Sunday, March 2, 2014

The prostitutes and the thieves...

Chris Arnade in the Guardian:
The people who challenged my atheism most were drug addicts and prostitutes 
I've been reminded that life is not as rational as Richard Dawkins sees it. Perhaps atheism is an intellectual luxury for the wealthy
... I did escape my town, eventually receiving a PhD in physics, and then working on Wall Street for 20 years. A life devoted to rational thought, a life devoted to numbers and clever arguments. 
During that time I counted myself an atheist and nodded in agreement as a wave of atheistic fervor swept out of the scientific community and into the media, led by Richard Dawkins
I saw some of myself in him: quick with arguments, uneasy with emotions, comfortable with logic, able to look at any ideology or any thought process and expose the inconsistencies. We all picked on the Bible, a tome cobbled together over hundreds of years that provides so many inconsistencies. It is the skinny 85lb (35.6kg) weakling for anyone looking to flex their scientific muscles. 
I eventually left my Wall Street job and started working with andphotographing homeless addicts in the South Bronx. When I first walked into the Bronx I assumed I would find the same cynicism I had towards faith. If anyone seemed the perfect candidate for atheism it was the addicts who see daily how unfair, unjust, and evil the world can be.
None of them are. Rather they are some of the strongest believers I have met, steeped in a combination of Bible, superstition, and folklore. 
The first addict I met was Takeesha. She was standing near the high wall of the Corpus Christi Monastery. We talked for close to an hour before I took her picture. When we finished, I asked her how she wanted to be described. She said without any pause, "As who I am. A prostitute, a mother of six, and a child of God." 
Takeesha was raped by a relative when she was 11. Her mother, herself a prostitute, put Takeesha out on the streets at 13, where she has been for the last 30 years,

It's sad when it's your mother, who you trust, and she was out there with me, but you know what kept me through all that? God. Whenever I got into the car, God got into the car with me.
Sonya and Eric, heroin addicts who are homeless, have a picture of the Last Supper that moves with them. It has hung in an abandoned building, it has hung in a sewage-filled basement, and now it leans against the pole in the small space under the interstate where they live.

Sarah, 15 years on the streets, wears a cross around her neck. Always. Michael, 30 years on the streets, carries a rosary in his pocket. Always. In any crack house, in the darkest buildings empty of all other furnishings, a worn Bible can be found laying flat amongst needles, caps, lighters, and crack pipes... 
We are all sinners. On the streets the addicts, with their daily battles and proximity to death, have come to understand this viscerally. Many successful people don't. Their sense of entitlement and emotional distance has numbed their understanding of our fallibility.

Soon I saw my atheism for what it is: an intellectual belief most accessible to those who have done well...

I also see Richard Dawkins differently. I see him as a grown up version of that 16-year-old kid, proud of being smart, unable to understand why anyone would believe or think differently from himself. I see a person so removed from humanity and so removed from the ambiguity of life that he finds himself judging those who think differently.

I love this passage from Matthew 21 (it's my older daughter's favorite as well):

In reply to criticism by the chief priests and elders, Jesus told them the parable of the two sons:
There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work today in the vineyard.’ 
‘I will not,’ he answered, but later he changed his mind and went. 
 “Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, ‘I will, sir,’ but he did not go. 
“Which of the two did what his father wanted?” 
“The first,” they answered. 
Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you." 
It is often our baser sins, much more than our imagined virtues, that through our misery ultimately bring us closer to God. This is why that, among the seven deadly sins, pride is the deadliest, deadlier than lust and gluttony and sloth.

Atheism is a breath-taking arrogance, a prideful narcissism that is more destructive to the soul than a plethora of sins of the flesh.


  1. Sounds a lot like my life. I did things my way in my youth and made a mess of my life. That's when I remembered that fellow that my parents used to tell me about. I think he was called God. They used to talk about Him a lot at church too, though I couldn't remember much of what they said because I didn't even want to be there and my ears were closed.

    I decided that maybe God's way of living my life might be better than mine. It could hardly be worse. I made that decision back in 1987 and I haven't regretted it once.


    1. Adm. G Boggs, Glenbeckistan NavyMarch 2, 2014 at 9:12 AM

      JQ, you make an excellent point that is often overlooked. One constantly hears "show me the evidence". Well, I say, first you need to learn a bit about God. Make a start on the development of a prayer life, and visit a church once in a while. Get to know some folks who worship there. The usual answer is "No! No! I want the evidence first!"

      It reminds me of folks who want to get fit and lose weight. They're told to learn a bit about nutrition, watch what you eat, and visit a gym once in a while. Get to know people who value good health. We know how well that works.

      Some things in life, like faith, fitness, and mathematics as examples, require doing, as opposed to passive observation and/or spoon feeding.

      Faith is not a state of belief. it's a way of life.

      Fortunately, like you, I was blessed by an opportunity to change what I firmly believed at the time was a highly successful life in all the ways that count in the secular world. How little I knew. "I was blind, but now I see".

  2. Adm. G Boggs, Glenbeckistan NavyMarch 2, 2014 at 8:27 AM

    I can think of no better example of prideful narcissism than Hemingway's comment:

    All thinking men are atheists.

    That comment was made, of course, before he blew his brains out.

  3. 'Faith is not a state of belief. it's a way of life."

    So we're to judge you by how you present yourself to the world and the example you set?

    Thanks, 'Admiral Boggs of the Glenbeckistan Navy'. Will do.

    1. Adm. G Boggs, Glenbeckistan NavyMarch 2, 2014 at 3:26 PM

      What other possible criteria could you have?

  4. On the one hand, yes the testimony of the most vulnerable and least privileged (homeless, unemployed, victims of sexual violence) is moving and powerful.

    On the other, this article presents Christians with a dangerous temptation. To evangelize to the secular, liberal postmodern world on the terms of the secular, liberal postmodern world. A non-believing feminist friend of mine read this article and promptly asked via her Facebook "Is atheism another example of white privilege?"

    My immediate reaction was enthusiasm, subsequent reaction was... caution. The truth claims of atheism or theism stand or fall on their own merits, even though moderns are more susceptible to emotional appeal than rational argument.