Convert Sickness – A Sickness of the Soul

Arturo Vasqez has written the provocative piece On Convert Sickness. It’s short, but a really good read. I excerpt from it a quote Arturo gives of an analysis of G.K. Chesterton’s overly enthusiastic appraisal of Rome after his conversion:

In these books [his later Catholic non-fiction works] Chesterton becomes a Pangloss of the parish; anything Roman is right. It is hard to credit that even a convinced Catholic can feel equally strongly about St. Francis’s intuitive mysticism and St. Thomas’s pedantic religiosity, as Chesterton seems to. His writing suffers from conversion sickness. Converts tend to see the faith they were raised in as an exasperatingly makeshift and jury-rigged system: Anglican converts to Catholicism are relieved not to have to defend Henry VIII’s divorces; Jewish converts to Christianity are relieved to get out from under the weight of all those strange Levitical laws on animal hooves. The newly adopted faith, they imagine, is a shining, perfectly balanced system, an intricately worked clock where the cosmos turns to tell the time and the cuckoo comes out singing every Sunday. An outsider sees the Church as a dreamy compound of incense and impossibility, and, overglamorizing its pretensions, underrates its adaptability. A Frenchman or an Italian, even a devout one, can see the Catholic Church as a normally bureaucratic human institution, the way patriotic Americans see the post office, recognizing the frailty and even the occasional psychosis of its employees without doubting its necessity or its ability to deliver the message. Chesterton writing about the Church is like someone who has just made his first trip to the post office. Look, it delivers letters for the tiny price of a stamp! You write an address on a label, and they will send it anywhere, literally anywhere you like, across a continent and an ocean, in any weather! The fact that the post office attracts timeservers, or has produced an occasional gun massacre, is only proof of the mystical enthusiasm that the post alone provides! Glorifying the postman beyond what the postman can bear is what you do only if you’re new to mail.

The description of Chesterton’s fawning “see no evil, hear no evil” attitude toward his newfound faith was exactly how I thought and acted for my first several years being Reformed. Well, between having my mind expanded by a Liberal Arts education and being a spectator of (and occasional target of) the farcical and fanatical hyper-Reformed “war to the knife” on the Federal Vision cured me of that childishness. For the next few years, although I remained Reformed, I became a very churlish critic of “the Reformed world,” and often incurred the wrath of many others still caught up in the Blazingly Glorious Wonder of it all.

These days, with the help of some good friends, I have begun to swing around toward a more realistic approach to being Reformed. I am still Reformed, and will not be leaving Reformed any time soon. But the world is simply too big for me to emulate Chestertonian simplicity of spirit regarding Reformed, and it is too big for me to waste my time in churlish street fights with those who think, to emulate the above quote, that Golly, gee, ain’t the Reformed Faith just Grand? No light, no civilization, no truth, no Gospel, no hope without it.

That kind of attitude is nonsense. It’s a sickness of the soul, a disease of having a small soul, a soul that doesn’t understand how BIG God’s world is and how SMALL we – yes, even we Reformed – really are in the grand scheme.

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3 Responses to Convert Sickness – A Sickness of the Soul

  1. Peter Escalante says:

    Tim,

    It is a great quote, from a very good writer whose name is worth mentioning here: Adam Gopnik. He is a shrewd reader of the Inklings, and in general an entertaining and enlightening commentator.

    pax
    P

  2. kepha says:

    I was the same way when I converted to Rome. It is very sobering to realize that “how BIG God’s world is and how SMALL we . . really are in the grand scheme.” Perhaps it is best if we all just stay put and work out our salvation within our own traditions.

  3. Jacob says:

    Anything by Arturo is awesome.

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