Ever been to the optometrist? They make you look in that machine and swap out lenses: "Look at A. Okay now look at B. Which is better, A or B? Here's A again. Here's B. Which is better? Need to see them again?"
That is how I feel. Here's the Catholic worldview ... here's an atheist or deist or Protestant point of view. Which is clearer? Which looks more like reality?
For so many years I wouldn't even look at lens B. Wouldn't even think about lens B. I was afraid that B was right, you see, and if I let myself look at it, I'd see it was true. And I didn't want to see that, because as I keep saying, I want to be Catholic!
But not looking at B didn't make A any less blurry. It was getting blurrier and blurrier, and I realized my unwillingness to ask the questions I had wasn't making them go away. I had to be brave and look for the answers, even in places I didn't want to look, because faith doesn't come from a denial to think or look. That denial just led me to a strong feeling the faith was false, because I suspected that just around the corner was a counterargument I wouldn't be able to answer.
So I started to look at A and B, in turn. Which was clearer? Which had fewer blind spots? Which explained more of the reality I know?
I found that the B view was depressing. Also that a lot of the people who hold it are not as nice as the people I know wearing A glasses. So shouldn't that be good proof?
Periodically I gave up the eye test and said I would just stick to A. But my prescription kept getting blurrier. I said I would just stick to the teachings of the Church. If I saw something I thought was wrong, well, I'd look it up and see if maybe the Church had room for my view too.
But then I bumped into "no salvation outside the Church," and really the best I could come up with is that the Church teaching has definitely changed. I know there is an argument that it hasn't. I just don't find it convincing -- and I'm not the only one, because plenty of modern schismatics think the new view contradicts the old one. It isn't a disproof of the Church, but it's bad evidence to be sure.
I also ran into the teaching, dogmatically defined by a council, that God's existence could be known with certainty from the created world. I don't find that so in my case, and to say "oh, if only you accepted Thomistic philosophy you would have certainty" isn't very helpful, since Thomistic philosophy has never made a whole lot of sense to me. I've studied it, sure, but I always felt the first principles weren't all that self-evident.
Well, I figured, I don't have to understand it all. One of two things is possible, either that the Church's infallibility isn't as strict as people say it is, or that I'm wrong, and I can deal with either. I put away my catechism and conciliar documents and I was going to just read the Bible. Surely a Catholic should be able to read the Bible! But suddenly it was so full of contradictions. The law won't pass away! The law has passed away! Offer me sacrifices! God doesn't want sacrifices! Stone adulteresses! Go and sin no more!
Is it the same God in the New and Old Testaments, or not? There aren't any Marcionites around anymore, who say each covenant is with a totally different God, but I can't really see why not, considering how very differently God acts in each. I did some research and found that maybe the Old Testament is mainly myth. So I figured, I can accept it according to the intent of the human authors, if they meant it as myth, I guess. (Although even the moral of the myth is odd - is God really the sort of person who would demand a sacrifice of someone's son? Or who would tell people "do not kill" and then demand that they kill quite a few different kinds of bad people? Is morality unchanging, as the Church teaches, or does it rely on God's will at a particular moment, as the Old Testament seems to teach?)
So I was down to the New Testament. Can't read the Old Testament. Can't read the teachings of the Church because they always seem to contradict. I like the Mass, but it's only once a week. I am trying to find out how to live an actual Christian life. I don't want to study and argue, but I couldn't find a way to even live a Catholic life at all without stumbling on some controversy. I couldn't walk away from the controversy without walking away from my whole religion.
Last week I was reading the Gospels and ran into that verse I posted yesterday. Seriously?! I mean, I knew that was in there, but I have been ignoring it for a long time and it wasn't hurting me before. But, you know, once you come across a flaw in your worldview, you know you are following a flawed worldview. You can't un-know this. You can ignore it, and tell yourself there is surely an answer out there, but it eventually begins to bother you -- or it does if you're me.
So I thought I'd resolve it, but wasn't able to. There are resolutions, but they seem so unlikely! Whereas the explanation that the whole thing was made up to prop up an end-times prediction seems pretty reasonable.
A? .... or B?
The historicity of the Gospels, and specifically of the Resurrection, is my last bastion. It's the hill I have to die on, because there's basically nothing else I actually believe in with any certainty. If I'm convinced by it, I have to acknowledge all that flows from it, which is fine. I mean, even if other parts of the Faith are unlikely, when you rule out the "it was all made up" theory, whatever remains, however unlikely, must be the truth.
So I'm researching that. I do have a book, The Case for Christ, which is pretty good and I've read before. The trouble with it is that it "proves" early on some premises, like the dating of the Gospels and Epistles, with evidence that doesn't seem very sound to me, and then uses that conclusion to prop up the rest of the book. I thought I could use some more info, so I read this debate. Certainly interesting. I learned some things, like that we don't know for sure that Peter and Paul were martyred after all. (Wikipedia backs that up.) That weakens my argument unexpectedly. And that Mark, which many think was the first gospel written, doesn't mention the resurrection at all, only that the tomb was empty, in the earliest manuscripts of it.
In the end, the conclusion I'm left with is that both A and B are a wee bit fuzzy. You kind of have to pick what you think is more incredible -- that a person should rise from the dead, or that someone would lie (or get confused) and say a person had. One seems against nature, the other against human nature, or what I know of it.
What if, getting to the bottom of the question, all you can say is, "Well, it's equally likely that Jesus rose from the dead and that he didn't"? What kind of an answer is that to build a life on? I need to know, more than I could possibly need to know any other fact of history. It's all very well to say, "I'm as sure about this as about any fact of history," when I automatically discount "miraculous" stories in Julius Caesar or Herodotus. And anyway no one expects me to pray daily to Julius Caesar and really believe he can hear me.
I don't want to keep studying this. I'm afraid. I know that it's possible more study could actually give me more answers, clear up the "A" lens so I can see again. But it is also possible that the "B" lens is a lot clearer. There's really no way to prove A, without running the risk of disproving A. Any test that could prove A without disproving A, doesn't give you any additional proof of A. (If you don't see that, Seeking Omniscience explains it well, I think.)
What would you do? Keep plugging away at the Catholic Faith with minimal faith, knowing that you don't really believe much, but you have a suspicion that perhaps it might be true, and that will have to be good enough? Or keep flipping back and forth between the lenses? Read more arguments on both sides, see if any of them has a single fact I haven't heard. Study the first century. Date the whole New Testament. Read the second-century Fathers.
Is A better? Or is it B? Need to see those again? Let's look at these facts with A on .... now let's look at them with B. Which works better? Which makes more sense? Is A even possible, or does it contort the world beyond understanding?
If it does, do I even want to know? It's not like I want different glasses.