By Dennis Daily, Special to ASSIST News Service (Writer’s Opinion)
PALM SPRINGS, CA (ANS – August 13, 2017) — I have a close personal friend who has become a crusader for atheism. We are still on speaking terms, but I am constantly befuddled by his own personal concept of religion. or should I say, his own personal concept of “non-religion.” He talks about organized religion in terms you might use to describe a magic show, full of stories of charlatans who are taking people’s money and of unbelievable events.
He is so hell-bent-and-determined (pardon the expression) to downgrade the importance of religion, that it’s beginning to bother me. He doesn’t dwell on the subject, but it creeps into the conversation from time to time. It’s interesting, that in one way he is like friends I have had who wanted to evangelize me. You know, the people who know the fine art of working religion into every conversation.
This is a tricky area to get into. Many people whose religious beliefs include a built-in mandate to evangelize can’t go through a day without bringing up their faith and someone else’s need to hear the story.
Back to my friend, the atheist. First, I should point out that he is well-educated, polite, aware of his surrounding and very able to express himself. He also has a huge following on the Internet. He has a way of “pontificating” without ever bringing Pope Francis into the equation.
Secondly, having spent 12 years in Catholic schools with some of the most even-tempered and dedicated nuns and priests I have ever met, I have come to the conclusion that I really need to address the issue. I don’t want to lose him as a friend … but his rhetoric flies in the face of everything I believe in.
The other day he was telling me how silly it is for an elderly person to hold out hope of going to a “better place” after death. He said that doing so MAY bring comfort to the believer, but that it’s a stupid concept.
Actually, believing that there is no God and no heaven means that HIS concept is … in my eyes … as ludicrous as my concepts and beliefs in religion are to him.
Suddenly, in the middle of the conversation I found myself saying: “Ah, but if you only had FAITH, you would understand.” It was as if a thunderbolt had hit me. I had come up with the simple answer to all of this. My friend has no concept of the word “faith.”
I took a deep breath and tried to explain the concept of “faith,” starting with the basics. I told him that HE actually did possess a level of faith that he didn’t realize he had.
“When was the last time you took a plane flight?” I asked. “Oh, a couple of months ago,” was his answer. I questioned him about his understanding of the safety record of commercial jetliners. Without realizing what he was saying, he remarked: “I have faith in the pilot and faith that the plane and the air traffic control system will work as planned.”
“Ah,” I replied, then you DO have faith. You even have faith in things you can’t see … the air traffic controllers, the maintenance people and all the other aspects of that single flight that have to work together … things you have never seen … yet, you BELIEVE.
He thought for a second and then, realizing that I had caught him in a “Catch 22,” he said: “But, that kind of faith is different. I am believing in things that aren’t magic; these things are not a creature in the sky who rules our lives.”
Then, I had to think for a second. “So you don’t believe in magic,” I asked? His reply was predictable: “I believe in air traffic control but I don’t believe in God.”
At that moment, his phone rang and I was “saved by the bell.”
Later that day, I had a lot of free time. I cleared my head, took my phone off the hook and thought about the issue. I remembered a specific event that had happened in fifth grade, back at St. Simon’s School in Washington, Indiana. One of my favorite teachers, Sr. Theresa Joseph, was talking about heaven and eternity. “Heaven is forever, and ever, and ever, and ever,” she told us. I can still see me sitting there, looking out the windows as fall leaves were blowing across the sky. I suddenly started feeling strange. I thought I might have to go to the bathroom and lose my lunch.
Her words, “Heaven is forever, and ever, and ever …” were causing my little fifth-grade mind to churn wildly … and, along with it, my stomach. I remember one of my fellow classmates saving the day. He told her that she had given out what today we would call “Too Much Information.”
Her reply was quick and strong. “Don’t worry,” she said. “We can’t second-guess God.” Let me repeat what she said: “We can’t second-guess God.” Some things are beyond our level of understanding. We need to take what we can’t understand as a MYSTERY OF FAITH.
Today, some would call using the phrase MYSTERY OF FAITH as a cop-out. But, it instantly settled my stomach. It was the proof I needed to begin to understand one of the most difficult aspects of religion … the acceptance and the fine understanding of difficult concepts purely because of the strength of our faith.
Faith is a kind of reserve tank of strength we have in dealing with life and understanding our relationship with the Creator. Faith is what we have and atheists do not have.
Faith is a taken-for-granted inner power we have. It is a power that some of us understand more than others. But, without that power, our entire concept of a Creator and our place in the Universe quickly falls apart.
In regard to my atheist friend, I am not sure he will ever have real faith or understand its immensity. I am not sure that he will ever come to grips with the fact that mortal man is so far beneath the brain of the Creator that to “second-guess” God is not only stupid, it smacks of sinfulness.
Verses began to run through my brain that night: “Oh ye of little faith,” “Blessed are they who have not seen yet still believe,” “Faith cometh by hearing.” It must be awful to have no faith, to have no reserve of strength to weather the storms.
It’s not my personal responsibility to show my friend how to understand faith. I was not raised in a religion that was heavy on evangelism or my stomach would be roiling because of my failure to effectively proselytize. But, I know, that until he does, until he has that personal revelation, he will never understand why some of us have a totally different way of looking at life. I can’t imagine a life without faith. I soaked it up, first as a child. I have a strong feeling that Sr. Theresa Joseph is looking down, smiling, at how I turned out.
Photo captions: 1) Pondering on being an atheist (http://www.wikihow.com/Be-an-Atheist). 2) It takes faith to board an airplane. 3) Dennis Daily.
About the writer: Dennis Daily is a former national religion editor for the old UPI Radio Network in Washington, DC., and a frequent contributor to a variety of publications, including the ASSIST News Service. He is currently based in Palm Springs, California. His e-mail is: email@example.com.
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