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No One Sees God

Dark Night

Your brightness is my darkness.
I know nothing of You and, by myself,
I cannot even imagine how to go about knowing You.
If I imagine You, I am mistaken.
If I understand You, I am deluded.
If I am conscious and certain I know You, I am crazy.
The darkness is enough.

- Thomas Merton

If God exists, why doesn't he make it more obvious? Why doesn't he stop more evil, answer more prayers, or perform a steady stream of miracles - or better yet, all of the above? Why all the darkness and silence, especially in a world in such desperate need of clarity and hope?

For atheists and agnostics this is a common enough sentiment; what is striking though is how often holy people have dwelt on these very same questions. In fact, the Bible itself is saturated with a piercing sense of God's obscurity. How do we make sense of this parallel between belief and unbelief?

First, a quote:

"But if I go east, he is not there; or west, I cannot perceive him; The north enfolds him, and I cannot catch sight of him; The south hides him, and I cannot see him. Yet he knows my way; if he tested me, I should come forth like gold. My foot has always walked in his steps; I have kept his way and not turned aside...Therefore I am terrified before him; when I take thought, I dread him...Yes, would that I had vanished in darkness, hidden by the thick gloom before me."

With all the terror, dread, and gloom, this seems like something out of a chain-smoking existentialist’s novella. But it is in fact Biblical - the book of Job.

This sense of divine hiddenness is central in the Old Testament, especially in the Psalms. In Monty Python and the Holy Grail, God himself declares from a cloudy throne: "It's like those miserable Psalms. They're so depressing!" Maybe the comedic crew wrote this line with Psalm 10 in mind:

"Why, Lord, do you stand afar
and pay no heed in times of trouble?
Arrogant scoundrels pursue the poor;
they trap them by their cunning schemes.
The wicked even boast of their greed;
these robbers curse and scorn the Lord.
In their insolence the wicked boast:
"God does not care; there is no God.""

Or Psalm 88:

"But I cry out to you, Lord;
in the morning my prayer comes before you.
Why do you reject my soul, Lord,
and hide your face from me?
...My only friend is darkness."

There's countless other examples (Psalm 30, Psalm 44, Psalm 63), and not only in those "depressing" Psalms. In 1 Kings we read a striking passage about God approaching Elijah not in a strong wind, earthquake, or fire, but a kind of "silent sound." The prophet Isaiah contemplated God's darkness in contradistinction to more meddlesome deities: "Truly you are a hidden God." Even the Hebrew word for God (YHWH) signified the unutterable.

In the New Testament, one might suspect that this would all change - and it does, but it also doesn't, not even for God incarnate. In a truly mind-bending episode, Christ, hanging from the cross, quotes Psalm 22: "My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?" The Psalm continues:

"Why so far from my call for help,
from my cries of anguish?
My God, I call by day, but you do not answer;
by night, but I have no relief."

This passage is a strange thing for a Christian; it appears, as GK Chesterton put it, that God himself is abandoned by God. "Let the atheists themselves choose a god," Chesterton mused. "They will find only one divinity who ever uttered their isolation; only one religion in which God seemed himself for an instant to be an atheist."

The theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar describes this mission of God into godforsakenness with great insight:

"Active faith means following Jesus; but Jesus' mission leads him on a course from heaven deeper and deeper into the world of sinners, until finally on the Cross he assumes, in their stead, their experience of distance from God, even of abandonment by God, and thus of the very loss of that lucid security promised to the "proven" faithful. This paradox must be borne..."

And we see that "loss of that lucid security" not only in Biblical passages and theological works, but in the lives of countless believers. Saint Anselm, an 11th century archbishop and originator of the ontological argument, wrote:

"I have never seen thee, O Lord my God; I do not know thy form. What, O most high Lord, shall this man do, an exile far from thee? What shall thy servant do, anxious in his love of thee, and cast out afar from thy face? He pants to see thee, and thy face is too far from him. He longs to come to thee, and thy dwelling place is inaccessible. He is eager to find thee, and knows not thy place. He desires to seek thee, and does not know thy face. Lord, thou art my God, and thou art my Lord, yet never have I seen thee...Why did he shut us away from the light, and cover us over with darkness?..."

We see a more profound case in notable mystics of the Church: in Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross' "dark night of the soul" in the 16th century; in the last days of Therese of Lisieux in the 19th century ("If you only knew what darkness I am plunged into," she told her fellow nuns); and even in Mother Teresa in the 20th century (who described forty-five years of inner emptiness, feeling "neither joy, nor love, nor light...").

Some of the greatest theological art is also focused exactly on this tortuous journey through darkness. Dostoevsky, Graham Greene, and Flannery O'Connor all wrote with a profound sense of both God's action and absence; the work of Polish painter Jerzy Nowosielski revolves around "an immense metaphysical black hole" and the darker aspects of human experience; and Shusaku Endo, a Catholic novelist, wrote the book Silence (slated for film development by Martin Scorsese) about 17th century Portuguese missionaries who wrestle with God's silence in the midst of great suffering:

"I cannot bear the monotonous sound of the dark sea gnawing at the shore. Behind the depressing silence of this sea, the silence of God...the feeling that while men raise their voices in anguish God remains with folded arms, silent."

Even popular songs expressing the darkness and silence of God are so much more interesting (and popular) than sanguine worship songs meant to pacify. In a song of the same name and theme as Endo's book, the Jewish singer Matisyahu sings:

"Bring my broken heart to an invisible king
With a hope one day you might answer me
So I pray don't you abandon me.
Your silence kills me;
I wouldn't have it any other way.
Is it wrong to think you might speak to me?
You might speak, would it be words and what would you say?
It's so heavy, a heavy price to pay
Your silence"

"Testin' Me" by Stones Throw artist Dudley Perkins, Tom Waits' "God's Away on Business," and The Roots' "Dear God 2.0," all capture a similar lament:

"Dear God, I’m trying hard to reach you
Dear God, I see your face in all I do
Sometimes, it’s so hard to believe it...
If your love's still around, why do we suffer?"

The atheist might respond that this plethora of modern cases shows that this is a modern phenomenon. Maybe the "God of darkness" is just the fallout of a post-Christian God evanescing under closing gaps of scientific knowledge - that he appears to be a distant shell of his former glory because science has explained so much of what was once attributed to the divine.

But remember, our investigation began millennia ago. This obscurity of the God of Abraham has been with us from the beginning, and not just on the periphery, but right there on center stage. When we read tweets from someone like Matisyahu in a Jacob-like grapple with God ("I have never stopped asking this question. Are you real? Are you listening? Who are you?"..."I am not impressed with answers. A question that comes from deepest depths is worth more then a mountain of answers"), we're not seeing a gap-less God of the gaps or an artsy affectation, but a supreme truth of faith: that it's a long day's journey into night.

Is this something rotten at the core of faith itself, then, whatever the century? Is the darkness and silence not a drawing forward from beyond the veil of the world, but just what it is - darkness and silence?

Nietzsche thought so. In Dawn, he wrote:

"A god who is all-knowing and all-powerful and who does not even make sure his creatures understand his intentions —could that be a god of goodness? Who allows countless doubts and dubieties to persist, for thousands of years, as though the salvation of mankind were unaffected by them, and who on the other hand holds out frightful consequences if any mistake is made as to the nature of truth? Would he not be a cruel god if he possessed the truth and could behold mankind miserably tormenting itself over the truth?... they as yet know nothing of a Duty of God to be truthful towards mankind and clear in the manner of his communications."

Bertrand Russell is said to have put the matter much more pithily. Below, philosopher Peter Kreeft recounts the famous story about Russell's deathbed quip, and introduces some of the classical responses to the problem of divine hiddenness:

Michael Novak, in his book No One Sees God: The Dark Night of Atheists and Believers, is wise enough to move beyond these answers, good as they are. Novak focuses instead on the plain fact that this darkness and silence is common ground for us all - whatever it amounts to, whatever it means, we all share it. (He confesses early in the preface: "It was crystal clear to me even at age twelve that life is far more horrible than anybody had heretofore suggested. Unbelief, atheism, and cursing the darkness might for me and for all turn out to be the more honest way.")

"Serious and devout believers from the time of Elijah and Job have known about the darkness in which the true God necessarily dwells," Novak writes. "Darkness is the normal mode of Jewish and Christian belief."

For Novak, as for Kreeft, this darkness fosters "the true relation between the Creator and the creature," which is more hide-and-seek than lost-and-found, in both directions:

"God hates to be too obvious about things. He writes pretty darn good mysteries into almost everything He does. Our fun lies in the detection. Who would be attracted to God if He didn't drop a hint, or plainly plant a clue? And then cover it up again? We have to work for it. Use our brains a little. Keep pursuing the hidden God. God is pursuing us...but we keep running from Him. There is a little verse that presents God as "The Hound of Heaven":

I fled Him, down the nights and down the days;
I fled Him, down the arches of the years;
I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways
Of my own mind.

That poem nails the reality."

But Novak's final point, the point of the book, is that "the line of belief and unbelief is not drawn between one person and another, normally, but rather down the inner souls of all of us." We aren't so different after all:

"Both the atheist and the believer stand in similar darkness. The atheist does not see God - but neither does the believer...we all stand in darkness concerning our deepest questionings...withal, a certain modesty should descend upon us. Believers in God well know, in the night, that what the atheist holds may be true. At least some atheists seem willing to concede that those who believe in God might be correct. Sheer modesty compels us to listen carefully, in the hopes that we might learn."

This is an especially good caveat for the faithful. Pope Francis wrote in his first encyclical Lumen Fidei (or "The Light of Faith"): "One who believes may not be presumptuous; on the contrary, truth leads to humility, since believers know that, rather than ourselves possessing truth, it is truth which embraces and possesses us. Far from making us inflexible, the security of faith sets us on a journey..."

In other words, faith does not mean knowing God through and through and tapping a stockpile of straightforward answers. Instead, it's an ontological light burning in the same existential darkness that scandalizes the atheist. "Faith is not a light which scatters all our darkness," Francis reminds us, "but a lamp which guides our steps in the night and suffices for the journey."

The believer can and should be struck by the same darkness and the same profound questions that trip up the atheist. The atheist, on the other hand, can be struck by the lightning of grace and the thunder of desire, given the assurance of things hoped for. But even then, the darkness remains; the soul will still see by a mirror, at night; the eye will not see, nor mind visualize, what God has prepared; she will continue to journey and climb, a child of the light but still a child. But on the wings of grace, that "deep but dazzling darkness" is enough, and her cup overflows.
Originally posted at By Way of Beauty. Used with author's permission.
(Image credit: Bushma)

Matthew Becklo

Written by

Matthew Becklo is a husband and father-to-be, amateur philosopher, and cultural commentator at Aleteia and Word on Fire. His writing has been featured in First Things, The Dish, and Real Clear Religion.

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  • Andre Boillot

    Thanks for this piece Matthew - well written and much more in keeping with a spirit of finding common-ground than some other articles here. More of this, please.

    • Andre, thanks for the charitable compliment. We do try to mix the common-ground articles with others examining the points of departure. Our goal here isn't just a least common denominator solidarity but the pursuit of Truth, even when that requires Catholics or atheists--or both!--discovering they may be wrong about a particular question.

      • Andre Boillot

        Brandon, I know it's not your only goal. However, after what feels like a recent string of especially divisive articles (eg. that atheists have no grounds to base their will or morality), it was a welcome change of pace. I, for one, would welcome more of these.

        • "what feels like a recent string of especially divisive articles (eg. that atheists have no grounds to base their will or morality)"

          Thanks, Andre. Just one point: perhaps your feelings were mistaken in this case. The "string" you're referring to was a debate that featured an equal number of posts on either side of the issue.

          • Andre Boillot

            Brandon, if you're not sure what I mean, you can always ask me. The "string" I was referring to included that debate-series, but was not limited to that. That my example included "will" in addition to "morality" should have clued you into at least one other recent piece.

    • Andre - Thanks for the kind words, I'm glad you enjoyed it! Definitely check out Novak's book with the same title, which it was hard to do full justice to here. It includes a lengthy debate between Novak and an atheist named Heather MacDonald that is intelligent, passionate, and honest.

      The epigraph to the book, a quote from Novak's earlier work, is especially powerful:

      Believer and unbeliever are both voyagers. In the darkness in which the secret courses of human lives lie hidden, men are sometimes closer together, sometimes farther apart, than appearances indicate...Among us thrives a brotherhood of inquiry and concern, even of those who disagree in interpreting the meaning of inquiry - the meaning of human spirit - in the darkness in which we live.

      • Steven Dillon

        Matthew: Out of curiosity, have you ever read J.L. Schellenberg's Divine Hiddenness? If so, what'd you think?

        • Hey Steven - I haven't, but I appreciate all recommendations for reading!

          • Steven Dillon

            Ah, it's really good. He just dives head first into an analysis of Divine Love and its relation to Divine Hiddenness, interacting with Catholic and non-Catholic theologians and philosophers all throughout. I think it could be really beneficial to have a discussion here on Schellenberg's case.

  • I take this to mean that Mr Becklo accepts there is not sufficient evidence for the existence of the Catholic deity. Rather belief is based on wishful thinking (faith). I don't mean to sound crass, but this piece is essentially going through a lot of material discussing how no god seems to be present and at the end talking about faith.

    Is that right? If I am wrong, can we talk about the evidence?

    • Mary J. Nelson

      Just as a note. Faith is not "wishful thinking"; faith is an active assent of the intellect and will to God (or some other idea) where one looks at the evidence and then acts on said evidence. In other words, suppose I have looked at the evidence for a particular idea (God, the notion that an airplane will not fall out the sky, the existence of electrons) and have come to some level of certainty (75%, 99%....whatever) that is less than 100%. Faith is, in part, the ability to act on a belief as if I am certain. For example, I will get on a plane or work on quantum theories that assume the existence of electrons or pray to God and act charitably toward my fellow man in His name. Belief is not based on faith; faith follows from a certain level of belief. It is action that is based on faith.

      • Mary,

        A conclusion based on reason and evidence that falls short of certainty does not seem to have any need for the term "faith".

        If there is no other element than evidence and reason, can we just discuss what the evidence is an drop vague terms like faith? I certainly would not need 100% certainty, just that it is more likely than not that a god exists.

        Before we get into the evidence, keep I mind that my comment above is addressed at the thesis of this piece which appears to me to say that there is not sufficient evidence to conclude a god exists.

      • David Nickol

        Faith is not "wishful thinking"; faith is an active assent of the
        intellect and will to God (or some other idea) where one looks at the
        evidence and then acts on said evidence.

        It seems to me this is not in accord with faith as it is described in the Catechism:

        154 Believing is possible only by grace and the interior helps of the Holy Spirit. But it is no less true that believing is an authentically human act. Trusting in God and cleaving to the truths he has revealed is contrary neither to human freedom nor to human reason. Even in human relations it is not contrary to our dignity to believe what other persons tell us about themselves and their intentions, or to trust their promises (for example, when a man and a woman marry) to share a communion of life with one another. If this is so, still less is it contrary to our dignity to "yield by faith the full submission of. . . intellect and will to God who reveals", and to share in an interior communion with him.

        155 In faith, the human intellect and will cooperate with divine grace: "Believing is an act of the intellect assenting to the divine truth by command of the will moved by God through grace."

        According to the Catholic view, faith is a supernatural gift. It is not calculating that something has a 51% probability, or a 99% probability, or a 99.999% probability of being true and accepting it as 100% true.

        It is my understanding that it's Catholic teaching that God grants (or at least offers) everyone the gift of faith, so in what sense it is called a "gift" is somewhat of a mystery to me. And in fact this definition of faith raises more questions (for me) than it answers, especially couple with Peter Kreeft's assertion that we are given just enough evidence to believe in God as will be persuasive to those who seek him, and less than enough to be persuasive to those who do not seek him. One might imagine a person who speaks in a barely audible tone so that those who are really straining to understand him will get what he says and the rest will not. Or one might imagine a writer (some claim this is what Henry James was sometimes up to) who writes in such a way that only a reader focusing with the utmost attention will understand his prose. I find the idea of providing signals just slightly over the threshold of perceptibility to be bizarre, especially because each person will have a different threshold. I do not see why believing in God (or loving him) should be a matter of "free will," since I don't think believing is a matter of will. It does not seem to me to be a matter of violating my free will that I can't help believing that chocolate is delicious, the sun is hot, stubbing my toe is painful, and all the other inescapable conclusions I have been led to. I would not feel I was being forced into anything if God's existence were clearly evident. And in any case, my understanding of what God is said to want us to do freely is to love him, not to believe he exists.

        • Mary J. Nelson

          I don't know that subjective notions as to what is delicious and what is not is a good example of faith as I know some weird people who do not like chocolate so it seems such things are not "self-evident" or "inescapable'. Axioms, or the things we assume are self-evident, are used as starting points for proofs and I don't think are considered objects of faith. I think we are assuming in this forum that the existence of God is not an axiom but something that needs to be proven? Picking the axioms to start such proofs is part of the problem and a subject of much debate (i.e. can we assume "existence" or not, can we assume the law of non-contradiction, etc.)

          Faith involves the human intellect (i.e. the examination of reality and determination of truth revealed by God though the natural world and also through revelation) in cooperation with divine grace. While faith is a gift from God (like all good things such as love, wisdom, etc.) it requires free will to accept and take advantage of this gift and some acknowledgement and examination of the nature of reality is required in order to have faith. In saying faith involves bridging the gap between knowledge and action, I am speaking of how faith operates in both the natural and supernatural world and indicating that faith is something beyond a blind leap in the dark.

    • hillclimber

      I would say that Catholicism is, in a sense, based on wishful thinking, though not in the pejorative sense that you mean. It is based on a desire, not in the spirit of, "I wish I had a pink pony", but rather in the sense of "I wish that life had meaning". We find that when we fully admit our need for this wishful thinking, even to the point of actually engaging in the wishful thinking, the meaning embraces us and shows itself to not be the *result* of wishful thinking after all, but rather that which is real in the realest possible way. It shows itself to not contradict data or reason in any way. As long as we have a living commitment to this reality, it is with us, but as soon as we try to "capture" this embracing meaning through the formulaic precision of dogma, it is gone. (This is no slander of dogma. Dogma is a reliable guide toward the Truth, but it never claims to capture or own the Truth.)

      • I think we need to distinguish between having desires and the wishful thinking fallacy.

        I am an atheist, but I have no trouble admitting that I desire the Catholic god to be real. (Personally, I would desire even more that say Jainism or Bhuddism, be true, and numerous other realities, but that is another issue)

        We fall into error when we take this desire and use it as a reason to believe it actually is true. Beliefs are important, they inform our behaviour, they affect others. The time to believe something is when there is good evidence to believe it.

        Lets talk about whether there are good reasons. I see Mr Becklo seeming to accept there are none here which is why he replaces good reasons and evidence with faith, a light, etc.

        • "I see Mr Becklo seeming to accept there are none here which is why he replaces good reasons and evidence with faith, a light, etc."

          What part of Matt's article gives you the impression that he believes there are no good reasons to believe in God?

          • Most of the article. He spends most of it describing how the god he believes in is invisible and hidden. But instead of then providing the evidence for a god he talks about faith.

          • I still see no evidence that Matt believes there are no good reasons for God. Even though God may be invisible and hidden, this does not mean we lack demonstrations of his existence.

          • It is my conclusion from reading it. If he had written a piece saying 'god invisible and hidden but here is the way to detect him' it would be a different story.

            But he essentially writes 'like atheists Christians also do not see god. He remains hidden. Here are a number of people bemoaning this state of affairs and asking god to show himself. But we have faith"

        • hillclimber

          I am not familiar with the wishful thinking fallacy - curious to know more about how that is articulated.

          What would you say to a person who sees no reason to think the past is any reliable guide to the future? In every new moment, let's say, this person is worried that he will cease to exist. "Don't worry", you might say, "In the past, the preceding past has always been a reliable guide. Experimental results have been replicated, and so forth." But the person continues to worry. After each new moment, you might say: "See, I told you the past would be a reliable guide! You still haven't disappeared!". But after each new moment the person's fear persists: "Well yes, but now I am worried about the *next* moment", he says. Will you really ever have any evidence to convince this person that his persistent fear is unjustified? It would be impossible. The past is past, and he is always worried about the *next* moment, a moment about which you and he currently have no data. That person would tell you that you were engaging in wishful thinking by continuing to believe that the past is a reliable guide to the next moment, and he would be right.

          • You are describing the problem of induction. You are correct there is no logical reason to be say that past patterns predict the future. I would tell that person that they are correct. But I would question their fear. Such a person would not be able to form any beliefs about the past being one way or another or the future being one way or another.

            It is a necessary cheat to assume past patterns predict. This doesn't give us licence to accept this cheat and say that despite pattern, we believe impossible timings can happen.

          • hillclimber

            OK, so we agree that it is indeed a "cheat" to assume that past patterns predict, in the sense that that belief is not logically required. So, when you later say that it is a *necessary* cheat (which I also agree with), in what sense is it necessary? I propose that this cheat is only necessary if we start from the intuitive premise that the material world not altogether malicious or incoherent. That intuitive premise is part (though only part) of the wishful thinking that I was referring to.

            So, if you and I have already agreed to make this leap of faith into this coherent, partially predictable, not altogether malicious worldview, let's now parse what you mean by "impossible timings [can't] happen". It is of course true that no impossible thing can happen, but that is true by definition, so I'm sure you meant something more. I don't want to put words in your mouth, but maybe what you mean is: "no thing can happen that destroys my coherent aesthetic sense of how the universe works". If that is what you mean, then I would encourage you to stick with that intuition, which I also share.

            My only counsel would be to continually refine and expand your aesthetic sense. If you have been living in, and loving, a world that is proceeding in 4/4 time, and you then hear, or at least hear reports of, some bars of the song that proceed in 3/4 time or 5/4 time, don't assume that's not part of the song. Maybe the composer was indeed trying to direct your attention to that part of the song. It doesn't mean that the 4/4 part of the song isn't beautiful, and it doesn't mean that the song as a whole doesn't cohere.

          • Our intuition might say that induction works but logic tells us there is no good reason to believe this intuition. But this is only in the ultimate or absolute sense. We can't prove that it always will work, but we have enormous amounts of evidence that it has. This is what we mean by "evidence". We have made millions of predictions based on the inference that cause and effect occur and occur consistently. Malice doesn't enter into it. But the only way we can say that what we observe appears to be coherent is because we accept induction. So it is only necessary if you want to act in the world. Otherwise there is no reason to think anything will have any effect on anything one way or another.

            So if we accept induction. And we all do. Always. We accept we can make predictions based on past practice. Wishful thinking occurs when we take positions that are against what we accept as more likely true. For example. If I take Ibuprofen for my headache, I can rely on my own experience as well as the science showing the efficacy of the drug in relieving my symptoms. It may not work but it is a reasonable inference to accept that it will. If I don't have any Ibuprofen, but I have some antibiotics I certainly may desire that it works but it is wishful thinking to take the position that it will. I have no evidence that it has and we know some things about biology to suggest that it will not.

            There is no need for anything like faith in this.

          • hillclimber

            "But this is only true in the ultimate or absolute sense."

            Yes! This is exactly the ultimate or absolute sense in which I believe in God's goodness. I am faithful to my belief in God in the same way that I am faithful to my belief that induction applies to the real world. Or, to modify that slightly, my belief in God's goodness is even more absolutely foundational than my belief that induction applies to the real world, because the latter belief for me is predicated on the former belief.

          • hillclimber

            Here's another way to get at it: when you accept that induction applies to the real world, are you accepting that simply as a useful fiction that helps you survive? Or do you actually think that that useful fiction is true in some ultimate sense?

          • Paul Boillot

            What up, Hume.

        • hillclimber

          In addition to asking you what you would say to the paranoid person that I describe below, let me share the answer that I would give to this person. I would say (without lying), "You know, your paranoid world view is totally coherent and consistent with the data. I like that, and you should never give up on that coherence. All I'm asking you to do is to make an instinctual leap into a worldview that is equally coherent but is more full of promise and beauty. I promise you that in this worldview in which the past is a reliable guide to the next moment, you will not have to give up on coherence (believe it or not, it will be even more coherent!), and you will not need to ignore any data. Just trust your instincts, give it a shot and see how you like it."

          • I can tell you that appeals to beauty, promise and instincts will not help you. My worldview is unceasingly filled with beauty and promise. It sees all humans as wonderful beings, not fallen, possessing no sinful nature, just subject to the challenges of reality. I see beauty in art, love, nature, but also in homosexual love, premarital sex. I have the freedom to lust after a woman and realize that it is because she is beautiful, and not worry that I have sinned in my heart. I am free from trying to understand how such a good god could allow terrible suffering.

            My instinct tells me that religions are deluded hogwash.

          • hillclimber

            Haha, OK, in that case don't trust your instincts :)

            I am kidding of course. You should indeed trust your intuition (provisionally, at least) that religions are deluded hogwash, but you should also use your reason to bring that intuition into coherence with all of the other intuitions you have, whether they are natively held intuitions or intuitions mediated by reason.

            For example, you have the intuition that there is absolutely nothing wrong with lusting after a woman. Seemingly in tension with that, let me postulate that you have met at least one Catholic in your life who didn't seem sexually dysfunctional or intellectually impaired or insincere. If you have never observed such data, just humor me and continue with this as a thought experiment. How could you bring your dominant intuition into coherence with this secondary, weaker, but still seemingly true intuition?

            In this case, it shouldn't take long to find a Catholic who can explain that lust, like all other sins, ain't bad for what it is, it's bad for what it ain't. If your "lust" is, as they say, drawing you into the fullness of that woman's existence, causing you to be attracted to her not simply as an object, but also pulling you into the mystery of her hopes and fear and desires, then that ain't lust. That's the good stuff. Lust is only when you reject the fullness of her person, and thereby reject the fullness of life, by dwelling in thoughts that objectify that woman as a tool for you pleasure.

            I would love to generalize this idea of bringing your various intuitions into coherence, but I recognize this message is already too long.

    • Hey Brain - I think following that discussion would lead us to the question of what constitutes evidence and what degree of evidence is sufficient to warrant belief. But this article is more about the nature of faith - not as an abstract concept, but from an existential perspective.

      I don't see a life of faith as a Kierkegaardian "leap" into the absurd. But neither do I think for a second that it basks us in angelic choirs and crystal clarity. Faith is a human journey and the journey is often dark - maybe darker than it would be without faith, in some ways. (The problem of evil, for instance, is a less of a problem and more of a brute fact if the world was created by an evil demiurge, or erupted out of chaos.) We find we have to "seek with groans," as Pascal put it - to continue searching in shadowlands for the God who is hidden. And this is not a modern take on faith, but an ancient one.

      That's what I hoped to show here. It may make for less heated debate, but I think these are some important things to contemplate, from both the unbeliever and believer "sides" (which I agree with Novak are really two sides of both your heart and mine).

      • I appreciate the sentiment of trying to cool the debate. My request for clarification is whether your beliefs are only based on faith, or whether you think evidence and logic can get you there.

        The intent is lost if after all that the light of faith actually means the light of reason and evidence. I honestly think the debate would be much more productive if we could clarify terms like faith, evidence and reason.

        • Hey Brian - I feel the same way. I feel like a lot of debates about faith and about God come down to epistemological questions and distinctions. Maybe Brandon can get a debate on that subject up on SN soon.

          That said, no, I don't believe pure evidence and logic can get you to belief in the Christian God - but I do believe it can get you to the deist God.

          At the same time, I think faith is an act of the intellect, by command of will, moved by grace, and that faith is not at all contrary to reason - in fact, the two are mutually necessary. "Fides et Ratio" by JPII, and the Catechism 142-165 - http://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p1s1c3a1.htm - clarify the Catholic position a lot. Also Aquinas' definition of belief from the Summa is helpful:

          "To think" can be taken in three ways. First, in a general way for any kind of actual consideration of the intellect..[secondly], the movement of the mind while yet deliberating, and not yet perfected by the clear sight of truth...and thirdly for an act of the cogitative power.

          Accordingly, if "to think" be understood broadly according to the first sense, then "to think with assent," does not express completely what is meant by "to believe": since, in this way, a man thinks with assent even when he considers what he knows by science [Science is certain knowledge of a demonstrated conclusion through its demonstration.], or understands. If, on the other hand, "to think" be understood in the second way, then this expresses completely the nature of the act of believing.

          For among the acts belonging to the intellect, some have a firm assent without any such kind of thinking, as when a man considers the things that he knows by science, or understands, for this consideration is already formed. But some acts of the intellect have unformed thought devoid of a firm assent, whether they incline to neither side, as in one who "doubts"; or incline to one side rather than the other, but on account of some slight motive, as in one who "suspects"; or incline to one side yet with fear of the other, as in one who "opines."

          But this act "to believe," cleaves firmly to one side, in which respect belief has something in common with science and understanding; yet its knowledge does not attain the perfection of clear sight, wherein it agrees with doubt, suspicion and opinion. Hence it is proper to the believer to think with assent: so that the act of believing is distinguished from all the other acts of the intellect, which are about the true or the false.

  • David Nickol

    I'd like to echo what Andre Boillot said. It is refreshing to read something about religious belief that does not purport to contain proofs that allegedly yield certainties.

    I am not sure what the Peter Kreeft clip is doing there except perhaps to give examples of the kind of glib, inadequate answers that drive away people who take the question of God's hiddenness seriously.

    • Joseph X.

      I respect Dr. Kreeft, but I also find his answers wholly inadequate and glib, and not only here, but in every thing I've read by him. Strange that he's a philosophy professor.

  • Consider also Fr. Joseph Ratzinger’s “Law of Disguise” from
    Introduction to Christianity, Part II, Excursus: Christian Structures.
    of Disguise

  • Shaun Alexander McAfee

    "The believer can and should be struck by the same darkness and the same profound questions that trip up the atheist." <--- That's Right.

    Even St. Thomas knew his efforts were futile and in the Second section of Summa, Prima Pars, he mentions that what we know of the Trinity is revelation and we can only dance around the sniffs of dust that help us describe it. A good piece here at SN.

  • Paul Boillot

    Becklo, two quick points:

    1) "existential darkness that scandalizes the atheist"
    That many poets and intellectuals over the centuries have struggled with existential darkness does not mean that all people, or all atheists, are 'scandalized' by it. Acceptance and a good sense of humor go a long way.

    2)"seek and ye shall find"
    If God insists that we must have a sincere desire to find him before he will reveal himself to us, then he is no god I would want to find. If humans want, apriori, to believe something, they will find any justification necessary to maintain their framework and avoid painful cognitive dissonance. Abuse victims, UFO abductees, Scientologists, Jehovah's Witnesses, 911 truthers and Arsenal fans. With all the evidence we have about cognitive biases, the ease with with patterns can be suggested, the malleability of the mind and the primal reaction people have to their deepest notions about the systems of reality being challenged...with all the knowledge we have about the ways we can fool ourselves and others, why should anyone trust the Judeo-Christian story?

    To my mind it's telling that there is a direct correlation between those in our society who are striving the hardest to understand our universe and a lack of belief in your ancient stories.

    • If God insists that we must have a sincere desire to find him before he will reveal himself to us, then he is no god I would want to find. If humans want, apriori, to believe something, they will find any justification necessary to maintain their framework and avoid painful cognitive dissonance.

      Just a thought: do you see how different those two statements are?

      • Paul Boillot

        No, but I'd be glad for you to explain any differences.

        • Hey Paul - I do think it's an important distinction to look at. You write that "if God insists that we must have a sincere desire to find him before he will reveal himself to us, then he is no god I would want to find."

          This suggests that you concede God might in fact exist - but, like Ivan Karamazov, you respectfully return your ticket, because he demands you desire to find him before he will reveal himself to you. But faith is ultimately about a relationship. And don't relationships demand a sincere desire to learn about and "seek out" another person before they reveal their true selves to you? Consider a lesser relationship, of a partner or spouse. Would you react the same way? "If I need a sincere desire to seek her out, she's not worth it"? I'm guessing no. But why should we expect anything less when it comes to the ultimate Other? (Please don't reply explaining the ways a spouse is different from God - it's an analogy.)

          But none of that gets you to your second statement, which is a William Jamesean statement on the will to believe. To say that a potentially existent God is not worth a sincere desire to find him, therefore sincere desire to find something immaterial is a self-fulfilling process meant to justify a delusion, seems like a non-sequitur to me.

          • Paul Boillot


            First of all, you're dropping a bunch of names all over the place; I am envious of your wide reading on these topics, and I can only assume you're categorizing me and my views correctly.

            Next, and briefly, you irk me slightly with "please don't respond ... it's an analogy." Analogies fall on a spectrum from good bad, meaningful not, and their position on the spectrum results from how well each of the compared objects maps onto their analogous counterparts, and how well the relationship between the analogous counterparts maps onto the original compared objects. If you want to make poor analogies, and then hide behind them saying "look, it's not literal" that's your business, but in a dialectic one should not claim the right of proposing unchallengable assertions. But fine, I'll leave your analogy alone.

            So, your two points:
            1) "And don't relationships demand a sincere desire to learn about and "seek out" another person before they reveal their true selves to you?"

            A 'relationship' defacto means two people. If I'm sitting alone in my room trusting and loving my girlfriend who doesn't exist, that's no relationship. I can 'seek her out' as much as I like, but nothing will be revealed to me...except maybe a dawning of welcome self-consciousness.

            But "seek and ye shall find," "you've got to be willing to build a relationship with god"... these are epistemological rubrics for indoctrination and killing doubt. I can't trust and build a relationship with a person who I have to be willing to trust exists before I will be given revelation in the first place.

            Let me put it to you in my own analogy: in-person dating vs. 90's online dating.

            If I go on a date with a woman, I can see her, what she's wearing, her body language, if/where her gaze wanders....I can listen to her, see her reactions, see her see my reactions, etc. I can build an image of her personality in my mind, I can start to imagine what her reactions might be to future stimuli, will she say yes to another date? Will she enjoy going to see a movie, a comedy or a drama, maybe an architectural tour instead or a walk in the park... The more we learn about each other and open to each other, the more detailed my inner map of her gets. I, a person, am open to her, a person, we share and learn through cascading trust and honesty. I don't tell her about how the death of my dog in high-school affected me the moment I shake her hand for the first time, that would be weird, too much, too soon, a demand of unwarranted trust.

            If, on the other hand, I use my dialup modem to get to a shoddy, malware ridden 'singles' AOL website and start chatting with clevelandGurl184, what happens? There's so little information bandwidth, I have no way of knowing if that's really a woman, her age, attractiveness...there's no reason to trust that internet handle. For all I know, it could even be a cleverly written AI bot trying to get personal information out of me. Everything about trying to find someone to date on this website is going to be weird, demanding unwarranted trust.

            TLDR: You point about relationships fails. We don't leap into the dark, blind, when we being to open up to another person.

            2) "To say that a potentially existent God is not worth a sincere desire to find him, therefore sincere desire to find something immaterial is a self-fulfilling process meant to justify a delusion, seems like a non-sequitur to me."

            Fair enough, that...oddly phrased sentence is a non-sequitur, but I never said that.

            Does Bigfoot potentially exist? Is it possible that we have been visited by aliens in UFOs? Are unicorns potentially extant? Strictly speaking, yes.

            Do we have reason to believe that they might also be fabrications? Yes.

            Is it intellectually dishonest not to search for them given the body of evidence we have about them to date? I don't think so.

          • Paul - You write:

            If I go on a date with a woman, I can see her, what she's wearing, her body language, if/where her gaze wanders....I can listen to her, see her reactions, see her see my reactions, etc. I can build an image of her personality in my mind, I can start to imagine what her reactions might be to future stimuli, will she say yes to another date? Will she enjoy going to see a movie, a comedy or a drama, maybe an architectural tour instead or a walk in the park... The more we learn about each other and open to each other, the more detailed my inner map of her gets. I, a person, am open to her, a person, we share and learn through cascading trust and honesty.

            This is beautifully put, and is just how I feel about God, analogically. Instead of clothes, body language, reactions, and words, a relationship with God is built from reading creation: the beauty of nature, the truths of philosophy and science, personal experiences, people you know and love, communities and churches, history, and at the pinnacle, the Word who claimed to be God. Gradually, we can grow a sense of trust and honesty, by spending more time with him and seeing his faithfulness to us. ("Lumen Fidei" has a great meditation on how faith is a two-way street.)

            It might not all come at once, and it definitely doesn't mean there aren't blind spots - there are blind spots with knowing another person too. But neither does it mean it's a "leap into the dark, blind," which I don't think for a second faith is.

            I don't want to bloviate too much on my own article, so you can have the last word if you want it!

          • Paul Boillot


            First, thanks for you compliment. Second, I don't, and I doubt anyone else would, fault you for engaging in dialogue that you're passionate about simply because you wrote the OP.

            Third: You're completely side-stepping my point, though you thought it was nicely worded. That cascade of trust I describe is with another person whose being I can directly apprehend, though her inner nature might take time and effort and inference to ascertain. Your God's being is itself an inference.

            I won't lie and say that I dislike having the last word, but I'm more than happy to continue this if your modesty will allow.

          • MichaelNewsham


            Maybe we could shorthand this as the "Manti Te'o" argument.


    • ColdStanding

      "If God insists that we must have a sincere desire to find him before he will reveal himself to us, then he is no god I would want to find."

      So, you want the truth (granting you might even reject the notion of truth, if so, good luck to you), yet you have come to deny the validity of the truth claims of found among the Christians, therefore, applying the logic of your statement, you will sit on your behind and not seek for the the truth? Huh? You are still seeking. You've just decided "I will not look over there for it."

      Those that deny theological and metaphysical claims about the nature of existence and the seeing evidence of God in those claims found in earlier efforts of the Western tradition did what in response? Not seek? Of course they sought, are seeking and will continue to search. It is baffling that you'd reject the need to seek God when you seem perfectly happy to seek in all other areas of your life.

      Did you not seek for a mate? Did you not go to the library and seek for something to read? Did you not go to the store and seek something to eat? etc. Yet, when it comes to the highest and most important aspect of human existence, namely our relationship with the universe (entailments aside) suddenly you are defenestrating the envoy because you don't like the way he is dressed?

      This is not a reasoned position you are taking. It is mere willfulness.

      • Paul Boillot

        Mere unreasoning willfulness? I'm searching for another way to think about that comment, but I must confess all I can find is to describe that as "ad hominem." :)

        But I do search, my friend, everyday! I love learning and knowledge, and I have learned a lot by being immersed in and studying your stories. I just don't believe that they hold any truths about metaphysical things, that doesn't mean there's nothing to be gained in the stories and lessons about humans.

        You say that I have rejected the need to seek God, but I don't see it that way. If Sasquatch exists, I would love to know about it, I would seek out that knowledge. Size, range, diet, behaviors, litter (does Bigfoot give live birth? Are they marsupials?) size....how had it remained hidden for so long.

        But I have decided that the evidence surrounding claims of Sasquatches seems more like a compilation of old stories (about potentially extant animals) and more recent attention-seeking.

        I haven't rejected the love of learning about new animals, I have rejected the trustworthiness of the claims of those who told me about Bigfoot.

        As I have rejected your trustworthiness in speaking about your "God."

        PS. The disqus tag for quotes is "

        " without the space after the less than sign.

        • ColdStanding

          Yes, un(der)reasoned. God has given you the easiest means to find and know Him, using the act of will that you like best (or at, least have a strong fondness for) and, therefore, are likely to be doing anyways - seeking that is - and you slap Him in the face for it and pride yourself for the gall of having done so.

          Get all offended as your pride demands you must, but don't pose to me that you have reasoned through the implications of your having mocked Jesus Christ for having dared suggest to you to "seek and ye shall find". It is the height of folly to hold that, having so roundly abused the truth (not for the first time I should expect) - for Jesus Christ is the Way, the Truth, and the Life - you can so easily, glibly really, grasp or comprehend the truth. Your darkness (willful-not-seeing) is self-imposed.

          I should expect that my rough treatment of you is going to impede our getting to know each other, but it is to prove the point.

          • Correction: Instead of "I should expect that my rough treatment of you is going to impede our getting to know each other, but it is to prove the point," I think you meant to write:

            "I suspect my need to insult you with unfounded insults is going to impede our getting to know each other, but it is to prove the point that if you disagree with me it must be due to your moral failing."

            On the other hand, that's a good gambit for avoiding reasoned debate.

          • ColdStanding

            Excellent gambit, however, for proving the point. Except, of course, with those that refuse to think it through, preferring as you do to cut'n paste your way to indignation.

          • Again with the notion that if we disagree with you it must be due to our moral failing. That's not just ad hominem, but repeat ad hominem. Congrats. Let's see if you can go for the hat trick.

          • ColdStanding

            You aren't disagreeing with me, Rob.

          • Either you disagree with my paraphrase of what you said to Paul or you do not. If you disagree, then, well, we disagree.

            On the other hand, if you agree with my paraphrase, then you think your opponent's disagreement is due to their moral failure. In which case...we disagree on that.

            Ergo, I'm disagreeing with you, one way or another.

          • ColdStanding

            It is due to his moral failure, as is your ire, as is my rudeness.

            But I am just a mule. Who disagrees with a mule? No, that a mule carries something you disagree with means you really disagree with him who sends the mule.

          • But we don't know who sent the mule.

          • ColdStanding

            Correction: You don't know.

          • Paul Boillot

            Isn't that implied in the "we"? Is it not clear that he means people who aren't you, the mule, and thus don't know who sent you?

          • ColdStanding

            Do you really need to ask?

          • Paul Boillot

            Do you?

          • ColdStanding

            He had a "Correction" coming to him.

          • Paul Boillot

            You'll have to forgive me, I usually think I'm pretty clever, but you've stumped me.

            Rob said "we" didn't know who sent the mule, implying (I think) everyone here who isn't you, which would include Rob himself.

            You replied with "Correction: You don't know" which doesn't seem like much of a correction since he had just said as much.

            Do you see why I'm confused?

          • ColdStanding

            Sure, I just don't think its that big of a deal. Moving on.

          • Paul Boillot

            Did we have to come all this way down and argue this vaguely to finally arrive at the admission that you made a little goof, didn't think it was a big deal, and just want to move on?

            You could've said as much from the beginning, Cold.

          • Paul Boillot

            What basis do you have for believing that I have under-reasoned to my conclusion?

            I don't mind your 'rough' treatment, internet posturing is nothing new to me, and I grew up with people as certain and...vocal about your beliefs as you, if not more so.

            I was one myself :)

            If nothing else, I respect you for your attempt at 'tough-love;' shows you really are afraid of hell and care about non-believers' souls.

          • ColdStanding

            Jesus Christ, the Truth, is a person. If you treat a person roughly, does it incline the person so treated to want to be with you? Can you really imagine sitting down with me and having me continue to talk to you in this tone and have it be an enjoyable experience for you. Why would the Truth make Himself known to you when you do to him as I do to you.

            And, yes, the Four Last Things is a meditation of paramount importance.

          • Paul Boillot

            "Four Last Things"?

            Can I imagine sitting down with you and enjoying it? Absolutely.

            Why would God reveal himself to me if I treat him like you treat me? I dunno...honestly that sounds more like a problem with your conduct than mine.

            Does God really need you to stick up for him? Are you defending Jesus' bleeding heart?

            How did Jesus deal with the people who knew and loved him directly, who saw miracles, who ate his loaves and fishes and his very body....how did he react when they denied him, not on the internet to strangers, but when his life was in danger?

            How did he deal with Thomas who refused to believe, even after all of Jesus' living miracles, even while seeing the Risen Lord....until he demanded physical proof?

            Did Jesus tell Peter to yell at Thomas for him?

            Your conduct isn't good manners by my secular humanist standards, let alone the standards issued to you by your god, but it doesn't bother me.

            I honestly see you as a deluded person, probably indoctrinated from childhood, and your aggressive response to me is utterly consonant with a human having his deep beliefs challenged openly and firmly.

            If we fear the unknown, and I understand you, why would I fear your response?

          • ColdStanding

            Why do you have a question mark after "Four Last Things"? Do you not know what that is?

          • Paul Boillot


          • ColdStanding

            Umm, er, you where a Christian, but not a Catholic Christian?

          • Paul Boillot

            No no, I was raised Catholic, I guess we were never, or I don't remember, presented Death, Judgment, Heaven and Hell as an encapsulated packet so labeled.

            Also, I'm not a huge fan of Bosch.

          • ColdStanding

            I like my meditations well aged. I try not to read anything newer than the 1930's. I like the Redemptorist industrial grade scare the hell out of you hell sermons. Fear of the Lord is a gift of the Holy Spirit.

          • Paul Boillot

            Didn't Jesus say "I call you not servant but friends?"

            I try not to pick to many friends who want me to tremble in fear of them.

          • ColdStanding

            You are like a wolf attempting to cull out a lamb for the kill. These sayings do not exist in isolation. You really should not need me to explain these things to you. Either you received a very poor religious education, didn't pay attention, didn't put any of your own effort into it or are playing possum.

          • Paul Boillot

            Cold, I think it's interesting that we've moved from:

            "I should expect that my rough treatment of you is going to impede our getting to know each other, but it is to prove the point."
            "You are like a wolf attempting to cull out a lamb for the kill."

            What am I missing, can you explain? It seems to me that your statement of "Fear of the Lord is a gift" contradicts the words of your man god about friendship.

            I think I had a pretty extensive and thorough religious education (my bad on "TFLT"), I promise I paid attention and I don't know many kids who put more effort in.

            What context am I missing?

          • ColdStanding

            ... of the Holy Spirit. It is one of the 7 gifts of the Holy Spirit. Look it up. This is an example of what I mean by "cull". You are taking parts and condemning by pieces.

          • Paul Boillot

            Er, okay...a gift is a gift, no matter who it's from, unless it's not a gift, because fear isn't anything I would ever want to give.

            "Fear of the Lord is a gift of the Holy Spirit"
            "I have called you friends"

            What is the whole that I am unnecessarily condemning? What forest am I missing for the trees?

          • ColdStanding

            I don't understand how it is that you can claim to have had a lot of religious education as a youth and don't know the answers already to the questions you pose to me.

          • Paul Boillot

            You lack of understanding is duly noted, I promise you.

            But we can't engage in dialogue if you're too scared to tell me what you believe. I just want to know how you square the need for God to be jealous and vengeful and his desire to be feared with the fact that he also tells you that you're his friend.

          • Paul Boillot

            Hey, btw, you didn't answer my question:

            How does Jesus handle Peter who denied him and Thomas who doubted him?

          • ColdStanding

            Hmm. You are right. I did not.

            God does not need me to stick up for Him. I need to stick up for Him. It is what I need because, yes, I am deluded. I am indoctrinated... by the world. I accept the premise of the "World" vs. "Our Heavenly Homeland". It has been placed before me to choose. I have. I now must bare witness to my Redeemer. Would you have ME slap my Lord and Redeemer as you have been induced to do? For shame.

          • Paul Boillot

            No, I don't want you to slap anyone, I want you to be well and know truth. We don't always have to rush to the extremes.

            Peter pulled out a sword to fight for Jesus hours before he utterly rejected him. Those wild oscillations aren't good for anyone.

            You don't need to reject your lord to NOT pull out your sword. Do you remember what Jesus said to Peter when Peter decided to aggressively defend him and cut off the soldier's ear?

            Maybe next time keep your sword in place AND don't deny your beliefs. Maybe next time just try to be honest without being aggressive.

            I don't much care for my sake, but it does seem like you're doing a poor job of living out the gospel and being an uncovered light for the world.

      • Andre Boillot

        You've just decided "I will not look over there for it."

        Forgive me, Cold, but when speaking to people you don't know, you'll have to resist drawing unfounded conclusions such as this - as it might well be the case that a great many of us have indeed "look[ed] over there", for many years and with great sincerity...and not found what we were told was there.

        • ColdStanding

          Gasp! No! Having one's comments taken as unfounded? On the internet? I never.

          Seriously, though, there is very little getting to know someone on the internet. What can you do? Like it or lump it. You never know what's going to pop up under one's comments.

          Additionally, there is little grounds to elevate the (current) failure of your Christian vocation to a universal principle. It has been my experience that any progress is only after a very long and harsh period of humiliation. You should not take it as a negative that all your efforts to come to understand have come to naught.

          • " You should not take it as a negative that all your efforts to come to understand have come to naught."
            Objection: Assumes facts not in evidence.

          • ColdStanding


          • Andre Boillot

            Cold, I'm sorry to say that I'm not seeing much of the famous Christian charity on display in your comments so far.

            "Additionally, there is little grounds to elevate the (current) failure of your Christian vocation to a universal principle."

            Where have I done this?

          • ColdStanding

            Here. On this site. Constantly. It's the refrain by which you establish your street creed as an ex-insider.

          • Andre Boillot

            I'm sorry, I don't see how objecting to the idea that some of us have never bothered to seek out god constitutes a universal principle. As for how much "street cred" it earns me...I have no idea (maybe I was a terrible insider).

            We're still left with you assuming that the search was never undertaken.

          • ColdStanding

            I did not, I do not, and unless you say otherwise, will not assume that the search was never undertaken. I'm fairly certain that you did in deed put a good effort into it.

            Am I right? You did once profess Jesus Christ as your savior?

          • Andre Boillot

            Once upon a time.

            Apparently you did not mean what I thought you meant by: "You've just decided "I will not look over there for it.""

            How long, after coming to the conclusion that there's seemingly nothing over there, should one continue to look? How should one behave if they do return their gaze over there, periodically, only to find nothing still? How many more years of one's life should be lived under the apprehension of eternal damnation for failure to find something over there? All the while, being told that if only one would look - reaaaaally look - they would find.

            "I'm fairly certain that you did in deed put a good effort into it."

            So, where's my prize? I was told there would be a prize.

          • ColdStanding

            The suffering, confusion, doubt, apprehension, anxiety, rejection, and humiliation is the prize. Nay, not prize. A prize is something you get for having done something note-worthy. You, me, all of us have done nothing to merit it. It is a gift.

            Suffering is THE gift, and I've just signed up for a whole heaping bunch of it.

          • Andre Boillot

            That sound you aren't hearing is the RCC not reaching out to you for PR work.

          • ColdStanding

            They don't let us flagellants out very often.

          • Andre Boillot

            Yes, how funny is the idea that our suffering pleases god. Anyhow, I think we're done here.

          • ColdStanding

            It does not please Him. It helps us. It's as if you had never heard of penance.

          • Why? What did you do?

          • ColdStanding

            Said that suffering is the gift.

          • Paul Boillot

            I thought it was salvation that was the gift? And grace?

            I thought Jesus did your suffering for you?

          • ColdStanding

            Suffering completes the Mystical Body of Christ. You'll find that in St. Paul's letters.

          • Paul Boillot

            Oh right, right, Purgatory and all that.

            But hasn't there always been a tension in the Church between 'flagellates' such as yourself and others?

            Didn't Mary have to tell the kids at fatima not to hurt themselves?

          • ColdStanding

            I'm not really a flagellate. I just play one on the internet. No, it's really just praying, spiritual reading, and the Mass. It's mostly very pleasant.

          • Paul Boillot

            You didn't answer either question, Cold!

          • ColdStanding

            Adjust your expectations, then. I've had to put up with some pretty thin gruel around here, too. Dodgy responses abound.

          • Paul Boillot

            I won't adjust :)

            Also, I'm not sure what we're given to understand about 'thin gruel,' but I think that many, if not most, of the people who contribute to these boards are doing their best to reason about questions which have bugged smart people for the entirety of recorded history.

            Some responses are dodgy, sure, but through persistence and clear headed reason we can all help each other dodge less and less.


            1) Has or has not the RCC had internal tensions between strong believers in self-abnegation/mortification and the rest?

            2) Is it or is it not part of the story of the fatima event that the children reported being told not to fast too much or wear knotted ropes?

            *Edits for clarity and spelling*

          • ColdStanding

            1) "Learn of me, for I am meek and humble of heart." There is no getting into heaven, unless you are humble of heart. Penance is a part of this. How much? Meh, it's an open question. Prudence is the virtue to cultivate and pray for here.

            2) as for this one, I do not know the answer. Haven't followed it that closely. Why do you ask?

          • Paul Boillot

            1) Can't you get into heave if you're not humble of heart, but also haven't committed mortal sin? I thought that the only condition to salvation was being washed in the blood of christ, isn't purgatory for rounding-off-the-edges you didn't lose during life?

            2) Hmm, I just did some research and I was wrong about that one. They were only told not to wear the rope at night. In any case the point was that even in the most conservative catholic traditions, mortification of the flesh must be done with discretion.

          • ColdStanding

            Sigh. You know far less than you need to. Why not turn to God in prayer and ask in the name of Jesus Christ for the help you need to understand? You don't even have to tell Andre you did it.

          • Paul Boillot

            Did you go to the trouble to type out the word "sigh?"

            Come on now, Cold, it's a simple question. Can you get into heaven without being humble of heart?

            And why wouldn't I tell Andre about my relapse?

          • ColdStanding

            Not humble. No heaven. Pride is of the Malicious Deceiver. Humility is the antidote. You and all atheist are filled to overflowing with pride. I am not atheistic and I am constantly stumbling because of my pride. I am worse even than most atheists. Which is why I beg for God's mercy. Not because I deserve it. Indeed I deserve eternal death .

            Ah, clarity has come to me now. Deo Gratis!

          • Paul Boillot

            "I am worse even than most atheists...I deserve eternal death."

            Eeesh, I'm glad I got out of the abusive relationship, I hope you will too some day.

            But I thank you for two things:
            1) As this is a site dedicated to introducing atheists to the wonders of revelation, it's nice to see some old-school self-loathing on display for the curious.
            2) You're not a bad writer, you've got a nice turn of phrase; "filled to overflowing." I hope using your gift brings you comfort...but...er...not pride....that would be bad :)

            Best of luck!

          • Paul Boillot

            Many significant truths and much of my treasured knowledge has only come after serious effort, difficult thought, and hard questions...none of which I choose to think of as humiliation.

            In fact, I take great pride in those times, and I'm very glad that I had the benefits both of brain structure and cultural learning to prepare and enable my mind to reach those milestones.

          • ColdStanding

            "I take great pride..." Full stop. Problem identified.

            Pride=problem. Human pride= THE problem. If you have pride, you have the problem.

          • Paul Boillot

            Haha, totes.

            We are god's chosen people, we are made in his image, the universe is ours and made for us...


            We are dust, we are mud, we are clots of blood, we are worms, we are worthless, we are sick and evil and we will burn forever...

            Total abjection and total glorification, you must love and fear god, you are special and unworthy: sadomasochism.

            (Shout out to the Hitch)

          • ColdStanding

            Sounds about right. You think you've portrayed a contradiction and the tension of the apparent contradiction causes a reaction of repulsion for you, but not for me. I see my condition perfectly portrayed by the knowledge of the two extremes.

          • Paul Boillot

            See, I told you I understand you :)

          • ColdStanding

            You are the apostate. You've got bigger fish to fry than my mental health.

          • Paul Boillot

            Of course, I just didn't want us to misunderstand one another.

          • Paul - Pascal's "Pensees" explicates this apparent contradiction in man, as an anthropological and historical truth that is reflected in dogma, not the other way around:

            The greatness and the wretchedness of man are so evident that the true religion must necessarily teach us both that there is in man some great source of greatness, and a great source of wretchedness. It must then give us a reason for these astonishing contradictions.

            The newspaper confirms how right Pascal was - stories of great honor and great horror, day in and day out. No? Something tells me we all see the contradiction in our own thoughts and desires and actions as well.

            Of course I wouldn't phrase the negative aspect of the Christian view of man the way you do, but God knows many Christians have.

          • Paul Boillot


            Of course the depth of depravity and highest brilliance of man is laid bare by the historical record. What does that have to do with your religious claims?

            The Large Hadron Collider, the ISS, farming enhancements have....what to do with the claim that we are children of god?

            St. Thomas Moore burning people at the stake, Rawanda, Nazi doctors experimenting on captives: we can get this low without dust or mud or satanic snakes.

            Diagnosing and treating diseases, including those of the mind and society, require calm deliberation and careful study, thing which are absent in the fanatic's outlook.

            To treat the social and cultural ills of humanity will take the same effort that has already gotten us this far off the savannas and out of the caves.

            We don't have to grovel in base abjection sporadically elevated by paroxysms of fervor to be fully human, and we will have to completely shirk the already half-ignored religious mysticism to continue making progress.

          • Joseph X.

            Thanks for stepping in and providing some reason here, Matthew. I can't believe I'm still reading this thread!

        • trytoseeitmyway

          "a great many of us have indeed 'look[ed] over there,' for many years and with great sincerity...and not found what we were told was there."

          This happens to me all the time. My spouse tells me to bring something to her, and after looking, I report back to her that I can't find it. She says it's there, and I look again. I report back with some asperity this time that it is just not there. She then goes to where she said it would be, finds it and makes disparaging comments about my ability to look for things, suggesting that I might have to move some things around, perhaps, to find what I am looking for.

          You have to move some things around Andre.

          • Andre Boillot

            What a useful anecdote. I suppose I'm at the stage where I'll wait for god to find my faith for me and disparage my investigative skills.

            EDIT: I'll note, also, that this is in fine keeping with blaming the non-believer for their lack of faith - as if we didn't want to find for so very long, all the while loathing oneself for not finding.

          • trytoseeitmyway

            Sure. That's too bad, but, OK. I went through an atheist phase too.

  • Strange Notions Feels.

  • Raphael

    Speaking to St. Thomas, Jesus assures us that He blesses those who have not seen Him and yet believe:

    Jesus said to him, “Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.”

  • MichaelNewsham

    Or you could take the simple approach that all this silence, absence, calling out without answer and seeking without finding is because there is nothing there to hear, answer, or be found in the first place.

    • Everyone should be able to acknowledge that that's the most straightforward view.

  • Adam Murray

    A couple of thoughts:

    1) I think that the common experience of darkness, of an existential hole, is as Barth says, "(A) bare relic of the Unknown". The very space that existence makes for that which cannot be filled either points to some cosmic error, or the existence of that which is outside of our perception. There is too often in these discussions, a failure to acknowledge that if God is really God, then he is fully outside that which is possible to experience with the faculties of material existence. And, complaining about suffering seems as a gross form of anthropocentrism that sounds more like wondering why God didn't create the universe according to the preferences of limited men.

    2) Further, it is silly to speak of the Christian God, without speaking of the incarnation of God in the person of Jesus Christ. One can debate whether or not Jesus of Nazareth was truly the manifestation of God, but speaking about the Christian God without bringing Christ into the conversation is unwarranted. It is through Christ that the gentile is brought to God, not through so called reasoned deduction. Paul, at the Areopagus acknowledges the hole in existence created by "that which has been made", but its meaning is mute without the revelation of God in Christ.

    3) Finally, the question about the continued presence of God in the world becomes a question of ecclesiology, for God sent his Spirit upon the Church, that it might be the continued presence and manifestation of God in the world. One might question the quality of that manifestation, but to deny it is to deny the Christian witness of the form of God's ultimate revelation.

    There is a lot of idle chatter here that strikes me as quibbling about why God doesn't make himself known according to human architecture. If the discussion is to go beyond that, we must approach God (or the question of) as Auden says: "beyond all liking and happening".

    • Paul Boillot

      I was busy doing some idle quibbling just now, so I may not have devoted enough time to your post but...what is your point? You want the discussion to move beyond inanity through mentioning Jesus every time we talk about God?

      Is it necessary to say "I do not believe in your Christian God, or His son Jesus, or the Holy Ghost" to be intelligible? Must we recite the Nicaean creed perpetually, or may we use shorthand?

      • Adam Murray

        Paul, it is unclear to me if you even read my entire comment. Not to be rude, but if you are simply here to declare your unbelief in the the Christian God (though it seems like more of a dissatisfaction, as you say,"[...] he is no god I would want find") and semantically belittle "ancient stories" then I'm afraid you are not adding anything useful to the conversation. I must say, I find it ironic that you go through the trouble of attacking a preference bias in human cognition (in your previous comments), but then go on to forward arbitrary judgments about who you perceive to be the individuals in society that are intellectually honest, which seems to be a priori (to use your language), those who disbelieve in a Deity.

        Personally, I find your comments severely uncharitable and difficult to interact with. I might suggest taking a different posturing if you are truly interested in open-minded investigation. You are certainly entitled to your beliefs, but this is not really a forum for "breathing out murderous threats".

        • Paul Boillot

          Do my thoughts and words upset you so much as to be called murderous?

          I know that the truth can hurt sometimes, but sheesh. Is this the price for honesty?

          • Adam Murray

            Allusion to Acts 9 and another Paul.

            Again, no interaction here, Paul.

          • Paul Boillot

            "No interaction here" - I'm not sure I follow, but fair enough.

            Perhaps we could backtrack and forget all this murder business. Earlier I asked what your point was, I'll try to summarize really quickly and let me know where I go wrong.

            1)God is fundamentally unknowable and complaining about existential angst is hubris.
            2)Every time we talk about "God" we must also mention the Incarnation.
            3)Talking about "God" we must also talk about the Holy Spirit and its presence in the Church.

            Were those your points?

        • Joseph X.

          As a newby here, I find Paul to be considerably charitable, more so than many of the Xian commentators.

    • Joseph X.

      1). Okay, God cannot be apprehended by our faculties, but he allegedly did inspire the Bible and appear as a man. So, we should expect to find some traces of God. The problem atheists have is that the Bible does not reflect the makings of the greatest mind in the universe. It does, however, very much reflect the ideas of men situated in their socio-historical contexts. As for finding God in creation, that is all fine and good, but it doesn't lead us to the fellow mentioned in the Bible.

    • Joseph X.

      In points 2 and 3, you bring Jesus into the equation. By doing so, you complicate the matter, since the only way we know Jesus is through testimony. Testimony of men writing books almost 2000 years ago. And then you end your post by saying we need to go beyond human architecture to approach God. Would you mind telling us, then, how we should look for God, if we cannot use what was given to us?

  • Jun

    I think this article presents a common arena where faith-plus-reason and reason-less-faith ideas create a lesser friction.

  • vito

    responding to Kreeft in the youtube video:

    But God the Father is exactly like the Godfather. The Godfather said (to his godson's reluctant employer): either your brains or your signature will be on this contract. The Christian God says: either you will accept me, or your entire body and soul will be tortured in hell forever. Where's the difference? I'don't see it. Exept the Godfather just threatened to kill, not torture, and not forever.

    • trytoseeitmyway

      So the answer is, that is not what God says. I know you can find Christians who say so (although of course not in the terms you use) but there are Christians who understand God's paternal desires for us, which are that we might have joy and that we may live eternally to our complete spiritual potential. Being "tortured in Hell" actually has nothing to do with it; the atonement of Jesus Christ is precisely so that we will not experience eternal desolation (not torture, but desolation), a gift of God's that is intended to be unconditional. As in, no one is being "threatened" - it is unconditional, requiring exactly nothing from you.

      I hope that helps. If you still want to reject the strains of Christianity which don't teach those truths, I have no problem with that. Just don't imagine that all Christians are of the accept-Jesus-or-burn-in-Hell variety.

      • But this is a Catholic website.

        • trytoseeitmyway

          Oh OK. Sorry for bringing in any un-Catholic ideas. I don't know why we would call Jesus "the Savior" if he damns to eternal torment many, many more than he ever saves, but if that's the Catholic viewpoint, hold onto it with my blessings.

          • Oh, I don't think it's forbidden.

          • trytoseeitmyway

            Oh good. Thanks. :-)

      • vito

        I'm just saying, it's an offer you can't refuse, just like in Godfather. Or can you? (without having to suffer terrible consequences). And on what do you base your statement that it's hell mere "desolation"? Any of the approved Catholic visionaries to confirm that or Biblical source?. Although even eternal desolation, is of course, a million times worse than mere killing in case of Godfather.

        • trytoseeitmyway

          So, imagine "the Godfather" says (here imagine my Marlon Brando impersonation), "You've done some things against the Family. Some of the boys, they wanna put out a hit on you. But I said, no, I got mercy. So, you can go in peace. Don't worry about nuttin'. If you get in trouble wit' somebody elts, that's on you. But the Family ain't gonna do anyt'ing to ya. I saved ya."

          So that's not an offer you can't refuse, because it's not an offer at all. It's a statement of grace. You might not think that anyone should want to put out a hit on you in the first place - cause you think you never did anything against the Family (ha ha, of course you did) - but from the Family point of view, you deserved to be perforated. What the Godfather told you is, he saved you from that freely, without you needing to do anything.

          As in nothing at all. As in, it is unconditional. You don't even have to declare that you accept the Godfather's role as capo de capo di tutti capi. You don't even need to say, thanks. You just turn and walk away. That's not an "offer you can't refuse," and it's not a threat. There was a hit on you, but it was taken away, and now you're where you want to be.

          (And, you know, you really DID do some things against the Family. The Family gave you some money and other gifts and asked you to use them in a certain way. You decided you had a better idea. That's why you're having this conversation with the Godfather in the first place.)

          Now, I suppose you could say, "No! I don't want your mercy, you scum! Go ahead and do the hit, see what I care." The Godfather might shrug and reply, "Have it your way." But that isn't "an offer you can't refuse." That would be your affirmative rejection of his decision NOT to punish you. For that reason, it would be an outstandingly stupid thing to do and there are very few indeed who would ever be that willful. And even they would still be getting exactly what they ask for.

          So that's my Godfather allegory for you. There is a view of sotierology that has it exactly that same way. In this view, salvation from death and Hell is unconditional through the saving grace of God, as bought by the atonement of Jesus Christ. It is supported by scripture. There is confusion because the term salvation or saved are used to mean slightly different things in different contexts; it turns out that salvation isn't a binary concept.

          If you're not getting that from Catholicism, try to find where that view is taught. You might be surprised.

  • Andre Boillot

    Matthew, congrats on catching the eye of the 'big boys'! http://dish.andrewsullivan.com/2013/11/24/standing-in-darkness/

    • Thanks Andre - came home this morning to see your comment and my jaw dropped! I hope Strange Notions keeps getting the exposure - what goes on here matters, a lot.

  • James Hartic

    "But if I go east, he is not there; or west, I cannot perceive him; The
    north enfolds him, and I cannot catch sight of him; The south hides him,
    and I cannot see him. Yet he knows my way; if he tested me, I should
    come forth like gold. My foot has always walked in his steps; I have
    kept his way and not turned aside...Therefore I am terrified before him;
    when I take thought, I dread him...Yes, would that I had vanished in
    darkness, hidden by the thick gloom before me."

    Passage above....and all other similar passages simply by virtue of existing in various scriptures do not make the existence of God more tenable. In light of them, doubting "his" existence, at least as a loving God....does make some sense. So many believers go through mental and spiritual gymnastics to validate the "loving god hypothesis" as to boggle the mind.....stretching credulity to the ultimate limits. I do realize that my opinions will not be popular in this venue....given that its' purpose is to validate the Catholic faith.