For years, the Catholic Television Network (EWTN) has had a show called The Journey Home. My parents used to watch this show when I was a child, for the few years that we had a dish before we tore the roof off the house. To the best of my recollection, the purpose of the show is to display how Catholicism is an awesome religion because so many people convert to it. When I found out that all the episodes are available online, I decided to watch them and review them. It’s undeniable that people convert to Catholicism; my question is, do they have good reasons? How many of them started as some form of Christian in the first place? How many came from other religions? How many were atheists or skeptics? Why did they convert, and would the answer to that question be a convincing reason for a skeptic?
If you decide to watch these episodes with me, you may notice that I ignore a lot of things I could respond to. The target audience is Catholics, and this is clear from the very first minute that Marcus Grodi begins speaking. These stories aren’t necessarily meant to convince a skeptic, but to strengthen the faith of a Catholic, or possibly convince a non-Catholic Christian to convert, and there’s really nothing wrong with that. Nonetheless, I’d like to see if this collection of conversion stories contains any compelling reasons for a skeptic to convert.
The tenth episode is titled “Michael Welker: A Zen Buddhist Who Became Catholic Via Protestantism – The Journey Home Program” and aired November 7, 1997. It can be viewed online here.
This story, at least, has some variety. Although his parents were Lutheran, Mr. Welker did not really consider himself a Christian, and was instead drawn towards the philosophy of Buddhism. (I can’t blame him for that; many atheists are similarly drawn. I personally haven’t looked into it too much.) Later in life, after experiencing guilt because his girlfriend had an abortion, and being told about Christianity by a co-worker, Michael took what he refers to as Pascal’s Wager. He decided to become Christian just to see whether it would work for him. He also experiences what he refers to as a miracle because severe wounds on his face from an accident healed in one month rather than the three the doctors expected. Later, he moves across the country and is invited to a Catholic church. Through the witness of, again, a co-worker, and because Catholicism preaches against abortion and divorce, he converted to Catholicism.
It’s almost painful to watch this man explain how he was led from one experience to another by the influence of others in his life, and try to defend his decisions as his own. It looks to me like an open and shut case: this man never learned to think for himself. When led to do so by his friends, he led a life of promiscuity. When led to do so by other friends, he stopped. He gives only the weakest of reasons for his decisions. There’s nothing here that speaks to a skeptic, because this man appears never to have thought for himself a day in his life.
The first question in the second half of this episode was (paraphrasing) “Should we let our children dabble in other religious philosophies?” As could be expected, the answer Michael gave was (again, paraphrasing) “No, that is not wise.” Marcus Grodi agrees, and they discuss the virtues of indoctrination. Then, Michael starts talking about how the objective truth of Catholicism will shine through. Thinking of the discussions I see on atheist forums on the subject of how we should introduce our children to religion, I can’t help but see the difference here as quite stark. I’ve never seen an atheist say, “You have to be careful not to expose your child to religion, or they might fall away from the objective truth of atheism.” Instead, what they typically say is, “Teach your child critical thinking, and he will almost definitely come to atheism entirely on his own.” If Catholicism really is objectively true, why is it so important to indoctrinate the children? Why not just teach them critical thinking and let them come to their own conclusion? Shouldn’t an objective truth shine through on its own merits, regardless of other exposure? If an atheist can trust this to happen, why can’t a Catholic, especially if the existence of god is allegedly so obvious?
At the very end, Marcus Grodi says that not one of “us” (meaning Catholics) comes to the Church without the witness of others. In my perspective, that very much speaks against the truth of Catholicism. Lots of people come to atheism entirely on their own. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard a story like “When I learned what an atheist is, I realized that’s what I am.” Again, if Catholicism is true, why do other people need to teach it?
So far, our breakdown of the guests’ religious state before conversion to Catholicism looks like this.
- Serious Christian: 6
- Always Catholic: 2
- Lax Christian: 0
- Non-Christian, but religious: 2
- Non-believer, but not very skeptical: 0
- Skeptic: 0