Beliefnet

While you claim to have integrated doubt into your faith, you say that you have never (never) doubted the existence of God. This seems rather like my saying, "I am an extremely loving person. I just don't happen to love my parents or my children. Never have. Probably never will." There are surely instances where the caveats to an assertion loom too large to ignore.

As stated, your notion of God doesn't have much in the way of specific content (apart from love). Beyond that, you have sought refuge in a towering mystery-and have boosted yourself there with the claim that any Being sublime enough to have created our universe must be so far beyond our ken as to perpetually elude our powers of description. This last assertion seems plausible, as far as it goes. But, of course, it isn't an argument for the existence of God, much less a good one. In any case, your vaporous conception of a deity allows you to say that your religious beliefs do not conflict with those of others. God as a loving cipher allows for multiple, and even contradictory, doctrines to achieve parity. Faith in the absence of specifics makes a man humble.

All this, frankly, seems a little evasive. Given your attachment to Christianity and your admiration for the pope (who, as you know, makes far more restrictive-and, therefore, arrogant-claims about God), I suspect there is a raft of religious propositions that you actually do accept as true-though perhaps you are less certain of them than you are of God. I refer now to the specific beliefs that would make you a Christian and a Catholic, as opposed to a generic theist. Do you believe in the resurrection and the virgin birth? Is the divinity of the historical Jesus a fact that is "truer than any proof… any substance… any object"? If these are not the sort of things a person can just know without any justification, why can't they be known in this way? If a man like James Dobson is wrong to be certain, without justification, that Jesus will one day return to earth, why is your assertion about the existence of a loving God any different? What would you say to a person who once doubted the story of Noah, but whose doubt "suddenly, unprompted by any specific thought, just lifted"? Is such a change of mood sufficient to establish the flood myth as an historical fact?

Perhaps I'm missing something, but your claim about God really does not appear limited to your own experience. You are not saying-"Sam, I just don't know how I can convince you of this, but when I close my eyes and think of Jesus, I experience a feeling of utter peace. I'm calling this feeling 'God,' and I suspect that if more people felt this way, our world would be radically transformed." An assertion of this sort would give me no trouble at all. But you are saying quite a bit more than that. You are claiming to know that God exists out there. As such, you are making tacit claims about physics and cosmology and about the history of the world. What is more, these are claims that you have just pronounced unjustified, unjustifiable, and yet impervious to your own powers of doubt.

You also appear to see some strange, epistemological significance in the fact that you cannot remember when or how you acquired your faith. Surely the roots of many of your beliefs are similarly obscure. I don't happen to remember when or how I came to believe that Pluto is a planet. Should I say that this belief "chose me"? What if, upon hearing that astronomers have changed their opinion about Pluto, I announced that "I have no ability to stop believing…. I know of no 'proof' that could dissuade me of [Pluto's planethood], since no 'proof' ever persuaded me of it." I'm sure you will balk at this analogy, but I'm guessing that your parents told you about God from the moment you appeared in this world. This is generally how people are put in a position to say things like faith "chose me." The English language chose both of us. That doesn't mean that we cannot reflect critically on it or recognize that the fact that we both speak it (we might say it is the "air we breathe") is an utterly non-mysterious consequence of our upbringings. Indeed, you do admit the role that such contingency plays in matters of faith. As you say, if you had been raised Buddhist, you'd almost certainly be a Buddhist. But you refrain from drawing any important conclusions from this. If you had been raised by atheists, might you even be an atheist?

I also hope you appreciate the irony of your viewing your sexual orientation as a gift from God. I'm very happy, of course, that you don't consider your homosexuality to be a curse or a product of Adam's fall. But the idea that homosexuality is sinful or otherwise pathological has more than a little to do with the history of religion. Is there any force on this earth that has done more to shame and terrorize homosexuals (or heterosexuals for that matter) than your own church? I'm not suggesting that the revulsion that some heterosexuals feel for homosexuals can be entirely explained in terms of religious doctrine (but it can be largely explained in such terms; and this hatred has, at a minimum, been enshrined and made durable by religious institutions). So I find it peculiar that you consider your successful ordeal of living as a homosexual in a homophobic faith to be evidence in support of the religious project. It's like hearing a man who has been unfairly confined to a straight-jacket all his life say that he is grateful to have been taught such "economy of motion." This is not to make light of the very obvious and important fact that we can all grow through adversity. Many people can honestly say things like, "cancer is the best thing that ever happened to me." So, I do not doubt for a moment that your struggle with the sexual taboos of Christianity has made you a better person. But your experience does not transform a two-thousand-year pandemic of needless and crushing sexual neurosis in the name of Christ into some kind of spiritual sacrament. Generally speaking, the Church has promulgated views about human sexuality that are unconscionably stupid and utterly lacking in empathy. Full stop. The fact that you have navigated this labyrinth of sacred prejudice and kept your sanity is no point in favor of religion. The glory is very much your own.

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