The other day someone asked me very seriously why I am still Catholic, despite my intellect and education. My first response was to take offense. Obviously this person is incapable of believing that an intelligent person can be religious, which is completely ridiculous; most of mankind's most brilliant minds have been religious, so clearly this is a misguided view. It's funny, people always say that the religious are intolerant, when the most ignorant and intolerant people I have ever met have all been atheists.
So my next response was to try and address the problem that this person had with religion. I've mentioned my own views here already (that most of what people have been taught/write/learn about religion is not true, that the good religion has brought to humanity far outweighs the bad, and that anything we create can be misused, no matter how good), but today I'll quickly discuss another view that is quickly supplanting/supplementing my own. In her incredible book A History of God, Karen Armstrong (who is a genius, by the way) explains that the difficulty modern Western people have with religion stems mainly from the time of the Enlightenment, and Scientific Revolution in Europe. During this time, people stopped reading the Bible symbolically and metaphorically, and began to read it literally. This literal interpretation of religion -aside from being useless and misguided- led directly to the "death of God" in Western society. A literal reading allows people to use science to disprove the stories. Once one story is shown to be objectively false, doubt is cast over the entire system. According to this line of reasoning, since science cannot prove God's existence, He must not exist. This literal reading also creates fanatics/idiots who end up arguing that dinosaurs never existed and that the earth is a few thousand years old. Thus, the entire manner in which our society views religion is misguided, since it is not the way that any religious figure meant their work to be read, nor does it correspond to the way that every other civilization ever has viewed religion. We just happen to have gotten it all wrong somewhere along the line.
My final response was to come up with a list of reasons why I am Catholic. I did this partly to explain why I am religious despite my education, and partly to explain why I am Catholic as opposed to anything else.
1- Catholicism's complex theology is intellectually satisfying. It is possible to examine and debate this theology infinitely, and I love intellectual debate.
2- The Catholic Church's insistence on the use of music, art, and poetry to express religious values and ideas makes sense to me. Religion is emotional, not cerebral. The Church seems to understand that religion is as transcendent, subjective, personal, and emotional as art and music are. In fact, religion itself can be described as art, though I won't get into that tonight.
3- I am impressed by the Church's unceasing attempt, both now and throughout its history, to create a world of morality, charity, and social justice. Sure, they've got it wrong quite a few times, I won't deny that. However, the good the Church has done for humanity is staggering, and cannot be dismissed.
4- The Church's rituals -called Sacraments- strike a deep emotional chord. They are both exciting and comforting.
5- Catholic piety takes the form of intense devotional practices, and this form of spiritual expression is very emotionally appealing to me.
6- The Church's insistence on tradition over novelty reflects my own worldview. Necessary change is good, change for change's sake is not. Inter Mutanda Constantia.
7- The cultural and intellectual heritage of the Catholic Church is the single most significant force behind Western history. We would not be who we are today without it, and I, as a historian, feel drawn to such an amazing institution.
Ok, so there you have it. Half an hour of typing, a bunch of emotional, religious, mumbo-jumbo, and you have my answers to this idiot atheist I met the other day. Oh, and he's not an idiot because he's an atheist, he just happens to be an idiot and an atheist at the same time. Atheists are not all idiots, and religious people are not all good. Ciao per ora, e buonna notte.