Tuesday, April 19, 2005


Wayfaring Strangers, Part 2

(Wayfaring Strangers is a continuing series about our experiences as my wife and I study to convert to Catholicism.)

What I Believe
The conversion process, of course, involves a lot of fellowship with the Catholics we know, and a lot of introspection. Part of the conversion process... for me, anyway... is to read everything I can get hold of about Catholicism. That's the way I do things anyway. When I get interested in something, I read about it. In excess, maybe.

I can't just read, though. I think it might be a good idea to set down on paper (or at least on hard-drive) what my own core beliefs are. If I write it down, I can refer to it and see if my beliefs are changing. That will keep me honest with regard to my own beliefs. As a journal it would provide cause for reflection, too.

This is a partial list of the things that I believe. I mean deep-down believe. These are beliefs that go to the bone with me. If I learn that these beliefs conflict with articles of Catholic faith, then I'll need to ask myself the difficult questions about whether or not Catholicism is really for me.

I honestly believe these things:

  • With regard to communion with God, the most powerful tool at our disposal is the human imagination.

  • It is possible and even logical to believe that the theory of evolution is a viable explanation of how we came to be as we are... and that Intelligent Design answers every other relevant question about our origins. I am ambivalent about the theory of evolution. It doesn't threaten my core beliefs in creation, and it's focus is too narrow to be of any real philosophical value to me. Frankly, I don't see what the big deal is.

  • We know that Christ's teachings about the mustard seeds, the prodigal son, etc, were parables. Knowing that they were parables does nothing to diminish the value of those teachings. What's more important is the basic truth we learn from those parables. Likewise, it is possible to believe that the story of the Garden of Eden is an Old Testament parable without diminishing the value and importance of the Garden's lesson. In fact, I believe that those who reduce the story of the Garden to a mere human origins story without considering it's deeper implications are missing the point. The story of the Garden is a profound, eternal, universal picture of the human condition... of the internal struggle between obedience to God and selfishness. As a template by which we judge the quality of our own motivations and actions, the story of the Garden is immediate, personal, and informative. For me, it is best considered that way.

  • Since Hell is the absence of God, it stands to reason that Hell was not created by God. Neither was it created by any demonic force, since only God has the power to create. Hell is, instead, the opposite of God. To the degree that it is created by anyone, it is created by each of us when we turn away from God. To that end, each of us might do well to imagine Hell as an eternity trapped in the worst of ourselves... that part of each of us that we hate the most... without so much as a memory of our better natures. Further, since Hell is the absence of God, it cannot be understood or even imagined, really, by any creation of God. Biblical imagery of lakes of fire and brimstone is just that: imagery. It is designed to convey a sense of the misery and pain of a Godless existence. A literal lake of fire, in fact, would surely be preferable to the true condition of Hell, since fire is a creation of God. Even literally being burned for eternity would at least have a context relatable to the world of God's creation. We'd be able to consider the suffering against what it is not. Our human ability to understand human suffering depends on our ability to understand human peace, and to hope for it. Suffering as we know it (or can imagine it) would cease to be suffering if there was no hope for it to change. Without the context of hope, our ideas of suffering would become a simple, bland existence after a while. Suffering as we understand it is proportional to our ability to hope for it to end. Since hope is part of the providence of God , it doesn't exist in Hell. Therefore, by it's very nature, Hell is something worse than any kind of human suffering we can define. Hell has no hope.

  • Likewise, Heaven can not be understood or imagined by humans, since heaven is a sinless state of communion with God, and none of us can understand what it means to be sinless. This is the flip side of the coin of my beliefs about Hell. Biblical images of streets of gold and palaces are simple imagery, designed to give us an idea of the value, beauty, and eternity of Heaven. The real state of Heaven, of course, is beyond that, since our ability to understand it, like everything else, is tainted by sin. The experience of Heaven is beyond our comprehension since we'll experience it truly cleansed of sin and with complete souls.

  • Focusing on Heaven and Hell isn't the real drive of Christianity, anyway. The main concern of Christ's ministry was the way we treat each other, and how our obedience to God is reflected in that. To be Christian is to be an active participant in the world around us. We can change neither Heaven, nor Hell, and it's almost a waste of time to concern ourselves with them. The imperative is what we can change; the next day, the next hour, the next second of each of our lives. That is the heart of the ministry of Jesus Christ.

  • These are the things I believe to the core of me. As of now, I have no reason to doubt that those beliefs will fit in the fold of Catholicism. Nonetheless, I must guard against any tendency I might have to compromise those beliefs. I enjoy and admire the ritual, history, and tangibility of the Catholic Church. I must not let my desire to join a church I feel so much affection for take precedence over the beliefs that I feel I've come to understand through God. It would make me the worst kind of Christian and the worst kind of Catholic if I did.

    just stumbled onto your blog. interesting read. i'm currently struggling with the decision to return to the catholic church or to perhaps explore life as an episcopalian.
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