My Long and Winding Road to Catholicism – Part 4

Editor’s note: this post was originally published more than five years ago on a now defunct blog. It was originally published pseudonymously. I have done some editing to clean up the bits that I wanted to keep anonymous. I’ve also updated it a bit to reflect how my thinking has evolved over five years. But the vast majority of this text is untouched.

Sometimes the things that may or may not be true are the things a man needs to believe in the most. That people are basically good; that honor, courage, and virtue mean everything; that power and money, money and power mean nothing; that good always triumphs over evil; and I want you to remember this, that love… true love never dies. You remember that, boy. You remember that. Doesn’t matter if it’s true or not. You see, a man should believe in those things, because those are the things worth believing in.

–Hub McCann, “Secondhand Lions”

In part 3 I mentioned that I believe Christianity can be objectively shown to be both better and more advanced than competing religions. Despite that, I still have issues with it.

I’ve never had any question that a man named Jesus (or, more accurately, the Hebrew equivalent) lived in the Holy Lands at some point during the reign of Augustus, gathered some disciples around him, and taught more or less as he’s represented in the Gospels. His crucifixion is probably the single most believable part of the story. Here comes this guy who at one and the same time is stirring up trouble against the local religious authorities and is spouting off a lot of stuff that sounds like it’s undermining the authority of the Roman overlords? Oh yeah, I’m sure they crucified that guy. OK, so there’s not a lot of corroborating historical evidence to back up a lot of the specifics. There’s not really much to go against it, either, so I don’t really see much of a reason to discount the basic non-miraculous parts of the gospel story.

Was he the son of God? Did he rise from the dead on the third day? I’ve had a lot more trouble with those, I’ll admit.

For a time I was convinced that it didn’t really matter. It’s a powerful story even if it’s only metaphor – or even if it was made up after the fact by his disciples in an attempt to bolster their fledgling faith. As I’ve said already, a large part of my own journey to religion was practical. Some will find this offensive. Many will find it unconvincing. Others will scoff. I don’t really care. I’m not writing this to soothe your feelings. I’m not writing it to convince you. I’m sure as hell not writing it for your approval. It’s just my story as it is. I have difficulty with these elements, but I can live with them.

I’ve had serious trouble believing that the bible is the literal word of God. Not to make too light a point of it… but if it’s the literal word of God, which version is the right one? And don’t hand me an English translation, because I’m not buying it. The original books of the bible were written in three different languages (Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek) at different times and places by different people. For some books of the bible, there are multiple versions in the original language. Which one should we use for the translation? Biblical scholars don’t always agree. The Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Protestant bibles don’t even have the same number of books.

I refuse to accept the idea of predestination. This isn’t just a selfish need to feel like I have some degree of control over my own life (although I’ll admit to a little of that). Whether free will is real or not, I believe that we must act as if it is. If we stop acting as though we believe in free will, society fundamentally breaks down. This is one of the many cultural/religious issues that the Islamic Middle East faces that keeps it from rising above its current problems. If you don’t believe in free will, then you stop caring about the choices you make. Morality as we know it breaks down because nobody has any real responsibility for anything. I reject predestination completely, and everything that comes with it.

I outright reject any faith that preaches that God has already chosen who will be “saved” and who won’t. If God has preselected whom He’s given Grace to and whom He hasn’t, and everybody else is just fucked even if they try their best to live a good life and follow His teachings… well, that God’s an asshole, and He’s not worth of my belief or worship. And if that’s really how He is, then I’ll stand before Him on judgment day and tell Him to his face as He casts me into the fiery pits of hell. So be it.

I find no benefit in any religion that doesn’t ask something from its members. Modern protestantism, especially in America, is so pathetically lame. A quote from a friend’s Facebook page recently [five years ago now]: “For lent I’m going to give up self-loathing and being so hard on myself about everything.” Really? Wow, what a sacrifice. For those wondering, yes, it’s from a girl’s page. I say girl even though she’s in her 20s because… well, it should be obvious. Or as Dalrock has pointed out repeatedly, they can’t even condemn divorce anymore. Our churches have become so feminized and so overrun by the self-obsessed Baby Boomers that they’re mostly just intolerable. No wonder membership is declining.

I can’t join a faith that doesn’t have a basic respect for science. Yes, our society has swallowed a lot of pseudoscientific crap. But real science – the kind that, you know, follows the actual scientific method – has been the single greatest tool humanity has ever known for removing misery, poverty, starvation, and premature death.

It’s a lot to ask of a religion, but I’m much more comfortable something that’s internally consistent. Yes, with Christianity I’m being asked to accept a few things as basic premises that I have a bit of trouble with. But thanks to Gödel’s first incompleteness theorem (summed up for the lay person: any logical system that is internally consistent will always have premises that are unprovable but are nonetheless true within that system) we know that this is pretty unavoidable. I have little stomach for those who can’t be intellectually honest with themselves about where their theories and philosophies lead them.

I really have come to believe that elements of our culture and government have been deliberately designed to keep families small and help break them apart, and we’re looking for institutions that counter that. Specifically, my wife and I want a big family [And now we have four kids], so we want a community that’s supportive and understanding of that. In this day and age, anything more than 2 or 3 kids is kind of rare, and almost looked down upon. We also want a place that is very firm in supporting marriage – not divorce.

massI have come to believe that rituals are an important part of culture and religion and that our society is seriously lacking in them. Yes, they’re completely irrational and don’t serve much of an objective purpose. But I believe that the human psyche needs them nonetheless.

I’m not at all interested in a cult of personality, and that’s what most fundamentalist evangelical churches are. An alpha minister is OK, I just expect him to be a moral and spiritual leader as part of it, not just a douchebag.

I have no patience for those who claim that they’re getting “closer to the original teachings of Christ.” Right. And how, exactly, do you know? Were you there? No, of course you weren’t. Your rationalization hamster is just spinning away to rationalize your own interpretation of Christ’s teachings. I even say this as one who’s been partially guilty of this in the past. Sure, we have some interesting historical documents that have turned up recently that give us a new perspective on the early church. There’s no reason whatsoever to believe that they’re any more authentic than the scriptures that have been passed down over the centuries. If anything, those who formalized the canon at the Council of Nicea were probably in a better position to decide that than we are today, given that they were much closer to the source and had access to a whole lot more documentation that has since been lost to us. Also, they were living in a Christian tradition that had had much less time to evolve. I doubt that they were perfect in their decisions, but I even more doubt that we’re going to be able to be more perfect 1700 years later.

In Part 5 I’ll explore why I believe Catholicism in particular has answers to most of these issues.

The Whole Series

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0 thoughts on “My Long and Winding Road to Catholicism – Part 4

  1. Taarkoth says:

    As an aside for the anyone who encounters mention of it and doesn’t understand the differences, what our host is describing here is the predestination used by Calvinists, Moslems, and others and is more properly known as double-predestination, as opposed to what the Catholic Church means when she talks of predestination.

    Specifically what the Church means by predestination is that since God exists outside linear time, He’s able to look at all of time at once and thus can already see how everything turns out. One’s actions are predestined not in that one doesn’t have any choice when making them, but that to an outside observer (ie. God) they’ve already happened.

    Double-predestination is as Russell describes above: instead of merely knowing what’s going to happen, God is actively causing it to happen.

    To make an analogy, predestination is a programmer writing a simulator with self-evolving algorithms and then running it. After it’s finished he can then rewind and fast-forward through all stages of the execution and observe them, and while he created the framework for the simulation to run in, he didn’t directly cause anything in the simulator unless he inputs commands during the runtime.

    Double-predestination is an author writing a book, where nothing happens at all without the author directly causing it to happen.

    Disclaimer: I am not a theologian and that was a very bare-bones explanation. The subject, like most aspects of Christianity when one really starts studying them, can get a great deal more involved than that.

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