10 November 2013

Low water

After that June morning in 1994 I ceased to panic, but I did not cease going over and over the business.  I continued to read everything I could get my hands on.  I re-read my Protestant teachers - Rushdoony, Van Til, Jordan - and others, including the many books sent to me.  I felt they had been misleading me.  Yet I could not sort things out.  Were the Catholic protagonists any different from the Protestant antagonists?  Were their arguments simply more special pleading?  Every man's case seems convincing until you read his opponents.

June passed into July.  We were beginning to be concerned, at the University, about computer security.  There was to be a two-day training programme in Wellington on methods of monitoring network traffic, and my boss wanted me to go.  I have never been keen on travel - but our close friends from Pukekohe - I am a little dubious about mentioning names here but my children will know who I mean when I say their surname began with the letter 'C' - lived in Wellington.  I could fly down on the Monday and stay with them.  The course took place on Tuesday and Wednesday 26 and 27 July, 1994, so I would fly back on Wednesday.

Friday I browsed in the Catholic books in the University library, wondering what book or books to take with me for reading whilst on the 'plane, or at my friends' house.  I had never heard of Ronald Knox, but here was a book by him called The Belief of Catholics.  I would take that.

I almost skipped the first four chapters.  I knew all this stuff - why believe in God, why believe in Jesus - the basics.  I decided I would read everything.  I was stunned by what I found.  I was liberated.

Since I had become a Reformed Christian I had been taught in the Van Tillian presuppositionalist school that it was not possible to present evidences for the existence of God - indeed, to present evidences for the truth of the Christian - and Reformed! - religion.  More radically, any attempt to do so proceeded necessarily from a desire to hide from God.  The presupposition of all thought was the truth of (Reformed, forsooth!) Christianity.  Without that, thinking was not possible.  I recall, in 1984, asking my minister how we knew what the canon of Scripture (the list of books that are truly part of the Bible) was.  He thought for a moment, then said that it had to be presupposed.

Knox's first four chapters led me through the classical Thomistic Five Proofs for the existence of God.  I felt, for the first time, that I did not simply have to make a leap in the dark - fideistic act of the will, not based on any reason whatever.

There is a sense in which Van Til is right.  If God - the God of the Bible, the God of faith, the real God - did not exist, there would, indeed, be no possibly of thought on our part.  What caused me to stumble was the fact that I, a finite and incarnate intellect, needed to approach the knowledge of that through my experience - ultimately through my senses.  There is no other way for me to know that or anything else.

For several years our daughters Helen and Adele had played in the pit orchestra for musical plays put on by the Pukekohe Light Opera Company.  Once Adele, and once Eddie, had acted in plays as well.  Bill Chessum - still around and attending all the Manukau Symphony's concerts, though in a wheelchair from his stroke some years ago - had auditioned Helen years before and we as a family had been very much connected with the PLOC.  A show was coming up and I was to play the horn part in it.  That same Wednesday evening there was a rehearsal.  Sue was to pick me up at the airport, with my horn and music in the car, and drop me at rehearsal.

I had read Knox's book at my friends' house, almost finishing it.  We took off from Wellington airport late in the afternoon.  As we gained altitude (and the cabin pressure dropped), my badly-plugged sinuses - the same problem that had been part of my panic the month before - cleared.  I knew I would be experiencing pain as we descended.  Nevertheless, I was less concerned with that than with what was happening to me in my mind and heart.  Shortly after takeoff I finished the book.  I sat for a few moments in silence - but I knew that I was undone.  I recall praying these words: "Oh my God, I will never dot every 'i' and cross every 't' in this business - but I know enough now to know that if You told me that I was to die tonight, I would want to find a priest.  I do not want to offend You, and I believe You are leading me.  If You do not stop me, I am going to become a Catholic."

I came out of the terminal and Sue was there to meet me.  I said nothing.  She looked at me and said, "You've decided, haven't you?"  I replied, "Yes."  She said, "You're going to do it, aren't you?"  "Yes."

I think that was the lowest point in the whole process.  My heart felt like a stone in me.  I did not know what I was getting myself in for.  I felt that I was betraying my family, my friends, my Reformed minister.

I have thought since that it was ironic that the music we were playing - the show we were going to put on - was Rodgers and Hammerstein's The King and I.

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