From Atheism to Catholicism, By Way of Truth and Beauty | CWR Staff | Catholic World Report
“All the different threads of my inquiries,” says Dr. Holly Ordway, “when followed up, led me to the same place: the Catholic Church.”
Dr. Holly Ordway is Professor of English and 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 in apologetics, with special attention to the writings of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Charles Williams; she teaches courses on apologetics, medieval culture and philosophy, and modern and post-modern culture.
Dr. Ordway's book Not God's Type: An Atheist Academic Lays Down Her Arms (Ignatius Press, 2014) describes her journey from atheism to Christianity, and her subsequent entrance into the Catholic Church. She recently corresponded with Catholic World Report, discussing her life and beliefs as an atheist, her journey toward Christianity, the mistakes made by many Christians in conversing with atheists, and the main reasons why she became Catholic.
CWR: Early in Not God's Type, you state that as a young atheist, you thought that the “decisive argument against faith was that I could not believe, no matter how much I might want to.” What sort of understanding of “faith” did you have at that time? How might you respond now to an atheist who expresses a similar notion?
Dr. Ordway: I had the faulty (but common!) idea that faith meant blind faith: that is, believing something without evidence or even contrary to the evidence. Unfortunately, this is a misunderstanding that is propagated by many Christians. As an apologist, I’ve heard Christians say that they don’t want to know about evidence for the Resurrection or for the existence of God, because that will “diminish their faith.” It’s no wonder that many atheists conclude that ‘faith’ is a synonym for ‘ignorance’.
If having faith really did mean believing something without any grounding for that belief, I would never have been able to do it. I couldn’t then, and I can’t now: it’s simply not possible. It would be wishful thinking or self-deception.
So I would respond to an atheist with this objection, first of all, by saying that the word ‘faith’ is better understood as a form of trust, and in particular, trust of a person. I have to trust that my close friends are reliable, on the basis of my understanding of their character, from many observations and interactions over time. I can never prove that they aren’t secretly manipulating me for their own ends; I can only conclude that it is reasonable for me to trust them. I could be wrong, but that doesn’t make my faith in my friends irrational. Once you trust someone, then you are willing to accept what they say as true, even when you don’t have enough information to judge for yourself, because you have reason to believe that you can rely on them. That’s faith.
Hebrews 1:11 is an important verse to consider: “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen”. An atheist might point to “hoped for” and “not seen” as indicating that Scripture teaches blind faith. Not so! First, the key words are “assurance” and “conviction”: in order to have an assurance or a conviction of something, you must have some reasons for doing so. Second, ‘not seen’ does not mean ‘not real.’ There are plenty of things that are not seen and yet are completely real: my own consciousness, for instance, and all relationships between people. If you know that your mother, spouse, or child loves you, that is the conviction of something “not seen.” And that’s precisely what faith is.
CWR: You admit that after the 9/11 attacks, you found that “atheism was eating into my heart like acid.” What sort of conflicts or tensions were you experiencing? How did you try to resolve them?