Yes, I am a catholic…with no intentions of becoming anything else…and it is to my faith as a catholic that I owe a great deal of what I would be sharing with you in this journey. I mean, I have not always been a perfect Christian in thought, word and deed, but at each time, I have found reason to keep fighting, to keep struggling along that path. And part of what I have struggled with is the concept of belief. In my life journey, I have come across warring entities, ideas and opinions, and so have you…there are warring entities in Christianity…there are even warring entities in Catholicism, though on a smaller scale. But I have also come across, entities against even the idea of religion. Arguments have been made for and against the issue of belief in a god for centuries…and in the 21st century, it seems like it is increasing and more youths are getting to be atheist or agnostic, due to the world that appeals to them…the idols they have from childhood, and the confusion they are beset with when they embrace religion itself.
The question I have asked myself is, why do I insist on religion, why have I taken this stand, I mean why not be an atheist?
If I told you that the answer to this question came immediately I asked it, I would be joking. It took almost a year to get an answer that was personal, and more convincing. Reading a whole deal of apologetics, helped, but could not give me a personal answer. I had to give myself a reason… And I believe many of you out there would want a personal reason. You have probably heard of the philosophical answers of Aristotle and the scholastics of the middle ages, you’ve probably heard of the debates of psychologists and the arguments of more passionate priests and preachers…but what is your answer? Because the thing about your answer is that, it is yours, you cannot be more sure about a motive than when that motive is yours…an experience than when you are the one who experienced it…an idea than when you are the one who gave birth to it… it was a famous philosopher who said.. ”man, know thyself”
The truth, dear friends is that everybody believes in something.
There is not a single human being in this world who does not believe in anything. You could say, it’s inherent in man’s nature to believe in something. Either he believes that a particular thing is, or is not…the fact is he still believes something about that thing anyway. Every disbelief is an implied belief. I do not believe trees exist implies that I believe that trees do not exist. And so goes also with the belief in God, I dare say, that everybody believes something about God. And like our analogy goes…either he believes that he exists or that he does not, the fact is that the question of God’s existence occupies every man’s concept of life, every man’s concept of belief. This, I feel, is why some people say that even atheism is a religion. This is because man is in need of something to drive him…man is in need of a purpose for his existence…man is in need of someone or something to subscribe to… this is genuinely embedded in the very nature of man. Even the ardent lover of science who does not subscribe to religion, either believes so much in the scientific principles and laws, or he believes in the person who propounds it, whether that person is himself or another… the only difference may be that the ardent lover of science is so because he needs an empirical and practical proof of the subject in which he believes, and also that he subscribes to a quicker and more materialistic view of the life which he lives… the atheist may believe that God does not exist, but he believes in his own capabilities, his ideas, his own dreams, and his own desires… anyway, a lot of people have their reasons for being atheists.
The bottom line remains that man is in need of something greater than him. It is only something greater than him that can drive him. It is only something greater than him that can give his life a purpose. It is only something greater than him that can compel him to be definitive and consistent in an ideal, even when he does not want to. For it is when that thing is absent… when there is nothing to drive him, when there is nothing to compel him, that his life becomes nothing more than a set of events, nothing more than pages of pictures, with no vibe and no passion, no goal and eventually no purpose.
This is essentially what believing in something is. The object of my belief must compel me, the object of my belief must transform me, the object of my belief must be constant although I am not, such that in my inconstancy, my life will always find a pattern, something to fall back on, something to spring up from. It was while I was reflecting on this, that I remembered something a priest said to us in his homily. “To believe is to be transformed by what you believe”. If I say I believe in something and it does not transform me by its standards, then I do not really believe it. I mean, what’s the point. This is why I feel that to come to believe in something, one must have a reason for belief, and to do so, one must know himself. By knowing himself I mean, one must understand what he wants, what he really needs, what he wants to have as a purpose in life, what his limitations are, what his strengths are, what his likes are, what his dislikes are, in fact his essence.
I may sound as though I am an idealist, though i’d like to think that every man is an idealist, because everybody has a mind, and in that mind, thoughts and ideas are born. Everything we see today, from the stories of mysticism to the empiricism of science has all been born from ideas. Without ideas the world as we know it will not be. So, ideas form part and parcel of our inmost being. Every man goes deep down into himself, every man thinks, every man wonders, every man dreams and every man imagines… it is the beauty of our imagination that begets the practicality of our actions.
But yet, in the case of God we do not speak of something that originates from our ideas, something we invented, No! Instead we speak of something real, something without which our ideas wouldn’t be. It is not something that originates from our ideas but something even our ideas and actions go back to, the origin and source of all that is. In fact, a pure idealist is wrong and a pure materialist is wrong. We need to be Realists. And that is who a Christian is.
But back to the question, why do I believe in God? I believe in God because, believing in God, I can be the world’s most famous scientist, the world’s best doctor, the funniest comedian, the best singer, the best lawyer there is, the best artist there is, the best of whatever I am, the best version of myself, all with a seasoning of good. A garnishment that brightens all I dream for myself with goodness, with love, with truth, with a desire to impact on the souls of others, with a desire to leave a legacy, with a desire to change the world in which I live, and to live every moment of my life, passing every street corner, and leaving down at every doorstep a rose of that legacy of goodness, for which I will be remembered. This I believe is living life. Mother Theresa is very famous today in the world, across religions, across nations, across cultures, not because she was a Christian firstly, but because whatever she did with her life, was garnished with a touch of good. But she was able to live out that touch of goodness, because she believed in someone, and that someone was capable of transforming her into a seasoning for the lives of others. And there have been many others like Mother Theresa, who because of their belief in God have brought out the good in them, and have spread this good around them. They existed in many, if not all conditions of life. Some were doctors, like Joseph Muscati, others were priests, like John Paul II. And yet, others have even been farmers, peasants and people you would naturally call insignificant. But today, years after their deaths, the story of their lives, still shine forth as a seasoning of goodness. You know what? They still exist today, and I would like to be one of them.
After considering all of this, and indeed having tried to be an atheist myself, I can not help but admit that atheism is a move in the direction of oneself, and not of others. Nobody becomes an atheist because of others. Whoever is an atheist is so, because of himself, and even if there is a good in that, which I do not yet see, I’d rather move in the direction of others than of myself, in the direction of love than of selfishness, in the direction of a superior good, which to me, is goodness itself. This is what true religion, especially true Christianity, offers me.
And the certainty? You might ask how I am sure that God exists. First, even the philosophers in not questioning the reality of belief had this to say, “Knowledge presupposes belief. But belief does not presuppose knowledge”. If I know something exists, then I most certainly believe that it does, but if I believe something exists, I must not have known for certain that it does.”
In spite of this, here is my answer, that a belief in God is able to change millions of people, give them a purpose for centuries, compel them to make huge sacrifices, that a belief in God can do these to me, satisfies for the question, that even if I am not sure that God exists in reality, I am sure he exists at least, as an idea, a motive. And ideas are part and parcel of reality. Charity and justice are mere ideas that are born in our minds, we don’t get a hold on them in every day life, we don’t call them and they answer, we don’t have a cup of coffee with them, but we believe them, even to the extent that we hail heroes and build monuments of them because they fought for their cause. And so charity and justice exist. The irony in this case is that, even a belief in God satisfies for all we fight for in Charity and Justice.
But the fact is that a belief in God also confers a deeper certainty of his existence than even charity and justice. Like St. Augustine says, “I believe that I may understand”. The more one believes in God, the more one finds experiences in life, in reality that nurtures that belief. This happens to the extent that it’s almost as though someone else is giving us a reason for this belief, someone outside of ourselves. The more this happens, the more certain we become of the existence of that someone, and the more that someone influences our lives and directs our thoughts. And so, it would be senseless to say that that someone does not exist. In fact he does. And we are certain of it.
As our faith in that someone increases, we become more certain of his existence that we can do so much for him. Not to go into all that but… looking out a bit, we realize, that sincerely doing so much for that someone, is in fact doing so much for ourselves and for those around us. Then God becomes less and less a mere idea, but a reality in every respect. A reality without which, we wouldn’t even be real.
Like the theist philosophers have argued as well, everything has a cause, everything that exists has an origin, nothing brings itself to existence. Man did not bring himself to existence. Even the raw materials of the scientific theories of creation, did not bring themselves to existence. But for anything to exist at all, something or someone, must have brought himself to existence and in turn, brought other things to existence. You choose to call it something, well I choose to call him someone, because for him to have brought a someone like me to existence, he indeed must be greater in simplicity, more advanced in identity, and more superior in attribute, the nearest word for me to use is a someone and not a something. He does not merely exist. He is existence himself. And He is that someone that I call God.
And so I believe in God, not merely because of what I read, or because of what people have told me. I believe in God because belief in God gives me a purpose, belief in God gives me an identity, it compels me, it straightens me. The ideals involved in that belief is something I cannot control, and yet, it is something that is good. It does not take anything from me, except my lack of purpose. It does not take anything from me, except my lack of goodness. It does not take anything from me except my lack of a reason to do good. And after considering all that it adds to me, in contrast, I wonder if what it took from me were anything at all in the first place. Now I have a reason to do good, now I have a standard to compel me. And I say this, because contrary to the pride people call Christianity, the true Christianity I know, is that I am a Christian, not because I am perfect, not because I am better than the atheist, or the heathen, but because I am not. The difference being that though I am sick, I have found a hospital, though I am diseased, I have found a cure. And not only have I found it, I have embraced it. I am a Christian, because I am a sinner in need of God’s grace. Now I have a purpose, such that when my life ends, I would say to myself, I have done a lot of good. And I know I will be happy saying that.
And so I ask, do you believe in God?