Ladies and Gentlemen,

"You have never heard of Jacek Bacz. I was born in the 20th century, in a Catholic country. I was baptized; I went to school and university; I became an engineer—and a university professor; I read books and newspapers; I watched TV; I carried on intellectual conversations. Because of these accidents of time and place, I ceased to be a Catholic. I joined many others of my rebellious generation that seems to have left for Woodstock and never returned. The real surprise is that thirty years later I find myself back in the Catholic fold. This fortunate incident is an unmerited gift of providence. But, I believe, in a larger perspective, every instance of a return is meant as a testimony so that others may come home, as well. How does one return?" 

Which is the same as asking: Can the conversion process be understood? Or, perhaps, what parts of the conversion process can be understood? These are not merely academic questions. If we knew at least some of the answers, we would be better equipped to help people who have left the Catholic Church to re-evaluate their decisions. We could also assist those in the Church who are constantly being challenged in their faith by anti-Catholic rhetoric of the media and the intellectual establishment. So again, how does one return? The answer may never be found, but the stakes are so high that it is worth looking for that answer even in the face of great difficulty. I have tried to do just that, and this book is a result of my search for plausible answers to these momentous questions.

Let me make it clear at the outset that I do not have a theory of conversion. Only the Holy Spirit can have one and I know well enough that there is no replacement for God’s grace. But, from a merely human point of view, things can be discerned, and I can offer some insights.

The most important fact is this. Every individual conversion is a complex and unique process. No two conversions are the same; each involves unique steps arranged in a unique sequence. However, this uniqueness does not amount to an absence of order. In my book, I have sought to account for that order by employing two metaphors: emergence of an image and immersion in language. I will say a few words now about the emergence metaphor only.

Imagine walking out of the sunlight into a dimmed cathedral. As your eyes get used to the darkness, your mind will gradually start discerning the objects inside the church. After a while, a meaningful image will emerge. Now, different people will report different experiences. Those who have never seen a church will naturally be most challenged. But those who have seen other churches will have to face their challenges too. They will have to unlearn their expectations before discerning the new reality.

I believe the metaphor of emergence describes well the key features of the process of conversion. However, for the book, I selected another variant of the emergence metaphor: the assembling of a puzzle, which has an added advantage of emphasizing active search rather than passive experience. In both cases, however, the key feature is “emergence”, the building of a meaningful whole from constituent parts in a way that cannot be entirely anticipated.

What’s the point of using a metaphor? Well, in the book I invite the reader to embark on a journey, and I use the emergence metaphor to explain to him, what the journey might be like before it begins. I can tell him what to expect; what difficulties to anticipate; what pitfalls to avoid; and what the look and feel of the process is likely to be. And then, while working through the process I connect back to the metaphor making the process more intelligible.

Now, any Christian would have guessed that the centerpiece in the puzzle is the Divinity of Jesus Christ. The sooner one establishes that central truth the easier it is to deal with “peripheral” issues. But there’s a problem here. Suppose I ask you: How do Christians know that Jesus is God. Your answer would probably be, “by faith”. It would be a correct answer. It is a perfectly correct answer, except it’s not really helpful. It only makes sense to those who have agreed on the meaning of the term “faith”. That is why saying to the world that Christians know certain things “by faith” is to invite confusion — and that is a mild way of putting it. In everyday speech, the term “faith” no longer refers to the objective knowledge of things divine. In the mind of most listeners today, the “f-word” points in precisely the opposite direction: the subjective, the arbitrary, the uncertain, even the nonsensical. According to such understanding, faith has nothing to do with true knowledge. I am acutely aware of the predicament believers find themselves in nowadays when they try to justify their knowledge “by faith”. Therefore, in order to talk sensibly to the modern reader, I spent a few introductory chapters just trying to unpack the meaning of the term.

Much room in my book has been dedicated to dealing with what I just called “peripheral issues”. I don’t have the time now to talk about the details; just to say that the topics I chose should be of interest to people living in a secularized, post-Christian, multicultural, global village; well, that is to everybody. My goal was to exclude no one from my target audience. It is a lofty goal, and only you may judge to what extent it has been achieved.

When people leave the Catholic faith, they do not find themselves in a spiritual vacuum. The default position for most ex-believers is atheism, sometimes agnosticism. But in a global village, it is impossible to avoid exposure to religious ideas. The spiritual supermarket today is saturated with various creeds, all competing for the attention of prospective customers. In the book I present the claims of Catholic Christianity against the background of opposing ideologies and religious beliefs. I hope my readers will find that discussion illuminating.

At the beginning of this talk, I read the first paragraph of my book. It starts on a personal note and then the entire presentation is wrapped in a personal narrative. However, I did not intend to write a classical conversion story. My goal was not to satisfy the curiosity of my readers, but to present the salient moments of my journey in a way that most readers could identify with. My “story” is indeed very unspectacular. No extraordinary spiritual experiences, no momentous turnarounds. That is why I hope it will speak to the average reader. For there is always a certain kind of person who tends to dismiss accounts of spectacular conversions, saying, “That kind of thing will never happen to me.” I believe that most ex-Christians and non-Christians belong to that category, and they are part of my audience. It is them that I tried to reach. Again, only you can judge if I have succeeded.

I am not under illusion that any single book can open the right doors, remove the fundamental roadblocks and show new vistas, even though obviously I tried to write one. I also realize that the very people who would most profit from reading a book such as mine will never reach for it. Perhaps most people do not read books they would most profit from reading. Perhaps this is the kind of paradox that only God’s omnipotence can overcome. Perhaps. However, I know without any shred of doubt that anyone can get a book like this, give it to a friend in need and say: “Here, read this. Then we’ll talk”.