Thursday, January 10, 2013

A Gift to Atheists

Children keep pretending to believe in Santa Claus for some time after they have ceased to do so; this is partly to please the Powers that Be, partly because they recognize the benefits that flow from pretending to believe, and partly out of sentiment.

Societies go through exactly the same process with regard to faith in God.

I present the above reflection to atheists and religion-bashers for their use in debate; simply because I can't bear to listen to the "I just believe in one fewer god than you do" or "We used to think that thunder was Thor's hammer" lines anymore.

Seriously, I think I could make stronger arguments against religion than any of the ones I hear from secularists and anti-theists. This is not because I think I'm clever. It's simply because people who have arrived at religious faith very often have thought through all the objections, and have come out on the other side.

I can't remember ever having a naive belief in God. Maybe I did in early childhood, but I don't remember it if I did. I can remember listening to a hymn being sung in primary school and thinking, "Surely they can't believe all that stuff, can they?"


  1. I wonder why God gives us different paths to Him? I have always acknowledged His existence. For a long time as a brattish teen I doubted the Catholic Church had the patent but never not known that He is there. I was furious for a time when grieving as an adult but again no doubts.

    I wonder if it was lovely nuns at school, my mother and her pics of Our Lady and Padre Pio and the Sacred Heart soldered into my brain as a girl. We didn't attend Mass as a family and my mother stopped going herself before I was ten. I stopped attending soon after because I was alone in going and the priests changed lots of things at Mass, I didn't believe it was important since they didn't care. My teachers were full of faith and joy too though, prayerful too. At home, despite the lacksadaisy attendance, the faith and good will to the Church was always there. Nuns and priests pottered about the place, in our community and at school, part of the scenery of childhood.

    God has always been the only thing that has always made sense to me. I do think that some people have a God spot mind you, the moon is in the sky, the tide goes in and out, drink water when you're thirsty, puppies wag their tails and Holy God is in heaven.

    That is why I genuinely can't understand atheists. It's not that I don't want to, it is just that they deny reality and I don't understand how to make them see that. I wish I could understand them but for me it's like someone saying black is white, I get confuddled wondering how to explain the obvious. That is why he has given you and your likes another route I suppose. Some people have the responsibility to engage with them since ye understand one another. No pressure on you or anything!! :-D

    I do wonder what the point of my sort of route is though. Hmmm.

  2. It seems obvious to me-- that kind of robut faith is surely a very powerful witness.

    I do think people like you must be a relative rarity in modern Western society though!

    Having said that, I think your faithfulness to the teaching of the Magisterium might be even more admirable if your belief in God has been always unwavering. Because I think people with that kind of straightforward, matter-of-fact faith can often be the ones who feel they can simply bypass any church or prophet and go straight to the Source or the Godhead or the other names they tend to use for God.


  3. Yes, I think you've hit it now. Witness is very important. I started attending Mass again at 18 having become acquainted with great people with happy healthy families and friends who all had the God spot too. I wonder if that sort of witness only works on the likes of me, waiting for that reactivation? I sound like a Borg there! That God fella is very clever altogether isn't He, covers everything so He does. Still, only people who have known me years know that Christ comes as part of the package. Those who don't say I'm quirky or a fool, so it's hard to relate to obstinate atheists without wanting to flick them on the ear and go through a colour chart again! I hope that explains why some believers exasperate atheists with their obstinancy, we're not trying to be annoying, we do it naturally!

  4. I always had the God spot in that I was always fascinated by religion (of course I preferred to read about safely non-Christian and definitely non-Catholic religions for a long time) and I thought that the concept of God was the most powerful idea anyone I could ever have, but when I was about 29 (not so long ago I guess) it's like a switch went in my brain and nothing seemed of equal importance to this whole God question.

  5. Sorry to spam this box now but just a point on the Magisterium etc. Although I wasn't sure what the fuss about the Anglicans was as a teenager, I didn't have any truck with Buddhism or that sort of messing about. Jesus was God and that was that. I just didn't understand why the Pope didn't take the Protestants etc under his wing again. Again, daft teenager here so cut me some slack. To my mind they had their tantrum and left but the Pope was always the Vicar so could he not sort it out with them. I never doubted the Pope was God's man here though, I just didn't understand the disunity.

    That was because there was always affection and loyalty to the Pope in our house. Neighbours had photos of various Popes on the wall, there were photos of saints everywhere. Our Lady was shown a special tenderness and affection. Beautiful art prints on the walls, flowers for feast days. I say this because you will be married soon and please God have children, a house full! Don't understand the power of art, sculpture and how children view that. It affected me deeply to see grown men speak affectionately of The Little Flower with her rose and kiss a statue of Our Lady and poor old Tom saying, "Padre Pio and Martin de Porres, they're the boyos." Just thought I'd put that in there in case you have an illogical tyke like me!


  6. Don't underestimate the power of art... rather. Eugh, I'm up at 5am so I better go to bed. Sorry for the typo, long old day.

  7. Hardly spamming!

    I totally agree with you about art and music and the aesthetic element of faith and faith formation. Can't think of anything better than a house full of holy pictures.

    Aesthetic influences like that did have a big effect on me-- I say "aesthetic influences" but I believe that the Holy Spirit was speaking to me through them. I hope this isn't self-promoting but I actually wrote a bit about how I came back to Catholicism at the link below-- an Australian Catholic magazine actually reprinted it-- and I mention the role of holy pictures, Christmas carols etc. in that! And I don't even mentioned all the pictures, songs, etc. that influenced me. I remember there was one Madonna and Child picture in a hall in my secondary Catholic school that had Our Lady and the baby Jesus against an almost completely black background-- it always struck me as an image of "the peace that passeth understanding", though I couldn't have described it thus at the time.

    Still, I needed more philosophical arguments to really convince me.


  8. That's what I'm talking about, you wrote it in that piece "picturesque piety", perfect description. I pity children not growing up in that atmosphere, it's a grounding force. I would love somebody in NCAD to do a Ph.D or Masters on the influence of Catholic art and sculpture on children in this country, I'd read that. So that makes your fondness for the sparsely decorated church not of your youth all the more confusing??!!

    Shocking stuff promoting your own writing on your own blog, no Catholic guilt, no modesty, you're shameless altogether, get thee to confession!

  9. Well, the church is sparsely decorated but it is decorated. I don't think I'd ever really thought about this before but I think I prefer holy pictures in schools and (especially) homes because they are more of a statement there. A church is already pious enough and picturesque enough in itself. I'm only describing my own crazy reactions.

    This is why I think nothing is wasted when it comes to evangelization because we have no idea what will have an impact. I remember being very struck, many years ago, by a really cheesy little single-page Christian (probably evangelical) flyer that used pictograms to make the point that our consumerist Christmas was lacking something.