I’m reading a piece about discourse and persuasion in the Atlantic, and my attention is snagged by a peripheral point.
A friend taught me this.
He’s an orthodox Catholic. I am not. I went to 14 years of Catholic school and decided that it wasn’t for me. As you can imagine, I’ve heard all the arguments for Catholicism. So when my friend, Nick, argues with me about Catholic doctrine, he is very unlikely to persuade me of anything. But Nick happens to be one of the best people I know. Even though I don’t have faith in the same things that he does, I see how his faith makes him a better person. I see how he makes the world a better place, and how his belief system drives him to do it. And whenever I think about Nick, I think to myself, you know, I disagree with the Catholic faith on a lot of particulars, but there must be nuggets of truth within it if it inspires people like Nick to be this good. It makes me so much more open to the notion that I can learn something from the Catholic faith—just as the molestation scandal took a lot of people and closed them off to the idea that Catholics had anything to teach them.
I don’t think that’s it. I don’t think there are any nuggets of truth in the religion (or “faith”) itself. I think it’s rather that people think the whole thing is about goodness, so they are drawn to the church for that reason, so there are good people in it. I think that’s really what inspires people like that. The author (Conor Friedersdorf) says it is “his belief system [that] drives him to do it” and it’s his story not mine, so he would know better than I would…But I think he might be misidentifying the source. I think it’s not so much the belief system or putative nuggets of truth in the belief system, but the beliefs about the system and the institution – that it’s where especially good people belong.