My friend Peter Escalante directed my attention to this fantastic quote by Max Scheler:
“Even after his conversion, the true ‘apostate’ is not primarily committed to the positive contents of his new belief and to the realization of its aims. He is motivated by the struggle against the old belief and lives on for its negation. The apostate does not affirm his new convictions for their own sake; he is engaged in a continuous chain of acts of revenge against his own spiritual past. In reality he remains a captive of this past, and the new faith is merely a handy frame of reference for negating and rejecting the old. As a religious type, the apostate is therefore at the opposite pole from the ‘resurrected,’ whose life is transformed by a new faith which is full of intrinsic meaning and value.”
–Max Scheler, Ressentiment
Escalante referred to it as “convertitis.” I think all of us have seen it at some point. And I do mean all of us. Obviously, it’s easy to spot the college-atheist in this picture. Walk into any classroom and you shall know him by his vocal unbelief, and obvious intellectual superiority to the superstitious, sky-fairy worshippers. He believes in #science, Reason™, and “Tolerance” of all views and lifestyles he deems progressive enough.
But that kind of convertitis isn’t the only type out there. Growing up in the Church, I’ve seen sufferers of all stripes. I knew one pastor who regularly railed on his former Roman Catholicism and its superstitions and works-righteousness with a bit more gusto than his praising of grace and justification by faith. I think the first time I consciously noticed the phenomenon of “convertitis”, though, was observing Evangelical friends converting to other iterations of Christianity.
Fed up with some of the anti-intellectualism, or looking for deeper roots, they either swim the Tiber or make for the Eastern Orthodox faith. There they find “real” life, rich tradition, and a nuanced approached that their youth-group Evangelicalism never could offer them, because Protestantism just can’t pull off deep, traditioned, intellectually-sustainable faith. Plus, sola scriptura is a chimera because communal interpretation, hermeneutics, and so forth. Roughly.
Admittedly, there are real theological issues to be parsed. One thing that struck me, though, was how often these conversions involved an attitude of scorning disparagement of the wing of the Christian family that included their parents, Sunday School teachers, and pretty much everyone else who loved them enough to share Jesus with them and put up with their adolescent foolishness. Obviously this was not all of them, and even the ones who were have moved on, but this wasn’t a side-phenomena, but a central feature.
In retrospect, some of this is what I suspect I was getting at when I wrote that piece on the Progressive-Evangelical package. While I think most of it was on point, one element I didn’t address was how much the phenomenon of convertitis is at play in the way various doctrinal stances are taken. Many positions are taken negatively instead of positively, and much of the ethos is one of rejection, rebellion, and negation.
Of course, having moved into the Reformed tradition, it’s not hard to search about and find Calvinistic iterations of the same thing. You can find that Reformed type who is more concerned with not being the sort of traditionless, generic, Evangelical he was raised to be, than resting in the assurance the doctrines he’s come to embrace. In other words, instead of feasting in communion with Christ at the Lord’s Supper, she’s more concerned with the mere memorialism going on down the street at the independent “community” church. The focus is not the positive view we’ve moved towards, but rather rejoicing in our superiority to what we’ve left.
I end with that last version on purpose. Readers of this blog generally tend to be of the Reformed Evangelical persuasion, so I don’t want to point out the phenomenon simply so that we might pat ourselves on the back about “their” sufferers of convertitis. Rather, I hope we may take this as a warning for ourselves.
It’s one thing to celebrate some of the riches of the Reformed, or simply Evangelical and Christian, tradition that you’ve come into from some other wing of things. It is another to live a life fixated on rejecting what came before it. Instead, set yourself the task of cultivating a rich, joyful, celebratory stance. The gospel of a gracious salvation in Christ is good news, and Reformed theology with all of its depth and history exists highlight that fact. What a terrible shame it is for people to only know what we are against, instead of what we are for.
Let’s not cultivate “apostate” spirits, but resurrected ones, for that is what we have received in union with Christ.
Soli Deo Gloria