The story of how and why I became a Catholic began in September 1960, while watching the summer Olympics on TV at my Aunt Eva and Uncle Charles Malik’s home in Hanover, NH. Uncle Charles, a professor of philosophy at the American University of Beirut, was spending his sabbatical year at Dartmouth, and my own family had just arrived in Albany, NY, from Lebanon a month earlier, with plans to make America our new home.
I was fifteen years old at the time and completely in awe of my uncle, who had been a student of Alfred North Whitehead at Harvard and the German philosopher Martin Heidegger at the University of Freiburg. Together with Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt, he had co-drafted the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and he had just completed his tenure as the elected president of the United Nations General Assembly.
As my brothers and I watched the Olympics on television, Uncle Charles came into the room and asked us if we knew about the ancient Greek origins of the Olympics. We didn’t, and he proceeded to tell us about ancient Greek civilization.
It was an interesting conversation, but my brothers soon returned their attention to the TV. I, on the other hand, was fascinated, and when Uncle Charles left the room to go back to his study, I followed him. I told him that I wanted to know more about the ancient Greeks, so he gave me books by Aristotle and Plato, explaining that they were the greatest philosophers in the history of Western civilization.
Uncle Charles was particularly fond of Aristotle and said that if Aristotle had lived after the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, he may well have adopted a Judeo-Christian viewpoint or even become a Christian, due to his postulation of the existence of a Prime Mover, similar to the Judeo-Christian belief in one God. This argument was a bold and daring one for Aristotle, as he lived in a polytheistic culture.
I read every one of the books Uncle Charles gave me. They engaged my mind and my imagination, and I continued to read further and deeper in the field of philosophy. I eventually came across the works of Thomas Aquinas, the great Catholic theologian who brilliantly drew on the Greek philosophers such as Aristotle to enrich Judeo-Christian theology. I became particularly interested in Aquinas’s discourse on the nature and existence of God and how it related to Aristotle’s construct of “Prime Mover” or the “Unmoved Mover.”
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