I love my family, but post-conversion some conversations with them too easily drift into the “stomach churning, want to sink into a deep hole, please-can-we-not-talk-about-this-now” category. This is particularly true with my Dad who became an ordained Anglican priest around the same time that I became a Catholic. Because faith is his vocation, and because his formation involved a four-year stint in an a highly left-wing Theology college in Vancouver, most religion based conversations end up where I really don’t want them to go.
The reason is my style of communication is Narrative based. I talk to talk, and I talk to connect emotionally with people. For me the idea of heaven is a dinner party with close friends, lots of wine, and talking until the alcohol makes speech difficult. Arguing diametrically opposed views doesn’t invite connection, it shatters it. Even if I believe very strongly that my Dad is wrong on very important issues, that his theological stance is too colored by the leftist ideology of his instructors and he needs to give orthodoxy a fair hearing, and that he reminds me so much of the Bishop Ghost in C.S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce that I fear for his eternal salvation, I can’t imagine myself actually telling him that since I still want him to love me.
In one of these uncomfortable conversations he brought up the issue of how supposedly “The Catholic Church prohibits people from asking questions”. My response was to argue that point by bringing up Thomas Aquinas who pretty much asked every single question and debated every objection against it, and is considered a saint and a doctor of the Church. That seemed to give him food for thought. But it did get me thinking about this accusation, which I’ve heard from others as well.
I’ve come to realize that there are two directions one can take when one “questions” something. ”Questioning” can involve a search for knowledge, for a satisfying answer that increases one’s understanding. This is typified by the childlike and immense “why?”. When the answer is found, the questioner is elevated, his wisdom increases. The other type of questioning, however, is the search for a loophole, for a reason not to do something. This is typified by ”why should I?” “Who says?”. Both forms of questioning involve a kind of wrestling with the faith. In the former, like Jacob and like Job one wrestles with it in order to enter it more deeply and find a resolution to the challenges it presents. In the latter, one wrestles in order to escape the faith, to avoid those difficulties and take the easy way out.
In addition, I always find it curious when people on the left, be they atheists or some “progressive Christians” exhort more orthodox believers to “question” their belief. Really, they mean one should question “conservative” ideas only. Questioning which might confirm the believer’s orthodoxy, might lead an atheist to reconsider the question of faith and might lead a leftist to conclude that the left is wrong, are never taken into account. Indeed, the left has its own orthodoxy, so confirmed in the absolute goodness of its maxims that the thought that one might question *their* ideas and assumptions is rarely considered.
It’s hard for the embattled leftist to accept that one can be both intellectually honest and still conclude that some “conservative” ideas are correct and their “liberal” counterparts are not. Questioning is not unidirectional. I was a leftist and I reasoned my way to orthodoxy by questioning my own assumptions, particularly the leftist maxims I had taken as facts. I actually concluded in my questioning that the Catholic Church was correct in its position on a lot of issues, and that its positions were grounded in both reason and compassion. , The Church is logically consistent in its views while leaving ample room for human freedom.
The truth is, a mature faith always asks questions and wrestles with issues. We live in a fallen world and our vision is darkened. Questioning applies the intellect and the reasoning with which God blessed humankind. The apostle Paul encourages questioning when he exhorts us to “test everything, hold fast to what is good”, but I think it´s that second part of the phrase that bothers those of the “Why should I?” approach to questioning. ”what is good” doesn´t always mean “what feels good.” Good is not necessarily nice, sometimes it´s downright bracing and uncomfortable.