A Journey into Catholicism through Buddhism
By Fulvio Di Blasi, Harrison Lee
Fulvio: Harrison, I think that our TIC friends would like to know more about you as you are our new Program Coordinator. Let’s begin with your career as a student.
Harrison: Thanks, Fulvio. I received my BA from UNC in 2013 with a degree in Philosophy. Since then, I have received two MA’s in this same subject: one from the University College London and the other from Georgia State University. My interests lie in ethics and especially Aquinas’ natural law framework.
Fulvio: I understand that you only recently became Catholic. What was your religion before and what made you decide to become Catholic?
Harrison: That’s right. I was only confirmed in the Catholic Church in June of 2017, at the age of 27. Though I was baptized in the Lutheran Church as a baby, I fell away from the Christian Faith in high school. The Christian morality I knew struck me as arbitrary and inconsistent. Not to mention, it was easier to live by my own rules than to live by God’s!
By the time I got to college, however, my conscience prompted me to give spirituality another chance. As a philosophy major, the argumentative style of the Gelugpa school of Tibetan Buddhism appealed to me. It was also more socially acceptable amongst my atheist friends than Christianity. In my sophomore year, I did a study abroad program where I was stationed in a monastery in Bodh Gaya, India, just down the street from the traditional site of the Buddha’s enlightenment.
Fulvio: You lived in a Buddhist monastery? You took your search for the true spirituality very seriously!
Harrison: Yes, Fulvio, I did. Buddhism did not do the trick, however. I had a nagging sense that the Buddhist doctrine of interdependence collapses into absurdity. If all phenomena depend on further phenomena, then there is no phenomenon at the end of the chain of dependence to support them. This argument led me to explore the writings of St. Thomas Aquinas, who uses it to demonstrate the existence of God.
My studies of Aquinas also helped me to understand that Christianity did not have to be arbitrary. He showed me that even if Catholic moral teaching may appear controversial sometimes, it is always beautifully systematic and reasonable. If I was serious about following the reasons where they led me despite the social consequences, maybe I needed to explore Catholicism.
Then, through going to Mass weekly, making Catholic friends, and exploring the tradition over the course of four years, I began to experience the consolations of the soul described by St. Ignatius. These feelings were so wholesome that I knew they must be from God, even if conversion is always a challenge.
Fulvio: Thank you Harrison. I hope that the Thomas International Center will be of help in your intellectual and moral life.
Harrison: Thank you, Fulvio! I am certain that it will. Not only will the center allow me to deepen my understanding of the vast riches of the Catholic intellectual tradition, it will also provide me an avenue for sharing the Faith that I have embraced. I am thrilled to have this opportunity!