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Smarty Pants Converts: A Book Review

A book review of "Mind, Heart, & Soul: Intellectuals and the Path to Rome"

· Book Review

So the reason I got started on this project of sharing the connection between science and religion is because I spend a good amount of time volunteering with youth ministry at my local parish. I run the 11th grade program, but I also help with a lot of retreats and camps and things like that so I interact with high schoolers of all ages. In my years of doing that I’ve noticed 2 things:

1. Teens are really smart.

A lot of youth groups have really cookie cutter programs that don’t treat the teens like an individual human being; they treat them like just another number, gotta get them in and get them through. Like cattle, We’ve got a big herd this year! Gotta get that brand on them (confirmation) and then send them off to slaughter. (the real world when they don’t actually know anything about the decision they just made)  and the teens HATE IT! They have super deep and pressing questions about life and the faith if we would just talk to them. They challenge me ALL THE TIME, but it's because they know I actually care about where they’re personally at in their faith journey.

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2. The majority are borderline atheists or at least agnostic

I think this is because they haven’t been taught the full truth (or at least not well) and so they don’t think this is the religion for them.

So every year when I get a new “batch” of students I feel like it’s my mission to educate them enough on the questions they’re asking that maybe I can convert them from atheist/agnostic to considering being Catholic. They’re all a bunch of little wannabe converts waiting to happen! Yes, even if they were born into a nominally Catholic family.

So when I heard about the book, “Mind, Heart, & Soul: Intellectuals and the path to Rome” I was PUMPED! Here is this book about very smart people who chose to convert to Catholicism. My brain instantly was like, YES! GIVE ME THE SECRETS! WHAT IS THE KEY TO CONVERTING SMART PEOPLE!?! Well, it’s not that. But it’s still a good book and still a fun read. Here are some of my take aways.

1. Almost all of the people interviewed in this book had a conversion story that included a lot of reading and searching. They read a lot of books by Church fathers and doctors of the Church. But along with that, they read a lot of famous philosophers from throughout the centuries. As someone who works with teens, most of them don’t like to read… so this revelation was frustrating. I know there’s a saying of how evangelization shouldn’t be just throwing the Bible at people’s heads, but I feel like I now need to throw a copy of Mere Christianity or Confessions at their heads in order for them to come around. That sounds like a lawsuit waiting to happen so maybe I’ll try something else. A copy of the Summa Theologica chucked at someone with the strength of my ex-high school softball player’s arm would definitely do some damage.

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2. Even though these men and women are intellectuals, only 1 of the 16 was a scientist. As a scientist who faces a decent amount of push back from colleagues and students about my faith, I was really hoping to hear from a few more of them rather than some philosophers/theologians/lawyers. This was a big let down since the whole reason I got and read the book was because it was promoted by the Society of Catholic Scientists. They were touting it because one of the society’s leaders is an author of the book. Then I realized this man, Robert P. George, isn’t a scientist either. He’s a lawyer. Why in the world is he a leader of the Society of Catholic Scientists?? I don’t get it. People already know that philosophers and theologians love the Catholic faith; if I were someone else I might think this was further proof that in the intellectual realm, they couldn't find any scientists that had converted and that paints a terrible picture.

3. The University of Kansas forms great disciples! As an alumna of this glorious university (ROCK CHALK!) I was so pumped to see that the very first chapter was about Bishop Conley who is the bishop of Lincoln, Nebraska but attended KU. Honestly, his was my favorite chapter to read and not just because of his choice of school. He was warm and open and had good insight into a variety of topics along his conversion. Other than the scientist, he was the only one who was asked by their interviewer about natural sciences. Bonus: He had a great answer to the question too!

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4. The format of an interview for each chapter made it a very easy read. The back and forth prevented the feeling of long monologues or rants. It was also neat that they had a different interviewer for each interviewee. I felt like this added to the ease of reading because it wasn’t the same style of interview for each chapter. It kept things fresh. There was definitely one or two of the interviewers that were rough. I wouldn’t have made it through the whole book if they had interviewed everyone.

All around I really liked this book. It wasn’t what I expected, but it had some great insights into how people work. It was also interesting to learn what are some of the most appealing qualities of the Catholic Church to intellectual people. This idea that I’ve been getting at, how there is only one truth in the world, was a common theme. These people kept searching for truth and a lot of them tried multiple different religions or even a lack of religion. None of it made sense, none of it seemed like a complete truth except for the Catholic faith, and I can relate. As a cradle Catholic I don’t have a conversion story, but I am in awe of how the deeper I go into the teachings of the Catholic faith, the more beautiful it all becomes. When I search, I find the truth.

I encourage all of you to read this book. If you are struggling in your faith it might give you some ideas of where to look for more knowledge. If you are a teacher of the faith, it might help you to understand the thoughts of those you teach who haven’t yet made their conversion. OR if you’re a teacher or someone who feels solid in your Catholic knowledge, it might give you some ideas of books you haven’t read but probably should! I know it did that for me. There were plenty big names like Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, and C.S. Lewis, but there were ones I hadn’t even thought about reading like Thomas Merton. So check it out. I think it’s a useful read for anyone, no matter where you are in your faith journey.