The Beatific Vision

I was raised Roman Catholic and was a practicing Catholic until I was in my thirties. Since then, I have been, as noted here a few days ago, an agnostic: I don’t know whether to believe or not.

One of the reasons I left the church was its insistence on moral rules that made no sense. Leading that list was the proscription of contraception and forbidding divorce. My wife at the time decided that after four children, she didn’t want any more. But as a practicing Catholic, she couldn’t use birth control. So she said we simply wouldn’t have sex any more. That was the beginning of the end of the marriage.

Even though I am now of advanced age and for most of my life haven’t been a practicing Catholic, one crucial belief of the faith has stayed with me. It’s called the beatific vision. It specifies that after death, the saved dwell with God and see him face to face. But God’s beauty is so overwhelming that beholding him is instant and interminable ecstasy.

One of the reasons I’m inclined to believe in the beatific vision is that several times in church and later regularly in meditation, I have experienced a rapture that seems to me to be the equivalent of the beatific vision. That ecstasy is one reason I can’t reject out of hand the existence of God. But at the rational level, the evidence against the existence of the deity is more persuasive than the data supporting it. So I’m stuck with not knowing what to believe.

Flying in the face of all that doubt is my firm belief in the beatific vision. I have to believe in it because I have experienced it. If my bliss was not the consequence of seeing God face-to-face, then I have to conclude that human beings are capable of ecstasy—or at least the illusion of ecstasy—that they create themselves. Again, I’m left without firm evidence. I don’t know what to believe. That makes me, once again, an agnostic.

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