the catholic non-believer vs the protestant non-believer

August 18, 2020
I'm part of a small 3-5 person online crew that evolved for playing games and staying in touch a bit. Last night the discussion pivoted from some book recommendations talk to morality in general.

One of the friends was lapsed Catholic. He mentioned one moral question he ponders on, the abstract question of who is the more moral person, the person who is always tempted but consistently defies it (possibly because of fear of hellfire) and does the right thing, or the person who is never tempted in the first place.

I realized the question didn't resonate for me, because I'm not as concerned about "interior states"... what matters is the interactions among people... actions in the outside world. So by that measure, both hypothetical people are about the same level of goodness, since they're doing or refraining from the same observable behaviors.

As we dug in further, he described that his interest in the question probably sprung from his childhood anxiety about a God who could read his heart and mind, and how the need to keep one's thoughts in good moral order had been driven into him - very classic Catholic guilt-producing kind of stuff.

That was kind of a revelation for me, because even though the Protestant vision of God I grew up with was certainly capable of looking into my heart, it's like... He didn't all that much? You could pray silently to him, but I wasn't so worried about Him listening to my inner monologue (hm, maybe more of a dialog, but that's a different story) all the time, even though I believed he could, and knew that he would make my eternal judgement.

The vision I constructed for myself about my final judgement was that of a heavenly judiciary tribunal, where They'd "playback the tape" and I could try and argue or justify what I had done - but that reckoning (that would lead either to my endless havenly home or infernal eternal torture) lacked the sense of interiority that dogged my friend.

I hadn't thought about how Protestantism informed the character of the cosmology I made for myself, real "Ye shall know them by their fruits" stuff. All I care about is how people interact with the world (and not what is in their heart) since that external stuff is all that can be definitely known and that is amenable to external verification - like God playing back the tape.

A sense of the deepest Truth being equally available to all, but equally obscured and uncertain for all, is so basic to me.

Lately I've also been thinking on intuition. I don't reject intuition entirely - I understand it can offer a post-subconscious-processing "AHA!" moment of real grace and wisdom, but I need a "trust, but verify" approach. In my view, any truth that can't be scrutinized might not be worth having, lest we lapse into self-delusion.

And I see a strong parallel with intuition and faith - faith often relies on believing in a one-time "special revelation" to a select few, and it feels like intuition is just a "special revelation" to yourself. But those revelations may or may not be in line with the True, objective universe, so you have to check your work, always - and in the case of religion, if many many well-meaning people disagree with you, it feels like missing basic empathy to presume they must all be wrong and that only your tribe has it right.
Another thing that challenged my buddy's Catholic faith was Theodicy - the fancy word for why bad things happen to good people, how an all-loving, all-knowing, all-powerful God still lets this bad stuff happen. For some reason, that never resonated for me as a problem for my faith.

I figure there are two main ways Believers keep their belief despite an abundance of badness. One is thinking it all works out for a "greater good" we just don't see yet. But like I put it ten years ago:
Every event had a cause, no matter how opaque or oblique. So yes, "everything happens for a reason", but not necessarily a reason you'll like. Perhaps you're thinking of "silver linings"- they're down the hall, to the left.
I guess my intuition was more... God just isn't that detail-oriented? Like his eyes are too busy being on the sparrows or what not, and stuff falls through the cracks - or maybe, nothing in this mortal realm matters that much, really, compared to its role in setting up our eternal destiny. So all kind of evil crap happens here on Earth, but it only matters as a matter of prelude.
Happy 100 years of women voting. (Of course the country is almost 250, but hey.)
Happy 100 years of women voting. (Of course the country is almost 250, but hey.)