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Bird’s Nest In Your Hair

Chapter Fourteen

On the Sunday after Diana’s meeting with Keith, Martha reminded all the catechumens that they should memorize the Nicene Creed, one of the few things they did on Sunday mornings that could be considered an assignment. They practiced reciting it together:

We believe in one God, the Father almighty,
Maker of heaven and earth,
Of all that is seen and unseen…

Diana hadn’t worked very hard at getting this down, and so let her voice go quiet rather than stumble over those formulations she wasn’t confident she could repeat. She was a little embarrassed, even though there were others who were having as much difficulty as she was having, if not more.

In her frustration she thought about why she hadn’t taken the time to work on the memorization, and in the midst of her frustration and embarrassment was surprised by a small voice within, saying simply “You Don’t Believe.” And then another word, or perhaps just an echo of the previous phrase, “Leave.” Although she was accustomed to talking to herself, she was surprised this time because she hadn’t been the one to initiate the conversation. And it wasn’t really a conversation; they were three, maybe four simple words that seemed to come out of nowhere, and it scared her. She even repeated these same words to herself, but then it wasn’t so creepy. In repetition they lacked the element of surprise.

But the voice she heard (or thought she heard) still bugged her. It didn’t help that one of the songs they sang at mass was called Deep Within:

Deep within, you will hear my voice
Not in stone, but in your heart…

Could it actually be God’s voice? Not according to her current understanding. She didn’t really believe God had a voice, least of all one that popped up in her head in the midst of a discussion about Himself. But in the midst of what kind of discussion would His voice be more likely appear? She had to suppress the urge to follow the command and simply get up and walk out of the room, and managed to stay put only by promising herself to more carefully consider the steps she was taking – one enormous step, it seemed to her. Easter was less than a month away.

She looked over at Keith to see if he had noticed anything or, absurdly, if he could have been the one to whisper these words to her. Keith looked very happy going along with the rest of them. Obviously he hadn’t had any trouble with the memorization. He didn’t even notice Diana looking over at him, and she knew that she her thoughts were ridiculous and even a little desperate. So she did what any sane person would do in this situation: she tried to forget about it.

After everyone had finished going through the creed three times, Martha went on to give a brief overview of the history behind the Council of Nicea: how at the request of the Roman emperor Constantine bishops from all over the world had been summoned to the city of Nicea to determine exactly what it was they could agree on as a definitive statement clarifying exactly what Christians believe. That many theologians had been involved in the studying the nature of Christ (the branch of scholarship called Christology), and that the creed that grew out of this council in 325 A.D. was exactly the same as the one recited by Catholics at mass all over the world today. She even mentioned the controversy over the line containing filioque, that passage in the creed in which it is said that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son, a formulation that was dropped by the Orthodox church and thus led to the first and perhaps greatest schism in the church, which also continued to this day.

All this was very interesting to Diana, reaffirming as it did many of the things she had learned in Professor Digbury’s history class some eight years ago. She was also glad to listen to the little lecture by Martha rather than to a discussion amongst her fellow catechumens. So she didn’t leave, but she wasn’t very successful at pushing out of her mind the memory of those words she had heard within.

Thinking about Professor Digbury led her to thinking about her education in general, especially Biology, and the question asked by Keith in their conversation the week before. Her favorite professor, Clarke, had been an avowed atheist, and she recalled how often she liked to think of him together with Professor Digbury in a boxing ring, punching it out over the True Nature of the Universe. Although she never had been able to determine exactly where Digbury had stood in relation to all that history he lectured about; it was Clarke who left no room for doubt. Even now she tried to convince herself that the three words she’d heard had been whispered by Professor Clarke, or at least that her subconscious had whispered these words as an enactment of what she thought he would say, had he actually been present to hear her reciting the creed.

So it was because of this as well as Keith’s question earlier in the week that Diana found herself revisiting the tired dilemma of whether she believed in evolution or God. The rest of her time with the catechumens that Sunday was more or less a backdrop for these thoughts, and as she drove away from church she resolved to take it up in her diary as soon as she got home.

It isn’t an issue of whether men can be descended from apes – certainly if Genesis can have men created out of dust, the descent from animals would be a much less drastic step. The real issue is the randomness of it all. Darwin’s theory describes an arbitrary universe determined by natural selection – the key word being ‘arbitrary’. Random. That’s what life is. The theory works, and it flies in the face of any notion of God. At least as Professor Clarke explained the theory, and I can admit to myself now that I was completely persuaded when I studied it in school, and remain so today. God is will, purpose, and determination, and if His universe had once been defined on those terms, the universe has now been demonstrated to have arisen as the result of wholly arbitrary forces – mankind included. It hasn’t been designed by intelligence at all, unless of course we are referring to the developing intelligence of already existent beings, which alter their environment according to their needs, as best they can. For people in ignorance it might make a kind of sense to explain events according to God’s will, but to explain something as God’s will when all evidence points to the contrary is a charade.

Even though we didn’t pursue it when we met for coffee earlier this week, my meeting with Keith somehow confirms all this. I’m simply not on the same wavelength with the others at church, and I’m glad that I’ve kept it almost completely to myself. What happened in church this morning seals it: I am more and more uncomfortable with the idea of actually becoming Catholic. Now that I think about it, I must even admit that I started going to church in defiance of Professor Clarke’s denunciations of religious belief. ‘Intellectual Suicide,’ is what he called modern attempts to turn back the tide of scientific revelation, especially attempts to believe in God. ‘Willful ignorance,’ is something else he called it, and I think that because of my preoccupation with suicide – both my father’s and the urge to go through with it myself – I’ve been willfully ignoring what I really believe to be true. Suicide might be a noble last step taken in keeping with traditional values. ‘A Good Death,’ I think some call it, made in order to refuse a bad life. Or it might be the worst outcome of a bad case of depression, or maybe a bit of both, as I think it was with my father. A chemical imbalance of some kind, which hopefully doctors will get better at treating. I think my own problem is primarily disappointment, beginning with dad’s suicide. I don’t think I’m chronically depressed, and if I can face up to the fact that my dad was, but that I’m not my father, there’s no reason for me to commit suicide myself, actually or intellectually. All that business I wrote last month about an inverted free will sounds a little forced to me now. Ridiculous, actually.

What doesn’t seem crazy to me now is what did seem crazy to me this morning in church. Sitting there with all the others I heard my conscience tell me very simply to leave. Because I don’t really believe in God. Not really. Much less ‘in the resurrection of the dead,’ as in the words we recited this morning. As for the virgin birth, it simply isn’t possible. It’s not a question of being agnostic about this or that – I just can’t say I believe in these things when I really don’t. I’d even go further and say that I believe they are not true. I’m sure they have values as symbols of hope or something like that, but at that point I feel that I have to lie to myself in order to continue. The church itself can certainly be a force for good, I think, but that isn’t what I am being asked to have faith in. Up until now I’ve failed to face up to this because I like the way the church has stood its moral ground, especially on suicide. But I don’t have to commit intellectual suicide just because I don’t want to commit actual suicide. I’m free to refuse both, and though I hesitate to put it in these terms, I feel a kind of moral obligation to do so.

And with that she closed her diary, wondering only how she could best extricate herself from wheels she herself had set in motion more than a year ago, Easter now being just a few weeks away. She decided that she would feel most comfortable talking to Father Adamowicz in the context of her first confession. Once she had made herself perfectly clear to him it would be a relatively easy thing to inform Martha of her decision. She thought almost nothing of Susan, Keith, and others connected to church, and resolved to call the rectory first thing Monday morning.

Comments

  1. As a minister once said at a service I went to, you don't have to believe to come to church. You certainly don't have to believe in the God of the bible.

    It interested me that on a panel show on TV last night two mainstream polticians – one a government minister – used the word 'barmy' to describe creationism. Presumably they wouldn't have felt comfortable doing thatin the US.

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