The Doubting Atheist

“I don’t believe in God but I miss him.” Julian Barnes (Author)

Beneath the bombastic confidence of atheists in a disenchanted world—a cosmos devoid of divine love and personality—lies a nagging doubt that arises in the strangest of times. The doubt is there when one holds their newborn baby with wonder and gratitude—but to whom or what? The same doubt whispers in the ear while at the graveside of a dear friend. It’s just as C.S. Lewis warned after he had succumbed to that doubtful whisper when he was an atheist: “Really, a young Atheist cannot guard his faith too carefully. Dangers lie in wait for him on every side.”

British writer A.N. Wilson had his own road to Damascus conversion, but it was from faith to atheism. Listen as he describes the giddy and seemingly liberating experience:

“…It was such a relief to discard it all that, for months, I walked on air…For the first time in my 38 years I was at one with my own generation…If I bumped into Richard Dawkins (an old colleague from Oxford days) or had dinner in Washington with Christopher Hitchens, I did not have to feel out on a limb. Hitchens was excited to greet a new convert to his non-creed and put me through a catechism before uncorking some stupendous claret. “So – absolutely no God?” “Nope,” I was able to say with Moonie-zeal. “No future life, nothing ‘out there’?” “No,” I obediently replied. At last! I could join in the creed shared by so many (most?) of my intelligent contemporaries in the western world…”

But as C.S. Lewis warned, an atheist must be very careful to guard their faith, and A.N. Wilson was not careful—and cracks appeared in his confident unbelief. After 20 years of his born-again atheism, he quietly returned to faith in God.

Among many cracks to emerge was the phenomena of language, expressed vividly and powerfully in love and music, which, in Wilson’s words, “suggest that human beings are very much more than collections of meat.”

The phenomenon of morality opened up another fissure which eventually widened to collapse his atheism in dust. Wilson was writing a book about the Wagner family and Nazi Germany when he observed “how utterly incoherent were Hitler’s neo-Darwinian ravings, and how potent was the opposition, much of it from Christians; paid for, not with clear intellectual victory, but in blood. Read Pastor Bonhoeffer’s book Ethics, and ask yourself what sort of mad world is created by those who think that ethics are a purely human construct. Think of Bonhoeffer’s serenity before he was hanged, even though he was in love and had everything to look forward to.”

Wilson adds, “My departure from the Faith was like a conversion on the road to Damascus. My return was slow, hesitant, doubting. So it will always be; but I know I shall never make the same mistake again…”. Let us, too, fight the good fight of faith.

Nicholas Tuohy

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