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10/24/09                                                                                       View Comments

Trying to Keep the Baby Without the Bathwater

by Chris Cormier

I was raised Catholic and sent to Catholic school for most of my childhood. I had a wonderful experience within my Catholic faith but left the church at 17 because I felt that the central claims of the faith are absurd. I developed into and remained an intellectually clear-minded and outspoken atheist for 25 years. Despite this, I spent years painfully grieving the loss of faith. I was quite literally tormented on a daily basis by the question of God for years at a time. It almost drove me mad. It was if I sensed God but nonetheless felt intellectually compelled to reject the whole idea.

About a year ago, after receiving the 6th vicious and unnecessary lawsuit from my ex-wife (we've just wrapped up number 8, by the way) I found myself at the "end of my rope," i.e., that I seemed to have no more personal strength or courage left. I had been painfully emptied over a decade and had nothing left. Amazingly, one night I found myself driving to the local Catholic church feeling like I was being compelled by a force that originated outside of myself. It was as if I had been grabbed by the scruff of my neck and thrown into the church. I dropped to my knees, begged for forgiveness and mercy (even though I had no idea what that meant), and somehow...it came. My chest convulsed repeatedly as some kind of spiritual power coursed through me and restored me...It was unbelievable...Every time I prayed for the next several months I felt this power and my body would begin to shake involuntarily. I started going to Mass and receiving Communion on a daily basis. Even though the homilies were frequently very uncomfortable for me and I still struggled with dogma, I loved going to Mass ands had a faith that lifted me above all my concerns in some mysterious way. My reading of Thomas Merton was incredibly helpful in this regard as well.

Now, a little over a year later, I find myself still being very drawn to the church and my faith but astounded and deeply disturbed by the bizarre and archaic tenets of dogma, including the belief in a "Living God" that not only tolerates suffering but will ultimately levy infinite punishment on many. As one of Woody Allen's characters once said, "If there is one thing we can say about God, he sure is an underachiever!"

My question is this, I suppose: What is someone in my position to do? I can't help but acknowledge that I am experiencing something "very real" (i.e., something of the "divine" and "transcendant," for lack of better words) within the context of my faith/doubt but reject basic Christian (and all other) theology and dogma, as well as claims for the authenticity of the Bible (and similar documents). Much of both are simply atrocious and stupid by today's standards, even allowing for differnces in culture, history and ethical standards, and allowing for creative interpretations of the former. Thomas Merton acknowledges these problems but promotes working through them over time by praying for grace and faith... Paul Tillich promotes a symbolic interpretation of the Bible and basis for faith...But it seems that much of Christian dogma and the Bible remain unredeemably horrible despite these efforts.

Also, and perhaps more fundamentally, it seems that humans by their very nature may be evolutionarily designed (perhaps as a byproduct, exaptation or even psychological adaptation) to experience something of what we call "the divine." Perhaps "God" is really a name we apply to a deeply human and infinitely valuable experience that is legitimate and perhaps even necessary for some, but that nonetheless lacks any external basis. In this case we would say that God is purely subjective, not objective. If this were so, we should not be looking for the "right" religion, or even to rejecting the impulse to religion and faith, but the best means of cultivating one's deepest spiritual potential without reference to archaic, dangerous and empirically incorrect philosophical/theological systems.

I think that "technically" I may still be an atheist, but now sense that we should not throw out our deepest humanity and spiritual potential ("the baby") with "the bathwater" of religion. But how one is to do this in the modern age and without the conventional tools of "religion" remains a mystery to me.

ANY IDEAS? Seriously...Where do we go from here?