The Other Side of the Picture

This was written by Flannery O’Conner (who, along with Dean Koontz and Walker Percy, ranks as the most widely famed of Catholic and Southern authors) to a student who had, or thought he had, lost his faith in College.

30 May 1962

To Alfred Corn,

I think that this experience you are having of losing your faith, or as you think, of having lost it, is an experience that in the long run belongs to faith; or at least it can belong to faith if faith is still valuable to you, and it must be or you would not have written me about this.

I don’t know how the kind of faith required of a Christian living in the 20th century can be at all if it is not grounded on this experience that you are having right now of unbelief. This may be the case always and not just in the 20th century. Peter [sic] said, “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.” It is the most natural and most human and most agonizing prayer in the gospels, and I think it is the foundation prayer of faith.

As a freshman in college you are bombarded with new ideas, or rather pieces of ideas, new frames or reference, an activation of the intellectual life which is only beginning, but which is already running ahead of your lived experience. After a year of this, you think you cannot believe. You are just beginning to realize how difficult it is to have faith and the measure of a commitment to it, but you are too young to decide you don’t have faith just because you feel you can’t believe. About the only way we know whether we believe or not is by what we do, and I think from your letter that you will not take the path of least resistance in this matter and simply decide that you have lost your faith and that there is nothing you can do about it.

One result of the stimulation of your intellectual life that takes place in college is usually a shrinking of the imaginative life.

This sounds like a paradox, but I have often found it to be true. Students get so bound up with difficulties such as reconciling the clashing of so many different faiths such as Buddhism, Mohammedanism, etc., that they cease to look for God in other ways. Bridges once wrote Gerard Manley Hopkins and asked him to tell him how he, Bridges, could believe. He must have expected from Hopkins a long philosophical answer. Hopkins wrote back, “Give alms.” He was trying to say to Bridges that God is to be experienced in Charity (in the sense of love for the divine image in human beings). Don’t get so entangled with intellectual difficulties that you fail to look for God in this way.

The intellectual difficulties have to be met, however, and you will be meeting them for the rest of your life. When you get a reasonable hold on one, another will come to take its place. At one time, the clash of the different world religions was a difficulty for me. Where you have absolute solutions, however, you have no need of faith. Faith is what you have in the absence of knowledge. The reason this clash doesn’t bother me any longer is because I have got, over the years, a sense of the immense sweep of creation, of the evolutionary process in everything, of how incomprehensible God must necessarily be to be the God of heaven and earth. You can’t fit the Almighty into your intellectual categories. I might suggest that you look into some of the works of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (The Phenomenon of Man et al.). He was a paleontologist–helped to discover Peking man–and also a man of God. I don’t suggest that you go to him for answers but for different questions, for that stretching of the imagination that you need to make you a sceptic in the face of much that you are learning, much of which is new and shocking but which when boiled down becomes less so and takes place in the general scheme of things. What kept me a sceptic in college was precisely my Christian faith. It always said: wait, don’t bite on this, get a wider picture, continue to read.

If you want your faith, you have to work for it. It is a gift, but for very few is it a gift given without any demand for equal time devoted to its cultivation. For every book you read that is anti-Christian, make it your business to read one that presents the other side of the picture; if one isn’t satisfactory read others. Don’t think that you have to abandon reason to be a Christian.

A book that might help you is The Unity of Philosophical Experience by Etienne Gilson. Another is Newman’s The Grammar of Assent. To find out about faith, you have to go to the people who have it and you have to go to the most intelligent ones if you are going to stand up intellectually to agnostics and the general run of pagans that you are going to find in the majority of people around you. Much of the criticism of belief that you find today comes from people who are judging it from the standpoint of another and narrower discipline. The Biblical criticism of the 19th century, for instance, was the product of historical disciplines. It has been entirely revamped in the 20th century by applying broader criteria it, and those people who lost their faith in the 19th century because of it, could better have hung on in blind trust.

Even in the life of a Christian, faith rises and falls like the tides of an invisible sea. It’s there, even when he can’t see it or feel it, if he wants it to be there. You realize, I think, that it is more valuable, more mysterious, altogether more immense than anything you can learn or decide upon in college. Learn what you can, but cultivate Christian scepticsm. It will keep you free – not free to do anything you please, but free to be formed by something larger than your own intellect or the intellects of those around you.

I don’t know if this is the kind of answer that can help you, but any time you care to write me, I can try to do better.

Source: The Habit of Being: Letters of Flannery O’Connor, edited by Sally Fitzgerald (New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1979), pages 476-78.

My comment:

Hear, hear. Wisdom is in all these words, but particularly the paragraph where she speaks of the limitation of the imagination which hinders faith.

This is a mental disorder inflicted by modern education. It is a narrowing the mind in the name of broadmindedness, and the closing of the mind in the name of openmindedness.

It is the folly of those who are taught only enough of a subject to be told the objections and questions undermining its foundations, but not enough to do the disciplined and rigorous intellectual work, yes, the hard work, of answering those objections or sitting as a judge and making a determination of their admissibility, as debating as a juror and weighing their probity and pertinence.

Her advice, written in the day when America was still a Christian culture, that is, the unspoken moral assumptions were fundamentally Christian, and only in Academia was there a moral atmosphere alien to Christianity growing, is even more poignant these days, when that atmosphere has conquered, and now smogs every city, hamlet, and farm. For every antichristian book you read, read a Christian one. Hear both sides of the argument. Don’t place faith in those who sneer that the other side has no argument. Each side always has an argument. Always. The human cannot exist that does not justify his acts.

I pass this letter along to any who might read these words who is struggling with his faith in a fashion, thanks be to the astonishing grace of God, I have not had to struggle, and, until I read this letter, I was not blissfully unaware that anyone had to struggle.

This gift of faith is no merit of mine, and I am not boasting. I know of no divine gift given so freely to a man less worthy of it. As if a mad Caesar had found a thieving beggar, crawling with lice and rolling his the mire of the gutter, and made him Augustus.  Madness, perhaps, but it  is a divine madness, for the lovingkindness of the Lord surpasses the understanding of men far wiser than I.

I suppose my experience of being a very well informed and energetic atheist for 35 years gives me such a clear insight into all atheists doubts as to recognize their utter worthlessness.

If you had been a devout believer in the flat earth theory, or a votary of the notion that the moonlandings were faked on a soundstage, from age seven to age fourty-two, and every day mediated or debated every nuance of evidence and proof for and against your cockamamie theory; and then by some unearthly power were lifted to the moon and stood in the Sea of Tranquility so that you could see Neal Armstrong’s unchanging footprint, and, raising your eyes to heaven, could see the serene Earth in her glorious and blue roundness, so that all your empty words exploded out of your mind with an explosive decompression of laughter, such a man would never be lured again by the bogus appearances of his superficial and supercilious theory, no more than a mortician is fooled by lipstick on a corpse.

Likewise, I am unlikely to be attracted to the meretricious charms of the atheist argument because at 42 I matured to the level ordinary people, by which I mean Christian people, reach at age 7. I cannot go back to childish things: the mobile over the crib and the clown-faces on the nursery walls have no more appeal to me.

But the analogy is poor, because children are attracted to wholesome images: smiling faces; flowers; sun. A better example would be the infection of attraction which afflicts some early teens to dark and morbid images, harsh metallic unmusical music, posters of romanticized diabolism.

There are a those few respectable men who honestly disbelieve because of sober philosophical doubt. They are perhaps one in ten or one in a hundred. Their doubts must be taken seriously and answered seriously. That is the task of apologetic. We do not reason with sober atheists to give them faith, for only the Holy Ghost gives faith. We reason with them to show that the objections and obstacles to faith are not grounded in reason.

Take it from one who knows, who has been there, who has lived the life. Honest atheists are gullible, despite that we (I use the word advisedly) pride ourselves on our skepticism. We let ourselves be fooled by flimsy arguments and trivial objections. The task of Christian apologetic is to teach these sophomores skepticism, to teach them the ancient and manly art of logical reasoning.

Oh? Did you think that reason was on their side, and our side was the side of blind faith? How gullible of you. Examine your axioms.

The other nine-tenths or ninety percent merely pretend, and not very convincingly, to be such men. These are men addicted to condescension, who think a sneer is an argument, who are angry at the God in which they claim not to believe, and are tormented by unquiet consciences, and slaves to the shallow intellectual fashions of a world that despises reason and right reason.

They will be convinced, if at all, by the witness of how good Christians live their lives: they will see our charity and chastity and forbearance and be amazed.  That task is, alas, for hands cleaner than mine.

This is as true in the battle for the imagination of the West as it is in the battle for the intellect. As I say above, all atheists claim to be intellectuals, but nine-tenths or more are atheists for unintellectual reasons, namely, that their imaginations have been narrowed or closed to the images of the divine. They literally cannot imagine the truth. Their literature sees to that.

So I would emphasize Flannery O’Conner’s advice. For every anti-Christian work of philosophy you read, read a Christian one. But also for every work of anti-Christian fiction, or, if I may permitted, of science fiction. This should apply to movies and television shows as well. Let it be at least one for one.

So the next time you see an episode of your favorite cop show where the Catholic priest is a pedophile ax-murderer, go watch THE BELLS OF SAINT MARY’S starring Bing Crosby and the luminous Ingrid Bergman. If you see JESUS CHRIST, SUPERSTAR, which portrays the Savior as a shallow rock star drunk on fame, then go see THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST, which portrays the Savior as profound.

And I do not limit my comments to openly and overtly anti-Christian works, nor am I suggesting reading stories that are overly Christian in theme.  The Antichrist is a spirit, a mood, a moral atmosphere: it is indeed the temptation to delight in nothingness.

If you read BLINDSIGHT by Peter Watt, which portrays a world in which reason is impotent, then go read FIRST LENSMAN by E.E. ‘Doc’ Smith, which portrays a world where reason is omnipotent; or if you read A WIZARD OF EARTHSEA  by Ursula K LeGuin, which portrays Taoist quietism and acceptance of one’s own dark side as admirable and natural, then go read VOYAGE OF THE DAWN TREADER by C.S. Lewis, which portrays the dark and dragonish side of one’s own soul as a monstrous skin that must, not without pain, be shed. It is a much more honest view.

My point here is that any who are not against us, even if they are not explicitly Christian, are for us. I do not, for example, happen to know or want to know the personal beliefs of Jim Butcher or Neal Stephenson, but their even-handed portrayals of men of faith, or of the beauty of normal things, makes them fellow travelers with us, whether they know it or not, or like it or not. Anything that paints a picture in true perspective, undistorted, unidisgusting, uninsane, or, in a word, not in the camp of Picasso, intentionally or not is in the camp of the pre-Raphaelites.

Unfortunately, if you do this, you might find that the films and books with more craftsmanship and art, more wit and humor, are mostly on the side of the unchristian spirit.

That is the advantage the dark side has: the Dark Lord is trying to get us to trip and fall. And it is easy to get men to believe easy and stupid answers, to walk about with their eyes half closed and their minds half empty, because the natural sloth which grows like moss in every human heart is the dark side’s ally. The darkness lulls us to sleep.

The Promethean task of lighting a fire, and shaping the inner ape to stand on his own two feet like a man, ah, that is harder, and is much harder to portray. It cannot appeal to man’s lower instincts, to sneering pride or prurient lust. It can only appeal to the highest.

The Nothingness promises peace. The Nothingness promises so much. It is the Christian story-teller’s task to tell stories to remind the half-slumbering reader that the Nothingness, if you believe the promises and sell yourself to it, will give you in return exactly that: you will get nothing, fall into nothing, and become nothing.


  1. Comment by Maypo:

    If you read the twisted sensibilities found in much of Heinlein (I Will Fear No Evil, etc.), balance that by a refreshing dip in the Middle Earth.

  2. Comment by gray mouser:

    What a great letter. O’Conner does an admirable job of explicating Newman’s own statement that “Ten thousand difficulties do not one doubt make.” I know many people that think because they don’t understand some aspect of the faith they must, therefore, doubt it. That’s like saying since I don’t understand why my wife loves me I must doubt that she does. It’s sheer nonsense. (One might have evidence of the love of their spouse but proof is another matter.) She tells me she loves me, I have no reason to think otherwise even in the face of my own incomprehension of the matter. I write the whole off to the goodness of God and the poor judgement of my wife.

    Speaking of Dean Koontz, Mr. Wright, did you see the recent-ish interview he gave to Raymond Arroyo? It was thoroughly enjoyable, and quite interesting and touched quite a bit on how his faith influences his work.

    • Comment by John C Wright:

      Speaking of Dean Koontz, Mr. Wright, did you see the recent-ish interview he gave to Raymond Arroyo? It was thoroughly enjoyable, and quite interesting and touched quite a bit on how his faith influences his work.

      Not only did I see it, but I mention him here because of that interview. I had not known he was a Catholic until then. Am I correct he is from the South?

      • Comment by gray mouser:

        I was unaware of Koontz being a Catholic, as well. My wife is a much bigger fan of his than I am though after seeing his interview I am tempted to read his “Odd Thomas” series. I think it was likely that since Koontz and Arroyo are co-religionists Koontz felt better able to go in depth on the matter of faith in his life and work (his statement about the Book of Tobit, one of my favorites, was quite interesting from a Biblical Scholarship standpoint and somethign I can guarantee would never come up if he was interviewed by a “normal” reporter).

        As for him being Southern, I know he was born and raised in Pennsylvania, though I am unsure where he resides now.

  3. Comment by Darth Imperius:

    (John, I ran across this ( analysis of Catholicism the other day and I wonder if you’d care to comment. This might explain why I respect Catholicism, which still contains some vestige of the majesty of imperial Rome, but despise the filth that is Protestantism:)

    There is one idea though that I’ve been thinking about recently. I wondered, what exactly makes the Catholic Church not progressive, in the Moldbugian sense? It has been argued that Christianity is progressivism (and vice versa), and that seems really plausible to me. It’s fundamentally a monist, universalist, transgressive salvation movement.1

    Then I got this idea. (And I feel really stupid for only getting it now, when I’ve personally argued every single component of it before.) Catholicism is a containment procedure. The point of the Catholic faith is to defeat Christianity. It’s a long troll.

    The first thing Catholics did was to pwn every single Christian movement until only they were left. Marcion got censored, bowdlerized and just plain trolled. Gnostics, Jews and Cynics were absorbed, itinerant and charismatic preachers were shut down, prophecy was officially forbidden.

    Then the real work began. They imported as many proven institutions as they could and prepared Europe for the Fall of Rome. (Thanks to which European civilization exists today.) Theologically, they completely neutered Jesus. There is no apocalypse, no call to perfection, no immediate salvation, no suffering to overcome, no secret teaching, no hidden God. And the best thing: Catholics inserted fundamental otherness as a good thing into the teaching. That’s the best anti-progressive troll of all!

    This massive undertaking was successful at containing Christianity for a long time. It wasn’t until those dirty Protestants realized that the Church has no intention whatsoever to take itself seriously. They didn’t realize that Christ is a basilisk, and there’s a reason He’s so obscured.

    You can’t handle the truth and the way and the life!

    • Comment by John C Wright:

      The problem with the theory is that you have adopted the very doctrine you say you despise, the Protestant theory that the Church suddenly become the seat of the Antichrist with the assumption of Saint Constantine to the purple, and that all the saints and martyrs suffered and bled and died, and all the pilgrims traveled, and all the blackfriars preached, in order to spread a doctrine they did not believe in order to mock a God in which they did believe.

      I get the joke. Your jest is that it seems funny to mock the only source of goodness and light in this sad and dark world of pagan despair and dreary postchristian misery because mocking anything makes you feel superior, for a moment, above it.

      You are a man on a gallows making fun of the Judge whose son you murdered, and sneering at the hangman, calling him names, daring him to throw the lever. In your pocket is the pardon from the governor, but you will not pull it out and escape condemnation, because that does not appeal to your pride, and because, even with the halter around your fragile neck, you will not admit the truth of your peril to yourself.

      I get the joke. It is gallow’s humor. And the joke is on you, my sad, pathetic little pen-pal.

    • Comment by John C Wright:

      Oh, and to answer your question, no, I am not willing to click through the link, read some boring anti-Catholic agitprop, and comment on it. The reason why I became a Catholic is because everything my Protestant friends told me about what the Church teaches and says, and I mean everything, including obvious teachings anyone could look up at any time, turned out to be false, whereas the things my Catholic friends said about the Protestant teachings (I was raised Lutheran) were true. I have heard all the Anti-Catholic arguments ad infinitum et ad nauseam. As for general Anti-Christian arguments, none I have read are even as good as the ones I used to make. I consider modern atheists and antitheists and diabolists to be disgraces to the forces of evil. Sauron the Great is rubbing his temples and sighing in disgust at your efforts.

      • Comment by Darth Imperius:

        I just wanted to clarify that I didn’t write any of this, I just cut and paste it into my post. I didn’t read it as anti-Catholic propaganda, but pro-Catholic, but sometimes I forget that we’re in mirror universes and see these things differently.

        • Comment by Tom Simon:

          We’re in the same universe. You’re morally dyslexic, that’s all.

          • Comment by John C Wright:

            While ‘Darth’ thinks of himself as being the bold proclaimers of a new doctrine the common folk are too unenlightened to share, he is, in fact, a Gnostic, one who believes good is evil and evil is good. It is the dominant paradigm of the age, and variations of it run through Marxism, Behaviorism, Eugenics, Political Correctness, and all the other ‘isms’ and ideologies and ersatz religions with which the cramped soul of self-blind modern man distracts and diverts and amuses himself.

            In truth, it is the most trite and most tired and most easily refuted of all heresies. Indeed, it hardly needs refuting, as it refutes itself. Anyone patient enough to argue the point will soon discover that the Gnostic, knowing logic is his kryptonite, will spend all his time mocking logic, mocking the human ability to think, and making ad hominem attacks against his questioner. If backed into a corner, he will excuse himself from the conversation, or change the subject, or counter by making some accusation against his questioner.

            I strongly suspect that there is a neurosis involved. The flaw in the personality of the Gnostic is a philosophical one, and as if by unwilling instinct, the Gnostic is drawn ever and ever against to philosophical conversations, or ideas with at least a veneer of intellectualism. They want to be intellectuals but do not have the intellectual prowess to be, so they adopt as many of the outward signs and appearance of intellectuals as they can imitate, something like a child putting on her mother’s clothes. That is why they use big words to say really dumb things. It is cute, in a way, or would be if Gnostics were small children.

            It is as if an organism were trying to find and cure the source of its pain. In this case, the pain is philosophical, and only philosophy can cure it. But the answer given by philosophy, namely, that any self-refuting argument is false, invalidates the whole point of Gnosticism. And so the neurotic recoils, unable to think about his belief system, and unable to cease from thinking about it.

            • Comment by Tom Simon:

              While ‘Darth’ thinks of himself as being the bold proclaimers of a new doctrine the common folk are too unenlightened to share, he is, in fact, a Gnostic, one who believes good is evil and evil is good.

              Precisely. This is why I called him morally dyslexic. Ordinary dyslexia is when you can’t tell right from left; moral dyslexia is when you can’t tell right from wrong. In either case, there is a minority of sufferers who can be relied upon to guess wrong nearly every time, because they use some other method to make up for the natural capacity that they lack, and, not having the natural capacity, they are unable to tell that their chosen method produces the opposite of the correct result.

              • Comment by DGDDavidson:

                In this case, I think it would be hasty to saddle Darth with a diagnosed neurosis when none of us have even met him. Personally, I think it more likely he’s a teenager goofing off in his mom’s basement. The evil he knowingly preaches is not consistent from one week or month to the next and looks like the writing of someone who is merely amusing himself.

        • Comment by gray mouser:

          I just wanted to clarify that I didn’t write any of this, I just cut and paste it into my post. I didn’t read it as anti-Catholic propaganda, but pro-Catholic, but sometimes I forget that we’re in mirror universes and see these things differently.

          Wow, I’d hate to see what you take as being anti-Catholic.

    • Comment by Nostreculsus:

      Dear Darth,

      Your friend, Mr Muflax, perceives a difference between Catholicism and Protestantism, but his imprecise nomenclature muddles things a bit. Let us go to the Egyptian mystery religion for our taxonomy and label Catholicism as the camp of Osiris, the Lord of Resurrection, and Protestantism, Judaism and Islam as containing elements of the camp of Set, the Lord of the Desert Places.

      The camp of Set attempts to conquer this world, promised to them by God, through force of arms. The Old Testament stories of the Israelite conquests inspired America’s pioneers, who saw themselves as winning a promised land from the pagans. A similar myth inspires jihadists, who intend to conquer the entire globe. But the path of Osiris is to die in this world, and be reborn. And Osiris’ holiest ritual is the eating of the bread which represents his sacrificed body.

      See how much clearer these terms make Muflax’s insights. “Catholicism” does not aim to defeat “Christianity”. Rather, Catholicism (Osiris) supersedes the crass ambitions of Judaism (and Islam and the more militant Protestantisms). The first goal of Catholicism was not to suppress other beliefs and neuter Jesus; it was to fulfill every pagan and Egyptian sacrament and proclaim Jesus as the true “Resurrected God”, “Lord of Life” and merciful “Judge of the Dead” – to list just three titles of Osiris.

      Proclaim, if you will, that Catholicism has been subverting crude attempts to rule in this world, under a monotheist god, but do not claim that this subversion is the defeat of Christianity.

      • Comment by Suburbanbanshee:

        I’m still trying to wrap my head around someone saying that Marcion was bowdlerized by the eeeeevil Catholic Church.

        Marcion was the king bowdlerizer of all time. He threw out every single bit of every single Bible book that he didn’t like, including the entire Old Testament and all but bits of one Gospel out of the New, because he didn’t like all this Jewishness in his Christianity.

        How the heck could you bowdlerize somebody who’d already bowdlerized himself to that extent? Cut out half the alphabet?

  4. Comment by TheConductor:

    For better or worse, I am usually more apt, when discovering that a book I have begun reading is actively hostile to Christian belief, not to finish it and read another work in compensation, but simply to fling the first book aside in disgust. I am sure I am denying myself some great writing, but on the other hand the acts of men are as water.

    • Comment by Mary:

      Even a partial reading may make a purgative wise.

    • Comment by joeclark77:

      I have three kinds of books: the ones I keep in my library because I might want to re-read them or share them with my family, the ones I donate to Goodwill because they were just okay and not worth keeping, and the ones I throw in the trash because it would be a sin to put someone else at risk of stumbling on to them.

    • Comment by DGDDavidson:

      Aside from His Dark Materials and The Story of the Devil, I cannot recall a book I’ve read recently that was openly hostile to Christianity, though I’ve probably read many things more subtly so.

      I lost my ability to take His Dark Materials seriously somewhere around the middle of book 2, and the climax of the series, I’m slightly embarrassed to say, had me doubled over with laughter. That those novels are treated as Deep is one of life’s great mysteries.

      The Story of the Devil I didn’t finish, but it did require some detox.

  5. Comment by Mary:

    Poul Anderson’s Operation Chaos
    Rick Cook’s Limbo System

  6. Comment by paul.griffin:

    Since you are quoting her at length, should I take this to mean that you have started re-reading or at least re-investigating her?

    My wife has said often (and jokingly) that O’Connor is the only woman she has ever felt threatened by, and that she is glad that our lifetimes did not overlap, lest she be deprived of her husband by another :)

    Also, gray mouser, I find myself using that very analogy more and more when discussing faith with people. Most seem to think that faith is just closing your eyes and believing something that is demonstrably untrue. I have found it helpful, when questioned about my belief in God, to ask someone to prove the love of their wife (or a friend, or some other meaningful relationship) to me scientifically, with rigor. I think even the most meager attempt to submit a relationship to proof via scientific method would destroy the very thing it would test.

    In this regard, I believe Othello to be a perfect illustration of an attempt to do so, as well as giving some not-so-subtle hints as to the source from whence that sort of doubt and urge for that sort of knowledge comes. After all, what was the first temptation, if not to doubt One who had given you no reason to do so, and to try to seize His knowledge for our own?

    In thinking over these things, and discussing them with many friends, I find myself saying frequently that there is no faith without relationship. For someone to say that my God is nonexistent or that my faith in Him is a sham has become about as silly to me as a stranger saying similar things about my wife’s love for me. I could not prove it to you scientifically, but I have years of relationship that attest to her worthiness. I know her in ways that neither you nor anyone else does. Our relationship is the source of my faith in her, and that is something I cannot share with you the way I might share Avogadro’s number or the date of Columbus’ landing. For all the ferocity and seriousness of your attack, you may as well be a child of five, attacking me with a foam noodle, in hopes of getting my wallet by main force.

    Furthermore, to assault my Faith in God is little more than an attempt to claim it for yourself. You are quite literally asking me to trust you more than the God I have had a relationship with since as far back as my memory goes. In addition to that, I have the testimony of parents and grandparents, friends and loved ones (who have likewise earned my faith through relationship), not to mention the writings of thousands upon thousands of others, preserved over millenia, all attesting the worthiness of this God, the trustworthiness of this God that I should put my faith in Him.

    Against all of that, the best most can manage by way of attack is to say, “Well, God’s not real and they’re all wrong and you’re stupid for believing them.”, with an implied, “Believe me instead!”

    Based on what, exactly? Wouldn’t it be better for you to meet the source of my Great Hope? To learn from whence my Great Joy? To come and see that He is Good?

    • Comment by Vicq Ruiz:


      I hope you would not be surprised to learn that there are those who, while not sharing your faith, have no intent to “assault” it, and indeed would be mortified to think they had done something to give that impression.

      I have said many times in person and many times in various internet fora that I can no more conceive of a universe ruled by unseen supernatural beings than I can of a universe where addition is commutative.

      But in no way do I ever hold myself out as the intellectual superior of those who do have religious faith. What I now accept is that I am one of those who in Pascal’s phrase “is made so that I cannot believe”….. and as I would expect anyone to respect my unbelief, I respect and honor your faith.

      • Comment by paul.griffin:

        This merits a longer reply than I have time to give right now, but briefly:

        No, I am not surprised in the least. I count many of these my friends. I count many who would and do assault my faith my friends. I do my best to pray for them all and to return their friendship. A kind word from a true friend does more to convince than the most logical argument. Again, there is no faith without relationship. If you cannot see Him, at least see me, poor representation that I am. The Church is His body in more ways than one.

        To limit the universe (perhaps “cosmos” is a better word for my purposes) only to what you can conceive is to a) put yourself in a very small, stifling box, and b) to set yourself up as God of this tiny cosmos, however small. There was a relatively long stretch of my life where I could not conceive a universe where a woman would have anything to do with me, let alone marry me. There is a reason the sacraments of the Church are often referred to as mysteries.

        Faith has almost nothing to do with intelligence. I would almost venture to say that it is a much more difficult journey for those endowed with greater mental prowess. At best, I might say that I am friends with better People, but even this seems to imply a claim to superiority on my part, which is mere foolishness at best, and Pride at worst.

        I would not say that I “respect” your unbelief. I can certainly respect you and (even better) love you as a fellow traveler and a person with your own choices to make. Neither I nor John, nor even God Himself can force you to believe anything. Inasmuch as I believe that your separation from God will be your undoing, I have nothing but hatred for it. It is the drug we are all addicted to. But arguing you into submission or telling you that God hates you or (worse) that I hate you accomplishes nothing and is possibly the most counterproductive “evangelism” I could imagine.

      • Comment by John C Wright:

        “I have said many times in person and many times in various internet fora that I can no more conceive of a universe ruled by unseen supernatural beings than I can of a universe where addition is commutative. ”

        Do you mean this literally? If I wrote a science fiction story in which a universe were ruled by unseen supernatural beings, you would stare at the words on the page without being able to picture in your imagination what the story is about?

        Or if Homer writes about the gods of Olympos, or Dante about the souls on the cornices of Mount Purgatory, or Shakespeare about the ghost of Hamlet or the Witches of Macbeth or the Fairy-King of a Midsummer Night’s Dream, you literally cannot envision these things in your mind?

        How is it, then, that this is the default assumption for nearly all stories for nearly all of human history?

        Do you have a similar difficulty imagining that an invisible force like gravity pins you to the surface of the Earth, which, despite that it looks flat to the human eye, is actually round like a globe? Do you have a similar difficulty imagining that an invisible force like time is making you grow old minute by minute?

        Or do you merely mean you find the word ‘supernatural’ to be illogical or incoherent, that, upon examination, you think the word does not refer to anything that does or could exist? This is a difficulty I had with the word back when I was an atheist: I thought that whatever existed, by definition, was ‘nature’ and that calling something ‘above’ nature or ‘supernature’ was merely an awkward metaphor for a daydreamy figment, a hope that life was not what it seemed.

        However, the relationship is easy enough to explain. Think of the relation that an playwright stands to his play, or the relationship between the mind and the body. The word supernatural refers to any being, if any exist, who stand to the physical world we see with our senses in that relationship, the foundational non-physical truths, necessary truths, which the conditional truths of the visible world depend upon. It is no more mysterious or incomprehensible than relationship between three apples and the abstract number three, which is invisible and which governs the numbering of those apples.

        I find it ironic that in stating your alleged inability to imagine any invisible supernatural things, you refer to an invisible thing which stands above nature and cannot be changed by any natural events, namely, a rule of mathematics.

        I respect your unbelief about as much I a doctor respects a disease. It is a cancer set to kill you. The cure is logic. You must think on those very things which at the moment most repel your thought, these supernatural things you for some reason think unreasonable.

        Think! Use your powers of reasoning! Think, as if your life depended on it. Wake up out of the mush of emotion and sentimentality which mires and gums the engine of your mind.

  7. Comment by Sylvie D. Rousseau:

    …the disciplined and rigorous intellectual work, yes, the hard work, of answering those objections or sitting as a judge and making a determination of their admissibility, as debating as a juror and weighing their probity and pertinence.

    Well said.

    On the necessity of judgment:
    I have been reading Dr. Charton’s Thought Prison and noticed he qualifies Leftist and PC worldview as “abstract”. I was a bit taken aback as I find nothing wrong with abstraction in itself, but then I recalled abstraction is the first of the two necessary operations of the intellect. Knowledge is achieved only when abstract thought is completed with the second operation of the mind, namely judgment, when our ideas are checked against reality. To be proven true, our ideas must terminate at the thing itself, actual or possible; judgment must assert what the thing is in extramental reality.

    No wonder then that Leftists and nihilists are always accusing others of being “judgmental”. Paradoxically, they themselves judge others all the time and almost always wrongly, unwittingly proving their worldview is very abstract indeed, in the sense of “unreal”, nonsensical, dystopian.

    Now that I think of it, Dr. Andreassen’s recent accusation that philosophers are playing word games and uttering verbiage applies perfectly to modern philosophy, almost all of it being only “abstract”, not corresponding to reality even when it pretends to be existential or materialist, whereas Aristotelian-Thomistic philosophy always was existential and grounded in reality.

    The darkness lulls us to sleep.
    The Promethean task of lighting a fire… appeals only to the highest [of man’s instincts].

    Again, well said.
    To think Nietzsche and his ilk believe they are doing Promethean work…

  8. Ping from Abstraction and Judgment « Sylvie D. Rousseau:

    […] a blogpost titled “The Other Side of the Picture” about the failings of Leftist and politically correct college education, John C. Wright […]

  9. Ping from North vrs South; Leaving Doubts Unanswered « Yard Sale of the Mind:

    […] A while back, John C. Wright discussed two topics that triggered a funny twinge of recognition and regret: the difference between the north and south of Europe; and the need to not let challenges to the faith go unanswered. […]

    Leave a Reply