Thursday, 16 September 2010

Tomáš Halík: atheism and patience

The T&T Clark blog mentions that Czech theologian Tomáš Halík has been awarded the prestigious Romano Guardini Prize. Halík is a Catholic thinker steeped in Nietzsche; he sees modernity's criticism of Christianity as an indispensable resource, and as the context within which contemporary faith has to be articulated.

As you will have noticed, there is currently a whole industry of books responding to Dawkins and the new atheists – including some real gems (e.g. Terry Eagleton, David Bentley Hart), but also much that is merely boring and reactionary. I was stunned to discover that even Marilynne Robinson's book, in spite of all the rave reviews (and in spite of my huge admiration for everything else she has written), was dull and uninspired. (Actually, it raises another question: why did Robinson feel the need to write this book, when her novel Gilead had already proved the existence of God?)

In contrast, I think Tomáš Halík has produced one of the best and most beautiful responses to the new atheism, in his recent book Patience with God (Doubleday 2009). His argument is that the real difference between faith and atheism is patience. Atheists are not wrong, only impatient. They want to resolve doubt instead of enduring it. Their insistence that the natural world doesn't point to God (or to any necessary meaning) is correct. Their experience of God's absence is a truthful experience, shared also by believers. Faith is not a denial of all this: it is a patient endurance of the ambiguity of the world and the experience of God's absence. Faith is patience with God. Or as Adel Bestavros puts it (in the book's epigraph): patience with others is love, patience with self is hope, patience with God is faith.

In contrast to the overblown rhetoric of so many Christian apologists – with their drastic naivety about the ambivalence of the natural world and the intractable difficulties of believing – Halík's account strikes me as a sensitive and realistic articulation of the difference faith makes. The best thing about his book – again, in contrast to the usual apologetics – is that it's actually a Christian response to atheism. Surely anything a Christian says to an atheist ought to arise not from an invincible commitment to being right, but from an understanding of the kindness of God, an awareness that there is room in God's family even for those who doubt – those for whom the word "God" cannot easily be deciphered from the dark hieroglyphics of the world.


Subscribe by email

Contact us

Although we're not always able to reply, please feel free to email the authors of this blog.

Faith and Theology © 2008. Template by Dicas Blogger.