The biggest part, though, is that I love and respect my husband so much, yet he has completely different views. That has to affect me. I can't just disregard those with opposite opinions as either uninformed, or uncaring, or uninterested. I have to face the fact that my intelligent, worldly, educated, thoughtful husband has just come to an entirely different conclusion about the existence of God and our purpose in life.
He's asked me before how we can possibly be sure God is out there. My answer, "You just have to believe," is pretty much a non-answer to anyone who isn't already a believer. I've jumped through some pretty outlandish hoops to come up with some justification for him but I've always gone away empty-handed. An old adage comforts me: "For those who believe, no proof is necessary; for those who do not, no proof is sufficient." I've come to accept that I, personally, will not be bringing my husband to Christ by the persuasive power of my intellect or my ability to debate theological issues. I wouldn't really want that anyway. If he did enter the Church based on my arguments, I'd be worried for the rest of our lives that he'd encounter someone even MORE persuasive and follow their lead.
No. I want my husband to believe, and for that, Christ has to reveal Himself.
Yet I'm left with these lingering doubts and challenging questions for which I have no answer. What is the point of religion, if it doesn't DO anything? True, there have been miracles, but we're never guaranteed one. So we can pray and maybe our prayers get answered and maybe they don't. Thus the atheist says, "Why pray?" If the only benefit to prayer is a personal one, then it seems to be a pretty selfish exercise. And wouldn't your time be better spent either preparing for problems, learning concrete skills to deal with them, or proactively changing the world for the better? What really brought down the Soviet Union? The millions of rosaries Mary asked us to pray? Or an increase in communications technology which empowered the Soviet people to take charge of their government?
What about helping the poor? I've always cringed inwardly whenever I see a movie or read a book about the missionaries in foreign lands who get asked, "Why are you here, so far from home, doing this for us?" and then answer, "Jesus commands us to."
*headdesk* That's hardly the way to show God's love to the world. Dawkins has rightly criticized the Christians of this world for citing fear of hell as their motivation for doing good. Surely people are not so incredibly self-absorbed that the only way to get them to be nice is to threaten them with an eternity of pain? And if that's true, what does that say about our belief that we're created in God's image?
Most fundamentally, though, the criticism I have no answer for is the one that cuts the deepest. It has been people of faith, in the name of God, who have committed some of the worst atrocities and acts of hate against their fellow man. The faithful person can accurately cry, "But they have perverted God's message, not fulfilled it!" And even Hitchens acknowledges that atheists have done evil acts too, but the core question is this: if believing in God does not make someone a good person, then what use is religion?
My favorite priest gave an outstanding homily a few weeks ago and cited some disturbing statistics. Only 20% of Catholics tithe. And the average percentage of income given to the church is 1%. Obviously, these numbers don't translate literally. If only 20% of people are tithing, they're giving more than 1% of THEIR incomes, but you get the picture. Our mother Church gets 1%, the US government probably gets 30%, and the remaining 69% goes toward making ourselves as comfortable as possible.
Why is this? Why would the largest, most organized religion in the world have such selfish followers? I know personally a half dozen people who are truly good Catholics. They help the poor, they attend daily Mass, they follow the precepts of the Church, they are humble, generous, loving, peaceful, good people.
Is this God working in them? Or is this just how they are? Because for every person I name, there's someone else who goes to Mass and calls themselves Catholic who lives as selfishly and carelessly as any non-believer.
If there's no difference between a Christian and a non-Christian, what exactly does following Christ achieve?
When these doubts threaten to overwhelm me, I turn them over to God. Because I know in my heart He is real. He made us, He loves us, He sent His son to save us. For me, the point is to love Him back. Period. But I also think that being a Christian HAS to change you. It has to make you rethink your natural impulses and reevaluate your worldview. No society in this world is set up to care for the weakest and most vulnerable among us. The free market system and natural selection emphasize strength, intelligence, aggressiveness and foresight. None of this meshes with Jesus and the gentle, generous, simple, humble, trusting way He preached. We Christians should be visible as outsiders wherever we go, and not just for wearing crosses. We should be focusing on exactly the things society disdains, pursuing those avenues society considers worthless, protecting the people society would rather do without.
We should be transformed in Christ. Our faith should be a light that shines so brightly in our lives that no one can ask what good religion does this world. It should be abundantly obvious.
If it isn't, we're missing the whole point.
Picture credit. (Props to my husband for expanding my musical repertoire. Our son loves this album almost as much as the soundtrack to Aladdin.)