Why I am not an atheist


I was for a time a very pious Roman Catholic. I attended mass every day, I said my prayers, I studied theology and accepted the authority of the Sacred Scriptures and the Apostolic Tradition. Throughout it all, however, doubt always nagged at me. I remember following the Easter Sunday mass at the Mother House of Sisters of Providence of Saint Vincent DePaul (my great aunt Olive was a member of the order), joining in with a priest who was reciting Revelation 11:15 “And He shall reign for ever and ever.” The priest added emphatically that “yes, forever and ever.” “Oh wow, you really believe that” was the first thought that crossed my mind. Doubt was ever present while I tried to practice Roman Catholicism. Some years later at a suburban parish at the Easter Vigil, a woman behind me was pouring candies from a bag into her children’s hands while the priest was busy reciting the words for the lighting of the Sacred Fire. The sound of the candies pouring out of the bag was an annoying distraction and it was following this that seemingly out of nowhere, doubt struck and I found myself wondering “what on Earth am I doing here, do I really believe any of this?” I left the Vigil as I felt it was hypocritical  of me to stay.

I continued to attend mass, though not every day, and maintained my interest in theological and religious studies. While my maternal grandparents were still living, the Church, for which my grandmother had an axe to grind following her Catholic upbringing in Montreal long before the reforms of Vatican II, came through for her during her final illness. A compassionate and educated priest ministered to her, making the experience and her eventual death easier for her. Grandad was very pious so I attended mass with him frequently. I still attend mass occasionally for baptisms, weddings and funerals, but I do not take part in the Eucharist any longer as it would be hypocritical of me to to so when I no longer believe.

While I no longer practice Roman Catholicism, I have not abandoned my belief in God. I never had any trouble accepting the existence of God, just accepting what I had been taught in Christianity about the triune God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Doubt finally overcame me and I abandoned the rites, ceremonies and rules of Roman Catholicism. I identify as a Deist now. Deism has its origins in 17th and 18th century England. Edward, Lord Herbert of Cherbury (1582-1648) is generally considered the founder, but in the present, the modern Deist can be described as one that:

Looks at existence and infers that this wondrous thing could not have been an accident. They also desire a sense of astonishment and connection to something greater than themselves and define that “something” as God.  Finally, Deists believe that Reason is one our most important gifts and that we should use our own Reason to develop our beliefs regarding God. (Modern Deism)

I still have a soft spot for Roman Catholics and maintain my interest in theological studies and the study of religion as a social phenomenon.

My understanding of natural law is a legacy of my experience as a practicing Roman Catholic. Natural law is defined as “there exists an eternal moral law that can be discovered through reason by looking at the nature of humanity and society.” (Theologyweb) The universal command in natural law as defined by Thomas Aquinas is “good is to be done and pursued and evil avoided.” (Thomistic Philosophy Page) Natural law is universal and unchangeable, that is, it is not a subjective concept. I do not believe in moral relativism. I use my ability to reason and the dictates of my conscience in discerning the natural law and in trying to do the right thing. I try to choose the course of action that allows for the greatest good and the least amount of harm. This is not as easy as it may sound. There are occasions where you are confronted with a situation where you cannot avoid harm no matter what you decide.

I was confronted with such a situation in August 2012. My 4 year old hunting dog , Juno, her breed was Brittany, was diagnosed with a malignant tumor in her mouth. As her owner and caregiver it was up to me to decide how to proceed. My options were as follows: I could authorize surgery to remove the tumor and most of her lower jaw in the process, followed up with cancer treatment. The prognosis was maybe extending her life another 18 months; I could take her home and keep her until the disease had reached the point where her suffering reached a point that euthanasia would be advised, rather than waiting for her to succumb to the disease; or I could have her euthanized sooner. I had to weigh the the costs of the surgery and cancer treatment–they were staggering–against the quality of life she would have following this as a working hunting dog, my own interest in her welfare and what she meant to me and the fact that she had an illness that was going to kill her. It was agonizing. I did not want to lose my dog, at least not when she was 4 years old. I know a dog’s lifespan is nowhere near as long as a man’s, but her breed’s lifespan is usually 12-15 years. I did not want her to suffer, but neither did I want her to die. Having her and knowing she was doomed was devastating for me personally. In the end, as hard as it was, I chose to have her euthanized before the disease progressed.

I continue living and trying to do the right thing. Though I am no longer a practicing Roman Catholic, I continue to believe in a Creator. I do not think I am any better or worse than anyone else, but maintain a clear sense of right and wrong. I cannot say I have always made the right choice in things I have done. I have done things I regret (I will spare you the details), but I remember learning as a child that you learn from your mistakes. I try to apply this teaching and using my ability to reason in setting a good example for those around me and in guiding younger people in their moral development.

Posted by Geoffrey

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