Erstwhile atheist blogger Leah Lebresco is a profound and engaging thinker whose writing I had been following for a short while. She and my daughter were college classmates, graduating last May, and I used to enjoy her opinion pieces in the Yale Daily News. In recent months she has been holding forth in "Unequally Yoked," her blog devoted mostly to discussions of atheism and morality--until this past Monday, that is, when she announced she had converted to Catholicism. Of all things.
In reaction to this inexplicable turn, a humanist blogger at "Temple of the Future" has written, " . . . religions offer a vast range of resources to assist people who are grappling with just the sort of ethical, philosophical and existential questions which Libresco is struggling with. It is surely significant that at the moment of her conversion she immediately began to pray, using the liturgical resources of the Catholic Church to support her transition in belief.
"To an extent, then, I think Humanists need to consider whether we are in part responsible for losing people like Leah Libresco. If we want to keep intellectually honest, morally engaged people committed to Humanist principles, we need to engage more energetically and more publicly with moral and ethical questions. and provide resources for those who are profoundly committed to seeking moral truth. Otherwise, we run the risk of losing more to the Catholics."
I don't know about that. Leah has been searching for a logic of morality. She can't accept, it seems, that there may not be one. On Facebook, when I wrote her in January to say, " . . . with respect to your attachment to the notion of objective morality, you'll be interested in checking in now and then with Jerry Coyne, whose Web site has a considerable--and articulate--following. (Russell Blackford and Ophelia Benson are strong in this area as well), she replied, "I'm always confused by the idea that morality is the result of an evolutionary process. Evolution tends to preserve stable local optima, but it doesn't have an orientation toward ethics. To wit: the courtship-by-infanticide model is stable for gorillas, even though it is horrific. But by evolutionary metrics, that's all that's required." Over at Blag Hag, Jen has written, addressing Leah, "I’m seriously disappointed. Of all religions to join, you choose Catholicism? One of the most despicable, nonsensical, homophobic, misogynistic religions on the planet? Because of its system of morality? I could understand saying you’re converting to deism or unitarianism or maybe even buddhism, but Catholicism?" That's my feeling, too, but this one comes as a shock, and as you can imagine the Catholics are delighted, applauding her for "coming home," even though her New York cultural tradition is secular (Jewish). Ah well. This is altogether bewildering to me. And the reaction to this perverse turn among other like-minded bloggers has been strong. Even MSNBC has felt moved to weigh in with a news piece, "Atheist blogger Leah Libresco converts to Christianity," where this quote appears: "I believed that the Moral Law wasn’t just a Platonic truth, abstract and distant. It turns out I actually believed it was some kind of Person, as well as Truth. And there was one religion that seemed like the most promising way to reach back to that living Truth."
Over at Big Think, Adam Lee has posted some excellent "Questions for Leah Libresco." I have the same questions.
Glad you brought this up Don.
Perhaps she'll eventually figure how much hypocrisy is wrapped with her newly adopted Catholic morality. She might become tired of explaining away all the nonsense that necessarily follows from medieval "objective morality." Or maybe she'll learn about bonobos...
I wonder if she became anti-choice with her conversion.
I do not know her at all but I disagree with immediately looking towards a failure in the humanist community; there are TONS of blogs, web sites (including our own little group) where there are infinite resources to satisfy any intellectual appetite. If Leah is upset because gorillas commit infanticide, then she needs to come a long way intellectually and emotionally, in order to be able to deal with the world. Interestingly, the Bible has plenty of instances of infanticide, even at massacre level. I wonder if she even read the Bible in detail. She probably feels comforted by prayer like so many people are, it soothes some need that she currently has. I respect her needs as a human being (must be my atheist morality) but I do not respect her ideas. She's just a kid and I'm not sure why everyone is making such a big deal of an atheist converting to some religion or either. It happens every once in a while. Fortunately in statistical terms the opposite is much, much more frequent.
Perhaps also she'll just grow up.
Yeah, that's what I meant by "she's just a kid." I did not want to sound patronizing but from remembering my 21-22 year old self, I was by all "common" standards learned, educated, and an intellectual, but you sure learn a thing or two after a lot of water has run under your bridges :-)
Very well said, Michel.
She anthropomorphised the gorillas behaviour and they have their on set of behaviours that are different to ours and we at the moment do not really understand the gorilla's behaviour if at all.
As you said Adriana she is young. She has a lot to learn yet about herself and the world she exists in. Given time to grow and acceptance as a human being she'll find who she really is.
I don't believe "we" have failed Leah Libresco. If anyone has failed Leah it is Leah herself.
While I admire and respect her ability to navigate her way through these complex ideas / problems (and her ability to articulate that navigation very well), her leap into the arms of Catholic "morality" is, obviously, a failure both philosophically and - to those of us who have schooled ourselves in the depravities of the Magisterium's (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magisterium) madnesses - morally.
It is sad to see an intelligent young woman embrace the nonsense that is Catholicism's "morality", but it is her failure to see that nonsense for what it is, not that of the humanist / secular / atheist community.
Yes, I think that's right. As Adam Lee suggests, the questions of what ideas and beliefs Leah is now openly embracing are many. I suppose she will address theses questions in her new blog, as her journey proceeds. Leah is "still a kid," sure, and a brilliant, aggressive thinker, as well as a careful, well informed writer. Of course, as Jen suggests, she knew she was bound to make a big splash with such a radical about-face, and that by itself was probably something of a goad and inspiration.
Right, Keely, that's how I feel. I have enough trouble trying to figure out why so many apparently intelligent, worldly people insist on their belief in all the wacky tenets of Catholicism. Trying to understand why an articulate atheist, one who was raised in a secular household, would declare her conversion to Catholicism is just too much. The rebellious impulses of impetuous youth (as when the school principal's daughter goes Goth) don't begin to explain it for me.
From the CNN writeup of her conversion
Libresco, who had long blogged under the banner “Unequally Yoked: A geeky atheist picks fights with her Catholic boyfriend,” said that at the heart of her decision were questions of morality and how one finds a moral compass.
“I had one thing that I was most certain of, which is that morality is something we have a duty to,” Libresco told CNN in an interview this week, a small cross dangling from her neck. “And it is external from us. And when push came to shove, that is the belief I wouldn’t let go of. And that is something I can’t prove.”
Yes, we all have a duty or a good tendency to morality but that is something we have developed over hundreds of millions of years as social animals. You don't need to be a Catholic to follow the Golden Rule.