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A philosopher’s search for meaning

30 November, 1999

Dr. Stephen J. Costello, philosopher, describes himself as a seeker, searching for God within the Catholic tradition. He explains his optic

I believe in a God who is both transcendent and immanent. I believe in angels. Perhaps Aquinas’s five arguments for the existence of God failed to prove His existence but they did succeed in showing that faith could be reasonable. We have, however, the testimony of many mystics – the codification of thousands of years of human experiences of the Divine.

It is not a question of pure faith without reason, which is the heresy of fideism but of the indissoluble unity of faith and reason – fides et ratio. I concur with Dostoyevsky, that true faith comes from the crucible of doubt. Belief is always haunted by unbelief. Didn’t Christ cry out on the Cross a lament at the loss of God?

I worship a God who is beyond consolation and accusation, protection and punishment. One must believe for nothing. I think that a theist must be confronted by a radical critique of his religion such as that offered by Freud. If one’s faith survives the psychoanalytic chastisement, then it becomes a surer, firmer faith, no longer the bland, blind faith of the simple soul but one purified of all idolatry. If one’s faith does not survive, then it wasn’t worthy to survive.

The truths of the faith require philosophical reflection. As a philosopher, I draw on Pascal’s two Gods – the God of the philosophers and the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – the God of the Academy and the Church, Athens and Jerusalem. I find it hard to pray and to practice my religion. Perhaps Kierkegaard was right when he said that there was only one Christian and He died on the Cross.

I am unable to picture heaven and cannot conceive of everlasting happiness (the theme of my next book). Sometimes, the thought of death (and living again) terrifies me. I wonder about my Judgement. I worry: do I really live according to the dictates of the Gospel and the law of love? Everywhere, I sense the Spirit at work. I feel the absent presence of my God in the world – His traces, as I lift my hands up to the holy place. I ponder on the Mystery and ask ‘why?’ Life is marginally meaningful to me only in so far as it is prolonged in post-mortem existence. I pray on bended knee with a bowed head before Him who made me, sometimes in tears and sometimes smiling, mostly in agony.