Thursday, June 30, 2011

Yes or No

“When faced with the question of God, man cannot permit himself to remain neutral. All he can say is Yes or No – without ever avoiding all the consequences that derive from this choice even in the smallest details of life. Accordingly, we see that the question of God is ineluctable; one is not permitted to abstain from casting one’s vote… In this question, we are not analyzing isolated fragments of reality that we might in some way take in our hands, verify experientially, and then master. This question regards, not that which is below us, but that which is above us. It regards, not something we could dominate, but that which exercises its lordship over us and over the whole of reality.” Christianity and the Crisis of Cultures. 89

Reflection: Ah, the lure of agnosticism! To simply say, ‘who knows?’ , shrug one’s shoulders, and move on with one’s life. ‘There’s probably no God – now relax and enjoy your life’ – so went those signs on the sides of buses in England last year.
In this passage (and by the way, the book it is from is fantastic, and short!) Ratzinger points out that the decision for or against God is not an idle intellectual speculation, but rather determines everything else about one’s life. Either the universe has a meaning, a purpose, a point, or it doesn’t. Either there is a moral law which is absolute, or there isn’t. Either our lives are heading into an eternal framework of some kind, or they’re not. And yes, there are consequences to all those questions.
Even the smallest details of life are influenced by this. As Catherine de Hueck Doherty used to say, you can go to heaven or hell sweeping a floor. Either God is real, and our whole life is headed towards him (which in Christian terms means that every bit of our life is taken up into the mystery of love), or He is not real, and even the most seemingly important moments of our life ultimately lead nowhere. There’s no third option.
And by nature this question involves faith. That’s what he’s getting at when he says it’s not something we can take in our hands and analyze. The question of God is a question of what is bigger than us, by definition. We can reason about it, to a certain point. But at that point, we are confronted by the ultimate existential question: can I trust this Being, this Reality, this God? Can I order my life according to something bigger than me, something I will never fully comprehend? Is there a Love big enough, a Truth solid enough, a Goodness expansive enough, that I can give my whole self to it? Yes, or no.


  1. To "be" an agnostic (or to profess to be one, because it is really impossible to BE an agnostic) is to run away from the totality of life, of what it really means to be or to exist. To truly BE means to live in reality. Living in reality means accepting all that is, all that presents itself to my intellect, through my senses, i.e., through my experience. This doesn't mean that I approve of everything that I experience, but it does mean that I do not deny any of it, because I don't like it or because it makes me uncomfortable or because I cannot completely understand or explain it.

    If I accept the reality of life in all its (my) beauty, all its (my) ugliness; all its (my) wonder and all its (my) frightfulness; all its (my) strength and all its (my) weakness; all its (my) altruism and all its (my) pettiness; all its (my) holiness and all its (my) sinfulness - I am overwhelmed. I, as a mere mortal, find it impossible to face all of this (especially the dark side of it within me) alone. My nature is a nature that needs something (Someone) outside of myself in order to deal with all that I encounter. I am fundamentally incomplete. But that is not bad news. It is Good News...because I am NOT ALONE. When I discover this, I discover who I truly am, someone in need of Someone! And there IS Someone who is with me...and His Name is God-is-with-us! Emmanuel! There is Someone who went through everything I did (without failing the way I did) who wants to help me with this seemingly impossible situation. Praise You, Lord Jesus Christ!

    I have climbed the mountain, and I have fallen down the other side and ended up in the Dark Valley. But, when I got there...when I stopped rolling, and crying and complaining and despairing...or more the middle of my rolling, crying, complaining and despairing...Someone put His Hand on my shoulder and said, "Be still." And eventually...I was still. Eventually I was able to get up and begin to walk out of the Dark Valley, into the Light...into a FAITH that allowed me to face even the darkest parts of myself, because of the One who was at my side (and more importantly, was (and is) dwelling in the depths of my being.

    Thank you, Father Denis for helping me to remember what a wonderful Savior I have, we have, in Jesus, the Only Son of the Father, True Man and True God! A Savior thoughtful enough to give me, to give us, our own German Shepherd. (Not to mention permanently lending me his own Mother!) I never knew life with a German Shepherd could be so intellectually and spiritually and, yes, emotionally stimulating!

  2. Amen, Paul, and thanks for the good words. Yes, often the idea seems to be that faith in God forces you into a smaller world (hemmed in by dogmas or something). But we who have faith experience exactly the opposite, eh? That faith in God actually means I can face, accept, admit, wrestle with, cry out against, rejoice in--everything. Nothing to be afraid of, nothing we have to deny or reject. Because we have a Father in heaven who loves us and a savior who is with us.


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