a response to her Unherd essay
"Each man faces death by himself, but he lives his life in company".
That is a good enough reason to either adopt or discard a given metaphysical system.
“I am not sure if it’s a good idea to use the word “Christian” to refer to cultural Christianity or not, but as Wokism continues to become our dominant religion, this will likely start happening more and more, and thoughtful people will need to consider how to grapple with it.”
Very insightful line to a very insightful piece.
I don't even know who she is, but you wrote a great article. Odd timing as we were just talking about powerless Christianity. I know I would call myself a Christian but I know many Christians wouldn't call me one. I figure the word used to mean "follower of Christ" and I trust his words and actions. I just don't trust the Bible to be 100% true.
I think the last paragraph of her article is the most revealing;
That is why I no longer consider myself a Muslim apostate, but a lapsed atheist. Of course, I still have a great deal to learn about Christianity. I discover a little more at church each Sunday. But I have recognised, in my own long journey through a wilderness of fear and self-doubt, that there is a better way to manage the challenges of existence than either Islam or unbelief had to offer.
I think it is unclear whether she believes in the resurrection. But I think she wants to if she hasn't yet come to do so. Not just for utilitarian reasons but to fill the "God hole" in herself with a meaningful religion.
I also think she is right from a number of perspectives, Christianity used to be robust and proselytize by word and deed to actively seek converts from other religions. Mainstream christian sects have mostly stopped doing that and that is a mistake because it leaves the "god hole" in people to be filled by other less wholesome religions such as radical Islam. Even if you don't believe in the resurrection, behaving in a Christian manner is far far better than behaving according to the mandates of most other religions (Buddhism and Judaism may be equally good, perhaps some others are). The set of behaviors that are defined in the Christian religion are generally good for individuals and good for society as a whole. The world would be a better place if more people tried to be Christian.
[Christianity being better does not of course mean that it is perfect or more importantly that all Christians are good people all the time. All kinds of people claim to be Christian but don't act as though they are. In fact, despite your reluctance to claim to be Christian, I'd say you personally behave in a way that as Christian as anyone. Jesus said (allegedly) "By their fruits shall ye know them" and your generosity, charity and modesty seem pretty much bang on for what Jesus was looking for. That is of course unlike the assholes you grew up with ]
Thanks for a wonderful reflection. Once again you manage to combine humility and confidence, a rare feat.
I would only suggest fixing the spelling of her first name in the opening lines.
I know that faith is a difficult subject for you so I want to preface this by saying that I am not trying to proselytize to you. I’m only sharing my perspective as someone who grew up with a cult corruption of Christianity (though nothing even 1% comparable to your own experience) and later came to find (what I believe to be) something closer to the real thing.
We both agree that the God you were told about as a child does not exist. In fact, I would say it would likely be better for the people who taught you so incorrectly about God if He did not exist. Millstones and all that.
If the God that I believe exists is real, I think you have nothing to fear. I only know the you that you present online so I can only guess on the basis that it’s at least a reasonably accurate version of your thoughts/beliefs. That said, I don’t think God cares about whether or not you believe in him as much as what you choose to do with the life you have. And it’s clear you’ve tried very hard to be a as good a person as you can and more importantly to better the world around you.
As a Christian, I hope you are able to believe in the God that cares about you and must be very proud of the person you’ve become. But also as a Christian, I don’t think it will change where you’ll end up.
I hope this wasn’t too presumptive on my part. Sorry if it was.
I'd say that's a very good analysis.
This whole discussion is tricky, isn't it?
I was an agnostic/atheist most of my life, but I became a Christian about 4 years ago. I've come to the conclusion that human beings are religious animals. We need a belief structure in place in order to understand the world. Traditionally, we've called these belief structures "religions". Out of the 250,000 years human beings have been around, we've continuously had to develop and evolve our belief structures in order to understand the world around us.
Far be it from me to say that I think that one particular denomination is "correct" or "true" in all regards (which I used to do; I'm a non-practicing Catholic nowadays), but I believe the words of the Christ are true. People can call themselves "Christians", but I think Nietzsche made a good point when he said, "In truth, there was only one Christian, and he died on the cross". I don't care what you call yourself. If you love your enemies, if you love the stranger as yourself, if you always strive towards reducing the unnecessary and endless suffering of the world, then I think you are a Christian (or, at least you are a follower of Christ, whether you see yourself following Him or not).
I've been thinking about going through the conversion process to be Jewish. I wouldn't actually convert; I would only do it to get a better understanding of my Christian faith (Jesus was a very faithful Jew and Christianity itself is a sect of Judaism). I've attended synagogue a handful of times and I've always gotten a lot out of it.
I know you've had a very negative experience with Christianity in your own life (and for that, I'm very sorry) but have you ever thought about Judaism? I don't mean converting or anything, but they have a very interesting perspective of God.
A Prayer for Owen Meany is my favorite novel. It’s time to dust it off and read it again. Thanks for another excellent, thoughtful and sensitive essay.
I particularly like the final sentence of your essay.
I have admired AHA for years. She is brave and is speaking truth. It is obnoxiously hateful that there are those who wish to silence her forever.
I make no attempt to proselytize here, just to give some historical perspective. Christ taught people how to live by his words and example. His own followers self-profess that they did not understand much of Christ's meaning at least until after the Resurrection and Pentecost. As a religion that was persecuted by the Roman Empire in which it took hold, many would-be Christians put their own interpretation on what they had of the New Testament. As a historian, I believe the entire New Testament was written in the first century, but not all compiled in one place. Books were rare and expensive, and the early Christians hid what scripture they had, since a big focus of their opponents was to burn their books before the ideas could spread.
Consequently, despite extensive writings of the early leaders of Christianity against heresy (beliefs calling themselves Christian but which they contended were false), it wasn't until after the Emperor Constantine declared Christianity not only legal, but the religion of the empire in the early 4th century, that it was declared what constituted being a Christian. The First Council of Nicaea https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_Council_of_Nicaea gathered together all those recognized as leaders of Christianity, and they hashed out the set of beliefs that needs to proclaim to be a Christian, known as the Nicene Creed. That's only 9 sentences, albeit not simple ones. The Council of Nicaea was when they rejected gospels (like the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Mary, etc., all the ones that archaeologists keep digging up and proclaiming as lost) that were considered heretical.
Not everything that Christians believe is in the creed, just the items sufficient to proclaim yourself a christian. For instance you won't find any mention of Original Sin (Eastern Orthodox Christians do not believe in Original Sin) or Purgatory or many other things that many christians believe in. Theologians can argue forever about all those extra beliefs, but as a historian, I believe it's much more likely that the christian leaders and scholars in 325 AD were right about what was passed down to them from some 200 years earlier than others were 1200 or more years later.
All the same, many intelligent people like Jordan Peterson and possibly AHA have come to the conclusion that acting as if they believe in Christianity is good for humanity, even if they cannot bring themselves to actually believe everything in the Nicene Creed.
"One reasonable take on AHA’s essay is that she’s choosing to embrace the Christian religion instrumentally, as a tool to fight the Woke religion. If so, this is completely understandable on one level." This was similar to AHA's thesis vis a vis Islam in her second book "Nomad," if I recall correctly (published in 2010). But I don't think it's about "woke" now.
In the essay, AHA shows her thinking has progressed to questions about the meaning of life:
"Yet I would not be truthful if I attributed my embrace of Christianity solely to the realisation that atheism is too weak and divisive a doctrine to fortify us against our menacing foes. I have also turned to Christianity because I ultimately found life without any spiritual solace unendurable — indeed very nearly self-destructive."
There are plenty of atheist Catholics in Ireland. People who never go to mass, but send their kids to religious ethos schools because they tend to be better quality in terms of getting your kid to university and often private. They are culturally Catholic, but factually atheist (or at least agnostic, or the lukewarm "spiritual" whatever that means).
Christianity has many of the same flaws as Islam, and pre 1960s Catholicism was very similar, even to the extent of separating men and women in church. A bride could say with her husband a few weeks, but then had to go to the women's side of the aisle. A woman had to be "churched" after having a child as that was undeniable evidence she had sex and sex was dirty and only for procreation.
One of my good friends when I lived in continental Northern Europe was a Moroccan Muslim guy who grew up in Morocco (as opposed to many Moroccan immigrants who are several generations there in many cases).
The way he was taught in school was eerily similar and recognisable to me as an Irish Catholic - the shame, the beatings for not knowing long pointless tracts and prayers word perfect etc. Totally different and alien to the experiences of the northern europeans we worked with. I also suspect there are massive undiscovered sex scandals and worse in Islam too.
Sex before marriage was a mortal sin on a level with murder and rape (apparently worse than rape, as the church leaders practised it on boys and girls with abandon).
Not sure if this is the case with Ayaan, but I hope that's what she means. The kind of Church of England tea and biscuits women and rainbow flagged gay pastors Christianity. Not the christianity I grew up with.
Militant atheist here, and I agree with your post.
Thank you Holly for helping document this organic and increasingly apparent trend. The trend towards convergence of representatives from the religious with the secular/atheist camps is real. The "old" debates about the existence of god or Jesus seem like quaint reminders of a simpler time when the separation between what was real and what was imagined had clearly defined borders because there was so much common ground about accepted facts (both the true and the assumed "narrative driven"). It seems that a new, real "progressive " movement is evolving in which thoughtful individuals with disparate or opposing backgrounds are increasingly analyzing and understanding the current historical/cultural moment and coming to very similar conclusions. When what you seek is truth, the tribal narrative agenda begins to melt away. The many thinly hidden day-to-day fictions that we all labor under to get through our days get exposed when we witness the collapse of the grand fictions imposed and enforced by our trusted institutions. This increasing trend stands in contrast to the currently dominant "progressive" mindset. We see the declared atheists and the devout seeking each other out to try to understand common ground in the search for larger truths. Examples include James Lindsay speaking with religious organizations, Dennis Prager bonding and doing projects with Adam Carolla, Jordan Peterson putting out tons of content about the Bible stories. There is a growing list of other good examples like the one you have highlighted here with A.H.A. Even Sam Harris seems to be shifting.
We have watched the "woke religion" and idea parasites erode and attempt to replace our buttresses for eternal truths and our methods for attempting to reach scientific truth/understanding. We are coming to appreciate the people and methods that are committed to defend, rebuild, reinforce, and, where needed replace our hard won but imperfect sensemaking apparatuses.
A very thoughtful and charitable handling of Hirsi Ali’s statement of faith. The Constitution was compiled by thoughtful men (not necessarily Christian) building on a foundation of Judeo-Christian values. It really only works from the perspective of charity, responsibility and self-control. You demonstrate the same values in your writing. As my mother used to say: When we get to heaven, we may be surprised to see who’s there.