Monday, 31 October 2011

Is It Permissible To Ask If God Exists?

Whether or not God really exists is one of those topics that I suspect many Catholics may consider taboo. Many of us were born into the Church. We have grown up in a culture where from birth it is considered a given for us to believe in the existence of God. We feel we must simply believe by “faith” and not question this belief.

To express publicly, especially amongst other Catholics, our doubts about the existence of God, feels uncomfortable. This may be because it goes completely against the grain of what we were brought up to believe from birth. It may also be because of the natural fear of being the odd one out. I mean, who wants to be the only Catholic in the parish who doesn’t get it, while everyone else in the parish apparently does get it. So one of two things happen.

We flounder along with our doubts. For the sake of appearances we may “practice our faith” by participating in the rituals. We go through the motions, hiding our doubt. We may even “practice our faith” as a bit of an insurance policy, so that if it turns out after we die that we were in fact missing it, at least our faithful participation in the rituals will hopefully count for something. Alternatively, some people may just “drop out” of the Church completely, rather than trying to address the subject of their doubt.

I often wonder whether the subject of the existence of God should not be more frequently discussed in homilies, parish retreats and various other forums. Surely, it should be encouraged! Catholics regularly recite the words of the Creed. The words of the Creed are intended, not as simply a ritual, but as a deeply personal and honest public profession of our belief in God. These words demonstrate to the world what it is that I believe. But when last have we received catechesis on the existence of God? Was it when we were going through catechism classes before our Confirmation? Have we ever, from an adult perspective, engaged in discussions about the existence of God with, for example, our priest?

To experience doubts about God is not something we should be running away from or ignoring. We should see it as a magnificent opportunity to grow in faith. God has given us a brain and he definitely wants us to use it. We should be approaching our priest and discussing these doubts. We should be buying and reading as many books as we can on the subject. (Catholic Books with the Imprimatur of course!) The best book to start with is of course the Catechism of the Catholic Church. (I always say that the Roman Missal, The Bible and the Catechism of the Catholic Church, should be standard books on the bedside table of every single Catholic.)

Consider what the Catechism has to say about the existence of God:

Man's faculties make him capable of coming to a knowledge of the existence of a personal God… God, the first principle and last end of all things, can be known with certainty from the created world by the natural light of human reason." Without this capacity, man would not be able to welcome God's revelation. Man has this capacity because he is created "in the image of God".[1]

St Paul says the same thing in his letter to the Romans:

For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made.[2]

So, the Bible and the Church teach us quite clearly that it is possible for us to reach a point of believing in the existence of God by using our natural ability to reason. Yes, faith will still be needed to complete our belief! However, our natural ability to reason will take us closer so that we are more able to “welcome God's revelation.[3] So why ignore this? Why wonder around doubting when there may be answers to your questions! Being a Christian doesn’t mean we have to have a lobotomy. Pope John Paul II himself said that truth is discovered through the interaction that occurs between faith and reason.[4]

We don’t even have to do much of the reasoning and research ourselves because a lot of it has been done for us already. We simply need to gain access to this information. St Thomas Aquinas, for example, has put together what are commonly known as the “five ways” to know about the existence of God.

So, yes, it is permissible to ask if God exists! In fact, regardless of whether we doubt or not, we must continually study our faith. We cannot, for the rest of our lives, depend on what we were taught when we were 12 years old in catechism classes. We have a duty to continually grow in our knowledge and love of God and we should take this duty seriously. Go to your priest and ask for help. 

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