A little newspaper called “Restoration”, sent to me monthly, has just landed on the mat. It is published by Madonna House in Combermere, Ontario. For those who have not heard of Madonna House, it is one of the new movements or communities in the Church, composed of lay people and priests, founded by Catherine de Hueck Doherty in Toronto in the early 1930s. She opened what she called “Friendship Houses” as centres of love for people in need. There are now Friendship Houses around the world – including, rather surprisingly, in Robin Hood’s Bay, North Yorkshire. Anyone who would like to visit will receive a warm welcome, as I did when I knocked on the door without advance warning last year. The address is: Madonna House, St Bede’s Pastoral Centre, Thorpe Lane, Robin Hood’s Bay, YO22 4TQ.
In this latest issue of “Restoration”, Catherine Doherty writes about the Resurrection: “…Jesus Christ rose from the dead and the whole world was changed. History changed; everything changed. In our hearts we hear a radiant love song. All nature sings it, if we have ears to hear. The more I meet people who deny Christ’s Resurrection, the more I sense that, strangely, they deny because they believe. For instance, in Harlem, the Communists came to me every day trying to tell me that God does not exist. At the end of three months I said, ‘Look, day after day you come and drink my coffee and tell me that God does not exist. You must be very worried about God, for if you really believed He doesn’t exist you would not want to talk about Him.’”
From my own experience, I am certain she is right. Whenever I encounter hostility towards God, it is from people who have a strong need to argue with me that He doesn’t exist and that I am deluding myself to believe that He does. Intuitively I sense that they have a large emotional investment in “proving” they are right and that I am wrong. If they really didn’t believe in God, why on earth would this matter? We are told that hatred is always close to love – because it is a strong passion and the human heart that has room for passion has room for love. Indifference towards God – spiritual torpor – is much more deadly.
That’s why I watch Richard Dawkins’s passionate attacks on Christianity with interest. A man so committed to atheism with the zeal of a religious crusade, seems to me “to deny because he believes” as Catherine Doherty puts it. Irina Ratushinskaya, the dissident Russian poet, raised by strict Communist standards in the old Soviet Union, writes that she began to believe in God, paradoxically, because of her schoolteachers’ daily denunciations of Him. She reasoned, with the instinctive perception of a child, that their hostility argued the opposite.
A friend once said to me, “When in discussion with an atheist, the best thing to do is to substitute the word ‘Love’ for the word ‘God’. Get them to agree that they believe in ‘Love’ and then you have some common ground.” This sounds a neat solution – but we humans being all too human, I fear it quickly breaks down. For Christians, “love” implies rules, boundaries and reflects on the whole community – indeed it means the Church, founded to protect and preserve “Love”. For atheists, “love” is essentially a private emotion without reference to anyone else.
The discussion continues.