A friend and I drove up to Belmont College near Charlotte last night to hear Michael Novak deliver a lecture about his new book which counters atheism. It was a good chance to see the campus and learn more about the good things happening there. At these events it’s amazing how many people I meet who are readers of this blog.
Novak said that in his discussions and debates with atheist Christopher Hitchens, that Hitchens once said, “I don’t believe in God, but I do believe in the numinous. I believe in the Transcendent.” Duuh. That’s what theists actually think God is. (We think He is more than that, but he is certainly not less than that)
What amazes me about the new wave of aggressive atheists like Dawkins and Hitchens is how little they actually know about real religion, real theology. Do they deliberately mis-characterize religious people? Do they deliberately propose that all religious people are ignorant flat earther, conspiracy type wackos? Surely they are aware that there are many people who are otherwise sensible, intelligent, accomplished, sophisticated and articulate people who are also devout believers. How do they deal with these obvious facts?
I suppose they would say, “These people may be smart, educated, articulate and cultured, but they just have an unfortunate blind spot. In that particular area they’re just dumb.” But the problem with this argument (apart from blatant bigotry) is that it cuts both ways. The religious person may well say of Dawkins and Hitchens etc: “Well these guys are bright and articulate and witty and urbane and educated, but when it comes to spiritual matters they’ve got a blind spot. in that area of life they’re just dumb.”
When faced with the great beauties of religion, the unparalleled sublimity of a Mozart Mass, Chartres Cathedral or Kings’ College, Cambridge they are dolts. When faced with the complex masterpiece like the Ghent altarpiece, the humility of a hermit’s cell, or the humane comfort that a priest brings to the deathbed of a dying woman, the heroic sacrifices of countless priests and religious for the poor and downtrodden, when confronted with the profound antiquity and timeless beauty of the Mass, the simple beauty of the face of a young Missionary of Charity or the grandeur of the Roman Church these guys are like pinheads in an art gallery who simply yawn.
They’re like drug ridden rock and roll junkies at a concert of chamber music. Rather than being more sophisticated because of their atheism, they’re less. They’re like a junk food junkie who finds himself in a five star French restaurant. He would look at the exquisite menu in French and say, “This stuff is just dumb. I wanna hot dog and fries.” Like any boorish adolescent they then think themselves clever and smart for rejecting what more enlightened people have discovered to be transcendental and sublime.
In many ways the proper response to them is not to get angry or argue or debate. Instead perhaps we should simply treat them like we do the idiot cousin in the family: we are patient and good humored because we realize part of them is missing. We are also compassionate and kind because they too are part of the family.