Thursday, August 17, 2017

The Disconnect Between Religion and “Real Life”

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There’s a certain American archbishop and cardinal, who until his dismissal by Pope Francis in 2014, had an important post in the Vatican. On several occasions, he was photographed in his scarlet robes with a “train” – the long fabric that flows from the cape around the neck, swirling at his feet and extending for several yards.

Often in these photos, a cleric of lower rank is shown holding the end of the train, much like servants would have done several centuries ago for a prince. Indeed, cardinals are often referred to as “princes of the church.”

When looking at such pictures, or seeing the reality in person, you have to ask yourself, “Is this what Jesus had in mind,” this Jesus who said he came to serve, not to be served; who derided how pagan leaders “lorded it over” each other; who told his disciples that “whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted?”

A Caste Apart?

Clericalism – the inclination of some members of the clergy to consider themselves a caste apart from lay people – is a special risk in Catholicism. It’s partly to blame, I believe, for today’s priest shortage. How many modern men are attracted to that medieval way of looking at the church?

It also results in the bewilderment of lay people in the absence of clergy. How can we get along without “Father,” who has always made all the important decisions? And as more lay people attempt to fill in the leadership gap, many among the clergy resist their perceived loss of power.

The liturgical dress of church leaders is not among the most consequential aspects of clericalism, but it is among its powerful symbols. It is one of many symbols, language and other realities that signal a disconnect between religion and “real life.”

This disconnect is evident in church services and homilies, too. Writes Jesuit Father Thomas Reese in a recent edition of the National Catholic Reporter: “Current liturgical worship requires that we park our scientific minds at the church door and enter into the pre-scientific world of our ancestors when we pray.”

Still, the clergy’s apparent exclusion of science or the way clerics dress or even the clericalism in the church aren’t, in my view, good reasons for rejecting religion, including the Catholic faith. Religion is among the most obvious and helpful ways of searching for God. And despite the existence of clericalism, the majority of clerics – at least in my experience – are faith-filled people who are great teachers and models for people searching for God.

The “disconnect” that seems so insurmountable to people who reject religion shouldn’t be ignored, however. Elizabeth Drescher, aadjunct associate professor of Religious Studies at Santa Clara University, wrote a book called “The Spiritual Lives of America’s Nones,” based on her research into the nones’ beliefs about religion. The book was reviewed in America Magazine last year.

Elizabeth Drescher
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“Nones,” as those who regularly read this blog may recall, are people who answer “none” when asked in questionnaires to identify religious affiliation. A large number of “nones” are under 40. Among the points Drescher identifies as hallmarks of nones’ view of religion.

·       New technology reorients affiliation and spiritual engagement to be networked, provisional, pluralistic and pragmatic, and no longer hierarchical and prescribed;

·       Caring compassion transcends ideology or theology as the core of a meaningful spiritual life.

The first point emphasizes freedom of thought and affiliation, facilitated by social media. This, in my opinion, reflects rejection of what many young nones feel is the imposition of religion by older generations.

Even though many “nones” may not acknowledge it, the second point reflects, I believe, the loving care learned from their parents’ religions – in religious education classes and religious schools – the idea that love rules. But it also reflects a repudiation of doctrine and theology, which have from all reports been de-emphasized in those same classes and training. What is missing is the realization that the former flows from the later.

In every historical period, trends have had good and bad influences on belief. Today’s opinions about religion reflect our own views and biases, including today’s extreme individualism.

Robs You of Freedom?

Among the most dominant views of religion, especially among the young, is that religion robs you of freedom. But many people who have found God note just the opposite, a sense of freedom – from the worn-out presumptions of the modern world and the self-satisfied attitude they promote.

In his famous book, “The Seven-Story Mountain,” Trappist monk Thomas Merton tells of his conversion from a sort of mid-20th century playboy to a practicing Christian.  

“…There was in me,” he writes about the time after he found God, “the profound, sure certitude of liberty, the moral certitude of grace, of union with God, which bred peace that could not be shattered or overshadowed by an necessity to stand armed and ready for conflict. And this peace was all-rewarding. It was worth everything.”












Thursday, August 10, 2017

Coral and the Search for God

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You’ve probably heard the term, “canary in a coal mine.” Since early mines had little ventilation, miners reportedly brought caged canaries into new parts of mines as an early warning system.

Canaries, it is said, are especially sensitive to harmful gases. As long as the canary sang, the miners knew their air was safe. If it died, the miners, too, were in mortal danger.

I’ve been watching a series on Netflix called “Chasing Coral.” I know, it’s probably not among the most popular programs, but the photography is breathtaking and the information remarkably interesting. It’s about the disappearance of coral, and coral reefs, from our oceans. Its message: the death of coral is a canary in a coal mine.

Fever Temps
The series documents the rapid loss of coral in places like the Great Barrier Reef off Australia where 29 percent of coral died in 2016 alone. Scientists say the kill-off is due largely to a rise in water temperature of 2-3 degrees Centigrade in just a few years.

This may not seem like much but that’s 3.6 to 5.4 degrees Fahrenheit. To put that in perspective, imagine it refers to your body temperature, rising from the normal of 99.5 to 103.1 or 104.9, the Fahrenheit equivalents.

There are lots of canaries on our planet, indicating a serious problem with global warming, and there’s a strong consensus among scientists that it’s mostly caused by human activity. Here’s what I found on the National Public Radio site and other media just in the last few days.
  • Drought and hunger. Nomadic herders have lived off the vast expanses of grass in Kenya’s Rift Valley for centuries and herding is the only means of survival for lots of people. But as the climate has changed, the grass has died and a way of life that has existed for centuries is in danger. Resident James Tukay, 45, has seen drought after drought in recent years. "I can't explain what is going on. I don't understand why the climate is changing," he said.
  • Coastal flooding. The giant crack that's been racing across Antarctica Larsen C ice shelf finally broke it between July 10 and 12. The result was an iceberg the size of Delaware, weighing a trillion metric tons. Satellite images show that more of the remaining ice shelf is preparing to break off, creating more, smaller icebergs. And a new crack has formed close to where the old crack left off. It's headed for Bawden Ice Rise, which is a critical anchor point for the ice shelf.
  • The explosion of the algae population combined with warming is shrinking Greenland, 85 percent of which is ice. If it all melted, say scientists, sea levels would rise by as much as 20 feet in some spots worldwide, inundating coastal cities. 
  • Loss of species. Global warming is causing a dramatic loss of animal and plant diversity. Kauai Island in Hawaii has lost more than half of its species of native forest birds. Scientists say it could be an early warning for the other Hawaiian Islands. Although they are uncertain of the numbers, most scientists believe the rate of species loss is greater now than at any time in the history of the earth. Within the next 30 years as many as half of existing species could die in one of the fastest mass extinctions in the planet's 4.5 billion years history.
Ok, but I don’t live in Kenya, Hawaii or Greenland nor on the coast, and I doubt I ever come in contact with the species that are going extinct. Why should I care? And what’s all this have to do with the search for God?

Just this. You can’t expect to find God if you lack respect for what is, arguably, his/her greatest gift – our common home. In his document, On Care for Our Common Home, Pope Francis quotes a prayer of Saint Francis of Assisi in which St. Francis refers to the earth as “our sister.”

Lords and Masters
Writes the Pope: “This sister now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her. We have come to see ourselves as her lords and masters, entitled to plunder her at will. The violence present in our hearts, wounded by sin, is also reflected in the symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms of life.

“…. We have forgotten that we ourselves are dust of the earth; our very bodies are made up of her elements, we breathe her air and we receive life and refreshment from her waters.”

Francis of Assisi, writes the Pope, “… helps us to see that an integral ecology calls for openness to categories which transcend the language of mathematics and biology and take us to the heart of what it is to be human.”

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Being Single-Minded and Whole-Hearted

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Because of the famous 1993 movie, Schindler’s List, many people know the story of Oskar Schindler.

He was “a German industrialist … and member of the Nazi Party who is credited with saving the lives of 1,200 Jews during the Holocaust by employing them in his enamelware and ammunitions factories,” according to Wikipedia.

Early in his business life, according to an on-line site dedicated to his memory, he was “an opportunist, initially motivated by profit.” He hired Jews because they worked cheap. But when he understood the intention of Nazis to exterminate Jews, he “came to show extraordinary initiative, tenacity and dedication to save the lives of his Jewish employees.”

By the end of World War II in Europe in May 1945, “he had spent his entire fortune on bribes” and other expenses to save his workers. He spent more than 4 million German marks on the project – a fortune in those days.

Drank Heavily

His motivation was unknown. He wasn’t the Mother Theresa or Gandhi type, the site points out, but drank heavily and was a “womanizer” who liked to wear “big Nazi badges.”

In his international bestseller, Schindler's Ark, (on which the movie was based), author Thomas Keneally says Schindler’s motivation is a mystery, but he hints at an answer in his description of Schindler's childhood in a strong Catholic household with deeply religious parents. His nearest neighbor was the family of a Jewish Rabbi whose two sons were Schindler’s closest friends.

All this brings me to two of my favorite gospel stories that have a lot to say to people searching for God. Jesus tells the brief stories, or parables, in the Gospel of Mathew. According to The Message translation:

“God’s kingdom is like a treasure hidden in a field for years and then accidentally found by a trespasser. The finder is ecstatic – what a find! – and proceeds to sell everything he owns to raise money and buy that field.

“Or, God’s kingdom is like a jewel merchant on the hunt for excellent pearls. Finding one that is flawless, he immediately sells everything and buys it.”

Ever wonder what it would be like to throw yourself into something and really master it? A musical instrument, a sport, a scientific pursuit, painting or sculpture? How about finding peace, joy and the meaning of life? One thing is clear about all of them. You have to be single-minded and whole-hearted.

Michael Simone, SJ.
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There is risk in the search for God. You may have the feeling of being intellectually dishonest because you’re placing your faith in something that lacks certainty – as if virtually everything in life doesn’t lack certainty! But it’s not as much of a risk, in my opinion, as in failing to search for God. The rewards for the search far outweigh the perceived rewards of apathy or cynicism about God.

Problem is, we’re so distracted by so many things we have a hard time focusing on the search. The distractions include the problem of continually trying to decide if the search is worth it. Another is failing to be satisfied with the search’s rewards. A third is getting wrapped up in stuff, fame and fortune, what “the world” tells us are the only things worth pursuing.

Writing in a recent issue of America magazine, Michael Simone, S.J., says the two parables yield four lessons.

The first is that “the value of the kingdom is not apparent to the untrained eye.” Do we recognize God’s kingdom when we see it, such as in the obvious places like nature, other people, the church?

The second is that “the kingdom requires searching out.” The jewel merchant was constantly searching for excellent pearls. Do we pursue God in our care of others, in reading and study of the Bible, in sources that can enlighten us about the search?

A Certain Audacity

Third, writes Simone, “acquiring the kingdom requires a certain audacity;” that is, you have to be willing to take the risks, make the leap, maybe give up all for the prize.

The fourth is that “the present sacrifices express hope in a future joy.” The finder of the hidden treasure is ecstatic. “Many people would undergo hardship for financial gain. Jesus invites his disciples to do the same to attain the kingdom.”

Oskar Schindler started as someone willing to undergo hardship for financial gain, but ended up foregoing financial gain for a higher reward. Once he understood the stakes, he threw himself into the work of saving people, single-minded and whole-hearted. The employees he saved at great personal risk were forever grateful and they and the state of Israel rewarded him handsomely – which, of course, amounts to nothing compared to the rewards God has promised those who love him/her.   




Thursday, July 27, 2017

Got Faith? Only If You Have Empathy

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A neighbor and I recently met on the sidewalk in front of our house and I asked about her daughter, who has a rare disease that attacks nerve cells in the spinal cord. Her daughter, who is smart and talented, has a permanent condition that results in very limited use of her limbs. She requires lots of help in daily living.

My neighbor told me how worried she is about the federal government help her daughter receives, at home and at the state university she attends. Under proposals to repeal the Affordable Care Act, supplemental benefits for millions of recipients, many of them disabled, would be at risk, according to media reports.

That would be devastating to my neighbor and her family because though they are not poor, they would be hard pressed to pay the costs of caring for her daughter without such help. For many, my neighbor family’s predicament is on the periphery of the health-care reform debate. Many can’t seem to put themselves in my neighbor’s shoes.

Further on in the conversation, we turned to the subject of empathy and the effect it has on whether or not people favor one thing over another. I should say here that this is not to make a political point. It’s to show that many apply the old saw, “It depends on whose ox is gored,” to lots of the social and political issues of our time.

Natural State of Human Affairs?

The adage means that many see politics and social issues through the lens of self-interest. They may see this as the “natural” state of human affairs, that it’s “every person for him/herself.” But, of course, this turns out to be a risky way to look at things because history shows that whoever or whatever is goring someone else’s ox could also gore ours.

Some may feel for my neighbor and her daughter but say the government “can’t help everyone” and must limit its budget accordingly. Anyway, they may say, it’s not the government’s place to help people like them, though there’s no other entity capable of providing such help.

I suppose it does boil down to a disagreement about the proper role of government. In my opinion, those of us who have no special needs, who are in society’s mainstream, who have good jobs and live comfortably, have little need for government. It’s the people on the periphery, who lack the personal and other resources to thrive, who need government help.

The rejection of the self-serving view and the adoption of empathy, its antidote, doesn’t merely make sense in politics and social issues but is, in my view, a requisite in the search for God.

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Empathy, in fact, is the main ingredient in developing a sense of social justice. Without it, why would you care about my neighbor’s daughter, the poor, the marginalized, the millions of people who are left out of our economy and society? Why would you care about trying to ensure that everyone in our society has what it takes to survive and thrive?

Empathy, by the way, is not the equivalent of sympathy. Empathy, according to Webster’s, is “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.” That means placing myself in the other person’s shoes even though I haven’t experienced what he or she has.

Sympathy is having “feelings of pity and sorrow for someone else's misfortune.” The terms are obviously related, and, it seems to me, you can’t have sympathy without first feeling empathy.

Empathy is especially important for people searching for God. And if you’re talking about Christianity, failure to practice empathy is missing its whole point. Though the word “empathy” may be missing from the gospels and other New Testament writings, the concept is certainly not. Jesus’ parables about the Good Samaritan, the Prodigal Son and other teachings make clear the importance of empathy, regardless of merit.

Love Your Enemies?

“You have heard people say, love your neighbors and hate your enemies,” says Jesus in Mathew’s gospel. “But I tell you to love your enemies and pray for anyone who mistreats you. Then you will be acting like your Father in heaven. He makes the sun rise on both good and bad people. And he sends rain for the ones who do right and for the ones who do wrong.”

Obviously, Jesus holds people to a higher standard than what we may consider to be a “natural” human value like self-interest.

St. Paul provides what is perhaps the best teaching on the subject ever: “If I speak in the tongues of angels but have not love,” according to Chapter 13 of the First Letter to Christians at Corinth, “I am a noisy gong or a clanging symbol.”

You probably know the rest. If not, you should look it up. It is, arguably, the most beautiful passage in all the Bible. One of its messages is that empathy is another word for love, without which the search for God is meaningless.






Thursday, July 20, 2017

Why I'm a Catholic

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Though these blogs are obviously written by a Catholic, I try to make them as non-denominational as possible, hoping they can be of use to all readers. But it occurs to me that it would be useful to know why people like me choose religion over none, and a particular religion over others.


To begin, this is about my reasons for being a Catholic, not my reasons for NOT being something else. I understand and respect that people of other faiths, and people of no faith, also have reasons for being who they are. Nothing in this post should be interpreted as antipathy toward anyone's faith, or lack of it.

With that, I must admit that my first reason for being a Catholic is that my parents were. My father's faith was a practical sort but I was impressed as a youngster that he never missed kneeling down beside his bed to pray each night. My mother was more devout, with a special devotion to Mary, the mother of Jesus. Both prayed regularly and never missed Sunday Mass, and the importance they attached to their faith was not lost on me.

A Gift

Some may believe that following the faith of your parents is a poor reason to be a Catholic, or anything else. I don't share that view. I see the faith they bequeathed me as a gift, given from God through people – the usual way he/she gives gifts. To ignore this gift, or to squander it, would be folly, to say nothing of the ingratitude it implies.

Of course, you can't inherit your faith like you might a set of sterling silver. You have to make it your own by examining it, contemplating it and committing to it. I’ve struggled with doubt all my life but faith has always overcome it.

Having followed my parents' example, and that of many others in my family going back generations, I look upon my membership in the church as membership in a family, a large family that is sacred because God makes it so, but also flawed and often in denial about itself and its relationship to the world.

I have no illusions about the state of the church, about the clerical child abuse, the defection of members, especially among young Catholics, the clericalism and tribalism, the vapidity of the liturgy and homilies in many parishes and the exclusion of women from leadership.

But I see so many signs of hope, starting with the election in 2013 of Pope Francis, who, in my opinion, has been exactly what the church needs at this time in its history. And even though the power of clerics in the church makes it top-heavy, lay people are – perhaps by default – taking more responsibility for their church.

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My wife, Amparo, and I have been involved in a leadership course for Hispanics in our diocese. Twenty-five adults, from a hotel maid to a physician, attended classes a weekend a month for two years to learn about the Bible, the church and pastoral leadership. The course required attendance at sessions that lasted 4 hours on Friday nights, all day Saturday and most of Sunday.

Participants exhibited a remarkable degree of perseverance, openness, determination, joy and love of God, the church and each other. It was the second of such groups; another is planned for next year.   

Many people see the failings of leaders and members as signs that the church is “on the ropes,” that it has become irrelevant and has little to offer to contemporary people. There’s no shortage of reminders that Catholicism is a church of sinners. But that hasn't changed since the time of the apostles. After all, the church is obviously human as well as divine. What can you expect?

I also believe, however, in Jesus' promise to be with us until the end and that more than compensates for church members' chronic unfaithfulness. I think many people who reject their Catholic faith for something that on the surface has more appeal are like people preferring a shiny dime to an old and somewhat soiled hundred dollar bill.

The Way Ancient Christians Worshipped

Then there's the matter of worship. Nothing, in my opinion, can match the significance of the Eucharist (the Mass) as a form of worship. Following Jesus' command at the Last Supper to "do this in remembrance of me," it became the way ancient Christians worshipped, knowing that nothing they could invent could match Jesus' invitation to join him in his sacrifice to the Father and in the sharing of his body and blood. It’s an ancient ritual, so it takes some effort to understand and appreciate, however.

In general, I am also comfortable with the church's teachings, especially on social issues. Although in its long, sometimes agonizing history, the church has often aligned itself with the rich and powerful, any review of its doctrine reveals that it takes seriously Jesus' frequent teachings on our obligations to the poor. And if you follow the church's moral teachings, you can't help but be a good person.

Finally, I’m a Catholic because the church helps me maintain a “personal” relationship with God. Not all Catholics have experienced this. Many lifelong Catholics somehow miss that it's not just about fulfilling obligations but about loving and being loved by God and other human beings.

The Catholic Church may be time-worn and at times dysfunctional but it will always be my family.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Want Peace? Trust  

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As I was thinking about how to write about trust, I looked out my office window and saw a robin lighting on the topmost branch of a birch tree in our backyard. The tree is at least 100 feet tall. The bird lit there for a few moments, then flew off.

I imagined how terrified I would be if I were on the top branch of a tree that was proportional in size. I don’t do well with heights. But, of course, the robin has nothing to fear because the air is her friend, supporting her wings and her life. She trusts.

I believe that’s a good analogy for trust in God, whose presence is the air under our wings, what keeps us from falling, what keeps us spiritually alive. If only we trusted that that is the case! If we did, we would have the peace that results from faith.

Not an Insurance Policy

However, writing in Give Us This Day, a prayer book “for today’s Catholic," published by the Liturgical Press, George Niederauer, former archbishop of San Francisco, says, “We do not believe in a God who is our insurance policy in the sky, or our reliable heavenly ally in all our battles.

“Instead, we place our faith in a loving creator and redeemer who calls us to live in his love and to share that love in action with our sisters and brothers in the human family.”

In other words, God is not a crutch, a comforting anesthetic, as critics of religion claim. Belief requires commitment and effort, but like physical exercise and a good diet, it has its rewards.

Niederauer, who died in May at age 80, refers in his article to the letter of St. Paul to the Philippians in which the author urges us to “have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”

George Niederauer
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This blog if for "people searching for God, especially people who have given up on God and/or religion. So doesn't "trust in God" presume that the search is over? That we’ve already found God?

That would be the case if searching for God were like searching for our cell phones or glasses. In those cases, we find them or not and the search ends. In the search for God, we find him/her in the search itself, a search that may last a lifetime. The “find” is seldom conclusive.

Another analogy for this kind of faith can be found in the famous novel “Old Man and the Sea” by Ernest Hemingway. It’s been years since I’ve read it, so I checked an on-line synopsis to refresh my memory.

What I remember is the old man’s tenacity in trying to catch a huge marlin in the Straits of Florida. From what I recall, he knew from the signs of its presence the fish was on his line but hadn’t actually seen it. His struggle with the fish required faith in himself and in the worthiness of his struggle to catch a fish so big it would reverse his misfortunes. He hadn’t caught a fish in 84 days. 

What I had forgotten was that although the old man, named Santiago, eventually catches the fish, he must latch it to the side of his boat because of its size and before he can get it to shore sharks consume most of it. Like in our search for God, his feat - the biggest catch of his life – is incomplete, his accomplishment only partial.

Reinvigorated

But Santiago is reinvigorated by the battle itself, earns the respect of other fishermen who once mocked him and gains the loyalty of his apprentice fisherman, Manolin, who will carry on Santiago’s teachings long after the old man is dead.

All this may sound depressing to some. A lifelong search with the likelihood of only partial success? What’s the point?

There are lots of them, but among the most important is that the search for God – as mentioned in last week’s blog – is a search for truth. Presumptions, especially those based on trendy views about God, won’t do. And “the truth will set you free.” Second, the search itself, like Santiago’s struggle with the marlin, has its rewards. Among them is a growing trust in the God who may be calling us to the search.

As we progress, perhaps slowly, with two steps forward and one back, we who search for God strive to become progressively more god-like, and this may be the principal reward.

In another letter, this time to the Christians at Ephesus, an ancient Greek city, Paul – a prisoner in Rome, according to tradition – writes:

“I, then, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to live in a manner worthy of the call you have received, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another through love, striving to preserve the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace….”

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Why Truth Matters

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I recently received a letter that appeared to be “official.” It had the clear plastic windows on the envelope you would expect from an official source, a return address saying it was from the “Vehicle Services Department” and in red print, “Important Vehicle Notice.”

Genius that I am, I wasn’t fooled. I knew it was another piece of deceptive advertising mail that comes almost daily. But out of curiosity, I opened it.

In the envelope was an official looking document on pink paper that listed features of our 2010 Nissan Altima. The pitch was for an extended warranty on the car, something that I have determined is a waste of money in any case. The satisfying part of the letter was that we haven’t owned that car for several years and so for the sender, it was a waste of time and money.

We’ve all become so accustomed to such misleading mail and propaganda that we think nothing of it. I wrote about this subject back in February when there was so much publicity about “alternative truth.” I then used as an illustration a telephone solicitation, similar to the misleading – and therefore fraudulent – letter from the “Vehicle Services Department.”

Reflect Public Climate?
Do these misleading forms of advertising reflect the public climate that appears to no longer value the truth? The pace and extent of public dishonesty appears to be accelerating, mostly due to social media through which people can instantly broadcast rumors, exaggerations and downright lies and move on to more of them before the earlier ones are exposed .

And, wrote Charles J. Sykes in a recent America Magazine article, “…Cable networks, radio hosts and web sites continue to peddle bizarre conspiracy theories even after they have been debunked.” America, by the way, describes Sykes a “conservative commentator.”

Some of you may be thinking, “What does this have to do with the search for God?”

“…One of the most consequential questions we now face,” writes Sykes, “is whether truth matters anymore.” And if the truth doesn’t matter, our search for God doesn’t either.

Sincere believers may differ with non-believers on whether God exists, on the questions of how best to find God or other questions of science, theology or philosophy, but if the truth doesn’t matter, neither do any views on any side.

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And if the truth doesn’t matter, no one has a right to complain about lies. Has your spouse lied to you about his/her relationship with another person? Doesn’t matter because the truth doesn’t. If you don’t believe there is an objective thing called truth, you have no standing to complain.

What are the stakes in the apparent loss of respect for the truth?

The story of the trial of Jesus before Pontius Pilate, the provincial Roman authority in Jerusalem, gives us a hint. In a dialogue with Jesus, in which the procurator was trying to relieve himself of responsibility for Jesus’ death, he asks Jesus, “What is truth?” Implied in the question is that the truth is what Pilate says it is - basically what despots through the ages have wanted us to believe.

If there is no objective truth but only “my truth and your truth,” our search for God is a waste of time and effort because searching for God is searching for the truth.

It should be obvious to readers of these blogs that there’s something personal about them. I have regularly questioned my faith, believe that most believers do – though they may not be willing to admit it even to themselves – and that writing the blogs helps me and hopefully, my readers, deal with doubt.

Help My Unbelief
I see no conflict between faith and doubt. Like the father of the boy in Mark’s gospel who had convulsions, my frequent prayer is “I believe, help my unbelief.” I think non-believers, and people who have given up on God and religion also have their doubts and that these blogs can help them think through them. All of us must accept uncertainty.

But we still seek the truth. Does God exist? How can we know him/her? What difference does it make whether we do or not? What role does religion play in the search for truth? What can help me in that search?

These are some of the questions I try to help myself and others answer, knowing that no answer is likely to be definitive. But they are among the most important questions human beings can ask. And if we become people who accept lying and deception, such as in the letter from “the vehicle services department,” our search for God should be called off, and, of course, there’s no use reading this blog.