Somewhere in the last short while I have been experiencing some kind of a catholic resurgence. It’s an unusual occurrence for sure and seems to be to a large degree to have a life of its own. I’m not even sure where and when it began, but I think it had something to do with Richard Dawkins and The God Delusion.
It may sound strange to attribute a deeper faith to the impact of a popular atheistic book, but it was out of the challenge laid down by the entry of the “new atheists” that I began to question and then more fully understand my Catholic faith. Atheists leaders such as Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and even the actor Stephen Fry represent a new and powerful group that seek to actively remove religion and God from our lives but also, importantly, from the public square of social and political discourse. They dismiss those with faith in sneering and churlish tones in what is on the one hand probably a genuine effort to understand the world, but on the other an effort to improve their own honour and esteem as brilliant, powerful and funny men.
Upon hearing their arguments I became challenged and defensive. I have always been Catholic and involved in the church and knew in my heart that it was the truth, but as I waded into a few debates over the web I found there were some holes in my arguments, plus the debates used big words like Ontology and Eschatology. My lack of preparation however wasn’t important because what it did for me was force me to consider, reflect and understand the things I had been saying that I believed.
I also became deeply interested and hungry to find out who was correct – the naysayers or the believers?
Peter Kreeft was one of the first people I discovered. He is part of a new cohort of defenders of the faith (apologists) who also include Robert Barron and Scott Hahn. But I also went further back discovering that these debates had really been going on in the modern era for over a hundred years. CS Lewis, GK Chesterton and JRR Tolkein all surprised me with their brilliance and wisdom, but also with their utter commitment and conviction in their faith and in particular, with the exception of Lewis, to the catholic faith.
I began to discover that this Church I thought I knew was something more. This was not just another religion that could help you get through a life that the philosopher Hume said was, nasty, brutish and short, but that she, The Church, is a glorious and magnificent instrument of the Lord that holds the keys to the fullness of this life and the next. Jesus Christ was not just another wise teacher or prophet but the actual Son of God who rose from the dead!
I began to see that Catholicism is like an ocean – children can play on its edges and adults can begin to explore the depths. I came to the amazing yet confronting realisation that this thing might just be true. It seems Jesus Christ really did rise from the dead, he really is the Son of God and that means everything and changes everything. As Chesterton said upon discovering the church, “…all the cogs and wheels began to be revealed and I could suddenly see how they all worked together.”
It’s my view that the new atheists have been given room to move by the Lord for the benefit of his Church and my Catholic resurgence is a product of that. I’ve noticed also on the web that my resurgence is not all that isolated and that I believe quietly yet powerfully through the grace of God that Catholicism is making a comeback – not that it ever really went anywhere.