Believers and Nonbelievers in the
Who are Better Off?
by Raymond Fontaine, Ph.D. - August 2005
Greetings, my friend. Thanks for your e-mail about spiritual souls. You agreed with me that spiritual things, being immaterial, cannot be observed and proven to be true, But then you added: by the same token nor can they be proven wrong. So, you asked: why not accept them as true if they provide comfort, inspiration and happiness? What's wrong with that?
I could simply answer that I think it's wrong because I don't think it's true. But surely, you expect and deserve a more thoughtful reply. I provided a lengthy one in my autobiography entitled My Life with God in and out of the Church which you admittedly read. To refresh your memory, let me summarize the pertinent pages for today's discussion.
While in the Church, I believed as true whatever the Church taught about the supernatural - just as you did. We shared the same life dominated by God as revealed by Jesus according to the Church. Every year in church, we celebrated the birth of Jesus, his resurrection from the dead, and his ascension into heaven. On November 1, we celebrated the feast of all saints, joining them in glorifying God. That was nice.
Almost every day, you and I celebrated Mass, reputedly changing bread into the living body of Christ and sharing it with thousands of communicants. That too was nice.
In the pulpit, we preached the words of Jesus and recalled his miracles while praying for his help in difficult times. That also felt good.
Thus participating in the priesthood of Christ exhilarated us, giving us strength and satisfaction and happiness. All that was very good. We shared it for many years.
You believed the Church's teaching about supernatural persons, things and places throughout your life. In fact you became the chief defender of the Church's teaching. Pope Paul 6 made you a cardinal in 1977. Then in 1981 Pope John Paul 2 chose you to head the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Finally this year, you rose to the pinnacle of the Catholic hierarchy. You became Pope, the head of the Catholic Church, the personification of the Church whose teaching is replete with the supernatural. From childhood to papacy, you remained steadfast believing the teaching of the Church without wavering.
Unlike you, in midlife I began to question the teaching of the Church. During five years, I considered the suffering caused by the Church's doctrines and regulations. I also reviewed the crimes of the Church in the middle ages. Eventually, I no longer believed in the Church nor in its supernatural doctrines.
Between these two opposing stages in my life (that of belief and that of nonbelief in the supernatural) there was a stage of transition and metamorphosis. These three stages reminded me of the three periods in the life of a butterfly. It starts off as a caterpillar, develops into a larva enclosed in a cocoon, and becomes a butterfly.
So it was with me. Above I spoke about my life when, like you, I believed in the supernatural as taught by the Church. In this e-mail I will not discuss the intermediary period of metamorphosis. It's not the issue of today's discussion which contrasts only the first and the last periods of my life: that of belief and that of nonbelief in the supernatural.
My life as a nonbeliever began after I left the Church and rejected its teachings about God and his reputed revelation of supernatural events and entities. I got my new vision of God from nature which I can observe through my senses and reflect upon with my reason. Nature reveals designs in its structure and forces. These can be observed by all humans on the surface and by scientists at greater depth. For example, the scientists James Watson and Francis Crick discovered the design of DNA. More and more scientists, like Einstein, agree that the designs in nature show supreme Intelligence at work. Is it eternal; does it intervene in the normal course of nature; is it influenced by the prayers of humans; and a thousands other questions have no answer in nature.
Whatever else humans say about the Intelligence evident in nature's designs is the product of their imagination. Three millenniums ago humans imagined that a multitude of gods and goddesses controlled the forces of nature. Later this entire collection of gods and goddesses was replaced by one God who reputedly revealed a lot of spiritual entities. But just as the earlier gods and goddesses varied for different people, so now the reputed revelations of God differed among the races: the Jews held their version of divine revelations; the Christians had a different view of God's revelation; and the Moslems held another opinion. Moreover, among each group, the interpretation of God's revelation differed greatly from place to place and from person to person. This kaleidoscope of interpretations of divine revelation, as contained in the Bible, the Gospels, and the Koran, intimates that they did not come from God but from human imagination.
No longer believing in any supernatural revelation from God but believing only in the Intelligence revealed in nature, my vision of the world has become simple: a supreme Intelligence exists. It does not intervene in the normal course of nature which includes humans. Creatures must exploit their own resources, dependent upon its environment which in turn must be carefully conserved.
The Intelligence that is revealed in nature does not need nor require worship from me nor from anyone else. Now and then I think of that Intelligence's wondrous works, so beneficial to me ad others. This thought prompts emotions of amazement and gratitude.
I don't believe that the Intelligence revealed in nature intervenes in its normal course. I know, however, that I must exploit my resources with the help of the environment, remembering all the while that all humans must do likewise.
Surrounded by the wonders of nature such as flowers and trees. animals and fish, insects and birds, I don't need cathedrals and churches in which to worship Nature's Intelligence.
Nor do I need a congregation of worshippers at my side. Smelling the roses in my garden and admiring the glorious sunsets and marveling at the infinitesimal structure of the human body, I can manage by myself to thank Nature's Designer.
In conclusion, after I discarded the fanciful teaching of the Church, I focused entirely on God as revealed in nature's designs. I now spend my time helping others: first my paralyzed wife and then others as I can.
Now approaching ninety, I am passing along my vision of Nature's God, as Thomas Jefferson calls him in the Declaration of Independence. He was speaking of independence from the tyranny of Great Britain. In my writings now, I am speaking of independence from all institutions promoting supernatural revelations.
I am surely better off without any of them as would be everyone who discards them - so I think. What I think, however, doesn't matter beans. But what you think, as Pope, matters a great deal to a billion precious souls. Following your lead, they believe, as you do, that they are better off believing in the supernatural. You could change all that with a simple pronouncement: "the supernatural does not exist except the supreme Intelligence revealed in nature's designs."
I understand if you don't dash their dreams in one fell swoop. Eventually, however, perhaps in a thousand more years, the whole world will have discarded all interpretations of supernatural revelations of God, just as the Greeks and the Romans and others stopped believing that Nature's forces are governed by a slew of fanciful gods and goddesses.
Regardless of our different opinions about the supernatural, I would like to continue our discussions about issues that concern us both. If you agree, you need not answer. Adios, my friend. Ray. To return to the list of e-mails, click here.