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Baffled Bob wrote:

Hi, guys —

I am 65 and have been an atheist since the age of seven. I've fallen in love with a practicing Catholic woman who, upon her invitation, I accompany to Mass every week and have been doing so for many months now.

I have always had a deep level of curiosity about many things and, since I've been going to Mass, I have asked many questions and read many things about the meaning of the Mass and what it means to be Catholic.

My learning has drawn me closer both to my, now, fiancée and to Catholicism. I'm very impressed with the incredible amount of thought behind:

  • the Catechism
  • the beauty of the Church
  • the rituals,
  • not to mention the morality and goodness of Catholic thinking and practice, as I've seen it so far.

Historically, I'm Jewish by faith but I don't practice and haven't done so since I was 13 when I was [forced/strongly-encouraged] to have a Bar Mitzvah. My fiancée would be overjoyed if I converted to the Catholic faith but she wants it to be my own decision.

I even hired a certified hypnotist to convince me to believe in God though she said that can't be done for any long term manner. She instead opened me up to spirituality. This had two effects:

  1. I find myself annoyed when I read or hear atheists espousing their beliefs (even though I agree with them!) and my fiancée giggles when this happens as she feels similarly, and
  2. I am filled with a feeling of love and community when we go to Mass together, far more than previously.

Here's the issue, and it's a strange one.

Note that my fiancée and I have both been praying for my lack of faith. When I go to Church it's as though I completely believe in God but when I'm in my ordinary world, outside the Church, I revert back to my atheistic beliefs which are now 100% in my cognitive mind and 50% in my emotional self. It used to be 100% at all times, in both my cognitive and emotional self.

I've read many of apologetic articles and material and my cognitive mind easily finds answers that undermine the logic of all of the apologetics, including the first cause explanation, which I think is among the best of the arguments.

Nevertheless, emotionally, I feel a major draw to Catholicism so, I both (and I use this term on purpose) love Catholicism at the same time that I don't believe (cognitively) in its major foundational beliefs:

  • the Resurrection
  • the existence of God, and
  • Transubstantiation.

Note, though, that emotionally I do believe all of this. This is a very strange place to be, trust me. It's almost as if I'm two people, but I'm not crazy, I am one person. : )

Let me just say what I want and then I'll let you help sort this quandary for me.

I want to become Catholic. I'm registering for an RCIA program and am being guided until then by our Catholic priest who is giving me tasks to do in preparation.

  • I want to have our marriage as a sacrament as this would both satisfy my fiancée (and myself) and place our marriage in the highest order.
  • I want to go to Mass at least once a week, and on all high holy days, for the rest of my life.
  • I want to go to Confession and be absolved of my sins and seek Penance.
  • I want to convert and live a life of deeper conversion every day.
  • I want my marriage to be inspired by Jesus and God.
  • I want to use the list of sins and the 10 Commandments as the moral code to live by.
  • I want to be able to think and feel Catholic, to vote with Catholic conscience.

Note, I am (cognitively) for birth control, abortion, gay rights but feel a kinship with Catholic morals and want that, too, to enter my cognitive beliefs since I understand the connection that the Catholic Catechism has so clearly described but cannot, now, connect the two parts of myself: the emotional and the cognitive.

When I am outside the Church, in my everyday life, I can't find myself to believe that God exists. I hold very progressive political viewpoints that violate Catholic doctrine. The exception comes only when I'm with my fiancée and feeling great love for her. At those times I feel God is working His hand in my relationship and guiding me to a holy life. That is the only exception.

I'm very, very confused about it all and don't know what to do with this.

  • Do you have any advice or counsel for me?

Bob

  { Can you advise a confused atheist who is emotionally Catholic yet cognitively atheistic? }

Bob replied:

Bob,

You are on a road that may take a lifetime to sort out; continue on this road.

You may find some other reading that is helpful. Try Cardinal John Bob Newman's "A Grammar of Assent." This was written in 1870, but it is a brilliant work, and something I think you may relate to. It is kind of heady reading for sure, so it may take a bit to understand this Oxford scholar and convert. It will help demonstrate that Faith is rational, logical, and yet has its own grammar.

Also try C.S. Lewis', Mere Christianity — a far simpler work, but valuable just the same.

Keep doing everything you are doing. Actions are far more important than words or even thoughts. Consider the parable of the two sons:

A father told his sons, go work in the fields, one said yes, the other no, but the first didn't and the second did.

  • Who got the credit?

Our lives, when judged, or evaluated, even by human terms, will not consist in our ideas but what we did. Confucius said, benevolence should be sought for its own sake, so doing good or right is valuable even in itself.

Also, keep in mind that if God is true and real, then the reality of other principalities is equally plausible and there is the possibility that hostility toward adherence to God is a factor. There could very well be parties interested in keeping the status quo and not having your life be changed.

Jesus did not operate in a vacuum but did have demonic opposition to his life and mission. This is the spiritual warfare we engage in. Prayer and fasting all have a role in bringing us closer to God. This may not be a simple, intellectual exercise in conversion but a spiritual battle you must engage in. Prayer, fasting, and meditation all have their place but, in the meantime, even if you do not feel some terrific aha moment or instant insight, continue doing all the acts of love you embrace.

In the end, Love triumphs over all. And you will see, eventually, that only Love overcomes all. The world can be a very dark place and seldom do soldiers find solace in atheism amid their foxholes.

Peace,

Bob Kirby

Mike replied:

Dear Bob,

You are in an interesting quandary.

Based on what you have sent us here is my two cents:

To me it is clear that the spirit is drawing you to the faith but the major obstacle are those outside your local Catholic faith community who are either:

  • uncatechized Catholics who were never taught the faith or dissented from the faith, or
  • others who were never raised with any faith at all.

Faith is not easy to hold onto and keep.

  • Why?

Because it will always be challenged and questioned by non-believers in the world for whatever reason.

This is why developing local Catholic apologetic groups at the parish level is so important. When Catholic Christians work as a team, the faith can be far more easier to defend.
Peter Protestant or Sam Secularist may ask you a question or challenge a teaching of the faith, but having a group, you can say,

I don't know the answer but let me get back to you after I talk with my Catholic friends, Tom, Joan, Carol, and Timothy.

I think this is why you feel more emotionally Catholic in a Catholic community yet atheistic outside that community.

You said:
I don't believe (cognitively) its major foundational beliefs: the Resurrection, the existence of God and transubstantiation.

The other elephant in the room is finding the right books that will shine the proper intellectual light on these foundational beliefs of Catholic Christianity.

Check out these postings for more study resources:

Finally, don't forget to read the writings of the Earth Church Fathers. These were the very first Christian who lived from 100 A.D. to 850 A.D. You can find sources here:

and

Pocket Handbook of Christian Apologetics

In addition to what Bob and I have said, I would be interested in what John thinks about your quandary.

I hope this helps,

Mike

John replied:

Hi Bob,

I would recommend you do a internet search on Catholic Teaching on Faith and Reason. I think that will help you a great deal.

You can start by reading a very easy reading book called Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis. While Lewis wasn't a Catholic, he was well on his way in his journey and was a very strong believing Anglican back when Anglicanism had not been watered down. He puts forth a very simple systematic argument for God's existence based on reason.

Of course there are much more theologically profound works for you to explore as well.

In the meantime:

  • Continue to go to Mass
  • Try going during the week as well as on Sundays.
  • Spend some time in front of the Blessed Sacrament in the Tabernacle or when exposed in Eucharistic Adoration.

What you call an emotional belief is the Holy Spirit tugging at your heart to believe so as you learn to come to belief cognitively, the Holy Spirit will help you make the leap of faith.

Warmly,

John

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