Tuesday, April 26, 2011

On the silence of religion.

I wholeheartedly believe that the silencing of religion, sometimes self-inflicted, is a major cause of atheism.

I had a brief discussion with someone recently who was kind enough to give me a ride (I had bruised my knee). When I heard what was on her radio (Christian music), I discovered that she was a Christian. I had no idea up to that point, and this was a person I spent some time with every week. I broached the subject a little bit but had to go...the ride was over.

We had time enough to talk about how the kind girl "had the sense" that a lot of people who work on this student newspaper were Christian. Obviously if she has the sense that this is true, they must be living Christian lives at least a little, but not talking about it? What for?

I thought about what might be the reason for this. I feel like people don't want to talk about their faiths. Maybe they are afraid that they might offend the other person for "evangelizing." Perhaps they believe it makes people uncomfortable...or maybe it makes them uncomfortable. Or maybe they are just not that strong in their faith to actually want to talk about it.

I think if you love Jesus, truly love Jesus, your love will be loud. You will talk about Him and everything related often. You won't be able to help yourself. And if you live a Christian life, and know the joy of a Christian life, you will want to share it, because you love other people enough to want them to have it too.

Whatever the reason, I think many atheists don't believe at least partly (whether or not they will admit to it) because religion is dead as a subject. I'm sure if some people were exposed to more public religious conversation (notice I said conversation, not debate) they would more carefully consider it. But people who really know and love the Lord remain silent in public because that is what is politically correct. Or perhaps they don't want to be the "Jesus freak." It's easier to say "I'm an atheist" than "I'm a Christian." So the crowd will follow...

Whatever the case, there needs to be more God talk...outside of Church. Outside of bible study. Live your love authentically, or people will think it doesn't exist...just like I didn't think it existed in that nice girl who gave me a ride.

There was a dream that I dreamed, a dream for a love that is LOUD.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

A hard Lent.

The season of Lent is over, and I feel it necessary to tell something of my experience.

I have had a very special trial this Lent, either by God's choice, diabolical influence, or the twists and turns of my own life. I don't think I have done as good as I could have.

I am reminded this Lent of how far I've really not come after all. How really weak I am. It's a sobering realization.

I don't wish to embark on a tale of woe and false humility and what a depraved human being I am. Any good Christian knows how much we need God and I think it would be a useless gesture to get on the pulpit about it now. I only wish to tell a story.

I've realized that I still have addictions. Addictions to the Internet I thought I left behind. I like watching Internet videos, so I gave them up for Lent. Turns out I've probably cheated on that a dozen times.

I'm not sure why but all of Lent I was also more tempted than I'd been in a long time to sexual impurity of all sorts, even new things I hadn't been tempted to before. I don't mind admitting it, after all, who is not tempted in some form? But for whatever reason the temptation to do something, anything, was heavy on my mind. I didn't do anything, though. Thank God for that.

I find I welcome temptations much more often than I should. Details would take forever to impart but suffice it to say I stink at avoiding near occasions of sin. I walk the line and never cross it, but I should be staying away, far away. It sends the message to me that I don't take it seriously enough. I love my faith and I love fighting for heaven, but actions speak louder than words. If I really cared as much as I say I do, I would never even come close to doing something...stupid.

I'm also still very crabby sometimes. I am very impatient with people. I expect something and if I get something very far from that it's hard for me to be civil. When people talk to me while I'm eating and reading a book and just want to be left alone, I don't try to make conversation. Whenever I've been really upset and just don't want to talk to people, I'm very cold. When someone stole my pot and then took down the signs I put up politely asking for it back, I just ignored everyone. When people wake me up and don't seem to care, when they accuse me of things that they are responsible for, when no one seems to care that I'm having a problem they're causing, I just don't do what the saints do. I don't act out of perfect love. I act out of half-assed love.

I am left this Lent feeling pretty inadequate. I feel like an inadequate boyfriend because of my lack of new ideas for us and my general bouts of bad moods. I feel like an inadequate friend because I can't meet up with everyone I want to and I haven't been such a nice guy. I feel like an inadequate Catholic because I don't have genuine prayer, I have little faith, and I don't know if I'm growing in virtue. I feel inadequate in preparing for my future for the lack of responsibility and progress I've made in building my future.

I am inadequate. God help me.

There was a dream that I dreamed, a dream far beyond my trial this Lent.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Iron will.

I'm better now.

Sometimes the only reason I want to continue with something is because I can't stand to give up. I admire perseverance too much.

I like the hero of a story the most when he has his face in the mud but refuses to die.

For instance, one of my favorite moments in Dragon Ball Z is when Goku is being held under the water by Frieza, too hurt to fight back, slowly drowning...then he thinks about his family and finds the strength to beat his way to the surface.

I love the moment in the Lord of the Rings where Aragorn is quite sure that Frodo is dead and the Ring is in the hands of the enemy. Certain doom for them all. Yet, he clings on to hope and charges into battle against hundreds of thousands of orcs. Ready to fight, always.

For that matter, I love the part where Merry and Pippin are surrounded by Uruk-Hai, and Boromir rushes in to save them, literally taking them all on and winning...for a while, at least. He never gave up on redeeming himself...some of his last words being how sorry he was that he assaulted Frodo.

And what about Roland Deschain, last gunslinger of the line of Eld? Virtually all of his friends and family dead, murdered in the eternal war against darkness, the entire fabric of reality collapsing around him...the only one who can reach the Dark Tower and reverse the damage caused by the Crimson King and save all existence...yet he plods on. The most recognizable quote from the Dark Tower is "The man in black fled across the desert...and the gunslinger follows." His progress, like his will...inexorable.

In Star Wars, the moment where Luke is about to be executed via the long, slow digestion of the Sarlacc, lightsaber nowhere in sight, surrounded by Jabba's henchmen. When all hope was lost, he was prepared all along to fight for the freedom of his friends. Later, he shows that he never gave up on his father Darth Vader, whom was thought to be lost to evil even by the optimistic Obi-Wan, Vader's former mentor. Luke's love saved Darth Vader.

There are so many other examples that I love...William Wallace, the Elric brothers, Leonidas, Westley, Maximus...How can I give up when all of the fictional characters I admire never did? People who aren't even real. The characters I spent so long watching, reading about, wishing I was them...well, this is the way I will be like them. I won't give up, even on myself, on my own doubtful mind.

The example I know I should hold above all though, is the One who said, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" He never gave up, either.

He never gave up on me.

There was a dream that I dreamed, and that dream was for a fight to the end.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

"The best of all of us."

"Long have you hunted me. Long have I eluded you. No more! BEHOLD THE SWORD OF ELENDIL!"

If you're not familiar with the Lord of the Rings, a large part of the story is the journey of Aragorn. At first Aragorn lives in a world of self-doubt. Although fantastically proficient as a swordsmen and heroic in combat, he doubts himself. He doubts his strength, and believes the weakness of his forefathers is passed on in his blood. He is destined to be King...but has taken on the lonely and thankless life of a Ranger.

One of his few motivations is his love for the elf-lord Elrond's daughter, Arwen. Arwen loves Aragorn, and would give up her immortality to be with him, but the jealous Elrond will only allow Aragorn to marry her if he reunites the entire world under his leadership.

By the time we meet him in Lord of the Rings, Aragorn has already travelled across the world, fighting countless battles as a mysterious stranger, hooded and cloaked, his true identity known to none. Blessed with a long life-span, he has worked tirelessly for over 60 years to achieve his destiny.

The events of the Lord of the Rings visibly change Aragorn. No scene is more poignant than the one I quote above. In the book, the fact of this is only mentioned, but the movies actually show the scene where Aragorn confronts the demon who has been searching to destroy the destined King of Middle-Earth through a type of looking-glass called a palantír. It is only a ruse, designed to cause the demon to mobilize his armies, but nevertheless Aragorn's essentially psychic confrontation with the demon Sauron, if you know Lord of the Rings like I do, is an incredible act of bravery.

Imagine that you've been chased your entire life by an army of monsters led by a maniacal demon, and then creating a psychic link between you and that demon just to say "I will run no more. I will fight you!" That's what Aragorn did.

I feel that I empathize with such a hunting more and more lately. I have run my entire life from my own Sauron. Sometimes he is lying in wait, dormant. Other times, like in high school or my sophomore year here at college...and right now...he is awake. Fighting me actively. Long has he hunted me. Long have I eluded him.

But now I can't escape. I've been awakened to a terrible...something that I can no longer close my eyes to. I no longer know what to do about the most pivotal understanding anyone can come to in life.

I am being deliberately cryptic because there are some things in this blog that I must write about and at the same time keep to myself. I hope you can understand, reader.

Someone recently said that I was the "best of all of us" in reference to the community I live in. I couldn't believe it. If I am the best, as he says, how do I have problems I should have left behind long ago, never to return?

I know many things and understand many things, but what I know and understand are only reasons, not proofs...of anything. Sitting there, in a comfortable place among friends, feeling the sensation that I was sinking, physically sinking, afraid I was living a lie because I couldn't feel the goal of my lifetime speaking back to me and never really could...it was too much. I ran away.

I have to wonder if my problem really is caused by a demon. It would be a delight to think many things at this point. One is that by the silence I am really being a silent hero...when I die I await true delight in knowing that the sacrifice that God knew I could handle saved many others. The other is that I am so hated by the enemy that I get my very own Sauron, dedicated to deceiving me and trying to make this world a living hell for me. That's something I can actually fight.

The truth is that I don't know of any way I can find out. It's the only answer I have no source for.

There was a dream that I dreamed, and that dream was for no more.

Friday, April 8, 2011

I am weary.

"The stars are faint; and I am weary as I have seldom been before, weary as no Ranger should be with a clear trail to follow. There is some will that lends speed to our foes and sets an unseen barrier before us: a weariness that is in the heart more than in the limb."

Tolkien has words for every emotion that I feel. The above quote is from the Lord of the Rings, and spoken by the future King Aragorn as he is hunting for his captured friends, running hundreds of miles in only three days.

I, too, have a weariness more of the heart than the limb. I don't realize it sometimes how ill-fitted I am in this day and age. I've talked about this before, I know. Every time I talk about it I get all the same responses that reveal to me how little people actually understand what I mean. Spare me the "of courses" and listen.

I think I would fit in perfectly about 800 years ago. Right in the High Middle Ages, a time of chivalry, romance, and Christianity. I see myself as a shepherd, sitting under a tree, watching the sheep eat and clouds pass by. Sure it wasn't all that great of a time. People died young. But I'm not afraid of death. Life was uncomfortable...but comfort isn't everything.

I can tell you what I don't like. Technology. I love it but I hate it. I hate it because I love it. I know I don't need it but I use it, and I know life would be much better if we had less of it. I am forced to use it because everyone else does.

I don't like our culture. I don't like what it promotes. I don't like the debates, the politics, the rules and regulations. I don't like school. I don't like money. I don't like order, discipline, walls, buildings, administrations...none of that. I don't like it at all. I'm tired of it.

I am a thinker, a philosopher, a theologian, a lover of God, his church, and his creation. I am a writer, a poet. I aim to live forever in God's heart. That is all that I love and all that I am and all I ever hope to be. And many of the things listed above work against that. I'm tired of it.

800 years ago, people died younger...but they lived longer. Think of how much time we have spent in our lives on technology, studies, devices, etc. How much time we spend, sometimes are forced to spend, keeping up with the hustle and bustle of this life.

I am so busy all of the time. I am busy doing good things. But I'm not built for this. I'm not built for this and no one understands it. There is someone right now reading this, saying they know how I feel and they do not, so spare me it. I realize I sound angry and I'm sorry.

I am not built for it in a way that makes me a bad person when it stretches me thin. I get so cranky that I will get angry at a person for apologizing to me. I get so flustered that I can't even think of what I'd like to do with my girlfriend on the weekend and I end up upsetting her and myself because I can't talk straight and just look frustrated. I'm not built for this so badly that the only way that I can explain to her how sorry I am that I'm too busy to think straight and don't mean any offense and wish I could do better is by writing it out somewhere she can see it: this blog post. I am a caveman forced to play the rocketman's game.

I don't fit.

There was a dream that I dreamed, such a dream that doesn't fit in this world.

Friday, April 1, 2011

The Atheist fallacy.

People are sometimes surprised to hear I used to not believe in God.

I think that ultimately my unbelief was a result of not really understanding my faith in the first place. When you don't fully understand a belief it's easy to come up with reasons not to believe in it.

A lot of my friends have become atheists over the past four years. It doesn't bother me as much as it used to, but it's still a shame. It's not their fault. They came from the same faulty system I was caught up in, and I easily could have ended up staying the same. I was saved from that, somehow. God intervened for me and put a situation in my life where I had no choice but to give faith another try. My conclusions about His existence were much different when I relied on myself for my own catechesis instead of Catholic schools.

Regardless, I still wish that somehow I could give them a second wind in the faith. My efforts in discussing faith with someone usually end up in them either claiming they already know what I'm trying to tell them, or them getting offended that this is something I want to share with them in the first place.

So, what I would share with them, I shall put here instead. Ultimately, I believe arguments to be a useless gesture in a war that is ultimately a spiritual battle, but regardless, if it proves useful for at least one person, this won't be a waste of time. Also, these are only arguments against atheism — "why Catholicism" is a much longer story for another time.

My journey back towards belief began with the simple realization that I wanted more than sexual gratification, mental stimulation, friends, money, and worldly success. Even as an agnostic, or an atheist, or whatever I was, I admired heroes. Heroes willing to fight and die, not just for their societies, their freedoms, their friends, their offspring, their food supplies — you know, the things that would make sense if we were animals only looking to increase our genetic offspring and that of our herd — but for people they didn't know, that they would never meet, never interact with...even for the honor of people who were already dead. People like Aragorn, Obi-Wan, Roland Deschain. Heroes I read about and admired, and who didn't even really exist, except in my heart. If I am the product of hundreds of thousands of years of mindless evolution, rather than evolution created by God and guided by His hand...what in the WORLD would be the advantage of me wanting to die for something greater than myself?

I began to see many places in my life that were too convenient to be mere coincidence. My choice to come to Bowling Green was completely arbitrary and ended up being an incredible blessing. The fact that I ended up meeting the people I did was a complete chance that changed my college life forever. I could see him working in every intricacy of my life, from start to present. Not exactly a convincing argument for anyone besides me, though.

From then on, I found more and more reasons to believe in God, and I have even had some crazy spiritual experiences that I've discussed before in this blog. Incredible stuff, but not very convincing to your average atheist, and since I've already talked about them, I'll move on.

That being said, I wondered why God, if He existed, would allow such painful experiences in the world. Why would a good God allow hurricanes, tornadoes, starvation of the innocent, etc.? I do believe it is impossible for imperfect beings to exist in a world without these things. In the words of C.S. Lewis, "not even Omnipotence could create a society of free souls without at the same time creating a relatively independent and 'inexorable' Nature." A fixed nature of the world implies the possibility of evil and suffering, for "not all states of matter will be equally agreeable to the wishes of a given soul." We human beings, if we are truly free, may take advantage of the nature of the world to hurt one another, and an intervention by God to try and correct this to remove this abuse, while clearly imaginable, would eventually lead to an ultimately meaningless universe, in which nothing important depended on our choices. "Try to exclude the possibility of suffering which the order of nature and the existence of free-wills involve, and you will find that you have excluded life itself." Do you understand, reader? Because God is perfect, he can create a perfect world for us to live in...but, it would be a world without our ability to choose, and since love needs to be a choice, it would be a world without love! So we, as imperfect beings, need to live in an imperfect world. It can't be any other way.

I'm anticipating arguments here, and I think this post would answer at least one of them. The other is technically about original sin, which I don't want to go into in this post, since this post is about explaining why I'm not an atheist, not why I'm a Catholic.

Another argument I often hear is that the world would just plain be better if we were all atheists. Well, it's been tried before. It ended up causing a lot of genocide (so much for religion being the most massive killer), and oh look - as it turns out, eventually those regimes either collapsed, or in the case of Cuba, became more tolerant of religion over time. China is pretty much the only one left. Was it because of communism? What about a democratic atheist society, where everyone just happened to eventually become atheist voluntarily? I posit that this would not work either, and I'll show you why.

Atheists would be happy to know that I think their view of a completely secular society has already begun. The changes in our culture from 1960 on has flipped our world on its head. Many older folks tell me that you never had to worry about locking your doors or knowing who your kids hung out with - pretty much everyone had the same values. Today, that's obviously no longer the case. Atheism does not teach people to be good - it teaches people to follow the law. But people can get away with not following the law.

That's not to say that you can't be a good person and be atheist. However, studies show that typically if you're atheist you give about 2/3rds the amount of time and 1/5th the amount of money a religious person does. Let's just ignore that, though. Let's say that the secular society we've begun continues in the direction it's headed in. Let's just pretend that we agree rising divorce rates are OK, that falling birth rates and rising abortions in secular countries are no problem, and that crime rates have risen since 1960.

I see a world in which people generally don't want to have children. Oh, they want sex, but they contracept and don't try for kids because kids are a nuisance, not a blessing. The number of people who do want children don't want a lot, and never enough to replace the current population. Don't believe me? It's happening in Italy right now. Eventually, maybe we'll realize our population is falling dramatically and we should just pay people to have and raise children. Of course, I'm sure many people would enjoy such a job. But not everyone would be in it because they love children. Ask any foster kid if they'd rather have a parent that wanted them than a parent that was getting money to raise them, and of course the vast majority will say yes. What a loveless way to have children. Generations without love, and the continued falling population, rising crime...see where this is headed?

Even if I'm wrong on that point, science can still never explain how this all began. Sure, it has explanations for how it all works, but not for why. Why even have a universe, an existence, a mind that knows things? Why have a rational being? Why are we not all animals, would it not be a better world that way, instead of a world where we struggle not to destroy it? Why have the beautiful cosmos, glorious stars spread across the infinite?

Why have you and me, two beings who can tell they are human and yet distinct beings?

There was a dream that I dreamed, and that dream was for belief.