Earlier, Matt Sacaro, wrote a piece Why I Wish I Could Be Religious. I loved the piece because it seemed like a sincere perspective by the author and one that I can appreciate. However, with great respect to the author, I have to disagree with what seems like a misguided assumption of what it means to be religious or a person of faith. I can’t speak for all persons of faith, I never have and I never will, because in the first place as institutional as religion can be, it is also a very personal experience.
I was born and raised Catholic and continue to be a practicing Catholic; the likelihood is that I will die one. My parents have gone to daily mass for as long as I can remember, they were always involved in church in one way or the other, and to this day, they are some of the most devout Christians I know. They are also academics and it is not uncommon for people to remark how peculiar it is for people who are “so intelligent” to also be so devout to a faith. As I follow in their academic footsteps, I often encounter the same arguments. But I wonder if it is lost on people that some of the greatest advances in shaping especially Western civilization, scientifically, socio-politically, and otherwise, have been from religious people. From Newton to Augustine, religious people have been, and continue to be people who see faith and reason, not as mutually exclusive, but as testament to a Creator God.
Where Catholics fall second-best to other Christians in things like evangelization, for example, one thing we excel at is our intellectual prowess; where people see conflict between faith and reason, we see harmony. A great example of this is evolution theory. Whereas many people assume that this directly conflicts with the story of creation, Catholics propose a theistic evolution, which reconcile that any gradual process of the development of the human being as we have come to know it, was guided by God. To the best of my knowledge, what the Church opposes is an evolution ideology that views the human being free of a soul. Moreover, with regard to the age of the earth, the Church has always referred to scientific knowledge. Part of the reason for the Church’s complementary views on faith and reason, is that as Catholics, we are not fundamentalists. While the Bible is the word of God in Catholic doctrine, we do not view it literally.
Beyond the dogma of the Church, for any devout Catholic, there are also the complexities of experiencing everyday life as a person of faith. There is an assumption, which Matt Sacaro referred to in his piece that religious people do not have to think for themselves with regard to being in the world. I would argue that we have to think more, especially in a society that increasingly places faith and reason as mutually exclusive. Whether it is wondering how to go about social reforms in the community or what political stance to take on national issues, devout persons of faith have the additional burden of ensuring that any stance they take is consistent with the faith they claim to profess, and doing so is not easy. It is for this reason, you have religious people with divergent views. Perfect examples were last year’s Vice Presidential Candidates – Biden and Ryan. Both Catholics, both on different sides of the ticket. Whatever your personal views about them, the process of justifying their stances with their faith couldn’t have been an easy one; they had to engage in a critical thinking that led them to their divergent positions. “What Would Jesus Do?” is not always an easy question to answer – it involves discernment and humility and maybe an acceptance of your own humanity as someone whose knowledge will always be limited in understanding God.
In my own personal faith, I can tell you this – believing in God is not easy; believing in God and living in this world is not easy. I go through the same experiences of pain and sorrow as anyone else and like any Christian will ask, “If God loves me, why did he let this happen to me?” is a question you will find yourself constantly wrestling with. If you don’t believe at all, you don’t have to wonder about this. When I make a bad decision, I am not just hurting myself or people around me – I am hurting the person who loves me the most, my Creator. Sometimes this has brought me to tears because I know that He will love me in spite of this, and not just because I love him, but because He is God and He is love. He loves me even when by my choices, I have not always loved him back.
Faith, like most things in life is a choice. It is a choice that I make every day and it is not an easy choice. People will judge you by it and because of it, not realizing that as any human, you have your failings and shortcomings and while you try to live out your faith the best you can, you are susceptible to sin and falling short of the faith you claim to profess. But perhaps what keeps me going in my faith is that this choice that I make, comes with grace – which is a free gift of God, and in this gift I find that it is not I who chose God but God who chooses me. And so while a life without faith or religion is difficult as any life is, it seems to me as something that is, all other things being equal, more comfortable. But as Pope Emeritus Benedict once acclaimed, “The world promises you comfort. But you were not made for comfort, you were made for greatness.”