Monday, January 21, 2013

Another Agnes: When a Catholic Friend Becomes an Atheist

Today is St Agnes' Day. Saint Agnes was an early virgin martyr. It brings to mind a very different Agnes in my life. I was teaching at a Catholic university in Europe, and she was a student there. She was sent to the campus by her bishop because she was a rising Catholic star in her formerly communist country. She went to morning prayer, Mass, and evening prayer every day. She always had a rosary in her pocket and prayed it frequently.

So I was surprised when she turned up a bit tipsy at a university dinner. Agnes cornered me and started telling me that God was dead to her. I was shocked and I'm afraid I didn't do much good. All I remember saying is "I love you, Agnes, and so does Jesus." This is probably the last thing she needed to hear while in a spiritual crisis or a depression. 

She then said, "Take this. I don't need it." And she handed me the small icon of Jesus that I keep on my bureau now seventeen years later. 

We haven't kept in touch, but I heard that she became a sister and is working somewhere in Africa. So she was able to find her faith again without my help.

I was checking my comment boxes today and found this one on the last post:

Really considering not believing in God or the Catholic Church anymore.
Made a blog to talk to others about it, if you're interested stop by:

So this blog is a reverse 'conversion diary.' She became an atheist before this past Christmas and is opening up her life to others. I didn't know what to write. I don't know what to say. Sometimes Catholics and other Christians are the worst possible 'advertisement' for Jesus. I hate to sound like a bumper sticker, but we aren't perfect, just redeemed. 

Faith is a gift. We cannot force our faith on others. We cannot convince others that God is real when they don't want Him to be. I could give suggestions like 'just listen to'- but would that help or hinder? I just pray that God reveals Himself to her in a meaningful way and she can find her faith again, like Agnes.


  1. Thanks. I appreciate your words. Ashley

  2. Preoteasa,

    I read the blog (, and I understand the perspective, and I am in many ways very sympathetic.

    One of the concerns that I have for the institutional Church is that it often binds itself to the powerful in society - in the Anglophone world the bishops are often found in political circles. Unfortunately, the bishops and others in the institutional Church appear to be much more concerned about the reputation of the Church and to protect the material interests of the Church. It is a rare bishop (and often saint) who will oppose Caesar and suffer for it - as did our father St John Chrysostom.

    As an outsider, I often find that politics in the US is very polarised and extreme. The impression that I have is that things come in "packages", that choices of Theology are somehow bound to politics. To outsiders, there are almost tribes of Catholics who will not agree on anything. One tribe is the "Conservative" or "Faithful" tribe. They look like:

    a. unreservedly accept all the teaching of the Catholic Church on sacramental and life issues,
    b. love the Pope and the institution of the Church,
    c. be absolutely opposed to contraception, abortion and euthanasia,
    d. either home school or be very supportive of home schooling,
    e. oppose the Democrats,
    f. support the wars in Asia,
    g. support the NRA,
    h. support the death penalty, and
    i. read Ayn Rand and support the plutocratic free market.

    A "Liberal" or "Progressive" tribe also exist. They look like:

    a. reject the plutocratic free market and promote the Church's teaching on Social Justice,
    b. oppose the death penalty,
    c. support gun control,
    d. oppose the wars in Asia,
    e. oppose the Republicans,
    f. support public and parochial schools,
    g. dissent from the Church's teaching on contraception, abortion and euthanasia,
    h. say many negative things about the Pope and his predecessor, and
    i. support women priests and question the reality of the sacraments.

    Yes, these are caricatures: however, I want to illustrate the tribalism that seems to be evident in US Catholicism, or perhaps my American friends. Both are deeply flawed, and do not reflect Orthodox Christian doctrine as I understand it. Some of the difference are driven by the political system in the US, which seems to favour extremism over moderation (just an outsider's perspective).

    Like ashleyjeanlavana I can be opposed to both the war in Afghanistan AND abortion. Yes, all life is precious, and each civilian death is a tragedy. This is why in traditional Christian doctrine, war is seen as evil.

    I can disagree with the bishops, and even the Pope in prudential matters, and still be a good Catholic. For example, I can be angry that the Pope goes to concerts in Rome and sits next to Bernard Cardinal Law, a fugitive from the US justice system. I can express a wish that the Cardinal be extradited to the US, this does not make me a bad or disloyal Catholic.

    In my experience, the different tribe don't talk about the same things: so we should stop considering to which tribe we belong and spend time listening to others and understand that we all want to belong to Christ.

    1. Bear- I agree- we all need to be open to each other...but also assume the best- I wear skirts but not a veil to the Divine Liturgy- so I don't fit in with 'liberals' and I don't fit in with 'traditionals.' Oh well...

    2. I just want to point out that while I agree in general, and even in specific that the Pope certainly shouldn't celebrate Cardinal Law, I disagree that you can support the extradition of Cardinals and not be a disloyal Catholic. The Church is persecuted openly throughout the world, and even in the US (not saying that Law is the victim of this, but it exists and it is foolish to pretend it does not). If the Church submitted its clergy to extradition to any country who wanted to prosecute them, many anti-Catholic countries would try to have priests extradited for crimes such as being more loyal to the Pope than the state, opposing gay marriage, opposing abortion, not believing in Islam, not believing in Hinduism, etc. St. Thomas a Becket was martyred specifically to oppose this point - he believed, and died for the belief, that clergy should not be held accountable in secular courts at all, but in religious ones. We may now allow clergy to stand trial in secular courts, but creating an extradition policy for clergy would be a terrible mistake.

  3. I have known people that have gone from catholicism to aethists and yes it makes me so sad. I think in tyhe past I just spotted trying to make them agree with me and just had the attitude of I will be their friend and maybe through friendship they will change...but it hasn't worked out as I hoped and they are still aetheists...its just so sad to me.

    1. It's so hard to know what to do in this situation- yes, we should remain friends if that does not jeopardize our relationship with Christ- but maybe we can invite them to something that they still agree with (service project, pro-life club?)


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