Today's commentary is prompted by tomorrow's Gospel reading — the story of Doubting Thomas. Catholica Editor, Brian Coyne, chose Thomas as his confirmation name at the age of 11 or 12 because the story of Doubting Thomas had some impact on him. Today he still wonders if he is more doubter or believer and tries to fathom through his position today via this commentary. Where do you sit on the spectrum between doubt and belief?
Are you a believer, a doubter or both?
I suspect one of the first independent or adult faith decisions any of us cradle Catholics might make in life is the choosing of a Confirmation name. At least that was the case in my situation. I must have been 11 or 12 years old at the time and was away at a Jesuit Boarding School at the time of my Confirmation and so largely away from the influence of my parents. I can still remember the occasion as vividly as though it were yesterday. I think I must have been pretty precocious, or a smart arse, as a child because even then I deliberately chose Thomas as my Confirmation name. And it was specifically because I was attracted even back then to the story of St Thomas the Doubter — the one who wanted it "proved" that Jesus had come back from the dead by wanting to touch the wounds of his crucifixion. Tony Lawless (Ynot) in his Reflection on the Sunday Readings in our forum yesterday [LINK] reminds us that this Sunday's Gospel tells us the story of Doubting Thomas.
A contemporary painting by Thomas Cale trying to capture the essence of the story of Doubting Thomas. Click the image or HERE to see the full scale painting on Thomas Cale's website.
As a more mature adult today I find myself still "looking for the evidence". I'm still very much "the doubter". The thing I find curious is that despite the best efforts of people like Richard Dawkins, the late Christopher Hitchens, Stephen Fry and all the atheists, agnostics and secularists in the world — and not to mention the hierarchs who make it increasingly difficult to take the Catholic Church seriously as an institution concerned with the pursuit of ultimate truth (rather than bolstering its own claims to influence in temporal affairs) — I find I am still a believer more than a doubter.
But what do I believe today?
Ynot's reflection has led me back to questioning and asking myself what do I actually believe today?
I could glibly cite one of the Creeds, or at Easter time we were invited to reaffirm our Baptismal Promises — the one about rejecting Satan and all his works — but I find myself not taking literally some of the expressions we are asked to affirm in those statements. (The Baptismal Promises one last week really got me thinking. Do I actually believe in "Satan" as some dude who wanders around in the spirit world causing us to do bad things or think bad thoughts? I think I gave him away around about the time I gave up believing in the Tooth Fairy. I do think there is evil in the world but, through adult eyes, I sense all evil comes about through human behaviours and thinking whether by sins of commission or omission. It's a "cop out" to say "the Devil made me do it, or think it". To me, there is no "Devil" who intervenes in our temporal order any more than God intervenes in our temporal order.
I do believe in a Creator. As I wrote on the forum yesterday in response to discussionon of the possibility of the universe evolving from nothing:
Even if you do accept Lawrence Krauss's possibility that the universe may have evolved from nothing (as in some Quantum Pertubation and broadly I do accept that as a possibility), it seems to me we are still left with the theological or philosophical difficulty ó probably made a gzillion times more complex by this relatively new proposition: who, or what, in the dickens thought up the possibility, or the probability, that something could evolve out of nothing? [SOURCE]
As a person trained in the sciences I don't derive my sense of awe about the Creator principally from looking at pretty sunsets, the glory of the starry heavens, even the 'miracle' involved in the creation of the brain. To me the chief driver for my belief comes from the magnificent relationality of all the laws that drive the whole of Creation. Whoever thought that up had to be an intelligence beyond any normal human understanding of intelligence. There is a harmony, a logic, a relationality between everything in Creation and that, I submit, is quite evident in the small amount of knowledge we yet have access to in the laws of science discovered since the birth of modern science.
While I don't have a sense of wanting, or needing, to go out and worship this Creator-Intelligence as some people might want to "worship" some sporting or pop star, or the pope, as many people seem to need to do, I do carry within me a deep sense of wanting to simply say "thank you". Creation and Life is Awesome, Harmonious and Beautiful. It all "hangs together" in some kind of "Divine" or "Mysterious Logic" that even today with all our knowledge and fabulous technologies we still have very little insight into the full extent of how awesome it all is. Even the bits that seem unharmonious and pain-inducing — such as natural disasters, or the way the food chain works with higher species devouring lower species in the chain — has an enormous logic and harmony to it once we have access to the knowledge of why things behave in the ways they do.
God as Omega Point rather than Alpha Reference point...
More recently I have found myself moving right away from this prime focus on God, or "the Divine", as something "back there" — something, or someone, in the past as Creator, Law-giver (as in the picture of God handing to Moses the Ten Commandments carved in slabs of stone), nor even as something, or someone, "found" principally in Ancient Scriptures such as The Bible. My more recent focus has been in a concept of something, or someone, who is forever ahead of. God is future tense, not past tense. God is something we aspire to be — as per Gregory of Nyssa's observation "The goal of the Virtuous Life is to become more like God". [CCC #1803] This something, or someone, is our Omega Point not so much our Alpha Reference point — this something, or someone, this Mystery, is our longed-for destination point, some manifestation of what we each aspire to be in terms of wisdom, intelligence, compassion, mercy, justice, as a lover, in the capacity to be loved, in our capacity to be "at peace" or "in equilibrium" with our neighbours, our environment and our own selves.
Is this though the God we are encouraged to worship, and "find" in our lives, via the present institutional agenda — by our bishops and present spiritual leaders?
Could I end today by recommending you have a look at today's editorial in The Tablet "Listen to the People":
Click the logo above or HERE to read the full editorial.
Catholicismís reputation as a monolithic belief system is plainly no longer deserved. The latest evidence comes from what was until not long ago one of the most conservative parts of Western Catholicism, the Catholic Church in Ireland. A new survey of grass-roots opinion indicates that the typical Irish Catholic no longer accepts church teaching on a range of issues, mainly to do with sex and gender. Yet in terms of religious observance, they remain some of the most committed Catholics in Europe. But committed to what? The survey suggests that church teaching in these areas is no longer regarded as normative, and dissent from it as exceptional. The true position is almost the reverse: it is no longer seen as dissent, but as normal. ... So who is adrift, the leaders or the led? Indeed, which is which? If dissenting clergy are little more than proxies for dissenting laity, then the real chasm opening up is between the senior hierarchy, the Vatican especially, and the lay faithful at large. But they are out of reach, because the Church has neglected to put institutions in place through which an honest dialogue can take place. A useful move would be to remedy that deficiency. First, however, the Vatican would have to give at least the appearance of listening. And that moment is still some way off. [LINK TO THE FULL EDITORIAL]
Brian Coyne, 14 April 2012
Brian Coyne is the editor and publisher of Catholica.
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[Index of Commentaries by Brian Coyne]