Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Why Catholicism Doesn't Make Sense

For nearly two thousand years, the question of Catholicism has buggered many of the world's greatest minds. Specifically, the question in question is: Is it real? Is it possible that this might be the truth about God, or is it all some kind of diabolical invention to lead men astray? Does it even make sense?

As a devout, lifelong Catholic, I adamantly hold the position that the only way to be a good, practicing Catholic is to acknowledge and affirm that no, Catholicism does not make sense. However, it does a hell of a lot better job at not making sense than any other system of beliefs available to us.

An atheist, sitting down to a good philosophical and theological discussion with a Catholic, might assert many different things about the Church in an effort to bring his conversational companion around to belief in things he considers sensible. The vast majority of these potential assertions, such as the horrors of the Inquisition and the Crusades or the media-driven priestly pedophilia scandal, are largely irrelevant - things that perhaps affect Catholics, but not Catholicism. Other potential assertions will by and large be matters of emotion or opinion and not true reason. But the truly intellectually responsible and attentive atheist can catch a Catholic - or any Christian, for that matter - in a logical contradiction so bizarre that it reaches out a cosmic hand from two thousand years ago to slap us across the face for believing it, and then backhand us even harder when we attempt to doubt it.

The logical contradiction of which I speak is this: God died.

Think about that. Think about what it means for just a moment. God died. The God of the universe, the Creator of all things, the Alpha and Omega, the Timeless One, Love Himself, DIED, stripped naked and nailed to a couple pieces of wood stuck in the ground. How can one who cannot die, die? How could the Creator of man be killed by His own creation? How could it possibly be that Infinity could be ended by the finite? 

The Christian world went into an uproar over Nietzsche's statement that "God is dead" (a statement incidentally made about seventeen years before God pronounced Nietzsche dead) - but the fact remains that if Nietzsche had traveled back in time to the Crucifixion, there would have been a brief period of time in which he would have been exactly right. More recently, vehemently atheistic author Philip Pullman's "Golden Compass" novels elicited a boycott from Christians when the human characters in the story end up killing God - yet those same Christians believe that very thing happened nearly two thousand years ago.

As Catholics, our understanding of Trinitarian theology and Christology is such that we can give a heady, intellectual response that makes us sound rather intelligent, but if we're being honest, we are as befuddled by the matter of Jesus' death as any atheist. The only difference between an atheist and a Catholic is that one hears of the Crucifixion and cannot reconcile the idea with itself, while the other hears of the Crucifixion and cannot make sense of the rest of reality without it. One stakes his life and all his worldly possessions on the Cross not being real, and the other stakes his eternal soul on the Cross being more real than anything else in history.

And that is precisely where we find the turning point upon which our faith must hinge, for God came before us. He came before all else; He is over and above all else. He conceived the very concept of all things and brought them into being through His creative power. We are creations springing forth from the bounty of His limitless imagination. We are created things, but He is the Uncreated One. He is, quite simply, more real than we are. And so the Sacrifice of the Cross, the revelation of God's love to the world, is not only real - it is more real than anything else in existence.

The Crucifixion is the means by which we understand that God cannot be understood. His depths can never be fathomed, His heights never scaled, His thoughts never grasped, His treasures never exhausted. The one word that could ever even hope to describe Him is "indescribable." The faculties of reason by which we attempt to make sense of Him are wholly inadequate to capture any more than a glimpse or shadow of Him. Using our reason to try and contain God within our minds is like using an eyedropper to relocate the Atlantic Ocean into a teacup. So it really makes sense that the Crucifixion doesn't make sense; it is perfectly within reason that precisely when God most fully reveals Himself to us, He most appears to be incomprehensible.

The intellectually responsible atheist would have to concede the fact that, if God were hypothetically real, then He would of necessity not be bound to the puny limits of our understanding. And so the means to determine whether or not the Crucifixion is real - and whether God is real - cannot be by way of understanding the event itself, but by watching its repercussions, just as seeing the ripples on a pond's surface alert you to the fact that a pebble just plunged in. We have to look at the results of the Crucifixion in order to determine its nature, just as we should look to the fruit to determine the tree's quality (Luke 6:44).

But what are we looking for in these fruits? Well, since the claim in question is that God reversed all our logic by dying on the Cross, we ought to be looking for signs of that reversed logic. We ought to be looking for things operating exactly the opposite of how we would expect by human reason - and still not failing or falling apart. We ought to be looking for miraculous occurrences, like levitation or bilocation or bodily resurrection. We ought to be looking for wounds that bleed constantly but never kill. We ought to be looking for people who embrace pain and suffering because they believe it to be good for them. We ought to be looking for people who obstinately cling to outdated old books and, in so doing, bring a new light and new perspective into the world. We ought to be looking for an organization of people who do not trust in mere Man, led by mere men. We ought to be looking for an organization of people whose pyramidic hierarchy has been turned on its head, the leader given the title "Servant of Servants" rather than "King of Kings." We ought to be looking for an organization that has outlasted all others in history, despite specifically concerted and orchestrated attempts to destroy it from both the inside AND the outside. We ought to be looking for ordinary household objects that are quite simply NOT what they appear to be any longer.

In short, we should be looking for the Catholic Church. And because we are so inconsiderately blocked at every turn by the fact that precisely such an organization, such a living contradiction of logic, does in fact exist (and thrive, no less), our objections to the illogic of the Crucifixion must fade; our swords must be laid down in fealty to the Lord who made the clockwork of our universe run backwards. The Catholic Church should not exist - but she does. She is the living proof that the Crucifixion was real, that the Resurrection actually happened, that the Incarnation is not a fable... and that most blessed and mysterious of mysteries, the Trinity, where three equals one and one equals three, can be believed with the same assent of faith that a bride gives to her husband on the altar.

We are the Church. We are the proof. We don't make sense by any human standard, but that is because we are, quite frankly, no longer human, but God living in the world. You are what you eat, my friends.

Stay classy.

1 comment:

  1. I appreciated the eloquence with which you argued for the existence and purpose of the Catholic Church. With that said, I must object to your statement that God died.

    I can understand the confusion presented by Jesus's dying on the cross. Jesus, being fully human and fully God, showed to the world his earthly death. However, that was his perfectly human self dying on the cross as an offering to our Father a redemption for all of mankind - something with which we mortals must cooperate to be saved. If you read further into the story, you'll find that Jesus (in his divine state) descended to prison to release the righteous ones from their bondage of death. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states in paragraph 637, " In his human soul united to his divine person, the dead Christ went down to the realm of the dead. He opened heaven's gates for the just who had gone before him."

    Might I also direct your attention to paragraph 634 which states, " "The gospel was preached even to the dead."(1Pet4:6) The descent into hell brings the Gospel message of salvation to complete fulfillment. This is the last phase of Jesus' messianic mission, a phase which is condensed in time but vast in its real significance: the spread of Christ's redemptive work to all men of all times and all places, for all who are saved have been made sharers in the redemption." Who, but God Himself, could do such a thing?

    God most certainly did not die. That is a heretical statement. God, by the mere fact that he is pure spirit and has no beginning and therefore no end, has not the ability to die.

    The Catechism of the Catholic Church is a most valuable resource to use in our on going learning of God and the Church He established.

    May God bless you richly on your journey to His Most Sacred Heart,