Friday, July 10, 2015

What Am I To Believe?

What are we supposed to believe when we get conflicting messages? One group tells me we’re experiencing global warming; NASA web site, for example, says the global temperature has risen 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit since 1880.

Other sources say that the Antarctic seas ice is expanding (its melting has been seen by “warmists” as a sign of global warming); even the International Panel on Climate Change (a group intent on proving global warming) recently acknowledged  “a pause” in global warming.

And further, if there is global warming, is it caused by humans? USGS  (the  U S Geological Survey) maintains that  volcanic gases like sulfur dioxide can cause global cooling, while volcanic carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, has the potential to promote global warming.

Speaking of volcanoes, a team of scientists published in Nature Communications (a science journal) that there has been a slowing down in global warming because of the lessening of incoming solar radiation  between 2008 and 2011 due to increased volcanic activity.

What am I to believe?

Some critics of the Catholic Campaign for Human Development charge that the US Bishops have used funds from this annual collection for extreme left wing activities; ACORN, for example, used to be one of the collection’s recipients of financial support. CCHD no longer supports ACORN.

The USCCB (United States Conference of Catholic Bishops) website defends the fund drive and its allocation, saying, “Throughout its history, CCHD and CCHD grantees have at times been subject to organized, exploitative attacks. Although sometimes these attacks originate in a mis-perception of the  mission of the CCHD to empower communities in their work to overcome injustice and economic marginalization, at times they derive from opposition to the Church’s teaching and work in the field of charity and justice.” The response doesn't really answer the question.

What am I to believe?

Coffee? Is it good or bad for me? Wine? Should I imbibe or not?  Immigration amnesty? Good or bad idea? The “Stainless Banner,” the second national flag of the Confederate States of America? Racist or simply historic heritage? Same-sex marriage? A natural right or a perversion of marriage?

What am I to believe?

Books on the spiritual life recognize that even the best people are sometimes conflicted, not knowing whether a spirit or impulse is from God or from self, or even from the devil. Possible resolution of the uncertainty lies in the practice known as “discernment of spirits.” Maybe the spiritual discernment process is applicable to discernment of other conflicts as well..

The path to discerning what God wants, the experts in spiritual matters say, may be found in applying the fourfold elements of the art of discernment, namely, prayer, study, self-knowledge, and the removal of obstacles.

Prayer, putting oneself in God’s presence and being open to the guidance of the Holy Spirit, is an obvious way of trying to discern whether an impulse or direction is of divine origin. Study of issues and judging the weight of the opinions and results applicable to a given situation are elementary. Looking at oneself (assessing one’s own prejudgments, opinions, experiences, and expertise) is more than relevant in the discernment process. And removing obstacles which stand in the way of arriving at the truth (humility over pride) is essential.

Yet even when people seek the truth, they may not be able to arrive at certainty. For many people, living with ambiguity and uncertainty is intolerable. This kind of frustration, not to mention the effort, energy, and enterprise it takes to sort out fact from fiction, leads some to divorce themselves from the work and simply yield to what seems the majority position.

For Catholics matters of faith and morals are usually spelled out by the Church’s teaching authority. Reliance on this wisdom of the ancients and the assurance of the guidance of the Spirit are helpful and consoling. Yet even here it is a matter of faith rather than knowledge.

What am I to believe?

To “believe” means to “cherish” –the root of the English word “believe” is “lieben” to love! In one sense, faith is acceptance of an idea; in its purest form, faith is acceptance of a person –for Christians that person is Christ.

We can come to know about Christ through the teaching of the Church, through our reading of and reflection on the Sacred Scriptures. But it is in knowing Christ, in the personal and intimate  relationship with him, that faith takes on its most dynamic and powerful expression. In this way we know whom to believe even if we do not always know what to believe.

This relationship with Christ does not of itself settle the matter of global warming or whether one should support the Campaign for Human Development. It does not give the definitive answer to many of life’s contentious issues, but this relationship with Christ sheds light, points to the truth, and perhaps of equal importance it  allows one to live peacefully without knowing all the answers.

I think there is wisdom in Thomas Merton's observation in Thoughts In Solitude: “Contradictions have always existed in the soul of man. We are not meant to resolve all contradictions but to live with them and rise above them and see them in the light of exterior and objective values which make them truly trivial by comparison.”

It’s not that we stop trying to find answers or give up trying to arrive at truth, but neither do we lose peace of mind when the answer eludes us and the truth is beyond our grasp. In that same book is the so-called “Merton Prayer,” a portion of which acknowledges, “My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you.”

And so I conclude: I don’t always know what I am to believe, but that's OK --maybe I don’t need to know all the answers after all.

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