Here we go again. Year after year, at Easter Sunday Mass, the Catholic faithful renew their baptismal promises by answering questions as they or, for infants, their godparents, did on their behalf when they were christened.
Do you believe in God the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth?
Do you believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, Who was born of the Virgin Mary, suffered death and was buried, rose again from the dead and is seated at the right hand of the Father?
And other questions going through the articles of faith in The Apostles’ Creed. Plus questions about renouncing Satan and his works and lures.
To every question the faithful are supposed to say yes, affirming their commitment to the fundamental tenets of Catholicism, and their belief and devotion to God.
At least, that’s the ritual. But do most Catholics really believe what they say yes to? And more important, do they fulfill the baptismal promises to turn away from sin and devote one’s life and being to God?
To see if our faith is more than just rote repetition of yearly affirmations, let’s try something different. For now, suppose you are not Catholic and are pondering for the first time certain questions of faith and seeking answers that are truly and wholly yours, not drawn from teachings ingrained in us since childhood.
The questions are different from those in the Easter renewal of baptismal promises, to strip them of scriptural formulas and bare the essence of our faith: whether we believe in God, and if we do, how we regard and relate to Him.
Ponder and answer these questions as truthfully and sincerely as you can, setting aside any Church admonitions or fears of retribution. If in the end, you still say yes with full conviction, then that’s also a renewal of your faith and devotion to God.
Let us now lay bare the unfettered compass of our souls, as seen from our own lives and perceptions.
Does God exist?
This question, of course, is where all religion starts. Answer no, and it ends. Answer yes, and the adventure begins.
Why adventure? Because religion seeks to know about and relate to a Supreme Being that, by definition, is beyond human perception and control. Unless, of course, one adopts the Christian view that Jesus is God in human form.
By contrast, disbelieving God, angels, devils, and anything else unmeasurable by empirical science confines one’s idea of reality only to what can be sensed and construed by instruments, ideas, and reasoning created and controlled by man.
Can one believe in God and still accept and harness scientific ideas and findings? Sure.
The concept of evolution, Newton’s laws of motion, the periodic table of elements, Einstein’s theory of relativity, Freudian psychoanalysis, and other scientific ideas are all intellectual constructs based on and affirmed by empirical evidence. They help us understand and control our world and being. But they don’t rule out the possibility that the Almighty put all natural laws in place and inspired man to discover and use them.
And that’s pretty much the issue in pondering God’s existence.
Do you believe that all that is or happens results from natural forces and events, even things still unexplained by science? Or is there a supernatural being setting rules and intervening to direct events and shape the world to a divine will?
For Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, who has sought to bridge faith and science, the Creative Spirit acting with divine reason brought forth the ordered universe, including on Earth, an environment that has engendered and sustained living creatures like us.
Non-believers, of course, beg to differ. The late scientist Victor Stenger, author of the 2007 bestseller God: The Failed Hyphothesis, declared in his essay, “The Folly of Faith”: “At the current state of scientific development we can confidently say that no empirical or theoretical basis exists for assuming anything other than that we inhabit a universe made entirely of matter (and energy into which matter can be transformed, and vice versa).”
Note that for Stenger, the matter-and-energy universe is assumed, not proven. So it is for mathematician James Lindsay. In the book Christianity Is Not Great: How Faith Fails, a compendium of atheist writings, he asserts that based on scientific knowledge, God “almost surely” does not exist. Benedict XVI has also acknowledged that God’s existence and creation of the cosmos cannot be proved or disproved without doubt.
‘Who do you say that I am?’
Hence, each human being has to decide whether to believe in Him or not. Jesus posed a similar question to His apostles: “Who do you say that I am?”
Billions believe in God, partly due to religious upbringing, but also a sense of divine purpose and power in their lives and the world. In the movie “Miracles from Heaven”, now showing and based on a true story, the mother Christy Beam regained her faith when her nine-year-old daughter Annabel was inexplicably cured of a life-threatening illness. She ascribed the event to divine intervention.
In this reflection, ask yourself: In your life and world, do you feel everything is just random with no overarching but unseen power shaping and directing events? Or do you sense that God is there?
Ultimately, what anyone thinks won’t change reality. If God exists, unbelief would not make Him disappear. Nor will faith bring forth the divine if it never was. So believing or not is mainly to give oneself a view of one’s life and world which gives peace, enlightenment and purpose.
Which perspective will give you that — a universe made, sustained and directed by God or one that runs by its own devices, which human intelligence and action can comprehend and harness to some extent?
If one believes in God, other questions arise:
• Do you need God’s help in your life?
• How do you communicate with Him?
• What does He want for you and from you?
We’ll cover these questions in future columns.
Have a Blessed and Joyful Easter.