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I Knew It When I Saw It

My friend (and fellow TCT contributor) Michael Pakaluk recently published a column here titled “Yes, I’d Become Catholic Again.” It got me thinking about my own decision at age 25 to enter (and remain in) the Catholic faith.

I was what you might charitably call an Augustinian youth. The reference is to the great Church Father and author of The Confessions, who, though born to a Christian mother, remained unbaptized until his conversion at the age of 33. Augustine’s account of his life (and sins) is vivid, although possibly defined to some extent by what’s left out. Anyway, he was a pagan with a vengeance – until he wasn’t.

The same may be said of me only more so, even though I was baptized as an infant.

For me, the summum bonum of life, from my teens until I entered the Church, is best captured in the phrase made famous by Alexandre Dumas: Cherchez la femme.

My father was a marketing professor at Ohio State, appreciated by his male students for “teaching Playboy.” From an academic point of view, my dad was fascinated by the success of Hugh Hefner’s magazine and business model. He read Hefner’s “The Playboy Philosophy” series (1962-65), treating Hef’s libertarian nattering as a modern version of Epicurus. My father bought copies of the magazine on the newsstand, and when he’d finished his study of each issue, he’d squirrel them away, out of sight of his teenage son, in a hamper my mother had covered with an attractive floral fabric.

But there was no lock on the hamper, so I was “reading” the magazine from age 15.

To be fair to Dr. Miner, his interest in Playboy wasn’t so much in Hefner’s views on “sexual liberation” and his rejection of the “Puritan Ethic” – about which Hef fairly obsessed – as with the role the “philosophy” played in helping create moral and legal space for his magazine empire.

Thus, Dad was fascinated by the then-recent SCOTUS case, Jacobellis v. Ohio, in which a theater owner who’d exhibited a French film was exonerated of obscenity charges. Justice Potter Stewart’s concurrence included the famous (or infamous) quotation: “I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within. . .[a] shorthand description [of obscenity]; and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it.” All the justices primly agreed “hard-core pornography” could never be condoned. Right . . .

I’d actually come to believe in God before I became Catholic. I’d been through Methodist Sunday school and confirmation, but – though I had affection for Jesus – I found church boring, although I read the Bible and found it fascinating. Despite what I believed were its ridiculous stories of nearly thousand-year-old people and a man risen from the grave, the Good Book still seemed possessed of a compelling authority.

Read more at The Catholic Thing

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