Better Not to Believe
If there is still violence, it cannot any longer, even in the remotest sense, claim to be of God or try to cloak itself with his authority. To do that is to drive the idea of God back to its primitive stages, which modern religious and civil conscience rejects. Better atheism than that. Better not to believe that there is a god at all than to believe in a god who would order us to kill innocents. — Father Raniero Cantalamessa, Homily for Good Friday 2004
Sometimes it is hard to believe in God. Over the past four years I’ve found my faith tested by family life, job uncertainty, and a general isolation from the world. I often felt as if God were planting a finger on my tiny ant-like existence, pushing hard enough to pin me in pain, but not quite hard enough to squash me. At many points in my struggle, I found myself even thinking, “Does God care? Does God even exist? How could God exist and let me endure this kind of pain?”
Then I remember genocide, war, holocaust, and I remember the Cross. Part of me still believes in a God who orders bloodshed, who demands the death of innocent first-borns and cute little animals. Part of me still believe in a God who wages war, who deems pagans and their children worthy of rock-dashing, dismemberment, and total annihilation. Part of me believes in a God who wins through violence. And so it seems natural that the violence I suffer comes from a violent God. And that makes me hate him.
It would be better not to believe in God than believe in a God who tortures me and humanity, and requires us to torture one another.
Recently in my diocese, a man has been giving talks at various Catholic events about “self-defense”, including a recent homeschooling event than my wife attended. Catholic mothers in Saint Louis are being taught that the Catechism requires us to ‘defend our families’. As far as I know, this man isn’t recommending mothers go out and learn Aikido, but more likely go home and tell their husbands to go to the shooting range and buy a gun. I don’t know the specifics, exactly, and I don’t want to know. But I do know that my heart sighs deeply at the thought of more Christian-inspired violence. I’d rather we not be Christians at all than teach our children to kill in the name of Christ (although we never call it killing for Christ; we call it defending freedom or justice).
It really is about time to stop believing in a murderous divine. Our pain and suffering do not come from God. And if our pain and suffering do not come from God, than neither did Christ’s. There’s a strong tendency to understand the Cross of Christ as a punishment of God. God punished Christ instead of punishing humanity. Christ bore the penalty for our sins. Christ is our ransom.
And isn’t that interesting, that last word — ransom. A ransom is paid to a thief, to a brigand, to someone who operates outside the law, not within it. Who demands a ransom for the souls of the living and dead? It is not God who demands a ransom, but more likely Satan — the enemy who is the true source of pain, suffering, death, of wars, bloodshed, and suicide. Jesus came to conquer the devil, and to save us from the devil. And he did it by offering himself up in our place. Jesus said, “No. Take me instead.” Jesus said, “I’m the one you really want. So torture me. So kill me.”
This is a God I can believe in. This is a God I can try to dedicate my life, heart, mind, and soul to. This God doesn’t require bloodshed, but offers himself up as a lamb to be slaughtered — precisely to avoid the bloodshed of those he loves the most.
So that’s what I’ve been up to these last few years. I’ve been suffering, but not without purpose, and not alone. Christ has been suffering with me, as we’ve offered up our bodies and souls for the good of the persons entrusted to us — my family, my community, my Church.
(I’m looking forward to writing more, and appreciate Vox Nova for taking me back into the fold. I’d forgotten how much of blogging is a service to self — reinvigorating my spirit, and reminding myself why I believe. Thanks for reading. God bless! Please pray for me!)