Religion is a good habit in action. According Fr. Hardon, it’s “the moral virtue by which a person is disposed to render to God the worship and service he deserves”. As such, religion might sound a bit overbearing and unattractive on the surface – at least the part where “you must obey God and give to Him what he deserves”. However if we understand religious obedience as our part in a two-way exchange of love we can begin to see religion as it really is: a relationship.
Religion is like a parent-child relationship. Think about it: It makes sense for a son to be obedient to his father because his father is older, wiser and knows what’s best. A sensible son will obey his father out of love with regard for his own personal well-being. A sensible father will command obedience from his son for his child’s own good – even if such obedience leads to his son’s short-term suffering (ie. homework).
Religion also consists of three essential parts: words (faith), works (morality) and worship (prayer). By clarifying who God is and what He asks of us – by defining proper “words, works and worship” – we can know how and what to believe, obey and pray. Thus religion might also be compared to a healthy marriage which is also founded on beliefs (“I believe you will always be unconditionally faithful to me”), obedience (“I would love to take out the garbage!”) and expressions of reverence (“You are the most important person in my life”).
Religion – particularly from the Christian perspective − is therefore an active, all-encompassing way of living intimately in happy friendship with God.
That sounds nice and all − but why should I care? To be honest I’m not even sure if I believe in God.
This is an important point because the meaningfulness of everything up to this point depends on the existence of one thing: God. If God doesn’t exist then religion leads to delusion. But if God does exist then every individual person will be compelled to make a choice of inconceivable magnitude – and here’s why: God offers perfect and eternal happiness to those who love Him. Furthermore, countless people of every age, race, culture and level of education have been convinced throughout Christian history that God’s offer of eternal paradise is no fairy tale, but that He truly has promised the fullness of happiness to those who love and obey Him. They have also believed that for those who reject Him through deliberate denial or indifference, eternal anguish is their consequence. With the stakes in full view we can see how our lives hinge on the question of God’s existence, as well as the authenticity of Christianity.
Punishing someone who is indifferent about God with eternal anguish seems harsh. How could an “all-loving” God punish someone who has never heard of Christianity?
You’re confusing religious indifference with religious ignorance. An ignorant person simply lacks knowledge about something. It is possible for someone to know nothing about Christianity to no fault of their own and thus be innocently ignorant. Thus if such a person lives a morally upright life and follows the dictates of her conscience to the best of her ability, the Church teaches that she may be “saved”.
Religious indifference, on the other hand, is different because it involves the deliberate choice of “not caring” or ignoring the claims of a religion without any sincere effort to prove or rule out its authenticity. Indifference is an indirect rejection of God. It might be compared to a bad marriage where a husband is indifferent about his wife and her desires. Surely a husband who “doesn’t care” about his wife has thereby chosen to reject her. No matter how great and unconditional her love is for her husband, their marriage will remain “dead” for as long as he chooses to be indifferent about the relationship his wife desires to share with him.
That makes sense. But if God doesn’t exist then indifference about religion seems justified. Can you give me a good reason to believe in God?
If there’s even a chance that God exists then the best overall decision is to believe despite any prevailing doubts; for if Christianity is true then religious belief leads to perfect happiness for all eternity. As we have discussed: God offers the fullness of joy to those who accept and love Him; so in God alone lies our potential for perfect happiness. There is no other way. As St. Augustine famously wrote: “You have formed us for Yourself, and our hearts are restless till they find rest in You.”
Indeed the gravity of our decision about God is beyond measure. The great 17th century thinker Blaise Pascal had a profound understanding of this. He equated the dilemma of God’s possible existence to gambling − with eternal happiness as the wager. “If you win, you win everything” writes Pascal, “if you lose, you lose nothing. Do not hesitate then; wager that he does exist”. Indeed God makes an offer of perfect happiness to all people, but he will not force us through the Pearly Gates like a herd of subservient cattle. We are compelled to make a decision about the God of Christianity − with everything on the line. Perhaps this is why C.S. Lewis wrote: “Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance. The only thing it cannot be is moderately important”.
That’s a good reason to believe in God − but it’s not really evidence for his existence. Is there any good evidence for the existence of God?
Yes. In fact, more than most skeptics seem to see or like to admit. There are in fact many convincing arguments for the existence of God that can be supported by solid scientific, philosophical and historical evidence. Unfortunately the body of evidence far outweighs the scope of this post. Nonetheless we’ll look at a couple of the arguments for God’s existence here and now.
Philosophers have pointed out that our inherent sense of objective moral “right and wrong” is evidence for the existence of God. If a certain government were to pass laws allowing rape, murder or the leisurely torture of little children, for example, the government’s endorsement of such perverse acts would not change the objective status of such acts as morally, universally and objectively wrong. Surely rape, murder and torture of little children for fun could never truly be right and good. Thus there seem to be unchanging moral truths (or laws) that bind all humans regardless of individual or majority opinion. Now all binding laws come from a higher authority (parent to child, employer to employee, government to citizen). Therefore if there are laws that bind all human beings, then those laws must come from a transcendent Lawgiver − an authority “above” humanity. Therefore one cannot be a consistent atheist and believe in objective moral laws, because objective moral laws imply a transcendent Lawgiver. A consistent atheist cannot say the inhumane executions carried out by ISIS, for example, are really wrong – but only that he doesn’t prefer them personally. Thus Fyodor Dostoevsky’s principle in The Brothers Karamazov is an accurate portrayal of the amoral reality that atheism necessarily leads to: “If God does not exist, everything is permitted”. No moral Lawgiver, no moral law.
Science and philosophy have also combined to make forceful arguments for God’s existence. For example, experts in cosmology and astrophysics have demonstrated that the universe had a beginning to its existence. This “popping into existence” of physical reality is often called the “Big Bang”. The eminent theoretical physicist (and atheist) Stephen Hawking writes, “Almost everyone now believes that the universe, and time itself, had a beginning at the big bang”. But if the universe had a beginning it must have a cause because something cannot come from nothing. Nothing is not anything; therefore out of nothing, no thing comes! As Dr. Peter Kreeft of Boston College puts it: the Big Bang must have a Big Banger.
Remember that the beginning of the universe also marks the beginning of time, space and matter. Therefore whatever brought the universe into reality must be (in addition to unimaginably powerful) eternal and non-physical. Notice that the qualities of this First Cause of the universe form a shockingly accurate description of God without bringing religion into the equation.
In nature it is clear that things which begin to exist always have a cause of their existence (children, trees, tornados and lakes never “just happen” to pop into existence from nothing). A universe which began a finite time ago is no exception to the rule; and even if it were an exception − such a supernatural interference with the nature of things would be a miracle and thus evidence for the existence of God.
Hasn’t modern science excluded the possibility of miracles?
Actually the opposite is true. As we gain more knowledge about the natural world and the principles and laws that describe and govern nature, we can at the same time have greater certainty about the reality of miracles – which are “events where God temporarily makes an exception to the natural order of things to show that He is acting”. The more knowledge we gain from scientific analysis, the more we can be sure what does and does not happen “naturally”. For example, as modern medical science continues to make advances we can be more certain than ever that people do not naturally rise from the dead. It would also seem that scientific advancement has not stifled human testimony to the miraculous. As scholar Craig Keener has demonstrated, still today as in first-century Palestine, eyewitness testimony to the miraculous is abundant.
To claim that science has disproven the miraculous absolutely, the skeptic will have to provide the peer-reviewed scientific study that has illustrated such a conclusion definitively. But no such study exists (nor could it as miracles involve a cause outside of the natural world). As philosopher and Christian debater extraordinaire, William Lane Craig has pointed out, as long as there is still a possibility that God exists, the possibility that miracles can occur remains; and as we have seen there is still a large body of such evidence for the existence of God which remains unrefuted.
Christians have claimed countless miracles through the centuries – far more than all other religions combined; and many of these miracles have the confirmation of eyewitnesses, religious and secular. Yet many skeptics remain resistant to the evidence. They continue to assert that miracles feed the human desire for the supernatural, attract publicity, are borrowed from other religions, or have been dishonestly created for the sake of proving a religion to be true. But none of these objections prove the non-existence of miracles. A best they prove that some are false!
I had assumed that faith and science were contradictory, that one may be “religious” or “scientific” but not both. But it seems faith and science can actually be compatible.
Not only are religion and faith compatible – they are complementary.
Faith is as necessary for the function of science as it is for religion. Dr. John Lennox, Professor of Mathematics at the University of Oxford, has pointed out that scientists have always had to assume, before they started their investigations, that the universe does have an inherent order and intelligibility. In other words all scientists believe in a predictable and comprehensible universe−two assumptions that “science alone” cannot prove. Albert Einstein (who did not believe in a personal God) recognized the essential place of faith inherent in science and wrote accordingly, “I cannot imagine a scientist without that profound faith…science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind”.
The history of science testifies rather conclusively in favour of the compatibility and complementarity of religious faith and science. Much of today’s scientific understanding and technological capabilities exist because of the work of religious men and women. Historian Dr. Thomas E. Woods has observed that “virtually all historians of science…have concluded that the Scientific Revolution was indebted to the Church”. In fact Woods notes that many of the accomplished thinkers who advanced science and technology were indeed Catholic priests. As C.S. Lewis observed, “Men became scientific because they expected Law in Nature, and they expected Law in Nature because they believed in a Legislator”. 
It seems therefore that religion provides a basis for faith in science, while science serves religion by providing evidence for God and His action in time and space throughout history. Science and rational thinking lead to God, not away from Him as critics of religion blindly assert. Undoubtedly “ever since the creation of the world [God’s] invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made”.
 Modern Catholic Dictionary by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J
 See Hebrews 12:6
 See Kreeft, Peter. Catholic Christianity. p. 155-156)
 From here on the term “God” refers to the Trinitarian God of Christianity.
 See John 15: 1-11
 See Revelation 3:15-16
 Catechism of the Catholic Church, 847
 See Acts 4:12
 Translated by J.G. Pilkington. From Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, Vol. 1. Edited by Philip Schaff. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1887.) Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight.<http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/110101.htm>.
 Pensees by Blaise Pascal. Krailscheimer, 418.
 Stephen Hawking. The Nature of Space And Time. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press 1996. p. 20.
 “Defining Miracles”. Richard L. Purtill. In Defense of Miracles, p.62.
 The resurrection of Christ and the ‘Miracle of the Sun’ at Fatima Portugal in 1917 are two examples where an occurrence of a miracle has been attested to by believers and non-believers.
 Lennox, John C. Gunning For God: Why The New Atheists Are Missing The Target. P. 47-48
 See Max Jammer, Einstein and Religion, Princeton, University Press, 1999. p. 94
 Woods Jr., Thomas E. How The Catholic Church Built Western Civilization. p. 4
 Lewis, C.S., Miracles: a preliminary study, Collins, London, p. 110, 1947.
 Rom 1:20