Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Nonreligious Catholic Theist

A nonreligious Catholic theist?  Accepting that I may be on a lifelong journey of self-discovery when it comes to spiritual identity, perhaps this is the next level of understanding my faith.

What does it mean to be "religious"? One of the definitions given for this term is: "a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, especially when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs." Also, the etymology of the term itself comes from the Latin religare, to bind.

So, to be religious involves an element of binding oneself to the moral code, set of beliefs, and ritual observances of an organized religion and being devoted to God as interpreted by said religion. In other words, groupthink. Therefore, there is a system in place where the religious believer meets God via an agreed upon set of practices, rituals, creeds, and the like.  The religious believer doesn't meet God directly, at least not as a primary expression of her faith.

In contrast, a nonreligious believer does not utilize organized religion's crutches (if you will) in order to reach God.  The nonreligious believer simply allows God's ever-presence to envelope her right where she is, without the need to say or do anything in particular.  The nonreligious believer essentially focuses her attention and awareness on what never changes - God's presence in her everyday life.

Perhaps religion's initial purpose was meant to assist the believer in better reaching God, better experiencing God's presence.  But somewhere down the road, the religion became an idol in itself, rather than a mere finger pointing at the moon (to use a Buddhist reference). Religion, as I have experienced it, has become a hindrance rather than a help to my drawing nearer to God.  

The more I focused on the external practices and articulated creeds of my religion, the farther I felt myself slipping away from God.  I had to decide if my loyalty lies with the human organization of religious practice and dogma, or with the everlasting almighty God.  This is what I mean when I say that I am "nonreligious".

I also say that I am Catholic.  I describe my thoughts on what I mean here. In a nutshell, I view Catholicism as my heritage, and I consider myself Catholic in a similar way as a secular Jew may consider himself a Jew in spite of not practicing or believing. So I am Catholic in the way I am Polish - it's an integral part of my upbringing, and it has shaped the way I see the world.

Finally: theist.  Basically, my study and experience consistently point me in the direction of the irrefutable truth of the existence of a creator-God.  Nature itself is proof of God's intelligence and creativity.  I cannot rationalize the existence of the universe or anything within it without resorting to a primal cause, and that cause I choose to name God. This makes me a Deist/Theist.  

The distinction between the two lies in the nature of God.  If I believed that God simply set the universe in motion and then distanced Himself from it, without any further interest in our lives, that would make me a Deist.  However, my experience points to an involved God, which makes me a Theist. (I should note here that religious folks who believe in one or more gods are likewise Theists.  Christians are theists, as are Muslims, Jews, Hindus, and others.  They are theists who, in addition to this core belief in the existence of God, also adhere to a religious practice and creed.)

Technically, it should suffice to call myself a Theist.  However, since this term includes organized religious expression, I feel the need to distinguish my beliefs from those of religious theists.  Also, I say "nonreligious Catholic" to distinguish from practicing, believing Catholics who follow the official teachings of the Church.  These Catholics, I am well aware, would question my claim to Catholic identity in the first place.  But I know I have many heritage/cultural Catholics on my side who know exactly what I mean when I say that there is more to Catholic identity than dogma and ritual.  I keep the descriptor Catholic because while I don't believe in the necessity of Catholic ritual, it is often comforting to me, and I do take part regularly in Catholic communal worship.

I have to add here too that I think I see why many Protestants don't consider Catholics Christians.  When I was Christian, I actually tried to convince my Catholic relatives that we are "supposed to be Christians"! I couldn't understand why they claimed the Catholic part of the label without paying any mind to the Christian foundation.  Suffice it to say that I get it now, and I join them in maintaining the Catholic identity in spite of no longer believing in Christianity. (And, to be fair, to the Protestants who would generalize all Catholics based on nonreligious Catholics like me, please don't!  There are many, many Christian Catholics/Catholic Christians who DO believe the Nicene Creed like you do.  Perhaps instead of assuming a Catholic is or isn't Christian, ask?  In my experience, these are two separate markers. They are not mutually exclusive, nor does one necessitate the other.)

One final note on worship.  I mention above that I participate in communal Catholic worship.  I once asked some friends what they considered worship.  My best friend, Rachel (RIP) gave me an answer I didn't understand until now.  She said that to her, worship is the way she lives her life.  Indeed, to me as a Theist, the way I live my life seems to be the best way I can show reverence to the God I claim to believe.  Setting a bit of time away here and there for prayer, singing, scripture reading - these are all good for spiritual development, conscience formation, fellowship, and the like.  But if that is the extent of what I consider "worship", then I am not worshiping God at all.  

Likewise, I think that even if I were to live a moral life but never take the time to acknowledge God in the events of my life, then am I really a Theist?  How would I be any different from an atheist or agnostic, a secularist who leads a perfectly moral life but doesn't believe or dwell in the existence of God?  Therefore, I think worship is a life lived intentionally, focused on the spiritual, in gratitude to God, with our neighbors' well-being in mind. 

Having written this, I now have to embark on living up to the ideals I have set before me.  Living life worshiping God as a Theist, outside of the confines of religion.  Amen.

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