I’d like to discuss something with my fellow Christians. I’ll be writing from a Catholic perspective, but the Protestant position is basically the same, so I’ll be interested in everybody’s thoughts.
Jesus told us to bring the Good News to all people; evangelization is a serious duty for each of us. My simple plan for converting the world is as follows: there are about 1 billion Catholics in the world, and 6 billion non-Catholics. Therefore, each of us should convert 6 people. Done. How hard could that be? Just six people. I must know dozens of non-Catholics and interact at least in small ways with hundreds. I’ve probably got six decades of adult life, so if I wanted to, I could target one person for a whole decade (not that I think that would be a particularly effective strategy).
All right, let’s do it. Let’s make converts. But how? How about the direct approach? Preach at street corners; witness to our co-workers. The trouble is that I can’t imagine one chance in a million of this actually working, or accomplishing anything but pissing people off. How about the indirect approach? “Preach” by example, by works of virtue and mercy. This is what clergy usually tell us to do nowadays, and of course it’s a good thing, but it sounds like an excuse to not evangelize and pretend you did. Faith can’t be spread entirely by spiritual osmosis. At some point, we must bring up the subject of Christianity to the potential convert. Besides, if the idea is to impress via good deeds, doesn’t that mean we have to make a point to show off to everyone how virtuous we are? There are Biblical strictures against that. The third strategy is prayer and fasting. Again, those are definitely things to do, but is that really all we’re going to do to spread the faith?
To tell the truth, I have no idea how to make converts. The correct answer, I know, is that we never really do. Faith is a gift of the Holy Spirit, not from us. That can’t mean that we are to just sit back and wait for the Holy Ghost to start hitting people over the head; we have been told to spread the faith. The effect (conversion) is always disproportionate to our contribution (witnessing, good example) to the cause. Still, there must be an intelligible connection between what we do and what the Holy Spirit brings out of it. Otherwise, why not just sit in your room and play marbles, saying that God may take your concentration on the game and, in His mysterious ways, use it for the salvation of souls? Here’s where a theology of evangelization would be helpful; instead, theologians have spent the past century giving us arguments why we don’t need to bother with evangelizing (because, you know, everybody is already an “anonymous Christian”).
I can’t think of anything I could do to get through to these people. I have had friends and family leave the Church, and there was nothing I could think to do to stop them. I would always end up doing very little, thinking I should be careful to maintain a positive relationship, don’t let it turn into an argument, set myself up to “subtly” win them back later (although the opportunity for “subtle” action never does seem to arise.) In retrospect, I half wish I had just made an ass of myself, and demanded they repent their heresies for reasons X, Y, and Z. I can’t imagine it working, but at least when I face judgment I would have been able to say that I did something.
Right now, aside from trying to shelter the souls of my wife and daughter, this blog is my main evangelization effort. That’s pretty puny, given that this isn’t even an apologetics blog, and I don’t give my readers reasons to convert–although if anybody wants to hear why I think he should be a Christian, I’d be happy to oblige. However, my impression of the culture is that the main things that keep people away from and hostile to the Church are philosophical/moral/social beliefs rather than strictly theological ones. To be a Christian, you must believe in stuff like the Incarnation, but most nonbelievers never even get as far as asking whether they believe this. They know that the Church is hierarchical, patriarchal, and anti-democratic; they think these are damning faults, and so they never even consider the Church’s more distinct doctrines. If I can knock down these false philosophical positions in some people, their main obstacle to the faith will be removed, and that seems like a major thing.
Still, I suspect that what I just wrote is just rationalization, that I am substituting something difficult and frightening–actually outing myself as a Christian and preaching the Gospel to people who will hate me for it–with something easy and enjoyable–blabbing anonymously on the internet. I haven’t significantly helped in the conversion of anybody, so I’m definitely not on track to make my quota. Even in my extended family, where I have made some efforts–encouraging prayers before meals, arguing the Church’s positions against my modernizing elders and contemporaries–it’s not clear that I’m making anything but a superficial difference. I really don’t know what to do.
So tell me, what do you do to spread the faith?
Filed under: Catholic doctrine, Defense of Christianity, My Life, The Dark and Terrible Springtime of Vatican II, What's to be done? | 42 Comments »