July 2021 Dialogue

Read Ernie Part I here and Part II here, and Part IV here.

Ernie, Part III

Hi Annette, Thanks for revealing your plans. That's quite a turn of events that I didn't see coming. Off the bat, I'm curious about the idea that this historical figure is god. The issue for me is when it's deemed exclusively so. We're all made of godstuff. In what way could a human Jesus, opportunely within recorded and hence accessible time, be construed as having the essence and significance that later social organizations (i.e. churches) ascribed to him. My position would be that the sheer improbability of the subsequent narrative crafted in later centuries is enough to place the burden of proof on believers – in the same way that any claim should be regarded false until proved true. I also have misgivings about the centralized power of any organization. And I consider the Catholic Church to have an enormously political existence with all the nightmarish results of any organization with enough power and wealth to wield them nearly unchecked. The word that comes to me here, ironically, is unrepentant. It's hard for me to separate its social conservatism and frankly documented oppressive behavior from any theology. I am, by the way, well aware of the historical influence of some Catholics in creating the modern social welfare state and social reforms.

Yet in the end it's hard to accept what seems to me the entirely fabricated primary documents and founding history of the church. They're works of art and fiction in my mind. The entire church seems to me one grand projection of power. It's in some ways why our modern world is so different from the ancient and medieval one. The scientific method as a creature of the past 500 years has required evidence not based on authority (thus ruling out infallibility) but on observation and inference. The method in Vedanta, by contrast, is faith pending one's own investigation and I don't know how one can even begin to conduct that investigation in any of the Abrahamic religions. Swami Paramarthananda talks about the limits of science though when he says that consciousness is subtler than any means that could be employed to detect it. That makes sense.

All of which leads one to rely on faith in the Christian world. And faith as a mindset no doubt can be one of tranquility. But I worry about truth and self-deception, if truth can be known, so for me proof of claims under rational inquiry is a condition to be satisfied. I would be interested to know how a Catholic sees that and what exactly the objective a Catholic has aside from joining a community and giving structure to life through ritual. Maybe that is the goal. As a path of inquiry into truth, I'm curious what teaching Christianity could offer – aside from ethics (dharma). There seems to be no logically consistent teaching of what underlies our existence or how to help people recognize the essence of who they are and how to undo the misconceptions of our thinking. And it seems to me that our thinking is precisely the process that causes us so much suffering.

I'll pause here before this becomes too much of a monologue. Feel free to plug up any holes you see here or draw attention to any blind spots on my part, when and if the spirit animates you.

My response:

I have nothing to say that will answer any of your objections to Catholicism, simply because I think they miss the reason that people are drawn to that particular faith. Why am I drawn to it, for instance, if everything you say is true? Why in the world would any thinking person be drawn to such a load of crap?

It’s about the relationship with Jesus. There’s something going on here that is not quantifiable. It’s not faith — not the way you’re using the word. It’s not blind belief. Not by a long shot. It’s a growing inside one’s heart of some truths about human beings and their relationship to God that defy knowing through the scientific method. And they are surprising. I’ve had all the same objections to the church that you lay out here. But that’s all changed. I’m really at quite a loss to explain it. It’s not about a decision to go this way. It’s more like it happened to me, with my permission. And my longing, actually. I decided all my smarty-pants ideas and willfulness weren’t cutting it anymore, and I was just about as dried out spiritually as anyone could be. And then comes this rainshower of grace. And a whole different life opens up.

So no, it’s not about joining a community. It’s the continuity of this church since Jesus walked on earth (and actually, including the history of Israel as well), knowing that those who have cared about carrying it forward were for the most part just intensely spiritual people that foster trust in their words — the church fathers, Augustin, Aquinas, and dozens more, up through Merton and to the present day. I’ve looked to them to elucidate for me who Jesus was, and what his crucifixion and resurrection were all about, and it’s not easy, because it defies everything. But it’s really just in the end about God entering into physical manifestation — why? how? These questions have brought me into more contact with my interior self than anything in my life has done before.

It’s really easy to blow it all off as nonsense bordering on harmful, and I’ve done that my whole life. I finally decided to just quit squirming and look into it. This is surprising me as much as anything in my life. A couple of months ago I couldn’t even say the word Jesus without feeling like I was joking. No way would I have uttered the words, “My Lord Jesus Christ,” and yet now I have come to love Him so much I want to say His name all the time.

I could go on and on but you’re probably not interested….and that’s fine.