Charlie's Blog: Going to California


Going to California

To find a queen without a king,
They say she plays guitar and cries and sings.

From what I know, Robert Plant wrote these lyrics about Joni Mitchell while a 20-year-old banging out groupies. It probably embarrasses him now as an old man, but it speaks to a truth. Lust pales in comparison to love. Lust is to love what mere philosophy is to religion. This is an important truth, and I need to explore it further.

It is said that rock and roll got its name from a slang term for sex. I don't know if that is true or not, but it certainly fits the style of music. If rock and roll is lust, classical music would be love. Lust is easy. Love is hard. But love is the more satisfying of the two. Most people's frustrations in this area come from trying to turn lust into love.

I think the lust/love thing captures what it is to be a Christian. The popular notion is that being a Christian and a Catholic is somehow life denying, but this is not the case. It is life fulfilling. A life of hedonism is fundamentally a settling for a lesser life.

Stanley Kubrick said, "However vast the darkness, we must supply our own light." These are the words of an atheist, and there was a time when I would have agreed with that statement. It is really a thought straight out of Camus. Kubrick struck me as a sad sort trying desperately to put meaning in a meaningless life. Here is a larger quotation from an interview with the director:

Our ability, unlike the other animals, to conceptualize our own end creates tremendous psychic strains within us; whether we like to admit it or not, in each man’s chest a tiny ferret of fear at this ultimate knowledge gnaws away at his ego and his sense of purpose. We’re fortunate, in a way, that our body, and the fulfillment of its needs and functions, plays such an imperative role in our lives; this physical shell creates a buffer between us and the mind-paralyzing realization that only a few years of existence separate birth from death. If man really sat back and thought about his impending termination, and his terrifying insignificance and aloneness in the cosmos, he would surely go mad, or succumb to a numbing sense of futility. Why, he might ask himself, should he bother to write a great symphony, or strive to make a living, or even to love another, when he is no more than a momentary microbe on a dust mote whirling through the unimaginable immensity of space?

Those of us who are forced by their own sensibilities to view their lives in this perspective — who recognize that there is no purpose they can comprehend and that amidst a countless myriad of stars their existence goes unknown and unchronicled — can fall prey all too easily to the ultimate anomie….But even for those who lack the sensitivity to more than vaguely comprehend their transience and their triviality, this inchoate awareness robs life of meaning and purpose; it’s why ‘the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation,’ why so many of us find our lives as absent of meaning as our deaths.

The world’s religions, for all their parochialism, did supply a kind of consolation for this great ache; but as clergymen now pronounce the death of God and, to quote Arnold again, ‘the sea of faith’ recedes around the world with a ‘melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,’ man has no crutch left on which to lean—and no hope, however irrational, to give purpose to his existence. This shattering recognition of our mortality is at the root of far more mental illness than I suspect even psychiatrists are aware.

This is life without God. Kubrick captures it so well. The only problem is that this nihilistic angst and suffering is truly needless. This is because God does in fact exist. As someone who has been a believer, an atheist, and a believer again, I can tell you that God is there. I encounter all types of people in my life, and I figure they would love to pick my brain because I have walked such an unusual path. But they never do. I have had more people ask me about why I became an atheist more than why I became a Catholic. That tells me more than what I could tell them. They strike me as people who put on blindfolds and declare that the outer world no longer exists.

I reflect a great deal about my unusual path. The fact is that I was always a seeker. I always wanted to know if there was more to life than just the daily grind and the few momentary pleasures an otherwise empty life could offer. I have always done the pendulum swing between philosophy and religion. For me, that religion in my younger days was the Protestant religion. I could probably agree with Richard Dawkins that Protestantism could be considered a form of child abuse. But atheism would also be child abuse, so I would part company with Dawkins on that point.

Protestant Christianity is what you would expect from a heresy. There is a flicker of life surrounded by nonsense. If you read Flannery O'Connor's stories, she nails this weirdness and odd Christ-haunted character of Protestantism. Basically, a Protestant Christian is sincerely stupid. They know nothing but are proud in knowing it. You don't know whether to laugh or cry at their predicament. I know that predicament well because I spent virtually 30 years in it until I finally fell through a hole in the floor and landed into militant atheism.

Catholics are a different breed altogether. They are either devout or atheist. Except for a few weirdos like Tom Cruise, I know very few cradle Catholics who have embraced an alternative faith. They either have faith, or they don't. I think the reason for this is because if God exists for them, He has to be Catholic. He isn't going to be Krishna or a Baptist.

This leads me to a question. Do atheists believe deep down that God exists? This is a hard question because St. Paul in Romans would say they do. The fact that atheists waste so much time on the internet arguing against God's existence suggest to me that they are not truly convinced in their atheism. But as an atheist, I never wasted my time on that crap. If there was ever a true atheist, it was me.

Becoming an atheist felt like coming out of a delusion. I believed things that did not correspond to reality, so atheism felt like a bracing jolt from a long slumber. Protestantism isn't real. I am surrounded by Protestants in a land that is saturated in Protestant sensibilities. These people do not live in the real world. This was my outlook on them as an atheist and remains my outlook as a Catholic.

What do atheism and Catholicism both have in common? They both see the bleakness in the world and the darkness of humanity. The problem with atheists is that they hold out some glimmer of hope that they can figure it all out or make life worth living without God. In this repect, they are also deluded like the Protestants. It doesn't matter if you believe 2+2=5 or 6. Both answers are exactly wrong.

If you are a living atheist, you are a deluded atheist. To be a true atheist is to be a dead atheist. Since many atheists still draw breath, they are essentially tricking themselves with a self-created delusion. I know because this was my waking life each day. I had to figure it out each day why I should remain living. So, I started lying to myself saying things about freedom or believing that most people were basically good but ignorant. To see life as truly what it is would drive someone immediately to suicide. How can you see just how screwed up existence is and survive it? You have to be Catholic.

In life, there are only two real options--suicide or Catholicism. At its best, life is profoundly empty. At its worst, life is a living hell. I suffer every single day, and I think I suffer more since becoming Catholic. But I have hope where before I was hopeless. Hope can sustain you in the worst of situations. I survive this life on God's grace.

I say this all the time. Catholicism is more real than real. Basically, Catholicism is more real than atheism. This is part of what makes it more painful but also more reassuring. When a Protestant suffers, he or she wonders what they are doing wrong. When an atheist suffers, they scheme some way out of it or contemplate suicide as the final escape. When a Catholic suffers, it is just another day carrying the cross.

Recently, a person we know died. She was a convert to Catholicism, but she had a falling out with the priest in her parish and began attending the Methodist church instead. But when she was diagnosed with cancer, she returned to the Catholic church. She said, "Methodists are good about living, but they aren't good about dying." These are very true words. The implication is that Catholics are good about dying. Protestants don't do death. It is too negative. So, they sugarcoat that unpleasant thing and pop you in the ground.

For the fallen away Catholic, life has to get bad before they come home to the One True Faith. This is usually someone dying. I ponder why they ever fell away in the first place, and I think it just boils down to wanting to have a good time. Then, good times turn to bad times, but as long as the whiskey is still pouring, they will take the good with the bad. It is when the good is utterly gone that those fallen away Catholics come home. One extremely devout and famous Catholic couple I know came back to the Church after the death of their child. What it all comes down to is that most people live in a vast delusion. Suicide is giving into despair. Catholicism is giving into hope. I suspect the reason so many people don't become Catholic is they aren't ready to be happy. They choose Hell over Heaven.