I haven’t written in my blog in a long time. A lot has happened in my life. I am a father now. Melissa gave birth to our son Logan. We are happy and grateful for the miracle of his life. Seeing his smiles and his curiosity for the world brings us great joy.
The reason I started this blog was to write as a way to grow. I wanted to be able to explore ideas about faith, life, and my various interests. Instead of turning thoughts over and over in my head, I wanted to write them down and share them with others. I hoped that this process would test the ideas, that others might provide me feedback, and finally that my experiences could be useful to others.
But it turned out that I was not ready. My heart and mind called me to question the core of my faith as a Catholic Christian. I entered this journey in fits and starts and found that I was not dealing with ideas anymore but people. My faith is part of my identity and is wound up in my relationships. I think of my mom and dad who taught me to pray the rosary, my friends from the Catholic Center at Rutgers who I sang and prayed with during retreats, my non-Catholic friends who respected my commitment to my faith, and finally my wife who built with me our relationship on the foundation of our faith. Through all of this there is the person of Jesus.
How could I describe my beliefs publicly when I was not even sure myself? I felt that my ideas were taking me outside of the Catholic beliefs, and even Christian beliefs in general. My movement in my beliefs seemed to tear at my relationships. I needed time for the movement inside me to develop before I revealed it to the public.
It has been a bewildering ride, and I’m not finished yet, but I feel ready to share my story so far. I believe that, God is working through the changes in my life (whether or not my beliefs are right). So here is the story of how I got excited about evolution and God and followed my questions outside of Catholic and Christian orthodoxy:
My last blog post related to religion was in January 2015. At the time I was going to a spiritual director who recommended that I read The Phenomenon of Man, by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin the Jesuit priest and paleontologist. Reading that book in November 2015, really set me in motion. I loved that Chardin felt that science and religion overlap (as opposed to people who argue that each can only say things in its own “sphere”). I was fascinated by the idea that everything in nature has an “inner”, or spiritual, and an “outer”, or physical, aspect. As someone who loves the physical world, from the motion of atoms to playing with a dog outside, this was deeply reassuring. But Chardin’s ideas propelled me to continue to ask hard questions about my faith.
In 2016 the beliefs that I had known were unravelling. I had come to accept that biological evolution had profound implications for theology, especially after reading Ilia Delio’s book The Unbearable Wholeness of Being. I had started to question the doctrines of Original Sin and the Immaculate Conception of Mary in 2015, but in 2016 I rejected them. This led to a cascade of other Catholic beliefs that I began to question or reject. One of the admirable things about the Catholic faith in particular is the specificity of its claims. But if one part is false, then it all starts to fall apart. Even the central story of salvation, Jesus becoming human to redeem us, did not make sense without Original Sin.
This change in my beliefs created tension. In the spring of that year, I led a men’s Cornerstone retreat along with two of my friends. I was actively going to church and receiving communion. I was seeing a spiritual director. I wanted to keep my faith. But at the same time, I was coming to terms with the reality that I no longer “doubted” these aspects of the Catholic faith, but I actually did not believe in them. I felt lost and alone. Mass became agonizing.
Politics was one of the catalysts that prompted me to take concrete steps away from my old faith. In November 2016, Donald Trump was elected president, and I abhorred his message which attacked immigrants, muslims, a free press, the environment, and others. I was shocked at how many Catholics voted for Donald Trump (but I should remember that a vote does not mean unequivocal support of Trump’s message). Political arguments with family led to religious arguments, and I realized that I needed to integrate my new ideas and beliefs into who I am.
In 2017, I started to make changes. In January, I spoke with our pastor about how I was struggling with key parts of the Catholic faith, even the divinity of Jesus. I felt that I should stop going to communion. Our pastor encouraged me to continue searching for truth but felt that I could continue receiving communion. In the spring, I stopped going to communion. I couldn’t honestly say “Amen” when the priest says, “the body of Christ”. I also stopped going to spiritual direction shortly after that. These may seem like small things, but for me they felt like uprooting a core part of my life.
I began to speak to family members and close friends about the changes in my faith. Each time was nerve-racking because it felt a little like I was turning my back on on our shared Catholic identity. Mostly the conversations went well. People did not always understand, but they tended to respect that I am honestly trying to pursue the truth. Some hold on to hope that my exploration will bring me back to orthodox Catholic teachings. I hope that the orthodox teachings change dramatically so that I can wholeheartedly say Amen to them!
On the way
So I am in between what I was drawn to in the past and what leads me forward now. Let me describe to the best of my ability where I am at in terms of belief:
I feel a passion to learn more about how evolution and faith can go together. I feel a sense of awe that I am part of this billions of year old tree of life. I believe that somehow God is growing as the world develops. We are part of a divine and earthy story!
Just because the world is natural does not mean that it is perfect or complete. I see things that don’t seem right in the world, most clearly in humans. We have the tendency to be short-sighted, selfish, and mean. But outside of humans, and whether it is good or bad, the world also can be a brutal place. I’m thinking of cats playing with baby rabbits before they kill them or brain eating parasites. In coming to terms with this reality, I have diverged from orthodox Catholic teaching.
In Catholicism the evil and brutality of the world is explained by the doctrine of Original Sin. According to this doctrine, humans at some point, traditionally with Adam and Eve, chose to rely on themselves rather than on God. Their distrust cut them off from God’s goodness and brought suffering on the whole human race and even the whole world. So according to the doctrine of Original Sin things were perfect from the start, but humans screwed it up.
I can not believe that. I believe in the natural history of evolution, and there was never a time period that was pristine and perfect with no suffering or death. From the first life on earth, every evidence points to struggle and vast amounts of death. There is still suffering and death, but things have at the very least being getting a lot more interesting. So I reject the idea that suffering and death are caused by an ancient human mistake, and instead believe that evil, suffering and death are signs that the world is not complete. We can help to make it better!
But in rejecting Original Sin, I feel that I must also reject the salvation story, that Jesus died to redeem us from all of our sins but especially Original Sin. In the Easter vigil mass there is even an exclamation,
O happy fault,
O necessary sin of Adam
which gained for us
so great a Redeemer!
In Catholicism, and Christianity in general, Jesus came to right that original wrong. This a core belief. So what am I left with if I believe that the world is just incomplete instead of riddled with sin? How do I understand Jesus and his death on the cross? I don’t have the answers to these questions yet. I may spend the rest of my life searching, but I know that I need to move forward from my old beliefs.
But my faith is in my heart and not just in my mind. To me God and Jesus are personal not just ideas. So I feel grief when I see a separation between me and the Catholic faith that I knew, and the Jesus whom I love. I can relate to Peter who said “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life” (John 6:68). My faith is a relationship, not something to abandon easily. So I try to hold on to all that is good and true in my Catholic faith, even as I feel joy to be getting to know God in a new way.
I hold onto the memory of how God has directly changed my life and look for where He is moving now. So I continue to pray even though I am not always sure how to address God, as Jesus, Lord or God. Melissa, Logan and I go to church on Sundays, and though I refrain from receiving communion, I take part. I still find guidance in the moral teachings of the church even though I look at them from a different perspective, and I am inspired by the saints, good men and women that lived passionately for God and their fellow man. I continue to try to learn by reading posts about faith and science on the Omega Center, and recently by reading a book about the lives of moss (Gathering Moss, by Robin Wall Kimmerer). I believe that God will continue lead me – sometimes in surprising ways!.
If you pray, please say a prayer for me that I have the openness to follow where God leads.
This post is meant to be a conversation starter. There is no way to fully convey
my reasoning for the changes in my beliefs. If you are curious feel free to ask or comment!