ATHEIST NUMBER ONE
Last night, my imagination was sparked by an entry I read over on Reddit. The long comment, titled “An Atheist’s Love Letter to /r/Catholicism”, had been posted on the /r/Catholicism subreddit. The writer, an atheist, had been confused by the recent publicity surrounding Pope Francis’ statements on atheism, and stopped by the /r/Catholicism subreddit to ask a question. There, to his surprise, he found not division and criticism and mockery, but genuine theological discussion and explanation.
Although the writer has not made the leap and embraced the Catholic Faith, he has been greatly impressed by his encounter with ordinary Catholics. It’s a reminder to all of us that everyone is deserving of respect—and that you can catch more flies with honey.
I repost the letter here in its entirety.
An Atheist’s Love Letter to /r/Catholicism
A few hours ago, I posted a question here about something that Pope Francis had said about atheists. For those who might have missed it, this is the address you can find it: http://www.reddit.com/r/Catholicism/comments/1f2yfl/question_from_an_atheist/
When I came to this subreddit to post the question, I expected some insightful answers but also some nasty comments. What I got instead was insightful and patient answers to my questions as well as an outpouring of a highly intelligent, well thought-out theological discussion/debate amongst Catholics whom I was surprised to find out did not share a monolithic view of Catholicism. It was so much more than I had hoped.
Furthermore, there wasn’t a single person who made me feel unwelcome here whatsoever. Considering the fact that I come from a philosophical school of thought that is diagonally opposed to the Catholic Church (or most other mainstream religions), it speaks volumes toward your charity.
I didn’t start out as an atheist. I was baptized as a Presbyterian. During my time as a Presbyterian, I heard little to nothing about the Catholic Church. I only knew that it was the institution that other Christian denominations had broken away from. When I later on became an atheist, I got to hear much about the Catholic Church – from the likes of Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and of course, the news in regards to the legal and moral scandals that the Catholic Church has been and is still mired in. Although I am philosophically inclined to agree with Dawkins and Hitchens rather than not, at least in regards to skepticism toward religion, it would appear that both men, along with other influential atheists, have committed the crime of failing to be civil.
What I have come to learn from this subreddit, besides the answers to my questions, is that it is far better to engage in polite discussions with people whom I disagree with rather than be a part of a like-minded mob because in the end, like-minded or not, a mob is still a mob and mobs are almost always an ugly lot.
I think the reason why people join like-minded mobs, however, is because, and I could be wrong, rightly or wrongly, people fall into a victimhood mentality – the thought that we are surrounded by enemies and that we feel the need to lash out lest we are forced out of existence. As an individual, I doubt that my experiences here will bring about a tectonic shift in the way theists and atheists discuss with one another, much less dispel people’s sense of victimhood. However, it has reminded me of the importance of civility and the need to understand rather than hate. Perhaps this modest start is as good as any.
Thank you, /r/Catholicism. Though I don’t think that my faith in God will be restored any time soon, you have helped to restore my faith in humanity just a bit more.
ATHEIST NUMBER TWO
The second atheist about whom I write has, in fact, been converted to Catholicism. Megan Hodder tells her story in the Catholic Herald:
Last Easter, when I was just beginning to explore the possibility that, despite what I had previously believed and been brought up to believe, there might be something to the Catholic faith, I read Letters to a Young Catholic by George Weigel. One passage in particular struck me.
Talking of the New Testament miracles and the meaning of faith, Weigel writes: “In the Catholic view of things, walking on water is an entirely sensible thing to do. It’s staying in the boat, hanging tightly to our own sad little securities, that’s rather mad.”
In the following months, that life outside the boat – the life of faith –would come to make increasing sense to me, until eventually I could no longer justify staying put. Last weekend I was baptised and confirmed into the Catholic Church.
Megan acknowledges that this—her embracing of faith—wasn’t supposed to happen. As a young woman, she sees many in her generation casting aside the faith of their youth. Until now, religion had been irrelevant in her life.
But as a teenager, she realized that in order to better defend her worldview, she needed to reach beyond the new atheists like Dawkins and Harris and Hitchens, whose works she had read, and to study the ideas of those she regarded as “egregious enemies of reason”: the Catholics. She began with Pope Benedict’s Regensberg address, expecting to find it full of bigotry and illogicality that would vindicate her atheism. Instead, for the first time she encountered a God who was the Logos, the self-expressing standard of goodness and objective truth, the source of our capacity for moral perception.
Her story of “The Atheist Orthodoxy That Drove Me to Faith” is one you won’t want to miss. Read the rest here.
Image: Inside St. Peter’s Basilica, by James Bromberger, Wikimedia Commons
This article was originally published at Patheos in 2013.