Tuesday, May 20, 2008
Why I Am Protestant
Why am I still a Protestant?, a recent commenter implicitly asked.
I imagine that when a man is in the process of deep conversion, he is unable to grasp exactly what is happening, or where he is along the way (until it is over). Therefore, I can only speculate about what has been happening to your faithful Thos.
I risk being boring if I give too extensive a recap of my own exposure to Catholic doctrines, so to be as brief as possible, I diagram (and necessarily exclude my efforts spent looking for a third way):
Proudly Reformed → puzzled at my inability to defend sola Scriptura against a Catholic critique → puzzled that Reformed writings don’t refute the critique → puzzled that my Reformed pastors can’t refute the critique → becoming increasingly skeptical of the Protestant authority scheme → my present state. (I discussed my thoughts through this process in more detail in a series of posts ending with this one.)
The days of being proudly Reformed, and confident that its teachers could address any supposed deficiencies, are about four years behind me. But it has been some time indeed since I’ve felt that I’ve been able to progress one way or another (back to my roots, or further from them).
So why have I stalled in this “no-man’s-land”? Why am I still Protestant?
I don’t know. I told Kim recently while discussing the idea of being reasoned into Catholicism (or any other conversion, I suppose), “I'm not sure you can be *purely* reasoned into [conversion]. I mean, reason may be persuaded, and one still can't get over some anxieties." Let me try to clarify.
The best I can figure at this point is that conversion, as a process, involves at least two major changes. My working theory holds that it involves both intellectual conversion and emotional (i.e., sentimental) conversion. Further, I believe the intellect and emotions need to be persuaded much further beyond 50% of certainty before they are actually converted (a sort of 'principle of inertia'). My intellect was persuaded beyond 50% that the authority claims of Catholicism are stronger than those of Protestantism relatively long ago. And I think that within the last six months I approximately reached my inertial tipping point. When I perceived that this was happening, I got excited that I might have enough conviction to end this long and tiring journey…
But then the neon lights just weren’t flashing quite like I had hoped. I have continued to harbor a kind of skepticism that is particularly provoked by certain Catholic images, prayers and practices. My present theory is that while my intellect has converted, my emotions (or Protestant sentiments) have not. If this is true, it’s an unpleasant spot to be in. When I read, write, discuss, or debate, I hold a higher respect for Catholic theology. When I pray, meditate, and talk to myself in the quiet of the night, I remain a skeptic, deeply worried that I could be standing in the path of making a fatal error. Lead me not into temptation, but deliver me from evil.
In sum, I am still a Protestant because I would not like to be a skeptical Catholic, and I would not like to convert only to re-convert later in life (I was quite fickle as a younger man, and do not wish to return to that reputation). I am still a Protestant because, at present, I would not be able to take the Eucharist into my mouth without a small voice in my head whispering “heresy!” That voice has to expend so little energy to counter a loud voice of reason and intellect.