Wednesday, October 5, 2011


A climber "enjoying the superb glue-like ice
smeared over the Glen Nevis Mica Schist " [Scotland], 2/3/2010
Now HE needs a friend!
photo: Rob Jarvis

“New Atheist” Sam Harris tells the story of a scientist who, while hiking in the Cascade Mountains, came upon a frozen waterfall and was so overwhelmed that the next morning he fell “to his knees in the dewy grass” and gave himself to Jesus. “That’s psychotic,” was Harris’s response. My response was: Come on, Sam, bad poetry doesn’t make a person psychotic!

I've often maintained I became a Catholic because I was looking for the truth, but maybe the real reason I became a Catholic was that I needed a friend. When your ship is going down, you don’t need a person “engaged in the rational pursuit of evidence-based spiritual knowledge”: you need a friend. When your car has just crashed—and as a human being, my car has always just crashed, or is about to—you don’t need a “New Atheist”: you need a friend.

I wonder if the hunger to have a friend and to be a friend, in fact, is not the basis of all true religion. “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends…I have called you friends,” Christ said. (John 15: 13-15).

As a Catholic, that’s really what I’m saying. I'm saying, Christ laid down his life for me, and I want to be willing to lay down mine back. I'm saying, Help me be willing to lay down mine back, because I’m so out for myself, so cowardly, so weak. I'm saying, Help me be a good friend, because I so easily forget that everyone else wants a friend, too.
Here’s the truly Good News of Jesus: I don’t hate myself anymore, and I don’t hate you. Every time I come across a rant by Christopher Hitchens, for example, I want to say, “Chris baby, put down the booze and come join the human race!” Harris is the same way, without even the booze as a redeeming factor: no sense of humor and a bully. That’s no life. Believe whatever you want, that goes without saying, but whatever you believe, it’s got to at least give you the balls to do work you love, and make you marginally happy to the point where, if nothing else, you can laugh at yourself.

Anybody can laugh at other people.

But to be able to laugh at yourself--that's "God."

"Even then my life was gloomy, untidy, and barbarously solitary. I had no friends, and even avoided
speaking to people, retreating further and further into my corner"...
--Dostoevsky, Notes from Underground 


  1. Years ago, I rented a small guest house in North Hollywood from an older couple. It was a nice place and I enjoyed it for the time I lived there. A couple of years later I found myself on the street and thought I would drop in on them.

    When I knocked on the front door, I was greeted by the husband who had the look that Rock Hudson had in his last days i.e. the look of impending death.

    We talked for about an hour and he was quite willing to discuss his impending demise. I asked him if he had made peace with the Creator. He said he had lived his life as an atheist and was not about to change now. He had an air of certainty about him and I did not attempt to change his mind but told him of my Catholic beliefs. It had no effect on him and when I left he bid me a warm farewell. I was astonished at his attitude since I came from a very religious family and had 12 years of Catholic education (guilt and all). I am still amazed today at the apparent peace of the man.

    Jesus said if you believe in Him you will have eternal life. The opposite of that statement would be if you do not believe in Him you would not be granted that gift. I have tried to reconcile Jesus' statement, my religious training , the encounter with my former landlord and a merciful God.

    The answer could be that a merciful God would not condemn this man to an eternity of suffering and could mercifully cause him to cease to exist after showing him a glimpse of the beatific vision and for that instant of seeing God, the atheist would regret his beliefs but it would be too late and he would cease to exist. This would be his hell.

    With all that has been revealed, God is still a mystery!

  2. I'm wondering.... what really consigns one to hell of course is rejecting Jesus, the blood covering for sin, not the sin itself... and if one has never truly met Him, can one reject Him? Perhaps, in that one beatific glimpse, as the atheist finally, deeply, sees... perhaps repentance can be just that instantaneous and, like the thief on the cross or the end-of-the-day workers in the vineyard, he can in that moment be forgiven and receive the grace of extended love.

  3. Thanks, Philip and Carie-I'm sure you got that I'm purporting to discuss atheism vs. faith: I'm just saying whatever we believe, let's not be humorless boors.

    But you bring up a fascinating point: why do I feel way closer to certain "atheists" than I do to many of my fellow Catholics? Because there are a whole ton of people who don't "know" Christ but are infinitely closer to the spirit of Christ in thought, word, and deed than a whole ton of church-goers...

    I think we can have NO idea of the infinite, mysterious mercy of God. All I can do is try to keep my own soul in some kind of shape to receive it...

  4. Pope Benedict has talked about the the relationship beween the non-believer and the believer especially in the modern world. the believer has doubts and the non-believer has doubts and both experience questions and gropings about our common search for meaning. I also am comforted by the part of the liturgy that is a prayer "for those whose faith is only known to you".

  5. Heather, I enjoyed this. There so much truth here...that it's all about relationship. All about that. And love. So you have it right, and we're all trudging along with you to stay on that path of truth and enlightenment. Because you have suffered and struggled, your illuminations are all the richer.

  6. So good and so true. In a lot of the new atheist writing it's really a sense of humanness that's missing, a sense of real, shared humanity that I think makes the religious experience so miraculous and beautiful

  7. G.K. Chesterton, "The Everlasting Man": For when he who doubts can only say "I do not understand," it is true that he who knows can only reply or repeat "You do not understand." And under that rebuke there is a sudden hope in the heart; and the sense of something that would be worth understanding.

  8. I enjoyed this post, Ms. King, as I enjoy your books. Shirt of Flame is on my list.

    Hitchens, Harris, et. al. are necessary for people of faith. I, too, feel closer at times to non-believers because at least they are THINKING. Too many followers leave their brains behind and blindly agree to agree.

    I go back and forth--belief vs. non-belief--but this is infinitely preferable to faith-haters and faith sycophants. Faith is found in the wrestling.

  9. Exactly, "Dad!" I did a radio interview the other day and the guy said something like "'Wrestle' seems to be the word to describe your relationship to faith." And I replied "Yeah and I think it's the word ANYONE would use who has any remote insight into his or her psyche"...

    No wonder atheists don't "believe" when they get a load of some of the one-dimensional treacle on the one hand and on the other the fundamentalist hatred (and I'm talking about "Christians" here) that so often passes for "religion"...

    In fact I've been thinking that one way to define religion, or how we come to religion, is the kind of questions we ask...the man of religion wonders about suffering and he wonders about love...

  10. Yes, yes, yes. God gave us brains and we do Him and the rest of humankind a disservice when we stop using them.

    In my blog, "Musing on the Mayhem," I try to articulate what I'm thinking, feeling, believing and/or attempting. I suppose when we stop trying, we're done...or become zombies. :)

  11. "Dad," Ms. King -
    "Faith is found in the wrestling." Of course! Wrestling with God is the origin of the name "Israel" - Jacob's new name after his mysterious all-night wrestling match . . . (see Gen 32:24-30). "One who strives/wrestles with God." It is an apt title for "God's chosen" - apparently God doesn't want sycophants.
    Enjoying your work and good luck in Chicago!

  12. Thanks so much, Fr. Mark--I look forward to wrestling in Chicago, too!..


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