Testimony Part I: Richard Smith

13 April 2020


My spiritual journey started after I started studying at University. I grew up in a non-religious household that didn’t talk about religion much. Until I started a politics course in my first year at University, I hadn’t explored the topic of religion or asked myself many of the big questions. At university after studying political theory, particularly after learning of Plato’s allegory of the cave, my mind was opened and I started trying to make sense of the bigger questions.

My journey to the Church didn’t come overnight. I was baptised age 23, so spent around 5 years thinking of the big questions, and actually took a swing in the opposite direction, identifying as an atheist and even anti-theist before starting the steps toward to find out more about Christianity.

If I were to speak of the different stages in my journey to the faith, I would say that at University I had gained a consciousness of something bigger than normal life. Given that I found my time at the London School of Economics was intellectually intense with my studies, I didn’t let myself have much time to think about topics not related to my degree in Accounting and Finance.

After I graduated in 2015, I felt the need to ascertain my political beliefs. At the time, I remember a lot of my friends being well versed in politics and it frustrated me that I didn’t know much about the topic. Over the next year or so after graduating from University, I dedicated a lot of my spare time to researching politics in a broad sense, and largely speaking, my beliefs settled around some form of conservatism to sum them up.

Around 2016, I took quite a keen amateur interest in political debating. There were a number of Facebook groups dedicated to debating politics which I would describe as being my battleground or training ground for ironing out my social beliefs. This is distinctly separate from my more higher level political leanings that I had settled upon in the preceding year. Social beliefs in this sense meant finding closure about my stances to topics like what cultural manifestations I admire, my stances on topics like the importance of marriage, the value of pursuing virtue etc.

It was through debating politics that I came to be critical of abortion.

I came to realise that I had, by default, become rather liberal with my beliefs upon entering University, as I was thrown into an environment with people from all sorts of backgrounds and wanted to be nice and understanding to everybody. After having acclimatised to being around people with varying differences (I grew up in a small village in rural Worcestershire), at some stage I came across the realisation that I can disagree with other people’s beliefs (or perhaps more specifically, I could say that I thought that other people’s beliefs are wrong, which is a major heresy in contemporary liberalism’s books).

This sounds obvious, but my thought process had become so relativist that everyone's own personal truths seemed paramount and so it was rude or simply inappropriate to disagree with people about many topics and that other people should be left to their own. Everything came down to personal choice, irrespective of the fact that you had competing truths.

After my mind started to recognise that moral relativism isn’t just a false, feel-good dogma but actively deleterious to the objective truths, I started trying to understand the adverse arguments to many of the stances I had adopted by default from 'the culture’s' mainstream narrative such as that abortion should be supported for the reason that it is simply a matter of personal choice of the woman in question.

In particular, there were several agents to my red-pilling towards being socially conservative; which is what I consider to be the precursor in my journey to discovering the Church.

One such agent was Ben Shapiro’s videos on YouTube, who completely destroyed my naïve, emotion-based neutrality towards abortion, undercutting notions like the idea of abortion being a ‘human right’ of the pregnant mother because human rights of one person cannot impede upon another’s, and that 98% of scientists believe that human life starts at conception. One of the more poignant opinion-changers was the brutal but honest statement Ben made that it is completely inhumane and illogical to think it is acceptable to stick a needle through the skull of an unborn baby and inject it with poison, and furthermore to consider this 'healthcare' or a 'human right' from the perspective of the mother, with no understanding that there is more than just one human in this equation.

It was this realisation about how brutal abortion is that made me connect with many Catholics in debating forums, who seemed to be at the forefront of debates about abortion.

Having established myself around 2017 to be socially conservative, it became increasingly strange to have so many of the same beliefs as Catholics in these forums as an atheist, and to perhaps be the only non-Catholic in a forum arguing that abortion is evil. It was this kind of a turning point that turned my attention towards religion.

Going backwards a step, I considered myself to be an atheist at University, and became very interested in what prominent atheists like Richard Dawkins (I actually met him in person at an event in London!) had to say about religion. I read many of the atheist books like The God Delusion.

My interest peaked in the summer of 2017 where I attended the British Humanist Association’s (BHA’s) Annual Conference in Cambridge. This consisted of a series of talks, mainly about science but also talks were critical of religion. The BHA conference of 2017 was a big turning point for me away from atheism, for the simple reason that I found the Humanist movement to be as dogmatic as they criticise religions for being. One of the speakers made a comment to the effect that, "Brexit was objectively a mistake" (I don’t mean to side-line into politics here, but this highlighted the antipathy towards dissent, which for me is a crucial factor in putting me off Humanism), which got a round of applause from the audience.

One of the main reasons I was attracted to Humanism, the global secular movement that purportedly aims to favour using the scientific method to understand the world, is that having grown up as the son of a physicist I rather like the idea of discovering the world by applying the logic of the scientific method.

I recognised that there are questions to which there are definite answers, such as where mathematical proofs are involved, and that there are areas where it is not possible to ‘prove’ the correct answer (this may be due to value judgements being involved, or where the very nature of the question prohibits definite answers e.g. metaphysics). The idea that we should use reason to discern many things in life is an attribute of Humanism that I continue to agree with, though I could not be part of a movement that was so opposed to dissent where value judgements are required.

Furthermore, there was a stand by an abortion provider that was advocating for abortion up until birth for any reason and without medical support, which not just shocked me given that Humanism purportedly cares for human life; but this seemed to be actively immoral and made me feel very distant to the Humanist movement (particularly as the organisation hosting this event was a representative body for Humanists in the UK!) to say the least.

The next step of my journey was to try and re-define Humanism, or at least to try and understand it more deeply in order to find a form of it which I did agree with; given that I believed that aspects of the religion (if you consider it to be as such, as seems to increasingly be the case) were useful and were worth living my life by, yet based on my experience the Humanist movement wasn’t something that I could get behind for the reasons explained above.

I started writing a book that was outlining the principles of Humanism, which is a collection of various viewpoints of different thinkers. There is no central book, or Bible equivalent, in Humanism; and many of the books that summarise it are so high-level they are almost meaningless in the context of providing guidance as to how you can apply it as a way of life.

The more I researched Humanism, and how it is a movement that arose in response to the perceived shortfalls of Christianity, the more I came to realise I didn’t actually understand what Humanism was responding to.

This was what prompted me to, in addition to dedicating much time to reading up on the topic, show up one day in January 2018 for a church service at my nearest Catholic church.

I chose a Catholic church for the reason that at the time, I thought it was the purest form of Christianity that had not been watered down or inappropriately changed for reasons (such as political convenience or in response to social changes) that would prevent me from being able to believe in their doctrine. The intended purpose of me visiting was to understand more about what I disagreed with in order to confirm that.

On the day I turned up to Mass, I sat through the whole service, confused but mesmerised with what was going on ...

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