Friday, November 03, 2006

"I beseech you in the bowels of Christ think it possible you may be mistaken"

I have been baffled at the ugliness that atheists often read into the behavior and beliefs of religious people. In my recent readings I have come across a lot of heat directed towards religious people, specifically Christians. This negative reaction towards traditional faith is especially pointed and vehement when it comes to parents passing on their religious inheritance to their children.

These writings I have read are challenging and well written. They have given me pause for thought. I have come to realize that atheists of the Dawkins persuasion are actually people of great faith. They start with evolution, or some other strictly scientific tenet, and then make the gigantic leap from there to "Thus There Is No God". This is an act of bravery - they take on Pascal's wager with little more than a conviction in their own cleverness. I pray for that kind of faith. It is a real treasure.

But I still have to struggle with why that particular belief system is often accompanied by a fully admitted intolerance toward people of other faiths, and specifically a very great opposition to parents teaching their children traditional dogmas. What is it that anti-religious people see as so repellent?

One thing I do know is that the most repellent thing in a person is sin. Sin is the word I use - others may use different words, like hypocrisy, obstinate bigotry, destructive stupidity, etc. When sin is perceived, disgust is a completely appropriate reaction. Sin must be what the anti-religionists see in their more religious brothers and sisters.

It is true there have always been people who are not just religious, but make the mistake of being too religious. The Lord during his earthly ministry railed against such people (they were usually members of the Sanhedrin) and warned His followers against those who had become disfigured by such sins. That was Saint Paul’s problem, back in the days when he was known as Saul, holding the coats of other much-too-religious people while they stoned to death those who were not.

But to say all religious people are like this is, well, silly. It is bigoted, actually. It is the same old error all over again; Take a group of people you don't agree with, find a few bad apples who have fallen into the particular pitfalls that threaten that group (every group has them), and then say "oh, they are all like that". Atheists, it turns out, are perfectly capable of this same old error, no matter how bright they may be.

My wife and I are currently preparing our oldest child for his first confession and first communion. Now, one of these militant atheists might be aghast at this. But I really do not feel like we are shackling our child with unnecessary guilt or committing some kind of crime against humanity as the militant atheist would have us believe. I see it more like communicating to my child his true worth in the eyes of God(and introducing him to a limitless supply of God’s grace!).

We Catholics often refer to confession as the “sacrament of conversion”. Since confession is not something that occurs only once, so neither is conversion. In our view conversion is an ongoing, life-long process. This means we live our lives in the constant awareness that we are not perfect. This awareness has its benefits for both sides of the grave. We are able to admit we are in error when error is perceived, because we know that the only person who is ever completely right at any time is the Lord Himself.

It is always sad when someone loses this perception. It is a great loss if someone is never able to consider for a moment that perhaps they are mistaken.