Thursday, April 16, 2009

Hope for the hopeless and sight for the blind

Something was brought to my attention the other day, as so many insightful things are these days, by Paper Clippings, a blog of sorts that originates from the Crossroads Cultural Center in New York. It is an article that appeared in London’s Daily Mail newspaper on Holy Saturday, an piece written by A.N. Wilson: Religion of hatred: Why we should no longer be cowed by the chattering classes ruling Britain who sneer at Christianity. Wilson began his life as a prominent writer as something of a Christian intellectual before he lost his faith and began writing books calling the truth of Christianity into question. The first indication that he had begun to question his belief was his critical biography of C.S. Lewis, followed by books on Jesus and St. Paul that mined a similar vein.

The only book of Wilson’s I have read stands out very starkly in my mind: God’s Funeral: The Decline of Faith in Western Civilization. It is really about the decline of faith of Victorian England and not throughout the West. Nonetheless, the book is a beautiful lament, an elegant elegy for the loss of faith. He never gets around to in the book to analyzing how something not true could be the source of high culture.

Because Wilson lamented the loss of faith in his society, which became a personal loss, it is not surprising that with his Holy Saturday piece, which is about his experience on Palm Sunday, he announces his return to faith. He asks very probing and direct questions about the loss of faith in English society:

"But how many in Britain today actually believe the story? Most recent polls have shown that considerably less than half of us do - yet that won't, of course, stop us tucking into Easter eggs (symbolising new life) and simnel cake (decorated with 11 marzipan balls representing the 11 true disciples, with Judas missing).

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

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

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

He ends his article with what I can only characterize as a mature and authentic profession of faith:

"Ah, say the rationalists. But no one can possibly rise again after death, for that is beyond the realm of scientific possibility. And it is true to say that no one can ever prove - nor, indeed, disprove - the existence of an after-life or God, or answer the conundrums of honest doubters (how does a loving God allow an earthquake in Italy?)

"Easter does not answer such questions by clever-clever logic. Nor is it irrational. On the contrary, it meets our reason and our hearts together, for it addresses the whole person.

"In the past, I have questioned its veracity and suggested that it should not be taken literally. But the more I read the Easter story, the better it seems to fit and apply to the human condition. That, too, is why I now believe in it.
Easter confronts us with a historical event set in time. We are faced with a story of an empty tomb, of a small group of men and women who were at one stage hiding for their lives and at the next were brave enough to face the full judicial persecution of the Roman Empire and proclaim their belief in a risen Christ.

"Historians of Roman and Jewish law have argued at length about the details of Jesus's trial - and just how historical the Gospel accounts are. Anyone who believes in the truth must heed the fine points that such scholars unearth. But at this distance of time, there is never going to be historical evidence one way or the other that could dissolve or sustain faith.

"Of course, only hard evidence will satisfy the secularists, but over time and after repeated readings of the story, I've been convinced without it." (underlining and emboldening emphasis mine)
Wilson is certainly correct when he concludes that, at the end-of-the-day, the only proof that matters "is the way that Christian faith transforms individual lives - the lives of the men and women with whom you mingle on a daily basis, the man, woman or child next to you in church tomorrow morning."

My dear friend, Greg Wolfe, with whom I am also now friends on Facebook and who is a far better judge of matters literary and of Wilson’s ouvre in particular, comments on this same article over on dotCommonweal.

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