Brandon Vogt—one of the smartest, engaging, and energetic young Catholics out there—has written a new book, “Why I Am Catholic (and You Should Be Too),” that offers his own take on why one should consider the Catholic faith, a take that is aimed directly at the “nones”, the large and growing percentage of mostly young Americans today who tell pollsters that they have no religious preference, and does so in a way that should appeal to a younger audience, characterizing becoming Catholic as a way of “joining the Rebellion”, rather than giving into a massive institution.
I’ll admit it’s a weird decision. It goes against the grain. It’s radical. It is, in a word, rebellious.
In this concise, yet compelling book, Brandon outlines the reasons why anyone seeking the truth should become Catholic, using arguments both old and new. Brandon is an engineer by training and a philosopher by avocation so it’s no surprise that the book and its arguments are laid out in a logical progression, from whether God exists, to the necessity of religion vs. pure spirituality, to the supremacy of Christianity over other religions, to the Catholic Church.
Along the way, he recounts bits and pieces of his own journey from a nominal Protestantism to his discovery of Catholicism in college. However, this is not a memoir. Brandon doesn’t delve into his family life or his emotions and motivations, and doesn’t look deeply into the events and circumstances. Instead, he uses his own experience as a buttress for his arguments, to lend an “I was in your shoes” authenticity to his claims.
Like a good philosopher, Brandon breaks down the argument for Catholicism into three parts: Catholicism is True, it is Good, and it is Beautiful. He notes that while truth is the first and most important quality, the others are harmonious. “If a belief is true, it’s almost always good and beautiful,” he writes and notes that is also the case in other areas, like science, as well.
Truth and Goodness
The section on Truth deals with the conventional arguments about dogma and creeds, like the existence of God, the divinity of Jesus and so on. He covers all the good arguments and while the ground is well-trod, Brandon manages to find some new and unique ways of expressing himself through appealing analogies.
The other sections on Goodness and Beauty are more unconventional, but no less compelling. In the section on Catholicism as good, he looks at how the the Church was the fount of Western civilization’s flowering in four specific ways.
Just four of the many ways Catholicism has shaped our world: science, the university system, charities, and our system of law.
Obviously, there are many more, but these offer some of the best and most convincing arguments. Science, in particular, could only have arisen in the way it has from Christian roots, contrary to the way it is popularly perceived today, because for Catholics even from ancient times, science was a way to understand God through his creation. Many of the great scientists of history were themselves clergy or religious, including Copernicus, Mendel, and Fr. Georges LeMaitre, father of the Big Bang Theory.
Likewise, the Church has contributed to the world by creating universities, by becoming the largest charitable institution in the history of the world (especially in prior ages when caring for the needy was not a virtue), and by creating the modern system of laws based on the Church’s canon law with concepts like the equality of all men.
Catholicism’s Goodness is also found in the attractive witness of the saints and martyrs, pulling out St. Lawrence, St. Damian of Molokai, and St. Theresa of Calcutta as examples; in her rebellious refusal to change teachings that cannot be changed in the face of overwhelming pressure; and in her offering of God’s forgiveness and mercy to the world. This last one may make the greatest impression in some quarters as it is the one thing so sorely lacking in the world today and which so many people are craving: someone to say I love you, you are inherently good, you can be better, let me show you the way. As Brandon writes, “People don’t want mediocrity. All of us—you, me, everyone—we want greatness; we want excellence.” Catholicism is a path to excellence and perfection.
It is also in this section that Brandon deals with the most popular objections to the Church’s teachings, the so-called “pelvic” issues which are at the root of so much rejection of the faith. He deals with it ably here, but there isn’t room in his book to give a full exposition, yet that’s okay because there are plenty of books that do.
Finally, Brandon advances the case for Catholicism through Beauty. He notes the Church’s unusual insistence on the importance of aesthetics and beauty in art, architecture, and music as well as areas like mathematics.
Christians believed that when they studied and applied geometry, whether in mathematics or art, they were tapping into the same underlying structure of reality that God used in Creation. This view bore tremendous fruit in the realm of Renaissance art.
And so beauty is important because it lifts our hearts and minds to God. Even the most hardened atheist can have his breath taken away by a beautiful landscape, a soaring sculpture, or the perfection of their newborn child. They may not be able to identify the source of their wonder, but the source is God. This is what the Church treasures in beauty.
Brandon then moves the discussion of beauty to an unusual place, by finding it in the Church’s teaching on an authentic humanism. Secular humanism credits humanity alone for all great achievement, but a Christian humanism sees man’s harmonious cooperation with God as a kind of symphony at work. And through Christ, our humanity is lifted up, elevated, and divinized, given greater dignity and power and authority than even the secular humanists imagine.
Finally, Brandon finds beauty in the Church’s universality, how her call and appeal crosses all boundaries of race, gender, culture, language, place, and even intellectual mindset. He uses the examples of different kinds of people who can find a home in the Church: the Thinker (with Thomas Aquinas as his example); the Partier (G.K. Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc); the Ordinary Man in the street; the Skeptic, whose doubts are welcomed because the Church isn’t afraid of difficult questions; and the Sinner.
It’s the last two-thirds of the book where Brandon really shines. Like I said, the first section is good and I have no objections, but the content is not original. However, in looking at Goodness and Beauty as arguments for Catholicism, he is quite original among today’s authors.
This is especially important because his audience of millennial “nones” in the age of “fake news” aren’t easily convinced by the old logical arguments anymore. A presentation that is less about intellectual proofs and more about appealing to a sense of good and rightness and beauty may get more traction in this very cynical, distracted age we live in.
If you know a “none” or any millennial, for that matter, Brandon’s book may make an interesting gift to begin a conversation with them and an invitation to reject the Dark Side by joining the Rebellion.