|I'M NOT A VERY GOOD CATHOLIC. Except for Christmas and Easter and
the odd vespers, you won't find me at church next to my wife. In the beginning,
I used to joke that we were like one of those old Italian couples in the
neighbourhood where I grew up; while she was in church on Sundays, he'd
be at his local social club, drinking coffee and watching soccer. My club
and coffee and soccer is the couch, a coffee and a stack of books and magazines.
I'm sure K. would prefer that I share her devotion, but I can't, not right
If I felt at all defensive about it, I could claim that I wasn't
the one whose life changed, that the woman I met and asked to marry wasn't
at that time a devout Catholic. I'd be suggesting that it was me who was
cutting the slack, who was indulging my tolerance. It would be a pretty
graceless attitude, and pretty far from the truth.
No, in this case, it's my wife who's being tolerant. Faith can be
a pretty lonely thing in the modern world, and I'm not being the best companion.
I hope K. understands, but my relationship with the church, with God, is
a bit fraught, my faith basically locked in a struggle with my skepticism,
my disinclination to membership in anything, the much-reduced but still
palpable sense of betrayal that drove me from the church when I left Catholic
school. I would love to join her, but I just can't do it.
It was hard to explain this to K., and only a bit easier to explain
it to Father Dan. My relationship with the church is friendly but conditional,
qualified by the usual historical qualms Pius XII, the doctrine of papal
infallibility, a handful of colourful but iniquitous Medieval and Renaissance
popes, the well-meaning but aggressivly trivial excesses of Vatican II
and by the cumulative disappointments of my decade and a half of Catholic
education. More on that later.
MY RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD is a bit less easy to explain. If I could
explain it at all, it would be in terms that verge on rabbinical. I've
felt for years that I'm engaged in a dialogue with God a dialogue that's
a trifle one-sided, to say the least, and which demands from me a bit more
patience than I'm often able to summon. But a dialogue, nevertheless, a
discussion, an often heated argument that always comes back to one, essential
question: What are your intentions? Where is this all leading? And above
all: why, why, why?
It's a question that I never tire of asking Him, and with which He
often surprises me by throwing back in my face.
It's not prayer. It's more like an argument that's been going on
for years, mostly genial but coloured by a sense of urgency. I long for
an answer have been longing ever since I grew tired of the scripted prayers
I learned as a boy, and sick of my own impatient pleading as a young man.
It's a dialogue that I could only begin when I stopped thinking I had a
personal stake in the answer.
IT WOULD BE OBVIOUS, I suppose, that I'm some sort of delusional
megalomaniac, debating the Almighty on somewhat equal terms. It's fine
if you want to think that it would make for some amusing e-mail, at the
very least but the truth is a lot more stark. Of course I've never talked
to God, but transforming my prayers into contentious dialogue is a way
of working around one of the harsher obstacles to real faith in my life.
I have no problem in the absence of proof, the greatest obstacle
for scientific rationalists in believing in a God. Moreover, I don't
relegate him to the role of philosophical abstraction, as do many virtual
agnostics. You might say that I tend to Carl Sagan's view of God as something
that begins in the vast space where science ends, viewed through a very
personal, very Catholic, lens.
It's a metaphor I like, if only because it furnishes an image of
the incredible remove at which I imagine God regards us. If we feel alone,
and struggle painfully with that loneliness, it's because God's grace doesn't
extend to our ease or comfort. God's love is an austere love, not disinterested,
exactly, but committed to seeing us overcome our trials and flaws on our
It's a view of God that, should you be so disposed, might make room
for evolution; God wants us to improve ourselves, inasmuch as the world
he created can only survive at least while we're in it by
striving for perfection. But that would skirt dangerously close
to the concept of "intelligent creation", and to be honest, I don't want
to go there.
The great flaw with "intelligent design", or any other workaround
concocted by biblical literalists, is that it seeks to punctuate the whole
question of creation with a period; full stop; end of debate. And that
seems not only utterly contrary to the whole point of the scientific process
but, viewed through the prism of my particular take on God, something close
to heresy presuming to know God's intentions, so far as to prescribe
his role, his methods, and his motives.
God is vast and, as far as mankind is concerned, unknowable. We will,
in all likelihood, never know the mind of God, but like most other ideals
worth pursuing, the struggle is the point.
I'M NOT FOOLING MYSELF that my particular, qualified, less-than-comforting
take on faith is anything like a coherent, whole worldview. It's as full
of holes as anyone else's edificle of faith, designed to house one occupant
at best. I'd welcome anyone to debate anything I've said here I'm sure
there's enough material for that, at least. It's not, however, all I have
to say about the church that will have to wait till my next entry.