Saturday, July 24, 2010

Apologetics and the Necessity of Good Works

One of the challenges I face in my marriage is our religious divide. I am an ardent Catholic, my husband is an atheist. We have had many conversations over the course of our marriage and some really horrible fights where I said many things I now regret. It's a continuous source of pain for me, and something I pray about daily.

I count myself very blessed in this one fact, however -- my husband fully supports me practicing my faith, even when it impacts his life as well (NFP comes to mind here.)

I've gone back and forth with how much I share with him about my faith and my relationship with God. At times I've refused to answer even his most innocuous questions, like, "How was Mass?," and at other times I have launched, unprompted, into a lengthy defense of Church doctrine or religion in general.

Every conversation we have comes down to the same unanswerable question: "If God really exists, why aren't His people better than the pagans and atheists?"

It doesn't trouble me as much as it seems to trouble my husband, but I simply don't have a good answer for it. "Because we're all human and all sinners," is the truth, but it doesn't provide a very good proof of God's existence. For me, it doesn't disprove God, but I can see very clearly why someone like my husband, with his strong sense of justice and committment to building a community of people where everyone is taken care of and their invididual liberties respected, would have a BIG problem with the concept. After all, if you can be a good person without faith in God, yet faith in God leads many people to do horrible things, then how can faith be good?

It also doesn't help that many Christians in the world do not live as Jesus did, by dedicating their whole selves to love of God and neighbor. My husband likes to point to statistics that indicate places like Norway (populated almost entirely by agnostics) beat places like Brazil (with its large Catholic population) in things like charitable giving. You can make the same comparison between the Northeastern United States and the South. I've pointed out that both those comparisons are also heavily affected by economics; when you have lots of disposable income, you are better able to give to charity, whereas when you're living paycheck to paycheck or scrounging around the poverty level, you simply can't. I also said those statistics don't measure the intangibles, such as helping out a neighbor or providing spiritual or emotional support to those who need it. The Northeastern United States doesn't exactly have the reputation for hospitality and conviviality that you find in the South. My husband is quick to point out that it's the South where you find the most racism, and things like the movement to rewrite history textbooks so they minimize the contributions of a certain American Statesman. He's also quick to point out that throughout history, people who called themselves Christians found a way to justifiy evil actions (slavery, the Holocaust, oppression of women, colonialism) with the Bible. And, getting back to his larger point, if economic prosperity is a better indicator of kindness and tolerance than is faith in God, then why spend so much money and energy spreading the faith?

What, really, is the point of faith? If it doesn't make a positive difference in the world, then why bother with it?

My answer is that it has made a positive difference to me. My faith makes me a better person, hands down. I can tell you firmly, if it were not for my faith I would not have my two beautiful children. My fear of being a parent was so intense that I had decided I wouldn't have children at all, and without faith I could definitely have been one of those women who considered her abortion to be a favor to her child. I also doubt that I would have the personality that I do. I work very, very hard to be a nice person, to show love to those who are around me, to answer rudeness with manners and negativity with cheer. I know that God helps me in these attempts, and that He has made me a better mother than I ever thought I could be. I have a long way to go, but I know I only got here through His help.

I have no explanation for those people who love God and yet treat their neighbor with cruelty, indifference, or disdain. It is a great source of sadness to me that so many people share the mantle of Christian faith, yet diverge sharply on what constitutes the truth. I have no explanation for the crimes against humanity that continue to be committed by thinking, feeling, faithful Catholics. I wish we all acted a lot more like Mary, myself included.

Casting Crowns has a great song titled "If We Are the Body." To me, it emphasises the necessity of good works. No, they will not earn us a place in heaven. But they are the outward sign of God's love on Earth. In a world where so many people look at the evil committed in the name of God and think, "How can God allow this?" it's all the more essential that those of us who believe live out those beliefs in a concrete and active way. We need to be light to the world, shining brighter than any other, because we are lit with the love of God.

I can't convince my husband that God exists, but I can believe. I can't prove that religion is inherently good, but I can practice my faith. I can't explain why some Christians are so hateful, but I can be loving.

I can live my life in a way that points to God. And perhaps that's the best apologetics I can offer.