February 13, 2009

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Basic Catholicism: ‘We believe in one God’

John F. Fink(First in a series of columns)

It should be obvious that Catholics believe in God.

In this, of course, we are hardly a minority, at least in the United States, because polls show consistently that more than nine out of 10 Americans share that belief. In fact, a 2008 study by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life revealed that only 1.6 percent of Americans are atheists, and only 2.4 percent call themselves agnostics.

Belief in God is also shared by most of the people in the history of the world—the ancient Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, Orientals, Arabs, inhabitants of the New World discovered by Columbus, and those in Indonesia. Although atheism is making inroads in Western Europe, most people in the rest of the world believe in God. We believe that, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church says, “The desire for God is written in the human heart, because man is created by God and for God” (#7).

Unlike the ancients, though, Catholics join with Jews, Muslims and other Christians to profess belief in one God. Our Creed, which we recite at Mass on Sundays, begins, “We believe in one God.”

In this, we differ from the Hindus, for example, who worship many gods. We believe in only one God because God himself has revealed himself to us that he is only one. Therefore, what Catholics believe about God comes from both reason and revelation.

Can we prove that God exists? Not in a way that modern science would accept because no one can produce God and say, “There he is.” But theologians have produced convincing arguments for his existence. St. Thomas Aquinas in the 13th century offered five proofs, but they are a bit technical and I will bypass summarizing them. For most people, though, the order, harmony and beauty of the world are reason enough to believe in an intelligent Creator.

We believe that God is eternal—he always was and always will be; he had no beginning and will have no end. He is almighty, omnipotent, meaning that he can do everything that isn’t contradictory (like making a square circle). He is omniscient, all-knowing. He is perfect goodness and, as St. John’s Gospel tells us, he is love.

St. Anselm defined God in his Prologion as “a being than whom nothing greater can be conceived.” And God himself revealed himself to Moses in the Bible’s Book of Exodus as “I am who am” (Ex 3:14).

Some people might say, “OK, I believe that God exists and even that he created the world, but then he left us all to our own devices.” These people are called Deists and many of the Founding Fathers of this country believed in Deism.

Catholics do not. We believe in a personal God who loves each one of us and wants what is best for us. That is why we can, and must, pray to God with prayers of adoration, praise, petition, thanksgiving, intercession and contrition.

Catholics, along with most other Christians, believe strongly in the power of prayer. †

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