Saturday, September 18, 2010


This is one of my favorite songs ever. For that reason, I don’t feel at all equipped to talk about it because I’m quite sure that I would spoil it with words.  But, since you can’t have a blog without words, I guess I’m going to have to use some, even though I’m pretty tired of them.

The word “love” gets thrown around a lot. I love ice cream! I love this book! I love HELLO KITTY! (Or maybe that’s just me. :D) And then things get serious. I love my husband or wife. I love my parents. I love my child. I love my best friend. But, when asked, I think most of us would have a hard time explaining what that actually means. I used to spend a lot of time thinking about this—what it really means to love someone. It always left me feeling conflicted. I was approaching this question as a staunch materialist, “intellectual” atheist. I didn’t believe in anything other than the purely material world—whatever was tangible or visible. That meant that the whole of human experience could be traced back to the brain (I certainly didn’t believe in that “soul nonsense”), and what was the brain? An organ, just like any other organ, receiving messages from the world and processing them, not just like a machine, but as a machine. The difference between the human brain and a computer is quantitative, a matter of complexity, not qualitative. So, I was pretty confident that there was no essential difference between a human being and a robot. Robots don’t make choices. They’re programmed. I denied free will. All of my supposed “choices” were actually just physical phenomena, no different from the way a ball will roll away if you kick it. If x occurred, then my brain would perceive it, which would trigger neuron y to fire, which would then result in behavior z. All of my experiences and behaviors and feelings could be reduced down to that chain reaction. So, what did that say about love? Could a robot love? Well, I don’t know. If love is just an emotion like any other emotion, and all emotions are really just neural activity, then, yeah, I guess robots could love. Sure. What if it were something more, though? Deep down, I suspected that there was something amiss in my thinking, but I couldn’t figure out how anything else could be true, so I just went with it.

Whenever I talked about this strict materialist determinism, other atheists I knew would say things like, “Oh, well, you don’t have to think like that. I’m an atheist, and I still think that we can make choices and love and stuff.” This never, ever made sense to me. When I pressed them, I never got an adequate answer. It was always just, “Well, that’s your logic, but that doesn’t have to be my logic.” This is something I still hear a lot—the idea that there can be more than one system of “logic” and to think otherwise is simply rigid and closed-minded. I’ll think the way I want, and you think the way you want, no big deal! But, if anyone ever tried to do that in a math class, I don’t think it would go over so well. I shouldn’t make it seem as though I was a fierce defender of logical principles, though—far from it. What’s quite interesting is that, while on the one hand it was quite clear to me that if it was actually true that the conclusion “human beings are essentially robots” necessarily followed from the premise “nothing exists beyond the material world,” then someone couldn’t just come along and decide that that wasn’t the case; on the other hand, I didn’t actually believe that anything could be true anyway. Objective truth automatically presupposes the existence of absolutes—that something can be true no matter what I, or you, or anyone else thinks about it—essentially a God’s eye view—and that sort of objectivity and eternality of truth was inconsistent with the chaos and impermanence of the material world. I mean, truths are essentially immaterial, right? They can’t EXIST the way that a table can. So, my rejection of them necessarily followed from my rejection of all things not material and contingent. But, at the same time, my very rejection of all things not material and contingent was actually a truth claim. I was saying that it was TRUE that the only things which exist are material objects. I was making a claim about reality. I was simultaneously claiming truth and denying it, and, well, denying the existence of truth was itself self-contradictory anyway (“it’s true that nothing is true”—I mean, let’s be honest, that statement is completely unintelligible), so even if I’d dropped the whole materialistic determinism thing, I would have still been in hot water philosophically.

If you’re confused, I don’t blame you. I was obviously quite confused myself. Part of me wanted to just stay confused. I thought there was some merit in being able to live in the face of sheer absurdity and self-contradiction—like that made me stronger or better or something than people who just had to have things make sense. I started to see, though, that there was something very odd going on here. On the one hand, I, as an atheist, prided myself on being a “reasonable” person. I didn’t believe in things without evidence; I pretty much worshipped the scientific method; etc. On the other hand, the scientific method rested upon the existence of absolute truth, and absolute truth is the very basis of reason (the laws of logic are just that—laws—they’re always true, no matter what), but absolute truth can’t be contained in a test tube, and I seemed to think it was pretty unreasonable to believe in it. But that couldn’t be true. If absolutes are the very basis of reason, then you can’t call them “unreasonable” because they’re the very condition for considering something reasonable. It turned out, I didn’t know much about reason.

It turned out, I didn’t know much about what it meant to question assumptions. I always thought that being a “critical thinker” was incompatible with belief. But, in the midst of all the “questioning” I was doing, there was one key assumption I never thought to question: atheism. I just kind of took it for granted that nothing else could be true, but, when I really looked at my own beliefs, I realized that my atheism was not the result of sincere and careful searching. It was not based upon evidence. It was blind faith, the very thing I claimed to despise so much.

It turned out, I didn’t know much about love. After all of those years of atheism, I am Catholic now, and while reasoning and questioning assumptions brought me to a certain point philosophically, they’re not the reason I believe in God.  Christianity says, and is the only religion which says in its doctrine, that God is Love.  That Love is the Answer to every ounce of suffering and misery which exists in the world.  That God is the Love which hangs on the cross, covered in blood, nails tearing at His flesh, small tears making their way down His cheeks, thorns digging into His scalp, legs contorted, His Mother below Him, unable to shield Him as She did when He was small. That Love is He Who places Himself in the hands of His own creation and says, “Go ahead, crucify Me. It’s okay. I forgive you. Please let Me take you Home.” It’s so foreign to me. It’s so unlike anything I ever thought I wanted or needed. It’s indescribable. How can I sit here and try to intellectualize He Who IS Love? I can’t. I want to share a quote by Pere Jacques:
We cannot see Christ and remain as we are. We cannot exchange a look with Christ and not be overcome with a total conversion…Christ is all in all.  Through him, all is made; through him all comes to us.  Therefore, we must see Christ. I stress this point; we must truly see Christ. I sometimes think that we should define the term Christian as “Someone who has seen Christ.” There are only a few genuine Christians, because only a few souls have seen Christ. Countless baptized persons, including even ordained priests and professed religious, remain lukewarm in spirit. Such tepid souls do not pulsate with life nor are they enthusiastic enough to give their life for Christ. They have never seen Christ. Their knowledge of the Lord is verbal, not vital.

During the beginning of my conversion, I thought of it as a mere intellectual exercise, but it soon became clear that there was not anything “mere” about it; that if this religion was true, it meant Everything. It is impossible to exchange a glance with Him Who is Everything in the very depths of your soul and not be converted. It is impossible to stand there with Him and not be moved. And though I could continue to go on about absolute truth and whatever else, I still wouldn’t capture even an ounce of His Light—the Light which came to this most undeserving soul—unexpectedly, while she was in the middle of trying to prove His existence through rigorous logic—saw through all of that intellectualism, and said, “It’s okay. I love you. Let me hold you in My arms. Don’t be afraid.” When that happens, when you meet Him, everything changes. Nothing can ever be the same again. That is not something I could ever hope to capture in words. I guess I'll be trying, though.

So, that’s what I’m going to be blogging about! Life after conversion. And probably a lot of philosophy. I will also most likely post many pictures of bunnies along the way because who doesn't like bunnies?!