To change one’s religion is to change one’s world. Religion embraces more than the ideas of the narrative dimension; it establishes principles (ethical dimension). Religious conversion is an influential change in one’s way of living that comprises an identity shift. The convert establishes a reformed identity based on one’s personal experience (experiential dimension). To convert is to reidentify, alter, re-establish and acquire. In order to convey the effects religious conversion partakes, this essay will envelop the religious conversion of Scott Hanh, and the profound influence it had towards his identity and world.
An individual’s perception can change profoundly. Thus, they will encounter new ways of living and being; and with that altered perception there is a rebirth, the beginning of a reformed religious identity establishes. This is soulfully portrayed in Scott Hanh’s conversion story. Scott Hanh, a baptised Presbyterian, converted to Catholicism. Scott Hanh’s social context at the time, formed his views on varied religions- this mainly comprising Hanh in being an anti-Catholic Protestant minister. However, Scott states that religion and Church played a minimal role in his life (Hanh, 2016, p.12). Thus, Hanh expresses his lack of religious fulfilment and understanding in his life. However, like all individuals, Hanh had questions in which his Church and religion were not able to fulfil. Due to this, Hanh lost his desire to find value in finding faith, and most importantly, having faith. Individuals are always seeking to find methods in which enable them to fit in; attempting to establish and develop one’s identity. As an adolescent, Hanh had questions in which he demanded to find truth in. With the influence of Catholic adherents, as he called peers, Hanh attempted to study scripture (doctrinal dimension) in context of the covenants. The covenants are the backbone towards the biblical metanarrative (Gentry & Wellum, 2015, p.8). As Hanh (2016) states, “I was convinced that the key to understanding the Bible was the idea of the covenant.” One cannot comprehend and respect scripture, and put together theological ideologies from scripture, without understanding how biblical covenants clarify over time and find their purpose (telos) and fulfilment in Christ (Gentry & Wellum, 2015, p.8). Through this, Hanh came across misconceptions within Protestant theology in which his Church, community, Protestant Scripture (Sola Scriptura) and Protestant faith (Sola Fides) could not clarify.
The continual clarification the biblical covenants illustrated, enabled Hanh in establishing a connection towards Catholic teaching. Thus, through Hanh’s study, or as he stated, “detective work” (Hanh, 2016, p.12), he found answers in Catholic teaching. Before Hanh’s commencement of college, his peers at the time wanted to re-establish a connection with God. To his peers, it required the sacrament of Baptism. However, much to Hanh’s developed knowledge and connection to scripture, he could not comprehend the reason in being rebaptised. His peers expressed the lack of awareness infants do not have when they are baptised, in which, they lack the ability to actively and socially comprehend the significance of the sacrament of Baptism. Through the study of the covenant, Hanh found one thing to be clear. God proclaimed to adherents that he wanted their infants to be in covenant with him, in which is done by giving infants a sign of the covenant. As part of the Old Testament, this fulfilment was through circumcision; whereas, Christ reformed this to Baptism in the New Testament (Hanh, 2016, p. 26). “Let the children come to me, do not hinder them; for such belongs to the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 19:14). With his profound biblical research, Hanh went forth to discuss his findings with his peers…
They didn’t want to hear it- much less discuss it. In fact, I sensed that they felt uncomfortable with me even studying the issue. I made two discoveries that day. For one thing, I learned that so-called Bible Christians prefer to base their beliefs on feelings, without praying and thinking through Scripture. For another, I discovered that the covenant was really the key for unlocking the whole Bible (Hanh, 2016, p.27).
Scott Hanh makes an avid reference to those who call themselves Bible Christians. It made him ponder the rationality and awareness Christians have toward their religion. Thus, Hanh found truth in the biblical covenant through scripture, in which one cannot comprehend God’s liberating promise. Through Hanh’s continual devotion in studying scripture, he found himself steering towards Orthodoxy. However, unlike the Catholic church (social dimension), he could not find unity within the Orthodox community. To continue his experiential journey within the Catholic community, Hanh starts to find meaning in praying the rosary, in which he starts to attend Mass prominently. Much to Hanh’s interest, he appreciates the manner in which Catholic teaching in Mass is meaningful created with scripture references. It was through this; Scott Hanh knew where he wanted to develop and clarify his identity- Hanh converts to Catholicism.
Conversion is a cultural passage. Possibly experimental at first, it then becomes a deliberate change with definite direction and shape. It shows itself responsive to particular knowledge and practices. Scott Hanh felt the need to convert as he believed he found unity, within the social dimension, and truth, within the doctrinal dimension, in the Catholic Church. Hanh quotes, “All of a sudden, the Roman Catholic Church that I opposed seemed to be coming up with the right answer on one thing after another, much to my shock and dismay” (Hanh, 2016, p.46). Thus, to continue true to his devotion, he converted to Catholicism. Hanh unveiled his connection towards Catholic teachings (ethical dimension) from his own studies of Biblical scripture, in which he comprehended there was a church teaching he believed and found enriched value in. Hanh quotes, “As I dug deeper into my study, a disturbing pattern began to emerge: the novel ideas I thought I had discovered had actually been anticipated by the early Church Fathers” (Hanh, 2016, p.44). Hanh’s attendance and participation in Mass (ritual dimension) had a profound impact towards his decision to convert. After all, Mass encompassed the divine nature of scripture in ways Hanh found resonance in. After all, the covenant bestows God’s aspiration to initiate a personal connection with men and women adherents. This is echoed in the recurrent covenant (Gentry & Wellum, 2015, p.8), “I will be your God and you will be my people” (Exodus 6:6-8). Hence, through the doctrinal, narrative and ritual dimensions of the Catholic Church, Hanh identified the authentic and unified nature all adherents shared in common (social and ethical dimension). In order to convert, Hanh had to receive each sacrament of initiation.
Monsignor listened to my long theological odyssey. Being trained theologian himself, he could appreciate the study and struggle. He let me know there would be no obstacle to my joining at the Easter vigil.” [at the Easter Vigil] “I received the sacramental “grand slam”: conditional, baptism, reconciliation, confirmation, and First Communion (Hanh, 2016, p.91).
Through conversion, individual’s gain a sense of belonging. This enables one to partake in a community that connects the individual’s past and present, in order to generate a unified, and divine vision of the future. Associating oneself with a community provides nurture, guidance (ethical dimension), and loyalty. Embracing scripture (narrative dimension, rituals, and symbolic systems provides order and meaning to one’s world. Thus, surrounding yourself with those who resonate with you, makes it possible to connect on an innate, emotional level with oneself, others and God (Rambo, 1993, p. 2). This is exemplified in Scott Hanh’s conversion. He found unity, and through this, found his identity. However, Hanh’s conversion caused conflict with friends and family. “Close friends became distant. Family members grew silent and turned away. One of my fellow graduate students – a devout evangelical – became a former friend overnight… I was made to feel like a leper” (Hanh, 2016, p.97).
Although Hanh experienced a loss of acceptance, he found acceptance in Catholicism. “but the pain and desolation could not compare with the joy and strength that came from knowing that I was doing God’s will and obeying his Word. Compared with the privilege of going to daily Mass and receiving the Holy Communion, my sacrifices seemed small” (Hanh, 2016, p.98). Prior to Hanh’s conversion, his world seemed nominal. His upbringing lacked affiliation with his religion, and only participated in Church when the family deemed necessary. Much to Hanh’s attention, he felt the hypocrisy in which he did not want to be a part of. As a curious adolescent, Hanh began to ponder and crave for answers that his Church could not provide for his own fulfilment. Through this experience, he began to explore Biblical Scripture, in which much to Hanh’s shock, he began to piece together the significance and value of God’s covenant. It was through this experience; Hanh began exploring the realms of Christianity in both the personal and social properties. Through his attendance and participation in mass; as he awed scripture in Catholic teachings, Hanh realised his yearning for answers were living within the teachings and community of Catholicism, in which caused the reasoning of Hanh’s conversion. It is fundamental to highlight the manner in which, the experiential dimension encompasses the emotional bond that individuals build with their religious community and their relationship with God. Through Hanh’s journey, he was able to fulfil this bond with himself, God and the Catholic community.