Perhaps the post title is too harsh. After all, what Catholic doesn't struggle at times with doubts about what he believes or what the Church teaches? Despite my icy, detached demeanor and unblinking, searing stare (not to mention my granite jaw and cat-like reflexes), I'm actually sympathetic to that fact. But I think it also behooves us, as Catholics, to give the benefit of the doubt to the Church and let her have a say before going down paths that seem reasonable but don't really stand up to closer inspection.
For example, I was recently sent an essay written by a Catholic—I'll call him "RM" for the moment—trying to grapple with defending the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. RM's essay was penned as a response of sorts to the scoffings of Bill Maher, the former Catholic turned mocking atheist. RM wrote this of his defense of the Catholic belief in "the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come":
I referred to that belief as a central tenet of Christian faith, and so it is. But it is also something that we Christians take on faith. It is not based on scientific evidence.
In other words, we could be wrong about this belief, as we could be wrong about the Resurrection of Christ, which is the basis of our belief in the resurrection of the dead.
Religious people do not like to be told that they cannot claim certitude for their beliefs. While faith does accord a certain kind of religious certitude, it is not human certitude in the sense that we conventionally understand the concept.
Thus, when a person dies, we often say, to comfort the bereaved, that the individual is now reunited with a spouse, for example, who preceded her or him in death.
But do we have any basis, apart from our faith, to say such a thing? Faith may be sufficient for people who are religious, but we need to realize -- and admit to ourselves, if not to others -- that we do not really know whether our words correspond to reality.
The problem is that while RM is obviously trying to stand up for Catholic doctrine as best he can, he manages to undermine that very doctrine in the process—to the point that a reader might reasonably say, "Why bother being a Catholic if what I have to believe has no rational basis and what the Catholic Church says about Doctrine A or Doctrine B cannot even be really trusted?" Thankfully, RM's approach can be rectified through a better understanding of what the Church actually teaches about the Resurrection, faith, and the relationship between human words and truth. Let's compare three of RM's statements with what the Church says about the same topics:
1. "But it is also something that we Christians take on faith. It is not based on scientific evidence." This is partially correct, but barely so. Yes, belief in the Resurrection absolutely involves faith, but RM's statement provides a stark and misleading contrast between "faith" and "scientific evidence", as if, first, the two have little to do with one another and, secondly, as if "scientific evidence" is the only type of evidence allowed or of value in such matters. As Michael R. Licona notes in his impressive book, The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach (IVP, 2010), "When writing on the resurrection of Jesus, biblical scholars are engaged in historical research" (pp. 18-19; emphasis added). This research is not, strictly speaking, the same as historical research, although (speaking less strictly) there might be some similarities and overlap.
Put in another way, belief in the Resurrection is not something contrary to reason or evidence, even as it goes beyond our comprehension. It is based on the witness and testimony of the first Christians, rooted in historical events, as the Catechism notes:
The Resurrection of Jesus is the crowning truth of our faith in Christ, a faith believed and lived as the central truth by the first Christian community; handed on as fundamental by Tradition; established by the documents of the New Testament; and preached as an essential part of the Paschal mystery along with the cross...
Everything that happened during those Paschal days involves each of the apostles - and Peter in particular - in the building of the new era begun on Easter morning. As witnesses of the Risen One, they remain the foundation stones of his Church. The faith of the first community of believers is based on the witness of concrete men known to the Christians and for the most part still living among them. Peter and the Twelve are the primary "witnesses to his Resurrection", but they are not the only ones - Paul speaks clearly of more than five hundred persons to whom Jesus appeared on a single occasion and also of James and of all the apostles.
Given all these testimonies, Christ's Resurrection cannot be interpreted as something outside the physical order, and it is impossible not to acknowledge it as an historical fact. It is clear from the facts that the disciples' faith was drastically put to the test by their master's Passion and death on the cross, which he had foretold. The shock provoked by the Passion was so great that at least some of the disciples did not at once believe in the news of the Resurrection. Far from showing us a community seized by a mystical exaltation, the Gospels present us with disciples demoralized ("looking sad") and frightened. For they had not believed the holy women returning from the tomb and had regarded their words as an "idle tale". When Jesus reveals himself to the Eleven on Easter evening, "he upbraided them for their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen."
Even when faced with the reality of the risen Jesus the disciples are still doubtful, so impossible did the thing seem: they thought they were seeing a ghost. "In their joy they were still disbelieving and still wondering." Thomas will also experience the test of doubt and St. Matthew relates that during the risen Lord's last appearance in Galilee "some doubted." Therefore the hypothesis that the Resurrection was produced by the apostles' faith (or credulity) will not hold up. On the contrary their faith in the Resurrection was born, under the action of divine grace, from their direct experience of the reality of the risen Jesus. (pars. 638, 642-44; emphasis added)
There is a vast amount of literature written by Catholics and other Christians about the historical evidence and related matters. Licona's book is scholarly and exhaustive (700+ pages); a shorter and more accessible place to begin is "The Ressurection" (pp. 186-210) in Handbook of Catholic Apologetics (Ignatius Press, 2009) by Peter J. Kreeft and Ronald K. Tacelli. The key point here is that the Christian need not—and should not!—simply say, "Hey, it's really just a matter of faith; I can't say anymore than that." Bigk big mistake, but quite common, unfortunately.
2. "While faith does accord a certain kind of religious certitude, it is not human certitude in the sense that we conventionally understand the concept." The problem here is that RM tosses out the terms "religious certitude" and "human certitude" as if their respective identities are well-known and clearly established, and as if "religious certitude" is itself not a type of certitude acknowledged and embraced by humans. In other words, "Huh?" Again, he seems to have far more trust in a scientific or materialist approach than in the reasonable nature of faith. After all, "Trusting in God and cleaving to the truths he has revealed is contrary neither to human freedom nor to human reason" (CCC, par. 154). Or, in the words of the fathers of the First Vatican Council: "Though faith is above reason, there can never be any real discrepancy between faith and reason. Since the same God who reveals mysteries and infuses faith has bestowed the light of reason on the human mind, God cannot deny himself, nor can truth ever contradict truth" (Dei Filius 4; CCC, par. 159).
Besides, there are plenty of things that everyone accepts as true or reasonable without recourse to "scientific" evidence. "The objective world," noted Fr. Thomas Dubay in Faith and Certitude (Ignatius Press, 1985), "begets certitude in the normal knower. ... Our contention here is that certitude fundamentally arises from a person's basic yes to reality and to mind." It is true that faith goes above, or beyond, what can be scientifically proven. And to the degree that this is what RM is referring to, he is correct. But his entire approach seems predicated on the notion that faith is irrational. Actually, it is worse than that, as we see in this last point:
3. "But do we have any basis, apart from our faith, to say such a thing? Faith may be sufficient for people who are religious, but we need to realize -- and admit to ourselves, if not to others -- that we do not really know whether our words correspond to reality." This is an astounding statement for a Catholic—especially for a Catholic seeking, in some way or another, to defend Catholic doctrine. After all, if we can't really know that our words correspond to reality, we cannot even begin to approach and consider reality, nor can we have a real conversation about what is, nevermind why it is and how it is. This statement betrays a serious lack of foundational philosophical study, not to mention a basic failure of common sense.
The Catholic position, as articulated in the Catechism, is that we can know reality and we can express true statements about reality. For example, while "human words always fall short of the mystery of God", they can in fact be accurate and true:
Admittedly, in speaking about God like this, our language is using human modes of expression; nevertheless it really does attain to God himself, though unable to express him in his infinite simplicity. Likewise, we must recall that "between Creator and creature no similitude can be expressed without implying an even greater dissimilitude"; and that "concerning God, we cannot grasp what he is, but only what he is not, and how other beings stand in relation to him."(CCC, pars 42-43)
Pope John Paul II directly addressed this issue in Fides et ratio (1998), writing:
A philosophy denying the possibility of an ultimate and overarching meaning would be not only ill-adapted to its task, but false.
Yet this sapiential function could not be performed by a philosophy which was not itself a true and authentic knowledge, addressed, that is, not only to particular and subordinate aspects of reality—functional, formal or utilitarian—but to its total and definitive truth, to the very being of the object which is known. This prompts a second requirement: that philosophy verify the human capacity to know the truth, to come to a knowledge which can reach objective truth by means of that adaequatio rei et intellectus to which the Scholastic Doctors referred. (pars 82-3)
He then quoted from Gaudium et spes, which states:
Still he [man] has always searched for more penetrating truths, and finds them. For his intelligence is not confined to observable data alone, but can with genuine certitude attain to reality itself as knowable, though in consequence of sin that certitude is partly obscured and weakened. (par. 15)
Finally, it's curious that RM goes on to say, "Critics like Bill Maher do not believe that this affirmation of faith is based in reality, which is why he is now an atheist. He does not disparage people of faith, as other atheists do, only those who are too sure of themselves and look down their noses at those who do not share their beliefs." I say "curous" because the words "Maher" and "disparage" have been carrying on a torrid love affair for years and because RM, after stating that "we do not really know whether our words correspond to reality" is here quite certain that Bill Maher's words correspond to reality and accurately convey it. Weird.
It's almost as though RM has more respect for (and knowledge of) the complaints of a raging atheist than he does for the teachings of the Catholic Church.
But, hey, what did you expect from Father Richard McBrien, the Crowley-O’Brien Professor of Theology at the University of Notre Dame and theological expert at National "Catholic" Reporter?