How do you combine science and faith?

Hey Catholic Girls,
I have one little question which has been bothering me for a long time. I’m a catholic girl and I go to church quite often since I’m also an altar server there. But ever since we learned a lot about evolution in school, I have some struggles . I just can’t wrap my mind around creation and evolution. I believe in Christ and I also (as quirky as this always sounds) believe in the church, but I can’t deny the stuff I learned at school. My mother told me that for her the creation in Genesis is an allegory and has not to be taken literally.
What’s your take on that topic? I know the church has a model of “theistic evolution” but what’s your take on it? How do you combine these two elements that seem so contradictory?
Sincerely,
Tina
Dear Tina,
Evolution. Here’s one time when I don’t have to beat my head against the wall and come up with strategic ways to balance my conscience with teachings and cultural understandings.
It’s true the church takes a “theistic evolution” stance on Darwin’s theory. According to Blessed Pope John Paul II, “If the human body has its origin in living material which pre-exists it, the spiritual soul is immediately created by God”. In essence, evolution can explain why are bodies are the way they are but we have to look to God to understand our souls. In the same speech to the Pontificial Academy of Sciences Pope John Paul II goes on to say that “new knowledge has led to the recognition of the theory of evolution as more than a hypothesis,” however, “truth cannot contradict truth.” So long as there is an acknowledgment of God in the explanation of the creation of man and the universe then evolution and faith can go hand in hand. Also, I’ve heard in Sunday School and the faith sharing communities my parents hang around that the “big bang” theory is compatible with strict Catholic devoutness because the “bang” was God.
The Vatican today says that the six day creation model does not align with modern geology or other scientific thought, therefore it is unlikely that this model is true.  It is widely taught, just like your mom explained, that the story of Genesis is indeed allegorical. While, the creation of the world might not have gone down as written in Genesis  that doesn’t change the importance the story has in Catholic theology and doctrine. Allegorical yes but marriage, the sabbath, sin and the fallen state of the world (think hurricanes, tornadoes and other natural disasters) are established.  Allegorical yes but still doctrine.  It is within this story, as Pope John Paul II points out, we learn “the truth about man,” that humanity is both male and female and that we have free agency (there’s more to it than that but that would be a whole other post).
If we look to the way human creation is explained in Genesis 2:7 it reads “God formed man from the clay of the earth and he breathed into his face the breath of life. And man became a living soul.” The non-literal approach to this text is that our formation out of clay may have taken millions of years until we were in God’s image. Even with that said some Catholics do believe in the six day creation model and the Vatican hasn’t said that we should or should not believe in a literal Genesis story.
As for science I think this is common knowledge but the Church hasn’t always been so down with it. Some 400 years ago during the Inquisition the Church had a little–shall we say incident? Galileo published materials asserting that the earth revolved around the sun (Pope Urban VII even asked him not to, personally) and that his findings did not contradict scripture. Galileo was excommunicated and imprisoned but today the Church has learned a thing or two about the intersection of science and religion. The director of the Vatican Secret Archives, Bishop Sergio Pagano, said in 2009 “The Galileo case teaches science not to presume to teach the Church on matters of faith and sacred Scripture and, at the same time, teaches the church to approach scientific problems with much humility and circumspection.” There are things science can explain and things Scripture can and we should be humble and thoughtful about everything in between.
Recently, in regards to the Mars landing the Director of the Vatican Observatory (which funnily enough was around before the Galileo ordeal) explained “we are not afraid of science, we are not afraid of new results, new discoveries. That’s the reason why the [pope] has an observatory. Whatever the truth might be, we are open to new results, once they are confirmed by the scientific community.”
And as my brother likes to point out The Vatican even says that there could be life on other planets and is open to the idea that God’s plan involves extraterrestrials too. A Vatican spokesperson said, “We cannot place limits on the creative freedom of God.”
As for my own opinion, I sincerely hope that we have a Heavenly Father who ordered the chaos and constructed a plan for us to return to him someday. I think science helps all of us understand the world, a world God created. Where it does get tricky for me is where we draw the line between nice allegorical tales and historical fact. The Vatican might be cool with us saying that Genesis is not to be taken literally but they would never say that about other parts of the Bible, particularly the New Testament. How does the Vatican make these kind of judgements? It is one of those things that I am not sure I will ever be able to fully reconcile. If I were you I would keep on altar serving (I was an altar server too!!), praying and reading everything you can on the topic, especially if it’s eating at you. There is nothing wrong with taking a literal Genesis approach, a theistic evolutionary approach or saying “I’ll leave this question for another day”. What the Church asks of us in regards to this matter is to be humble and thoughtful.
Readers, what is your take on Catholicism and Evolution? Is this one time the Vatican is spot on? How do you reconcile science and faith?
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I was raised Catholic, but can’t accept it all. How do others, especially women? Part II.

In Part II, Nadia answers a question from “Where Is the Room for Gray,” found here.

Dear “Where Is the Room for Gray,”

How do I take what resonates in my heart and disregard what makes me squeamish? One of my best friends who in the last couple of years went from having no religion to being a Non-Denominational Christian told me, “Religion is first and foremost about your relationship with God and our community.” It’s these relationships that lift us up the most, not our relationship with the institution. I go to church on Sunday, yes, to feel community and ask for prayers, but also to have a chat with my Heavenly Father and Mother Mary in a sacred space.

I spent years feeling guilty (Carmen’s right, we do that so well!) about my beliefs or lack thereof. I once sat across from a family member and cried because I could not wrap my head around the need for Christ’s Atonement or Catholicism in general. This family member, who I am terribly close with, asked me if I believed every line of the Apostles Creed. Still in tears I told her I wasn’t sure. She looked me in the eyes and said, “Well, that’s what it takes to be Catholic.”

Her statement is flat out not true. It isn’t scriptural, part of dogma, or the way I experience Catholicism. Even in times of pure and utter darkness, I knew I was Catholic for two simple reasons: I was baptized, and I chose to be confirmed. That’s it. It’s done. I am Catholic.

The Church can’t get rid of me. I took part in sacred, ritual rites of passage. I refuse to go anywhere. They have to accept me, feminist Nadia, questioning Nadia, renegade Nadia.

How do I take what resonates in my heart and disregard what makes me squeamish? I put everything that keeps me up at night before my Heavenly Father. I tell him, “You’ve got to be kidding me! Really? Mary’s perpetual virginity? Pedophile priests? Woman can’t be priests? Etc. etc.”

I have thrown out what Mass is supposed to be and replaced it with what I need it to be. I have thrown out what prayer is supposed to be, what my role as a woman is supposed to be, what being a good Catholic girl is supposed to be.

I don’t know what it means when Catholics don’t follow every precept of the church other than to say it doesn’t surprise me. It doesn’t surprise because the Church has a lot of rules but a poor way of disseminating information. It doesn’t surprise me because the way people choose to practice religion rarely aligns perfectly onto the dogma prescribed by an institution.

And even though I live my entire Catholic life in a giant gray area, the Church’s teachings on contraception do not bother me. I was taught that fertility is an integral part of my personhood and my divinity. Contraception stipulates that there is something wrong with my fertility and that it needs to be reduced or eliminated in order for me to have choices and freedom. Just as fertility is integral to me, it is integral to men as well. When we use contraception, we withhold a portion of who we are from our partner. Same goes for men. When they put on a condom, there is a literal barrier between the totality of their personhood and their partner. Sexuality as I’ve been taught is the total union of partners. I am in the Natural Family Planning camp of Catholics. (admittedly I don’t know where this leaves our brothers and sisters who cannot have children. I’m still sorting that one out)

If you’re staring at your computer screen thinking, “This girl is crazy! How can she call herself a feminist?” Let me tell you, this particular teaching really resonates with me, but I don’t expect it to feel right or good or divine to everyone. I prioritize human agency over church teachings. The church teaches a lot of things, makes us feel guilt about our very human foibles, but in the beginning God created agency. He gave us minds and hearts and he expects us to use them. Fertility is not the only thing integral to who you are. It’s your questions, love of community, the things that bring you joy, your desire to work things out, the things you find humor in, the things that scare you, the things that frustrate you… you are not supposed to turn any of those things off, to your God, to your family, to you significant other, or to your church.

If you’re are sitting in your pew ready to tear your hair out or think the Church doesn’t want you, I’m here to tell you that I want you. I need to know that Catholics like me are sitting in the pews on Sunday, too. Knowing there are people out there with questions and heartache and a touch of anger brings me tremendous comfort. I find you and Catholics like us the answer to my years of praying, “God, you have got to be kidding me.”

much love,

Nadia, a Catholic Girl

I was raised Catholic, but can’t accept it all. How do others, especially women?

Another day, another challenging and exciting question from a fellow Catholic girl!

And we were so pumped about being here and having this conversation, we decided that we’d all weigh in. The first post will be from Carmen, following the question: below. Nadia and Mary will follow.

Dear Catholic Girls,

How do Catholics simply disregard/ignore/make peace with huge issues I cannot get past? I was raised Catholic–mass 3 times a week, 9 years of Catholic school, the works–but I can’t sit through mass anymore with only a male, celibate priest who feels like he has a right to dictate my birth control options. I’m sorry, but he has no uterus, and he has no sex, so where does he get off telling me that birth control is wrong? I also don’t understand how the huge majority of Catholic families do utilize birth control even though it’s against the church’s decree. If an enormous population of your church disregards what you say, what does that mean?

I just see no place whatsoever in the church for women who don’t want to wear their bodies out having kids or live a celibate life as a nun. I see no place for women who know that they can’t be good mothers to 7 kids, or for women who ache to see a woman in priest’s robes blessing the congregation.

I think my question is: if you aren’t a hard-line, 100% orthodox Catholic, how can you take what resonates in your heart and disregard what makes you squeamish? It’s so black and white to me.

Wondering,

Where Is the Room for Gray

Dear “Where Is the Room for Gray,”

How I feel you! How I struggle with the dichotomy of the Virgin Mary and the woman at the well. How I wish that the Church could recognize the damage it has done to male and female alike by allowing so few examples of what it means to be a woman of God outside of the selfless, suffering mother or the selfless, suffering nun. How I wish that ideology was a less powerful force in our world than it is.

Right now, you feel like it’s black and white because everybody has always told you that’s how it has to be. I’ve heard people say it my whole life. “A cafeteria Catholic” was one who would pick and choose the parts they liked—the jello and the fried chicken but not the wretched soggy spinach—and discarded the rest. You couldn’t do that and be a real Catholic, and being a real Catholic was a badge of honor.

It was doubly an honor because I was a real Catholic in a small town in Southeast Texas, where Southern Baptists had us heavily outnumbered. At school, kids told me I wasn’t saved because I hadn’t responded to an altar call. I hadn’t raised my hand at an Evangelical revival, walked down to the front with fear and trembling, and asked Jesus into my heart as my personal Lord and Savior. Even when they came to my house in the white church van during their revival week to “kidnap” me and take me to First Baptist, where I’d be subjected to the proverbial “turn or burn” talk, I kept my hand down and my ass firmly in the pew.

I resisted it as a good Catholic girl, because of that real Catholic badge of honor. I knew the Catholics were Christians, despite what those Baptists said, and I had two thousand years of tradition behind me to back it up. I had the Sacred Heart of Jesus along with the saints and statues and rosaries and all the makings of a real religion, not something invented in the last 100 years, or even the last 500. And if it meant I had to take things wholesale, well, that was the price of the badge.

But, after years of obedience and sanctimony, after years of guilt and shame (oh, we are so good at that) about my body and the things it wanted to do, after years of trying to reconcile a priest who had never been married counseling my sister to stay in a verbally abusive marriage, I’m not willing to accept that badge.

I don’t believe it has to be black and white. I believe that there are expansive areas of gray where we can honor one another in full acceptance and in love, the way Christ did. To me, there is room for many voices in this conversation, many outside of Catholicism and even Christianity, about what is divine and how to reach it. And—this is a very, very important “and”—I choose to attend Mass at parishes in that exude such a spirit.

One of the reasons I no longer believe the all or nothing, black and white agenda and instead have found this middle ground is because otherwise, I would have to leave the church, the way I would have to leave America—and let’s be honest, the planet—if I didn’t let the stuff I disagree with wash over me.

There would be silence where I used to sing the Gloria, my hands absent where they were joined with others in the Our Father, no imprints in the kneeler where my knees would press during the consecration of the Eucharist.

And then what happens? If I leave, and you leave, and every other woman who wants to be something other than a celibate nun, a Virgin Mary, or a guilt-ridden transgressor, then who is going to fight for a different image of women in the Church? Who will fight for a different role for women in the church? If we are not there to press for change, how will it change?

As for the issue of what it means to have an enormous percentage of the Church disregarding the ban on contraceptives, I think it’s a wake up call. It’s pretty undeniable, even if the 98% figure isn’t exactly what it seems. And though the Catholic bishops aren’t admitting it, I think priests closer to the people know what’s going on. On the website Religion News Service, Mark Silk presented One Priest’s Opinion on the Mandate. “I don’t need Guttmacher stats to tell me that using contraceptives is not an issue for Catholic women,” a priest from the archdiocese of Milwaukee wrote. (Or for Catholic men, I might add.) “I see it every week at the Masses I celebrate at large suburban parishes… each one of those couples has 2.5 kids… I hear it in the casual conversations that men have with me informing me that they long ago had ‘snip-snip’… I haven’t had confession about birth control in years

So women are taking their birth control in silence, abiding this ban in silence, as many are abiding the fact that women aren’t allowed to be priests—that instead of being church leaders, they are put on a pedestal and told to be like the Virgin Mother: selfless, obedient, long-suffering.

But I wonder what would happen if we all spoke up, about any and all of it. I know the Catholic Church is far from a democracy, and this may seem incredibly naive or idealistic or downright foolish, but what if our experience—our lived reality—could change things for the better?

At this point in my life, I attend Mass—not because I have to do so in order to be a real Catholic, nor because I think a priest has all the answers for me, nor has any idea what is good for my body. It’s also not because I agree with everything the Catholic Church teaches, because I don’t.

I attend because it is my church, too, and because it is important that I remain a part of the conversation. I attend because it is a way I feel fed, connected to the larger body of humanity, and I know that lots of those people spend their time contemplating the nuanced shades of gray, too.

I believe that makes me more real than I’ve ever been.

Commenters, Catholic Girls: other perspectives? Any tips for reconciliation (with a little ‘r’)?

Carmen, A Catholic Girl

An Introduction

Hello! Welcome to Ask Catholic Girl!

Ask Catholic Girl is a place to send your questions and your quandaries about the Roman Catholic faith, to be answered honestly and thoughtfully, not under the guise of the Church or its clergy, but from progressive young Catholic women wrestling with all the paradox that entails.

We love our tradition, the way people love being home, but reject the idea that the tradition has no room for concerned criticism or heart-felt dissent. Inspired by the inimitable Joanna Brooks, of The Book of Mormon Girl and askmormongirl.com, we believe our voices should be part of the discussion. We want to tell our stories as Catholic women, to be a space where we can search for God and compassion and humanity together, without dogmatic rigidity or doctrinal boundaries.

We are all the Church. We are all the body. And we look forward to hearing your questions and searching for answers together, whether you’re a 66-year-old lapsed Catholic, our devout mothers, or someone who’s never stepped foot inside the nave of a cathedral.

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In peace and love and light,

Carmen, Nadia, and Mary

The Catholic Girls