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"A fascinating and compelling narrative; a story of discovery, adventure and eventual homecoming, all told with verve and honesty." — Malcolm Guite, Girton College, Cambridge
Not God's Type An Atheist Academic Lays Down Her Arms By Holly Ordway
Chapter 1 A GLORIOUS DEFEAT
Here I set out to do what might seem to be a straightforward task: to recount how it happened that I walked away from atheism and entered into Christian faith.
But the story is not a simple one to tell.
When I said Yes to Christ, I thought I had reached the end of my journey, but I found that I had merely crested the nearest hill. The road, it seemed, went ever on and on, and I soon realized that the Christian life was not going to be easy...
Ordway, an atheist academic, was convinced that faith was superstitious nonsense. As a well-educated college English professor, she saw no need for just-so stories about God. Secure in her fortress of atheism, she was safe (or so she thought) from any assault by irrational faith.
But then something happened . . . How did she come to “lay down her arms” in surrender to Christ – and then, a few years later, enter into the Catholic Church?
This is the moving account of her unusual journey. It is the story of an academic becoming convinced of the truth of Christianity on rational grounds – but also the account of God’s grace acting in and through her imagination.
It is the tale of an unfolding, developing relationship with God, told with directness and honesty – and of a painful surrender at the foot of the Cross. It is the account of a lifelong, transformative love of reading – and the story of how a competitive fencer put down her sabre to pick up the sword of the Spirit.
Above all, this book is a tale of grace, acting in and through human beings but always issuing from God and leading back to Him. And it is the story of a woman being brought home.
Dr. Holly Ordway is the director of the MA in Cultural Apologetics at Houston Baptist University. She holds a Ph.D. in English literature from the University of Massachusetts Amherst; her academic work focuses on imagination and literature in apologetics, with special attention to the work of CS Lewis and Charles Williams.
Mass at St. Ignatius cathedral in Shanghai – photo taken during the Requiem Mass of Bishop Aloysius Jin Luxian. Source: Author’s private collection.
China’s Modern Martyrs: From Mao to Now (Part 4) | Anthony E. Clark, PhD | Catholic World Report
The blood of martyrs has proven to be the seed of the Church in China, as vibrant communities thrive despite government interference and restrictions.
Part 4, Resurrection
“We should be glad and rejoice. As the Shanghai Catholic youths said: ‘We are greatly honored to have been born and lived at this important time.’” — Cardinal Kung Pin-mei, Sermon for Catholics in China (Rome, June 30, 1991)
When I published my book, China’s Saints, in 2011, I thought that only a few interested scholars would read it. I wrote it, after all, as an academic study, a work for curmudgeonly professors like myself more inclined to read objective history than pious hagiography. So I was surprised when a Jesuit priest mentioned to a large crowd of academics and ecclesiastics recently gathered in Chicago that he had been reading my book “for his daily devotions.”
Results seldom match expectations, and that is the theme of my final entry in this four-part series on China’s Catholic martyrs from Mao to now. In truth, even the most objective historian—secular or religious—must admit that decades of suppression, persecution, and suffering have resulted in a vibrant Catholic community. I shall here outline the “ongoing growth of these communities,” as Father Jeremy Clarke puts it, “even in spite of attempts to make them disappear.”
In the first three installments of this series I focused on a very dark era in the history of Chinese Catholicism: the attack against Yangjiaping Trappist Abbey and the massacre of many holy monks, Chairman Mao’s malicious media campaign against the Church, the wave of arrests that followed, and the atrocious martyrdoms of such priests as Father Beda Chang and Father Wang Shiwei. I have also recounted the Maoist destruction of Catholic churches during the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) and more recent efforts to suppress popular Catholic devotions in China, such as the annual pilgrimage to honor Our Lady of China at Donglü. No one can deny the genuine suffering that Christians have encountered in China in recent decades, but as St. Augustine famously asserted, “God had a son on earth who was without sin, but he never had one without suffering.”
Still, China’s Christians have an optimistic view of their experiences. Elderly Catholics use the word chiku (吃苦) to describe their lives during the Maoist period (1949-1976), which literally means “having tasted bitterness.” One priest noted, “When we were bombarded with anti-Christian propaganda, we had tasted bitterness. We did not swallow it. We survived.” China’s Catholics have done more than survive; they have flourished. Over the years I have travelled in China by mule, train, plane, boat, taxi, bicycle, and long distances on foot to visit important places in the history of Christianity in China, and each year I am astonished by the unprecedented progress of the Church there.
Bishops, priests, sisters, and common faithful have told me their stories—and so have atheists, agnostics, and party members. In fact, party members have informed me that there are many persons in positions of influence who view religion as a “healthy human expression.”
A protester dressed as the Bible joins demonstrators outside the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington June 30, 2014. (CNS photo/ Jonathan Ernst, Reuters)
The Roots of the Political Use and Abuse of the Bible | Dr. Leroy Huizenga | CWR
Scott Hahn and Benjamin Wiker's book, Politicizing the Bible, examines how the development of biblical scholarship has severed Scripture from the heart of the Church.
The Bible continues to play a large role in American public life, as politicians, candidates, and activists advert to it directly and employ its cadences in support of a variety of positions, programs, and policies. In recent decades, Barack Obama has been quite willing to employ the Bible in service of progressive purposes, while Bill Clinton went so far as to offer voters a “new covenant.” On the Republican side, George W. Bush called America “the Light of the World”, while Ronald Reagan appropriated biblical language and even declared 1983 "The Year of the Bible". This political use of the Bible in American discourse is not new, of course. The speeches, writings, and sermons of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. were well woven with the fine natural threads of biblical inflection and images. Decades earlier in 1896, William Jennings Bryan warned that advocates of the gold standard would “crucify mankind on a cross of gold.” And of course well before that the Puritan settlers envisioned America as a new promised land and the ultimate city on a hill, the latter a dominical phrase employed later by both John F. Kennedy and Reagan.
One does not find this political use of the Bible very much across the ocean in Europe, except among fringe Christian parties. Even politicians affiliated with historic parties with “Christian” in their very name—such as the Christian Democratic Union in Germany—generally don’t employ anything like “Gott segne Deutschland”in the way American politicians toss out the tagline “God bless America.” The reason, I suppose, is that the Bible holds little real cultural authority in secular, post-Christian societies, and if America is indeed heading that way, it’s not there yet. Enough American citizens regard themselves as Christians for politicians to keep using the Bible politically, often in ways that can only be deemed idolatrous in that they mistake America for God, or Jesus, or biblical Israel, and blasphemous in that they may violate the Second Commandment’s violation of taking the name of the LORD for vain purposes.
Modern Scholarship, Secular Ends
The rule, then: Where Christian faith matters to a substantial number of the electorate, there politicians, candidates, and activists will employ the Bible. But this is neither a new nor a uniquely American phenomenon. For the Bible has played a role in a number of empires, societies, tribes, and nations, and where it has, those who would wield power have tried to wield biblical interpretation to serve their purposes.
Detail from "Sistine Chapel Ceiling: Creation of the Sun and Moon" (1508) by Michelangelo (www.wikiart.org)
Why I Love My Invisible Friend | Very Rev. Robert Barron | CWR blog
One of the most fundamental mistakes made by atheists is to suppose that God is a supreme being, an impressive item within or alongside the universe
One of the favorite taunts of the New Atheists is that religious people believe in an “invisible friend.”
They are implying, of course, that religion is little more than a pathetic exercise in wishful thinking, a reversion to childish patterns of projection and self-protection. It is well past time, they say, for believers to grow up, leave their cherished fantasies behind, and face the real world. In offering this characterization, the New Atheists are showing themselves to be disciples of the old atheists such as Feuerbach, Marx, Comte, and Freud, all of whom made more or less similar observations.
Well, I'm writing here to let atheists know that I think they’re right, at least about God being an invisible friend. Where they’re wrong is in supposing that surrendering to this unseen reality is de-humanizing or infantilizing.
First, a word about invisibility. It is an extraordinary prejudice of post-Enlightenment Western thought that visible things, empirically verifiable objects and states of affairs, are the most obviously “real” things around. For centuries prior to the Enlightenment, some of the very brightest people that have ever lived thought precisely the opposite. Most famously, Plato felt that the empirical world is evanescent and contingent in the extreme, made up of unstable objects that pass in and out of existence; whereas the invisible world of forms and mathematical truths is permanent, reliable, and supremely beautiful. You can certainly see two apples combining with two oranges to make four things, but when you grasp the principle that two plus two equals four, you have moved out of the empirical realm and into a properly invisible order, which is more pure and absolute than anything that the senses could take in.
Mind you, I’m not denigrating the material world, as Plato and his followers were too often wont to do; I’m simply trying to show that it is by no means obvious that the invisible can simply be equated with the fantastic or the unreal.
Secularism, Spirituality, and Witness in a Haunted Age | Carl E. Olson | Catholic World Report
The author of How (Not) to Be Secular, explains why secularism is misunderstood and exclusive humanism is not winning
Dr. James K. A. Smith (website) is professor of philosophy at Calvin College, where he also holds the Byker Chair in Applied Reformed Theology and Worldview. He has written several books, including works on postmodernism (Who's Afraid of Postmodernism?), worship and liturgy (Imagining the Kingdom: How Worship Works), and hermeneutics (The Fall of Interpretation: Philosophical Foundations for a Creational Hermeneutic). He has also written articles for magazines such as the Christian Century, Christianity Today, First Things, Harvard Divinity Bulletin, and others.
His most recent book is How (Not) to Be Secular: Reading Charles Taylor (Eerdmans, 2014). Dr. Smith recently corresponded with Carl E. Olson, editor of Catholic World Report, about the thought of Charles Taylor, what “secularism” is and isn't, the challenge of witnessing in a secular culture, how we live in a haunted age, and why exclusive humanism is not winning.
CWR: How is it that a professor of philosophy at Calvin College ends up writing a short (and fascinating) “field guide”—a commentary, really—about a long (and rather daunting) book by a Catholic philosopher—A Secular Age(The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2007) by Charles Taylor?
Dr. James K. A. Smith: Well, of course, while Taylor’s work is informed by Catholic intuitions, it’s not parochial. He has garnered wide interest from people of faith and those with none. Furthermore, I would encourage folks to remember that there are Protestants who see themselves as Catholic—not “Roman,” of course, but very much tied to, and indebted to, the Catholic tradition. I’ve described the Protestant Reformation as an “Augustinian renewal movement within the church catholic,” and so see lots of overlapping concern.
I’ve been interested in Taylor precisely because he is a philosopher who has made the transition from narrow disciplinary conversations to a wider, interdisciplinary project. He has also long intrigued me as a Christian scholar who has functioned wisely and winsomely as a public intellectual. So he’s really been an exemplar for me in a lot of ways.
But the more immediate catalyst for turning this into a book was a wonderful teaching experience. A couple of years ago I taught a seminar on A Secular Age, which was an opportunity to walk through this massive tome with 12 serious, curious undergraduates in philosophy. I saw that Taylor’s analysis was really helping them make sense of their own experience—it was existentially illuminating for them. I sensed that a lot of people could benefit from this, but might not be able to wade through a difficult, 900-page book on their own, so I thought I’d write something of a little “companion” volume.
CWR: You state that you are an “unabashed and unapologetic advocate for the importance and originality of Taylor’s project.” In what ways is his book and larger project important and original? What do you hope your book accomplishes, first, as a “stand alone” book and, secondly, as a commentary on Taylor’s monumental volume?
Smith: In both Sources of the Self (1989) and A Secular Age, Taylor undertakes a unique sort of “philosophically inflected history” that helps us understand our present. In doing so, he calls attention to—and is critical of—the often unstated assumptions of “secularist” (i.e., naturalistic) accounts of secularization. So, perhaps paradoxically, Taylor offers an account of secularization that is informed by his religious commitments. But he doesn’t think that makes his analysis parochial or sectarian, because he thinks all accounts are informed by some sort of faith commitments, some “social imaginary.” So he first shows that there are no neutral accounts, and then tries to show why a religious account actually does a better job making sense of the “data” of our contemporary experience.
For example, standard secularization theory has trouble accounting for the continued role of faith in late modern life. It should be gone by now, they expect. But Taylor suggests: maybe religious faith endures because reality includes a transcendence that continues to call and haunt us. If that’s the case, then a “secular” account of secularization has already decided to shut itself off from part of the reality it’s supposed to explain.
I do think How (Not) To Be Secular can be read as a stand-alone book, especially since many won’t have the time or inclination to read a 900-page volume. But I also hope my book can function as a portal of sorts to the more detailed account.
CWR: The first questions you pose, in the Preface, include, “So what do it look like to bear witness in a secular age? What does it look like to be faithful?” Do Christians, by and large, simply assume that they know what “a secular age” and “secularism” are? And if so, are they are usually right or wrong in their definitions and explanations?
Woody Allen's Bleak Vision | Fr. Robert Barron | CWR blog
The filmmaker's despairing philosophy of life is contradicted by hints of beauty, truth, and goodness in his movies
I was chagrined, but not entirely surprised, when I read Woody Allen’s recent ruminations on ultimate things.
To state it bluntly, Woody could not be any bleaker in regard to the issue of meaning in the universe. We live, he said, in a godless and purposeless world. The earth came into existence through mere chance and one day it, along with every work of art and cultural accomplishment, will be incinerated. The universe as a whole will expand and cool until there is nothing left but the void.
Every hundred years or so, he continued, a coterie of human beings will be “flushed away” and another will replace it until it is similarly eliminated. So why does he bother making films—roughly one every year? Well, he explained, in order to distract us from the awful truth about the meaninglessness of everything, we need diversions, and this is the service that artists provide. In some ways, low level entertainers are probably more socially useful than high-brow artistes, since the former manage to distract more people than the latter. After delivering himself of this sunny appraisal, he quipped, “I hope everyone has a nice afternoon!”
Woody Allen’s perspective represents a limit-case of what philosopher Charles Taylor calls “the buffered self,” which is to say, an identity totally cut off from any connection to the transcendent. On this reading, this world is all we’ve got, and any window to another more permanent mode of existence remains tightly shut. Prior to the modern period, Taylor observes, the contrary idea of the “porous self” was in the ascendency. This means a self that is, in various ways and under various circumstances, open to a dimension of existence that goes beyond ordinary experience.
If you consult the philosophers of antiquity and the Middle Ages, you would find a very frank acknowledgement that what Woody Allen observed about the physical world is largely true.
"Le Penseur" ("The Thinker", 1902) by Auguste Rodin (WikiArt.org)
Three Deadly Ideas | Thomas M. Doran | CWR blog
We tend to ignore the “ivory tower” ideas that college professors debate, wrongly thinking they have no practical effect on day-to-day life
Philosophy? Not for me, many insist. In fact, all of us have philosophies, whether we realize it or not, and whether we can describe them or not.
Most have encountered the words Materialism, Nihilism, and Fatalism in their reading or television and film viewing. Our natural reaction is to ignore them as “ivory tower” ideas that college professors debate, but have no practical effect on day-to-day life.
Fact is, we are influenced by these ideas every day of our lives, and increasingly so, in the films and television shows we watch, in the music we listen to, in the books we read, and in the art we view. Not to mention the impact of these ideas on the moral state of our modern culture, so we ought to understand what these ideas, these belief systems, profess.
Seventeen reasons scoffers ought to rethink Catholicism, if they really thought about it
In today’s world, isn’t it crazy to appeal to scoffers to consider Catholicism? Why would a rational modern man or woman in the 21st century be attracted to what the world and its enlightened guides consider an outdated, misogynistic, anti-LGBT, anti-science cult?
Is historical momentum on the side of these scoffers? Doesn't history itself demonstrate the allegedly backwards and inhuman nature of the Catholic Church? The modern soothsayers say yes, but here are 17 reasons—hardly an exhaustive list—why the soothsayers are wrong:
1. The Church “conceived” the university, the hospital, and countless institutions to assist the world’s suffering.
2. Catholic martyrs—unlike Muslim “martyrs”—never kill, but offer their own lives as a sign of their love of God and their fellow man.
3. The Church, in obedience to its founder, conceived the concepts of universal justice, mercy, and generosity that became the moral foundation of the world’s representative democracies. Prior to this, and in much of the world today, only certain groups or classes are entitled to human and legal rights.
Non-believers Make the Best Saint Movies: Monsieur Vincent | Patrick Coffin | CWR
“It is only because of your love that the poor will forgive you the bread that you give them.”
When Christians make movies about saints, they sometimes succeed as hagiography, always make their intended audiences feel good, and almost always fail as art. Christians often can’t resist the temptation to tell the story with a bullhorn and end up, too frequently, with movies that appeal primarily to the choir, the members of which are (understandably) hungry for fare that glorifies the Faith.
When agnostics and atheists make movies about saints or other heroes whose life choices were motivated by the claims of faith, however, things tend to turn out differently. If it’s true that saints irritate us into changing our ways, secular artists often build into their art their own anxious searching, their own “reaching out” to meet the irritating (read fascinating) protagonist, to understand him, and to unveil the mystery of what makes him tick. A few examples would include Therese (1986),the French film about St. Therese of Lisieux written and directed by Alain Cavalier; The Song of Bernadette (1943), written by Franz Werfel; Man For All Seasons (1966) and The Mission (1986), written by Robert Bolt; and The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928), written and directed by Carl Theodor Dreyer. I argue this would include Darren Aronofsky and Ari Handel for Noah (2014).
In this tradition stands Monsieur Vincent (1946), the classic biopic of St. Vincent de Paul. It was directed by Maurice Cloche based on a script adapted by the great French playwright Jean Anouilh, who built a writing career exploring ideas that resonate more with Albert Camus and Jean Paul Sartre than with Frank Capra and Walt Disney. Interestingly, Anouilh had successfully tackled another saintly subject in his celebrated play Becket, the movie version of which starred Richard Burton and Peter O’Toole.
In Monsieur Vincent, director Cloche and co-writer Anouilh omit the real life backstory of St. Vincent being sold as a slave, and begin the story with the priest’s arrival at the village of Châtillon-les-Dombes (more on this later).
Left: Bill Maher; right: Ralph Reed (photos: Wikipedia.org)
by Fr. Robert Barron | CWR blog
What Maher characterizes as “faith” is nothing but superstition or credulity or intellectual irresponsibility
I don’t know what possesses me to watch “Real Time With Bill Maher,” for Maher is, without a doubt, the most annoying anti-religionist on the scene today.
Though his show is purportedly about politics, it almost invariably includes some attack on religion, especially Christianity. Even during a recent interview with former President Jimmy Carter, whom Maher very much admires, the host managed to get in a sharp attack on Carter’s faith. Just last week, his program included a brief conversation with Ralph Reed, the articulate gentleman who used to run the Christian Coalition and who is now a lobbyist and activist on behalf of faith-related causes.
For the first three or four minutes, Reed and Maher discussed the social science concerning children raised in stable vs. unstable families, and Reed was scoring quite a few points in favor of the traditional understanding of marriage. Sensing that he was making little headway, Maher decided to pull the religion card, and from that point on things went from bad to worse. Maher said, “Now you’re a man of faith, which means someone who consciously suspends all critical thinking and accepts things on the basis of no evidence.” Astonishingly, Reed said, “yes,” at which point, I shouted at the TV screen: “No!” Then Maher said, “And I believe that you take everything in the Bible literally,” and Reed replied, “yes,” at which point I said, “Oh God, here we go again.”
Maher then did what I knew he would do: he pulled out a sheet of paper which included references to several of the more morally outrageous practices that the God of the Bible seems to approve of, including slavery. Pathetically, Reed tried to clear things up by distinguishing the chattel slavery of the American south from the slavery practiced in the classical world, which amounted to a kind of indentured servitude. “Oh I get it,” Maher responded, “God approves of the good kind of slavery.” The audience roared with laughter; Reed lowered his head; Maher smirked; and the cause of religion took still another step backward.
I would like, in very brief compass, to say something simple about each of the issues that Maher raised.
Kitcher describes himself as a proponent of “soft atheism,” which is to say an atheism distinct from the polemical variety espoused by Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens. Unlike his harsher colleagues, Kitcher is willing to admit that religion can play an ethically useful role in a predominantly secular society. I won’t delve into this feature of Kitcher’s thought, for I have explored the Kantian reduction of religion to ethics elsewhere, but I would like to draw attention to one particular move made in this interview, since it shows, with remarkable clarity, one of the fundamental misunderstandings of religion common among atheists.
Prompted by Gutting, Kitcher admits that he finds all religious doctrine incredible. Pressed for an explanation of this rather extreme position, he points to the fact of the extraordinary plurality of religious doctrines: Christians, Jews, Hindus, Muslims, animists, etc. hold to radically different accounts of reality, the divine, human purpose, etc. And since all religions rely fundamentally on the same ground—some revelation offered to distant ancestors—there is no rational way to adjudicate these differences.
Indeed, the only real reason that I am a Christian, he would maintain, is that I was born to Christian parents who passed the founding stories onto me. If you, as a Jew or Muslim or Hindu, have different foundational stories, there is no reasonable way I can convince you or you can convince me. It’s just your cockamamie myth against my cockamamie myth.
My Afternoon with the Atheists | Dr. Eric Cunningham | CWR
Note to self: Next time, bring Christ
Shortly after Christmas, I was invited to take part in a “friendly discussion” at the monthly meeting of a local chapter of self-described “freethinkers.” I’m not sure how they decided to approach me. Possibly they went window shopping on the websites of local universities, saw my name somewhere on the Catholic Studies page, and figured that I would be a suitable target—I mean, honored guest. I learned from Mr. F., the nice fellow who contacted me, that this meeting would be a special one: It would be graced by the presence of Dan Barker, internationally known atheist-convert and co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), the parent organization of their own group.
A wary acceptance
I told Mr. F., by way of declining his offer, that I didn’t think any group of people so stridently bent on the eradication of free religious speech would really be capable of free thought or friendly discussion. I also shared with him my impression (formed from the FFRF website and several YouTube videos) that Dan Barker was a manipulative propagandist who seemed more interested in preaching the gospel of atheism than in exchanging ideas. “Thanks,” I said, “but no thanks.” As a person who says “yes” to almost every request and winds up regretting it too often, I was impressed with myself for so decisively sidestepping this engagement.
However, Mr. F. was politely persistent, and true to my nature, I did reconsider the invitation, thinking that maybe some good could come of my going to this meeting. For a week I exchanged e-mails with Mr. F. and did further research on the Freedom From Religion Foundation. I was struck by the contrast between the cheerful goodwill of Mr. F.’s e-mails and the one-dimensional bigotry that suffuses Barker’s website. There is a great deal more to the FFRF than its purported civic mission to promote the separation between church and state. The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a full-fledged anti-crusade, not content with merely articulating the philosophical basis of atheism—which it does embarrassingly poorly—butrather seeking to vilify the religious worldview and the people who hold it. Having lived my life in a confused, divided, and often dysfunctional Church, I can understand why people get upset with religion and want to check out—but for the life of me I don’t know why anybody would spend his life trying to destroy something he thinks isn’t real.
I tried to get Mr. F. to tell me what the format of the event would be. I’ve participated in public lectures, conference panels, round-tables, keynote addresses, after-dinner talks, and debates,and I’ve learned that it’s very important to know exactly what’s going to happen when one is speaking on potentially hostile turf. Unfortunately, I could get no solid answer, so I proposed a format of my own: I would speak for 15 or 20 minutes on a variety of themes related to consciousness, virtual reality, and the spiritual world, all under the provocative title “Christianity Is the Only Truth,” and let the chips fall where they may.
I want to make clear that the purpose of this reflection is not to bash or belittle the “freethinkers” of my community, or even Barker—although he is indeed a manipulative propagandist by any measure—but to make a public confession of my own shortcomings as a Christian.
From Anti-Catholic Atheist to Church-Loving Convert | Catherine Harmon | CWR
“And what I saw was that the Church was right, and that nobody else was right—no one else on the face of the planet was speaking these truths.”
Jennifer Fulwiler is a popular Catholic blogger and homeschooling mother of six who writes about faith, family, media, and culture at her website, Conversion Diary. Fulwiler, whose memoir about her spiritual journey from atheism to Catholicism is titled Something Other Than God: How I Passionately Sought Happiness and Accidentally Found It and is available today from Ignatius Press, has been published in America, Our Sunday Visitor, Envoy, and National Review Online and has appeared on Fox and Friends and Life on the Rock. She was also the subject of the reality show Minor Revisions with Jennifer Fulwiler for New York’s NET TV. She recently spoke with Catholic World Report'smanaging editor Catherine Harmon about the new book, blogging through the process of conversion, and the personal challenges she faced when the practice of the Faith became more than an intellectual pursuit.
CWR: Let’s start with the title of your book, Something Other Than God. Where did the title come from and why did you choose it?
Jennifer Fulwiler: The title came from this wonderful C.S. Lewis quote, which is particularly meaningful because C.S. Lewis is also an atheist-to-Christian convert. The full quote says, “All that we call human history…is the long terrible story of man trying to find something other than God which will make him happy.” And the reason I chose that is because at first, I thought this story was just a standard conversion story, but as I got into the writing I realized this was more of a story of a search for happiness. So that’s why I chose that quote, because it talks about how we’re all searching for what will really make us happy, and we can only find that in God.
CWR: In the book you describe the very intense, almost arduous intellectual process you went through of coming to understand Christianity and what Christians believe. During that time what was your attitude toward “cradle Christians” or those who believed in Christ in a perhaps somewhat unreflective—or at least less intellectually rigorous—way?
Fulwiler: It changed over time. When I was younger, because I had had some bad experiences with Christians, I was very disdainful of “cradle believers” and just thought that they bought into these lies for self-serving reasons. As I got older, though, I began to see it as just a cultural thing. I didn’t think that people’s religion actually meant anything to them; I thought that’s what they did because it was the tradition in their family, or whatever.
CWR: At what point do you think your attitude started to change?
"This is one of those books that, in its simplicity, is full of substance and depth, and it deserves to be read."
- Cardinal Antonio Cañizares Llovera, Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship
Francisco ("Kiko") Argüello was an award-winning painter, and an atheist. Struggling with the contrast between his desire for justice and the lack of justice in the world, he adopted existentialism and its explanation of life: everything is absurd.
But if everything is absurd, why paint? For that matter, why even live? Such questions led Argüello to the brink of despair. He called out to God and personally experienced the reality of divine love as revealed in Jesus Christ.
Dedicating his life to Christ, Argüello began living among the very poor. While in a slum on the outskirts of Madrid, Argüello met the lay missionary Carmen Hernández, and together they began proclaiming the good news of salvation to the poorest of the poor. Their method of transmitting faith in Christ and building Christian community has become a model of evangelization. Now known as the "Neocatchumenal Way", it has spread to cities throughout the world and received the approval of the Vatican.
"The Neocatechumenal Way is an itinerary of Christian initiation and of permanent education in faith. Kiko's catechesis, published here, is a strong lesson for disciples. In this catechesis the entire announcement of the Gospel is impressively condensed." - Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn
"The Neocatechumenal Way a gift of the Holy Spirit to help the Church." - Pope Benedict XVI
Francisco José Gomez-Argüello Wirtz was born in Leon, Spain, in 1939. He studied fine arts at the Royal Academy of San Fernando in Madrid, where he became a professor of painting and drawing. In 1959 he received Spain's National Prize for Painting. Along with Carmen Hernández he founded the Neocatechumenal Way.
"The Incredulity of Saint Thomas" by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (c. 1602)
Why Jesus is God: A Response to Bart Ehrman | Very Rev. Robert Barron | CWR blog
An agnostic (and former Fundamentalist) breathlessly presents an old thesis as though he has made a brilliant discovery
Well, it’s Easter time, and that means that the mainstream media and publishing houses can be counted upon to issue de-bunking attacks on orthodox Christianity. The best-publicized of these is Bart Ehrman’s latest book How Jesus Became God. Many by now know at least the outlines of Ehrman’s biography: once a devout Bible-believing evangelical Christian, trained at Wheaton College, the alma mater of Billy Graham, he saw the light and became an agnostic scholar and is now on a mission to undermine the fundamental assumptions of Christianity.
In this most recent tome, Ehrman lays out what is actually a very old thesis, going back at least to the 18th century and repeated ad nauseam in skeptical circles ever since, namely, that Jesus was a simple itinerant preacher who never claimed to be divine and whose “resurrection” was in fact an invention of his disciples who experienced hallucinations of their master after his death. Of course Ehrman, like so many of his skeptical colleagues across the centuries, breathlessly presents this thesis as though he has made a brilliant discovery. But basically, it’s the same old story. When I was a teenager, I read British Biblical scholar Hugh Schonfield’s Passover Plot, which lays out the same narrative, and just a few months ago, I read Reza Aslan’s Zealot, which pursues a very similar line, and I’m sure next Christmas or Easter I will read still another iteration of the theory.
And so, once more into the breach. Ehrman’s major argument for the thesis that Jesus did not consider himself divine is that explicit statements of Jesus’ divine identity can be found only in the later fourth Gospel of John, whereas the three Synoptic Gospels, earlier and thus presumably more historically reliable, do not feature such statements from Jesus himself or the Gospel writers. This is so much nonsense.
Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Cosmos: Filling in the Intellectual Gaps | Fr. Robert J. Spitzer, SJ | CWR
The narrative of a supposed antagonism between the Church and science often relies on errors of omission.
Several people have asked me questions about the accuracy of Neil deGrasse Tyson’s portrayal of the Catholic Church in the recent series Cosmos, which is airing on FOX. There is an important adage at the foundation of logic: “There are far more errors of omission than commission.” Regrettably Tyson’s presentation of the Catholic Church—and religion in general—in opposition to science presents serious errors of omission, so much so as to be incredibly misleading. I will attempt here to fill in a few of the many intellectual gaps in that oversimplified and lacking account.
The natural sciences, and philosophical reflection upon them, have been an integral part of the Catholic intellectual tradition since the time of the Copernican revolution. Indeed, Catholic priests and clerics played a central role in the development of natural science. For example, Nicolaus Copernicus (1473-1543), the originator of the heliocentric universe and its mathematical justification, was a minor Catholic cleric. Nicolas Steno (1638-1686), a Catholic Danish bishop, is acknowledged to be one of the founders of modern stratigraphy and geology. The Augustinian monk and abbot Gregor Mendel (1822-1884) is recognized as the founder of modern genetics. Msgr. Georges Lemaître, a Belgian priest and colleague of Albert Einstein, is acknowledged to be the founder of contemporary cosmology through his discovery of the Big Bang Theory in 1927. There are many other Catholic clerics who were integrally involved in the foundation and development of the natural sciences.
Some have contended that the Catholic Church manifested an “antiscientific attitude” during the controversies of Giordano Bruno and Galileo Galilei. But those controversies were not about the veracity of scientific method or its seeming heliocentric conclusion.
Seth MacFarlane, well known atheist and cartoonist, is the executive producer of the remake of “Cosmos,” which recently made its national debut. The first episode featured, along with the science, an animated feature dealing with the sixteenth century Dominican friar Giordano Bruno, who was burned at the stake by Church officials. A brooding statue of Bruno stands today in the Campo de’ Fiori in Rome on the very spot where the unfortunate friar was put to death. In MacFarlane’s cartoon, Bruno is portrayed as a hero of modern science, and church officials are, without exception, depicted as wild-eyed fanatics and unthinking dogmatists.
As I watched this piece, all I could think was…here we go again. Avatars of the modern ideology feel obligated to tell their great foundation myth over and over, and central to that narrative is that both the physical sciences and liberal political arrangements emerged only after a long twilight struggle against the reactionary forces of religion, especially the Catholic religion. Like the effigies brought out to be burned on Guy Fawkes Day, the bugbear of intolerant and violent Catholicism has to be exposed to ridicule on a regular basis.
I will leave to the side for the moment the issue of liberal politics’ relation to religion, but I feel obliged, once more, to expose the dangerous silliness of the view that Catholicism and the modern sciences are implacable foes.
Grace and Reason According to St. Paul and St. Thomas | Dr. Eric M. Johnston | HPR
…the world we live in is overwhelmingly irrational. Our popular discourse doesn’t make any sense at all. As Catholics, we need to understand what our faith teaches about this irrationality. We need to look to Scripture and tradition.
A recent week’s politics left Catholics reeling. The Supreme Court says there is no reason but bare animus to believe that marriage between a man and a woman is different from any other relationship—the most basic biology is treated like the most bizarre doctrine of faith.
The mass media acclaim a woman in Texas who, aided by a screaming mob, thwarted a measure supported by two-thirds of the people of the state. The “extreme” measure prevents abortion only after twenty weeks, and requires that abortionists have faculties to admit a hemorrhaging woman into the hospital.
And the mass media jeer the governor of Texas for pointing out that the woman who filibustered the bill is herself a beautiful exemplar of why we should count no life as hopeless. She was the daughter of an uneducated single mother, and then herself an uneducated single mother—but went on to be first in her college class, then a graduate of Harvard Law School, and now a state senator, before acquiring this new, dubious claim to fame.
In short, the world we live in is overwhelmingly irrational. Our popular discourse doesn’t make any sense at all. As Catholics, we need to understand what our faith teaches about this irrationality. We need to look to Scripture and tradition.
We often feel torn in two directions. We are tempted to wash our hands of the world. There is sometimes talk, even gleeful, that America, and maybe the world, is coming to an end. We will be persecuted. We can never win the public debate. We look forward to an age of martyrdom. There is no hope.
But we are also tempted in the opposite direction.
Screwtape’s Disciples | Thomas M. Doran | CWR blog
How can the many brave new worlders be defeated?
At first glance, the Jacobins, Marxists, Nazis, rapacious industrial and financial oligarchs, and modern jihadists have little in common. Weren’t the Jacobin revolutionaries democracy’s standard bearers? Weren’t they guided by reason and Enlightenment principles? Aren’t Marxists, past and present, social scientists opposed to oppression by the aristocracy and capitalist robber barons, striving to end class conflict? Weren’t the Nazis an inevitable product of oppressive WWI unconditional surrender terms? Aren’t industrial and financial oligarchs entrepreneurs and community builders? Aren’t modern jihadists seeking retributive justice for historically oppressed Muslims?
“An attractive end justifies messy means.”
This end? A brave new world, requiring destruction for re-construction, requiring the elimination of an ethos of self-donation, self-sacrifice, and self-identification with the Jesus of the Gospels, all so that man can progress.
J.R.R. Tolkien depicts angels who are fair-seeming, compelling in speech, and reasonable, so much so that many men are lured into their orbit, and eventually enslaved. Sauron and Saruman weren’t created to be the tyrants they later become. Nonetheless, angels they were and angels they remain, though fallen.
The Lord of The Rings is just a story isn’t it: adventure, fantasy, fiction, mythology? Actually, The Lord of The Rings, along with C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters describes how man is tempted, and sometimes corrupted, by fallen angels…devils.