube, for example) are lying, because of how they describe themselves as an atheist, and what they attribute to atheism.

Another leap I’m having trouble with is yours.

So I’m going to join the chorus screaming “why Catholicism?!?” I really do believe you could do so much better.

Have you, perchance, read the Catholic Catechism? I have. I’ve seen what’s in it. I don’t think it has a lot of good wisdom to live by. You should know that Catholics are expected to accept the entire Catechism without question. There was a time when questioning the Catechism could get you excommunicated (and earlier than that, killed). You should also know that Catholics are expected to view the Pope as infallible; his word is never to be questioned, for he is the vicar of Christ on Earth. I know this because half of my family is Catholic; I was baptized, given first communion, an even attended CCD. My grandpa is, in fact, a Deacon (for the record, the other half of my family is Jewish, and my dad is a Hazzan).

Here’s a link to the searches for “homosexuality” and “homosexual” within the Catechism. Would you please respond to those passages within the Catechism directly, especially in light of the fact that, as a Catholic, you are expected to consider these as unquestioned truths?

Also, as you are expected to see the Pope as infallible, could you comment directly on his comments on condoms, his comparison of atheists and Nazis, and his efforts (albeit largely pre-Pope) to aid in the cover-up of pedophile priests?

Also, out of curiosity, I’d like to know your thoughts on this Intelligence Squared debate.

In my comment at the Atheist Universe, I said the following:

In my experience, most people who go from atheism to theism usually start out at some vague, undefined Deism (see: Antony Flew). Most make it to Pandeism before stopping there. The ones who do keep going through the transition usually go through the gamut before finally making it to Yahweh, and most don’t get that far.

How in the hell do you go for atheism and Secular Humanism to frickin’ Catholicism?

IMO, Judaism would have been a better fit for her. Reform and liberal Conservative Judaism emphasize freethought, education, and doubt (why else do you think the amount of “secular Jews” grows daily?). She would have fit in quite nicely, especially with the Reform Jews. And she would have loved it, I think. And I’m not saying that as snark. Having read some of her atheist blogs over the past day or two, I honestly think her views fit better with Reform Judaism than any other sect of any other Abrahamic religion. There’s a reason Reform Judaism contains the most intelligent, skeptical Jews to ever exist. If she has to believe in Yahweh, I can’t think of a better sect of a better Abrahamic religion than that.

Could you comment on this?

And finally, I have two arguments against the existence of God I’d love to get your thoughts on. They are near the end of my blog on knowledge and belief, which I also linked to above, but I’ll quote them here:

So why am I an atheist, then? If I don’t know for sure, why do I not believe?

The main problem is infinite regress. Most believers ultimately come to this idea that the universe, and us, are too complex to have just popped into existence. They use this as evidence of a higher power.

The problem is, they are using what’s called a double standard. They do not apply this same line of thinking to God, when they should. And it should apply because any creator would have to be infinitely more complex than the universe and all within it in order to create it.

For starters, God has to be corporeal in order to interact with reality. Already, that’s complexity. God would also have to have the power to create. Even more complex. Then, God would have to have the knowledge of how to use that power and an understanding of what he/she/it was creating, which means imagination. This god also has to have the imagination to come up with, and the knowledge to understand, all the laws of nature and physics and the quantum world. And if we’re talking about Yahweh, it gets even worse, because he has to have the ability to interact with us on a daily basis, answering prayers and whatnot. But even if we’re just talking about the Pandeistic concept, the principle still stands: any god concept would have to be many orders of magnitude more complex than the universe and all within it in order to create it all.

So if the idea that we’re too complex to have happened by chanced is true, then the same must apply to our creator, which means our creator has to have a creator… the problem is, that would go on forever.

The other problem I have with the God Hypothesis is that the deity is always supreme. It created even time. But the problem with this is that time is not a finite property. If there is no time, then when did God create? Time is required for action. No time, no space. No space, no movement. No movement, no action. It becomes very clear that time cannot have been created, but has always existed. So there is at least one thing that was around before God. But see, without time, there is no space. Which means we now have two things that existed before God; both time and space. But then, what about matter? Matter is, of course, a form of energy. And you need both as a material in order to create universes, stars, planets, and life.  But if there’s no matter or energy, then what did God use to create it?

And now we have time, space, matter, and energy all having to exist forever in order for there to be existence in the first place.

So space, time, matter, and energy have to have existed forever. Add that to the Problem of Complexity, as it were, and the entire God Hypothesis runs into some severe roadblocks. You end up with gods that are really nothing more than hyper-advanced aliens. I know that a tiny amount of people are fine with this, but most aren’t, especially considering what the word “god” implies.

To end, I actually struggle, like you, with morality. I tend to believe that morality is relative, and I argue constantly from that perspective. However, I do admit that there’s an arbitrariness of morality if it is relative that I am constantly struggling to square away. So I can appreciate your dilemma from that regard.

However, I simply can’t believe that morality is objective because of humanity. No matter what, it seems quite obvious that morality is, indeed, relative. Different cultures have different morals, as do different time periods. When you study both human history and culture, you realize that morality is a zeitgeist. Things that were once considered moral are no longer so today, things considered moral today were not considered so once upon a time, and even in the present, different people have different ideas of what is and what is not moral (consider the current fight over abortion: it is certainly a moral issue from the point-of-view of those who are “pro-life”).

Hitler is a popular argument against moral relativity, but I always point out that Hitler himself did not believe he was evil. He truly believed that what he was doing was moral, good, and right. He truly believed that he what he was doing was best for Germany and the world. He was not some comic book villain who did it all “in the name of evil.”

The only reason I think Hitler was wrong is because of my belief that you have the right to do whatever you want as long as you do not violate the right of somebody else to do whatever they want. Hitler violated that very right of nearly 13 million people. I don’t believe he should have. But if I could argue with Hitler today, I know he’d disagree with me.

And that is the point of moral relativism. I agree that it is not emotionally satisfying, and so I understand why people would judge such a position by saying “you can’t judge if something is good or bad”. I say we can because of evolution, because I do think the fact that we evolved to be a social species, and thus we evolved to be altruistic, and we culturally developed our morals from that basic altruistic instinct, is a good enough explanation of the origins of morality that it satisfies my problems with the idea of moral relativity.

All of that is simply to say that I understand where your coming from. It is your jump to Catholicism, an institution that I truly believe is evil because of how it has in the past, and continues to, violate the rights of others to do whatever they want, that I simply do not understand.

I apologize for the length of this blog, but I had a lot to say. I wish you luck in your journey, Leah, wherever it may take you.

About Nathan Hevenstone

All this is stream-of-consciousness. See my "About" page to find our more about me...
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21 Responses to Atheist Blogger Leah Libresco Becomes a Catholic

  1. Hidden One says:

    Your notion of papal infallibility is very far from the Catholic one, unfortunately. May I suggest that you do some (more?) research on it? Perhaps certain works by J. H. Newman might be of help.

    • Better yet, why don’t you tell me? Explain to me how my Deacon grandfather, CCD education, and so on are wrong…

      • prplcatz58 says:

        This is slightly old, but I noticed that this was never answered. We believe the Pope is infallible in what he says/writes in matters of moral and faith. He is still human and can still sin, obviously. Some Popes have been known to go to confession every day.

  2. PJ says:

    Last thing, I promise: Nathan, if you want true insight into Christian dogma and spirituality, I recommend Fr. Stephen Freeman (http://fatherstephen.wordpress.com). He will, if nothing else, challenge your ideas about what it means to believe in and follow Christ.

    God bless you: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit; one God forever and ever, amen.

  3. “It is impossible that there should not be scandals,” said a very wise man. Anyway, this:

    I really do believe you could do so much better.

    Like what?

    • I already detailed one; Reform Judaism. But really, anything other than Catholicism; except maybe Islam and Evangelical Christianity.

    • PJ says:

      The Church is a hospital for sinners. No one is fully cured in this life. Some, sadly, improve not a bit, because of their own obstinacy. But where sin abounds, grace abounds even more.

  4. Heidi aka Digital Misfit says:

    I have a big problem with the Atheism – Catholicism jump too. A turn to general Deism, or even some variety of pagan belief system would at least make sense for a person who just HAD to fill in the void of the yet-unknown. A jump to such a regimented, cruel, anti-woman patriarchy just seems false. As she was a former Catholic, and living with a Catholic partner, I guess she actually just reverted. I hate to use the “no true Scotsman” defense, as it is used too often AGAINST atheists, but I do wonder if Leah was ever truly an atheist, or just rebelling against the patriarchy of the church.
    All I do know is that now the church has a poster child to wave in our faces, just as they do with “reformed” LGBT people.

    • I was under the impression her upbringing was more Jewish. Did I miss something?

    • CCC 972 We are a cruel, anti-woman patriarchy who worships Mary.

      CCC 973 Shh. Don’t tell anyone.

      • a) So Catholics are polytheists?
        b) Anti-abortion and anti-birth control… seems like anti-woman to me

      • PJ says:

        Nathan,

        None of the Catholic women I know consider opposition to abortion and birth control to be “anti-woman.” Just the opposite, in fact. My wife — another liberal Jew turned orthodox Catholic — considers both a great blow to women. Furthermore, my godmother is a vocal Catholic feminist. She is of the opinion that there is nothing so misogynistic as abortion and birth control. I have to agree with them, given that women are disproportionately aborted, and that birth control is essential to the separation sex from procreation, thus enabling men to abdicate responsibility for their sexual activities.

        I am in my mid-20s. Though there are a few exceptions, the Catholic women with whom I am familiar have greater confidence, integrity, and self-esteem than the secular women with whom I am equally close. They do not abuse their bodies with drink and drugs. They are promiscuous; not being promiscuous, they are not confounded and tormented by disastrous, lust-driven relationships with self-serving men. They possess a spiritually peacefulness that is almost universally absent from my secular girl friends.

        From my experience, Catholicism — rightly understood and correctly practiced — produces humble, modest, lovely, and strong women. It nurtures their feminine genius. The sweetest blossoms of the fairer sex are found on the Catholic tree. No doubt the wonderful model of Mary — not to mention her constant intercession — is to thank for this pleasant reality.

      • PJ says:

        Er, that should be, “They are *NOT* promiscuous…” Heh.

    • PJ says:

      You don’t understand the Church’s teaching on homosexuality. It does not believe homosexuality must be “reformed.” Some people are born homosexual. We do not know why. Others grow into homosexuality, for reasons which are only slightly clearer. Either way, the Church does not expect these attractions to “go away” (though some are granted such relief, thank God). All that is expected is that those who experience same-sex attraction refrain from acting on their urges. In this sense, homosexuality is just another sin; another cross that, if carried with determination, can yield an eternal crown. There are other sexual impulses that are not to be acted upon: sado-masochism, for instance. One of the great errors of modern culture is to conflate the sin with the sinner. A person need not be defined by their sexuality. Additionally, modern culture has made the fallacious judgment that sexuality is a necessary component of the “good life.” This is apparently the only criteria that can be agreed upon — which is telling. Celibacy is a perfectly legitimate path to happiness and, ultimately, perfection. Indeed, given that Christ abstained from sex, celibates may even have a leg up on married folks.

  5. PJ says:

    Or, more succinctly, from the same author and text, “God then is infinite and incomprehensible and all that is comprehensible about Him is His infinity and incomprehensibility.”

    • I actually learned quite a bit about John of Damascus through my grandfather, who’s a fan. I’ve seen what you posted before.

      It always did read, and does read, as special pleading. John is doing what a lot of theologians do, and this is simply declaring all this by fiat, with no recourse to why God is what he and they say he is.

      Granted, the idea of God espoused by theologians is quite a bit more sophisticated than the popular view of Yahweh espoused by the evangelicals, but there is also no stated reason for that view.

      • PJ says:

        There is a saying, “A theologian is one who prays, and one who prays is a theologian.” This means that true knowledge of the Divine is learned through the heart, not the mind. Traditional Christian spirituality emphasizes that God is encountered through the nous, which is often translated as “mind,” but is perhaps better translated as “heart.” It is in the heart — the secret interior space beyond the vanity, pride, and worldly confidence of “reason” — that the Deity manifests Himself.

        This is why St. Paul wrote, “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written,

        “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
        and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”
        20 Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach[b] to save those who believe. 22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

        26 For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards,[c] not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29 so that no human being[d] might boast in the presence of God. 30 And because of him[e] you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31 so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”

        I realize this sounds like “special pleading,” or more bluntly, a cop-out, or even more bluntly, bull—-. But it is the testimony of the saints, those who saw the uncreated glory of God. Even the arch-scholastic Thomas Aquinas, after receiving a vision at the end of his life, declared that all his previous writing was but “straw.” This makes sense, for St. Paul told us that “eye has not seen, ear has not heard,” by which he meant that earthly, fleshy knowledge is insufficient to grapple with the Divine Mystery.

        The very essence of Christianity is that, “since … the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe.” The honest disciple readily admits that his faith is “folly.” Sure, philosophical arguments can be mustered for the existence of a generic Supreme Being, but the apostolic, orthodox, catholic faith does not proclaim a generic Supreme Being, but rather Trinity, that eternal Community of Love, which exhibited Its magnificent perfection on the Cross.

      • PJ says:

        What do you mean by “reason”? I believe that beauty is a fine judge of truth. And I know that nothing is so beautiful as High Mass.

        Similarly, Pope Benedict XVI wrote:

        “The encounter with the beautiful can become the wound of the arrow that strikes the heart and in this way opens our eyes, so that later, from this experience, we take the criteria for judgment and can correctly evaluate the arguments. For me an unforgettable experience was the Bach concert that Leonard Bernstein conducted in Munich after the sudden death of Karl Richter. I was sitting next to the Lutheran Bishop Hanselmann. When the last note of one of the great Thomas-Kantor-Cantatas triumphantly faded away, we looked at each other spontaneously and right then we said:

        “Anyone who has heard this, knows that the faith is true.”

        The music had such an extraordinary force of reality that we realized, no longer by deduction, but by the impact on our hearts, that it could not have originated from nothingness, but could only have come to be through the power of the Truth that became real in the composer’s inspiration.”

        There is an old tale popular among the Orthodox:

        “Then we went to Greece, and the Greeks led us to the edifices in which they worship their God, and we knew not whether we were in heaven or on earth. For on earth there is no such splendor or such beauty, and we are at a loss how to describe it. We know only that God dwells there among men, and their service is fairer than the ceremonies of other nations. For we cannot forget that beauty. Every man, after tasting something sweet, is afterward unwilling to accept that which is bitter, and therefore we cannot dwell here any longer.”

        Alone, such intuitions-of-the-heart are perhaps not sufficient “reasons” for the truth of Christianity, never mind Catholicism. But I humbly suggest that the sort of scientific data and empirical investigation demanded by atheists is insufficient — maybe even incoherent — when it comes to the Divine Mystery. Even philosophy falls short. There are other ways of knowing that must be considered.

  6. PJ says:

    Followed your link from Unequally Yoked. Much of your trouble stems from an inability to grasp what we mean by, “God.” You imagine He is like any other creature, just bigger, stronger, smarter. Not so. In fact, it would be fair to say that He does not exist, as we know and experience existence. Numerous Christian theologians have made this clear, especially the likes of John of Damascus and Gregory of Nyssa.

    “It is necessary, therefore, that one who wishes to speak or to hear of God should understand clearly that alike in the doctrine of Deity and in that of the Incarnation , neither are all things unutterable nor all utterable; neither all unknowable nor all knowable. But the knowable belongs to one order, and the utterable to another; just as it is one thing to speak and another thing to know. Many of the things relating to God, therefore, that are dimly understood cannot be put into fitting terms, but on things above us we cannot do else than express ourselves according to our limited capacity; as, for instance, when we speak of God we use the terms sleep, and wrath, and regardlessness, hands, too, and feet, and such like expressions.

    We, therefore, both know and confess that God is without beginning, without end, eternal and everlasting, uncreate, unchangeable, invariable, simple, uncompound, incorporeal, invisible, impalpable, uncircumscribed, infinite, incognisable, indefinable, incomprehensible, good, just, maker of all things created, almighty, all-ruling, all-surveying, of all overseer, sovereign, judge; and that God is One, that is to say, one essence ; and that He is known , and has His being in three subsistences, in Father, I say, and Son and Holy Spirit; and that the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit are one in all respects, except in that of not being begotten, that of being begotten, and that of procession; and that the Only-begotten Son and Word of God and God, in His bowels of mercy, for our salvation, by the good pleasure of God and the co-operation of the Holy Spirit, being conceived without seed, was born uncorruptedly of the Holy Virgin and Mother of God, Mary, by the Holy Spirit, and became of her perfect Man; and that the Same is at once perfect God and perfect Man, of two natures, Godhead and Manhood, and in two natures possessing intelligence, will and energy, and freedom, and, in a word, perfect according to the measure and proportion proper to each, at once to the divinity, I say, and to the humanity, yet to one composite person ; and that He suffered hunger and thirst and weariness, and was crucified, and for three days submitted to the experience of death and burial, and ascended to heaven, from which also He came to us, and shall come again. And the Holy Scripture is witness to this and the whole choir of the Saints.

    But neither do we know, nor can we tell, what the essence of God is, or how it is in all, or how the Only-begotten Son and God, having emptied Himself, became Man of virgin blood, made by another law contrary to nature, or how He walked with dry feet upon the waters. It is not within our capacity, therefore, to say anything about God or even to think of Him, beyond the things which have been divinely revealed to us, whether by word or by manifestation, by the divine oracles at once of the Old Testament and of the New.”

    –John of Damascus, On the Orthodox Faith

  7. Pingback: What's wrong with Atheism? -   - Page 13 - City-Data Forum

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