By Teresa Tomeo
DECATUR, Georgia, JULY 9, 2008 (Zenit.org).- Lorraine Murray went to college with a basic Catholic education, an education it only took a few philosophy classes to undo.
Murray, who has a doctorate in philosophy, is the author of “Confessions of an Ex-Feminist,” in which she traces her journey from Catholicism to radical feminism, and back.
In this interview with ZENIT, Murray, who is a religion columnist for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and the Georgia Bulletin, comments on the insights she has gained in her journey back to the Catholic faith.
Q: You were born and raised in the Catholic faith but lost that faith in college. Can you outline the weaknesses in your faith or Catholic education that may have caused your faith to crumble?
Murray: When I headed off to college, I was quickly overwhelmed by the atmosphere of nihilism that pervaded the campus. As a child, I had dutifully memorized the questions and answers in “The Baltimore Catechism,” which was the gold standard for Catholic instruction at that time.
Unfortunately, my Catholic upbringing ignored the nefarious ways that Satan attacks the Catholic faith, so I was unprepared for college courses in which arguments against God’s existence were pervasive. In short, I lacked the tools to defend my faith.
Q: You had earned your doctorate in philosophy and had studied many of the secular thinkers. Did you ever stop and think about actually studying or examining the Bible or Catholic teachings to make sure your had come to the right conclusions?
Murray: Arrogance was my big sin. I thought that my background in philosophy qualified me to critique — and reject — Church teachings. Also, I was surrounded by professors who scoffed at claims of the supernatural and thought religion was outdated.
As I pursued my doctorate in philosophy, I studiously avoided examining the great teachers of the Catholic faith, such as St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas. And sadly, it never occurred to me to go back and re-examine the faith I had once held so dear, nor did it dawn on me to test some of my conclusions by reading the Bible.
Like many people in their 20s, I thought that I knew it all.
Q: I have spoken with many reverts who share similar experiences such as leaving the Church while never really being familiar with Church teachings. Why do you think this pattern occurs so often and what can lay Catholics as well as priests and other religious do to prevent more people from walking away from their Catholicism?
Murray: I believe it is crucial for priests, who have received extensive education in theology, to take active roles in parish RCIA programs. Converts to the faith should become well-schooled in the teachings of orthodox Catholicism, so they will really understand the beliefs they are embracing.
I also would love to see more priests leading occasional “refresher” courses open to all parishioners, because many people in the pews are eager to defend their faith but lack the tools to do so. Lay Catholics need to have a copy of “The Catechism of the Catholic Church” handy and to consult it often.
It would also be helpful for folks to subscribe to orthodox Catholic publications so they can learn about Catholic news through the eyes of writers who are well versed in the faith.
Q: What first attracted you to feminism?
Murray: I was quite enchanted by books such as “The Feminine Mystique” and “The Second Sex,” in which woman’s condition was painted with dark and dreary brushstrokes. Thinkers such as Betty Friedan and Simone de Beauvoir saw evidence of women’s oppression and misery everywhere they looked.
My own experience showed few signs of oppression: My mother had graduated from college, and I was pursuing a doctorate in philosophy and had received many honors and fellowships. Still, I saw signs of injustice in the world and thought that feminism had the answer.
In many ways, I clung to this “ism” as a way to achieve a utopian society on earth, in which everyone would be happy and equal. It took me a while to see that the cost of this feminist utopia was terrible indeed, since the “ideal world” envisioned by feminists was built on abortion and daycare centers.
Generally, the feminist agenda depicted children as a problem, not a blessing, and marriage as the source of women’s unhappiness, rather than as a wellspring of happiness, security and joy.
Q: In your book you discuss your own abortion, and that even after struggling with the physical and emotional consequences of it, you still clung tightly to feminist dogma regarding abortion and sexual freedom. Why is it so difficult to see the empty promises of the feminist movement?
Murray: For many years after the abortion, I suffered terrible flashbacks, stinging regret and bouts of serious depression. However, when I finally returned to Catholicism, I still held onto many of my feminist beliefs.
For example, I thought artificial contraception was fine, and abortion should remain legalized. I was very upset about having ended my own child’s life, but I still had this ingrained notion that although abortion had been wrong for me, it might be right for other women in different circumstances.
In short, I was a typical moral relativist, failing to realize that some acts, like abortion, murder, and rape, are wrong for everyone. It seems that feminists have so artfully deified the notion of “choice” that it takes many women a long time to recognize the underlying moral truth: Some choices are absolutely wrong.
Q: How did you finally start to make your way back to Christ and the Catholic Church?
Murray: A mysterious series of events happened, and they left me rather stunned and shaken up.
First, my husband, who had little knowledge of Catholicism, went on a business trip to New York. While in the city he stopped in at St. Patrick’s Cathedral and, for some mysterious reason, decided to light votive candles in memory of his father and my parents.
When he told me that, I realized I had never prayed for the repose of my parents’ souls, although they had been dead for many years.
I also read Thomas Merton’s “Seven Storey Mountain,” and was very moved by his journey. Little by little, I began to experience a mysterious sense of “someone” reaching into my life and tugging at me.
Q: When you first came back to the Church, you were a self-described “cafeteria Catholic.” What happened in your life that brought you to full acceptance of Church teachings?
Murray: I was diagnosed with breast cancer eight years ago, and my life went through some serious changes. I truly thought I was facing imminent death, and I longed for spiritual guidance.
Through the grace of God, I found Father Richard Lopez, a religion teacher at a local Catholic high school, and he became my spiritual director. At first he helped me accept the cancer diagnosis, but over time, I began asking him questions about Church teachings, for example about contraception, abortion and euthanasia.
He explained difficult concepts, gave me books to read, and patiently answered my many questions. As I grasped the real truth of the Catholic perspective, I gave up the cafeteria line and started enjoying the full feast.
Q: If you could boil your testimony down to one message for your readers, what would it be?
Murray: God’s abundant mercy is there for every sinner, no matter how far afield he or she has strayed. I was someone who promoted atheism in the classroom, lived according to the precepts of “free love,” and turned my back on traditional notions of motherhood and family. Still, God gently called me home, and through the sacrament of penance, restored grace to my soul.