Once upon a time, I was not Catholic. There were times when I practiced other religions. There were times when I was not at all religious, or even atheist. I'd like to explain the thought process that led me to the Catholicism that I've practiced for that past 35 years. This is not a story of conversion; this is merely an enumeration of the ideas that I've come to accept along the way.
1. Why I believe in God (instead of believing there is no god)
People who believe in God or gods claim an entity exists that is not normally observable. Humans are fairly designed to observe their environment, so a non-observable entity seems a bit far-fetched. It falls on the believers to explain to others why they believe. Quite a long time ago, philosophers could explain such things fairly well. Today, that kind of disciplined, philosophic approach to thought has fallen by the wayside, replaced by the more desirable comforts of emotional response. I think most people who believe in a religion today do so because they enjoy the comforting feelings religion seem to offer. As such, they're not very good at explaining their beliefs. For myself, I can't convince myself to believe in something that isn't there just because it makes me feel happy; that is, I can't accept a blind faith. It seems I can only believe in reasonable things.
The reason I believe in God is because I demand an answer to an ancient question: Why is there something, rather than nothing? That is, I demand an explanation for existence itself. Everything in the observable universe is contingent, that is, everything that exists does not need to exist; everything can either be or not be. Whether we look at the smallest known scale of things smaller than atoms or the largest (the known universe), this property of contingency permeates all.
As a brief tangent, please understand that this nothing in my question is an unimaginable concept. It isn’t the black recesses of space beyond all matter and energy, because that is still space and space is a thing and black is a thing. I believe in the findings of physics, in quantum mechanics and general relativity. From the discipline pf physics, we can abstractly eliminate the things of the universe as a mental exercise: remove the space-time continuum, the tiny quantum particles & fields. And we are left with nothing, a true nothing, lacking even time and space. It isn’t black, it isn’t a void, it isn’t anything. My question is why do the things, the continuum and the particles that compose the things, exist?
Because of this characteristic of contingency, everything necessarily has a reason to exist; and furthermore, to be what it is. A duck is not a fish – they are two distinct kinds of things. There is no natural or physical explanation why these things should exist, why anything at all should exist. Physics tells me that things exist and how they behave; that’s all. I love physics, but it’s not enough.
Today, most people just shrug their shoulders and say, “It is what it is; just accept it.” They then preach the Gospel of Science as the supreme explanation of all things, and the champion that vanquished the dogmatic religions of the priestly classes. The problem here is that these people don’t really know much about science at all; they’ve accidentally fallen into a new cult where physicists are a new priesthood generating dogma that must be believed – and on blind faith, because the math behind the physics is too hard for most. Again, I love modern physics, love the math, and love the beautiful understanding of reality discovered in the past century. I also know that the incidence rate of atheism among physicists is the lowest among all scientific disciplines (food for thought).
Getting back to contingency: If all things are contingent, then there must be a reason for existence itself and that reason must itself be non-contingent. That is, my question “why is there something?” demands a special something that is outside of the contingent universe, a special something that is non-contingent and so the question “why?” cannot apply to it (because “why?” applies only to contingency). I claim that existence can only exist by a non-contingent thing as its existential cause. There is no other explanation for existence.
This non-contingent thing is effectively an alternative reality outside of our observable universe. It is outside of time and space (because it is somehow the cause of the space-time continuum) and it is not composed of matter or energy (because it is somehow the cause of fermions and bosons). This thing is the effective cause of the physical universe; we call it God. I believe in God because without God, I have no explanation for the existence of things. The only appropriate counter-argument from an atheist against my God-idea is to show where my logic above is incorrect; plus I still require an answer to my initial question.
At this point, I’m done explaining why I believe in God (though I have not identified any characteristic of God). I’d like to add a few additional thoughts on some common ideas both for and against the God-idea. First, I’d like to comment on the usual proofs of God from cause and effect. It’s not well known, but the Greek philosopher Aristotle put forward several proof of God arguments. Most of his arguments were based on causality, of which my contingency comments above summarize on an existential level. Aristotle’s arguments were less abstract, focusing on the behaviors of things. A rock moves because something moved it, but something had to move the mover, etc. The result is a long chronology of things moving each other, which we can follow backwards in time to a Prime Mover: God. The concept is good, but the specifics of using movement (change) over time is not an unassailable argument; time is not so simple. Some counter-argue that the timeline goes backwards indefinitely, with no beginning; others argue time is relative and there is no grand timeline to follow. Aristotle’s proofs evolved into St. Thomas Aquinas’ famous proofs. Most moderns mock these proofs as childishly antiquated, but they fail to note the words used do not have the meanings they think; the scholastic philosophy of St. Thomas’ day used precise language that one must learn it before reading their works.
Another argument put forward by modern theists is called Intelligent Design – the things of the universe are so wondrous and beautiful, then of course they were created by an intelligent being. I don’t agree with this argument. First of all, argument from intelligent design is from Aristotle and considers only the fact that all things change, all things express some behavior – which is how we categorize things into bees, stars and atoms. The fact that things have behavior, that things do certain things and not just anything, is the indication that there was a reasoning process involved in their creation (also the contingency property – that things exists for a reason). This was called intelligent design. Today, many people of religion have used this phrase – intelligent design – to explain a completely different idea: they claim that the particular manners in which some things are cannot be explained by the normal actions of the universe, but demand an intelligent being to involve Himself in the process. For example, the existence of such a complex thing as a human being cannot, they say, be explained by the random chance of evolution. But in fact, it can and it’s not that hard to do. I have heard what I assume are the best arguments in favor of intelligent design, but they are not convincing.
Within the scope of their idea, though, there is something to be salvaged. It is quite well known among cosmologists that long ago the physical universe experienced an event called the big bang (this event was first proposed by one Fr. George Lemaitre, a catholic priest and astrophysist). As this event unfolded, there were multiple “paths” which the universe could have taken in that first second of time; probability determined which path was followed, like the roll of a dice. It is interesting that the path followed was a remarkably improbable one (1 out of 10^123rd power). Only this particular path could have led to the kind of universe we have now, one that has stars and planets and living things. It’s not a proof, but it is fair evidence for a creator who ‘designed’ his creation, of something that stacked the odds towards a certain end.
On the side of atheism, the standard argument against God is the problem of evil; however this is best considered in part three of this essay. As the typical argument in favor of God involves a created universe, an atheist need only argue against creation. And many have. And many theists have countered their arguments. I’m speaking here of philosophers and cosmological physicists; I’m only interested in what they have to say. I’m not so interested in populist discussions, which normally lack intellectual rigor. I’ve read many of these rigorous arguments for and against, and I’ve concluded that the ‘for’ arguments are the more reasonable.
The only creation-oriented atheistic idea I’ll mention here is the idea that the universe always existed; there was no creation and time can be followed backwards forever. This idea is inconsistent with modern cosmological physics, however. I’ll refer the reader to the very rigorous work, “New Proofs for the Existence of God” by Robert J. Spitzer (William B. Eerdmans Pub Co, Grand Rapids, MI, 2010) which explains this concept, and more, without the math. For the improbability of the post-big bang universe, please see “The Road to Reality” by Roger Penrose (Alfred A. Knopf Pub Co, New York, NY, 2004). For a rigorous proof of God by contingency, see “Introductory Metaphysics” by A. Dulles, J. Demske & R. O’Connell (Sheed & Ward Co, New York, NY, 1955).
2. Why I believe there is only one God (instead of believing in many gods)
Once I conclude the existence of a Creator God, I’m naturally inclined to learn more. Is this non-contingent thing that is the source of the observable universe a person? A non-person? A group of things or persons? An infinitude of things or persons? Does it have a creator that created it? Did it create other universes? Etc.
I'll start with the foundational principle that God is not contingent on anything; that was the necessary characteristic above. As such, God has no creator. A scholastic philosopher would say God’s essence (or nature) is his existence: He necessarily exists, he must exist.
Next, as the space-time continuum is a created thing, then God is not constrained by it. For God , there is no passage of time, no location in space. God is a true alternative reality, the likes of which I can abstractly theorize, but cannot concretely imagine. Frankly, the only way I can know anything about God is if God tells me about himself: divine revelation. This assumes, though, that God is a person and that he is capable of communicating with me. (Please note that I am calling God a ‘he,’ implying both personhood and gender; I admit I’m jumping the gun on God being a person and I use male gender because the English language forces my hand – God has no ontological gender.)
Religions claim to be able to tell me about God. Nearly all of them claim that God revealed himself a long time ago and their religion attempts to preserve that revelation. However, at most only one of these religions can be correct. Perhaps there isn’t even one. Once I decide a Creator necessarily exists, I have to decide what this Creator is like. I have to decide if one or none of the existing religions describing the Creator is correct. If I chose none, then I am either an agnostic or the originator of a new religion. Regardless of path, I'm now in the realm of religion, an ugly word for some. But religion is just the process of trying to understand this alternative reality responsible for all things; some like to call the path spirituality or some other term which doesn't conjure images of religious politics or sheep-like blind faith. A lot of people have followed this path before me, however, and I'm not going to start from scratch if any of them made any headway into this investigation; I'm open to looking at what others have found.
There are three categories of religions: those that believe in multiple gods who are persons, those that believe in one God who is a person, and those that believe in a non-personal god or Gods (e.g., Taoism). I immediately reject the polytheistic approach for a perhaps an oversimplified reason: I have no reason to believe in more than one God. In part 1, I concluded a Creator exists. I only need one; therefore, I don’t need two. And that’s about it. Of course, such a simple approach means I could be wrong, but I always go for the simplest possibility.
So I’m apparently a professed monotheist. My next exploration is whether this Creator is a person or not. I return to the contingency argument. Everything that exists in the universe is contingent on others for existence. That is, everything has a reason to exist. Here I’ve introduced the word reason, which implies the existence of contingent things has something rational about it. The non-contingent God must be rational. Only a person can be rational, as per the famous definition from the philosopher Boethius:
A person is an individual substance with a rational nature. (Liber de Persona et Duabus Naturis, ch 3)
The one God (an individual substance) has a rational nature; therefore, God is a person. God is not an impersonal force.
From all this, I conclude there is a Creator who created all things, that this Creator is a person, that this Creator is non-contingent which means he necessarily exists and was not created by another, that He is infinite/eternal, and that He is the only one of his kind. Based on this conclusion, that the alternative reality I seek is a person, I further conclude that he can have interpersonal relationships. To put it simply, he and I can have a relationship, maybe. I'm going to hope for such a relationship and so reject agnosticism and go looking for God. Let's see where that leads me.
3. Why I believe in Christianity (instead of any other religion)
I now have to decide which of the many monotheistic religions is correct, or if none of them are correct. All of these religions have one thing in common: they each point to an historical person who received divine revelation and then passed that knowledge on to posterity. Either one of these people actually did receive divine revelation, or no one did. I’ll ignore the latter choice for the moment, and look at the historical figures who claimed to receive divine revelation: the Jewish patriarchs & prophets, Mohammed, Jesus, etc. I have to say that Jesus stands out, in that his ‘coming’ was prophesied for hundreds of year before his birth, then he fulfilled all of these prophecies in a pretty intricate manner (which is fairly the theme of the bible blog). So, a religion (Judaism) prophesied his coming and what he would do. He came and fulfilled the prophesies. What impresses me is that he did not generally fulfill the prophesies, but did so to a degree of excruciating detail, a detail that was not even clear in the prophesies until 20/20 hindsight identified such details. Few realize just how intricately detailed the prophecies were, nor how exactly Jesus fulfilled them.
I could speculate that the first Christian disciples were a bunch of scam artists who put together an elaborate story of the promised Messiah, but that doesn’t make much sense in that (a) they gained nothing from such a scheme, in fact they suffered much, and (b) they didn’t seem smart enough to put together such a remarkably elaborate scheme (except maybe St. Paul). So I believe this Christian religion they taught was not of their own devices.
I’ve identified Jesus as a strong contender for an authentic divine revelation. Now I have to examine him and his message in detail – is there anything problematic about it? In my experience, no; there is nothing problematic that I can find. But perhaps I’m not objective, so I should look at all of the complaints raised by others against the Christian religion. Most of the complaints have to do with the behaviors of claimed Christians, not the Jesus doctrine itself, so I can ignore those ad hominem attacks, leaving just a few critiques remaining. As I’ve mentioned, the most powerful of these is the problem of evil: Jesus taught that God loves us and that God has power transcending the laws of nature (miracles) – if so, then why doesn’t he help the people he loves? Why do children suffer terrible diseases? Why do people suffer terrible events in their lives, transforming their existences into perpetual suffering? And why are all the people praying to God for help not getting the help they request?
Answer: Because suffering is a necessary path to happiness; it is fundamental to the nature of a person. Suffering has a transformative power; much as we hate it, it leads us to self-abnegation, which in turns leads us to an authentic love, the root of all happiness. Love is selfless self-giving, an impossibility without such self-abnegation. Jesus taught this; it is the most satisfying explanation for suffering I’ve ever heard. I still don’t like suffering, but at least it makes sense. No other ideology offers this view: in a contingent universe, even suffering must have a valid reason.
Another critique of Christianity is the belief in a Triune God. It sounds too much like three gods, yet Christians insist there is only one God; they then give the lackluster defense that “it’s a mystery.” I agree it’s a mystery, but only in the sense that my mind can’t grasp the concrete reality of communion; as an abstract concept, it’s fairly understandable. From philosophy, we reckon every person is a being with an intellect and a will. God is a person, so he must have these faculties. But he is infinite & eternal, not to mention non-contingent; these characteristics result in ‘he has no parts’ (you'll have to read up on your metaphysics). He is one in the truest sense of the word. How then can he have separate faculties? A lengthy path of logic (you’ll have to read more metaphysics) leads us to the conclusion that his faculties are actual persons in their own right, but united to each other in such a transcendent manner such that they are authentically one in substance. Thus the person we call the Son is called the Logos in John’s Gospel – reflecting the intellect. Likewise the Holy Spirit is normally aligned with love, that operation of the will. In this sense, I can understand that God, a Person with the usual three ‘parts’ - is a trinity of Persons with only one ‘part.’ And yes it is mysterious, compared to the things of this world, but not completely unfathomable.
Another critique is related to the seeming contradictions in the Bible; how can we believe the reports of such writings when they so frequently don’t make sense? Bertrand Russell fairly relied on this argument. The response is easy: it’s a collection of ancient texts written long ago in places far away – it can’t be read by the modern mind according to modern methods of our own langauges. We have to learn how Semitic people two to three thousand years ago would have read it. Once we do that (with the help of academics), it makes more sense; what our modern minds see as contradictions turn out to be clever literary techniques. In fact, the internal integrity and consistency of the Bible is quite remarkable. Of itself, this kind of transcendent intricacy in a human writing adds further to my belief.
There are more criticisms of Christianity, but these few examples illustrate the critiques are not robustly logical. I can accept Christian doctrine as at least not illogical, not inconsistent, and in fact satisfying regards the questions of life. This brings me to the next step: I’ve been led to the teachings of Jesus as an authentic revelation; as I delve into his teachings, where does it lead me? I see a rather integrated concept of the world, why a non-contingent person would create it and how humans (persons) fit into the rationale of creation. I’ve questioned Christianity for 35 years and it has not disappointed me in its ability to explain all things. I’ve read as many anti-Christian critiques as I can find and I’ve found satisfying answers to all of the criticisms. I’ve tried my best to be skeptical (and I think I’m not really a very good Christian as a result). Jesus is God and he explained himself. Because his explanation makes sense of all things, and his is the only explanation that makes sense of all things, I accept it.
4. Why I believe Catholicism is the correct form of Christianity (instead of the other denominations)
Last of all, how did I choose Catholicism over all of the other variants of Christianity? To be honest, it seems superficially to be the silliest of all the Christian denominations. I had rejected it out of hand when I was much younger as the obviously wrong version of Christianity. Thankfully, later in life I had the open-mindedness to revisit it, plus I had the advantage of Providence to help me discover what I never knew: that the presentation of Catholicism in the 20th century is a poor rendition. It’s a mish-mash of random ideas, rules, authoritarian organizational structure, and more rules. There were popes and purgatory, fish on Friday and May crownings. Also plastic statues, glow-in-the-dark rosaries, priests in strange clothing, bishops in strange hats and some of the ugliest churches this side of 1960. And the music… it’s just terrible. And then more rules.
I discovered the Church suffered a radical loss of catechesis in the 20th century. Most of this strange mish-mash of random ideas could be understood simply, from basic principles, as an integral whole. But there was also a problem born in the 20th century: an introduction of new and problematic elements into Catholicism. The result was a tragic loss to the Faith even in my own lifetime, making it difficult to navigate, giving it the appearance of many random ideas. For some very traditional Catholics, this loss has destroyed Catholicism, demanding a start-over and a return to yesteryear. I don’t agree with that. For some very progressive Catholics, we are in a new age of the Spirit that has discarded the old as obsolete; we need to embrace this Spirit-led renewal. I don’t agree with that either. It’s been extremely difficult to learn what Catholics of ancient ages believed. I say all this because I need to point out that the superficial Catholicism of our era is a different religion than the actual Catholicism of the Church’s life, which I believe was handed on over generations and preserved for posterity. Be sure: I am no traditionalist. But I know what I see and what I see in the Church today are many ideas and practices that cannot be reconciled with Catholicism. And these new ideas are the ones causing trouble, such as the sexual scandals of priests and the bishops who hid them. I want to help others navigate this modern day cloud of confusion and am doing so by offering this Bible blog, to get back to basics.
That said, I want to categorize the different variants of Christianity and look at each. Fundamentally, there are two branches: the traditional churches (Catholic, Orthodox, non-Chalcedonian) and the reformed churches, i.e., Protestant. The difference between these categories is that the traditional churches believe that grace is transformative, that we come to share in the divine nature, become a new creature with god-like faculties; and we receive such grace sacramentally. The reformed churches believe that grace is a legal disposition, not an ontological transformation; and we receive such grace through Faith in Jesus. I have to choose one of these two categories. Based on my reading of Scripture, I believe Jesus taught the transformative power of grace, the ontological change in the human who receives grace (which is God’s own life). Furthermore, I believe the Bible teaches this through sacramental imagery, by which I conclude the sacraments are meaningful. When God declares meaning, he makes real (“let there be light”), so I believe sacraments are real.
But many Protestants are not stupid; why don’t they see what I see? I think it’s because of Paul. St. Paul alone among the Apostles was a rabbinical scholar, an ancient Semitic professor, well-schooled in Judaism. His epistles are the writings of a professor teaching his students; they're neither simple nor obvious. He expects his students to remember what he taught them previously, when he was with them. (Paul’s epistles were written to local churches that he had previously visited in person.) Reading his epistles demand prior knowledge, as reading a physics book requires prior knowledge of calculus. A basic belief of many Protestants is that Scripture is very accessible and easy to understand for all; they reject that Paul’s epistles require some prior knowledge. The conclusion of Paul’s teaching is very different if you approach it on its own merit vs approaching it with certain prior knowledge. The former concludes a legal disposition bestowed on the Christian; the latter concludes a real change of state applied to the Christian. Once someone chooses one of these foundational principles, their choice will color how they read the rest of Scripture.
Another challenge I see with Reformed Christianity is related to history. Jesus and his Apostles taught something; let’s call that something doctrine A. Protestantism claims that Jesus’ doctrine A was lost and replaced by doctrine B, which is the very different doctrine of Catholicism; in the sixteenth century, the early reformers restored doctrine A. This moves the question from a doctrinal one to an historical one. When I look at history I see only one Christian doctrine in the world in, say, the 9th century; and that is the Catholic doctrine. Protestantism says that was doctrine B, which implies that doctrine A had previously been lost or repressed completely. Such a repression should have an historic event related to it; we should be able to see some historical events that resulted in the loss of doctrine A. My problem is that I don’t see any such historical events. Some say it was Emperor Constantine who transformed the Church into a kind of Roman institution in the 4th century. I say history shows no such thing. In fact, the decidedly Catholic doctrines were clearly believed long before Constantine, and not only in Rome. Sacraments, clergy, Mary, saints, etc. all were believed and taught by rank and file Christians throughout the Christian world in 100 A.D. Therefore the theoretical A-to-B change must have happened before 100 A.D. At the same time, however, the Roman Empire was brutally executing Christians who refused to recant their Faith. These Christians chose death before recanting even the smallest details of Christian doctrine; it is difficult for me to believe that these same people so easily allowed themselves to switch to doctrine B from the very different doctrine A.
So, I cannot accept reformed Christianity, neither from Scripture nor from history. Then which form of traditional Christianity is correct? Is Catholicism correct? Orthodoxy? Non-Chalcedonian doctrine? (Coptic, Armenian Apostolic, etc.) I admit I see little difference between these churches. As a system of beliefs, I could almost accept any of them. The most meaningful difference between them has to do with popes and councils. There have been twenty-one general councils of the Church, which were led by Holy Spirit for the purpose of preserving doctrine by resolving disputed beliefs. Non-Chalcedonians are so called because they dispute a result of the 5th century Council of Chalcedon; they reject it and all councils since. Likewise the Orthodox churches reject all councils after the split between the Greek and Latin churches in 1054; they only accept the first eight councils. I have trouble believing the Holy Spirit stopped doing his work of protecting the Faith so long ago. Finally, these two branches reject a special charism for the Bishop of Rome, seeing him only as ‘first among equals’ among the bishops. I don’t know what it means in Christianity to be the first.
I believe in a Church where God the Holy Spirit is essentially the soul of the Mystical Body. As such, I expect to see the Mystical Body hand on the Faith continuously, this being a sure thing because of the Holy Spirit. I cannot reconcile this fact of the Holy Spirit with any kind of breakdown of the Church. Among the denominations, only Catholicism denies any kind of breakdown; all other denominations rely on a breakdown of the Faith at some point in past history. Conversely, when I look at the history of Catholic doctrine, I see a single belief system that goes back to the beginning, even to Sacred Scripture. The claims of other Christians that Catholicism is a ‘new’ offshoot of Christianity do not hold up under the scrutiny of history. I do notice, however, that the rise of these other denominations occurred during historic periods when Catholic bishops did not live up to their calling. Catholicism has long suffered from a kind of clericalism, where Catholics have accepted that the Faith and the men tasked with teaching the Faith are somehow intrinsically bound to one another. Bishops do bad things, and Catholics respond by giving up the Faith, as if a doctrinal system is intrinsically intertwined with these men’s lives. This is a result of a bad clericalism. These bishops and priests are just men and they will sin, same as all men & women. Their role as teachers in the Church does not ensure they won’t sin. The doctrinal system of the Faith must stand on its own merits and inner logic, separate from the actions of any people. (Such is true for any ideology.)
All that said, I must add that I respect non-Catholic Christians, as fellow disciples of Christ. I’d like to review a few of their critiques of Catholicism. First and foremost is the apparent authoritarian hierarchical structure, where the Church is an organization (like IBM or General Motors), the pope is a kind of CEO, bishops are the executive management and priests are middle management; we the laity are at the bottom and we do as we’re told by our 'leadership.' But this is not the Church; this is a straw man image of the Church, sadly perpetuated by inappropriate behaviors of many clerics themselves. The Church is not a corporate organization; it is best understood as a family and the priests/bishops are household stewards. It’s sad that so many stewards behave as if they’re leaders in a corporate organization. It’s sad that so many children in the family look to their stewards for some kind of pragmatic leadership role. All very sad indeed, but the behaviors of the people who veer from the Faith do not in any way affect the doctrine of the Faith .
Another argument is the hypocrisy of so many Catholics (and Christians). This is similar to the previous paragraph; it’s an ad hominem attack which does not consider the doctrine. The basic concept of Catholicism is that we are animals with souls; we behave like animals, unless we use the faculties of the soul, which is generally impossible to do on our own. Through sacramental grace (the life of God), we are enabled to access our spiritual faculties. We don’t automatically become sinless; we simply gain a great tool that can ultimately enable us to become sinless. Most Christians fail at achieving such spiritual growth in this life; only a few succeed, for example, Mother Theresa. The fact that Catholicism can produce a Mother Theresa speaks well to this doctrine and this process of spiritual growth. The fact that we can’t do it consistently, with everyone, just means that it’s not easy and there are many roadblocks and difficulties. When we see Catholics preach morality, then fall into sin, it’s not a failure of our Faith, but a failure of an individual. It’s just human weakness, such as we see in everyone.
Another argument is the system of strict rules, both moral and liturgical. I admit that many Catholics seem to treat their religion as a game to be won: whoever follows all the rules wins. This attitude is due to poor catechesis. The liturgical rules have gotten a bit easier after Vatican II, but maybe not through the best way. Our liturgy is mainly a set of symbols that engage our minds into a certain disposition to encounter the Lord in Holy Communion. So, it has a lot of ceremonial actions and images towards this end. It’s really quite meaningful, if we allow ourselves to experience it; but it requires good catechesis to understand the symbols. Without such prior knowledge, it just looks like a lot of rules.
Likewise the moral rules. These should never be seen as rules, but as a kind of ‘operating instructions’ for activating the faculties of the soul. They are part of an integrated spiritual life, and morality should be understood as a part of that life. Ultimately, they are all directed to a single end, that of unselfishness. Our goal is a radical life of self-giving love, where there is no sacrifice too great if it can be a good to others. Many see this morality as a bunch of club rules the leaders (clerics) impose on the subordinates (laity); in fact, the moral life we try to lead is meant to curb our selfishness and foster self-giving. It's a form of transcendental religious practice to improve our relationship with God. Nor is there any imperative to demand non-Catholics follow such a life; it’s for believers and is not so meaningful unless activated by grace. All we require of others is basic social justice: do no harm to others. I know there are some Catholics who push their morality to all; but again, just poor catechesis.
The last Protestant critique I want to address is usually heard from former Catholics. They say they got nothing out of going to Mass, but they get a lot out of their new, non-Catholic worship service. My response is simply that we don't go to Mass to get something out of it; we are there to meet our Lord, our Beloved, in Holy Communion - we ought to be disposed towards what we give, not what we get. The entire Christian doctrine is about giving of self, following Jesus' example. It's in this that we experience satisfaction and happiness. I admit many Masses today seem to be styled on an entertainment venue and so we're looking for an entertainment experience and the satisfactions that we expect; that's really sad and certainly not how its supposed to be. We are there to meet Jesus; we spend most of the Mass preparing ourselves for this meeting, like a lover preparing herself to meet her beloved. When the lovers meet, they are only interested in giving to the other because it is in that self-giving that they find joy. If they have true love, they are not looking for what they can get; such betrays a selfish desire to possess, not true love.
And there it is: my ideas and how they formed my belief in Catholicism. This was not an apologetic, to convince you to be like me. It’s merely an explanation of my own conclusions. My purpose is to offer ideas that may help, and also to show that belief in God does not imply ignorance or blind faith.