I am a Catholic convert, having joined the Church on November 26, 1995. I grew up attending a Protestant church with a phenomenal minister who had his doctorate in theology. I still count him as one of the wisest people I have had the pleasure of knowing in my life. As odd as it may sound to Protestants (serious Catholics will understand it), I credit this Protestant minister’s love of and insight into Scripture as contributing, in part, to my eventual conversion to Catholicism. I remain a devout student of Scripture and theology in my ongoing effort to both better understand and live my faith.
Also, I began college as a pre-med major before deciding to attend law school instead. Thus, my undergraduate education began with three years of chemistry, biology, physics and mathematics and ended with two years of economics, philosophy, history and psychology (I took five years for my undergad to take full advantage of a redshirt year required due to transferring from an NAIA school to an NCAA DI school). As a result of this very interdisciplinary education, I began to see the same concepts appearing in very diverse and seemingly unrelated disciplines such as physics, psychology, economics, law and theology. I saw this as validation of those concepts as truth. This was the beginning of a very integrated view of the world that continues to grow to this day.
Throughout much of history, this integrated view of the world was the norm for educated people. For example, many of the great scientists and mathematicians throughout history were also prolific theologians; Sir Isaac Newton is one such example. It is a very recent development, historically speaking, that science and religion have been seen as inapposite to many people. I believe this view is not only wrong, but a tragic impediment to a deeper understanding and appreciation of our world. (And yes, I know the argument that this integrated view only existed because the Catholic Church controlled education and research, and a discussion of that subject is beyond the scope of this post).
All of this brings me now to Ryan Hall.
I understand Ryan’s faith and theology and his deep desire to integrate his faith into all aspects of his life as much as possible. Based on his public explanation, I also believe he is extremely, almost dangerously, misguided. Delusional? No, but rather possessing a profound and fundamental misunderstanding of his faith.
Grace does not abolish nature but rather supports and enhances it. What I mean by that is that the spiritual aspects of our lives do not replace our relationship with the physical world and others in it, but rather enhance, reveal and support it. We were not created to exist in a vacuum, separated from the world in which we live and others around us. Quite the opposite, in fact. Cardinal Fulton Sheen once observed that the two beams of the Cross represent our two primary relationships: The vertical beam represents our relationship with God and the horizontal beam represents our relationships with one another and the physical world. These same two relationships are also reflected in the Ten Commandments. The first three Commandments address our relationship with God and the final seven address our relationships with one another.
Through his public explanations, what I hear Hall doing is seeking to replace, at least in part, his relationship with the physical world and others in it (coaches, teammates, scientific and historical knowledge about the sport) with the spiritual aspects of his life. I believe this is fundamentally wrong. To do so is to reject, at least in part or by implication, the knowledge and resources in the rest of Creation. Are there Biblical principles applicable to training? Sure, absolutely. Things like steadfastness (patience, consistency and discipline in training) leap immediately to mind. But those principles are just that, principles. They support, confirm or reinforce the actual training and competition decisions, they don’t replace them. I hear Hall trying to replace them through private revelation.
Which brings me to my final comment. Catholicism is, in general, dubious about private revelation, which is what Hall is seeking. It doesn’t forbid it by any means and explicitly recognizes that God reveals Himself to us individually and personally in many ways, including through others or events in our lives. But it recognizes the enormous potential for individual misunderstanding if left only to our individual faculties to understand and apply the faith. Christ established the Church (which includes the magisterium or teaching authority of the Church) in part because of that enormous potential for individual misunderstanding or misinterpretation. One result of rejecting that universal teaching authority can be seen in the over 30,000 different Protestant churches in the U.S., all of which claim to be biblically based but often providing wildly different teachings. Hall’s stated approach of seeking private revelation on a matter such as training is an excellent example of the misuse or misunderstanding of private revelation.
I wish Hall the best and I respect his sincerity and his faith. I also believe he is very misguided.