Lately I've heard the same comment a few times: "I won't argue with you because you obviously don't want to believe."
This can be read a couple of ways. They could mean, "I don't mind that you think differently from me, and I have no desire to interfere with your opinion since it makes you happy." I'm fine with that, though I don't think the Catholic Church is, exactly. But, hey, we can't all be proselytizing at all times, and if they don't have the time, energy, or knowledge to argue with me, they don't have to.
Or they might mean, "You aren't really open-minded, so I'd be wasting my time if I tried talking with you."
I tend to hear more of this second one, though it might be just my own oversensitivity. The implication is that I am bad and wrong for thinking the wrong things, and they are giving up on me. And so I predictably feel hurt and defensive.
But I suppose there is truth to it in some respect -- I am not in the state I was six months ago, where I wanted so desperately to believe that I would cling to any argument, however tenuous, and try to make it make sense. Even that wasn't really working for me -- some things don't make sense no matter how hard you try -- but I will admit, I've changed my ground a bit. I don't want to believe the Catholic faith, per se, I want to believe whatever is true. I would like that to be the Catholic faith, but if it's not, I still want to believe it. This is a shift from what I said a few months back.
The thing is, the most important thing in the world to me is to do what is right. I said before that I would rather do what is right than believe what is true (i.e. I prefer goodness to truth) but it occurred to me that it is not possible to do what is right if you don't know what is true. Facts have a bearing on morals; you can't reach ought without is. And hiding yourself in ignorance can be dangerous, because, well, you're ignorant -- you don't know what things you would be doing if you thought differently, until you think differently.
So I asked myself, if I want to know the truth, what is the best way to find it out? There are different ways of discovering the truth, but the ideal way would be able to discern between truth and falsehood. That is, "believe what you are told" does not work, because I know that many people who follow this rule believe falsehood and don't have any way to find that out. (Being in a cult taught me this, but I don't think of it as "trauma" because it is something worth knowing: the mere fact that someone believes something, and is told that it is morally good to believe it, doesn't make it true.)
So the ideal way to find out if something is true, is by a method that would prove it false if it were not true. Of course there is no infallible method, because people are often wrong about all kinds of things. But I think the best tools are emotions and reason. If you feel in your heart that something is true, or have facts in your head supporting its veracity, then you've got something that is, at the very least, something to go on.
Emotions are out, since I haven't had a single positive emotion associated with Catholicism since I got kicked out of boarding school. I think it's perfectly okay to believe in God because you feel his presence, but as I don't, I turned to reason.
Now if you want to use reason to test something, you have to be willing to prove it either true or false. If the reasoning you use would only prove it true and can't possibly prove it false, then it can't give you any new information. If you can't see that, try playing this game and it should explain what I mean. So lining up proofs for the existence of God is a fun exercise, but until you ask, "Are there counterarguments to these proofs, and how good are they?" you're not really using reason to test a claim. You're trying to comfort yourself, and sadly, it doesn't work ... because I was doing that and gaining more doubts by the day.
Some loved ones reassured me: "The truth is like a lion," they said. "It can stand up for itself. You don't have to be afraid of accidentally disproving it. Investigate honestly, and you'll walk away feeling really sure instead of doubtful." I didn't have their level of trust, but I thought -- well, if it's true it can stand up to questioning, and if not, it shouldn't stand up to questioning, should it?
That was a surprisingly difficult question, and I agonized about it for a long time. Being a "doubting Catholic" is one thing -- struggling with doubts, but never for a minute honestly asking if it might not be true. You say instead, "I have these doubts, but I know there must be an answer to all of them that I just haven't discovered yet." It's an entirely different thing to say, "It might be false, and I want to know." That's not okay to say, it's not even okay to think.
But I thought -- what if it is true? What if I'm undergoing all these agonies of doubt, and it's all for nothing because there's clear evidence in favor of faith? I know I'll never truly believe until I take each piece of evidence and thoroughly examine its credibility, because I'll suspect it won't hold up. But if I've looked, and I know it holds up, then I can believe for real and not be troubled by doubt anymore!
So, for the first time, I tried to critically examine all the apologetical stuff I'd been reading for years. I'd already abandoned the philosophical arguments for God, finding them reliant on schools of philosophy which I have studied and found wanting. But I felt the historical arguments were pretty good, so I looked into those. I had already read Lee Strobel's The Case for Christ, so I went through it and fact-checked it. The very strongest argument in favor of Christianity, in my opinion, is that the witnesses of the resurrection died rather than deny it .... however, fact-checking this (in the Catholic Encyclopedia, no less!) proved it false; we don't know how the apostles died with any sort of historical accuracy. And I went right on down the line, hoping so hard for some kind of solid evidence -- something that I could honestly say, "If I am to be objective and use good historical methodology, I have to accept that Christianity is true." But I did not.
I backed up and tried other lines of argument, looked at miracle claims and asked myself, "Is it possible that this miracle could have happened without divine intervention?" I went back to the philosophical arguments and had no luck. Everywhere I looked, I found the rational proofs I was always promised did not hold up to testing.
I am still looking.
What gets me in all this is what in the world God can have been thinking, leaving his existence so plausibly deniable! Wouldn't it have been so easy to provide a little more proof? A pillar of fire in the sky would be easy for him, obviously, but even something much simpler would be great:
-He could have a disinterested account of the martyrdom of St. Peter, written by an eyewitness. The Roman magistrate offers him his life if he'll only admit he was lying about the resurrection, but he refuses and dies for it.
-The Shroud of Turin could date from the time of Christ rather than the Middle Ages, so that we could believe it was real.
-He could have made the Church be the one to first invent feminism, ban torture, and end the death penalty, proving its moral rectitude surpassed what the best minds outside of it could figure out.
-Or he could simply give me a feeling of his presence, so that I could experience him directly and not have to guess if he was out there. If doubts returned afterward, I could return to my memory of that experience to comfort me.
Any of those would have helped a lot. And it just confused me that God would leave me, and so many other well-meaning people who struggle like I do, hanging like that. If God is real and cares, I can't account for it. But if he isn't, it (like so many other things) makes a lot more sense.
So here I am: disbelieving because I honestly don't think it's true. I don't try to believe because I don't know if it is right to try to believe. I want to believe, because everything in my life would be better if I did, but I don't want to believe more than I want the truth, because to do right one must know the truth, to the best of one's ability.
And if you want to respect my disbelief, you know what would help more than anything? Arguing with me. I'm serious. Because when you argue with me, you are accepting my account of myself, that I am an honest seeker. And you are putting yourself forward as a witness, that you believe your faith stands up to questioning, because here you are putting it out there. Most of all, you offer me a little hope that it's true after all and that I can come to believe it, because as long as you're still talking to me, there's something more left I haven't heard.
You don't have to do it. Not everyone's an apologist, and not everyone has the time. But please, just say so. Say that you think the answers are out there and I should keep looking, or that you hope I'll find something that helps me believe. But don't tell me I just don't want to believe. My preference all along has been to believe! And if what you're saying is, the truth looks like falsehood unless you are trying to believe it (and sometimes even when you are) -- then I would simply ask, how are you sure that trying to believe is the right choice? How are you sure you aren't supposed to be trying to believe something else?
If you can't answer that question, I think you'd better stop telling me I should be trying harder.