Fall 1964

Page 119

The Forum


about 1,000 people begin instructions each year. A good number of the people who dt:l not enter the Churcl1 cannoi do so, because they d~ n.;t see the relevance of the Church in their lives. In or¡ der to make the faith more meaningful to modem society we need to know more about the psychological process of conversion, more about the sociological factors in American life which help or hinder conversion, more about the most effective teaching methods, and more about the most effective way to present the good news of salvation to those who in some way are seeking the kingdom of God.

The psychology of conversion. We know little about this process. We attribute conversion to the Holy Spirit and conclude that the normal psychological processes are suspended when a man decides to enter the Church. A doctorate written at Cornell University describes the conversion from one faith to another of about twenty people, and in all the cases the author found that some emotional problem or upset was present at the time of the conversion. A book on the psychology of brain-washing called The Battle for the Mind compares the conversions achieved by the Methodist revival movement to the brain-washing done in communist countries.

The experience of the ordinary priest would indicate that these two works deal with exceptional cases. But where are the studies of the psychological changes which occur in the ordinary convert? Many converts have written books or articles attributing their conversion to books, but a close study of the available conversion literature indicates that there is no definable pattern in the stories of conversion. It would seem that before we can reach the great majority of Americans we should find out more about what goes on inside a person when he is faced with making the decision of faith and commitment to God.

The sociological factors. Little or nothing is known about the sociological factors involved in conversion. A few random facts pop up now and then. In the Negro parishes where non-Catholic children are accepted in school on the condition that their parents take instructions, only about one third of the converts of the parishes come through the school. The rest come from door-todoor canvassing and personal contact. A study of the files of