This is not your grandmother. This is a guy who lived a pretty squalid life for a while and then, through the secretive, inner workings of God, alongside a fair amount of philosophical probing, came to embrace an entirely new mode of roaming the earth, one that is far more eurythmic with how life, I believe, is objectively meant to be lived, and still sensational, still fun. No, I didn’t discover nirvana (though I did try, once). Rather, at the age of twenty-eight, I became Catholic.
With a background in philosophy, influenced heavily by those garrulous old atheists, I spent a substantial proportion of life thinking existence was absurd. So, I lived however I wanted. I wasn’t a heroin addict, and I didn’t rob banks. But I was pretty selfish and gross. I didn’t like to share. I didn’t like to give. I was a hedonist. (Once, I made liberal enjoyment of multiple free samples at the health food store, knowing this was against policy, and didn’t propose to tell anyone what I had done.).
But then that worldview collapsed like a cheap, cardboard house. I realized at some point that atheism—specifically metaphysical naturalism—doesn’t work. My adopted physicalist worldview simply couldn’t account for all those things in life in need of accounting: consciousness, morality, and being itself. So, I came to reject it, and in doing so, realized I was left with only one alternative. Maybe God does exist.
I investigated the matter for some time and came to conclude that this was the case. Mostly because there is this weird paradox about reality. Virtually all the things we experience have conditions or causes to explain why they’re around—like me, or you, or pieces of paper or fungal spores, or zucchini. But reality in total (whatever that is) can’t be like this, because nothing could be outside “reality in total” (again, whatever that is) to fulfill the conditions of its existence. So, if we didn’t know better, we’d have to conclude nothing ever actually existed, since nothing could be outside the totality of reality to make it so. But things do exist. So, what in God’s name is going on here? It seems the only way out of this logical quicksand is to concede that reality is self-sufficient in some way, or that there is some part, or layer, or foundation of reality that exists in a radically different sense than most of what we experience; that exists because it has to exist (like 2 + 2 has to = 4); that has a nature which could not fail to be, and so explains why anything else exists apart from it. Philosophers from long ago and up to today, from Plato to Aristotle, Aquinas to Liebniz, have all reached the conclusion from various angles to the question of why there is something rather than nothing. The answer, in short, is because there must be some noncontingent ground of being; a permanent, foundational, and conscious wellspring from which all the rest of reality billows forth. And that, we know to be God.
But the point of this article is not to convince you of God’s existence, or even God’s nature, nor that Jesus Christ was (and is) his only Son, which I believe he is. I have written quite a bit on how, after years of skeptical inquiry, I became convinced of these conclusions in other places, at other times. But these principal truths, of course, are the first and necessary response to the question of why any person should go to church. Because it’s true. Because God exists, because God has revealed himself, and because God wants a relationship with us and has set up a Church specifically for that reason. That is why I became Catholic. That is why I go to church, and would continue to go to church, even if I hated it. I go because God wants me to.
But what other reason is there? (As if we should need another reason.)
Well, how about this: going to church is good for you.
Living a life of religious commitment, it would seem, according to the research, is one of the healthiest, smartest things a person can pursue in life. A person who has more religion and spirituality in their lives, has, simply put, more happiness, more hope, more robust, physical health, along with significantly less risk of substance abuse, anxiety, depression, suicide, hypertension, and cancer. So, that.
Okay, so far, here are our reasons. You should go to church because 1) it’s true, and because 2) it’s good for you.
The final reason?
Because it’s beautiful.
The friendships, the community, the music. The pastoral counsel. And communion. The sharing in life’s countless, successive triumphs and tragedies with people who hold the same—or at least very similar—commitments. The shoulders to cry on. The baptism of babies, signifying just how wonderful and munificent are God’s gifts to us. The devotions, the ministries, and, of course, the prayers. The stained glass. The incense and the statues. The sights, the sounds. Our religion is a religion of the senses—a religion of handshakes, peculiar smells, and genuflection—because God gave us senses and wants us to use them, apparently.
In other words, you should go church even if you hated it. But chances are you won’t hate it, at least not once you understand it. Chances are you’ll find going to church not only true and not only good, but beautiful. Chances are it’ll change your life. And, if no other reason, it would make your grandmother proud.