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Do You Believe?

May 17, 2007
I am reading a great book. I say it's great not just 'cause I'm enjoying what I am reading (so far - I'm only about 10% in), but from what other people have told me about it. It's Life of Pi by Yann Martel. In it, the main character, Pi (yes, pronounced like the Greek letter we all remember from Math class: ? = 3.14) explains how atheists are closer to believers than we think: we both go after our beliefs with conviction. Agnostics, on the other hand, hang their hats on doubt. Yes, it's ok to doubt, but to make a life-long belief-system that is based on doubt is akin to making a transportation choice that involves immobility.
I love that. It puts in words what I've felt and experienced throughout my life. It reminds me of the scripture passage that says that if you are lukewarm God will "vomit you out of His mouth" (Revelation 3:16). The point here is that I don't know if anyone has all the right answers - I do believe that Jesus Christ is the Way, the Truth and the Life - but in the search for the right answers, the key is exactly that: to search. Searching means struggle and periods of doubt. It means questioning.
One of my favourite authors, Dr. M. Scott Peck, in his famous book, The Road Less Traveled, talks about the stages of spiritual growth. He compares them to the stages of life: childhood, adolescence and adulthood.
As children we do as we are told. We believe because our parents say so. We accept without questioning. There isn't much reasoning to our Faith.
As adolescents we begin to try to make sense of what our parents have taught us. We decide what we accept and what we reject. We question. Adolescence is the period when we try to intellectually make sense of what we've believed blindly and try to own it. It is the journey from the head to the heart.
Many adults are still in their childhood spiritual phase. Not questioning. Merely accepting. Doing because they are told. Not really believing.
In the same way, many adults are still in the adolescent spiritual phase, questioning all, challenging everything, doubting. In fact, trying to make sense of things.
What's neat is that in the journey from childhood to adulthood, from the head to the heart, we must go through adolescence. The adolescent is closer to being an adult than the child. And so, to give an example, those who merely go to Church because of tradition, or because they learned it as children and haven't really thought about what it means, are in a lower spiritual stage than those who've questioned and challenged and decided to not go to Church because it doesn't make sense to them. It is a difficult concept to accept for many Catholics who've been told repeatedly that they must do certain things and that they must believe blindly, and who were brought up not to question the Church.
The adult stage is the stage when we own our beliefs: The adult goes to Church because she truly believes and understands what the Sacraments means. The adult celebrates the Sacraments because in his heart, he knows what they are and what they mean. The spiritual adult believes in the teachings of the Catholic Church because she's taken the time to learn about what the Church teaches - she's learned what other churches teach, she's read, studied, asked, questioned and prayed much about it. It's true that Faith is a gift, but God helps those who help themselves, no? So I pray for Faith. As I journey through adolescence, I am conscious that one day I want to be an adult.
And so, in some ways, these were the driving thoughts behind tonight's Catholic Focus, airing at 7pm and 11pm ET and repeating on Sunday May 20th, at the same times. I assembled a panel of friends who have different beliefs than mine, and asked: What do they believe? Why do they believe that? Why don't they believe in God? What is the difference between the concept of a "life-giver", or "creator", and the Christian concept of God? From where do they get meaning in their lives? Why do they believe that humans have value and dignity? Where does their morality come from?
My hope is not to convert or to confuse, but rather, in hearing their answers, I hope that we can begin to ask the questions of our own beliefs. I believe that in my journey from the head to the heart, I must ask these questions, and I cannot be afraid to seek answers from those outside the Church.
Always happy to hear your thoughts.
PEDRO

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