Having smart people around you who don’t share your assumptions is awesome for personal growth, but terrible for a sense of certainty. In conversation after conversation, beliefs that I thought were bedrock were eroded away. It was a very gradual process, almost like the reverse of stalagmites in a cave; with every drop, a small bit of certainty melted.
The ordinary Catholic defense – “these poor unbelievers will go to Hell” – just wasn’t cutting it. I liked these people, and even more than that, I respected them. Some of them operated with a hell of lot more moral consistency than certain Catholics I knew. Why should they be out of the salvation club if they were good people, just not Catholic? The notion offended my sense of what was right.
It didn’t help that I was starting to really focus on studying medieval history. The Middle Ages was the last period of complete Catholic supremacy in the West, and…wow. Those were not the people you wanted running the show. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that the Catholic Church governed any worse than anyone else, but they sure as hell didn’t run things any better. For me, that was really the end. These people weren’t any better than anyone else. So why should I listen to them when they said they were?
Well, my parents might have told me (had I asked them) that I should be listening to God; that it wasn’t about His flawed instruments (i.e. people), it was about God’s will.
Have you ever heard God?
Like, for real.
Not “I wonder if that idea that flashed into my head came from God” or “I think that dream was a message from Our Lord” or “I just felt peace and the presence of something holy” or anything like that. No, I’m talking Gideon putting wool fleece on the threshing floor, TWICE, and saying, “Ball’s in your court, God, time to prove this is real.” According to the Old Testament, God did what Gideon asked – first time, the fleece was wet with dew and the ground was dry; second time, the fleece was dry and the ground was wet with dew.
Don’t try this yourself, if you want to stay a happy Catholic.
I was no longer a happy Catholic.