How to Give Atheists the Chance to Give God a Chance

Below is the written version my remarks to the Society of Patrician’s meeting held 9 March 2015 at Saint Veronica’s in Chantilly.

Do you believe in Santa Claus? Most adults do not.

When addressing the question of how to give atheists the chance to give God a chance to save them, we must recall we look to them like adults who believe in Santa Claus. They dismiss our faith as being as childish and irrational as belief in Santa Claus, and far more dangerous.

The question before us this evening is a hard question, for that is the degree of skepticism we face.

Before I address the hard question, I should like to say why I am qualified to answer it.

From my youth upward, I was an atheist, and not just an atheist, but a vituperative, aggressive, evangelical atheist; one who successfully talked people out of faith in God.

I hope no one will mind if I take a few minutes to describe my personal conversion story, since all conversion stories are actually love stories, and I hope we all love love-stories.

My conversion was in two parts: a natural part and a supernatural part. The natural part involved the slow erosion of my hatred of Christianity.

All my adult life, I had lived according to reason. At least to my own satisfaction, I had deduced from self evident first principles a set of logical conclusions about all the deep questions of how best to live. My philosophy was ironclad and airtight.

There was no room for the least particle of sentimentality, superstition, nor supernaturalism in my answer.

Now, it is hard work to forever reject every credible report of miracles, since these things are commonplace. It can only be done if you coat your logic with a thick layer of emotional lard, in my case, pride and contempt.

The first chip in the wall of contempt, surprisingly, came from a friend of mine who was a witch, who hated Christians as much as I. I asked him once some questions about mortality and morality, and found he had simply never faced those questions before.

Where heretofore I had held the Christians to be utterly irrational, I realized then that they were not, for I had found someone more irrational than they. Any illiterate farmer in the Dark Ages who learned his Nicene Creed by rote knew more about how to answer these deep issues than did my friend.

When I became as father, I discovered that my fellow atheists were not merely illogical, but abhorrently inhuman, on the question of abortion. An atheist has nowhere to look for a moral code outside of nature, or human nature; and if human law allows a mother to kill her own baby in the womb, human nature is apparently not strong enough to convince the atheist such an act is monstrous.

Abortion is as deep a moral challenge to our generation as the abolition of slavery was to our forebears. In those days, it struck me as odd that my hated enemies the Christians were right on this issue, and my side was wrong.

As my married life went from bliss to bliss, my youthful belief in sexual liberation (as it is ironically called) evolved into a belief in the beauty and wonder of romance, love, and matrimony.

Even if one does not believe matrimony is a sacrament, logic will eventually drive any honest thinker to realize that before engaging in the act of sexual reproduction, one must make prudent provision for the reproduction which is the natural result of sex, which requires that the parents of the offspring be bound in unbreakable bonds of union.

The modern world preaches the opposite doctrine, and says that sexual gratification is sacred, but the act of reproduction abhorrent, and that all bonds are to be broken at will.

This doctrine is ugly. It filled me with a visceral disgust. To my atheist friends, the only sacred women are the harlot, the lesbian, and the divorcee. I had no disgust for my Christian enemies, to whom mothers are as sacred as virgins, and divorce is the abomination.

My best friend, although a Christian, was raised with this ghastly modern doctrine. He reported that sexual reproduction was nothing more than a sport, like mixed doubles tennis, where one happened to require two persons of the opposite sex to play.

That shocked me to the core of my being.

All the beauty, chivalry, the dangerous adventure of courtship and had been lobotimized from the life of my best friend, without his knowledge.

Who had robbed him? Logic forced me to only one conclusion: contraception was to blame. It was a grave moral evil, one not to be tolerated.

I was thunderstruck that not only were my atheist friends dead wrong on this issue, my hated enemies the Christians correct on this issue, but the most repressive, reactionary, backward, superstitious and obscurantist denomination of them all, those crazy Catholics were dead right.

This happened again and again with issue after issue.

I could not explain it: how could the Christians be right on all the great issues of life, and the atheists be wrong, when the atheists had a hammerlock on reason, and yet the Christians believed in Santa Claus?

I read C S Lewis, and GK Chesterton, and Thomas Aquinas, and they spoke like men whose common sense was as solid as old oak stumps and whose common decency was as deep as fathomless wells.

Whereas meanwhile my atheist friends perverted every natural emotion of patriotism and filial piety, either by despoiling World War One memorials or by pretending that the Founder Fathers of the United States were Deists or Atheists. What nonsense. What humbug.

They were a disgrace to the forces of evil.

The final stroke was simply a question of honesty. A friend of mine asked me what I would do if I saw undeniable proof that God existed. I answered that I would doubt my eyes.

This of course is the wrong answer, but I could not see the wrongness of it until my hatred of Christianity had been entirely wiped away.

I knew it was the wrong answer, and it vexed me that my precious, airtight philosophy had no way to acknowledge that the supernatural existed if it did indeed exist. My vaunted philosophy I had worked so hard to make perfect now was just a circular argument.

So, as a firm believer in the empirical method should do, I performed an experiment. I prayed.

Dear God, I know that you do not exist, and that, even if you did, there is no way you can present to me convincing evidence that you are what the Christians claim you are.

Nonetheless, as a philosopher, I am forced to entertain the hypothetical possibility that I am mistaken. So just in case I am mistaken, please reveal yourself to me in some fashion that will prove your case. If you do not answer, I can safely assume that either you lack the power to convince a skeptic, in which case you are not omnipotent hence not God, or you lack the desire to save the fallen, in which case you are not benevolent, hence not God; in which case, to hell with you.

Thanking you in advance for your kind cooperation in this matter, John Wright

I had a heart attack two days later. God obviously has a sense of humor as well as a sense of timing.

Now for the supernatural part.

My wife is a Christian Scientist, and called a practitioner, who heals through prayer. He prayed and the pain vanished. If this was a coincidence, then, by God, I could use more coincidences like that in my life.

I went to the emergency room not because I was in any more pain, but merely to discover what had happened. I was in the hospital a few days.

Those were the happiest days of my life. A sense of peace and confidence, a peace that passes all understanding, entered me. I felt the Holy Spirit enter my body like wine being poured into a dirty cup. I grew aware of a spiritual dimension of reality of which I had hitherto been unaware.

I saw visions; I was visited by the Father and the Son, the Virgin Mary and an Apostle or two. My visitors asked me not to speak of my visions to others, but I can assure you there was nothing in them you cannot find by reading your Gospel.

I will speak of one thing: Jesus said to me was that God judges no man, but that He, Jesus, would be my judge on Judgment Day.

Now, at that point, I was kind of relieved, because I realized this had to be a dream or a hallucination, since everyone knows God is very judgmental, even vindictive, and no Christian in my hearing had ever said otherwise.

I should mention that about a month after I was out of the hospital, and I was reading the Bible for the first time since my school days, I came across the very phrase Christ had quoted to me: It is John 5:22

For the Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son

As a philosopher, I have been in love with the truth my whole life. But this was the day when the truth turned and looked at me, and it had a human face, and returned my love with a love greater than I can know or express.

Enough about me. Let us return the basic question confronting us tonight. I believe we can generalize from experiences like mine to what can reach the atheist lost and floundering out in the darkness he calls enlightenment.

The first thing to recall is that we alone can do nothing.

It is the Holy Spirit that converts the skeptic.

For reasons too mysterious to comprehend, God, who created us in His own image, gave us freedom of the will akin to His own. He will allow us freely to fling ourselves into the hellfire if that is what we freely wish.

Therefore the Holy Spirit will stand at the door of the atheist heart and knock, but not enter unless invited.

My own experience shed light on what might convince an atheist to extend that invitation.

There are two ways to reject God: the rational and the irrational. Different atheists may a different admixture of the two.

The rational atheist suffers doubts such as mine, where a man finds he has no need to include God in any explanation of the world around him.

He has no reason to credit Jehovah with any more credit than we extend to pagan Gods, Jupiter or Buddha or Mumbojumbo. He has no reason to credit a God who is allegedly benevolent and omnipotent, but who allows the innocent to suffer.

However, the Christian God is not like other gods, all of whom are created beings or personifications of natural forces. The Christian god is both the unmoved mover of Aristotle and the Tao of Lao-Tzu, both the ideal of ideals of Plato, and the nirvana of the Buddhists. The claim being made is fundamentally different, because our god has a philosophical as well as a mythical and a historical character to him.

As for why God allows suffering, that answer can only be answered from inside Christianity. An onlooker outside Christianity looking in cannot see the answer. The answer is not something that can be put into words. The answer is a deed. The answer is a great and horrible deed called the crucifixion.

There are two ways to reach the rational atheist. First, every honest man has something he holds as his highest good, a paramount value or principle or rule of life which serves him in the place of God. The rational atheist will give God a chance once he realizes that his paramount value is arbitrary and irrational in a universe where there is no God.

Second, the rational atheist, if the arguments are put before him, will come to see that the Christian worldview was as worthy of respect as the worldview of Aristotle or Confucius or that of any other pagan sage or philosopher. This can only be done by Christians being willing, as Lewis and Chesterton were, of supporting the reasons behind Christianity.

And, once he sees this, he will see that only monotheism can support the highest value he regards as valuable.

The way to cure ignorance is through knowledge.

The ignorance of the atheist has seven very powerful allies keeping him blind: lust, gluttony, avarice, sloth, wrath, envy and pride. We for our part have very powerful allies shining light in that darkness, brighter than the lightningbolt:

The first is justice: no coherent account of life can truly be erected on a logically consistent atheist foundation. A fair examination of the various worldviews offered to the modern man will always award the Christian view the laurel.

The second is prudence: the atheist culture, and the atheist man, have no means to avoid floundering in the mire of lust and powerlust, lust of the eyes and the rat’s-race of chasing after material possessions, which, in the long run, never bring the satisfaction at first glance they seem to promise.

The third is fortitude: no atheist can stare without flinching into the utter abyss of the infinite death that confronts him, death that will one day consume wife, children, nation, race, and the whole earth.

We Christians can rejoice in the smallness of the Earth in the cosmic scheme of things for the same reason we rejoice in the humbleness of our prince being born in a smelly stable in the remotest corner of the Empire, or the humiliation of a god suffering the death of a slave.

But the atheist can only be aghast at the smallness of all human efforts: we live on a speck of dust circling a medium sized star in the smallest Arm of the Milky Way. The Andromeda Galaxy is ten times our size, and will collide with us in three billion years. At that point in time, there will be no record of anything you can name, for even the constellations will be gone. The atheist can be an atheist only one of two ways: by pretending to possess a philosophical stoicism in the face of death which no real person can long maintain, or by pretending to be a philistine who ignores the grand scheme of things to concentrate on pleasures and distractions, growing ever more frustrated as they pall.

And atheism is terribly lonely. There is no companionship with anything other than frail and treasonous fellow man to look to for comfort. There is no forgiveness.

The final is temperance: the fact of the matter is that human beings do not have the power, by exercise of their own self control, to live happy, prosperous, virtuous and peaceful lives. If we all lived like Mother Theresa of Calcutta, lives of incomprehensible joy in the face of suffering, we could conquer the current world order just as our ancestors conquered the Roman Empire, without ever drawing a sword or raising a fist in our own defense.

So much for the rational atheist.

The irrational atheist does not doubt God but instead hates him. This leaves the irrational atheist free to indulge in every vice and sin their darkened hearts can conceive, and indulge in every slander against the Church the dishonest imagination can supply, or otherwise their hatred cannot be maintained.

The only way hatred of God can be eroded is by love.

You, my fellow Christians, must be willing and able, with the help of the Holy Spirit, to live lives so remarkable for your charity and love and peace and joy that the irrational atheist will be shocked and surprised and ask you about your source of joy.

You have to live lives he envies, without abortion, without divorce, without the sins that create such misery.

Once the atheist sees that his answers answer nothing, that his code of conduct leads to barren misery, selfishness, wrath or despair, he can perhaps be lead to see that our answer answers everything and more: answers too good to be true, but which are true because they are so good. Be ready to bind up his wounds and stow him at the inn at your own expense, because eventually the sharp difference between the world and his false picture of the world will wound him.

And in the meantime, pray. We Catholics have all the seraphim, thrones, dominions and powers as our allies, not to mention the saints, including Saint Nicholas, the patron of mariners. Considering the fact that we Catholics actually do believe in Saint Nicholas, the least we can do is try to get our atheist friends to open the Christmas present Christ gave the world, the gift of infinite life and endless bliss.

 

 

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