OU CAN TELL SOMETHING about the times in which you live by the people who are famous. It doesn’t tell you everything, but it tells you something. In our day, people like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens have become household names. Most people have at least heard of them or seen them interviewed on TV. You may have even read a book by one of them. Hitchens is deceased now, but they both wrote a number of books. Dawkins’ most popular book, which is called The God Delusion, has sold million of copies in over 30 languages.
Both of these men are professed atheists who work in what they consider to be the cutting edge of science and evolution. The fundamental premise Dawkins uses in dismissing religion is this: he says that no one talks about “faith” when there is evidence at hand. For example, it doesn’t take faith to say that two and two are four or that the earth is round, because there’s empirical evidence for both. According to Dawkins, we only speak about faith when we want to substitute emotion in place of evidence. Just by looking at Dawkins and Hitchens, I think we can see that our modern age is filled with many attempts to belittle faith, as though we “sophisticated” people of the 21st century are somehow too grown up, too mature for a silly thing like faith.
When friends and coworkers question us about our faith, do we have a leg to stand on? Is there anything that can reasonably be said that might challenge an atheistic worldview? The Church throughout the world is still in the midst of celebrating the “Year of Faith,” so a quick look at the Scriptural definition of “faith” is appropriate. In the Letter to the Hebrews, we read that “faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1).
Faith, according to Scripture, is our evidence—the evidence Dawkins believes we substitute with mere emotion. When we are questioned about our faith, we shouldn’t be afraid. Faith and reason are not incompatible; in fact, they’re actually inseparable. We should be proud to profess our faith as Catholics, because we do, indeed, have a leg to stand on.
Just as one example, and perhaps most importantly, we should remember that the Blessed Mother, Mary Magdalene, and St. John all saw Jesus die on the cross. They were really standing right there. They were eye-level with the wounds in His feet. They watched Him die, and they carried Him to a tomb. Those same people, three days later, saw Him alive again. It was really Him, and He was alive enough to eat breakfast with them. And this was all written down, recorded for us in what we now call the Gospels. Ten of the original Twelve Apostles then gave their lives in defense of that Gospel. That’s all pretty empirical. There could be no greater proof of Jesus’ divinity than the Resurrection. And, if Jesus is divine, then everything else He said must be true, because God could never deceive. So we do have evidence, and that evidence is called faith.
This whole demand for evidence, though, is by its nature a bit bizarre. Since the so-called “Enlightenment” of the 17th & 18th centuries, many modern people have lived with an insatiable demand for evidence and proof. Everything is subjected to the verification principle: if I can’t hold it up and study it and prove it, it must not be true.
But what room does that leave for the great intangibles of life? Can anyone grab hold of love and prove it to somebody? Is it possible to subject joy to a scientific study? Can peace be put under a microscope? Of course not. But we profess our faith in God, Who is maker “of all things visible and invisible,” and it is these invisible realities that are the most important things of life! They may not be able to be verified, but it would be exceedingly rare to find someone who could deny the existence of things like justice & friendship & beauty.
There’s a certain irony in the modern age. On the one hand, we look to famous people like Dawkins and Hitchens and we see staunch atheism—the complete absence of faith. Then, on the other hand, we see people who are motivated by faith and inspired by the great things of life, like love & joy & peace. We look at famous people like Maximilian Kolbe and Edith Stein and Oscar Romero, and we see that there were more martyrs in the 20th century than ever before in the history of the Church. Martyrdom, after all, is the supreme act of loyalty to one’s faith. It is amazing that, in the same age, there are people who live on such different wavelengths.
We have the option to end up with the faithful or with the faithless. It is important to remember that faith is a gift. We can’t get faith by working hard. We can’t get it by studying a lot. Nor can we force it upon our friends or children. It is a supernatural gift that we either accept or reject. May we find strength in our faith as the “evidence of things not seen,” and may we remain true to it till death!