Archives For Faith and Doubt

Skeptical BelieverWe continue our Skeptical Believer sermon series this weekend with the theme: ‘Questions Don’t Hurt God’s Feelings.’

At least, fingers-crossed, we’re hoping they don’t hurt God’s feelings.

Just kidding.

As part of the series, I solicited questions and arguments from you all. Here’s one insisting the challenge go the other way:

“I believe in God and I ‘follow’ Jesus and I even believe he was resurrected, but I have hard time believing that Jesus is God.

I think that makes everything more confusing than is necessary (Trinity) when there’s probably another explanation. Isn’t there?”

Despite, what many people assume Resurrection doesn’t reveal Jesus’ divinity. Nor even is it meant, primarily, to secure or signal our life after death.

Resurrection is vindication.

There’s a story in 2 Maccabees that’s unknown to most Christians today but would’ve been formative for all the Jews of Christ’s day.

Antiochus IV Epiphanes is persecuting the people of Israel. But the problems aren’t all from outside Israel. A Hellenizing movement has developed and lured God’s people away from the Torah, erasing the distinctions that mark them out as the people of God.

In the story, Antiochus attempts to force seven brothers and their mother, by suffering severe torture, to eat pig.

After the first brother is killed, the others encourage each other to entrust themselves to the God who judges justly: “God will have compassion on his servants.”

Maimed and tortured, what possible deliverance can these brothers hope for? There’s personal vindication:

“You, who are marked out for vengeance, may take our present life, but the king of the universe for whose laws we die will resurrect us again to eternal life.” (2 Macc 7:9).

Just as with Easter, Resurrection here equals God’s vindication of God’s suffering faithful–and the evidence that God is a greater, more powerful King than the kings of the earth who torture and take a life.

The fourth brother professes to the king:

“Death at the hands of humans is preferable, since we look forward to the hope that God gives of being raised by him. But for you there will be no resurrection to life.” (2 Macc 7:14). 

Yet it’s more than personal vindication; it’s corporate too.

The fifth of the seven brothers:

While looking at the king he said, “You, though human, have power among human beings and do what you want. But don’t think that God has abandoned our people.” (2 Macc 7:16). 

You see, this brother connects their suffering with the people’s sins: the brothers are faithful, yet they are suffering for the sins of the people.

And they have faith that their suffering won’t be the last word:

“Don’t deceive yourself in vain. We suffer these things because of our own sins against our God. Things worthy of wonder have happened. But don’t think you will escape unpunished after trying to fight against God.” (2 Macc 7:18).

It’s in the long monologue of the seventh brother that the atoning significance of their death becomes central:

“We are suffering because of our own sins. If our living Lord is angry for a short time in order to rebuke and discipline us, he will again be reconciled with his own servants. But you, unholy man, the most bloodstained of all people, don’t be so proud without having cause. Bloated by futile hope, you raise up your hand against the children of heaven. You haven’t at all escaped the judgment of the almighty God, who oversees all. Now our brothers, who endured pain for a short time, have been given eternal life under God’s covenant, but you will suffer the penalty of your arrogance by the righteous judgment of God. Just like my brothers, I give up both body and life for the ancestral laws. I call upon God to be merciful to the nation without delay, and to make you confess, after you suffer trials and diseases, that only he is God. Also I hope through me and my brothers to stop the anger of the almighty, who is justly punishing our entire nation.” (2 Macc 7:32-28).

The suffering of the brothers in 2 Macc is:

Because of the people’s sins

Which in turn has provoked the just wrath of God.

Their own suffering, however, is due to a faithful obedience to God’s law.

And this should have the effect of abating God’s anger and inclining God to mercy.

To recap, in a nutshell:

A righteous one is martyred precisely because of this faithfulness.

The obedience of the martyr turns God’s anger to mercy, and the people are delivered.

Despite their faithfulness, the martyr receives another’s just penalty.

God vindicates the obedience of the faithful one by raising him from the dead.

So, to return to the question:

It’s quite possible to retain a belief in the resurrection of Jesus that does not require a corollary belief in his divinity.

Jesus, then, is the Righteous One, the Faithful One, whose obedient life lived for God all the way to the Cross, God vindicates by raising him from the dead.

Incidentally, the ‘Righteous One’ is exactly what Paul calls Jesus in Romans 1, and this story from 2 Macc is what Paul has in mind when he writes that it’s the ‘faith of Jesus Christ’ which justifies us.

Obviously someone determined towards cynicism could argue that 1st century disciples, knowing this story from 2 Macc, applied posthumously to Jesus, but even some cynicism is a bridge too far for me.

To so suggest, after all, flies in the face of 2 Macc’ logic and the rest of the tale which concludes with the formerly oppressed Jews, with God’s mercy now on their side, meting out ass-wooping violence upon their enemies.

“They called on the Lord to listen to the shed blood of those who had appealed to God for help” (2 Macc 8:3).

“Once he organized his army, the Maccabee couldn’t be stopped by the Gentiles, because the lord’s wrath had turned into mercy (2 Macc 8:5).

NOT a Jesus story.

 

What If There Is No God?

Jason Micheli —  October 9, 2013 — 1 Comment

Skeptical BelieverWe continue our Skeptical Believer series this weekend with the theme: ‘Questions Don’t Hurt God’s Feelings.’

And here’s Woody Allen asking the biggest question of all:

1381692_387083858087384_1966426747_nWhat more could you want for your morning than the silky smooth, sexy sound of my voice cogitating on Medieval metaphysics? Fine, listen to Matt Lauer first and then you can listen to this. Jason with a dog beats Miley Cyrus with a wrecking ball any day.

Here’s the sermon from this weekend:

Skeptical BelieverThis weekend we begin a sermon series entitled The Skeptical Believer: Making Peace with Your Inner Atheist. For the series, I solicited questions from you challenging belief in God- you can still send me your questions, by the way.

One of the questions as to me directly: ‘Have you ever doubted?’

The best response I can give to that is from this pericope of an old sermon:

The first time God’s presence disappeared from my life I’d been a Christian for seven years. I’d been a candidate in the United Methodist ordination process for a year and a half. I’d been a seminary student for two semesters, and I’d been a solo pastor for three months when a member of my tiny little congregation at Linvale United Methodist Church outside Princeton, New Jersey went home one Sunday after the 10:00 worship service, climbed downstairs to his basement, spread out the plastic tarp that was still dirty from a long ago family camping trip, unlocked the deer rifle with which he’d once taught his son to hunt in the Pine Barrens, sat down in a wrought iron lawn chair, and killed himself.

It had been seven years since I’d given my life to Christ. I had ten ‘Master of Divinity’ courses notched on my transcript. I’d been a minister for a dozen or so Sundays. And, suddenly, God just wasn’t there anymore.

His name was Glenn.

He came to church with his daughter-in-law. Sometimes her husband, his son, came with them. He was named Glenn too. They always sat in the very middle of the sanctuary near the center aisle.

At the end of every service I would stand outside on the steps of the church porch. He would make his way through the line and would shake my hand and say ‘Nice sermon…the organ sounds out of tune though’ and then he would walk off down the sidewalk and drive away in his red PT Cruiser.

Every Sunday it was like that until the Sunday he drove home and decided to take the key hidden in a kitchen coffee can and unlock his gun cabinet.

Later that afternoon, his daughter-in-law called me at my apartment. And when she told me what he had done, I couldn’t help myself. Without thinking how it might sound, I just asked her: ‘Why? Why would he do that?’ 

She didn’t have an answer.

Even if she’d had an answer, she was crying too hard to get the words out. And besides, an answer wasn’t really what I was asking for.

What I wanted was something more like absolution. Because listening to her sob in to the phone, I felt stabbed by guilt: guilt that I never took the time to get beyond: Nice sermon…the organ sounds out of tune.

I was just a ‘part-time’ pastor. I had books to read and papers to write and classes to attend and he never fit into my schedule.

She caught her breath long enough to ask me if I would come over to Glenn’s house.

I said yes.

And it wasn’t until I hung up the phone that I realized: I’d never even been to a funeral before.

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After a drive in my car that I quite honestly hoped would never end, I met them at Glenn’s house.

Neighbors standing in the street stared at me as I got out of the car and walked up to the house.

When Glenn’s daughter-in-law answered the door, I hugged her there on the front porch- not because I knew that was the right thing to do, not because I was overwhelmed with empathy or even because I’m a natural hugger- I was just terrified to say anything.

She led me down the hall to Glenn’s kitchen where we all sat down while she started to rummage through the refrigerator to make sandwiches no one would eat. Even if we couldn’t articulate it, we all sensed that eating would’ve violated something sacred.

Sitting in Glenn’s kitchen I noticed the appointments and To-Do’s written on a Philadelphia Phillies calendar next to the black rotary phone on the wall. A shopping list was scotch-taped on his fridge door next to faded 3×5 photos and postcards. He needed eggs and creamer.

I sat there with my hands on the pink formica tabletop acutely aware that my 10 ‘Master of Divinity’ courses had in no way prepared to do anything for them.

We sat in the quiet for a long time. It was only later in my ministry, after I’d been with several other grieving families, that I understood the silence in that kitchen. It was because all the usual cliches we wield against death were off limits that afternoon.

No one in that kitchen could fill the silence with: He’s in a better place. At least he didn’t suffer. God must’ve needed him in heaven. 

     There was none of that. There was no bright side to look at, no reason to find, no pious explanation to smooth out the tragedy.

Glenn’s son, Glenn, sat next to me playing with the coffee can I later learned had held the hidden key. He broke the silence by telling me he didn’t want any mention of his Dad’s suicide at the funeral service. ‘Not one word’ he told me and I realized it was something of a threat.

What he said he wanted was what families always say they want: a celebration of his life. Back then I wasn’t brave enough to ignore what they wanted.

The funeral came a few days later.

They held it at the funeral home. Glenn’s family said it was because the steep sanctuary steps would’ve been too difficult for the pallbearers, but even then I knew better.

Everyone gathered there that Wednesday morning knew the details of what had happened, yet we were all willing accomplices in keeping it a secret.

In my homily I said exactly what the family wanted me to say. You would’ve thought Glenn had died peacefully in his sleep after a long and happy life.

I preached about God’s mercy, about how God-in-Christ shares our grief.

Mostly I preached about God’s presence in our lives, in the here and now, to bring us comfort.

At that point, I’d been a Christian for about 1/3 of my life. At that point I’d earned 30 credit hours in seminary. At that point I was about 8 minutes into my first ever funeral sermon when I realized that what I was saying about God’s presence wasn’t true.

I don’t mean it was false in a general, universal way. I don’t mean it was false for anyone in that funeral parlor. It’s just that as I was speaking the words, I realized they were no longer true for me.

In the weeks that followed it got worse.

My prayers felt like they’d bounced off the ceiling and come back to me unheard.

Where before my faith had felt as real inside me as water or blood, now it felt dried up. Sunday mornings my preaching felt hallow and rang false.

I don’t know how it happened exactly or why, but it felt like God’s presence had been amputated from me. I could remember what it had felt like to have it as a part of me, and now all I could feel was its not-there-ness.

I didn’t not believe in God anymore. God just wasn’t present to me anymore. It was like God had gotten up and left.

After a while I realized that could be problem for a pastor.

No offense but I could never put up with church people for a living if God wasn’t real to me and present in my life.

Nothing changed for a couple of months.

I didn’t know what to do. I thought about dropping out of seminary. I applied to teach school in New York City.

I made the mistake of sharing my dilemma with my ordination mentor here in Virginia; he very helpfully suggested that maybe I shouldn’t be a minister after all.

I confided to a theology professor who didn’t seem to understand and who, without a trace of irony, suggested that if I didn’t have God in my life I could at least teach at a seminary.

What they didn’t understand was that I wasn’t worried about my career. I just wanted God back.

 

Skeptical BelieverLast week I solicited responses from you, asking you to give me your best case for NOT believing in God.

One of the responses I received was brief but cutting:

“Rather than insisting (with no evidence to support it) that God exists, doesn’t it seem much more reasonable that humans simply needed a ‘god’ to give their lives meaning and morality?

And doesn’t it make sense that as society increasingly needs ‘god’ less for meaning and morality that people would believe in him less?

And isn’t that exactly what we see happening in modern, scientific cultures?”

Whether the writer here did so purposefully I don’t know, but he’s channeling Sigmund Freud’s primary critique of religion.

Say what you will about Freud’s bona fides as a psychoanalyst, his analysis of both religion and literature remains incisive and compelling.

I remember the first time I read Freud’s The Future of an Illusion and Moses and Monotheism, both as a second year at UVA. I’d only been a Christian for a few years, and after read those two books I was pissed off for weeks.

On the one hand, Freud’s critiques of religion were wild, sweeping speculations, made with very little ‘hard’ evidence to support them and demanding of readers precisely the very thing he’d set out to dismiss: faith.

On the other hand, I’d been a Christian long enough- and I’d been an atheist long enough before that- to know that Freud’s arguments were not without merit.

Indeed they were true when considered against a great many strains of Christianity and religion in general.

Religion, Freud argued, is, at root, an expression of our underlying psychological neuroses. In the two books I mentioned and in others, Freud asserts that religion is an attempt to control the Oedipal complex, it’s a means of giving structure (meaning moral and ethical boundaries) to social groups, it’s a form of wish fulfillment, it’s an infantile delusion born out of our need for a Father figure, and it’s an attempt to control the outside world.

Dismiss Freud at your peril.

Just think, many fundamentalists, Christian and Muslim, make Freud’s very argument but in reverse: Without God, there’s no moral foundation to the world; there’s no rubric for what constitutes the ‘good.’ Religion is just an artifice then for a certain vision of traditional society.

It’s also true for many Christians ‘Christianity’ is but another label, a way to distinguish us from other tribes. It’s but a baptized form of nationalism.

And we all know that for many religion IS an escape or cover to which people turn to cope with psychological wounds- or, even worse, religion becomes the way people refuse to cope, or even confront, the wounds and painful realities in their life.

And then there’s Freud’s ‘wish fulfillment’ critique. While critiques of certain manifestations of religion are not indictments of religion in sum nor does such a critique even logically approach the existence of a transcendent God, still…there’s enough substance to the argument to give believers pause.

Fact is, Freud is right. A good deal of religion, at least the Christian sphere I know, is actually just human projection and wish fulfillment, reducing the great ‘I AM’ to a god ‘up there’ who answers my prayers, blesses me, and grants my wishes.

Or doesn’t…at which point I get angry and no longer ‘believe’ in him.

The great ‘I Am’ reduced to a magic genie in a celestial lamp.

People often ask me why I have such a problem Joel Osteen.

Honestly, my problems are too many to number, but really they all boil down to this:

Joel Osteen reminds me that Freud was, if not right, not entirely wrong. images

Skeptical BelieverThis weekend we’re kicking off a new sermon series, The Skeptical Believer: Making Peace with Your Inner Atheist.

Last week I solicited best-shot arguments for why we should NOT believe.

I’ll give a free copy of Daniel Taylor’s The Skeptical Believer to what I think is the best argument for doubt/disbelief…there’s still time. Lemme know.

I have received a lot of responses so far, some predictable, some ancient and intractable and others truly, profoundly (dare I say…Christianly?) moral.

Here’s an argument that echoes an experience I had in my first theology class at UVA. It was a small class and our TA had been slicing and dicing Thomas Aquinas’ proof for the existence of God on the chalkboard when a classmate spoke up, like he was talking to himself:

“That all makes sense, logically, but why is it that some people have an actual experience of God but I never have?”

A reader of the blog put a similar point this way:

“I’ve never had an experience that’s even remotely close to anything described by other believers….no miracles, no healings, no “encounters with the risen Christ,” etc. All I’ve had is the vague sense of rightness in the world (this world screams “I love you”) while walking through the woods while the sun is going down. Stuff like that.

Without an experience of God of any kind, how can I believe on the same level that others do?

And why would I be expected to? And why would the God who created the human brain reward me for essentially silencing it?”

It’s a good rebuttal, if not of God then definitely how religious people so often speak of God. If there is a God, then why is it that so many haven’t experienced God’s presence or reality? And why have others?

Does the fact that so many people never experience God for themselves ‘personally’ call those people into question? Or God?

Is it more likely that religious people who claim to have experienced God are actually deluding themselves? Attaching the ‘G’ word to their own psychological experience?

Or does God simply keep his people, actively or passively, from experiencing him?

And thus keep people from believing in him?

And if so, even if God is real is such a God worth believing worshipping?

I suppose you could say its’ their fault, that such people have allowed their doubt or cynicism or rationalism or apathy to close them off to the possibility or presence of God (and I’m sure in some cases that’s exactly the problem).

But then isn’t that not a little like blaming the victim? Is big enough to take the blame?

A Reason to Doubt God

Jason Micheli —  September 30, 2013 — 4 Comments

Skeptical BelieverThis weekend we’re kicking off a new sermon series, The Skeptical Believer: Making Peace with Your Inner Atheist.

Last week I solicited best-shot arguments for why we should NOT believe.

I’ll give a free copy of Daniel Taylor’s The Skeptical Believer to what I think is the best argument for doubt/disbelief…there’s still time. Lemme know.

I have received a lot of responses so far, some predictable, some ancient and intractable and others truly, profoundly (dare I say…Christianly?) moral.

This is an example of the third- and what I take to be the most compelling- kind:

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“Why someone wouldn’t believe in God?

My sister is profoundly mentally retarded.

She was born with a clef lip and palette.

She is 44 years old and still has trouble walking.

She still wears diapers.

And she is deaf.

And mute.

 

And she gets mad.

When she gets mad, she smashes her head into a corner.

And busts it open.

And it bleeds like mad.

Having known her, I know what I wouldn’t have known otherwise:

That there are multitudes of other people with similar conditions.

Nobody talks about caring for the retarded.

We all have sympathy for the sick child (and with good reason), but people like my sister are forgotten about by the mainstream (by God?).

People like my sister are made into jokes by callous people (“What are you, retarded or something?”).

My sister is cared for by an underpaid, overworked, and understaffed group of huge hearted people.

But, that’s an example, at least in my mind, of why someone would challenge the belief in God.

I’ve gotten over it, but it’s mostly by saying that I simply don’t get it.”

Jason talking:

I wish I didn’t need to make the point, but my time in ministry tells me I can’t repeat it enough:

If you feel the need to ‘explain’ this woman’s disability, ‘justify’ God’s purposes in it or, for that matter, say anything pious at all (eg: ‘God is with her in her suffering’)…

Then you’ve just made this ‘Reason for Doubt’ a ‘Reason for Disbelief.’

Next weekend, we’ll begin a 3 part sermon series called The Skeptical Believer: Making Peace with Your Inner Atheist.

I get to kick-off the series, and I thought I would do so by tackling Doubt and Disbelief as seriously as I possibly can.

And I’d like your help.

What do you think is the best, most compelling reason not to believe in God?

It can be an intellectual argument or it can be a moral argument. Your choice.

If you’re a believer, what’s that nagging doubt in the back of your mind?

If you’re a believer without any nagging doubts, first get real and then put yourself in the shoes of a skeptic and give me a reason not to believe.

If you don’t believe in God at all, give me your best case.

I’ll give/send a free copy of Daniel Taylor’s book, The Skeptical Believer, to the person who gives the best argument.

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help_my_unbelief-1Not long ago a parent in my congregation expressed concern, as well as a sense of failure, that their graduating child confessed that they no longer believed.

It’s always difficult to know to what extent such declarations are a hasty desire to rebel against or push aside the faith of their childhood or when they are the product of sincere, thoughtful wrestling with God.

For all ages, I usually find it to be the latter rather than the former.

It’s not uncommon for parents to want me to say something to their children that will get them chance their mind back to God, something that will reach out and pull them back into the boat.

I usually have a couple of thoughts about that, understandable, parental desire.

For one, the whole manner of reducing Christianity to a belief that our children have or do not have is part of the problem.

Christians are disciples, apprentices, followers. We’re not believers. It’s not about making up our minds one way or the other but giving to our lives a Christ-like pattern that calls them to sacrificial living.

I’m not suggesting it was true in this particular instance, but I’ve known a whole lot of people who claimed to be rejecting Christianity when what they were rejecting really didn’t resemble authentic Christianity but a lite, gnostic form of civil religion.

For another, I usually tell parents not to freak out, to take the long view. Kids have their entire lives to work through their faith. I think God has shown himself to be sufficiently gracious that we can trust our salvation to him and not frantically try to pull people into the boat as though it might sink any day now. Note: not fretting over their eternal soul is not the same thing as ambivalence.

Finally, I often echo exactly what I tell parents at the beginning of the confirmation year: ‘I can’t make your child a Christian nor is it my role.’ I then go on to explain that limited time with me in church cannot make them into something they’re not formed into being at home all the time.

Parents are the real rabbis of their children.

In an article this week from The Atlantic, Larry Tauton interviewed college students who identify themselves as ‘New Atheists.’ Admittedly these students are outliers among their peers; they’re not the indifferent agnostics, too lazy and blasé about religion to give any compelling reasons for their unbelief. Rather these students are religious about their atheism.

Like something is at stake.

Here are the broad results from the interviews:

They had attended church

Most of our participants had not chosen their worldview from ideologically neutral positions at all, but in reaction to Christianity. Not Islam. Not Buddhism. Christianity.

The mission and message of their churches was vague

These students heard plenty of messages encouraging “social justice,” community involvement, and “being good,” but they seldom saw the relationship between that message, Jesus Christ, and the Bible. Listen to Stephanie, a student at Northwestern: “The connection between Jesus and a person’s life was not clear.” This is an incisive critique. She seems to have intuitively understood that the church does not exist simply to address social ills, but to proclaim the teachings of its founder, Jesus Christ, and their relevance to the world. Since Stephanie did not see that connection, she saw little incentive to stay. We would hear this again.

They felt their churches offered superficial answers to life’s difficult questions

When our participants were asked what they found unconvincing about the Christian faith, they spoke of evolution vs. creation, sexuality, the reliability of the biblical text, Jesus as the only way, etc. Some had gone to church hoping to find answers to these questions. Others hoped to find answers to questions of personal significance, purpose, and ethics. Serious-minded, they often concluded that church services were largely shallow, harmless, and ultimately irrelevant. As Ben, an engineering major at the University of Texas, so bluntly put it: “I really started to get bored with church.”

They expressed their respect for those ministers who took the Bible seriously

Following our 2010 debate in Billings, Montana, I asked Christopher Hitchens why he didn’t try to savage me on stage the way he had so many others. His reply was immediate and emphatic: “Because you believe it.” Without fail, our former church-attending students expressed similar feelings for those Christians who unashamedly embraced biblical teaching. Michael, a political science major at Dartmouth, told us that he is drawn to Christians like that, adding: “I really can’t consider a Christian a good, moral person if he isn’t trying to convert me.” As surprising as it may seem, this sentiment is not as unusual as you might think. It finds resonance in the well-publicized comments of Penn Jillette, the atheist illusionist and comedian: “I don’t respect people who don’t proselytize. I don’t respect that at all. If you believe that there’s a heaven and hell and people could be going to hell or not getting eternal life or whatever, and you think that it’s not really worth telling them this because it would make it socially awkward…. How much do you have to hate somebody to believe that everlasting life is possible and not tell them that?” Comments like these should cause every Christian to examine his conscience to see if he truly believes that Jesus is, as he claimed, “the way, the truth, and the life.”

Ages 14-17 were decisive

One participant told us that she considered herself to be an atheist by the age of eight while another said that it was during his sophomore year of college that he de-converted, but these were the outliers. For most, the high school years were the time when they embraced unbelief.

The decision to embrace unbelief was often an emotional one

With few exceptions, students would begin by telling us that they had become atheists for exclusively rational reasons. But as we listened it became clear that, for most, this was a deeply emotional transition as well. This phenomenon was most powerfully exhibited in Meredith. She explained in detail how her study of anthropology had led her to atheism. When the conversation turned to her family, however, she spoke of an emotionally abusive father:

“It was when he died that I became an atheist,” she said.

I could see no obvious connection between her father’s death and her unbelief. Was it because she loved her abusive father — abused children often do love their parents — and she was angry with God for his death? “No,” Meredith explained. “I was terrified by the thought that he could still be alive somewhere.”

Rebecca, now a student at Clark University in Boston, bore similar childhood scars. When the state intervened and removed her from her home (her mother had attempted suicide), Rebecca prayed that God would let her return to her family. “He didn’t answer,” she said. “So I figured he must not be real.” After a moment’s reflection, she appended her remarks: “Either that, or maybe he is [real] and he’s just trying to teach me something.”

The internet factored heavily into their conversion to atheism

When our participants were asked to cite key influences in their conversion to atheism–people, books, seminars, etc. — we expected to hear frequent references to the names of the “New Atheists.” We did not. Not once. Instead, we heard vague references to videos they had watched on YouTube or website forums.

I’ll again quote Michael because his words are Gospel and they should haunt us with their damning truth:

“Christianity is something that if you really believed it, it would change your life and you would want to change [the lives] of others.

I haven’t seen too much of that.”

 

Religion TodayIt would’ve been easier for Peter to stay in the boat rather than to follow Jesus out onto the water.

Here’s a piece from Megan Hodder that I came across and I think resonates with the point I attempted to preach in my sermon on faith from this past weekend.

Last Easter, when I was just beginning to explore the possibility that, despite what I had previously believed and been brought up to believe, there might be something to the Catholic faith, I read Letters to a Young Catholic by George Weigel. One passage in particular struck me.

Talking of the New Testament miracles and the meaning of faith, Weigel writes: “In the Catholic view of things, walking on water is an entirely sensible thing to do. It’s staying in the boat, hanging tightly to our own sad little securities, that’s rather mad.”

In the following months, that life outside the boat – the life of faith –would come to make increasing sense to me, until eventually I could no longer justify staying put. Last weekend I was baptised and confirmed into the Catholic Church.

Of course, this wasn’t supposed to happen. Faith is something my generation is meant to be casting aside, not taking up. I was raised without any religion and was eight when 9/11 took place. Religion was irrelevant in my personal life and had provided my formative years with a rolling-news backdrop of violence and extremism. I avidly read Dawkins, Harris and Hitchens, whose ideas were sufficiently similar to mine that

I could push any uncertainties I had to the back of my mind. After all, what alternative was there to atheism?..

My friendships with practising Catholics finally convinced me that I had to make a decision. Faith, after all, isn’t merely an intellectual exercise, an assent to certain propositions; it’s a radical act of the will, one that engenders a change of the whole person. Books had taken me to Catholicism as a plausible conjecture, but Catholicism as a living truth I came to understand only through observing those already serving the Church within that life of grace.

I grew up in a culture that has largely turned its back on faith. It’s why I was able to drift through life with my ill-conceived atheism going unchallenged, and at least partially explains the sheer extent of the popular support for the New Atheists: for every considerate and well-informed atheist, there will be others with no personal experience of religion and no interest in the arguments who are simply drifting with the cultural tide.

As the popularity of belligerent, all-the-answers atheism wanes, however, thoughtful Christians able to explain and defend their faith will become an increasingly vital presence in the public square. I hope I, in a small way, am an example of the appeal that Catholicism can still hold in an age that at times appears intractably opposed to it.