Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Joys of Catholic Intellectualism

"Be careful, Teresa," the confident Southern Baptist teacher with the white-haired comb-over warned me, "don't try to understand everything...."

I remember his next words with shocking clarity. I was expecting him to say that I am just a mere mortal, with limited brain capacity. That would make sense to me. I know I can't understand it all, nor have I ever kidded myself into thinking I could understand it all. But the words he spoke next were like a knife to my belly.

"Don't study yourself out of the church...."

My thoughts fainted right there. My hands started to shake and I felt a sob pushing up against my throat. I never heard anything he said for the rest of the Sunday School. These words sounded the death-knell to my heart. Why these words were so emotionally packed is because I had heard them over and over growing up. I was raised a Seventh-day Adventist and I was taught that all other denominations were either deceived or plain stupid. But, at the same time.... we were warned NOT to get too smart, not to go to secular colleges, censor all the knowledge that comes your directions so that you won't fall into atheism.... The Devil is in the details--the scientific facts--just waiting to "catch ya" and pull you into secular humanism.

One day in my mid thirties, as a very happy healthy Christian, it just dawned on me how incredibly stupid that saying was..... how lacking in faith. God GAVE us a brain and made us thirst for knowledge and wisdom and why would He then warn us NOT to use our cognitive gifts lest we fall from Him? My husband and I simply rejected that. So, we tossed our fears out the door and IN FAITH walked into the "valley of the shadow of death" of study.

The first thing I did was walk right into the library and pick up "The God Delusion" by Richard Dawkins. Then I began watching his DVDs and television interviews and debates. I then ran into "A Brief History of Time" by Stephen Hawkings and eagerly absorbed it. I even started taking lessons via DVD of things I always had a guilty desire to know--"The Superstring Theory: The DNA of Reality" by Dr. James Gates of the University of Maryland. IT WAS AWESOME!! Wow. The polar opposite of what people had feared happened. All this knowledge made me more convinced than ever of a creator God.

What a terrible thing--to teach people that they have to FEAR knowledge--that somehow God will disappear when we think. That is an amazing leap into non-faith. Any group that would have to revert the the threatening warning of "Don't study yourself out of the church" was very suspect. But I simply never expected any other group but the Adventist church to say that......

Was I wrong.....

It seems to me that Fundamentalist Protestantism divides Faith and Facts--they compartmentalize them--like they are mutually exclusive. You have to walk around constantly ignoring so much--and subconsciously terrified that "they" know something you don't that will shred your entire value system.

Catholicism believes faith is superlogic. Faith is that which is above reason and logic. It does not argue with facts, but builts upon them. Catholicism doesn't IGNORE scientific evidence, but believes there is so much more learning YET..... (Faith is in that YET part....).

What I have found is a supreme confidence in a church that has weathered the storms of two-thousand years of attacks-- religious, cultural, secular, political and INTELLECTUAL. This church has been there--done that--gotten the shirt and seems to have learned from their mistakes. Protestantism just seems to forever cycle through the same mistakes. When disagreements on theology or worship surface, people break off and become their own favorite Luther and begin another denomination with "here I stand...." hoping to get others to stand with them. They do not survive the tests of time and grow spiritually from the internal battles.

Catholicism has had the greatest minds of science, theology and philosophy for two millenia pondering the same thoughts we do. Catholicism has built upon these geniuses and learned from the missteps and miscalulations and human errors of billions of people in a mulitude of cultures. They pretty much are confident that they will be able to handle the problems of today for they have withstood persecutions, stagnation, pornocracy, stupid popes, pagan infiltration, the plague, misunderstandings, changes in language, being torn apart by relgious and political wars, the industrial revolution, pedophilia....

This church has really been through a lot. And look at her now--the post Vatican II Bride of Christ. She is humbled by her mistakes and has sincerely repented and asked forgiveness from the world for her abuses. She has survived the most vicious onlslaught of the Devil through the media and other Christians. She has challenged her own theologies and pruned her doctrinal vine and now her fruits are flourishing. She has been through so many stages of immaturity and learning that Protestant denominations simply have not.

There was a brief time some Catholics said--don't study, don't look, don't touch. But it learned from that mistake. For most of its life Catholicism has gone full throttle towards understanding the universe God made. It has plunged the depths of science and philosophy as a way of honoring its creator and it is only recently that humans have insisted that knowledge will shatter faith. Actually I have found that intellectualism has brought faith to its knees..... in praising God.