Your questions about the nature of my faith have been considered for quite a while now. Our recent conversations on the train have moved me to try to express in words my beliefs. I have actually thought about these questions for a long time. The Catholic sacrement of Confirmation symbolises one's acceptance of the teachings and doctrines of the Catholic Church, and before I was confirmed, I asked myself these questions, too.
Since I do not have access to a computer, typewriter or word processor at this precise moment, you will also have to try to decifer my handwriting, which I warn you, will become progressively worse.
LIFE. What separates life from non-life? Why do we say humans, animals, plants, bacteria, and perhaps even viruses are life-forms, but rocks, water, minerals are not? All these are merely collections of molecules.
Scientifically (biologically) there are definitions, with regard to respiration and reproduction which help scientists classify objects as living or not. Even so, respiration is merely a set of extremely complex chemical reactions, as is reproduction.
Some say a soul helps differentiate between the living and the inanimate. But do trees have souls? What about dogs? or amoebas? How do you know souls exist? You can't touch a soul, or see it, or smell it, or feel it; it is insubstantial. There is no proof a soul exists.
In my mind, the soul is merely a representation of a life force. I believe all living things are filled with this life force, whatever you may choose to call it. As a member of the Catholic Church (and thus as a Christian), I suppose God is the life force.
One of my Hindu friends was explaining how Hinduism (?) is not actually a religion, but more a philosophy and a way of life. They don't worship a specific god, but hold living creatures in respect.
Another example can be drawn from fiction (I know this makes me sound like Ranya!). In "STAR WARS" there is reference made to "the Force". It somehow is part of the Jedi knight (or everyone, but the Jedi knight knows best how to use it). It isn't a religion, but it is there. Perhaps this is the kind of thing I mean when I say "life force".
BELIEF. You must realise, of course, that I have no proof of any of this. I cam not aware of the small details of each religion, even Catholicism. Also, I do not expect you to agree or disagree with any of it; it is merely a statement of what I believe.
How can I believe in something without proof? Christine gives that Tacitus mentions Jesus Christ, and that different people wrote almost identical accounts of the life of Jesus (I assume she means the Gospels). These "co-incidneces" prove to her that Jesus existed and is the son of God.
I need no proof. I have always believed that people choose to believe whatever they want to. So if I really wanted to believe there exists an element between Hydrogen and Helium, or that the charge of an electron balances the charge of five protons, I will believe it. No amount of solid scientific evidence would change my mind, because it is a matter of faith. It has nothing to do with proof. It is what I believe.
SPIRITUAL FULFILLMENT. You have probably heard me talk of this before. I believe humans need some sort of spiritual "food" or "nourishment". It is something my uncle, a Catholic priest, taught me.
"People have a need for food - they feel hungry.
People have a need for drink - they feel thirsty.
People have a need for god - they search for one."
The first two statements are fact. Without food or drink, humans cannot survive. The third one comes from the fact that in all civilizations, there is some religious/spiritual element. Whether the gods took the form of humans, the sun, cats, dogs, rocks, water, trees, the wind, or whatever, people have always searched for some sort of power of force (as I have mentioned) which provides life/death.
Your statement that you believe in yourself is, I feel, very well expressed. It does not contradict my previous paragraph. The pharoahs believed themselves to be gods. The Roman emperors believed they were gods (Julius Caesar declared he was descended from the gods. Whether this was just a political tactic, or if he really believed it, I do not know). Chinese emperors believed they were related to gods somehow, too, and that they could become gods. I am not saying you think you are a god, but that belief in oneself is still a belief.
CATHOLIC CHURCH, CHRISTIAN GOD. I don't know. I believe in God. I believe Jesus is the son of God, he was the son of the Virgin Mary, and he died for our sins. That's it.
I think the Bible is full of shit. It was written by man. What do people know? Why should I believe the word of another human being? I believe it may provide guidance, if it is not taken at face-value, nor studied in great depth. To me, the Bible is a bunch of stories that shows God is with me, guides me, helps me.
I don't believe in an afterlife. Therefore, I don't believe in Heaven or Hell. As far as I'm concerned, my life is now, and I should live it now. Even if there is an afterlife, I can deal with that when I get there, because there is no way of knowing if it is there or not. Again, if I wanted to, I could believe in an afterlife. I choose not to.
Then why do I choose Catholicism? One good reason is that I have been born into a strict Catholic family, and it is what I have been taught to believe.
Certainly, I find Christianity in general provides me with the spiritual fulfillment I need. But why not any other denomination?
What I will write next basically slags off the other denominations.
But it is how I feel about it and I will write it because I am honest.
I will generalise and use the word Protestant for all denominations other
When my parents were young, they lived in Hong Kong which was very poor at the time. It wasn't much, just after WWII had left many Asian countries devastated. But Catholic missionaries provided food to the large, poor families, they provided schooling to the children, helped adults find jobs and earn a living. They never ever asked anyone to believe in the Christian God. Their actions did all the talking. My families converted to Catholicism.
Meanwhile, look at the Protestants. They knock on people's doors, asking them to embrace God into their lives. They hold "Bible - study" sessions and have "fellowship" meetings. During these meetings, they declare that if you do not believe in God or in Jesus Christ, you shall go to hell. When I tell them I am Catholic, they tell me I should convert - they are trying to guide me along the right path, and save my soul. Of course, if I say they should convert to Catholicism, as that is the "right path", they think me extremely rude.
I also dislike the Protestant mentality of having to prove God exists. Their public declaration of their faith also does not appeal to me. If you believe in God, that is fine, but there is no need to tell anyone. Above all, there is no need to impose your beliefs on others. I have been to Uniting and Baptist church services. They are informal, and more often than not involve someone or several people standing up and telling the congregation their life story and how they initially didn't believe in God, but he has changed their lives, so now they are so devout. It is not my cup of tea.
I find the formal ceremony of Catholic Mass more spiritually fulfilling. Many of my Protestant friends have been confused when I ask how Bible Study is spiritually uplifting, and just mumbled something about getting closer to God by reading his Book. I have always had the impression that their gatherings are of a more social rather than spiritual nature.
Finally, I support much of the Catholic Church's philosophy. The pro-life stance is one example.
POPE. As Ranya said, the Pope doesn't do much. He is the head priest. So he is a priest. The priest is a father figure (hence we call priests "Father") and a friend (hence "Brother"). He is someone to turn to for help, guidance, advice, and he's just there to talk to. He helps us understand what God wants for us, and encourages us to do God's work.
I think the Pope's role involves presiding over disputes, and stating the Church's formal attitude towards certain issues. Ultimately the decision to heed the Pope's words is at the discretion of the individual. Yes, he is merely another man, but so was Jesus. The Pope is elected from amongst many great, wise men, and I trust the process to produce a good man. This is why I said I trust in the words of the Pope.
BELIEF AGAIN. I guess one thing is certain - I will answer these questions every day of my life.
The Chaplain at UNSW, Father John Bosman, said that the decision to believe or to disbelieve is an ongoing process. To believe, you must every day wake up and say definitely that you believe. An atheist every day wakes up to positively decide not to believe. I feel this is very true.
MY FAITH. To some extent, your statement regarding belief in oneself is true for me. I don't believe God interferes with my day-to-day activities. I believe things happen either because they are pre-destined to happen, or because I make them happen. I don't know which, but it is another discussion.
I hope this answers most your questions. I also hope you realise that writing this has made me miss "Ally McBeal" (don't worry, I've taped it).
I also no longer watch "Ally McBeal".
If you have any comments or questions, please email me.