Tag Archives: atheism

Hereby Know We

1 John 4:5-6

They are of the world: therefore speak they of the world, and the world heareth them.

We are of God: he that knoweth God heareth us; he that is not of God heareth not us. Hereby know we the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error.

 

St. Thomas Aquinas once wrote, “To one who has faith, no explanation is necessary. To one without faith, no explanation is possible.” Being that he was a magnificently intelligent and wise man, I’m not going to disagree with him. But… I never would have liked this when I was one without faith. I have a friend, too, who balks at this reasoning. It seems like just another convenient copout – “Oh, you’re not a person of faith? Well, then, you wouldn’t understand. When you become a believer, then you will understand.” Isn’t that convenient.

It sounds too much like faith and reason are opposed to one another.

And they most certainly are not. And Saint Thomas Aquinas knew that, even proved that brilliantly and often.

The thing is…

Reason and intelligible explanations can take you far, very far. Right up to the very edge of the cliff. But, no further. You can intelligently follow St. Thomas Aquinas’ five proofs of God’s existence, maybe you can even rationally calculate and weigh with Pascal and his bet – but none of this is faith. You cannot think your way into faith in a personal God. You cannot rationalize your life into a life of a believer. Reason is utterly important – a great gift to human beings from God, even of God. But, faith is also required to be fully human, to know the fullness of truth.

And, so, reason takes you to the edge of that cliff of what you can know with reasonable certainty and you stand there. You stand upon the solid ground of what you know and…. And then, what? You could just stand there, acknowledging the precipice, reminding yourself over and over again that there is no way of knowing for certain if there is anything on the other side of the gulf, clouded and fogged as it is from your eyes. You can build a life on that solid ground… but, if your mind is fully alive, then you will wonder…

And you will never know unless you leap.

The leap of faith is not like leaping to a conclusion with no facts to back you up. It is from the firm foundation of reason that you must make the leap. You can’t just go along with what other people are saying, blindly following without much thought – that’s not a leap of faith. You cannot just make-believe, pretending that a fairytale is real and enjoy the playacting – that’s not a leap of faith, either. You must never disregard reality, you must deeply consider and, with the whole strength of your being, you must commit. The leap of faith is part surrender to the beautiful embrace of Mystery and part blood oath, bodily pledge and dedication to God.

And so, to believe in Jesus Christ is to entrust your whole self to him, to love him with all of your mind, your heart, your soul, and your strength. In the Divine Mercy prayer I pray, “… take over my life and live your life through me.”

Faith is a sacred vow, the most sacred. When you make that vow, when you enter into that vow, you necessarily change. You are still a human being with a rational mind, the God-given gift of reason, but you are also a person of faith. It’s as if the world were two dimensional before, understandable and navigable, but flat. And you never knew that it was flat until you saw that it was round. Leaping from the cliff into the unknown, you saw through the clouds and fog. Now you see that the world is three-dimensional, still understandable and navigable, but needing more than one kind of tool and map to make it through.

Before I was a believer, I thought that the world was beautiful. I looked upon it as a person looks upon a great work of art in a museum. The rich and vibrant landscape lie painted before me within its frame and I loved it all. And then…

After I took the leap of faith, not all at once, but slowly, gradually, the looking changed. It was as if someone had opened a shuttered window in the room and light poured in upon the landscape. Then, the walls around it began to crumble away and the ceiling above, too. As I grew in faith, the world upon which I looked became brighter and bigger, more rich and vibrant, until I realized that the beautiful landscape upon which I had been gazing before was but only one section of reality. Through the eyes of faith, I saw clearly, the whole of the world, big and beautiful around me, until even the frame fell away. Surely this is what the composer meant when he sang, “I once was blind, but now I see.”

Reality is still real and my rational mind is still reasonable. But, now, I understand reality in the full light of day, so to speak. When people who are not believers speak about truth, they speak about scientifically provable facts. As a believer, I also speak about scientifically provable facts as truth. But, I do not limit reality to the frame of my human limitations, and, so, I do not limit truth to this frame, either. Limitations explode and no explanations as to how are necessary. And, likewise, no explanation to one who is still limited is possible.

So…

I think that’s what St. Thomas Aquinas meant.

And when we read passages in the Bible that talk about “in the world but not of the world” or “those who have ears should hear” or “He was in the world but the world did not know Him” we should also think about this meaning. As Christians, it’s not us versus them. Just as it isn’t reason versus faith or science versus religion. Like Saint Pope John Paul II said, “Faith and Reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises in contemplation of truth.”[1] As human beings, we need both reason and faith, we live most fully through both science and religion. To have one without the other is to come up short. I believe that it is wrong for a Christian to think that faith can be had without reason. Hey, after all, there is much reason to have faith. And it is also wrong to think that reason is enough without faith. We are full-blown creatures, multidimensional, and we all must strive to be fully human and fully alive if we want the fullness of truth and the fullness of life.

How would you describe the way a flower looks to someone who has never had the sense of sight? The difficulty should not only show you the limitations of someone who is blind – but also your own limitations, even as someone who can see. How necessary is an explanation of the color pink to someone who intimately knows and appreciates the fragrance of a rose? How possible is an explanation of the color pink to someone who is visually impaired, by someone who has never been? Please read no labeling of “blind” to nonbelievers or believers. It is simply that there are words and understandings for certain aspects of reality and other words (sometimes wordless) and understandings for other aspects of reality. But, all is real.

Forgive, oh Christians, those who do not believe in your Lord, my Lord, the Lord of all. And do not pull your hair out trying to explain Lordship to them – simply share the love, strength, generosity, and joy of Lordship with them.

© 2016 Christina Chase


[1] FIDES ET RATIO (Faith and Reason)

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Servant

I want to be of some use. But I don’t want to be used.

Matthew 20:27

And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant:

We don’t want to be anyone’s fool. We won’t let anyone put one over on us or walk all over us.  We are strong.  We are independent.  We can think for ourselves, thank you very much, and don’t need anyone telling us what to do — or what not to do.  If one of us is asked to do some menial task, we think that such a thing is beneath us and say to the person asking, “I’m not your servant!”

We will not be used.

But…

Are we of any use to anyone but ourselves? What happens when we are the ones using ourselves for fruitless pursuits, enslaving ourselves to our own whims and selfishness?  I’ll tell you what happens: we become the worst kind of fools — our own fools.

I was once self-centered.

When I was an atheist, I spoke like an atheist, I thought like an atheist, I reasoned like an atheist. When I became a believer, I put away with atheistic things.

I was not a mean and nasty atheist, angry at the world, disgusted with people. I was one of those secular humanist kind of atheists, appreciating beauty and kindness, concerned with the plight of others, and wanting to make the world a better place.  You would not have known by my interactions with people, by my words or by my actions that I was a “godless heathen”.  But, well… I was.  I did what I wanted and what I wanted was what made me feel good about myself.  That very sentence can describe many people — including those who claim belief in, and love for, God.

The thing is, even when I might have said or done something that was of service to another, I cannot say that I did it purely for that other.  My act of kindness was not a selfless act, it was not true charity, because I was doing it to bring myself pleasure.  You know that pleasure that you get when you do something good for another person?  It gives you a kind of lift and can lead you to think very lovely things about yourself, and you are happy for that moment.  In this way, I can see how some people could actually get addicted to do-gooding.  But, what kind of good does it really do?  The other person who was helped is benefited.  But am I who did it?  I don’t think so.

You see, there were always people, who I helped out in some way, who did not experience the same pleasure as I did from my action. Sometimes, they received my kindness with ingratitude.  Sometimes giving meanness in return.  And, believe me, I snapped back at those people in a hurry.  “You don’t want me to help you?  Fine, then.  Suffer.  See if I care.”  Because, well, I really didn’t.  I centered all of my goodness, my talents and gifts, my beauties and strengths, in myself.  I did these things, I deserved full credit, I, I, I….  I hoarded any good quality of mine like a treasure.  I might pay out some of it somewhere if I thought it was a good investment and would give me a pleasurable return.  But, if it didn’t, then I would withdraw very quickly.  I was self-centered.

And then I became God-centered.

What does it mean to be God-centered? Well, it could be explained in many ways, but to explain the difference between being self-centered and God-centered, I’ll continue along the same lines that I wrote above.  As an atheist, I gave full credit to myself (including my genetics and experiences) for any of my gifts and talents, and anything that I thought, said, and did that was good, true, or beautiful (I was the determining judge of what was good, true, or beautiful, anyway).  But, as a believer, I give full credit to God (the true judge of truth, being Truth Itself) for all of my gifts and talents, and everything good, true, and beautiful in my thoughts, words, and actions.  God is the treasure and the treasure house.  God is the center.  And, by the love and mercy of God, God chooses to dwell within me.  Not because I deserve this.  But because God loves.

It’s like this. God created human beings in His own image and likeness and saves us from our sins, from our waywardness (a kind of drunk-on-self stumbling stagger, which is life that ends in death) by becoming one of us.  Christ sanctifies all of humanity through his Incarnation, Passion, Death, Resurrection, and Ascension: the Paschal Mystery.  And when we choose to enter into the life of Christ, we first enter into the death of Christ — and then we are reborn.  And we are not reborn in order that we may serve ourselves, our own whims and pleasures.  We are born again from above in order that we may truly become ourselves by serving others.  It is that entering into the death of Christ that allows us to truly be of use — without being used.  We Christians sometimes say that we “die to self”.  And that can sound kind of scary and weird to non-Christians — even to Christians who have not come to a fuller understanding of Christ’s sacrifice, yet.  But, you see, it is by emulating Christ, in giving ourselves away, that we are able to fully recognize God as the center and then able to give tirelessly and selflessly from the Divine treasure house within each of us.  No need to hoard.  And no need to be thanked or even recognized for the good service given to the other.  All glory to God.  For we are doing what we simply must do as true believers.  In much the same way, a rose must breathe sweetly and a flooded stream flow quickly.  It is the true nature of who we are and we cannot weary of it as long as we remain who we are.

And, so, as a believer, I know that I can be of use to others without ever being used. If someone wants half of my desert, then I should offer them the whole thing.  If someone needs help with a computer problem, I should patiently give it and not begrudge one moment extra spent doing more than might be “necessary”.  Yes, this is the God-centered life.  (God, help me live it!)  And it can be tiring, and thankless, and even lonely, sometimes.  But, the greatest human that ever lived, and ever will live, was humiliated, abandoned, tortured, and killed cruelly.  And, yet… He was willing to go through it all for the sake of the very ones who hurt Him… and so He is is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  To be like Him is more than a good idea, a pleasure, or something that might be rewarded — it is simply and profoundly who I am as a human being, first, foremost, and always.

© 2014 Christina Chase

For the Faithful Fail

Q: What does it take for evil to prevail?

A: For the good to do nothing.

Q: What, then, happens to the good?…

Psalms 12:1-2

  1. Help, LORD; for the godly man ceaseth; for the faithful fail from among the children of men.

 

They speak vanity every one with his neighbour: with flattering lips and with a double heart do they speak.

How much of what you deal with every day is truth and how much is error and deception? When we hear something over and over, from different sources in different places, we tend to take it as reality, without really thinking about it ourselves. Have the different sources just been repeating what they heard without thinking for themselves, likewise? Take, for example, religion.

Going to church

Perhaps, you have heard that church is for sinners – this from God-believing people who don’t feel the need to attend a church. My great-aunt Gini told me this several times. At first, I tried to rebuke her statement because she was trying to use it to prove that attendance of worship services should not be an integral, or required, part of faith. But, I soon saw my error. She was saying something very true: Church, or church attendance, or religion itself, is for sinners. And every human being is a sinner, because no human being lives up to the fullness of his or her potential every moment of every day.

Accepting the truth

To be a sinner is not to be damned to Hell for eternity. To be a sinner is to be a fallen human – and we are all fallen. To recognize and acknowledge oneself as a sinner is to understand the divide between human and divine, between temporal love and eternal love, between partial beauty and goodness and the fullness of beauty and goodness. This doesn’t mean that the divide is impossible to traverse – we, as humans, do not possess the inherent ability, but God grants us the ability through His Son, Jesus Christ, who is fully human and fully divine. Through his life, passion, death, resurrection, and ascension and through our acceptance and reception of the divine mercy and love that pours forth from this Paschal Mystery through Christ’s Mystical Body, we are saved, we are redeemed.

Listening and understanding

See? You might hear and repeat that “church is for sinners” and think that you don’t need to go to worship service – but you don’t understand what a sinner is or what church is. As goodhearted a person as you may be, you will be dealing in errors and lies. After realizing this, I responded to my aunt’s statement by saying, “Yep. That’s why I go to church. Because I’m a sinner.” I didn’t point fingers at her – I pointed them at me.

“God is for sissies”

Or, perhaps you have heard that religion itself – that the worship of God – is for the frightened and weak-minded, the elderly, the suffering, the disabled, and the poor. This false idea is much harder to rebut in the world, though it must be rebuked if we are to live in the truth. The belief in and worship of God, or religion as I will call it here, is not merely a comforting mythology to keep the less-endowed people from feeling the sorrow of their pathetic lives. How arrogant and deceitful a thought!

Prove it

Yet, how do we convince the self-deceived liars about the truth of religion?

Well, we certainly can’t do it by living in lies and errors ourselves. We can’t demonstrate to the world the profound and universal power of religion for good, for beauty, for justice and for love if we gossip after church about all the things that we think other people are doing wrong in their lives, gossiping in lowered voices lest those other people hear us.

We can’t prove to the world the transcendent and imminent presence of God who loves every human being infinitely and intimately if we pass by panhandlers on the street with shameful looks, wondering what drug addiction those beggars are trying to use our money to fill, or if we respond to other calls for charitable donations with a closed, cautious wallet, stating that we can’t afford to help – and then open our wallets at Starbucks or for a third, fifth, 27th (?) pair of shoes.

We can’t show the deep and abiding need for God and God’s mercy in every human being, even the richest and most successful, if we do not ourselves allow God’s mercy to flower in us so that we may forgive those who have hurt us, or even just irritated us, and be healed by that forgiving.

Good people

I just watched the movie Philomena. Although I would not use it specifically as Catholic apologetics, I would share with you the “little old Irish woman” as she is portrayed in the film as an example of a healthy Catholic response of truth in a world full of deception, anger, shamed secrets, and lies. She is a devoutly believing Catholic and, it would seem, a very simple human being. She is certainly not well-educated or well-versed, and she is not going to be able to rebut her atheist, fallen-away Catholic companion with well-reasoned arguments or clever repartée.

But, she is very straightforward and humble. She is not afraid to be a sinner – because she knows that everyone is – and, so, too, she is not afraid of sinners. She is horribly wronged, wounded, betrayed, and deceived by nuns who profess the faith that she loves. And she is angry. So angry that, even though she seeks the healing of the Sacraments of her Church, she passes by them, so overcome with emotions is she. In the end, however, she is able to do something that the witty, atheistic reporter accompanying her cannot: she can forgive.

Forgiving the nuns is hard for her, one of the hardest things that she’s ever done, but it is how she lives. Forgiveness is how she lives because she has been living deep and true belief in and worship of God all of her life. While some Catholics, like the reporter, have been swayed by their own disappointments, failures, cynicism, and the clever deceptions of the world to deny their faith and deny God, Philomena has remained true. And he, the reporter, is smart enough to see the amazing and powerful value of Philomena’s faith.

Blessed are the poor – not because they can be easily fooled into believing comforting and valuable fairytales, oh no. Blessed are the poor because they are not easily fooled into believing that God, who is the source of all existence and the truth of every loving life, is nothing but trivial nonsense.

© 2014 Christina Chase

Nigh Unto Me

What do I want?

Matthew 15:8

This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me.

What is your goal in life? What do you spend most of your time, energy, and talents toward? I seem to answer the first question one way but then the second one in another. For, I say that my goal in life is to be the person that God created me to be. But, then, if I look at where I spend most of my time, energy, and talents, it seems as though I want something else. It seems as though what I truly want is material comfort/security and the pleasure of aesthetics – and, when I’m really ambitious, the praise of others. Did God create me to be comfortablNighe? Did God create me to be lulled in contentment? Did God create me to win compliments?

I am created in order to know, love, and serve… To know, love, and serve what? Myself? My pleasure sensors? My ego? Oh, what a limited life I would live then, blind and deaf to the fullness of reality, crippled in my existence. Such was my endeavor once. As a committed atheist, I saw no meaning to life, to existence, and so did whatever I wanted, thought whatever I wanted, making up my own meaning for my own purposes. I lived for myself. I humorously (but seriously) saw myself as the center of the universe – everything that existed before me was mere prologue; everything that exists after me, mere epilogue; everything that exists with me, mere background. And why not, since, at that time, I thought that there was no center to the universe anyway, no center to anything? Looking back at myself then, I see that I was a very selfish person. Self-centeredness is something that I always have to deal with in my personality but, then, as an atheist, I could let it run rampant and become a kind of religion. The doctrines of Looking out for Number One, What’s in It for Me, and If It Feels Good Do It were all I needed to live the life that I wanted, to be happy.

Or so I thought. However, I could not be a rational and serious person and shut out the Source of Life forever. If I had stopped thinking altogether and just go on feeling without thoughts beyond my own comfort and pleasure, I may have remained an atheist. If I hadn’t wanted the truth, if I hadn’t wanted to know what really is, then I could have kept my ignorance. But, the whole reason that I became an atheist was in order to find the truth, was in order to know reality as it really is. I thought that there was no such thing as God. And I was right – in a way. God is no thing. Rather, that which we call God… IS. One day, sitting beneath the grape arbor, I let my thoughts, my focus, go deeply into the reality around me – green leaves golden in the sun, long grasses in the breeze, birdsong up in the trees, and, pealing back the layers of sound, the silence of nothing behind reality. And it was in that silence that I became aware… that I knew. Without words or images or sensations or emotions, I knew. Infinite… Eternal… Present Presence… Being Itself…. I wanted to be an atheist again for the lack of complications and (as I see more clearly now) for the centering of the universe in me. But, I could never be self-centered again without knowing that I was in error. I did not invent myself. I did not create myself. Everything that I can see and hear and taste and smell and touch did not come from me or from my parents or from bacteria. There is Silence beyond silence… the Uncaused Cause, the Uncreated Creator, the Unmoved Mover… and, much to my surprise, I came to understand the truth of “the ultimate reality that everyone calls God.”

What did I want then, after that epiphany? To know. And to know Truth really is to love. And to really love is to serve – that is, to be who I was created to be. To believe in God is not to merely profess with our lips a set of tenets that we think are true, nor to assent with our intellects to those tenets. To believe in God is to accept the reality of my existence, who I am. I – with my self-centered pleasures and pride – am not the end-all and be-all. I come from somewhere. I come from someone. From Pembroke and from my parents – but, if I open my eyes and my ears fully, if I dare to look up from my life and step out of my own way, then I understand that everything in life comes from the same Infinite/Eternal Source, born forth in the creative power of loving. Something out of nothing – by the sheer will of Being Itself.

To say all this is one thing. To live all this is quite another. I can say that I believe in God and explain how one can “prove” God’s existence until the cows come home. But, to know is to love. God, who is all-knowing, is all-loving. The Fullness of Being whom we speak of as God cannot be grasped, cannot be avoided, cannot be controlled – cannot be denied without denying reality itself. What I want, then, is to be where God is… And where is God? God is nowhere… now here… everywhere… God cannot be pinned down… or flattered, or appeased, or manipulated in any way. For God is love, pure love, pure loving. Perhaps the better question is Where am I?

Where is my heart? Where is the center of my living life, the core of my principles, the aim of my pursuits? The question is not only on whom do I depend for life itself – but also, to whom do I turn whenever there is any question? What is the pulse of my life, with what beat am I keeping time? The life that flows through me is the love that flows through me and I am not its source. The source of the universe(s), the source of existence, flows life, sustenance, love through all – and what do we do? Where do we go? There is no escape from the Infinite/Eternal One, and yet we would keep our hearts for ourselves so that we may satisfy our own self-centered pleasures and pride; and yet we would try to hide our vulnerability from the One who loves us into existence and hoard up things to fill the void left from turning away from our Source.

So that the One who loves us into existence might not seem to be far from us in our sensory-dependent blindness, God became one of us. Christ Jesus lived in humility, unknown by most of those who passed him by. His beloved disciple leaned his head against Christ’s heart one day and asked, “Who is it, Lord?” The young man wanted to know which of the disciples was going to be the one to betray Jesus by selling him out to those who wanted to get rid of him. Shall I banish Him as well so that I may seek my own self-centered pursuits?… I bow my head this day and rest upon the heart of love, the heart of reality, the heart of life, and I ask my Lord and my God, “Is it I?”

May my heart always burn with love for Him who is the Lord and seek shelter in His ever-generous, all-consuming love. Lord, may I seek only You, want only You… let my heart not be far from yours…

Christina Chase