by Spencer Smolenski
If five years ago you told me I would one day become a Catholic, I would have called you crazy. At that time, I identified as an atheist, seeing religion as a superstition that irrationally placed faith above reason. This idea pitted my lifelong interest in science against Christianity, and I chose what I saw as the more real between the two.
Yet, I had once identified as a Christian. Although both of my parents were baptized into the Catholic faith, both fell away from it and converted to Methodism. As a result, I was ignorant of Catholicism and uninterested in it, and for the early years of my life, I regularly went to the local Methodist church where I was baptized. But, at around the age of three, my parents separated. After that, I lived with only my mother, and I went to church sporadically.
During that time, church was something that I was accustomed to, but I only had a vague understanding of the reason for going. The purpose seemed clear enough to me–to worship God–but I did not understand how church exactly was the means to that. This stemmed from my extremely crude understanding of who God was: merely an omnipotent being who could answer prayers. So, as church did not have a strong impression on me, the memories from the non-denominational church I went to mainly revolve around the donuts served afterwards.
A seminal moment in my life was when I began to question my belief in God. As I had previously taken it as a given and at this time was ignorant of the importance of church, around the age of eleven I easily fell from the faith. From fifth to tenth grade I identified as an atheist. The transition to atheism was simple. In addition to seeing religion as incompatible with science, I had begun to see the world through a nihilistic lens. What I saw as a meaningless world rife with tragedy helped sustain my belief in the absence of a good God. Turning on the goodness of life, though, left me with an inferior replacement. The quality of my life was at its worst when I identified as an atheist, as all the goods of the world cannot make up for what is itself the good. Yet, because the good is omnipresent, I often had encounters with it as the author of my deepest intuition. This intuition for the good is the natural result of the desire we have implanted in us for God.
So, after a long withdrawal, I slowly came back to God’s light. The genesis of this return was recognizing the vacuity of my life and the superiority of religion. Although I did not fully recognize it at the time, I was slowly drifting towards accepting Christian moral teaching. This was bolstered by a change in how I viewed belief in God. When I first made the transition to identifying as an atheist, it seemed self-evident that belief in a god was irrational as it was an article of faith. Yet, I came to understand that disbelief in a god was also an article of faith. I came to the conclusion that, at the least, it is no more irrational to believe in a divine being than to disbelieve in one, and that the former actually seemed more rational than to believe that the universe spontaneously came into existence.
Through a combination of intuition and reason, then, I gradually came back to God until I again identified as a Christian. Our modern scientific world is predicated on the idea that belief should be restricted to what can be rationally proven. Yet, while reason is a tool that can be utilized to reach many truths, it is not totally sufficient. Faith, which is reached through intuition for the good, is a necessary addition. Reason must be guided by this. C.S. Lewis perfectly summarized the implications of this intuition: “If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.”
Coming back to the faith has opened me up to truths of which I was previously ignorant. The crude understanding I had of God has been improved, and now I understand that God is beauty, truth, and goodness. He is the source of spiritual wealth which transcends the material world. Church is the means to reaching this other world, acting as a medium that transmits knowledge from one realm to the other so that they can be in consonance: it helps cultivate the habits of the soul necessary for virtue. Finding God in the modern world is an extremely difficult process requiring many leaps. Yet, in a world rife with tragedy, following our intuition of an ultimate good is sure to lead us back to Him.