By sheer good fortune I found out about a talk that was taking place tonight entitled "Why am I a Catholic?" Perhaps what I found most interesting about the prospect of going to this talk was the fact that the speaker, Dr Robert Tilley was a convert from Protestantism. Having been interested in Catholicism for at least the last few years, I was quite interested in what would have to say. Just for the record, I am very uncomfortable using the term Protestant to describe myself these days because I believe that I find myself much more closely aligned with the doctrines of Catholicism than I do with mainstream Protestantism. The only reason I could be called a Protestant is by virtue of the fact that I am not yet Catholic. I ditched the title "Evangelical" some time ago and don't wish to be associated in any way, shape or form with the theological movement.
Dr Tilley started talking about a visit made to Australia by the newly appointed pope, Pope John Paul II in 1979. He spoke of a newspaper article that talked about the thousands that flocked to the Sydney Cricket Ground and photograph of one lone protester holding the banner "The Pope is the Antichrist and the Mass is Blasphemy". It was a nice rhetorical approach which got the attention of the mostly Catholic audience. Perhaps more startling was the revelation that the protester in that photograph was in fact himself. It turned out that he had come from the ranks of Reformed Presbyterianism and took both his Calvinism and his objection to Catholicism seriously. I was really interested in hearing the story about how these beliefs started capitulating and how he began to become involved and finally gave in to the Church he has previously despised. Unfortunately, that wasn't the tack that he took during his talk which was a bit of a disappointment on a personal level.
The focus on his talk on the nature of individualism and the way that this inevitably led to a consumerist mentality that produced standardisation and conformity. In contrast to this, he talked about the diversity and yet the unity in the Catholic Church. I must admit that I tend to agree on this point. Contrary to the stereotype about Catholicism being a dogmatic and inflexible religion, my experience has been that there seems to be much greater intellectual freedom in Catholicism than pretty much all of Protestantism. Even in Liberal Protestantism, where I would nominally place myself at the moment, there is tremendous pressure to tow the party line, or else face stern criticism. That is, if you don't join the rest of these people and be take the same progressive, supposedly non-comformist stance, then you risk being labelled as just another fundamentalist. It has always impressed me how strongly liberal Catholics can have the freedom to strongly oppose the stance of the Church with respect to homosexuality and yet be archetypically conservative on the issue of abortion. This intellectual freedom seems to translate into the quality of Catholic theology and I've long thought that Protestant theology was generally quite inferior due to the fact it become no more than glorified apologetics because of its defensive nature.
Perhaps one area that I disagreed with Dr Tilley was in respect to Protestant ecclesiology. While it is true that for many Protestant denominations the Church is seen as little more than incidental to one's faith, I believe that the ecclesiology of some Protestant denominations is much more nuanced than Dr Tilley was acknowledging. As much as I dislike to defend Calvin, he himself had much to say about the centrality of the Church and the significance of the community of believers in the context of the Christian faith. At the same time, it is quite true that this ecclesiology in theory does not always translate over neatly in practice.
The natural question that many would ask at this point would be why I am not yet a Catholic if I see myself so closely aligned to Catholic theology. Indeed, a number of people have suggested to me that I am somewhat more Catholic than most Catholics that they know, so what is it that holds me back? I suspect there are a few niggling reasons which warrant more time and energy than I currently have at the moment, but I wish to write an article about "Why I am not yet a Catholic" when I get a chance, as well as "Why I may one day become a Catholic". Stay tuned.