When I first started going to the Holy Land, I was surprised to hear the term “Jewish atheists.” I just couldn’t figure that one out. For me, “Jewish” denoted a religion, and if you are religious, you aren’t an atheist. Then I learned that, for those who call themselves such, they consider themselves culturally and ethnically Jewish, but do not believe in God, and do not practice a religion. For us, of course, that would be impossible. We are either Catholics or atheists, right? While on one level, it is true that the two terms are mutually exclusive, on another, I think it may be very possible. In fact, I find myself acting as such more often than I would care to admit. When I am honest—even though I think I truly believe in God—I find myself acting as if I don’t. I depend on myself rather than on God. And every time that I do this, I end up hurting myself.
In this weekend’s first reading we hear about the first sin: Eve is tempted by the devil, tempted to eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. I think her real sin, though, was that she doubted God’s love for her; she became convinced that God did not want the best for her. God wanted to keep her from knowing, keep her from having wisdom. And so she ate, and Adam—who, of course, hadn’t even tried to stop her—ate with her. And they knew they were naked. Some scholars who study this say what this is communicating is that before they ate the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of Good and Evil, they had been clothed with the glory of God. Once they ate of the tree, they were alienated from God, they lost his protective
covering, so to speak, and now they realized how vulnerable they were. And then when God came into the garden, they hid from him, because they didn’t think that God loved them anymore.
How many times have I doubted that God didn’t love me enough to want the very best for me? I’m afraid that, if I’m honest, far more times than I would care to admit. I say I’m a Catholic, a man of faith, a man of the Church. My actions, at times, betray the fact that I doubt—that sometimes I act as if I were a Catholic atheist. As we begin our Lenten journey this year, I invite you to look deeply at your faith, and see where your actions might not measure up.
For the season of Lent, we’ll be talking about this phenomena in a homily series called “Catholic Atheists” – a term for those who know and believe in God – but live their lives as if they don’t.