Monday, August 11, 2014

The Benefits of Faith

So in my last last post I talked about scrupulosity, and the way that such a heavy burden can make religion a source of fear and anxiety.  I felt it was only fair to follow up on that with something positive.  I realize that someone might read that last post and ask:  "Why in the world would you want to be part of a religion, if you feel such anxiety about it?"  It's a valid question, actually.

Some of my fellow Christians may be tempted to dismiss the question with the answer that Christianity is true, and therefore we believe in it because anything else would be wrong.  While I agree that Christianity is true, and would be true no matter what I decided to believe for my own comfort, I can't say that's the only reason I stick with it.  Christianity does ring truest to me, out of all other worldviews, be they alternate religions or atheism.  Christianity does make the most sense of the reality, evidence, and reason I perceive when I observe the world.  Yes, there are sometimes difficulties and causes for doubt, things that I can't quite figure out, at least for a while, but compared with the "plot holes" of other world views, Christianity's mysteries are the easiest for me to swallow.

However, Christianity still requires faith.  There's still room, as in any world view, for the proverbial shadow of a reasonable doubt.  Notice I admit that this shadow of doubt can be reasonable.  I find the case for Christianity in general (and Catholicism in particular) to be a compelling one, but I also don't think a person has to be an irrational nutcase to not believe it.

Hey!  I resent that remark!

What this means is that, if I was unhappy and miserable being Catholic, I could find reasons to walk away from it.  Yes, I would be uneasy and scared at first, but given enough time I could shake that fear and things would settle down into a new normal, and I could become confident that my decision was right; I think anyone's capable of that, regardless of worldview.  So why don't I take advantage of this, and adopt a worldview that didn't lend itself to my scrupulosity so much?

You probably know the answer I'm going to say.  But I'm going to talk about it anyway:  It's because the reasons to stay far outweigh the anxiety and fear my scrupulosity can bring me.  

1.  Christianity makes the most sense out of God.

The question of whether some kind of Creator exists is one that I think, based on philosophical reasons beyond the scope of this post, can be answered with a confident "Yes."  But that's only the beginning.  It makes sense that this Creator is personal in some way, to have created such personal beings as we are.  There stands a good chance, then, that such a Creator wants something to do with us.  In light of that, I highly doubt that this Creator stands at a distance, leaving us to find Him for ourselves.  No, it seems to me that such a Creator would have revealed Himself to us.  In other words, it makes sense that some existing religion in the world would be true.  

And it so happens that, of the existing, ancient and established religions in this world, I think Christianity is the most historically based, the one whose miraculous claims and signs of authenticity are the most in touch with actual real-world context.  So many other religions either find their chief claims buried in some ancient mythological age lost to mankind, or they're based around charismatic historical figures who made claims which, even at the time, couldn't be tested:  "I have seen this, God has spoken to me," etc.  But with Christianity, the greatest vindication of its claims is the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.  And at the time, one of Christianity's foremost preachers, St. Paul, readily wrote that there were five hundred witnesses who had seen Jesus of Nazareth alive after His death.  Anyone could have easily tested this claim.  It was not limited to one man who had been specially informed by God.

It's a similar story with most things surrounding the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.  Skeptics scoff at them today, because yes it's true that today we don't have the ability to go back and investigate most of the claims firsthand or seek out eyewitness testimony.  But back at the time when Christianity took off, these claims were neither lost in some distant past nor limited to one charismatic leader:  They were fresh, public, and there was plenty of opportunity to ask and investigate around to prove them false.  Yet even the enemies of Christianity never turned up any such proof, although they had a better chance to cut it off at the root than anyone else ever would.  A fraud with such bold claims as Christianity's were at the time, boasting of eyewitnesses and the amazing events in the life of a man who walked the earth practically yesterday, wouldn't be that hard to debunk.   In an empire where pretty much everybody hated it, and would have been dying to see it stamped out of existence.

Even besides all that, the fact that Christianity teaches that God is a Trinity is amazing.  It's the best way possible to explain how there can be only one God, but that this God was always Love even before He had created anything else to love.  That's all I'll say on that, here, because this section's getting pretty long compared to what the other sections will be.  Maybe I'll say more about this in the future.

So to recap on this point, it makes sense to me that there is a God, and that this God would reveal Himself to humanity.  That sounds like religion, to me, and of all the religions in the world, I think Christianity has the best case going for it.  

Hmm.  It's a dense wall of text, so it must be a valid argument.
2.  Christianity portrays the highest kind of love.

But even besides the sense my religion makes to me, it's not as if I'm a a poor timid soul, believing in Christianity because it makes the most sense but wishing that something else did instead so that I could be less scrupulous.  The truth is, Christianity brings me a great deal of joy and peace that are deeper than the fear and anxiety I get from my scrupulous obsessions.

Christianity presents me with a God Who cares so much that He dared to step into Creation, to become Man, and to suffer and die specifically because He loved humanity.  This is a God Who was not content to see our suffering from on high and shrug it off as "the human lot" like some sort of spoiled Greek god; He decided, out of His own free will, to suffer with us.  And even though He didn't owe us anything, He was willing to practice what He preached.  The same God who asked Abraham to sacrifice his beloved son (even if God Himself prevented Abraham from carrying it out) was willing to turn around and say:  "And see, I'm willing to do the same for you."  "Greater love has no man than this, that he would lay down his life for his friends."  In Christianity, the very Creator of the universe, not merely a god but the God, did exactly that.

That's an amazing love.  Because the truth is, an all-powerful Creator deity could "get away" with never lifting one finger to do what God did in the Person of Jesus Christ.  I feel so incredibly valued and cherished by such a God as Who would.

3.  Christianity gives real meaning to every instance of suffering.

What's more, Christianity, and especially Catholicism in particular, makes the most sense out of a world with suffering and sorrow.  As I said before, it makes sense to me to believe in a benevolent and personal God, but in most religions we still have to wonder why such a God allows suffering.  Yes, mankind might have "brought it on themselves" in some way (such as, in the case of Christianity, Original Sin), but people can still rightly ask why God created a world where it was possible not only for mankind to fall, but for some ancestral generation to ruin things for everybody else.

But the Church teaches that part of the way God glorifies not only Himself, but His servants, is through suffering.  A case in point would be Job:  Job was innocent, and by all accounts didn't deserve any of the misfortune to come his way.  But it was only through his suffering that he demonstrates his faithfulness.  Satan was right:  Without suffering, his faithfulness was "easy" and didn't show anything special about him.  But since he was willing to be faithful even through his pain, his faithfulness and light shine.

There is a really good payoff for suffering that could never have existed in a world where God had made it impossible.  Just as God the Son suffered despite not deserving it at all, so too does God transform us through our own suffering in a world that originally fell because of our ancestors--Adam and Eve--and through no personal fault of our own.  And the Church teaches that this is true of all suffering.  Every pain, from the greatest tragedy to the smallest inconvenience, will be proportionately rewarded in Heaven, which is one reason that Catholicism, as opposed to most Protestant denominations, teaches there are different rewards in Heaven.  Remember that parable of the Ten Coins, from Luke, that I referenced in my last post?  That provides one basis for this belief.

This teaching means that every bit of suffering adds to the reward in Heaven, so that rather than having a Heaven that would have been exactly the same no matter what--which would mean suffering was just unnecessary "fluff"--the rewards in Heaven really will be affected and enriched by the suffering that goes on in this life.  Now admittedly, as I said in my previous post, this is also one of the things I get scrupulous about--worrying that I'll get to Heaven and find I wish I had suffered more to gain more reward, but I have a theory that this worry of mine is silly, which I intend to write about in a future post.  For now, let's move along.

4.  Christianity gives me the comfort of knowing what God expects of me.

If I believe that there's a God Who wants a real relationship with me, then I believe that this relationship has ground rules and expectations like any other relationship.  It'd be torture knowing that, but not ever knowing what those expectations are.  So with Christianity I find comfort, rather than slavery, in having a sense of objective, absolute morality.  I may fall short of it, and there may be times I want to do things that go against that morality, but I'm glad to have it.  It's the same way I want to know, outright, what brings my wife joy in our marriage instead of my having to shoot in the dark and do what "feels right."  I mean, if you have a spouse, is it ever fun when you want to know what he/she wants, yet instead you just receive a glare and a response of "You should just know!"  Perhaps even worse than that is if the love of your life shrugs and says "Do whatever you want," when you have the creeping suspicion that your spouse (and very soon afterward, you) will be more than a little upset if "whatever you want" ends up being the wrong thing.

Don't worry, I'm sure she really means it when she says it's fine.

Yet that's exactly what our relationship with God would be like if He'd made no effort to tell us what He expects of us.  Either that, or we expect Him to be a cosmic pushover who doesn't care what we do, sorta like a spouse who couldn't care less if you went sleeping around, only to lie on the sofa all day when you could be working on your actual marriage.  So either you've got yourself a brooding god waiting to smite you for breaking boundaries He never even set, or you've got a passive and weak god.  Neither sounds like a relationship worth having.

In Christianity, we have the Scriptures to guide us.  Catholicism in particular goes even farther:  In those areas where scripture is often interpreted in very different ways (and on some pretty big questions like, for example, "Do we have to be baptized in order to be a practicing Christian?" "What are we supposed to believe about the Holy Trinity?" "Is Communion symbolic or is it really the body and blood of Christ?" among others), we have the Church to tell us what's what.  I think Catholicism goes absolutely the farthest, as Christianity goes, in making it clear exactly what God expects of me, and how to have a proper relationship with Him.

That doesn't mean the Church micromanages every detail, and there are still some gray areas, but over the course of 2000 years God has worked through the Church to give us answers on most of the big questions that--were we left to scripture alone--would leave us divided or just "agreeing to disagree."  And even in the areas that are still gray, the Church explicitly teaches us that it's okay to come to different conclusions, so there is an added comfort and assurance amid the gray.  As G.K. Chesterton once said, it's like a playground built near a cliff:  Having strong walls lets the children know that they can play anywhere within those walls without any danger.  Without such clear boundaries, however, the children can never be sure how close is too close to the danger zone.

There are a lot more reasons I could give for why I'm not only convinced my religion is the best place to be, but why it's the place where I am also the happiest.  I can't get into them all here.  This entry has already begun to run too long, and I'm running out of ideas for relevant pictures and captions to make my rambling bearable.

This picture is relevant't judge me!!

The point is that yes, I admit that there is the possibility of unhealthy fear and anxiety for the Christian, but there is also room and cause for joy, confidence, and comfort here.  The fear, when it becomes unhealthy, is a distortion of a certain healthy fear.  "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom," and just as in any relationship, respect implies having a healthy fear of damaging the relationship or hurting the other person.  But the scrupulosity and anxiety I mention in my last post are perversions of that healthy fear, just as it would be if I spent my marriage quaking in terror that I had somehow displeased my wife; actually, I do get in moods where I torment myself about whether or not my wife or a good friend is angry with me.

On the other hand, the joys and the good things Christianity offers me are not distortions, but are part and parcel to what Christianity claims to offer.  So it is by those things that I judge how good Christianity is for me, and what a positive force it has been, and continues to be, in my life.

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