Dear atheists: most of us don’t care what you think

| Charles Lewis | December 9, 2010 | 2 Comments

There are always debates between atheists and believers. They have been going on forever but they seem to have ramped up ever since a dedicated group of “new atheists” began writing popular works that captured the secular imagination.

You know who they are: Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins and the rest of their dreary crew who are out to prove how stupid religious people are.

Recently Hitchens and former British prime minister Tony Blair debated in Toronto and ever since I have read bits and pieces about who bested whom.

Blair probably should not have even bothered and instead should have gone to mass that night or spent an evening helping out at a shelter or visiting someone who was lonely and sick in a hospital. That would have said a lot more about his faith than wasting a lot of words on a pompous ass whose main intellectual arsenal is sneering and using sarcasm.

This perennial debate between atheists and the religious has no end in sight. It seems to sell tickets and for a certain type of intellectual it is like watching boxing without the blood.

But the debate is useless for one simple reason: most atheists do not have a clue what religion is about. They see religious people as blind sheep following a series of incomprehensible rules and dogmas and then scoff at their lack of enlightenment. They find the flaw in the painting and say it is all now ruined. Atheists are utopians who believe a perfect society can be built if only religion was not in the way.

As far as I can see, those Godless societies have not done too well, unless you consider North Korea a success.

When the book Come Be My Light was published three years ago, it was chance for atheists like Hitchens to pounce. The book was a collection of the private writings of Mother Teresa. Nevertheless, it revealed that she had suffered what the saints have called “the dark night of the soul” — a long period of spiritual dryness in which it “seems” God is absent. She continued to pray but did not feel the warmth of God and this was troubling.

Hitchens immediately jumped on this, seeing this as proof positive that Mother Teresa was fraud.

He wrote: “She was no more exempt from the realization that religion is a human fabrication than any other person, and that her attempted cure was more and more professions of faith could only have deepened the pit that she had dug for herself.”

But Mother Teresa never gave up her faith. All that was happening was that she was struggling and as every serious religious person knows faith includes struggle.

Faith is not about sweet “feelings.” Real faith is a lot tougher and more difficult than feelings. Feelings are fleeting, which every adult should learn at some point. Faith is about a certainty of something underlying all that surrounds us and a dogged acceptance that this life is part of an eternal pilgrimage that has trials. Real faith is like real love — something that endures after the first attraction and then sustains life itself.

Thomas Merton, the great monk and mystic, wrote: “Faith is a light of such supreme brilliance that it dazzles the mind and darkens all its visions of other realities, but in the end when we become used to the new light, we gain a new view of all reality transfigured and elevated in the light itself.”

Atheists are under the ridiculous illusion that religious people think that all they have to do is call out to God and help will be on the way. If it were so, Jesus never would have gone up on the cross. The crucifixion is not a contradiction and the anti-religious cannot get their heads around that. Faith is not the avoidance of trouble, it is facing it head on and then finding holiness.

Faith is not up for debate. I do not care whether Christopher Hitchens or the guy who sits three rows away thinks I am living in a fantasy. Why would I care? If faith could be broken by mindless criticism then it would not be faith. And the old woman kneeling in the pew every Sunday, or the Orthodox Jew who would never miss a Sabbath in Synagogue, have no need to ask permission of anyone to justify what they do and what they believe. They are far tougher than the people who criticize.

Thomas Merton also said: “Love seeks one thing only: the good of the one loved. It leaves all the other secondary effects to take care of themselves. Love, therefore, is its own reward.”

He could have said the same thing about faith.

Charles Lewis is the religion reporter for the Toronto-based National Post newspaper and the editor of the paper’s religion blog, Holy Post.

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  • Ken Durden

    "But the debate is useless for one simple reason: most atheists do not have a clue what religion is about."

    I disagree. Most atheists I know, and recent surveys, say that atheists know religion better than people of faith. ~50% of Catholics don't even know the doctrine of the Real Presence in its most basic form; I think most atheists know what they're disagreeing with across the spectrum of religions than people of faith know about their own religion.

    "If faith could be broken by mindless criticism then it would not be faith."

    …. and could faith be broken by non-mindless criticism, or even good solid fact? Most often not is my conclusion from the data I've seen. Read John Loftus' "Why I Became an Atheist" for a non-sneering, personal, heartfelt, and logical, objective confession of why he abandoned faith, and why you should too…. but that doesn't matter, because if faith could be broken by reason, then it wouldn't be faith, right?

    "As far as I can see, those Godless societies have not done too well, unless you consider North Korea a success."

    You might consider the success of Sweden and Norway and other European societies which rate very high on scales of personal happiness and have nearly completely abandoned their Christian religious heritage. You might also consider the state of nearly all Muslim countries, rather than comparing merely against _totalitarian_ atheistic regimes run by lunatics – or consider the fate of the Jewish people under Christendom for about, oh, about 1950 years.

    Good job on the personal attack on Christopher Hitchens by the way, a man presently dying from cancer…. maybe you should investigate some of his personal reasons for hating faith as much as he does.

  • Giovanni

    You both bring up some very important points, but don't forget the motives why atheists try to denigrate God believing people in the first place. They are simply doing the work of the adversary and all his minions that is, to completely destroy the church and especially its head, the pope. Debates are fine but let us never forget the underlying reasons that motivate such individuals. Therefore, we must always be attentive and watchful and denounce what is false and what is the truth. Christopher Hitchens must really detest especially the Catholic church among other denominations as well,since he is presently dying from cancer. Let us always remember this , that no matter what we say or what we do, the bottom line is that one day,we will all have to personally give an account of ourselves in front of our Creator. God bless you all.