Friday, April 25, 2014

Catholic atheist


From a reader:
How can you be a Catholic and an atheist simultaneously?  Help!
Thanks for asking.  
I am an atheist but not a materialist. Atheists reject gods. Materialists reject God. To put it more kindly, they don’t believe there’s any non-physical reality, in that way denying the existence of what’s called “God.”
I relate intimately with the Inner Realm and culturally I am Catholic. But I do not receive nourishment from religion devoted to a god or set of gods—Lord, Father, HeHimHis. I reject that kind of theism—hence, I am a Catholic atheist.

I can't get through a day without relating to my Inner Beloved. At the end of most days I reflect on the activities of the day. Not rarely I realize that what I accomplished that day veered from my morning plans, which needed revision. An inner force directed me to the right work, which I had not known when the day began. I love it when I fall into an unpleasant job I’ve been putting off, putting off. Suddenly there I am, getting it done. Appreciating the deed accomplished wonderfully caps the end of my day. The same revision of my plans happens on a larger scale over the course of my life. 

In the waning years of my father’s life, he mused on a remarkable fact. He had been successful in planning and carrying out daily tasks but the largest developments in his life turned out entirely different from his plans. He had labored hard to acquire a farm for each of his four sons. Only one farmed, and not as Dad thought he should. A mysterious thread of events shaped his life, indifferent to his plans.

As a writer—and I hear the same from other writers—I receive information just when I need it, sometimes when I don’t know I need it. The muse, as the Greeks called it, has been active. She has guided writers, artists—and even scientists—for thousands of years. Ordinary people, too, get nudges from this mysterious guide.

Listen to an artist as she speaks about her work, and you will hear notes of sudden inspiration from . . . from where?  From a consciousness in the Inner Realm, I believe, and I am certain it does not come from her physical brain.   Listen to scientists, even those firmly denying spiritual reality, and you will hear notes of Transcendent Mystery entering their engagement with the material world. I hear it regularly in interviews by Krista Tippett at On Being.
She interviews many religious people, but I listen more closely when scientists and mathematicians are on, especially the professed atheists, who without leaving their firm materialist assumptions, delve into that intriguing threshold linking the internal and external worlds connected by consciousness.

I experience the Inner More in another way. Depression dogged me during much of my life—I have intimate knowledge of the utter blackness that can envelop persons in the throes of depression. My healing came from inner work—sessions of deep reflection when I saw myself clearly—and from spiritual aid. The aid was essential, something I learned at a certain point in my life. I had resisted psychotropic drugs and analyzed myself with brutal honesty, fully aware of my shortcomings. I expected results from this self-analysis but was disappointed. Then, when I joined Al-Anon and asked my Higher Power for help—voila!

Now when I find myself drifting into malaise, I have spiritual tools to stop that train. I confess I have to keep reminding myself to get help from the Inner Realm. It works. Deliberately I direct my mind away from dark thoughts and toward the light of trust in spiritual power. It is an act of will along with an appeal for spiritual aid, and then I observe my thoughts changing. I’m sure that a brain scan at that moment would register the movement. My physical apparatus registers the non-physical change.

Felicitous happenings like this grace all lives that are open to receiving them. The more receptive you are, the more they happen to you, especially if you ask for spiritual aid. When it happens, you can’t dismiss it by logical arguments about chance. You just KNOW some transcendent power is responsible. I know I haven’t convinced the skeptics, but I hope others recognize something like this in their own lives.

Listening to the Inner Guide takes priority over religious devotions, but I’m lucky in being able to experience the best of religion. At its best, religion brings people together in loving care to enhance each other’s goodness. At its worst, it prescribes beliefs, judges and condemns. While religion is not necessary for healthy living, relationships are. Feeling this need intuitively, atheists form communities of nurturing fellowship, an exciting, healthy development. Who knows?  Maybe it will lead to more understanding between believers and non-believers.

In my senior year of college I was introduced to the historical-critical approach to scripture (details in God Is Not Three Guys in the Sky), learning that we don’t have to believe things in the Bible that defy common sense. It changed everything. Catholic education doesn’t resemble evangelical literalism so I knew about myths like Jonah in the whale and Moses with the ark full of animals. Still, Catholic indoctrination the first 20 years of my life could not be reconciled with my maturing thoughts about spiritual matters. 

Freed by historical-critical analysis from the Bible’s absolute authority, I chucked Catholic authority too and did my best to become an atheist. I thought it meant disbelieving in anything spiritual. But I observed something funny about myself. When reading a newspaper or magazine, the words “Catholic” or “Christian” or “religion”  swung my eyes in their direction every time. Obviously my childhood faith still had a hold on me.  

Doubts about materialism, which I was trying out as my new faith, also surfaced. I could not embrace materialism, no matter how logical it was made to appear. It didn’t fit the experiences of my life, and I had read enough of Jung to know that I could reject conventional religion while probing deeper reaches of the Interior Sphere.

Al-Anon with its concept of our Higher Power clinched it—spiritual power is real, but religion often misrepresents it, often subverts it. Now I challenge both dogmatic religion and dogmatic materialism.  I am a Catholic atheist.

For more on this, go to my post “A Catholic atheist?” in 2012.

1 comment:

Chris said...

Jeanette,

Strangely, I really liked this post- that is I think you did a nice job of expressing some rather subtle sentiments. Nevertheless, as I have said several times before, considering the breadth of your learning, I find it difficult to digest your unwillingness to recognize traditional Christianity for what it actually is. Based on your, well, rather parochial understanding of God, I would argue that all Catholics should be atheists! The fact that many Christians "on the ground" are not theologians and practice a simple and obediential faith to a "father in the sky" seems totally irrelevant.

Why should we regard that simple believer as the representative and spokesperson of the Faith as such? Would it make sense to base our judgement of, say, evolution, by asking people on the street to explain it rather than a scientist or someone in the field that can actually do justice to the subject?

Probably not. The point is, the God that you "lack a belief in" is also the God that Catholicism lacks a belief in. The classical theist does not believe in "a" supreme being, but Being Itself, the uncaused, eternal , changeless, and transcendent source of all that we move and have our being in. The God that you seem intent on rejecting is one that appears to have more in common with pagan deities like Zeus and Thor, rather than the Christian God, in which case your "Catholic atheist" description turns out to be quite accurate.