I am glad you see the belief in [my stories] because it is there. The truth is my stories have been watered and fed by Dogma. I am a Catholic (not because it’s advantageous to my writing but because I was born and brought up one) and at some point in my life I realized that not only was I a Catholic but that this was all I was, that I was a Catholic not like someone else would be a Baptist or a Methodist but like someone else would be an atheist. If my stories are complete it is because I see everything as beginning with original sin, taking in the Redemption, and reckoning on a final judgment. I have heard people say that all this stifles a writer, but that is foolishness; it only preserves your sense of mystery.

[W]hen you present a pathetic situation, you have to let it speak entirely for itself. I mean you have to present it and leave it alone. You have to let the things in the story do the talking. I mean that, as author, you can’t force it and I think you tend to force it in your story, every now and then. The first thing is to see the people at every minute. You get into the old man’s mind before you let us know exactly what he looks like. You have got to learn to paint with words. Have the old man there first so that the reader can’t escape him. This is something that it has taken me a long time to learn. Ford Madox Ford said you couldn’t have somebody sell a newspaper in a story unless you said what he looked like. You have to learn to do this unobtrusively of course.

Flannery O’Connor

6 Replies to “WHY STUDY ATHEISM?”

  1. I have yet to meet an atheist with whom I disagreed

  2. I not infrequently meet folk who think having faith is a matter of “luck”, rather like ‘enjoying’ good health. So I wrote where I am coming from and a few of my friends have been unfortunate enough to be forced to read it.

    Have you ever paused to consider ‘what is God’? Or the fact that the universe being finite, it had a beginning & some day will also end, & as modern science reminds us, no finite entity can ever bring itself into existence? And please don’t tell me you reject the idea of a loving God just because each of us must die, or we see around us a world disfigured with cruelty. Can cruelty really disfigure a world without meaning? Do we really live without meaning, without purpose? And if so, how do we explain happiness, sadness, or the desire to express gratitude? We want to be good – why? We want others to be good – where did these desires spring from? Incidentally, did you know that Atheism is a faith? And like it or not, each of us lives by faith and with freewill? The two are inseparable. Freewill permits us to either dispense mercy or inflict vengeance; to hope or yield to despair – all concepts incompatible with Darwinist Natural Selection. Funny thing though: to reject belief in God we must use our Freewill. But at the deepest level, Atheism is a denial that we possess Freewill.
    So, who was Jesus Christ? Ah yes, Jesus was that wonderful and wise man who told many delightful and interesting stories showing how we should treat our fellow human beings. Well, consider this – either Jesus Christ was a lunatic and liar, or, he was what he claimed to be – God incarnate. Now if Jesus was a liar, then he was the author of the most successful hoax in history. So, there is only one other possibility – Jesus Christ is the Incarnate God who said, “I am the light of the world; he who follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8: 12). The disciples of Jesus recorded his life work and their disciples added this New Testament to the Old and presented the Bible to the world. To acknowledge the Divinity of Jesus gives us no option than to follow and worship Him – and the alternative? No matter how hostile we are to the Gospel, we cannot escape sharing in the ‘hoax’. So, returning to our first question, ‘what is God’? I answer “God is love.” (1 John 4: 8) “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3: 16)
    Jesus Christ crucified signifies both the horror of sin and the overpowering love of God who “rescues us from ourselves if we want Him to”. (Flannery O’Connor 1925 – 1964)

  3. Thanks for this post, Heather. I remember a conversation I had a few years ago with an atheist friend of mine that went along these lines that Mr. (Dr.?) Cunningham mentions. It was the one year anniversary of the Sandy Hook shooting, and this friend and I (both of us teachers) were discussing it. And I remember thinking, actually, it's horrors like this that somehow remind me that God must exist– because I believe that what happened at Sandy Hook really is an evil, a horror. It's not just neurons firing in a particular way in the gunman's brain or in the parents' brains who grieve– suffering is only "real" because we know it to be an experience of a true good that is really absent or distorted. The only way we can make a judgment at all about these kinds of experiences is because we believe our judgments like "this is evil" are valid– they name something true and real about the event. And if you are a materialist, such a judgment is only the rearranging of neurons and other matter in the brain. If God is not real, then evil cannot be real either.

    Yet why is it, so often, that evil seems so much more real to us than God does? Esp when we remember Augustine's point about evil being merely a privation. Yet evil has this heft and weight for us that God's presence does not always seem to.

  4. Heather, you are blessed in your thoughtful correspondents' responses. I think Flannery begets such depth. Happy Advent, Fr P

    1. Yes, Fr. Pat, blessed big-time! Happy Advent and Christmas to you!

  5. Thanks, Stephen and Maura. Yes, the first response to the atheist has to be: "I don't believe in the God you don't believe in either…I, too, have noticed that with or without belief, life is pretty much unalloyed loneliness and suffering"…To me, the heart of it is "I came not to call the righteous, but sinners." The belief in the Trinitarian God as creator of the material world is secondary and flows inevitably from the fact that I'm a sinner and my sins–unbelievably, miraculously–have been forgiven. Christ illustrates this in the parable of the healing of the paralytic, when he asks the unbelieving onlookers, Which is greater, to say your sins are forgiven or to tell the paralytic, get up and walk? He knows they're thinking, well to heal the guy physically, of course. But then he says, JUST SO YOU KNOW I have the power to forgive sins–the implication being that forgiveness is INFINITELY greater than any mere physical "feat," including the creation of the universe–get up off your mat and walk. So in a way, maybe belief really is a matter of luck or at least the grace to know how far you have fallen, how much in need you are of help…


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