One of the things I didn’t expect when I became a Catholic was how my “conversion” would bring to light what people really thought of me. And, admittedly, I wasn’t happy with what I learned.
On one occasion a close Protestant friend, whom I hadn’t seen in a long time, tossed out this anticipatory statement: “I’m looking forward to seeing you. I can’t wait to find out what you’ve decided you are this time.” I had a delayed reaction after I hung up the phone of “Hey! Wait a minute!” I wanted to call him back and say in my defense that there has been nothing especially flaky about my Christianity. After getting serious about my faith as a teen, I identified myself as a Baptist for almost 20 years. Then I became Anglican – and remained so for over 15 years. Then I became Catholic, and have been for the past five years. That doesn’t seem flaky to me. Yet all I could think was that this good friend, who I thought knew me well, actually suggested that I was.
Then, on another occasion, this same friend informed me that I’d only become a Catholic because I needed a “father.” “So now you’re surrounded by them!” he said. It was a serious statement. And this same person later suggested that I became a Catholic because I yearned for Authority. So I guess I not only needed a father figure, but an authority figure, and got both in one place. Ummm… okay, sure.
In another discussion he decided he wanted to have Communion with me. When I said that I’d be glad to have bread and wine with him, but couldn’t actually have Communion, he was perturbed. Why not? I explained that we’re not actually in Communion because we don’t agree on what Communion actually is – and it wouldn’t really be Communion for me because the bread and the wine would be just bread and wine. He grew increasingly annoyed and the conversation proved incredibly vexing. At one point, he kept coaxing me to forget my Catholicism and say what I really think about it, as if what I really thought would be different from the Church’s teaching. I concluded that, deep in his heart, he believed that I was merely parroting what I was told to believe and couldn’t possibly believe it for myself.
So, in this friend’s mind, I’m a flaky parrot who has father and authority issues. I honestly had no idea. And I’m glad to finally learn the truth about myself as this friend sees it. And I have other examples from other people, both friends and relatives. It’s been disheartening to think that they thought so little of my intelligence or intentions.
Then I thought about something C.S. Lewis called Bulverism. Bulverism, Lewis wrote in an essay of that name in a book called God In The Dock, is the modern method of argument where one doesn’t have to refute a statement by disproving the statement but by pointing out the reasons why a statement was made. So, in the case of my Catholic faith, my friend didn’t have to argue why my Catholic faith is wrong, he only needs to suggest that I believe what I believe because… well… I’m flaky or in need of something (a father, authority) or that I actually don’t believe what I say I believe. It’s a remarkable diversion and is used everywhere these days, especially when discussing religion, politics, or whatever.
We’re all likely to succumb to Bulverism at one time or another. Especially when the Truth we’re trying to dodge is likely to force us to change – or to consider new possibilities – or to draw different conclusions about our reality. Few of us welcome those kinds of experiences, even if they’re the best things for us.
I sometimes wonder how often I use Bulverisms with God. If not in my words, but in my actions as I come face-to-face with His Truth. Imagine my trying to question His motives in order to duck and dodge. Then I do feel like a flaky parrot with father and authority issues – and lots of other things thrown in. And that’s no Bulverism at all.