Friday, April 08, 2005

The Language of God

Here is a thing I do not wholly understand. Some of my Christian bretheren fear rational thought and scientific knowledge.

There are a few reasons for that. A good number of unbelievers depend on science and logic as a personal philosphy and are hostile to matters of faith. Any discussion is an opportunity to try and disprove the existence God and denigrate those who have faith. Not all rational thinkers and humanists are like this, but there are enough of them out there that many Christians have developed an automatic defense response. Understandable.

Of course, the idea that rational thought precludes matters of faith and spirituality is a fallacy. Certainly one does not need faith to pursue temporal knowledge. Yet why does the pursuit of knowledge seem to cut across the grain of faith? For the faithful, I think it is because there is too much emphasis on defining the science of the world by the tenets of the faith. The bible was not given to us to help us understand the natural world, it was given us to lead us to an understanding of God and our own spirituality. For the unbeliever, I think that the possibility of a creator, of a personal God, of a Supreme Being to whom we can relate, threatens their rationality and their sense that there is nothing unexplainable in the universe, and that those things that seem unknowable are made so only by the separation of time.

It is different for me. Like most people, I'm pretty sure I'm right about what I believe, so I think I'll share it.

I believe that all truth is God's truth. I believe that scientific knowledge is simply a continual discovery of the complexity and depth of God's creative power. I believe that science is the language of God.

I don't believe there is anything in science that threatens God. Even the bible says that what is true about God is visible in the grand beauty of creation. He would not have said so were it not true.

If that means that Genesis is an allegorical tale that illustrates man's separation from God, then so be it. God is not diminished. Christ's sacrifice is not denied. We do not have to deny one to celebrate the other.

This great schism is only in the minds of those who insist that what they know is all there is to know.

I think I will choose to continue to learn what I do not yet know, and find in each truth a greater wonder of the Majesty of God.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

All Things Catholic

I'm an Irishman, with family roots in Galway and Clare, so naturally, I was raised Catholic...

Oops, disclaimer: If you are anti-religious, "deiphobic," or you believe that The Da Vinci Code is a well-researched, fact-filled historical novel, you may wish to simply avoid this post.

Anyway, in my late teens I converted to evangelical Christianity via a non-denominational church. Even though I had grown up in belief and trust in the bible and Christianity, I had felt a stifling dependence on ritual, which seemed in many ways to be an end in and of itself. I felt that you had to keep up on all aspects of ritual to be truly good, in other words, be a good Catholic to be a good Christian.

In many ways I felt liberated by my conversion to a simplified Christianity that didn't water down the bible but didn't add to it either. What mattered was not so much what I did as who I was in Christ. I didn't alter my behavior to become better person, I trusted Christ to restore me and make me a better person, the alteration of my behavior a happy result of a committed life. In many ways it has played out that way, but I still have a long way to go, and old, ugly habits die very hard.

For many of these years I was very wary of anything that resembled ritual, or that could become a substitute for real, internal change. In other words, it's really easy to fall into the trap of, "Oh, I read two chapters out of my bible and I prayed for 20 minutes today, so I'm really close to God." Or, "I didn't read or pray today, so God's far from me." It's not what you do, it's the state of your heart. In action, it's what you do with what you learn from those two chapters and those 20 minutes of honest prayer. I could be betraying a friend or family member, cheating on my taxes, beating my kids and embezzling from the office, and still manage to read a couple of chapters and pray 20 minutes a day. Sure, it would take being a complete hypocrite, but isn't that quite human after all?

Last year, when my boss died, he was given a Mass of Christian Burial at Our Lady Help of Christians in Watsonville. Despite being raised Catholic, I had never attended a Catholic funeral mass. I was familiar with the standard Requiem text, having enjoyed them musically, from Mozart's, to Berlioz's, to Verdi's, even Webber's (though I must admit to a dislike for Rutter's.) But I had never attended to the ritual itself in the midst of personal devastation.

The Priest, Father Patrick, was my boss's brother-in-law. At the beginning of the service he said something striking that I doubt I shall ever forget. He said, "At times like this, we often don't know how to feel, how to react, what to say, or what to do. It is for these times that the ritual was created. Today we can rest on the ritual, let it carry us through and say the things that we are thinking but cannot express ourselves. Later, as our grief progresses, we can find our own words, but for today, let the ritual carry you through as we bid farewell to our departed one."

I had never considered the rituals I learned in catechism in such a light. I had always looked at them as a lesser substitute, as something created by men who did not understand God's ways and who thought you could just do better and say the right words and those good works would propel you to heaven. I had never thought of them as a tool for the truly faithful.

We always need reminders of what's important. Life tends to choke our priorities and we have to fight to keep them straight. It's difficult to remember all of the little lessons you learn during those 2 chapters or during Sunday's sermon, as important and profound as those lessons may be.

It made me reevaluate the creation of those rituals on which I was raised, and on those who must have gathered together at Nicea and thereafter, seeking a means to aid the devoted in remembering the basic tenets of the faith, reminding them that God is there to hear their prayers, reminding them of the little details of God's Word that provide some of the answers they seek as they deal with life.

Watching coverage of the last days of Pope John Paul II reminded me of that day a year ago. I watched countless clips of the Pope attending to ceremony, celebrating the mass, praying, greeting leaders, addressing crowds, etc. How many times over the years had I seen those clips and thought nothing, saw him and those around him going through the motions? But he was dying, and that combination took me back to my boss's funeral. Suddenly the rituals looked like the actions of a deeply faithful person, for whom each motion and word had meaning not as a means to an end, but as a reminder of the faith to which he had devoted his life. The ritual didn't make him holy, it reminded him that Christ had made him holy by grace. It was a way to focus on the Lord and everything He means to believers.

I found in my heart a faint pining for the Catholicism of my youth. It was a sweet and melancholy feeling. I wasn't sad, but I was affected by the irretrievability of that time.

No, I would never go back to Catholicism. There is still much there that I do not agree with, extrabiblical tradition that, to me, detract from the simple faith of Jesus Christ who died, was buried and rose again. The emphasis on Mary, praying to saints, baptizing children, and other things. I'm not saying these are bad, only that I don't understand the faith that way.

The church I attend is wonderful. It is very informal. It is a place where the family of God gathers and people love one another. Yet every now and then I wonder if we couldn't make the place seem more like, well, like church. A little extra reverence and ritual, not because God will like us better, but because sometimes we need that reminder that God transcends this world and a little awe may just be in order.


It's about me, dummy!!!


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