Living Faith: Former atheist teaches longtime believer
By Roxane B. Salonen
I’ve long been fascinated by the stories of those who stumbled upon God for the first time in their adult years.
But I’m also slightly envious over the zeal of the adult convert who sees the world of faith as totally new and remarkable.
We all need an occasional reminder of how fortunate we are by the gift of faith, and I’ve found the stories of former atheists a sure way to stay inspired.
My latest “atheist convert” read comes in Holly Ordway’s book, “Not God’s Type: An Academic Atheist Lays Down Her Arms.”
Ordway’s story attracted me in part because, I figured, as a literary academic and story lover, she’d approach her journey from a relatable and thoughtful perspective.
We also share some of the same heroes: J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. Not only were these men expert storytellers, but their tales come framed in a decidedly faith-filled worldview.
Within the first 10 pages of her book, Ordway shares thoughts that plagued her as an atheist, including wondering whether abortion and infanticide were any different.
Her atheistic perspective led her to ask, if a functioning mind and body are what make a genuine “person,” do the lives of the profoundly disabled or the mentally handicapped have any meaning at all?
Following that line, she also wondered whether we have the right to live once the mind is gone, and whether euthanasia of the disabled was a sound option.
At that point, Ordway became unsettled.
“I was aware that there was something badly wrong with the reasoning that led to ideas like this, but I preferred not to think about why.”
Her “consciously articulated views” relied on the premise that God doesn’t exist and life contains no ultimate meaning. And she concluded that atheism consistently lived out leads either to self-deception or despair.
Self-constructed meaning, Ordway concluded, “is only a stop-gap; it is real only in the sense that a stage set of (Shakespeare’s) Elsinore Castle is a real place.”
One can suspend disbelief while “Hamlet” is being performed, she said, but eventually the curtain falls and one must leave the theater.
“What’s to be done when Helping Others, Doing Good Work and Having Friends are recognized as paint and canvas and trick lighting?”
Ordway leads the reader through her thought process toward her eventual belief, including realizing how much of her imagination had been fed by Christianity well before she’d ever considered God as reality.
“I delighted in the stories of King Arthur’s knights and the quest for the Holy Grail without knowing that the Grail was the cup from the Last Supper,” she writes, noting that she had no idea that the Chronicles of Narnia had anything to do with Jesus.
And yet “images from the stories stuck with me, so bright and vivid in my memory, as if I had caught sight of a real landscape, had a real encounter, with more significance than I could quite grasp.”
Indeed, how much of our own imaginations are sprinkled with a faith underpinning without our even recognizing it?
Eventually, Ordway acquiesced to the reasonableness of a good and loving God, and in doing so, experienced an epiphany.
“Now it made sense why the world was both so beautiful and so broken; two pieces that I had never before been able to fit into the same puzzle,” she said.
The world is beautiful, she said, because the creator made it so; and broken because we, in our pride, turned away from that good God and made a mess of things.
“And because his goodness includes respect for us as individuals, he did not force us back into relationship with him,” she said, “but instead allowed each of us, graciously, to come to him of our own choice even while giving us the grace that enabled us to make that choice.”
Preach it, soul sister, and thank you for so perfectly articulating our common story so we stodgy, longtime believers can relive it through newly enlightened eyes.
Finally, and above all, welcome, welcome to the kingdom of love.