You can see all the posts in the An Atheist and a Catholic series here.
Next Friday, September 27, please plan to join our open combox “Ask Anything.” Brittany and I will be replying and interacting and I’ll do my best to copy and update this post with comments and conversation.
Brittany: How would you react if one of your children grew up and decided that they were atheist?
Sarah: My knee-jerk response to this question is to think of all the ways I would I hope I wouldn’t respond. I’m sure you can think of just as many of those as I can. It’s all too easy to be a jerk, isn’t it?
There are a number of women who come to mind as paving the way for me in this regard, and what I’ve learned from them is this: all you can do is pray. And love. Without ceasing.
Saint Monica prayed for her son for years and years and years, and he didn’t just become Catholic, but a bishop and later a saint.
Brittany: Are there any religious practices you really can’t stand?
Sarah: Why, yes. Yes, there are. That said, I’m coming up totally blank when I try to think of an example. (Writer’s block?)
Brittany: How do you reconcile it when the Bible or the pope says something you personally disagree with? Do good Catholics have to agree with everything that is in the Bible? Or with everything the pope decrees?
Sarah: I tell our Confirmation students that they should question. Out loud. Often. But make sure you ask someone who can give you an answer and not an excuse or wrong information.
Especially when you don’t agree. Especially when it doesn’t seem to make sense. Especially when it’s hard.
The first step is supposed to be to pray, to turn to God and shake my fist and demand an answer. Though I’m invariably met with silence, it gets it out there, part of the conversation, put into words.
And then it’s time to go to the authority in my life (usually my pastor). This is an important part of the process for me. You can certainly ask just anyone, but when you’re trying to really understand and learn, you have to ask the experts. I don’t take my car to my hair stylist and expect her to fix the engine problem I’m having. Why would I trust someone who’s not trained to tell me about things with eternal consequences?
My mind changes slowly. Usually, understanding takes me a while: I have to read and research and get into the topic. I have to discuss it with people I trust, on the one hand, and with people who know more than me, on the other. This is usually a little uncomfortable.
Do we have to agree with everything? No. My agreement doesn’t change whether something’s true or not. The sky will be blue whether I believe it or agree with it or like it.
As for the Bible, it is the inspired Word of God and as such, it has a special pride of place. It is also written from a different perspective than our modern viewpoint. There’s a lot of hyperbole and use of genres within the Bible (such as poetry and metaphor). So the question of what we have to believe and agree with is one that I can’t answer generally, because I’m sure to botch it up (and maybe I already have).
As for the pope, his role isn’t to decree. In fact, it’s to help us understand, to guide us closer to God. When he makes a proclamation (the Immaculate Conception comes to mind), it’s as a way of clarifying something that’s already part of what the Church teaches and believes but hasn’t been spelled out.
Don’t forget our open combox on September 27 for “Ask Anything”!
The other posts in the An Atheist and a Catholic series are here.