Staying Sane: A Good Reason to be Catholic

A few weeks ago I saw a bumper sticker that made me laugh and it reminded me why I am Catholic. It said, “Honk if you don’t exist.”  If I am not mistaken, the bumper sticker was meant to teach one of the central tenets of Buddhism – the anatta doctrine, or the doctrine of “no self.”  This Buddhist doctrine teaches that “I” don’t exist, or at the very least, that “I” ought not to worry about whether or not “I” exist.  Needless to say, I found it extremely ironic and somewhat amusing to think that someone would honk in order to signal their conviction that they are not there.  It’s as if they were saying, “Look, look at me! Here I am, Not!”

Outside the classical Judeo-Christian tradition, philosophical silliness like this occurs with astonishing frequency. The atheist philosopher Alex Rosenberg (professor at Duke University) has gone on record, publically, many times, arguing that there is no such thing as thinking.  Thinking, he thinks, is an illusion. In one well-known essay of about 4,000 words (“The Disenchanted Naturalist’s Guide to Reality”), Rosenberg argues that there are no words, no sentences, and no meaningful arguments. (And yet, Rosenberg continues to make arguments, write words, and express both incredulity and moral indignation at those who disagree with him.)

We could easily make a rather long list of this kind of thing. Bishop Berkeley (1685-1753) famously argued that there are no material objects. (Samuel Johnson refuted him by kicking a stone.)  David Hume (1711-1776) thought it more sensible to believe that things pop into existence without a cause than to believe in cause-and-effect.  I once met a modern gender theorist who stared a beautiful woman in the face and refused to acknowledge that she was female. Tragically, these kinds of mistakes have real-world, moral consequences.  Modern “ethicists,” like Peter Singer, rely on them to justify barbarism unprintable in a Catholic paper.

In the face of such absurdity, I reflect frequently on the good sense in being Catholic. Catholicism is, above all, a message about our eternal destiny and the way of salvation. But unlike the nihilistic or world-denying philosophy of the East, Catholicism offers you eternity and affirms the goodness of the material world as well.  Along with Buddhists, materialists, and idealists, Catholics acknowledge that that material world on its own is rather hard to explain.  But unlike some philosophers, Catholics affirm that language, meaning, minds, intelligence, and matter really do exist.  They just don’t exist on their own. We find their meaning in light of the unchanging, immaterial reality of God himself.

The Buddhists, nihilists, and absurdists do make one good point. Life without God is absurd.  To live like our pleasures, our bank accounts, or our reputations really matter in some ultimate way is to chase a fantasy. None of these things – on their own – have any eternal significance or any meaning worth pursuing. But Catholicism finds their meaning in light of eternity.  Catholic faith sees clearly what every Buddhist or absurdist sees dimly. You shouldn’t live for the things of this world, not because they don’t exist, but because they exist in dependence on God.  They derive their meaning from their relationship to the Creator.

Jesus made the point long ago:

 Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? . . .  But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:25-33)

Catholicism does teach many things that cannot be known directly by human reason. Reason cannot discover on its own that God is triune, or that Christ is fully God and fully man, or that the Eucharist really is the body and blood of Christ. But it is remarkable that those who affirm these mysteries of faith are marvelously prepared to resist the absurdities and the irrationality that often accompany unbelief.  Those who believe God on the hardest doctrines find it an easy thing to believe in the evident facts of common sense. Those who doubt God end up doubting even that they exist.

6 thoughts on “Staying Sane: A Good Reason to be Catholic

  1. Al winfrey - December 9, 2015

    hello Dr. Anders!
    As a stroke victim I used to think in near despair that a day with ideas like those you have expressed was a harbinger of just another rough one which required a glass or two of wine to give a place to hide for a while. Now your comments have challenged me to drink coffee instead and read scriptures with a new perspective on reality and see what sorts of conclusions I can come to using what remains available from my former mentality. Hope that the designer takes all that into consideration on my last day! I only seek the truth and his eternal love.

  2. Joel Jantzen - November 9, 2015

    Hi Dr Anders,
    I was trying to find your email to contact you but I couldn’t seem to find it, so i hope you find this message on the forum. Context: I’m a former calvinist but still protestant who’s been drawn to study catholic tradition over the past year, something i would have never done beforehand its still drawing me. The question i’d like any input on is about my own tradition and frustrations that I’ve been having with how we try to brush over historical doctrine and creeds pretending like they mean similar things that we do in our modern protestant churches.I listened to a sermon today where the Pastor was going through the Apostles Creed explaining the section stating “I believe in the Holy Catholic Church, the communion of saints”. He explained the Holy Catholic church to simply mean the invisible universal church, and the communion of saints to be the sort of “communion” or “fellowship” we would have with other believers. It’s difficult for me since i’ve grown up protestant and have lately seen so many inconsistencies regarding these sorts of explanations. I doubt the writers of the creed and those at the councils would have described the Holy Catholic church and communion of saints as an etherial body of believers that has no visibility whatsoever. Could i get some more input on this?, am i on the right track?

  3. Kevin Williams - July 15, 2015

    Oh, My favorite bumper sticker (Its got to make people think about God) “The Lord is Coming…LOOK Busy!” 😉

  4. Kevin Williams - July 15, 2015

    “Those who doubt God end up doubting even that they exist.” “The fool has said in his heart, “There is no God.” And the underlying reason for that denial: “Why do the wicked renounce God? He has said in his heart “You will not require an account.” Psalm 10:13

  5. Michelle Catling - May 2, 2015

    Thank you for your article.

  6. Scott Miller - May 2, 2015

    “…those who affirm these mysteries of faith are marvelously prepared to resist the absurdities and the irrationality that often accompany unbelief.” – PRICELESS!!!

    After 43 years of abject atheism/apatheism, through these “mysteries of faith,” I’ve finally found THE unifying theory of reason that exists in the objective reality of our space-less, timeless, immaterial, powerful and personal creator!

    Thanks for your commitment to your readership!


    P.S. – I always chuckle at the bumper sticker that reads, “Apathy is a real problem in the world…, but who cares!?” lol

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