If I had known the way the evening would turn out, I would not have gone on a blind date with an atheist. But in many ways that would have been a shame, because my attempt at romance with a former Catholic turned aggressive secularist probably taught me more about myself than anything else that happened to me in 2015.
I had been single for a while when, during a brief flurry on a dating site, I began chatting with a guy who just happened to have recently renounced his entire belief system.
We struck up a spirited conversation based around my continued faith and his utter despair at everything he once held sacred. Our discussions went on by email for days and, on the basis that any interest in faith was better than none, I decided that it couldn’t hurt to meet for dinner.
When I walked into the restaurant, I was delighted to find a handsome, well-dressed man sitting waiting for me. But after a few initial pleasantries, he got stuck in. He was as intrigued by me as I was by him. But whereas, broadly speaking, I didn’t mind about his lack of belief, he minded what I believed very much. Clearly, he had come on this date with the idea that he could talk me round.
Like most secularists I have met, my date was more dogmatic than any religionist and he became truly animated as he ranted about the failings of the Church.
It turned out that he had rejected his former faith because it had simply not delivered. God had not shown Himself, despite the fact that my date had done all the heavy lifting work and been ‘‘a good Catholic’’. Ah, say no more, I thought.
You see, I’m not a good Catholic. I’m a nostalgic Catholic. A Catholic who has nothing but fond memories of her convent-school upbringing. A Catholic who has stayed faithful to the spirit of the enterprise while not scrutinising the small print too carefully. A Catholic who wouldn’t dare receive Communion because she’s still frightened that the nuns would have her guts for garters if she did so without going to Confession.
I admit it: I’ve become a high days and holidays Catholic. I’ll go to midnight Mass but I won’t feel a sense of belonging strong enough to make me return the following week.
You can denounce that as sloppy. But give me this much: lapsed Catholics hardly ever turn against their faith. Because they wear their beliefs so lightly that they tend not to feel betrayed when things go pear-shaped.
Lapsed Catholics never ask the perennially pointless ‘‘Why do bad things happen?’’ question, which even the Archbishop of Canterbury succumbed to after the Paris attacks.
Lapsed Catholics fully expect the world to be a messed up, chaotic place where nearly everything goes wrong because, well, they are pretty chaotic themselves.
Lapsed Catholics are the most faithful, dependable kind of Catholic, because they are not rigid. I used to be afraid of flying until a pilot explained to me why the wings were wobbling. The wings have got to be flexible otherwise at some point, at high altitude and under turbulence, they are going to snap.
My date had obeyed every single doctrine to the letter, and yet there were still earthquakes in far-flung corners of the globe in which innocent people died, and his wife had still divorced him. So he snapped.
After half a lifetime of being a ‘‘good Catholic’’ he was entitled to expect God to stop family breakdown, sickness, wars, famines and medium-to-large flooding incidents, including (or possibly especially) in regions where he knew people.
I responded by arguing for a laissez-faire attitude to faith in which one cut oneself and God a bit of slack. After all, Jesus was a laid-back kind of guy. Upon which my atheist convert date became really furious and, very much by way of shutting me up indefinitely, shouted: ‘‘Jesus is dead!’’
I stared balefully down into my Moroccan lamb stew with couscous. ‘‘Well, that’s Christmas and Easter ruined then,’’ I said. ‘‘See that building over there?’’ he said, pointing to a pub across the road. I nodded. ‘‘And I see it too,’’ he said. ‘‘So it exists. There’s no argument about it.’’
‘‘Ye-es,’’ I said, pushing my food around my plate, ‘‘but you say God doesn’t exist and I say he does. So it’s 50-50 on that straw poll alone.’’
As we still had pudding to get through, I thought it best to move the conversation on to lighter matters. I started telling him about my pets, but when I mentioned that my dog knew when I was coming home, he got cross again. Turns out secularists don’t just eschew doctrine. They dislike any kind of psychic funny business.
‘‘I suppose you don’t want to hear about the time my horse recovered from an injury with the help of reiki then?’’
He was a science graduate. He told me that we processed the world entirely through our brains. ‘‘What about our souls?’’ I asked. He gave me a pitying look. ‘‘All right then, call it intuition.’’
‘‘Ha! You’ll be talking about energy next,’’ he said, chortling. Oh dear, I thought. I better not mention how I once had my chakras re-aligned. We ended up sitting in silence because there was absolutely nothing interesting to talk about once we had excluded all topics that potentially touched on the spiritual.
Everything I was most interested in quickly revealed itself to pertain to the unseen, and therefore was deemed irrelevant. It was a bit like lighting and re-lighting a flickering candle flame in the dark, as a hand repeatedly slammed down to extinguish it.
But as I sat there being extinguished, I had a lightbulb moment, for which I will be forever grateful. All right then, I thought to myself, if everything we can’t see doesn’t exist, why did either of us bother to come here this evening?
What about love? Where do our feelings and all the illogical things they make us do fit into a world where no credence is given to the invisible? If something as unscientific as romance exists, then I really don’t see how we can discount God.
I sent an email to say I didn’t think there was any point meeting again. After an evening defending them, I realised that my wobbly old wings are more important to me than I thought.
Melissa Kite is a journalist and author
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