It was a year ago when I accompanied my family to Christmas Eve Mass in Puebla, Mexico, that I took the final step to return to the Catholic faith.
I was baptized by my family as Catholic and, for a long time, had followed the Catholic faith. But, in my youth, I distanced myself from the religion and became skeptic at first, and eventually an atheist.
For a long time my family and friends asked me to return to faith, and for a long time their pleas strenghtened my resolve to continue in my skepticism. Of course, I had strong philosophical justifications for my atheism. It was logical and rational, it was simple and elegant, and no one could present empirical evidence against it.
But, over the years, I felt an emptiness and a void which I couldn’t understand. I tried to find answers in science, philosophy, and the knowledge of people of great wisdom and influence. From Dawkins to Kierkegaard, a recurring theme kept coming up: the longevity of faith.
Eventually, I started to doubt the value of my skepticism and my atheism. But I needed a final push. That final push was appearing to the same Church where I was baptized, 28 years later, and my mother inviting me to accompany her to confession, on Christmas Eve. It was that moment that made me take the final step. I converted and returned to the faith of my family.
Having been an atheist for a long time, a lot of people questioned my honesty. It is for this reason that, a few months ago, I wrote the following explanation to my thinking. You may believe me or not, respect my thinking or not, and even question my thought process. Criticism is welcome. But, I think that, after many years of being so outspoken about God, it is only fair that I share with the world why I have reversed course. Here is my explanation:
For a long time I was convinced that believing in God was illogical and irrational. If science had proven anything, was that the concept of God as described in the theology of most religions was, to put it mildly, impossible. God couldn’t exist.
In fact, if you think about it, from mathematics (statistics), we learn that the universe is governed by random chance, and thus, it is illogical to expect that the universe will care about how well you do.
From the science of economics and biology we learn that the best way to act is to be selfish and ensure your own survival, and by going so, you improve the overall (average) standing of the world around you. In fact, the concept of selfishness is so ingrained into economic theory, that economists see selfish actors and call them “rational”.
Finally, there are plenty of philosophical and scientific reasons to either doubt the existence of God, or downright claim that its existence is impossible. There is no logical proof, rhetorical, mathematical or symbolic, that God exists. Well, there is only one proof, but it is axiomatic: Faith. Because it is axiomatic, it can be reasonably doubted.
In other words, the most logical and rational way to see the world, according to modern thought, is as follows: there is no hope because everything is governed by chance, and being good to others is irrational, and more importantly, there is no God.
And so, because there is no God, there is no hope, and because selfishness is the best strategy, there are no moral limits, and other than physical or economical limits, there are no constraints to behavior. You can do whatever you want and the consequences won’t matter. This is what science proposes.
The thing is, I still believe that all of the above is true. How can you doubt something supported by empirical evidence?
However, I now also believe in something else:
St. Paul describes three theological virtues that are the foundation of Catholicism and, in many ways, of a lot of other modern religions, including most forms of Christianism and even Islam. These theological virtues are: “Faith”, “Hope” and “Charity”.
It is interesting to note that the concept of “theological virtues” means that they are supposed to be a source of enlightment for human beings and they originate from God.
It is also interesting to note that “Faith”, “Hope” and “Charity”,(or “love”, in the “love thy neighbor” sense) do not make sense from the point of view of science. In fact, they are their antithesis: Faith is opposed to the logic, as there is no possible way to prove God exists. Hope is opposed to statistics (mathematics), as it is opposed to assuming that random chance will govern your outcomes. And Charity is opposed to economics and our own biology, as it is opposed to acting “rationally”, or selfishly.
And yet, if we didn’t have hope for a better future, what would be the purpose of living? If we didn’t care about our neighbors, what kind of society could we have other than an unhealthy one? If we didn’t believe that the consequences of our actions matter, what moral compass would we have?
I came to the realization, a little over a year ago, that 2 things were true:
a) The theological virtues were illogical and irrational, and thus, it would require a miracle to embrace them.
b) Without the theological virtues, life cannot have meaning, society could not exist productively, and thus, this world would not make sense.
So, I decided to embrace the miracles of Faith, Hope, and Charity.
I am a believer not because it is an absolute, self-evident truth. But because I have decided that a world were Faith, Hope and Charity exist is a better world than the alternative, and thus, the better one must be true.
I recently learned that when psychologists observe people that act without regards for the consequences of their actions, without hope, and selfishly (which would be logical from the point of view of science), they call these people “psychopaths”. Also, lack of hope is associated to depression, while lack of charity is associated to sociopathy. In other words, people who are purely logical and rational are mentally ill people. There must be a reason for this, don’t you think? If you think about it, it makes sense: If you don’t care about others (you don’t have love), if you don’t care about the future (you don’t have hope), and you don’t care about what you should or shouldn’t do (you don’t have faith), then you are harmful for society.
I don’t want that for me. I don’t want to be a depressive, psychopathic, hazard for society. I don’t want to be mentally ill, and thus, I don’t want to be completely logical or rational. Faith, Hope, and Charity, though irrational and illogical, are the better choice. In fact, I’ve now realized that having Faith, being hopeful, and being empathetic (having Charity), makes me a better person and creates a better world for me and the people around me.
Thus, I have decided to change my mind, and believe in God and act accordingly, even in the face of mountains of evidence to the contrary. Why? Because having faith, being hopeful, and loving my neighbor makes me a better person than not embracing the miracle.
What’s interesting is that I am now a believer, but not because I changed the way I see or understand the universe, but because I have changed the way I see and understand myself. More importantly, because I have changed the way I understand my potential and, thus, my aspirations for myself. I believe in God, because I believe that, through me and through the miracles of Faith, Hope and Charity, I can be a better person and create a better world.
These ideas are not new. In fact, I think they may be attributable to Søren Kierkegaard. If I understand him correctly, he argues that we live in a cold, random world which offers nothing but despair, and yet, there is a refuge from despair and that refuge is God.
I want to be in that refuge too and so, I have embraced the miracles of Faith, Hope and Charity.
I am now a believer again. And this is why…