As a young man I struggled with the faith and through my own sheer idiocy lost it almost altogether for a while. I remember with some shame those times I spoke out against the faith. I read atheistic philosophy. I read Nietzsche. I was even prone to dropping an “uberman” at times. I considered myself an intellectual. I know.
I called myself enlightened. Yet I was miserable. I’m not saying a little miserable. I was deep, dark and angry miserable. Yet somehow I was proud of my deep dark edgy miserableness. I consoled myself that everyone else wasn’t brave enough to face the nothingness. But I was.
I laughed off everything and found myself dreadfully serious. That is the paradox of atheism. Oddly enough, when I was enlightened I felt burdened. I’ve come to decide enlightenment is a heavy philosophy, not suited to living.
My life was filled with thinking about death. I didn’t take life seriously but I thought of death incessantly.
Through what I called sheer luck but later would recognize as grace I picked up a novel by the intellectual atheist Ayn Rand. Hey, God uses everybody. After reading her novels I began reading her essays one of which blasted Christianity and William F. Buckley.
I wondered what about Christianity could make this woman so apoplectic. I decided to find out. And that, without getting into all the particulars here, was the moment. Yes, Ayn Rand prompted my conversion. She wouldn’t be happy. Though I’m quite sure she was unfamiliar with that particular emotion.
I began reading Buckley’s “God and Man at Yale” and after a few years I was delving into the Fathers of the Church.
One of my main hurdles to the faith was the “Thou-Shall-Not-Ness” of Catholicism. I saw the faith as essentially walls of rules surrounding us which we crashed up against in our efforts to be happy. I still saw atheism’s rejection of religion as liberation.
It was then that I read Mary’s response to the Angel who told her she would conceive Jesus. I’d read it before but it really hit me this time. The whole history of man balanced upon that moment. You cannot make too much of Mary’s “Yes.”
So through that moment, I began to look at Catholicism as a “yes” culture.
I thought of marriage. We say, “I do.” We affirm that we are saying yes to loving this other person and only this person for the remainder of our time here on Earth. It is a great yes. But that one ‘yes’ contains two billion ‘no’s.’ I am essentially saying “no” to every other woman. (I can almost hear their collective sigh of relief.) We are called to actively love. The no’s are reminders.
I have found that it is a paradox that bringing on the “burden” of Catholicism has given me the feeling of lightness. I know now that by accepting something I have necessarily rejected other things. The burdensome nature of atheism is that you can’t reject anything because you’ve chosen nothingness.
Now when I lay down at night I think about life. I think about my children’s lives. And I feel light.