The "leap of faith" of Catholicism


#1

I am a former atheist turned Catholic. Being raised in a Protestant Christian environment, I came to reject Christianity because I could not reconcile it with reason. After entering adulthood and opening myself back up to the religious question, I came to appreciate the rich intellectual tradition of the Church. Upon pursuing Catholicism, I came to see Catholic Christianity as the completed picture, and much more palatable than the Christianity I knew as a child.

It’s been about a year-and-a-half now since I was received into the Church, and I am currently having a “crisis of faith.” It is this: Why should I accept that what the Church says is revealed by God is precisely that? Why should I take the Church on her word, and not Muhammed or Joseph Smith or someone else?

I myself can examine the Church’s arguments in favor of God’s existence, or God’s personhood, or the existence of the soul, et cetera. They appeal to my reason, and I can accept them or deny them with this faculty. Indeed, the doctors of the Church have done much to convince me that the Church is right on a great number of things. At the very least, I would upon giving up Christianity embrace some other form of dogma-less theism.

But when it comes to what is revealed by God: Scriptural authority, the trinity, et cetera… I cannot hold these things against the light of reason. That requires me to simply put my faith in the Church’s testimony. If the Church tells me that Holy Scripture is divinely inspired and truthful, and Scripture (or, again, the Church) tells me that Jesus was God and died for my sins, I seemingly cannot appeal to reason to see if these things are actually true. To some extent, I can tell whether or not they probably or probably aren’t true, or whether they could be or couldn’t possibly be true, but it really requires a leap of faith to accept as true.

Ultimately, I don’t see why God would require this from me. And if he should, how do I know to trust the Church and not one of the myriad other religious bodies or individuals claiming divine revelation? And why should the eternal fate of my soul hinge upon this decision?


#2

I read the argument that convinced me back in 8th grade CCD. It goes something like this.

We know, as a matter of historical fact, that there was a man named Jesus who had some followers and was executed. We also know that a great many of these followers eventually traveled great distances to foreign lands to preach (and, in most cases, die for) Christianity. This was highly abnormal behavior for men of Jesus’ time, who rarely went more than a few miles outside their homes, let alone hundreds of miles into foreign lands; it stands to reason that it took some amazing person or occurrence to convince these people to act in this way. And we know, again from the historical record, that the one experience these people had in common was that they were followers of Jesus while he was alive. So Mill’s method strongly suggests that Jesus was the first cause of these amazing feats – strong evidence that Jesus really was who he said he was.

You can perform a similar thought experiment with the Bible by considering it to be an accurate (though uninspired) historical text. If the man named Jesus really said all the things he said in the Bible, then he’s either God or a madman. The subsequent actions of his followers suggest either that he was a really charismatic madman or that he did some of the things the Bible alleges he did.

Once you have the divinity of Jesus in place, you can turn to the Bible as history to confirm that he did, in fact, establish a church, to which he gave authority (and again, you can confirm this based just on the Bible’s historical record of what Jesus said). That church used its authority to teach that the Bible is divinely inspired, filling in the complete picture of Scripture and Tradition.

So the argument goes, at any rate. As you can tell, a lot of this depends on accepting the Bible as a historically accurate document, which you may be disinclined to do for some reason or another. But if you at least accept the Bible’s history, if not Jesus’ own claims, you can get pretty far with just your reason.

Hope that helps you out in some way.


#3

Can you envision a better solution? If so, what would it be?


#4

Yes, I can envision what I in my finite intelligence believe to be a better solution.

Hypothetically speaking: I, god, personally and individually reveal myself in some supernatural fashion to all those beings which I have endowed with reason and from whom I desire willful obedience. Or, if I choose to work through the Church, I create a unique tear in the fabric of space-time, which hovers ominously over the Vatican and in which man can glimpse my ever-watchful visage. Perhaps I make every elected Pope have eyes that glow with golden light. At any rate, I engineer some kind of veriable testimony as to the Church’s god-given authority on earth.

Man now still has free will and, knowing with certitude of my existence and what I demand of him, he in his daily affairs can go on following or not following my will as I have expounded it, through the Church or otherwise.

Before you go on to say that I have in effect eliminated free will, think about this: Have you ever done something contrary to what someone told you to do, knowing full well of the consequences? Disobeyed a parent, for example? In fact I have not eliminated free will, only made myself clear.


#5

Blackbog,

Your question is fundamental to the question of religion.

I don’t know if you are married or not, but anyone who has ever been in love knows there’s “converging clues” as to whether one’s “beloved” truly loves them. How can one be sure she’s “the one?” How do we know she will love you as you love her? Is there any absolute certainty? If not, isn’t the element of “risk” of rejection what makes love absolutely wonderful? What if you ask her to marry you and she says no?

It seems the most important decisions require us to make a “leap of faith.” Does that mean it is nothing but “blind faith?” No. Just as we have converging clues about our beloved and whether or not it is the “right time” to ask her to marry, we also have “converging clues” which give us evidence of our other beliefs. In fact, it seems the most precious decisions in life are based upon less-than-absolute certainty based upon less-than-complete evidence.

Imagine inventing a robot that could do nothing but love you. Yet, if there’s no “risk” in love, is it really love? Isn’t risk inherent to love?

This side of heaven, unless given some special gift from God Himself, we are not infallible. Consequently, we can be mistaken. So, does that mean we are all doomed to be “tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the cunning of men, by their craftiness in deceitful wiles” (cf. Eph 4:14)? No. We don’t need to be infallible to be Christian. We do need something more than what comes to us by nature though. We need something supernatural. We need grace. With grace, we are more than just groping around in the dark, but are filled with the many gifts of the Holy Spirit.

When I studied other world religions in college and in post-graduate studies before returning to the Holy Catholic Church, I found nothing at all that can be compared to the “metanoia” that I have experienced since striving to live a devout Catholic life. When I studied Islam, it was as “life changing” as quantum physics…it was just another religion some people profess. There was nothing convincing about it. The same was true of all the other world religions I studied. With the exception of Christianity, they all failed to produce metanoia. My mom use to say, the “proof of the pudding is in the eating.” Same with religion, it seems. So, what do all the other competing ideologies, philosophies, and religions produce? Is it Truth, unmingled with error? Because that is really what I seek. Such Truth is the only thing that can bring about metanoia.

According to Fr. John Hardon, S.J.:

METANOIA. Literally repentance or penance. The term is regularly used in the Greek New Testament, especially in the Gospels and the preaching of the Apostles. Repentance is shown by faith, baptism, confession of sins, and producing fruits worthy of penance. It means a change of mind from unbelief to faith, and a change of heart from sin to the practice of virtue. As conversion, it is fundamental to the teaching of Christ, was the first thing demanded by Peter on Pentecost, and is considered essential to the pursuit of Christian perfection. (Etym. Greek metanoein, to change one’s mind, repent, be converted, from meta- + noein, to perceive, think, akin to Greek noos, nous, mind.) Pocket Catholic Dictionary]

We are told to “Test everything. Hold fast to what is good.” (1 Thess 5:21). All people come to believe in anything based upon the evidence before them. This evidence has three forms: 1) experience, 2) reason, 3) testimony of others. Whatever we come to hold as true and good is always derived from these three forms of evidence, no matter your field of study, whether economics, law, military studies, philosophy, science, theology, etc. Since we all have different experiences, different capacity to reason, and are exposed to different testimonies, it is no wonder why we have so many different beliefs. Yet, not all beliefs are good. We should seek that which is true and good.

You must know those who unceasingly seek the face of God, will find Him. We can be as certain of this as we are certain of the love between a father and son…and there is nothing more certain in the world than a father’s love, yet entirely unprovable.


#6

You seem to dislike ambiguity in God’s revelation. All things perfectly known. I submit that such an existence would not develop our souls in preparation for seeing Him face to face. I suggest that without ambiguity, “wonder” would no longer exist.

St. Augustine described the revelation of God as purposefully ambiguous. This ambiguity is there for a Divine purpose which we may not yet fully understand. But it is there nonetheless.

Eternal life is a undeserved gift. We are not owed eternal fellowship with God. We are told to “work” for it. Even then, our “work” is only meritorious insofar as it is the work of God in us–God working in us, with us, and for us.

Fathers always tell their sons that the best things in life aren’t free, but require work. We have a job to do in preparation for seeing God face to face. The son may be tempted to complain, "Why can’t we just see Him face to face the moment or our creation? I dunno. Why can’t I stand on the Sun? Just because we can “envision” some alternative reality doesn’t mean that it is a better reality. Reality is what it is. Our job is to seek to understand Truth (reality), not conjure up an alternate and presume our design is better. The Truth (reality) we do possess has indeed been revealed both naturally and supernaturally. We can’t “envision” a reality, pretend it would be a better universe than what is really before us, without sounding foolish. We do have a real universe created by a Being vastly superior to us, who most certainly knows us and our universe better than we can ever know.

Why has God included “purposeful ambiguity” in his revelation? St. Augustine suggests it is placed there by God so that we may merit eternal life through faith. We are made righteous by “***faith which worketh by love.***” It is through this process of being made righteous that prepares us for God’s Beatific Vision.

I’m convinced that St. Augustine is correct. The Revelation of God–both the “natural” and “supernatural” sort–seem to be purposefully ambiguous in many places so as to inspire us to keep searching, and to persistently require of us, faith. It is in the searching that we build our relationship with Him.

St. Ephraim the Syriac, a deacon from the 4th century, explained it more poetically:*Lord, who can grasp all the wealth of just one of your words. What we understand is much less than what we leave behind. Like thirsty people who drink from a fountain, for your word, Lord, has many shades of meaning, just as those who study it have many points of view. The Lord has colored his word with many hues, so that each person who studies it can see in it what he loves. He has hidden many treasures in his word, so that each of us is enriched as we meditate on it. The word of God is a tree of life that from all its parts offers you fruit that is blessed. It is like that rock that is open in the desert, which from all its parts gave forth a spiritual drink. He, who comes into contact with some share of its treasure, should not think that the only thing contained in the word is what he himself has found. He should realize that he has only been able to find that one thing from among many others. Nor, because only that one part has become his should he say that the word is void, empty, and look down on it. Because he could not exhaust it, he should give thanks for its riches. Be glad that you are overcome and do not be sad that it overcame you. The thirsty man rejoices when he drinks, he is not downcast because he cannot empty the fountain. Rather let the fountain quench your thirst, than have your thirst quench the fountain. Because if your thirst is quenched and the fountain is not exhausted, you can drink from it again whenever you are thirsty. But if, when your thirst is quenched, the fountain also is dried up, your victory will bode evil for you. So be grateful for what you have recieved and don’t grumble about the abundance left behind. What you have received and what you have reached is your share. What remains is your heritage. What at one time you are unable to receive, because of your weakness, you will be able to receive at other times, if you persevere. Do not have the presumption to try to take in one draft what cannot be taken in one draft. And do not abandon out of laziness what you may only consume little by little.

*[St. Ephraim, cited by Dr. Scott Hahn, *The End: A Study of the Book of Revelation, (St. Joseph Communications, audio series)]


#7

So why don’t you require the same supernatural proof of God’s existence?


#8

I find the logical proofs for God’s existence to be convincing.


#9

Does that include Jesus being God Incarnate? And if so, you do not find that He created a Church? If if so, what Church is the Church he created?


#10

Sometimes I think that God wants us to exercise humility and simply trust Church teaching when we have doubts or when we can’t seem to reconcile faith & reason. She won’t let us down as a moral guide.


#11

The why don’t you accept God’s word about the Church. God (Christ on Earth) himself founded the Catholic Church and gave it Authority.
All other religions were founded by men, not God.


#12

Does this have anything to do with a girl? Asking sincerely.


#13

St. Anselm’s motto: fides quarens intellectum

Faith seeking understanding. :thumbsup:


#14

God is always drawing us into deeper relationship with Him. God requires that you love Him with all your heart, mind, soul and strength. To the extent that any of your being is withheld from Him, His spirit will come courting you. Today’s reading is very relevant:

1 Cor 1:18-25

18 For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written,

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
and the cleverness of the clever I will thwart.”

20 Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. 22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men."

Jesus teaches us that our human mind is insufficient to understand HIs mysteries. At such times, we must trust in His revelation. This is not gained by human wisdom, but by divine. However, James 1:5-7

5 If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives to all men generously and without reproaching, and it will be given him. 6 But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. 7 For that person must not suppose that a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways, will receive anything from the Lord.

Ask God to provide you with His Holy Wisdom, and trust that all your questions will be answered. He is much more interested in a relationship of the heart than of the head.:thumbsup:


#15

No, that does not include the argument that Jesus was God Incarnate, because the arguments (the one’s I’ve seen, anyway) presuppose acceptance that Holy Scripture is historically accurate and/or divinely inspired. Since the Bible may very well be, as far as I can determine, any number of things other than historically accurate and/or divinely inspired, I can’t accept those arguments at face value.

Whereas many of the arguments in favor of God’s existence or God’s nature presuppose only that, for example, things have causes, or I am conscious, or there appears to be design in the universe, or I seem to desire experience with the divine, et cetera. I can put these to the test by using reason combined with my ability to observe the natural world, without taking anyone’s “word for it.”


#16

If we start to discuss how these questions came about, it will turn into a discussion of everything but the issue at hand; but no, it doesn’t have anything to do with a girl.

Keep in mind that as a former atheist and skeptic, I have always had a very high regard for reason and tended to constantly question everything.


#17

A high regard for reason and questioning everything is a very noble trait.

The question though arises, what kind of answers are you willing to accept, and who will you trust is giving you the truth?

Answer these two questions first and you’re almost there.


#18

It seems to me that every religion is going to require a “leap of faith”. It cannot be fully intellectualized, can it? I hate to hear that you are haviing a crisis of faith. I will remember you in my prayers.


#19

Some of the greatest minds known to man have understood enough to come home to the Catholic Church.


#20

No, you have made free will mean less. People can believe any old thing they want to believe, but it isn’t meaningful to believe that a rock exists, whereas it is meaningful to believe that your wife is faithful and loves you.


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