Magazine article U.S. Catholic

God-Spotting: Can We Make a Case for the Almighty?

Magazine article U.S. Catholic

God-Spotting: Can We Make a Case for the Almighty?

Article excerpt


In an age of atheism, in which it is considered rude in many circles to even bring up religion, I've got a problem. Remember that wonderful old Joni Mitchell song from her album Blue? It's called "A Case of You."

   "Oh, I could drink a case of you, darling,
   And I would still be on my feet,
   Oh I would still be on my feet."

I like the double-edgedness of the song. A case of God, something concrete and real to consume (the song continues: "Oh you're in my blood, you're like holy wine, you taste so bitter, and so sweet..."), but also case as a condition.

That's God for me. And my problem is that I think I have a case of God, like a case of homesickness or longing--a constant awareness that there is more to everything than meets the eye, a knowledge that without God's presence, something fundamental is missing; that unless I view my life through the lens of God, I miss the point. Our hearts are restless till they rest in thee.

Or a case of God could be a container with its contents. Not just the box, not just the contents. The whole picture. The complete and fluid reality of one who says, "I am who am." A case of God. The one you drink down in its entirety and still remain standing. Indeed, the only thing which allows us to stand at all--the ground of our being.

Which leads seamlessly to the charge we are given in the gospels: Go and make disciples of all nations--essentially, make a case for God. I have to admit to some difficulty with this task, some fundamental feeling of presumption, of being on the ground of our being and having forgotten to take off my shoes.

When the Alpha and the Omega, the ground of our being, is how we speak of God, how do we begin to make a case for him?

Can we make a case for breath when singing? Or for food when cooking? For seeds when planting, or fire when burning? Can we make a case for love when making love? The sine qua non of making love is love. Sex is possible for any animal, but you cannot make love unless you do, in fact, love. So what case is there to be made? Why would you bother? And if you did, would it convince anyone?

It is like that with God, I think. Is it preferable, or wise, or even possible to argue or debate someone into belief?.

This is a secular age, no doubt. Whereas faith in God was once (say, up until a few hundred years ago) a given, part of the air we breathed and the soil we planted, for most Americans and Europeans today this is simply not true. Indeed, unbelief is now so widespread and diffuse that we hardly notice it.

The values of an atheistic society communicate themselves to us in so many thousands of small and subtle ways we cannot expect to always be on guard against them, even if we want to. The legal ban on state-sponsored religious displays at Christmas is just the tip of a very absurd iceberg. How we think about babies and marriage, how we look after our parents, what decisions we make when a person is critically ill, how we choose a career, how we think about sexual relations--all have been shaped and re-drawn according to new standards, standards that make reference to science, logic, and reason, not religious beliefs.

Unbelief is now the fabric we wear--like an old sweater, it is so comfortable and familiar we only notice we have it on when, unexpectedly, we find ourselves at a party where everyone else is all dressed up. Think of the relatives--all lapsed Catholics--turning up solemnly at Grandma's funeral, suitably clad in the black outfits they virtuously raced out to buy, but with no idea when to kneel or stand or what the responses to the prayers are. A priest friend of mine told me of a funeral he officiated at for a pious mother of eight where, as he walked down the aisle after the coffin, he saw, to his horror and dismay, a consecrated host lying un-remarked in the pew, left there casually by one of the uncomprehending grandchildren. …

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