"I suppose I still don't really understand why you flipped from fervent atheist to Christian. Not Deist, but *Christian*. Meaning you went from not even believing in God - and I assume all supernatural elements - to believing in a very specific story about Jesus."
Well, I don't like talking about this, but it would be dishonorable if I avoided answering. I am Christian because I had a religious experience with specifically Christian elements in it, albeit the mystical unity of other religions was not absent. What I saw was as simple as Love itself, and as mysterious. It was not some vague light or misty sensation I met, but people to whom I spoke, a ghost, an apostle, the Madonna, the Paraclete, the Messiah, and the Father. The Holy Spirit entered my soul, I felt it happen, and something changed inside me: grace was poured into my like wine into a tin cup, alchemic wine that turns tin into gold.I was taken on a journey outside of time, and saw the fine structure of the universe, encountered a mind infinitely superior to my own, as well as infinitely loving, and also was shown the secret roots of thought, the somewhat Platonic place ideas live before they pop into human awareness as ideas. I have had prayers answered. I saw millions of spirits, a choir as large as a galaxy and as intricate as a formal dance, bending all their efforts to save just one soul. The list just goes on and on. I should say experiences. Plural. Not one, but six, over a period of months, and continuing to the present day. I have seen visions and experienced miracles, seen prayers answered, and had things even stranger happen. One supernatural event would be enough to convince an honest atheist that there was something in the universe which could not fit into the materialistic, scientific model. I have had half a dozen such experiences, each one different in nature, duration, and kind from the other: An embarassment of evidence; overwhelming; overkill.
You might think I am exaggerating or that I am very much out of my mind: I do not blame you.
All I can report is that to myself I seem oriented as to time, place, and person. I am not aware of any failure of my reasoning faculty, nor do I see other evidence of hallucination or psychosis in my thought or action. If anything, I seem better equipped to deal with life than before, more human, more charitable. I actually try to be nice to people, and, once in a blue moon, I am.
Also, if this is an hallucination, it more useful than sanity. For one thing, this 'hallucination' resolves certain philosophical conundrums that have haunted me for years, such as the mind-body problem or the determinism-freewill paradox.
An aside: For those of you interested in such questions, I am in the same school as Bishop Berkeley ("Esse est percipi") and Boethius (Consolatio Philosophiae). While mind and matter cannot be of the same substance, surely mind and perception can and must be: for reason is thought is about thought and perception is thought about objects. Perceived objects (whose existance we know only by induction) follow the laws of consistency for the same reason a syllogism follows the laws of logic. When we see perceptions that do not flow from one to another consistently, not shared in common with other men, we call it dreaming.
Allow me to quote from that eminent Christian theologian, Puddleglum:
‘Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up, all those things — trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself... Then all I can say is that, in that case, the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones. Suppose this black pit of yours is the only world. Well, it strikes me as a pretty poor one. And that’s a funny thing, when you come to think of it. We’re just babies making up a game, if you’re right. But four babies playing a game can make a play-world which licks your real world hollow. That’s why I’m going to stand by the play-world. I’m on Aslan’s side even if there isn’t any Aslan to lead it. I’m going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn’t any Narnia.’
Speaking as a philosopher, one who has sworn upon Truth itself never to turn aside from where Reason leads, all I can say it that Christianity makes for better philosophy than philosophy itself. It is a rational and self-consistent meaningful view of the world, one which promotes virtue and honesty, as well as a philosophical attitude toward suffering.
Pagan philosophy, like that of Aristotle and Plato, urge men to live and die like great-souled men, like Stoics, and to live honestly and honorably, without fear: but their world is one where even Achilles is a shade in Hades, their universe is one where fear is rational, for the Unmoved Mover will not move itself to save you. Stoicism, the doctrine of Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius, Seneca and Cicero, shows logically why it is better to live a life in accordance with Nature, but it does not arm the soul with the tools needed to do so.
Modern philosophy, the speculations and screeds of Rousseau, Nietzsche, Sartre, Marx, Russell, Wittgenstein, is rubbish, and a sophomore can detect the self-inconsistencies, inhumanity, and outright absurdity in their work. Christianity does all that these thinkers set out to do, plus you get Cathedrals and the St. John's Passion, Christmas and John Milton.
Following Puddleglum, my philosophical soul tells me that that the saints are more sagacious than the sages, the martyrs more stoic than the Stoics, the schoolmen more rational than the Rationalists, the ghostly catechism a good deal more human than the Humanists, not to mention more humane. If this is illusion, why is it the only thing that gives deep meaning to an otherwise dull, dead, paradoxical and futile reality?
But the question of it being a dream is unreasonable. At some level, I am aware of Christ living in me, the way you might be aware of your own heartbeat. You do not really hear it, except in moments of excitement, but you know it is there, in the background.
Is that hallucination? Or it is merely an assumption, an axiom of the empirical epistemology, to place no credit on the testimony of eyewitnesses credible in all other respects.
If you ask me to prove to you God exists, I will ask you to prove to me that your conscience exists. If you cannot prove it, why should I waste my time and effort presenting evidence before a jury which very well might have no conscience? How will I know your verdict will be honest?
And yet surely, surely your conscience is real! If you do have a conscience, tell me by what means you are aware of it: not through the senses, surely. Do you admit immediate perception of a nonphysical reality is possible? If so, perception of other real things, even perception of divine things, is not impossible. It then merely becomes a question of prudence whether all those who claim to have had religious experiences have perceived something by this means. Since this seems to be the only point that all cultures of all the history of mankind has in common, that some sort of spiritual reality exists, it is not prudent to begin the discussion with the assumption that spiritual reality does not exist.You might think all this was some great privilege or awesome experience.
It was totally humiliating.
So much evidence of the Christian religion was given to me so abundantly that it is an embarrassment to me. Other Christians, who have faith, do not need to be hit over the head with the blunt instrument of obvious supernatural events, one after another after another. I was visited not because I was wise or smart, but because I was foolish and stupid.
You might wonder why, if God can convince atheists to worship Him merely by dropping by for a visit, He does not do it more often. The reason is that it does not help, not at all, not a bit. When I suffer doubts, when my faith gets weak, my faith in my memory gets weak too. Faith and faithlessness have NOTHING TO DO with evidence presented to reason or senses. It has to do with a humble will and an upright heart. If God presented evidence to skeptics, all that would happen is that skeptics would doubt their evidence. If God gave a logical argument to prove His own existence, all that would happen is that skeptics would doubt the power of logic to prove anything.
Skepticism pretends it is all about open-mindedness and evidence. Not so. Skepticism is about suspicion and pride and self-will. It is about pretending you are smarter than people who, if you only knew, are actually wiser than you and your sneering questions and foolish word-tricks. The only place we ever see a humble skeptic is in the physical sciences, because scientists are willing to let their conclusions be ruled on by nature.
Once I was touched by the Spirit (I, who did not until that moment even believe the word 'spirit' had any meaning) everything else fell into place.The Christian religion places an emphasis on Reason that other religions, with the exception of the Jewish, do not share, or not to the same degree. None of them mention LOGOS, the rational account, the word, issuing directly from the Father. The Incarnation makes the Christian God more human and humane than the God we see in the Old Testament or the Koran. The God of the Trinity is not alone.
Christianity seems to fit better with the way human life actually is than other religions, at least in my humble estimation. There is a concern and a love for children I have not noticed in other religions, a sanctity toward marriage, a concern for human life, a concern for monogamy, for individual worth, more central to Christian tradition than to the traditions of other faiths. Christendom wiped out slavery world wide; Christendom invented science. If Christianity were the foe of science, the West would be the most backward of technological powers, and the Chinese, following the pragmatic and this-worldly Confucius, would be the leader.
( It is popular these days to remark on the scientific and philosophical achievements of Islam during the darkest days of the Dark Ages. This is an historical error. The peoples conquered by the savages from Arabia were Romans, members of the Roman Empire, Byzantines who had been Christian for four or five centuries. They were a highly civilized and advanced people. The Turks did not destroy their culture and learning. But to give them credit for their invention is like crediting the Soviets with the industry and wealth of East Germany. It is something they found and took, not something they made. The difference in learning was between the Latin and the Greek speaking parts of the Roman Empire: the West collapsed long, long before the East was overrun. )
The Christian world-view is not only NOT incompatible with the scientific and logical one, they reinforce each other. You must imagine my befuddlement when I see science presented as somehow being the enemy of religion. Science is the enemy of Taoism or Buddhism, perhaps, but not the enemy of a religion that combines the rationalism of Athens with the mysticism of Jerusalem. We invented the University, for God's sake.
Science without philosophy simply makes no sense: it leads to Behaviorism and Nihilism. Philosophy without religion is abstract and bloodless, unable to perform, at least in my limited experience. I could not live as a Stoic back when I was a Stoic: as a Christian, a spirit allowed me to do endure what Stoics are supposed to be able to endure. As a theist, I can live as rationally as, back when I was an atheist, I thought atheists were supposed to live.
The absence of reincarnation, the horrible doctrine of hell, places a certain urgency beneath the question which Eastern religions, for all their manifest glories and good works, do not share. Christianity seems, to me at least, to possess the good points of other religions but also to have a clearer insight into the human condition they do not share. I believe the other major religions, and certain forms of paganism, to be on the right track, children of light, but simply not go far enough.
But I am a bit of a heretic in one respect. I am not convinced Christianity is the final doctrine, nor that revelation has ceased its work. History may have something planned for us as startling as Jesus was, the first time he came, for the Jews. God being infinite, there is always more to discover about Him.
So I am not a Deist because Deism is not a satisfactory model for my experience. I did not meet a generic god, the god of the philosophers, or some nondenominational new age Being of Light. I met the three persons of the Trinity, one after another.
And Mary. I spoke with her. I wish I could tell you of her kindness, her simple, unaffected goodness of heart. She is more celebrated now than any queen, and lives where joy lives forever, and bright spirits like votive candles surround her, but I wish I could do something, anything to undo the sorrows she knew in life. Poor woman. Poor, poor woman.
If this was all hallucination, if this was all madness, I tell you truthfully that I would believe it nonetheless, just on the smallest chance I might see her again in heaven, and hold her hand again. Hers was the callused hand of a working woman.