Beyond Compare

I received a message asking, amongst other things:

What if Islam is true? What if Buddhism is true? Atheism? How can you be so sure of your Catholicism when there are thousands of religions and world-views you have not even encountered?

I am thankful in the extreme that the question seeks the source of my surety and certainty in the Church, and not my factual reasons for being a Catholic. If the latter was emphasized, I would have to give up from the onset, the answer too big for the question. But this demand that I explain my indecent bravado in the face of a million different world-views, this I can meet, with an answer appropriately portioned to Internet appetites.

If a man is so foolish in the ways of this world as to fall in love with a woman, it is not out of a comparative sampling of all other women. If he calls her beautiful, his confidence in her beauty does not spring from her relative position to others. Rather, his decision to value the girl, to orient his life towards her, to believe in her, to bet his life on her — all this springs forth from a delight in the fact of her existence. Love exists outside of the category of comparison, where the truth and worth of a thing are validated by its reference to the truth and the worth of other things. Love’s object is the beloved in herself.

This is not to say comparisons are impossible, only that the heart of love is an encounter with a particular person, and particular people are precisely that — particular, unique, dissimilar, loved for being themselves — not for being like or unlike another. That a comparatively more beautiful, gracious, and stunning person might exist some where “out there” is hardly considered, not out of some factual certainty such a person does not exist, but because it is precisely the particular beauty and graciousness of the particular beloved that is of interest.

This is the failure of the phrase “there are other fish in the sea.” It makes sense to the platitude-preacher. He has a cool, objective view of his neighbor’s heartbreak. But for the man in love, the fact that his love’s loss has made apparent the “other fish in the sea” is the very pain of it. He has exited the category of love and entered the category of comparison. The one for him has become one amongst others. We’ll leave Romeo to whine about it at proper pitch and passion.

The truth is that Catholicism is first and foremost an affair of love. Its edict is “love God” and “love your neighbor,” commanded by a Creator who is Love, loving His creation even unto death with a love we acknowledge, celebrate and participate in through visible signs of love we call the sacraments. It is an erotic phenomenon before it is an assent to a series of claims regarding man, his world, and his wonderful God — though it is all these things and more. Simply put, Catholicism does not exist within the category of comparison.

I understand that this may wring as wishy — or worse, washy — to Christians and atheists alike, reminiscent more of Bob Marley’s “Love is My Religion” than any manifesto all faith-defending and “ass-kicking for Jesus’ sake.” We may be more inclined to say, “I am Catholic over any other religion because, first and foremost, I have found Catholicism to be true.” I do not disagree, but I do wish to deepen. For our knowledge of truth is preceded by a love for truth. Truth is experienced as the fulfillment of desire. Knowledge is a satisfaction of what is prior, namely, a desire for knowledge. Only because we our born reaching do we ever find. To say that “I am Catholic because I have found Catholicism to be true” is to say that Catholicism fulfills and further inspires a longing and a desire, what we would call eros.

This is not, perhaps, a satisfying answer to the question. It doesn’t make my religion true. It is, however, an explanation of why neither I nor the Catholics I know are bitten at night by the various forms of Shintoism we have no knowledge of, the more resplendent forms of atheism we have not yet taken a crack at understanding, or any of an infinite list of other possible belief systems. Sure, we doubt. We question it all to pieces and try to build it up again in hopeless schemas and systems we end wishing we could burn up like straw. But we don’t feel the need to verify our faith against all others. From some grand, objective view of things, perhaps Catholicism is a belief system, one amongst many, to be chosen by a careful evaluation of its “system” relative to others. From the inside, from the alternatively clouded and radiant and always awful task of actually being the thing, we are in love.          

  • John Paul

    This is utterly stupid.

  • John Paul

    Sorry…this is what I’m specifically referring to…
    “If a man is so foolish in the ways of this world as to fall in love with a woman, it is not out of a comparative sampling of all other women.”

    As if we don’t enough problems in the church with all of our gay priests and child abusers, statements like this are exactly the problem. It’s time for priests to marry, and “be so foolish as to fall in love with a woman.” Instead of the priesthood being full of closet homosexuals and pedophiles. Idiots like you are the problem with our Church.

    • Kevin

      Despite the fact that his has absolutely NO relevancy to the article, I’ll bite. Priestly celibacy has been around for over 1000 years. Priestly child abuse has been around more or less only the last 50-60 years. By what stretch of reason do you think married priests will decrease child abuse.

      Are you trying to say that if only those pedophiles had been married, their disordered desires would be stymied? That men are just sex-crazed animals that, if they are not satisfied by a woman, they would be carried out through anything else, even children? Or even that married men have lesser rates of child-abuse than priests (here’s a hint: they don’t).

      Go away, troll.

    • Lucifer

      Well… I guess I fail to see why a gay man would be less of a priest, or a man for that matter… The fact that you would consider them so says something about the universality that your “Church” tries to claim… Go ahead, throw out some Bible verses about their subhuman status, if that helps solidify your worldview…

      • Kevin

        From the Catechism: The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God’s will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord’s Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition.

        Not subhuman, but merely human. All have trials – those with same-sex attraction have a particular one.

        • Kevin

          Please note that the second paragraph are my words, not the Catechism’s. Forgot to add quotations.

        • Jarred

          Exactly. “People do not hate the church, they hate what they THINK the church is”. Sometimes I wish I could have a dollar every time I get the same objection based on the same misunderstanding…It’s so common you could write a flowchart and script for it…wait a minute…apologetics via flowchart – brilliant!

          • Lucifer

            The human heart does not need flow charts or a quoted catechism to see Catholicism… it needs connection, it needs acceptance, and unconditional love… Until that is understood, words and flow charts will be flat, empty, and despair inducing. The Church we wish it was is not always the Church that is… very much in the same way that the person we wish we were is not always the person that we are. A life of poverty, chastity, and obedience begins with humility. There is no greater apologetic than humility. Rather than “I can’t believe they don’t get it–guys, just don’t have sex forever and you are good!” Wow. Thanks for wrapping up personhood, the longing for intimacy, and desire for someone to share a life with into a sexual act. I was once on your team… and then I realized that telling someone that their life demanded celibacy to be acceptable to God was probably not my place–considering how popular celibacy is among the contemporary heterosexual community…

          • Jarred

            Yes, in the end it is about building a relationship with the person of Christ as well as one another. I apologize for the lack in refinement in my “woman at the well speak” – I truly do not believe that apologetics can be reduced to bumper sticker slogans as that in itself objectifies the person who I am talking. Our first step is establishing that brotherly love with each other and speaking from there – each person is an individual so there is no cookie-cutter method. That being said, there are common misconceptions which at least give us a jumping off point (I have to know which well to meet you
            at).
            Now to address celibacy – it is not for everyone – as sex is beautiful and needed. For those who are called to celibacy – it is not because we think sex is evil and must stay away – they actually are giving up a good which really places them to have amazing and unique graces…one of which I call “the unrequited lover’s heart”….Eric Berne talks about it saying: “‘the man who is loved by a woman is lucky indeed, but the one to be envied is he who loves, however little he gets in return. How much greater is Dante gazing at Beatrice than Beatrice walking by him in apparent disdain’”. It is not a death sentence to be celibate because our identity is not within only our sexuality – we are more than that… we are artists, brothers, sisters, track runners, boxers, sky divers, poets, thinkers, people who loved others deeply. I would hate to think at the end of my life on my tombstone all is written is: “here rests Jarred…yep, he liked girls”.

  • Paul H.

    Do you know what apologetics is? There are actually very good arguments as to why Catholicism is true (in comparison to other religions), though of course many of these are question-begging.

  • ladycygnus

    I understand what you are saying…but I don’t think it comes across well. I think you came closest to making sense with this line, “We may be more inclined to say, “I am Catholic over any other religion
    because, first and foremost, I have found Catholicism to be true.” I do
    not disagree, but I do wish to deepen. For our knowledge of truth is
    preceded by a love for truth.”

    I’m Catholic because I love truth and, in seeking truth, found it in the Catholic religion. I remain steadfastly Catholic (rather than constantly worry about whether X random religion is true), because I fell in love with the truth in Catholicism. That doesn’t mean I won’t read something from another religion, nor does it mean I don’t entertain doubts on occasion, but it does mean that I start from a foundation that cannot be shaken by one seemingly good argument.

    In debates I often do not have the answer to an argument, and while it bothers my pride it does not bother my faith. At one time I searched for truth and found it. Then, by delving into that truth I found a Person and fell in love. Truth and Love are two sides to this coin and even if you “ding” the truth, I’ve developed a relationship based on love, not my ability to answer every objection.

    • PaulK

      To switch up a little: “I’m married because I love truth and, in seeking truth, found it in my wife. I remain steadfastly married (rather than constantly worry about whether Scarlett Johanssen’s truths are truer), because I fell in love with the truth in my wife. That doesn’t mean I won’t occasionally watch a movie starring Scarlett Johanssen, nor does it mean I don’t entertain doubts on occasion, but it does mean that I start from a foundation that cannot be shaken by one seemingly good photo of Scarlett Johanssen.”

      I don’t see that working. The average person does not fall in love with a truth. The average person falls in love with a person. And then in allowing that love to grow and flourish, we find out more truth about the beloved.

      I think Marc nailed it. And though I completely agree with your point that loving truth is also important, I just think that most people don’t start there.

      The truth about the real presence in the Eucharist doesn’t mean much if you don’t know Who is present. Fair?

      • ladycygnus

        I realize I made a mistake when I said this “because I fell in love with the truth in Catholicism”…but I later clarified with this “Then, by delving into that truth I found a Person and fell in love.”

        I would actually say I fell in love with the Trinity, three persons – not with an abstract truth. I began with a love for truth and found Catholicism – and in Catholicism I fell in Love with Truth (Jesus).

        Fair?

  • Hershey Scholar

    Dear Marc,

    My name is Grace, and I host a radio show at Mount St. Mary’s University in Emmitsburg, Maryland. Would you be willing to give an interview for my show? You can let me know at gewagler@email.msmary.edu. Thanks.


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