21 October, 2007

An incompetent Catholic

I am somewhat reticent to publish this entry, because it deals with a conversation between my son and myself which can be viewed as an argument that, conveniently enough, I won. If you read far enough, you will see that this is not the case.

If you visit Bede's Journal, you'll find an occasional post discussing scientists' conclusions that nature triumphs over nurture. Dr. Hannam is pleased that, according to current scientific thinking, nothing he does will screw his daughter up. Recently he discussed evidence that religiosity is also genetic. He argues that religiosity may be traceable to a gene that is beneficial.

If so, I suspect that people will be engineering that gene out of themselves before long. I've wondered for a while whether all the competent Catholics bred themselves out of the gene pool during the 16th-19th centuries by embracing lives of celibacy, leaving the Church to us, their genetic inferiors, who in the 20th and 21st centuries did what one would expect from incompetents. I suppose that I should also join Dr. Hannam's relief that nothing I do will screw up my children. "Genes are only 50% of the story", he writes, "but otherwise, parents have nothing to do with it." (I paraphrase, but he does say this.)

I'm not rushing to embrace this gospel. I say this despite the fact that when I picked up my son from school Friday, he announced that he had decided not to believe in God.

This didn't surprise me; he has dropped hints of this matter before. I was certainly not at ease about it, but it's better than most anything on Fresh Air, and usually my son wants to talk about things that interest 11 year-olds. As you might expect, these things don't interest most 35 year-olds—well, they don't interest me, anyway. So I was happy to inquire about his motivation.

It's too hard to believe in God, he explained. You can't do certain things; you have to go to church once a week...

Going to church once a week isn't hard, I chuckled. If it were, I wouldn't do it. (Okay, that's not true. I've gone to church when it has been hard, and I would do so even today. Here in Hattiesburg, it isn't generally hard.)

But God says you can't do certain things, he complained. It's hard to be religious. He listed some details. In a couple of years I likely won't forget the details.

This argument provides evidence of something I've always suspected.
Many people adjust their religous faith, or their lack thereof, not on account of conscience, but on account of convenience. The arguments they actually provide are rationalizations that grow from this seed.
Before anyone expresses outrage: by no means would I say this about all, or even most, people who adjust their faith. I'm someone who adjusted his faith, and it wasn't convenient. Rod Dreher's conversion to Eastern Orthodoxy was, IMHO, a matter of conscience over convenience. I have stated several times over the last 3+ years that certain atheists have good reason to disbelieve, and that many Christians do them a disservice with shallow responses.

Back to the discussion. By that logic, you shouldn't believe in me, I answered with a chuckle. I'm always telling you that you can't do certain things.

Yeah, but I can see you, he pointed out.

I had a response ready. You can't see micro... uhm, bacteria, either. Do you not believe in them? (Yes, I stumbled on the word just like that, despite having thought of this a long time ago. I'm a regular rhetorical genius.)

But there are people who have seen bacteria. I believe them!

I started to laugh, which annoyed him all the more. Oh, he muttered, now you're going to answer that there are people who have seen God.

Actually, I wasn't going to say that, but it's true.

Thus ended the conversation. I would have liked to have said more, but I chose not to press the point. It's hard to know when talking more would help the situation or hinder it. We live in an age reluctant to put stock in anything it cannot perceive immediately and materially. I don't blame him for asking questions; I struggled with atheism once, and men far better than I have gone over to that camp. I do want to guide him towards finding the answers, without giving them to him myself.

Faith is not a matter of reason, and certainly not a matter of having the best arguments. True faith is a matter of experience. One comes to see God through the eyes of the soul. The eyes of the mind, like those of the body, can often serve as obstacles to certain truths. At best, I have given the boy an opportunity to think of another argument. I half joke to myself that I should help him by giving him some books advocating atheism: The Atheist's Catechism, perhaps, or that recent book of Sam Harris', then having a question-and-answer session with him. But then he might feel that I was trying to belittle him, and he'd end up hating me.

Ironic, isn't it? The older I get, the stupider I feel. I can answer my son's arguments, with a level head for the time being, and I can send him to a Catholic school, where his religion teacher thinks that knowing the Bible better than the Protestants means memorizing the order of the prophets. (Sigh. I'd rather he read the prophets than memorized their order, but... one step at a time, I guess.)

But, if I understand Dr. Hannam correctly, nothing I am doing will have any effect. His genes are doing their utmost to propel the boy towards atheism. Catholicism has a word for this human tendency towards un-Christian ends: Original Sin.

(I'm really ingratiating myself to any athiests who stumble across this weblog, aren't I?)

You can probably tell that I don't consider myself competent for the job. I certainly entertain no delusions about the matter. One of the many reasons that I left seminary nine years ago is that I am utterly unconvincing in matters of conviction. I would have driven people away from Christ, rather than welcomed them to Him. My seminary professors were right about lots of things, and one of them is that I would find myself facing that risk again.

Certainly I attend church. I was very involved before I married, but over the last couple of years my greatest achievements have been attending and putting an envelope in the plate. I've never felt at home in "Christian culture", and my attempts to participate in it inevitably lead to heartache and shame. The best I can do is point him in the right direction and pray for the best.

At least God is capable for the job, so I commend my son's soul to his care, and ask for his direction. I especially ask St. Monica and St. Augustine to touch the boy's heart, and of course St. Bernadette.

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