My Discernment Process
My discernment process started about two months ago. And still yet, even as I write what I am about to say, I am sure that a call to the religious life is the answer. I can’t, however, act as if the call to a Catholic religious order hasn’t made me want to assure questions of faith and reason. While I do find that such a dedicated life is honorable- to be a priest, a monk, or a friar - I can’t help but think what if it is all rooted on faulty ground?
What if the grounds on which we rest our religious beliefs are based on a mixture of fables, allegory, and mythology? So what if they are. Does that necessarily null out the benefits of living such a life? Does every tenant of a thing have to be absolutely true to find it beneficial? That can’t be the case since non-religious belief is also rooted in things that can’t be explained in their entirety.
This is the crux of the matter. Religious and non-religious beliefs might be incomplete, but I believe one has much more worth, depth, and value. Is it not beyond romance that we consider the life of someone who has dedicated themselves to something that isn’t guaranteed as the hallmark of beauty and courage? Don’t we as human beings often see that as being as far as we can go? Is that not the makeup of life's most touching and compelling stories? Does that not touch every corner of our endeavors, be it marriage, religious vocation, atheism, democracy, retirement, happiness, or economy? Do we not fashion our idea of a well-lived life as one that was predicated on taking a chance? Are we not led by uncertainty? Is human life ever fully expressed until one takes a leap of faith in some direction?
Throughout my discernment, I have discovered many like myself. People such as Libby Osgood who once worked for NASA as an engineer then left to become a nun. Or Dante Iozzo who after receiving a degree in astrophysics decided to become a Dominican Friar. Or Karin Öberg a Ph.D. in Astrochemistry who started a faith and reason media channel. While it does not get much publicity, there are many people that come even closer to faith as they grow closer to science. I am one such person. I also have to admit that I have spent some good time thinking about the alternative. That is, what if I stayed out in the secular world? What is so appealing about the secular world that would cause one to stay in it? This question is in fact how my process of discernment all started.
For me, the secular world continues to become shallower and shallower day by day. I’ve had to sit down and seriously asked the question what are we looking forward to here in America? More incorporation of artificial intelligence? The possibility to do less work and make more money to live a life shrouded in splendor and vanity?
We are a pleasure-seeking society, and I bid we will just become even more pleasure-seeking as technology becomes more and more incorporated into the human experience. We are no longer a skills-based or knowledge-based society. We are a convenience and efficiency-based society. I do not believe that we seek to be the type of well-rounded individuals we sought to be in centuries past. I believe that the new world being sought to be created will be one leaving little for us to do outside of leisure and pleasure. Doesn’t such a life sound quite boring? We are rapidly boxing ourselves outside of the most fulfilling parts of being human. Character building, learning, application, sharing, and building up others. Now one may say, well we can still do these sorts of things, and they are correct. We can do anything. We can learn old English or Latin if we wanted to as well, but it is no longer necessary to develop in these ways. We are moving further and further from being reliant on ourselves and ever more reliant on technology. This, I believe, is a fact worth discernment.
Still yet, my exploration of faith and reason continued in another challenging domain. I couldn’t help but explore the other side. I like to know and explore all parts. So, I ventured into exploring deconversion stories. These weren’t necessarily scientific people that left their faith, but just folks in general that had what they would consider a deep deconversion, so much so that they endeavored to start or participate in a YouTube series based on deconversion stories. One in my position might not find such valuable material elsewhere.
While I enjoyed hearing their stories and will continue to listen to them, I must say that I am hardly convinced or converted. Now, of course, their purpose in sharing their stories is not to convert people but just to share for the sake of sharing. Much is the case for my writing here. Though the particular thing that I found very unmoving was the fact that many - if not all of the stories shared - were from people with a fundamentalist upbringing. Now debating the legitimacy of religious denominations goes far beyond the scope of this text, but I just have to say that being raised Catholic, their sense of what religion was (or is) is nothing like what I have ever been exposed to or interested in.
These folks were coming from a fire and brimstone background, where they were taught to take everything that is said in the bible literally. My Catholic upbringing and personal philosophic disposition always led me to think of many parts of the bible as not literal but symbolic.
This is not to say that the Catholic church does not take parts or certain stories of the bible in a more literal fashion, but that my tutelage was always more focused on personhood and personal development. The Bible and religion were supposed to help you with yourself and with others. It was supposed to help with being-in-the-world. This brings about another point. The individuals involved in these deconversion stories also seemed to be taught that religion was mostly about the afterlife. This is one such misunderstanding that I believe has led to great misinterpretations of many religious traditions. A misinterpretation that I believe many atheist and secular folks inhabit.
There is a notion out there that religious people are religious because they are seeking comfort and understanding about the afterlife. Now again, I cannot speak for others, but my upbringing and understanding had always led me to believe that religion was about dealing with and negotiating the lesser sides of our humanity towards an effort to appeal to the good. Of course, eschatology is part of religion but not the only part, and not necessarily the part that has to motivate a person to be religious.
Again, I’ve always sort of been a pragmatist when it came to these sorts of things. Much as is the case when one asks about certain miracles in the bible, I will be quick to remark that the bible is not a scientific text. Nor is it a zoology book. It is not there to, nor does it, explain everything about the world and universe. Nor does everything we discover about the world, or the universe disprove religion or make it useless. Theirs that pragmatic voice again looming. I suppose at this point the real question might be whether there is space for pragmatic religious belief within a religious order or in the secular world.