First, thank you for your concern. After admitting my faith “funk” last week following an evening with Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett, two leading proponents of so-called “New Atheism,” Crux readers rallied to cheer me up.
Hang in there, you wrote via comments and e-mails, assuring me we all have doubts. Christ himself doubted on the cross.
Second, thanks as well to the self-proclaimed atheists who told me they were pleased to see a Catholic writer give any credence at all to Dawkins and Dennett.
John, perhaps, got carried away. First he congratulated me for breaking the “viral fever” of belief. Then he advised me to come clean as a convert to atheism. Finally he warned, darkly, that “doubt is not a welcome topic” on religious websites, and that after admitting my own I might never, ever, be allowed to write for Crux again.
Well, I’m still here.
And I have an announcement. I remain with The God Squad — doubts, critiques, uncertainties, and all. I’m the more contented for it. Surely I don’t have all the answers. But neither do they.
And I’m so terribly weary of Dennett’s line about non-believers being “the brights.” That leaves believers, one might reasonably assume, to be “the dims” or the dimwits or the half-brains. Or, as some e-mailers told me, the pitiful, brainwashed, borderline psychotics who make “up stories about mythical sky monsters and imaginary rules” and crave the “warm bath of supernatural beliefs” to ward off fears of mortality. Face the ghastly truth, I was told, a tad hostilely. You’re about to disappear. Poof! Like tears falling in the rain.
However, Dennett’s “the brights” notwithstanding, it’s actually easy to find brilliant believers down through history and all over the place today, even in a world not always welcoming to the openly religious. For example, academics.
Here are just two geniuses of faith, the Catholic faith, in fact:
- Stephen L. Carter, 60, Stanford, Yale Law School, clerk for Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, now a Yale Law School professor who’s published widely, and who boldly writes opinion columns for Christianity Today magazine.
- Martin A. Nowak, 50, a biochemist and mathematician who headed the Mathematical Biology group at Oxford, founded the first theoretical biology program at Princeton, became a professor of mathematics and biology in Harvard’s Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology, and now directs its program for Evolutionary Dynamics.
I’m not sure what half of Nowak’s job titles even mean. But he undoubtedly has a big brain. Here’s a Nowak quote that’s particularly apt, considering how “New Atheism” claims science and religion are incompatible:
“Science and religion are two essential components in the search for truth. Denying either is a barren approach.”
Of course, in the work-a-day world we also come across people who “radiate an inner light,” as New York Times columnist David Brooks put it in his new book, “The Road to Character.” People who are patient and kind as they care for, despite little or no pay, the sick, the poor, the shell-shocked recent immigrant. Such people “listen well,” Brooks said. “They make you feel funny and valued … their laugh is musical and their manner is infused with gratitude.” There is a certain magnetism to them. They just glow. You want some of what they have.
Such people need not be people of faith. But mostly, it turns out, they are.
Last week in Charleston, SC, we witnessed again what we have seen before from faith-filled members of the black church — though rarely as fast as we witnessed it there on Friday. Just two days after he allegedly slaughtered their mother, son, spouse, or brother during Bible study at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, Dylann Roof faced these grieving family members through a courtroom video screen. One after another they stood up and told Roof they forgive him.
“You took something very precious away from me,” said Nadine Collier, whose mother Ethel Lance, 70, was among nine African-Americans killed on June 17. “I will never talk to her ever again. I will never be able to hold her again. But I forgive you. And have mercy on your soul.”
Most of us cannot imagine uttering those words, never mind trying to live them. Those rare men and women who choose that course — to push away vengeance and hate — need not be people of faith either. But almost always, it turns out, they are. Or they could not do it.
Christianity promises that God will give believers the strength to do and become and rise above what they could not do or become or rise above on their own.
I believe that.
I believe that rising is what we saw last week in a Charleston courtroom. Grace in action, light in darkness, the divine shining through the human soul.