Monday, April 13, 2009

Condescending Contempt

Anyone who has spent much time browsing YouTube, or listening to people like Bill Maher, will recognize the sort of condescending contempt A.N. Wilson describes in an essay in the Mail Online about the attitude of the British secular elite toward people of faith.

During the course of his column Wilson tells us something of his own story:

For much of my life, I, too, have been one of those who did not believe. It was in my young manhood that I began to wonder how much of the Easter story I accepted, and in my 30s I lost any religious belief whatsoever.

Like many people who lost faith, I felt anger with myself for having been 'conned' by such a story. I began to rail against Christianity, and wrote a book, entitled Jesus, which endeavoured to establish that he had been no more than a messianic prophet who had well and truly failed, and died.

Why did I, along with so many others, become so dismissive of Christianity?

Like most educated people in Britain and Northern Europe (I was born in 1950), I have grown up in a culture that is overwhelmingly secular and anti-religious. The universities, broadcasters and media generally are not merely non-religious, they are positively anti.

To my shame, I believe it was this that made me lose faith and heart in my youth. It felt so uncool to be religious. With the mentality of a child in the playground, I felt at some visceral level that being religious was unsexy, like having spots or wearing specs.

This playground attitude accounts for much of the attitude towards Christianity that you pick up, say, from the alternative comedians, and the casual light blasphemy of jokes on TV or radio.

It also lends weight to the fervour of the anti-God fanatics, such as the writer Christopher Hitchens and the geneticist Richard Dawkins, who think all the evil in the world is actually caused by religion.

Wilson then concludes by pointing out that the confidence adherents to atheistic materialism have in the rationality of their belief is quite unjustified:

As a matter of fact, I am sure the opposite is the case and that materialist atheism is not merely an arid creed, but totally irrational.

Materialist atheism says we are just a collection of chemicals. It has no answer whatsoever to the question of how we should be capable of love or heroism or poetry if we are simply animated pieces of meat.

The Resurrection, which proclaims that matter and spirit are mysteriously conjoined, is the ultimate key to who we are. It confronts us with an extraordinarily haunting story.

J. S. Bach believed the story, and set it to music. Most of the greatest writers and thinkers of the past 1,500 years have believed it.

But an even stronger argument is the way that Christian faith transforms individual lives - the lives of the men and women with whom you mingle on a daily basis, the man, woman or child next to you in church tomorrow morning.

All in all it's not a bad essay with which to conclude the Easter season.


The Year of Astronomy

New Scientist celebrates the Year of Astronomy by releasing a series of eight of the best astronomical photographs of the year. They're dazzling.

Jupiter's Ghost


Irena Opdyke

Dennis Prager tells a story of a woman in Nazi-occupied Poland that raises some serious moral questions. The story has been made into a play that's currently on Broadway entitled Irena's Vow:

Playwright Dan Gordon and director Michael Parva have made goodness riveting in the new Broadway play, "Irena's Vow." The Irena of the title is Irena Gut Opdyke, who, at the time of the play's World War II's setting, was a pretty 19-year-old blond Polish Roman Catholic to whom fate (she would say God) gave the opportunity to save 12 Jews in, of all places, the home of the highest-ranking German officer in a Polish city. Ultimately discovered by the Nazi officer, she was offered the choice of becoming the elderly Nazi's mistress or the Jews all being sent to death camps.

As it happens, I interviewed Opdyke on my radio show 20 years ago and again 12 years later, and she revealed to me how conflicted she was about what she consented to do not only because she became what fellow Poles derided as a "Nazi whore" but because as a deeply religious Catholic she was sure she was committing a grave sin by regularly sleeping with a man to whom she was not married and worse, indeed a married man, which likely rendered her sin of adultery a mortal sin.

What she did therefore, was not only heroic because she had to overcome daily fear of being caught and put to death, but because she also had to overcome a daily fear of committing a mortal sin before God.

Here's the question this story compels us to ponder: Is what Irena did wrong or right? Do you, like Prager, see her adultery as heroic and deeply good or do you see it as deeply wrong and sinful? Or neither? Is your answer one you could explain to someone else or is it just an intuition?