I Believe in Questions; or, Why I Joined the Faith and Fiction Roundtable

I was honestly a bit surprised when my application to join the 2011 Faith and Fiction Roundtable was accepted. After all, Amy has heard me call myself a heathen. But she’s also heard me – sometimes, still – call myself a Catholic, although it’s been a while since I’ve been active in the Church where I was raised. However, I’ve found that you can take the girl out of the Church but you can’t take the Church out of the girl, and my spiritual questioning continues to be filtered through that perspective. I’ve known people who call themselves Jewish, but it’s a matter of cultural tradition rather than religious practice for them – they might observe the High Holy Days, but maybe not even that. I suppose I identify as a cultural but non-religious Catholic, although I don’t think there’s a name for that.

I think I’ve attended church about a dozen times during the nine years since I moved to California, and at least half of those times have been connected with a family event (baptism, First Communion, funeral) and not simply going to Mass. And while I probably won’t get ashes on the appropriate Wednesday, I still give up something for Lent every year; on March 9, just over two weeks from now, I’ll give up buying books until Easter. (This truly is a sacrifice, folks.) I have significant disagreements with church teachings and practices in a lot of areas, and while I do appreciate that the church does some good in the world (yes, seriously), I can’t make peace with taking what I like and ignoring the rest…and so I question.

The questioning has gone on for a long time, despite years of Catholic education. Maybe it’s gone on partly because of years of Catholic education. Maybe it’s gone on because my Catholic education took place during the decade or so following Vatican II, a period when a lot of Catholics were questioning a lot of things.

The Faith and Fiction Roundtable is one of the ways I’m exploring the questions this year. Most of the other group members seem to believe differently than I do, and to be much better grounded in traditional religious texts; for all my reading, I have never read much of the Bible beyond the chapters and verses in the Catholic lectionary – and I haven’t felt much need to remedy that, to be honest. Perhaps because I come from a tradition that interprets the Bible rather than takes it as literal, word-for-word truth, I tend to be a little more receptive of its teachings and themes when they’re presented in the context of other literature. The Roundtable’s reading list this year contains some of that, but it also explores a range of faith traditions via a mix of genres; if this were a “Christian fiction” reading group, I wouldn’t have been terribly interested. We’ll be reading and discussing these books:

Certain Women by Madeleine L’Engle (discussion 2/26) – general-market adult fiction with Biblical references and story elements

What Good is God? by Philip Yancey (discussion 4/30) – nonfiction about one journalist’s search to answer what might be the practical value of belief in God

A Canticle for Liebowitz by Walter Miller Jr. (discussion 6/11) – speculative/science fiction in a post-apocalyptic setting (and if it blends SF and religion in any way similar to The Sparrow, odds are that I’ll like it)

Small Town Sinners by Melissa Walker (discussion 8/11) – YA fiction featuring Evangelical characters from a general-market publisher

A Passage to India by E.M. Forster (discussion 9/24) – classic fiction featuring themes of class and religious conflicts in colonial India

Forbidden by Ted Dekker and Tosca Lee (discussion 11/12) – first in a new series, a futuristic thriller in which humans have lost all humanity

I told someone several years ago that I’d become more of a religious-studies person than a religious person, and I think that still holds true. The truth is that I like the questioning. I like exploring the variety of possible answers to the questions, and not feeling that only one of them can be – must be – the right one. I’m OK with the uncertainty. As the magnet I was given by author Hope Edelman to promote her last book says, “I believe in the possibility of everything” – at least, I’d like to believe in the possibility of a lot of things. And I want to keep finding opportunities to learn about the things people believe…and about how and why they sometimes change what they believe. But at this stage, I don’t believe I want to settle rigidly into any particular belief system; I believe I’ll keep exploring, and questioning, and sometimes – still – calling myself a Catholic, because I also believe it helps to start from some belief.

This post was inspired by BlogHer.com’s year-long, conversation-changing Own Your Beauty project and its February theme, Spirituality.

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