There are many aspects of popular Catholic faith that have sometimes shocked me and turned me away. Yet I well remember visiting the great Catholic shrine at Czestechowa, in Poland, where once almost a million people turned out for Pope John Paul II when he first pierced the Iron Curtain to visit his homeland. On my visit, I was a little sickened by all the kitsch and the “buyers and sellers in the Temple .” And also by all the outer devotion of peasant piety, the jostling, the seeming lack of silence and reverence (Anglo Saxon ways are not those of all the parts of the church), the ostentatious fingering of rosaries and the sometimes loud praying. Then the thought hit me: These are the people who defeated Communism. These were the hard rocks of resistance.
Neither do I like the “pills” with written words in them. However, many petitions for canonization are received by Rome every month, and the process of declaring any one person a saint, as you can see from the case you cite, may take two or more centuries to complete.
It is an honor to discuss these profound matters with you again. I couldn’t hope for a wiser or more generous interlocutor.
I would like to take up your invitation to locate the “exact areas of disagreement” between believers and unbelievers. While we could proceed at a fairly general level–debating, for example, whether the prevalence of a belief is a marker of its truth–I propose starting from the concrete. Nonbelievers find themselves surrounded every day not just by abstract statements about, say, the compatibility of reason and faith, but also by quite specific claims about God’s attributes and effects in the world. I would appreciate learning how you would counsel a nonbeliever to approach such claims, since they are part of religious faith no less than metaphysics.
Perhaps, Michael, you share with me a certain despair at the gullibility of seemingly educated Westerners towards New Age quackery.
I’m looking forward to this conversation. As you know, we have covered some of this ground in earlier talks, but just to bring our new friends up to date, I’d like to offer a bit of information on my background and my perspective on this issue, and why it seems to me that belief in God is not contrary to reason, but, indeed, seems to grow out of it.
I was born in the year that Adolf Hitler was elected Chancellor of Germany, and have never been able to blink away the horrors of the newsreel footage I saw at Saturday matinees during my youth: concentration camp fences; emaciated figures in ragged striped uniforms; stacked dead bodies pitched into trucks like sacks of sand. Hegel wrote somewhere: History is a butcher’s bench.
By age twelve I knew that human life can be far more horrible than I was at first willing to face, and I wondered whether unbelief, kicking back at the darkness, would be the most honest way. In the writings of atheists, I have often recognized some of my own bleak feelings. It is from this shared darkness that believers and unbelievers would do well to proceed.
An observation important to my own thinking about God is that knowledge of God’s presence, even though unseen, is the default position of the human race. For most of the human race in past history, and also today, the knowledge of God’s presence is part of daily awareness.
Heather Mac Donald is a contributing editor of City Journal and the John M. Olin Fellow at the Manhattan Institute. She also is a recipient of 2005 Bradley Prize for Outstanding Intellectual Achievement. Ms. Mac Donald is the author of Are Cops Racist? How the War Against the Police Harms Black Americans and The Burden of Bad Ideas: How Modern Intellectuals Misshape Our Society, and the co-author of The Immigration Solution: A Better Plan Than Today’s. Her articles have appeared in the Wall Street Journal, The New Republic, and the New York Times.