How Can You Stay Catholic? Or, Yelling At God

How Can You Stay Catholic? Or, Yelling At God August 31, 2018

How in the world can any sane person stay Catholic?

Between the in-fighting, the factions, the pedophilia, the cover-ups, the abuse, the scandal, the politicking – how can any sane person stay Catholic?

Or rather, why would any sane person stay Catholic?

Many friends have been pondering this question, while many friends who’ve left the faith breathe a sigh of relief and offer a way into some sort of safety in this valley of tears.  Others, in typical fashion, go on and on about the proofs of this or that theological point: all valid, but clinical.  Truthful, sure, but about as useful as a doctor taking the time to explain anatomy to you, when you really just need him to start the surgery already.

Why stay Catholic?  Why leave Catholicism?

Well, ultimately: it’s Personal.

Facing Reality

The truth is, Catholics have done a terrific job of dissuading anyone from receiving the sacraments.  The number one reason to leave the Catholic church are other Catholics themselves.

Before any theological consideration that might warrant an hour on The Journey Home, before arguments about the True Presence or the place of the saints, or any other cranial exercise is the simple truth that the Catholics who have stayed Catholic – the priests who purport to represent Christ Himself in the sacraments, the “tsk-ing” church ladies in the pews, the posturing of certain universities – are a sorry, sinful lot.  Are sometimes, too often, right now, Catholics are unsafe.  Criminal.  Evil incarnate.  Theological pun intended.

But if faith is anything, it is encounter with the divine.

Some have been graced with a direct encounter with Christ. Faith, religion, is communing with God.  Whatever your faith: this is the ultimate core.  Knowing.  Being known.

For the past few years, I’ve had the joy of tutoring elementary and middle school students theology in small, private classes.  Inevitably the question gets asked:

“How do I meet God?”

And the only answer always, always is:

“Talk to Him.  Then listen.”

“But what if He doesn’t answer?”

“Then talk and listen more.”

And the unspoken truth, the one I’ve yelled at Him about: sometimes, often, He doesn’t reveal Himself to us.

And then it’s faith indeed.  Faith received from whomever says they’ve met Him.  “Tell me about God.  Who has met Him?  Who can tell me what He’s like?”

And that’s a great responsibility: something I’ve been asked many times.  Something I’m sure I’ve failed to answer well, probably every time.  But I strive, seeing in the faces of my students a desire to see God somehow refracted through myself.  Aware that, if somehow this student and God have a missed connection, that I may be the only Face of God these students think of.  And my behavior, in my fallen, weak and sinful self, will forever color how they see God Himself.  How they see His Church.

My faith does not inform those who seek God.  My behavior does.

Meeting God

I cannot give you my faith, in these times.  But I can tell you what I know of God.  You do not have to believe me – perhaps it’s better if you don’t – and you keep yelling at God, listening, and yelling again.

But why am I Catholic?  Because: He called me by my Name.

For myself, from a very early age, I had direct encounters with Him, so that I can no more deny Him than I can deny knowing my own mother.  I knew Him before I knew about Him.  Knowledge of homoousios or the hypostatic union or whatever clinical information has always been secondary to the God I know intimately: that silly, serious, deeply caring, powerful, fiercely merciful, awesomely just, and often frustratingly smug with a twinkle in His eyes when He’s planning something God.

I know Christ best.  Met Him several times throughout elementary and middle school, including viscerally once when He seemed to appear in my mind’s eye saying, “Emily, Emily, how long I have waited for you.”  To which I hung back, weeping, maybe eleven years old, and saying: “I’ve done so much wrong.”  To which He just gathered me in His arms and held me there.  I’ve seen Him dancing with His saints.  (He’s goofy.)  I’ve heard Him snap at me when I was going to miss a Good Friday service in college for no better reason than apathy – one of the only times He’s yelled at me – when He snarled: “Emily: It‘s My Death.”  Needless to say, I bolted out of bed immediately.

I’ve tasted Him a few times, usually the Blood.  For an extended time a few years ago during a period of utter devastation.  When I needed desperately to be touched, reassured, reminded that the world was not crumbling into ash.  I can no more disbelieve the Eucharist than I can disbelieve the ice cream at my elbow, or the touch of my lover’s lips against my own.  And the Church is the only place where my Lover lives.  Truly lives in Flesh and Blood – and I need His Flesh, His Blood.  As surely as I need a hug from a friend: the bone-crushing, breathless exorcism of false emotion and harmful thoughts.  He is – dare I say – erotic, sensual.  He is not ashamed of bodies, although we may be.  He gave His Body, as we clothe ours.

And I’ve yelled at Him.  A lot.

Yelling at God is prayer.  Sometimes, it’s the best prayer you’ve got.

Each time, He’s patiently blinked back until I’ve yelled myself out, and then He swings in with Words I’d never think myself.  I yell at Him: “You should do this thing!  Why isn’t this thing done?  What’s wrong with You?  Someone should get this done!”  And He waits.  And when I’m ready to listen again, He says: “Yes, someone ought to do just that.”  And we stare at each other until I cave and grumble and He laughs and pats my head.  Or I yell, and He answers: “Patience.”  Or I yell, and He listens, and we weep at the horror of the world together.

He can withstand yelling.  I am not too big for Him.  My anger cannot fill His oceans.  And He does not get angry: but He does get just.  And He will raze the ground of those who hurt His little ones.  I’ve seen it several times.  He will have justice – here or hereafter.

I’ve told Him I hate Him.  I’ve meant it, too.  Even this is prayer.

I’ve conversed with Him, not as often as I should.  As I know that He’d prefer.  As I know I’d prefer, if I could ever be honest with myself.  The closer I get to Truth – messy, impossible, full of strange spillets and gullies, unexpected mountains and breathless expanses of impossible flowers, aching glory and absurd pains and conundrums as I stumble underfoot – the closer I get to His interior castle (if one can ever move beyond the foyer, really) – the more I understand His multifacedness and supposed contradictions that resolve into a single, half-glimpsed and hazy reality: too dense for these eyes to understand.

The closer I get to unravelling the broken threads that have bound my skin and burst it, unnecessarily, the more casual conversation with Him becomes.  Situations that I had thought unholy before become sacred now.  He sees beauty in everything.  I cannot express this enough: just how much He delights in us.  Like a crazy, benign scientist excited about algae and plumbing and things gross and unpolite in nature.  How giddy He becomes when we see, even momentarily, the beauty of the banal.  When we catch a secret He embedded in the universe: millennia in the making, waiting for us to find Him in the hollow of a hill.  How He aches, even as He does not need.  How He yearns, friend, for you.

And – and this is important my clucking Church friends – how He will take any affection we give Him.  In the Church or outside it.  Knowing Him, or only guessing at His shadow.  Yelling at Him and scratching at His skin and saying how much we hate Him – and we mean it, too.

He is more catholic about the prayers He hears than we give Him credit for: wanting to confine Him, as though a gold box could confine the architect of galaxies.  He stays in that box, but He is not bound by it.  And He is, as C. S. Lewis noted, the most unscrupulous lover who will sit patiently beside you, silently, your entire life, until your soul slips from your body and you notice Him, gazing on you with such love, and His wounded Hand holding yours and saying words you hardly hoped were real: “Welcome home, beloved.  How long, I have waited for you.  You are never alone.  Even here in Death.  You are not alone.  Come, beloved: live.”

He will find the souls that He created in whatever Church it pleases Him.

And if those who aren’t even good enough to hate Him, those who desecrate His sacred banal, those who whisper lies about His Face and say that He is cruel where He is merciful, those who in His Name twist up pain and pleasure, loyalty and law, not even for anything worthwhile here or hereafter but because they can – if those who can’t be bothered to crucify Him force His children from His Church –

He will have justice.

Here or hereafter.

He will have justice, and leave the guilty to the grey, damp, dull, lonely, boring, neverending indifference of their own creation.  No more smells, bells, whistles, or anyone to look on them.  Not even the excitement of a torture chamber: just His Love, which sears their skin and causes them to breathe out hot air: letting Love torment them.  For that these evil men twisted up the Name of Love Himself.

He will have justice.

And He will gather the little ones to His Heart, who were never far from His Heart – for His Church is bigger on the inside, and there is nowhere you can run, really, that isn’t in Him anyway – He will gather you up, and God will beg your mercy, and He will bathe your wounds with His wounded Hands, and whisper absolutions until you find your own voice to weep out the tears His ministers denied you on this earth.

And you cannot frighten Him.  He can withstand your tears.  Your frustrations.  Your pain.  He is there already with you.  Visible, if you can stand Him visible.  Hidden, if you need space.  Patient.  Polite.  Apologetic.  Stronger than your pain.  And – most pain-wonderful of all – full of secret blisses, full of exultant Joy, that is now and has always been your birthright.  Even as you wander through this valley of tears.

If I speak in metaphor, it’s because several times through this I found there are no words true enough to express even the barest, most minuscule sliver of Him I’ve been granted.  Metaphor gets close to capturing the dazzling light that peers under the counterpane of life: full of colors we have no language for, joys we cannot comprehend, Truth more ache-wonderful than my tongue can express.  God hangs heavy on the back of my tongue, and I cannot describe Him further.

But: why am I Catholic?

Because these weasels who got in are not.

Because there is nowhere I can go that is not Him.

Or rather, where there is not Him, there is nothingness at all: and in that nothingness are my enemies.  And I will not join them in their bleak despair.  There is no language for the Nothing that they have atrophied themselves into.  Something grey, and ashen: like a shrunk cigarette, discarded and dissolving in the rain.  He will stomp them out under His foot.  Send them cascading among the dying stars.

But as for me, and my house: He is.

He is.

He is.


Image courtesy of Pixabay.

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Bernadette Claveau

    Brave. Incisive. Real!

  • Grainneog

    Thank you for that, for reminding me why I am still ‘hanging in there’ despite everything. In Irish(Gaelic), the phrase used for ‘Thank You’ is ‘Go raibh maith agat’ which literally means ‘May you have goodness’ and I say that to you.

  • That may be one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever learnt. Thank you.

  • AntithiChrist

    “But why am I Catholic? Because: He called me by my Name.”

    I love it as well, when the voice(s) in my head know(s) my name. Always very reassuring.

    But I’d propose a thought experiment:

    Imagine that you’ve been raised in a non-catholic environment, say, an Islamic one, home to Jehovah’s alter-ego, Alah, or in a Hindu one, hosting Shiva, etc. Or everything Buddha. Or maybe even one that had no resident deity at all. Would the voice in your head be that of the Catholic god, or one of the others, as appropriate to the household? In the godless home, would you have grown up to ascribe the voices to a Catholic god or to just your own self-talk? That is, your personal backstage common-sense mind-voice, the one(s) we all use for dealing with our worlds?

    Wouldn’t you be perfectly just as fulfilled in your faith or lack of faith with whichever god/no-god in question if you’d been raised in such an environment?

    But more importantly, would you have so attenuated your own personal outrage, as much as you seem to have done in this post, at the ideas of institutionalized child-rape by your home church, by sifting them through the filter of “how can I possibly remain a member of the [ideolgy name here] religion?

    The reason I ask this question is that for those of us not affiliated with a god, the answer is clear. Raping kids is wrong, people who rape kids should be imprisoned, and institutions that support the rapists should be closed down as a threat to public safety.

    Speaking on behalf of rational, empathetic humans, there are no early childhood indoctrination filters, or faith-based filters, or god/clergy-inspired emotional filters, through which any of these horrific acts need be sifted.

    Very cut and dry.

  • Susan Granade

    Beautiful! You’ve blocked all the exits I’m always using to escape God.

  • Barbara

    I’m over simplifying but…we had a Dr at our local university that was convicted of assaulting HUNDREDS of women over several years.SInce I also see an osteopathic Dr..does that mean I can’t “trust” him or any other osteopath anywhere or do I just focus on my own circle of influence and work to keep it safe. I feel the same about these assaults happening in churches.All I CAN do is keep my eyes open in whatever church I’m attending…focus on NOT letting anything like that happen within my boundaries I’m not going to NOT be a Catholic anymore because of incidents that happen in other places.

  • Fearless Feline

    Thank you for the reminder of how crazily in love with us–all of us, catholic or Catholic or something else–God is!

  • Illithid

    Hi, I’ve just started reading this blog, and it seems pretty interesting. I’m an atheist, and your surety in describing your God is somewhat puzzling. Your direct encounters, such that to deny his existence would be like denying your own mother… the thing is, people are often mistaken. That’s why I find it difficult to credit something as real which cannot be demonstrated to others. My mother, when she was alive, was a physical person with definite traits, who would be described in roughly similar ways by anyone who met her. No one, being in a room with her, would even wonder if she was really there. Not so your God. In my youth, when I prayed, it became gradually obvious to me that I was talking to no one. Like a dead phone, not even a dial tone. It’s funny how a being that’s described as the transcendent reality of the universe is so difficult to demonstrate. It would be so easy for this being to show his existence, if he chose. Yet so many (not me) seek him desperately for years, decades, only to finally conclude there’s no such being. If you really can’t show someone definitively that this being exists outside your imagination, how do you know it does?

  • Illithid

    FYI, subscribing didn’t work. I got through all the offers, clicked “continue”, and it redirected to a page that wouldn’t load. I don’t know who to tell about that.

  • JM1188

    Of course, the opposite is equally true: If you really can’t show someone definitively that the evidence, which they themselves experienced, is somehow “untrue”, or, in your words, “mistaken” (dismissive of another’s discernment though that last sounds), how do you know it doesn’t? This is why William James talked about religious experience possessing a conviction that cannot be conveyed.

    The fact that God, if He exists, has never presented Himself to you in a fashion you’ve been able to accept and (more importantly to you, it would seem, verify) in no way proves His nonexistence. It may prove your deafness, or your lack of patience, or the fact you’re unready for/unwilling to have that encounter. (Hell, considering how reluctant some of us are to see the dentist, ultimately beneficial though the visit is, is it any wonder many ain’t interested in a heart-to-heart with their Creator?) But to say or imply, “Well, I didn’t experience Him, so He’s not there” is at best intellectually dishonest.

    Atheists and agnostics are fond of saying, “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof(s).” It’s a valid point. Bear in mind, though, that for those who’ve been touched by God in a deeply personal and internally verifiable way, that they have been presented with that extraordinary proof. It’s just that you haven’t; indeed, it wasn’t meant for you.

    That allows both your skepticism and their faith to be entirely justified, if not satisfying to either side.

    Indeed, if God did speak to you, would your immediate thought be, “Adsum, Domine” (“I’m here, Lord”), or, “I’m hearing things. I need to have my head examined”?

    Perhaps He’s waiting for that moment in which you trust yourself enough to answer rather than assuming you’re hearing “things”, rather than Him.

  • Illithid

    But people do in fact have auditory hallucinations, resulting from neurochemical imbalances, which often respond to treatment. If I experience something radically outside consensus reality, I seek verification, independent confirmation, because our brains are not reliable. They do alright most times, else we’d wander off cliffs contantly, but they’re glitchy. The legendary founding patriarch of your religion is a guy who heard a voice telling him to go kill his kid… and he obeyed. Hopefully you agree that I ought not do that, should I hear such a voice.

    The God you describe can make his presence known to me if he wishes, whether I want to believe it or not. I don’t necessarly want to encounter my cats in the morning, but they make a compelling case for their existence when they’re hungry. Surely God’s powers exceed those of a cat. But gods are like invisible cats that never eat, never poop, never meow or knock anything off the counter, never shed on the couch… if you were in my house and I claimed to have such a cat, you’d rightly dismiss it as imaginary. You’d likely not shrug and allow that possibly I really did have an intangible, undetectable cat. And what would you think of my group of cat fanciers, who all claim to own this ethereal breed? Oh, but don’t go to that group across town, they think their invisible cats have two tails; how confused they are!

    I do not claim with certainty that there are no gods. I do say that those wo claim certainty that there are such are likely mistaken. “Internally verifiable” means nothing to anyone else. If someone were in communication with a real all-knowing being, that would be subject to external verification. For instance, someone could reply to this comment with a list of book titles from the shelf behind me. That wouldn’t be absolutely conclusive (I’d have to eliminate the possibility that my son was pranking me, for example), but it would be miles beyond anything I’ve seen. But that won’t happen. Like ghosts and psychics, gods flee rational investigation.

  • May I just inquire: are you asking me to reply to the question, “Shouldn’t the institution be destroyed?” Thank you for your thoughtful response and dialogue!

  • Oh, I’m sorry about that! I’ll let my admin know.

  • Heya Illithid, thank you so much for your thoughtful comments. I’d say, briefly (although I’ll definitely think of writing more at length in an article proper for both my new athiest/agnostic/rationalist/humanist friends!) that:

    1) Yeah. If you hear voices (even in your head), it’s ABSOLUTELY THE RIGHT DECISION to be critical and be skeptical. One of the good questions is: is what I’m receiving an inherent evil? Does it urge me to do evil (or if you prefer, harm)? In which case: note it like a weird dream and go on. However, those experiences I’ve had re: God…it’s just not that.

    2) I think it’s more helpful to think – at least insofar as the God I know – that it’s NOT about you pursuing Him. I’m afraid it’s much worse. He may decide NOT to encounter His creatures here on earth. Although, so do you. There are people you don’t meet. In which case, it’s not a matter of you “being better” or trying to listen harder. I mean, I want to be best friends with Emma Thompson. But she has every right to NOT be friends with me. Now, this is going to sound like the God I know doesn’t *want* to know you. I don’t mean that, and here the metaphor falters. But I think that He allows some people not to know Him, maskless, here, for reasons that I can only grasp at. For example: isn’t it valuable to Him to have people who don’t know Him via an institution, EXACTLY so that some people can push back and make others, oh, not be cool with rapist priests. I think I need to write a blog about this point, so forgive me for leaving the argument here for present: incomplete and poorly drawn!

    3) “You can’t see/touch him, ergo you can’t prove him.” Yay! John Locke! I love debating John Locke! And I’ll just start with: there are humans who existed who have left no trace of their existence. Because I cannot experience their existence, is it rational for me NOT to believe, even just theoretically, that they existed?

  • I’ve written the admin. In the meantime, you should be able to subscribe and get my weekly link round-up via my Patreon page here: http://www.patreon.com/emilycasnyder

    Cheers!

  • AntithiChrist

    Hi. Actually, when you put it like that, I’d have to concede you nailed it in the paraphrasing. So good job. Picture any other organization besides the RCC, et al, with equally strong and consistently verifiable links to international-scale pederasty, as well as repeatedly confirmed well-oiled, ancient coverup machinery.

    Would a non-delusional, right-thinking public accept this behavior in any other organization, once it came to light? Would that same public not want that organization closed down immediately? Whether a day-care chain or a commercial in-home babysitting network, or a children-friendly club of any kind? We’d all want to do right by the innocent and vulnerable children, being pro-life and pro-child and all. We’d all agree on a lengthy and wise list of reasons why that outfit should be disbanded. Starting with:

    1) Rapes Children.

    So why do we make excuses for the clergy, the “spiritual” and temporal church authorities, the very leaders within an organization that fits the description of child-rape central so reliably?

    That all sounds like a rhetorical line of questioning, apologies, so I guess drilling down to an actual question: why are you giving church leaders, and their church, any kind of a pass at all, on the raping of children?

    I’m confident that if you could stop a rape you overheard from occurring, especially a rape of a child, say, in the next room at the church, you’d do it. You’d stop it somehow. You’d stop it and then you’d get your phone out, call 911, and turn the rapist in to the appropriate (law enforcement) authorities. And you’d look after the child until its guardian (and/or medics) showed up. And you’d have done your basic duty as a citizen and as a decent human.

    Why continue supporting an organization that needs a line item in its annual budget for covering the costs of child-rape litigation and prosecution?

  • Rosamund Hodge

    I feel compelled to add my response to this, because (a) I am a believing Catholic, and (b) I think that the “if you haven’t felt the presence of God, you’re not trying hard enough” line of thinking is all bosh. Because I have never, in 34 years of trying to follow God, had any kind of mystical experience remotely close to what Emily describes. When I pray, it very often feels like the “talking to a dead phone” that Illithid describes. It NEVER, even at the times when I feel most sure in my belief, feels like talking to a person who is present.

    Why? I don’t know. I’ve asked God often enough, and He’s never answered. It seems brutally unfair to me, because I spend half of every day terrified that God doesn’t actually exist, when one small miracle could give me hope.

    But if life were fair in the way that I understand it, then my dad wouldn’t have died of cancer before I graduated college.

    I don’t know why God is like this. I don’t know why He speaks to some people and not others. But I do believe in Him, still, not because I’ve felt any sign of His presence, but because I honestly do find the philosophical arguments for His existence convincing. And since it seems I *have* to live in the dark–I’m going to trust in the line of logic that gives me some measure of hope.

  • JM1188

    For Abraham it wasn’t a first-time voice out of the blue. It occurred after years/decades of hearing it, and thus knowing it for a certainty to be the voice of God. So … yes, were you, Illithid—great name, by the way: I’ve been a DM for three-plus decades—to hear such a voice saying, “Sacrifice your son,” you and any other person reading here, myself included, would be justly skeptical. You’d have had no persuasive evidence like the numerous miracles and expressions of power and providence Abraham had experienced to indicate this voice had any authority to require what it had from you.

    Abraham, however, did.

    Thus, the act that superficially when filtered through a modern sensibility seems one of sheer madness, in particular when one lacks or ignores the context, becomes instead an indescribably difficult test of faith. And, as I recall, the Creator of that voice didn’t have him carry through.

    In short, my mind-flaying friend … you ain’t Abraham.

    Then, again, I ain’t either.

    I assume that a God whose powers “exceed those of a cat”—though I’ve known many cats who deem themselves deities and perform quasi-miraculous deeds, so you’re on shakier ground there than perhaps you thought—can, indeed, do as He likes. But this argument is facile in that those who ‘witness’ (in the word’s broader sense) such an occurrence are immediately deemed unreliable due to lack of independent verification—which, of course, conveniently means that anyone who has an experience that can’t be later collated may be dismissed out of hand as “irrational.”

    Irrational, though, is not unreasonable.

    Both intellectual honesty and the sustenance of our souls, if such exist, would seem to require that we genuinely seek the Divine if provided any substantive evidence of Its existence. (I grant that you in your opinion have not been, and it’s not for me to dispute you on that point; such is between you and The Man Upstairs, assuming He’s there.), God, however, is not bound to reply or reveal in what we deem appropriate time and fashion—only His own. “Show yourself right now, or you’re not there!” provides a certain inconclusive evidence against only something that actually isn’t there. It provides none against Someone who’s there and not at all inclined to answer under test conditions … and more, may well find the attempt quite amusing. (In general, one does not make groundbreaking discoveries at age four with “My First Science Kit”, if you take my meaning.) After all, if He shows Himself to one or a few person(s) at a time, and in His own good time (which does usually seem to be His modus vivendi), well … that may be one reason it’s called “a personal relationship with God” and not “the incontrovertible evidence to set everyone’s mind at ease.”

    I find some of your assertions untenable. You wrote: “‘Internally verifiable’ means nothing to anyone else.” Interesting. You’ve never had someone take you at your word, and genuinely believe you, about something that seemed on the face of it unlikely or even absurd, sight unseen? You followed with: “I do say that those w[h]o claim certainty that there are such are likely mistaken.” That begs the question, in that if those are presented/granted certainty by an omnipotent and omniscient Being eminently able to provide it, such definitively trumps any ‘likelihood’ of being mistaken. (Back to William James again.) Then, you added: “If someone were in communication with a real all-knowing being, that would be subject to external verification.” Not so, from where I sit. A real all-knowing being who wished to communicate with one person in particular and exclusively would “know” how to do it in such a fashion that external verification wouldn’t be possible if He did not so desire it, and yet it would still provide the person who received the revelation incontrovertible assurance. (Respectfully, Illithid, it’s contradictory to postulate “a real all-knowing being” and then in the very same sentence put limitations on what He might know how to do.)

    Indeed, “ghosts,” “psychics” and even “gods” may flee investigation, but I think it likely God Himself does not. Instead, perhaps He is too large for the camera lenses we have to get a good snapshot, let alone for Him be crammed into any container we’re capable of constructing … and He is “irreparable”, so to speak, by the implements in the rigid empiricist’s toolbox. As the cliché says, “When one has a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” And in this case, pure empiricism is Mjolnir itself.

    You have a keen intellect, and we could likely do this (metaphorically speaking) ad infinitum, ad tedium, ad nauseam without convincing each other … and since faith is at its heart irrational (but, again, not unreasonable) both will likely walk away from the conversation feeling they made the stronger points, because neither can get the other to ‘fight’ on philosophical ground of our own choosing.

    So instead I’ll bow respectfully and leave you for now with the insight of that great theologian, Steve Martin:

    “It’s so hard to believe in anything anymore, you know what I mean? It’s like, religion, you really can’t take it seriously, ’cause it seems so mythological, and it seems so arbitrary; and then on the other hand, science is just pure empiricism and by virtue of its method it excludes metaphysics.

    “I guess I wouldn’t believe in anything if it weren’t for my Lucky Astrology Mood Watch!”

    Not sure I’ve ever heard it said better … and unlike us, he did it in three sentences!

    Pleasure exchanging views with you.

  • Illithid

    And thank you for your reply. I do admire Locke’s thinking on a number of subjects, though I have disagreements in some areas. On your last point, if I understand it properly, I wouldn’t go that far. If, for example, we find a Polynesian island currently populated, and genetic and linguistic data indicate that they’ve been seperated from the people of the nearest islands for 200 years, then we’re justified in believing in intervening generations during that time even without physical evidence. If, OTOH, someone asserts that a woman named Fran Marsh ran a B&B in Topeka from 1867 to 1902, but provides no evidence for the claim, we’re justified in withholding belief even though such a person’s existence contradicts nothing we know. It may well be true, and we should not assert it definitely to be false, but we have no reason to believe it.

    For the middle point, well, a deity who doesn’t want me to believe in its existence is impossible to distinguish from a nonexistent deity (for me). I am left only with the conflicting claims of those who say they’ve experienced this being. Since they often are contradictory, some at least are mistaken. It contradicts nothing I know to take as a working assumption that all are mistaken, pending evidence to the contrary.

    I don’t see how the moral content of messages impacts their reality. There could be demons, for all I know. It’s not inherently impossible that only malevolent spirits exist. But again, since some of those voices are reasonably established to be products only of the brain experiencing them, I find it rational to proceed as if all were, pending demonstration to the contrary. Such as providing independently verifiable information not known to the hearer, as I described to JM1188.

    Thanks for contacting your admin, I’ll try to subscribe as you’ve suggested. And I’ll try not to be boringly or pointlessly contentious. I enjoy conversations that make me think.

  • Illithid

    Well said. I’ll reply briefly to three points.

    First, it may be possible to have a compelling experience of the divine, such that certainty is justified for the person having the experience. I don’t see how that could be rationally convincing for anyone else, since a deluded person could be just as apparently certain. Even if they’d had the experience for years. Abram, if he existed, may have been justified in his belief, but I can’t know that.

    Second, as I said to Ms. Snyder above, I can’t distinguish between a god who doesn’t want me to have good evidence for its existence, and a nonexistent god. I admit that such a being could reveal itself to you while hiding from me… there’s not much I can do about that. I simply find the supposition that believers are mistaken to be more likely. There may be people who really have magic powers when no skeptics or cameras are around, but it’s more parsimonious to think that there’s simply no magic.

    Oh, sorry, one more: if I make an absurd claim with no evidence, the rational response is to withhold belief. Because even apparently honest people sometimes can lie. Or be wrong, especially under stress. Or have a brain tumor. Or be unknowingly drugged. Eyewitnesses are unreliable, even if they’re me.

    Thank you for this and all your other thought-provoking responses. Always a pleasure.

  • JM1188

    And thank you, as well. It’s such a relief to have an internet discussion that doesn’t devolve into each person essentially calling the other one a stupid-face because he/she didn’t immediately abandon their own perspective and embrace yours.

    Be well.

  • Brianna LaPoint

    Im too much of a leader to follow Jesus. One of many reasons why I cant and refuse to force myself to stay Catholic.

  • Brianna LaPoint

    Not everything can be explained by science. Id love to entertain you with examples, but i take the realization that not everyone has the same experiences in life, and just as people arent meant to be Christian, neither are some people meant to be Pagan, Buddhist or anything else. Its all about how we perceive the world, and the experiences we have that makes us think the way that we do.

  • Brianna LaPoint

    I guess im the odd one here. I had spiritual experiences after i deconverted from christianity. Make no mistake, i wasnt meant to be christian. I felt a glowing after i left, and most of my experiences put me roughly in the Pagan category.

  • Illithid

    I’d agree that not everything can currently be explained. In my experience

  • On the one hand, what Emily has reported is congruent with what I know about God. On the other, she has been given very special graces, and nobody else should expect to get them. God’s justice and mercy are as equal as we are, but his love for each of us is as different as each of us is.

    The very closest I’ve come to any sort of mystical experience was described on my blog post, First Principles ( http://arkanabar.blogspot.com/2008/10/first-principles.html ) — that question that came to me may have come from outside of me. Then again, it might have been internal. I don’t know for sure.

    You might just test for God as former atheist John C. Wright did, after he learned (to his dismay) that his conviction that the Stoics were right about duty meant his allies on morality were mostly Christian, rather than atheist. I’ve occasionally pointed people to another post, Testing for God (
    http://arkanabar.blogspot.com/2008/04/testing-for-god.html ), to suggest
    they ask him to prove his existence to them as Mr. Wright did. Check out his conversion story at scifiwright.com. Like you (and I), he was an intelligent atheist, and he was not convinced all at once of God’s existence and love. Neither was I, and odds are, neither will you be, if ever you are.

    But don’t do it idly. Be sure you’d be willing to give up all your atheist friends, and accept their heaps of scorn and mockery for falling for our stupid, foolish fable. Be sure you’re willing to accept that the Catholic Church is right when it comes to sex, contraception, abortion, motherhood, and fatherhood, and religion. Be sure you’re ready to be labeled as a sexist, racist, homophobic, Islamophobic, xenophobic dupe of the Patriarchy. Be sure you’re willing to worship God in the form of tasteless, mass-produced circular wafers of unleavened bread. Be sure you’re willing to be ridiculed as a completely moronic fool, for love (for love is just what God is).

    Because you will.

    And most of all, be sure you’re willing to accept His authority over your life, and that of the shepherds, awful as they may personally be, whom He has appointed over you.

    And if you’re not willing, then God won’t make you.

  • Illithid

    Hello, again. First, some notes about your links. Your first one leads to an essay of yours about abortion, not about a mystical experience. I’ll refrain from starting that debate with you. The link to Wright’s blog led to a list of articles, none about any conversion experience that I saw. Perhaps I missed it, distracted by Wright’s… no, no, must be civil. Let’s just say that I’m a fan of neither his writing nor his commentors.

    Second, I have several dedicated Christians among my circle of close friends. If I converted to any religion, my friends would be surprised, I’m sure, but not hostile. My wife would be amused and pleased. As for ridicule, I think you overestimate the popularity of atheism. Being criticised for my religious position is not a foreign experience.

    Now, the meat of your second link, and the reason for my reply. I don’t intend here to argue against the existence of a deity, but to explain why your test seems invalid from my perspective. Here is the relevant portion:

    “Silently, within the vaults of your mind, say to Him, ‘God, I’ve heard the claims that the Catholic Church has made about you, and I don’t believe it. It’s utterly ridiculous. Prove to me that I am wrong.’

    “Now, if He does not do this for an honest seeker of the truth, it means one or more of the following things:
    He doesn’t care.
    He doesn’t know.
    He can’t prove it.
    He doesn’t exist.
    Or, the seeker doesn’t really want Him to prove His existence to you.

    This test ignores the large portion, probably a majority, of atheists who are former Christians, including Catholics. Many strove for years or decades to keep their faith. They sought earnestly for God and were devastated when they found nothing. Many were shunned by their families, disowned, demonized, some even losing their livelihoods, gaining nothing but the intellectual integrity of declaring the truth as they saw it rather than continuing to lie. They started as believers and found that, as honest seekers of truth, they could not continue to believe.

    The test also renders the “God exists” hypothesis unfalsifiable. No matter what the seeker does, if they don’t have an experience that convinces them to believe, you can always say they didn’t really want God to prove his existence. There is no possibility of a result which will indicate to you that the God in which you believe is imaginary. An honest test includes the possibility of a result that indicates against the test designer’s favored hypothesis.

    I have proposed a test that would at least seriously shake my opinion that gods are not real. Can you think of anything, literally anything at all, that would make you think your belief was mistaken?

  • Judith Stefencavage

    That….is the most beautiful, haunting definition of your God, the same God as mine, that I have ever seen, and I am 74 yrs old. I want to read it over and over, I want to memorize it, although it is not so easy anymore for me to memorize! You have been given, from our God a most beautiful talent of writing; of the most amazing grace of knowing Him as you do and putting it out there for all to see and for all to either love it or to absolutely abhor it and call you crazy. But who cares. It’s all true!!!! And this pushed me to try to put on paper how I see Him, how He sees me, how He has shown me His love and His forgiveness. This has in the time it took me to read this…changed the way I have seen Him these 74 years. Thank you for this and thank God for you

  • RobS

    People stay Catholic for the same reason they support Trump, no matter how repugnant, amoral, depraved and grotesque his/the Church’s behavior is in the past and present people think sticking with him/the church will benefit themselves in the long run.

  • Lark62

    Anybody who takes action to murder their child because “God wants them to” needs to be arrested and charged with a felony.

    In the US today, several times a year, someone will murder their children in obedience to “god.”

    These people are mentally disturbed.

    In the story, Abraham walked down the mountain alone. The original story likely had Abe killing Isaac, but later generations inadequately tried to clean it up.

    Abraham is not admirable.

    Religion teaches people to ignore common decency and admire the repugnant.

  • EMS

    Society is supporting that organization. It’s called the public school system. Years ago, there were reports that the schools are cesspools of sexual abuse where far more children have been assaulted, far more teachers transferred to other schools, etc. than the Church has been responsible for. Yet, all of that has been forgotten or swept away when the Church scandals broke. Just a few weeks ago, one of the most prestige secular schools in the country (I want to say Exeter [sp] but I could be wrong) had a couple of dozen teachers over 70 years guilty of abuse. Yet, save for a couple of articles, not one word showed up about that when the news broke about 1000 priests over a 70 year period in PA hit. Many of the laws extending the statute of limitation for sexual abuse were aimed at the Church and specifically exempted public schools. Yes, there was scandalous behavior, crimes were committed, priests should have been arrested, etc. The trouble is that that scandal has served to cover up the abuse inflicted daily by teachers (not to mention parents, doctors, etc.) on defenseless children.

  • AntithiChrist

    Links, please.

  • EMS

    Suggest you Google it. There are literally millions of links. But to name a few: 2018, Chicago schools – thousands of reports of abuse. Canada schools hundreds of reports. Hofstra U study 2006 – abuse in schools is hundreds of times more than those of priests. 2002 – CBS News report government study estimates that 6% of school children will be abused before graduation – a number that far exceeds the number of priests. Wikipedia has even more statistics. Stop Educator Sexual Abuse Misconduct & Exploitation (SESAME) organization did a study that estimates that 3.5 MILLION students reported some form of sexual contact from teachers/coaches in 2015. So, why would any parent enroll their children in a public school? And why should they support it with their taxes? And why on earth aren’t people screaming about those cover-ups/transfers, etc.?

  • AntithiChrist

    Still no supporting links I see.

  • As I meant to make clear, my own mystical experiences are so fleeting and diaphanous as to barely count. To this day, I don’t know for sure if it was myself in a tiny fit of self-awareness or the Holy Spirit posing the question, “Was there any part of the Incarnation for which Jesus Christ was not _human_?”

    Not everyone gets the sort of graces that the OP or John Wright describe. I certainly haven’t. But not everyone needs them. The graces I receive are sufficient for me.

    Wright does rub many people the wrong way. As he says, wrath is one of his besetting sins. An autobiogrpahical account of his conversion is here: https://strangenotions.com/wright-conversion/ so, no need to hunt further. Nota bene, his opposition to and defiance of God waned well in advance of his conversion.

    As for costs: Are you ready to take on the levels of flak and vituperation that afflict, say, Dave Armstrong? ( like this: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/davearmstrong/2018/08/hysterical-frenzy-vs-me-on-atheist-seidenstickers-blog.html ) Or heck, the level of crap that I suspect Mark Shea gets? Make no mistake, becoming a Catholic means you’re likely to get mistreated for it (I was), and the mistreatment is likely to come from places you don’t expect.

    How about your self-certainty or pride? Or your alliegance to the sexual revolution, or whatever other besetting sins you currently are able to indulge in without much guilt, if any? Do you enjoy being angry, or commiserating with others over things you don’t have, or self-indulgence,

    I’m pretty sure that God, as I understand Him, *is* unfalsifiable. So are the axioms of mathematics or, more broadly, logic. He knows all, can do anything he wishes, and regards your freedom to choose him — or not — as more important than having you with him, as good as that is.

    God will not make you believe. Because He loves you, he will not make you love him. He will not make you be with him. He will not permit anyone else to make you believe and be with him, including me. And while he does tell you how to live (having made you for your own good, and being smarter, older, wiser, and more knowledgeable than you, he has the right), he does not make you live that way. If there is anything, anything at all, that you love more than knowing the truth about him, he absolutely will not make you know him.

    I was a lapsed Catholic for 25 years, so I can imagine not believing in God. I’ve *lived* it. But I cannot imagine going back to that existence, any more than I could go back into Amway. A significant reason I left the Church was that I did not know what I was leaving.

  • Illithid

    I do thank you for your thoughtful and polite reply. I rarely delude myself that I’m going to convince anyone their religion is false, but rather strive to communicate my position clearly to promote understanding. I hope you’re comparably realistic.

    It sounds like you’re trying a sort of reverse-psycology argument from consequences. I don’t reject theism (and its subcategory, Christianity, and its sub-subcategory Catholicism) because I fear the costs of converting. I reject it because I don’t think it’s true.

    Dave does catch some flak. I’d speculate that at least some of it is because he’s kind of a jerk sometimes… chalk it up to the ire of the unjustly banned. Yes, so does Mark. So does Hemant Mehta (Friendly Atheist). Being castigated doesn’t make you right. Check out the Christian love showered on Mikey Weinstein of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation:

    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/dispatches/2017/02/05/mikey-gets-email-31/

    The axioms of logic are quite falsifiable. Just find some A that is also notA. The God described in the Bible is absolutely profligate in his demonstrations of his existence. Miracles left, right, and center, big showy stuff. “God won’t force you to believe” rings completely hollow in reference to the alleged destroyer of Sodom and Gomorrah, the author of the Plagues of Egypt, or the Deluge. Not that I think any of those things happened, of course, but it’s silly to describe that being as “unwilling to make you know him”. Even Thomas got physical, hands-on evidence, after he’d supposedly seen all Jesus’s miracles and still doubted. Does God love Thomas more than me? It’s unavoidably reminiscent of the excuses a guy gives his friends for why they can’t meet his Canadian model girlfriend.

    Bottom line: Christianity (and Catholicism) simply isn’t convincing. Think of Mormonism, or Scientology. Presumeably you don’t share their beliefs. Even when you were lapsed, as you say, you probably didn’t. Well, Christianity looks just like that to me. Okay, not quite as loony. But just as unsupported.

  • BTW, regarding that link, did you read the comments? They were as nigh as bad as the original email. Well over half of them sneering at the stupidity of all the faithful, on the basis of this one poor fool’s example.

    Here’s the thing about those OT miracles: they were for believers. Atheists were even fewer and further between then, than now. Kings were absolutely willing to demand that you worship the gods who were their friends.

    The other thing to note is that miracles have not regularly changed peoples’ minds. No one in Egypt started following the God of Israel. Nor did anyone in Sodom or Gomorrah.

    I know I’ve mentioned Emile Zola before, though perhaps not to you. He started out saying he’d believe if he saw ONE healing at Lourdes — of a finger nick, even. What he got was a woman whose face was half-eaten by tuberculosis; he met her on the train. While her tuberculosis was completely healed (as in, her face went from purulent suppurating sores to clean healthy skin, without even scar tissue), the destruction of her face was not reversed, and Zola demurred, saying “She is still too ugly.” And later he said, “Even if I saw all the ill at Lourdes healed, I would not believe in a miracle.”

    I’m going to suppose you’ve heard that we are more sure of the original content of the New Testament than the writings of Julius Caesar (or William Shakespeare), and that we’re sure that the original NT was written during the lifetimes of eyewitnesses, and often by such eyewitnesses, and that and that there’s no more reason to presume that the NT authors are lying than Julius Caesar, and that you’re already familiar with C. S. Lewis’s Trilemma. Those are what convinced me, and they did not (and very likely could not have) until I became aware of what God ought to mean to me, until (as St. Peter) I was more or less praying “help me in my unbelief!”

    As far as I can tell, you think you don’t need God. As far as I can tell, you think the matter of his existence is superfluous. As far as I can tell, you would regard believing in him as a net loss — you’d have to waste time in worship, and resources in charitable giving. As far as I can tell, you don’t think you need salvation, and see no benefit to the graces God gives those who have faith and trust in him. And if I’m correct in these things, nothing that I say or that God does is going to change your mind about that, if (as I maintain) he regards your free will as a necessary component of giving your trust and faith to him.

  • Illithid

    I just now went back and read all the comments. I find your assessment unsupported. There is indeed plenty of sneering at the email’s author and people who think as he does.

    The only account I found of Zola at Lourdes (aside from references and reviews of his novel by that name) was at Crisis Magazine online. Hopefully you’ll understand if I don’t regard that as a reliable source. The author provided no references, of course. Got any links? Also, does the lack of any certified cures since 1976, or the mere 25 claimed cures from 1946 through 1976 (among millions of visitors anually) give you pause?

    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3854941/

    I have indeed heard of the supposed reliability and eyewitness nature of the Gospels. I suggest that those claims are less well supported than you suppose.

    I’m familiar with Lewis’s writings, including of course the “Trilemma”. I pick a fourth choice, “Legend”, meaning that Jesus’s words and deeds were exaggerated in retelling.

    As far as I can tell, I lack belief in any god due to insufficient supporting evidence. Also, as far as I can tell, you’re seeking some other explanation for my disbelief so you won’t have to admit that I’m simply not convinced. I find your search for some unacknowledged motive on my part mildly amusing. There are many, many atheists who sought desperately to retain their faith, who lost family, friends, and livelihood by admitting their disbelief, leaving their church, and honestly living the truth as they saw it. What dastardly unspoken desire to sin will you invent for them?

  • Illithid

    P.S. Regarding the “miracles were for believers”. A casual search finds instances in the Gospels where it is explicitly stated that miracles make people believe in Jesus.

    John 5:36 is pretty clear, but there are plenty more.