Editor’s Note: Today we welcome Robert Kurland to our blog as a new author!
“Be not afraid of faith: some are born with faith, some achieve faith, and some have faith thrust upon them.” (with apologies to William Shakespeare, Twelfth Night.)
So, let’s begin with the minimum bit of biography. I’m not going to say much about my early religious life, other than I grew up as a secular Jew, despite having several rabbis as great-grandparents. (In the great wisdom of early adolescence, I refused to be Bar-Mitzvah’d, believing it to be a sham ceremony when there was so much misery and injustice in the world, misery and injustice ignored by those fur-coated ladies parading in Temple.) Nevertheless, there was a belief of sorts in a Creator–my teen-age passion was astronomy, visiting the local planetarium and constructing (not well) a six-inch reflecting telescope; I realized instinctively the dictum of Psalm 19A, “The Heavens declare the glory of God“. Working during a college summer in the Yosemite forest service, lying underneath one of the big trees, I was filled with awe at the Creator’s work here on earth. My wife is Catholic, and we were married in a Catholic church. But I stayed my distance from the Church, only attending functions at my children’s Catholic school and at baptisms (at one of these, for my oldest daughter, I was much embarrassed by being asked to serve as an altar boy for the priest–my protestations that I wasn’t Catholic were to no avail).
Now into each life some rain must fall, and fall it did in mine–without going into detail and violating confidences, I’ll say that in my 60’s I became a member of a Twelve Step Group–“Hi, I’m Bob and I’m a ______ “(fill in the blank); the presence of a Higher Power (uppercase obligatory), who will help to break addictive chains–alcohol, drugs, food, persons–is a guiding principle of such groups. I was disposed to believe in the presence of such a Higher Power, but I came to realize that the phrase was doublespeak, Orwellian “sheer cloudy vagueness”, a euphemism for God, so I began to search for a more satisfying way to think about the deity (at that time in lowercase).
Fortunately at this point the Holy Spirit intervened (exactly how, this old guy’s memory fails), and I was prompted to read “Who Moved the Stone” by Frank Morison, a pseudonym for Albert Henry Ross, a British writer who originally set out to disprove the Resurrection, but who, on evaluating the biblical accounts, came to believe. I won’t recount the evidence (it’s detailed more fully in the linked articles), but it seemed to me that an impartial jury (not composed of evangelical atheists) would give a verdict of “innocent”, i.e. the arguments that the biblical account of the Resurrection were true. What struck me even more on going from “Who Moved the Stone” to the the New Testament. was that this bunch of uneducated yahoos–fishermen, tax collectors, women–had managed to out-talk the scholars of Judaism and thereby to spread the Christian faith through the Roman world. Surely they must have been inspired by encounters with the risen Jesus and the inner voice of the Holy Spirit.
Of course, conversion is an ongoing process–study, service, prayer, adoration, retreats–all the tools and fertilizer to make the fig tree of faith bear ever more fruit. To fully recount this continuing process would take a book chapter, not a blog post, but I’ll add these brief (?) comments. First, as a scientist, I had to struggle to believe in miracles–Fr. Mc___’s answer during my catechesis to questions on certain dogmas, “If you believe in one miracle, the Resurrection, why are you having problems with others?” and “If you believe in the possibility, even if you have questions, that is enough.”–helped. As I looked at the evidence for contemporary miracles, particularly that reported by Dr. Alexis Carrell at Lourdes, and read what C.S. Lewis and Ralph McInerny had to say about the reality of miracles, my scientific skepticism waned.
Second, those few non-“Top Down”, but “In the Heart” moments where I felt the presence of Deity (not well defined, not as an image or as a voice) have been evoked by music: Gregorian chant during a retreat at St. Vincent Archabbey, certain hymns and liturgical music, and very, very infrequently, at quiet times in early morning during Adoration or other prayer, when the melody of some favorite hymn would come to mind.
Now I claim that this belief in Jesus and in the dogma/doctrine of the Catholic Church, this faith, is akin in certain respects to and also different from my belief/faith in science. To begin with let me assert that by no means can science explain everything, that is to say, “scientism” is a false doctrine. The books of Keith Ward, the writings of Fr. Stanley Jaki (particularly “The Limits of a Limitless Science”), and most recently an essay by the eminent biologist Austin Hughes on “The Folly of Scientism” effectively demolish the positions of the evangelical atheists–Dawkins, Hawking, Kraus, Carroll–who believe that science is the only answer. They ignore all that science can’t explain, the “why” questions; for example, they believe that since we can show by functional MRI where the brain is active when we pray or contemplate, we fully understand how and what the mind is doing in prayer or mystical experience. Wrong!
Most people put the same faith in what science tells them as the Christian faithful did in the dogma of the Church. How many people have done Galileo’s inclined plane experiment to verify laws of motion (which I did in the physics lab at Caltech)…etc? The essence of the scientific method is that theoretical predictions can be verified by repeated measurements, and this, in turn, implies that those things and realities that cannot be quantified and realized by an experiment or measurement cannot be deal with scientifically. And even then science is limited in setting up idealized experiments, situations isolated from the surroundings for which the hypothesized experiment may not always be possible.
To sum up, let me assert that religious faith can be attained by a variety of roads–the vision, the voice from above, or by rational “Top Down” endeavor. As the quote at the beginning put it, some are born with faith, some achieve faith and some have faith thrust upon them. And the faith we have in Jesus Christ is as well founded in terms of empirical evidence and inner knowledge as the faith we as physicists have in what science tells us about the world.
© Robert Kurland, 2017