I haven’t posted in awhile, largely because my mom broke her hip a month ago and I’ve been preoccupied. She’s healing nicely and I thank everyone “in the know” for their prayers, thoughts, and energy. And as I add a new post to the blog, I’d like to share a personal story about “faith gained and lost,” or more importantly, how returning to esotericism ended this priest’s gradual slide into Atheism.
I came into my faith quite gradually, and strangely a major stepping-stone was a breakup with a girlfriend in the 90’s. Of course to me faith was an exercise of intellect: none of that sappy “heart” or “feeling” or “emotional” crap that so many people babble on about. Theology classically defines Faith as “the assent of intellect” (Summa Theologiae, 2nd 2nd, Q 2), and the closest I came to anything emotional would be a certain intellectual rigidity when dealing with divergent viewpoints . . . unless the divergent viewpoint was presented in a logical, well thought-out, intellectually rigorous manner. Then I could come to accept it as valid even if I didn’t agree with it. I was concerned only with theology, spirituality, personal advancement, and manifesting results; belief without proof is a sin of imprudence (Coppens, A Systematic Study of the Catholic Religion, n. 3), and results are the proof one’s belief is not misplaced.
During this time results were plentiful: I ran a leatherwork business in the process of taking off, I was the guy who could have any woman I wanted (and did), and even have a movie credit to my name.
I saw (and continue to see) the Church as the sole legitimate heir to both the Western Mystery Tradition and last remaining institution of the Western Roman Empire, an institution whose leaders and teachers have pretty much forgotten knowledge of the spiritual power under their oversight. Since I’ve written about this extensively in my books, (especially The Magic of Catholicism), I won’t describe this in detail here.
I wasn’t too interested in large chunks of the moral or social teaching, especially the deterministic emphasis placed on the sexuality or the over-emphasis on institutional loyalty even when the institution was wrong. I saw those items as enforcing a herd mentality and unworthy of any believer growing in individual self-determination. This last part was confirmed by 13 years in ministry, revealing how desperately most people would rather avoid thinking for themselves and pawn all responsibility off on prophet, priest, or Deity.
The herd mentality. The slave morality. It disgusts me and always has. As do all who say ‘tis better to serve others than to rule one’s own life.
Which brings us to how Faith is lost.
It was during the course of ministry. July of 2011 to be exact. I was standing in the church building about to turn the A/C on before services, and that’s when it hit me.
I didn’t believe this stuff anymore. More specifically I didn’t believe the party line. In spite of all my theological knowledge I spent the following year wrestling with the “God hypothesis” question, finding weaknesses in Aquinas’ “Five Ways” (they indeed point to something, but far from demonstrate an all-knowing, all-loving, all-powerful deity such as Adonai) and dismissing Augustine’s “interior proofs” out-of-hand as being too based on subjectivity and emotion.
I then studied contemporary theology textbooks – both Catholic (McBrien) and Lutheran (Braaten/Jenson) – and found them based on even more loss of faith than anything I was experiencing: most telling was its dismissal of Aquinas or Melancthon in favor of Marx (can’t make this stuff up) and the implication there’s no legitimate spirituality outside working for social justice. Unlike the Manualist Tradition where I was trained, these textbooks didn’t give clear answers to direct questions but instead beat around the bush; ultimately the student wasn’t given the proper tools to find the answers on his own. It was like building houses on a foundation of sand. They were a useful glimpse into what makes so-called “Vatican II priests” tick, but a Catholic looking to restore his faith would find these as terrible places to look.
Ultimately I came to the conclusion the God hypothesis was neither verifiable nor falsifiable, and continued going through the motions of ministry: house church, the nursing home, the chapel in the unfinished house on Siebert Street. Parishioners would still say they felt “power” or “energy” whenever I said Mass, but I didn’t feel it anymore.
Perhaps even the worst rub was that I allowed myself to fall into the expectations of other people. I fell into the same “slave morality” and “living for others” trap that I actively scorned, and let myself be poor and broke for fear my best financial options (involving subjects considered “taboo” to average pewsitters) would be “occasion for scandal.” I even ended up yelling at my roommate (the female roommate no one knew I had), snapping over minor happenings. Yeah I admit that was some weak-ass bullshit, and it’s the one thing you should never do. Nietzsche was right about what he called “vanity” and its relation to the slave mentality: you should never let yourself be ruled by others’ thoughts and expectations.
For the record, I don’t believe poverty is spiritual. Nor do I believe going hungry gets us any closer to God. And the whole thing about “offering it up” is just a way of telling people to accept their sate in life and not bother working to make it better. Even if their theology is off (and it’s way off), at least Prosperity preachers are smart enough to see through that lie.
Eventually, and I especially thank two friends for this – they worked on me for months independently and unaware of each other – I ultimately said “Fuck the dumb shit” and got off my ass. I broke ties with the church were I was then affiliated, revised and re-released my book on the magical dynamics of Catholicism after shelving it for over a decade, and got on with my life. Up to and including being more open with my sense of humor, my opinions on various issues, and everything else in between.
And guess what? My faith returned.
No, I no longer believe the exact party line and in fact I don’t even care much for institutionalized religion. It doesn’t matter, and the secret is that it never has mattered. What matters is that concerns for “ideological purity” and “occasion for scandal” are the key hallmarks of slave morality, the key weapons we use against ourselves to prevent reaching our fullest potential.
The moment I threw off the shackles of caring for other people’s perceptions, that was the moment I shook off all doubt and no longer went through the motions like an empty vessel.
It’s an upward climb. December especially had some serious setbacks and I’m still working to put my life back together. But I’m in a position where it’s possible and no option is outside my grasp.
Others’ opinions matter when they write your paycheck or you’re trying (too hard) to sell them something. But ultimately life is too short to worry or care what others think about you in the long term. Life is too short to let anyone’s opinion bind you from being who you really are, and your faith – whether that faith be in God, the “Universe,” or in the capacity of our fellow human beings – your faith can only be bolstered when you break off those shackles and charge boldly into the light of day.