The Sarabite: Towards an Aesthetic Christianity

There is a continuous attraction, beginning with God, going to the world, and ending at last with God, an attraction which returns to the same place where it began as though in a kind of circle. -Marsilio Ficino

Sunday, August 26, 2007

On Belief

"I don't personally believe in a sky god."

Such a phrase should not shock a believer, especially in the ultra-liberal Berkeley. Truth be told, the person who said this, an admitted gray-haired recovering leftist who happened to be my professor at the time, used a quite neutral and non-hostile tone while saying it. It was not as if he were saying he wanted to find it in himself to believe, nor did he mean to have a negative attitude toward those who do believe. It was a mere admission of unbelief, and a framing of the question with a very secular understanding of what belief entails.

It's not his fault. Perhaps he was affected by the parodies of the Christian God that made him frame the question in this way. When he said something about a sky god, my thoughts immediately went to that scene in Monty Python and the Holy Grail where the cartoon cut-out God in the sky tells the frightened knights to quit their groveling. Is that what we believe? On a very real level, it is. Of course, God is everywhere and we know the nature of the physical cosmos far better than the ancients did. But when we pray such things as "Our Father, who art in Heaven", and "Queen of Heaven, rejoice!", we really mean that they are above, up there. Christ didn't just disappear from the earth, He ascended. So yes, we do believe in a "sky god".

The recent article on Mother Teresa that I posted on this blog made me do my own wondering about how I believe. Among the myriad of differences between myself and the saint of the gutters of Calcutta is that she was only tempted to atheism, while I succumbed to it. I was an atheist for almost four years of my life, so I do know what it is like to conceive of a universe without God. Does the world make more sense, does water taste wetter or fruit sweeter because I believe in God now? Does light strike things differently creating another hue? Is tragedy and loss any less tragic or unsettling? No.

I have not been in the dark night of a Mother Teresa, a St. Therese, or a Padre Pio. Even in my aborted attempt at the religious life, which came after my struggles with atheism, I never once doubted that God exists. At least for my own weak soul, there were times where it would have been reasonable to doubt. But maybe my faith was not strong enough in the first place for God to send me such a trial. Thanks be to Him for sparing me from it.

No, belief, as I have said, is not about comfortable, bubbly feelings about God and the works of His hands. It doesn't explain anything in a comprehensive manner. It's not something that shines light on everything it touches. It is, for me, a firm trust that God will come and that God is here. I am not very good at this, but that is how I get through the day. When faced with unbelievers, heretics, agnostics, etc., I do not have a sense that I have something powerful that they don't. Maybe that is my own flawed faith. I feel, rather, that I see things differently from them; I see things how they really are. And that is more a grave responsibility than a feeling of having life's cheat sheet. It can sometimes make life more unreasonable and more absurd, especially when you are at your lowest points. But it can also help you climb out of the gutter, if you merely trust in Him.

I have not been preaching the Gospel enough in my own daily life. But if I have some idea on how to do it, it is more that I want to give people a sense of God's presence in our everyday world. That will include in many cases actually preaching and arguing about Catholic doctrine with unbelievers. But it will normally come through a smile in adverse circumstances, being a good worker, helping others in small ways, and even just wearing a crucifix or a scapular. I guess in my own case, God is not primarily the sky god pulling the strings of everything (though He is that). He is a comforting presence, like someone looking over your shoulder, who will in the end lead us back home if we only let Him.


At 11:26 AM, Blogger Carlos said...

Hey Arturo,

Thanks for that piece. I've been struggling with disbelief for much of this year at various points. I suppose a big part of it, was due to a couple of "miracles" that were rescinded which made me wonder, whether they were just coincidences and whether the God I loved and prayed to, was some gasous cloud of matter and energy or a sentient being with a human face.

I do have question that may be only slightly related if you would permit. Why did you enter an Eastern Catholic Seminary instead of a Latin one?

- Carlos

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