While You Were Away

Taking a vacation—a proper vacation, away from cell phones, television, and newspapers—is an important thing for people to do, and for some reason (so it would seem), academics and Europeans seem to do it a great deal. Leisure, as readers of Aristotle’s Ethics will recall, is the necessary condition for that most human (and, for Aristotle, divine) of activities—contemplation. It is when we are free from such mundane cares that we can have the freedom to understand and experience the fullness of our humanity in some way. The relief from the ordinary drudgery of human industry in late modernity enables us to attend not simply to the transient things of this world but to eternal truth. For those of us who cannot practice it in our daily lives, a vacation may be a kind of act of resistance against the idolatry of what the present pope, in his memoirs, refers to as the “the cult of the spade.” And this is precisely what the university is for—to provide the space for such leisure to contemplate the truth. But more on this in a moment.

I would submit that the ability to vacate well is a great moral skill (of course a vacation is not always the same thing as “leisure”). I could go on and on here about the notion, in Josef Pieper’s great phrase, of leisure as the “basis of culture,” or about the sense in which Proverbs speaks of creation in terms of “play” (“I was with him forming all things: and was delighted every day, playing before him at all times; Playing in the world: and my delights were to be with the children of men,”)[1] or about how in some small way one may glimpse an analogy of the ordering of creation to the vision of God in the way in which kittens or babies play. But returning from a vacation also teaches one a great moral lesson. If you practice a certain kind of technological asceticism when you are on vacation, which is a very big “if” in these days of Myspace, Facebook, and other diversions, and if, upon your return home you happen to read the newspaper, you will very likely have discovered that a great deal happened since you left. Certain things you can probably bank on: more bombings in Iraq, continued civil unrest in other parts of the Middle East, politicians in America engaged in an endless game of one-upmanship, and, of course, some Hollywood starlet getting arrested for drunk driving.

But more seriously, returning home from a vacation such as the one I have described might teach us something very important about life: the world, whether we like it or not, regardless of what we have to say about it, and in spite of all our most vigorous protestations against it, will go on without us. Fortuna, as the ancients used to say, continues to roll on its indifferent way, and dull-witted is the mortal, says Boethius, who attempts “to stay the force of her turning wheel.”[2]

One of the ways in which some thinkers have responded to this set of circumstances is by recourse to some notion of “the eternal recurrence of the same,” that life is nothing but the same damn thing over and over again and then you die. There is, it must be said, considerable support for this view. It is, after all, not an entirely recent idea. The ancient Greek tragedians and epic poets may be said, in the main, to have held some version of this view; that the relationship between free human choosing and the indiscriminate determinations of fate is, in the end, more or less unintelligible to us—and even the gods must yield to its inexorable fiat. It is perhaps no accident that such a sentiment is often framed by the experience of inexplicable suffering or violence. In some cases, this view appears in the form of protest; perhaps nowhere more famously than in Shakespeare’s Macbeth, where after Macbeth hears of his wife’s suicide, he says:

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in the petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle,
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury
Signifying nothing.[3]

Speaking of “signifying nothing,” some journalists, pop sociologists, politicians, and other cultural theorists tell us that one of the more surprising historical developments at the end of the twentieth century has been the “return” of religion, and with it, the dramatically increased influence of religious groups upon world affairs. Witness, for example, the recent political battles over the massive voting power of so-called American evangelicals—both Democrats and Republicans in the current climate compete with one another over the authenticity of their religious faith, their ability to speak the language of religion, not to mention disgraced public figures suddenly finding Jesus, bong hits for Christ, and so on…

It doesn’t take a cynic to say that:

Disillusioned words like bullets bark
As human gods aim for their mark
Made everything from toy guns that spark
To flesh-colored Christs that glow in the dark
It’s easy to see without looking too far
That not much
Is really sacred.[4]

So, in the (slightly) less low-brow discussions in some corners of the earth, the world of religious publishing is presently replete with criticisms of this present situation in which religion has made a so-called comeback. So a handful of books which have appeared over the past year or so suggest that the newfound religious fervor of Westerners is an entirely pernicious phenomenon. Books like Sam Harris’ Letter to a Christian Nation, Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion, and Christopher Hitchens’ God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, each, in their own way, argue that religion is the source of all evil in the world, and therefore, once we abolish it, we may return to the benighted vision of the secular civil society. In one additional instance, the French philosopher Michel Onfray has recently pressed the case still further: in his Atheist Manifesto, he argues for a secularism which is post-Christian, purged of its latent and residually Judeo-Christian ethics of toleration and intellectual generosity. So he is as opposed to relativism as he is to the Judeo-Christian inheritance, since they are both genealogically related. Hence the stirring rhetoric of the conclusion to his manifesto:

At this hour when the final battle—already lost—looms for the defense of the Enlightenment’s values against magical propositions, we must fight for a post-Christian secularism, that is to say, atheistic, militant, and radically opposed to choosing between Western Judeo-Christianity and its Islamic adversary—neither Bible nor Koran. I persist in preferring philosophers to rabbis, priests, imams, ayatollahs, and mullahs. Rather than trust their theological hocus-pocus, I prefer to draw on alternatives to the dominant philosophical historiography: the laughers, materialists, radicals, cynics, hedonists, atheists, sensualists, voluptuaries. They know that there is only one world, and that promotion of an afterlife deprives us of the enjoyment and benefit of the only one there is.[5]

I need not go further into the various arguments—if we may call them that—of these four books, and in some ways they are very much not worth the time. But I am not sure whether I should count myself among the laughers and the cynics of whom Onfray speaks. And there is certainly much in his own case—as well as those of Dawkins, Hitchens, and Harris—to laugh at, were it not so depressingly theologically illiterate.

Suffice it to say that if they represent the highest form of atheism these days, and if every atheism is always parasitic upon some form of theism, then this is not exactly a good measure of the state of theology in public discourse, to say nothing of just basic reasoned discourse. Granted, books such as these are products of a multi-billion dollar industry, and they do not represent the cutting edge of scholarship, but they do seem to confirm this basic point: in spite of what we are told about the resurgence of religion, particularly in American life, now more than ever, perhaps, it is exceedingly difficult to talk about God intelligently. It is enough to make one pine for the days when there were atheists around of the stature and philosophical integrity of Fred Nietzsche.

One of the problems with books like these is that they may encourage us not to take our opponents very seriously and it is often a work of immense intellectual generosity to take such rhetoric very seriously. If anything, they conceal from us what there is genuinely to learn from good atheism. Perhaps this is as good a place to draw a distinction between good atheism and bad. The former texts are examples of the bad form; Nietzsche is an example of the beneficent kind. The latter may have been guilty, as David Hart has suggested, of having “atrocious taste,”[6] nevertheless “[w]here Nietzsche is most convincing, and where his treatment of Christianity cannot be factually gainsaid, is where he portrays the church’s faith as a telling of the tale of being to which is he is implacably opposed, in place of which he intends to tell another story.”[7] His thought remains, for all that, “quite close to theology.”[8]

One of many things that can be said in Nietzsche’s favor is that he seems, for the most part, to have understood Christianity to some profound extent. Even if the God whose death he proclaimed turns out to have been an idol—a product of a decadent metaphysics—he nonetheless recognizes the centrality of the Christian event to such an extent that its displacement requires an utterly new story—and for Nietzsche that story is at bottom the story of conflict, will-to-power. In other words, once the Christian God has died, he must be replaced with something else.

There is a further advantage to such good atheism: at its best it is a form of iconoclasm, or better, of idoloclasm (which is actually a word—I looked it up). It might help to expose our conceptions as idolatrous, the object of our belief as a fiction, the source of our faith as, for example, fear and self-love and not proper charity, the object and source of all knowledge the Triune God and not some finite idol.

It is no accident, then, that the new story of things that Nietzsche tells is the same one which I mentioned earlier on: there is really nothing new in the universe, and the only way to survive is through the naked embrace of will-to-power. So, Henri de Lubac correctly says that “the Eternal Return is imperative as the indispensable substitute for a dead God. It alone can seal up the stone of his tomb…”[9]

Consider the way in which Nietzsche himself described the scene of the crime. For him, the death of God resulted in a total transformation of reality. At this point, we might do worse than to refer in full to that oft-quoted passage from The Gay Science which has virtually become the testament of our times:

The madman.—Have you not heard of that madman who lit a lantern in the bright morning hours, ran to the market place, and cried incessantly: “I seek God! I seek God!”—As many of those who did not believe in God were standing around just then, he provoked much laughter. Has he got lost? asked one. Did he lose his way like a child? Asked another. Or is he hiding? Is he afraid of us? Has he gone on a voyage? emigrated? —Thus they yelled and laughed.

The madman jumped into their midst and pierced them with his eyes. “Whither is God” he cried; “I will tell you. We have killed him—you and I. All of us are his murderers. But how did we do this? How could we drink up the sea? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the entire horizon? What were we doing when we unchained this earth from its sun? Whither is it moving now? Whither are we moving? Away from all suns? Are we not plunging continually? Backward, sideward, forward, in all directions? Is there still any up or down? Are we not straying as through infinite nothing? Do we not feel the breath of empty space? Has it not become colder? Is not night continually closing in on us? Do we not need to light lanterns in the morning? Do we hear nothing as yet of the noise of the gravediggers who are burying God? Do we smell nothing as yet of the divine decomposition? Gods, too, decompose. God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him.

“How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it? There has never been a greater deed; and whoever is born after us—for the sake of this deed he will belong to a higher history than all history hitherto.”

Here the madman fell silent and looked again at his listeners; and they too were silent and stared at him in astonishment. At last he threw his lantern on the ground, and it broke into pieces and went out. “I have come too early,” he said then; “my time is not yet. This tremendous event is still on its way, still wandering; it has not yet reached the ears of men. Lightning and thunder require time; the light of the stars requires time; deeds, though done, require time to be seen and heard. This deed is still more distant from them than the most distant stars—and yet they have done it themselves.

It has been related further that on the same day the madman forced his way into several churches and there struck up his requiem aeternam deo. Led out and called to account, he is said always to have replied nothing but: “What after all are these churches now if they are not the tombs and sepulcher of God?”[10]

Rather than being a prophet announcing what is to come to pass, Nietzsche’s Madman is one who recognizes the despair into which the world is hurled at this “greatest recent event.” That is to say, in grammatical terms, the annunciation of the death of God is not a “performative” utterance—it does not enact what it announces; rather, the proclamation is a declaration of the way things appear to be. That is, for Nietzsche, the utterance “God is dead” is a cultural claim: God is dead in the sense that he is no longer “of use” to us. The modern, scientific world has no need of God as an explanation of the mysteries of the world. Everything, so the argument goes, can be accounted for by means of the language of the natural sciences. On this account, Nietzsche is far from being the father of a nihilistic age; rather, he writes as one born into the era of European nihilism, and his whole philosophy is, in essence, an attempt to overcome this.

“God is dead” is a declaration that a world without God is a world in peril, a declaration of the extent to which a world that believes itself finally to be free of God can no longer live in the same manner it had previously. Now everything must be overturned. Nothing will be the same. With the death of God, the “entire horizon” is “wipe[d] away”, the “earth is unchained from its sun,” “plunging continually” in every direction and in no direction. As such, all evaluative structures are destroyed—even the designation of direction: “Is there still any up or down?” The world living in the shadow of God will be one of utter confusion, a world in which men carry lanterns into the marketplace when it is an already bright morning; a world in which the wisest among us are pronounced “mad.”

However, here it is significant to notice that in this passage Nietzsche is not unreservedly celebrating the death of God. He resists situating himself either on the side of devastated mourning or of exuberant celebration. There remains an unresolved tension in his proclamation which desists from qualitative appraisal of this “greatest recent event.” Instead, he acknowledges the tension between utter tragedy and relieved gaiety. Nietzsche is unable to exult in the death of God because he is acutely aware of the inevitable consequences it will have for the future. Thus his project of the revaluation of all values is born. Whether one places oneself on either side of reaction to God’s death, there is no possibility for complacent indifference. Rather, Nietzsche himself realizes the extent to which the future of history is “for the sake of this deed” fraught with its horrific magnitude. As such, “his insight that ‘God is dead’ imposes an inexorable task upon him.”[11] This task is summarized several sections before the famous parable of the Madman, Nietzsche writes:

After Buddha was dead, his shadow was still shown for centuries in a cave—a tremendous, gruesome shadow. God is dead; but given the way of men, there may still be caves for thousands of years in which his shadow will be shown.—And we—we still have to vanquish his shadow, too.[12]

Everything is Broken

In John Updike’s 1996 novel, In the Beauty of the Lilies, Clarence Wilmot is the pastor of a small Presbyterian congregation in the town of Paterson, New Jersey, just across the Passaic River from the sprawling metropolis of New York City. In response to the questions of a skeptical member of his church, he begins reading the “masters of suspicion”— Ingersoll, Hume, Darwin, Renan, Nietzsche—[13] in order adequately and learnedly to counter and refute the suspicions of his querulous parishioner. However, in the course of his research, he finds himself ultimately succumbing to the very suspicion he is attempting to combat. As a result, he loses his faith, resigns his ministry, and leaves the church, and eventually takes a new job as an encyclopaedia salesman and becomes an avid moviegoer. At one point, Updike writes, “He could not tell her how even pronouncing words had become a heaviness, now that the true nature of reality was revealed. There is no God. Perhaps everybody, back to his professors at Princeton, had known it already.” [14]

It is no accident, for our purposes, that Updike makes reference here to college professors—particularly Ivy League ones—as bearing the secret truth of things: God is dead, and we theologians have known it all along. This is a variation on the old theme—go to college an innocent Christian, and leave a jaded atheist. [In fact, a professor of philosophy has written a book entitled How to Stay Christian in College. What does such a title—if not the text itself—presume?]

The landscape painted by Updike is one in which the “death of God” is more or less an obvious fact of the modern world (the story begins in 1910)—and perhaps more than anything else, of the modern university. It is not something which needs to be announced, for so pervasive is the phenomenon of modern atheism. It is, for those who find themselves unable to celebrate it, like a dark cloud which hangs over Western culture, blotting out all suns, threatening all of life with utter loss of significance. Like the men and women in the marketplace in Nietzsche’s parable of the Madman, citizens of the West act as though God were dead, though the true significance of this fact they appear not to perceive. “The problem with atheism is that it is not a problem. It is a situation, an atmosphere, a confused history whose assertions can be identical in expression and positively contradictory in sense.”[15] Similarly, Nicholas Lash likens the “situation” in contemporary Christianity to an airport departure lounge, a “restless space in which a continuously shifting crowd of strangers mingles, somewhat nervously, against a background of piped music and occasional obscure commands.” It is an atmosphere which lacks any real “centre of activity, giving purpose and direction to the whole;” indeed, the fact that the group of inhabitants of the airport lounge is never the same, nor even close to the same, is suggestive of the fact that there appears to be no real “whole” to speak of: the fragmentation of our world runs so deep that this seems to us to be all there is.[16] The death of God is, as René Girard writes, “the Pavlovian reflex of modernity.”[17]

The fragmentation not just of contemporary Christianity in particular, but of Western society in general, is perhaps a result of the loss of a single unifying narrative constitutive of a community’s identity, which the tumultuous years of “religious” wars in the mid seventeenth century made only more confusing and disjointed. The seventeenth and eighteenth centuries’ “quest for certainty” attempted to resolve this confusion and widespread disagreement by virtue of a disinterested arbitrator, namely in the form of a universal, indubitable “Reason.” The Christian narrative of history which unified medieval Christendom gradually had been displaced from its central position. Reason, now sundered from faith, left the two realms on opposite sides of a chasm across which there is no commerce. As Maurice Blondel writes:

…when reason, left sole mistress of the knowable world, claimed to find immanent in herself all the truths needed for the life of man, the world of faith found itself totally excluded: juxtaposition led to opposition and incompatibility.[18]

The modern world set, in place of the complex interrelation of reason and faith characteristic of the middle ages, the totalizing metanarrative of scientific rationality, which sought to unify all forms of knowledge and discourse under the universally objective mode of “Reason.” The failure of the modern world’s attempts at a synthesizing grand theory has resulted in the seemingly endless fracturing of academic disciplines, not to mention the fragmentation of what were once genuine human communities into the mere aggregates of independent, atomistic individuals. What was once a source of much optimism as that which would ultimately quell all doubt and dissolve all disagreement has given way to a general unease with the realization of the impossibility of this feat. Stephen Toulmin rather succinctly sums up the atmosphere of late or post modernity thus:

Today, the program of Modernity—even the very concept—no longer carries anything like the same conviction. If an historical era is ending, it is the era of Modernity itself. Rather than our being free to assume that the tide of Modernity still flows strongly, and that its momentum will carry us into a new and better world, our present position is less comfortable. What looked in the 19th century like an irresistible river has disappeared in the sand, and we seem to have run aground. Far from extrapolating confidently into the social and cultural future, we are now stranded and uncertain of our location.[19]

This “breaking up” of Western culture is due not least of all to the West’s loss of the central Christian story as that which constitutes its identity. The aimlessness of Lash’s airport lounge is simply indicative, or symbolic, of the loss of the modern West’s identity. There was perhaps no better critical diagnostician of the pathology of “post-Christian” man than Walker Percy, who wrote that “The present age is demented. It is possessed by a sense of dislocation, a loss of personal identity, an alternating sentimentality and rage which, in an individual patient, could be characterized as dementia.”[20] Similarly, Percy’s contemporary, Flannery O’Connor, once said famously that, “This is a generation of wingless chickens, which I suppose is what Nietzsche meant when he said God was dead.”[21]

What is curious about Updike’s story is the extent to which the widespread loss of belief, the loss of the possibility of faith in “God,” results in a total and complete reversal of everything; that every human activity, no matter how petty or mundane, must be reevaluated; all the structures for evaluating and assessing what is true and what is false are called into question. Indeed, Updike’s preacher recognizes this when even “pronouncing words” becomes for him a matter of “heaviness.” In a world in which such minute aspects of human activity already possess profound significance (i.e., the world before the death of God) is such a radical upheaval of “values” possible, indeed required. In a world such as ours, where it is virtually taken for granted that these actions possess little or no qualitative merit, such a loss of identity would, I dare say, go unnoticed.

Consider a rather more inventive way of putting the matter, found in Philip Pullman’s fantasy trilogy, His Dark Materials. In the third volume, The Amber Spyglass, Pullman, as it were, re-enacts the death of God:

Between them they helped the ancient of days out of his crystal cell; it wasn’t hard, for he was as light as paper, and he would have followed them anywhere, having no will of his own, and responding to simple kindness like a flower to the sun. But in the open air there was nothing to stop the wind from damaging him, and to their dismay his form began to loosen and dissolve. Only a few moments later he had vanished completely, and their last impression was of those eyes, blinking in wonder, and a sigh of the most profound and exhausted relief.

Then he was gone: a mystery dissolving in mystery.[22]

This goes a step farther than Nietzsche, in at least one sense. Whereas Nietzsche’s proclamation of the death of the old God is somewhat problematic, Pullman’s narrative is one in which God’s vanishing is the occasion for profound relief, even gratitude. The “ancient of days” is grateful to mankind for his liberation, his final freedom for self-annihilation. I wonder if Pullman doesn’t capture very well a peculiar kind of modern theological apathy, according to which we are not only done with God, but God is glad to be done with us—moreover, God is glad to be done with Himself.

But, at another level, the conclusion of The Amber Spyglass once again repeats a familiar theme; in a kind of Voltairean flourish at the end of the novel, we are left with the responsibility to build…this time not the Kingdom, but the Republic of Heaven. Once again, as with the other denizens of popular atheism, there is a call for a return to the Enlightenment and its great “values” of liberty, equality, and fraternity. All noble values in a way, to be sure, but to what or to whom, in the absence of God, are we left to owe our allegiance, nay our adoration? In each case, this object is invariably the modern secular state, which alone, the argument goes, can guarantee those values and ensure us a civilization free of violence.

It is no accident that one—and there are many, in this work which traverses a great multiplicity of worlds—of the backdrops for Pullman’s trilogy is the University of Oxford, home to the main character, the semi-orphan Lyra and her parents, who find themselves on opposite sides of the struggle to understand dust. Likewise, it is also no mere coincidence that Updike’s protagonist’s loss of faith is occasioned by studies in Princeton. The presupposition seems to be that if you think too hard about it, if you really use your mind, then faith will be exposed as illusion, superstition, even a lie. Faith, it is presumed, can really not survive the university life—and what are universities for if not for challenging our presuppositions?

When I lived in Durham, North Carolina, I remember one day walking across the campus at Duke University, and I noticed that someone had written, in huge chalk letters in front of Duke Chapel, the words, “How can we think freely in the shadow of a chapel?” I would like to say that is a good question, but I am not really sure the question itself is really all that intelligible.

But the presupposition is there, and it’s all too common. We can’t think clearly until the shadow of God has finally and decisively been vanquished, when the pathetic, fear-engendering spirit of religion has been exorcised, when, finally, we have freed God from the world. For in so doing, we ourselves begin to glimpse our own liberty at first light.

So the story goes, anyway.

It’s interesting, I think, to notice that Pullman replaces the notion of Kingdom with Republic, and in their own way, so do the other atheist critics I have mentioned. Why are there only two models of human community to choose from? Might this be an example of the extent to which reason and faith’s divorce has left their children homeless orphans, our imaginations orphaned? Are there any other possibilities for imagining human community?

The lectionary readings from the feast of Saint Augustine of Hippo all touch on a metaphor familiar and dear to his heart: the city of God, the civitas dei. In his book of the same title, Augustine famously deconstructed, as it were, the logic of the earthly city, showing it to be premised upon the necessity of violence, the worship of the tragic, the praise of war. In contrast, Augustine said, there is another city: “You have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us give thanks, by which we offer to God an acceptable worship with reverence and awe; for indeed our God is a consuming fire.”[23] A city and a kingdom, to be sure, maybe even a republic, but one whose logic is peace, and whose law is charity, not the suspension of violence.

I wonder if I might indulge you in a speculative exercise for a moment. There is at least one other model of human social life that is neither a city, a kingdom, nor a republic. It is a form of life with its origins in the Christian middle ages, and quite possibly the most universal institution in the world, apart from the Roman Church. It is the university.

My good friend Michael Hanby points out that the university in its original constitution assumed one thing at least: a universe, a world of intelligible reality which, through the faithful and disciplined exercise of our minds, in response to Christ’s call to love the Lord God with all our heart, all our soul, and all our mind,[24] we could—in some measure, however incomplete—understand.

The late Luigi Giussani, in his book The Risk of Education, argues that “The Christian fact is permanent throughout history. It has a structure that nothing can change because it is a definitive event. Nevertheless, the Christian who lives out this event, in dealing with the cultural, social, and political conditions of his times—unless he lacks intelligence or is totally slothful—cannot help but judge the prevailing ideas and structures from the point of view of his lived faith. As a result, the desire to create an alternative culture and alternative structure is unavoidable.”[25] I trust this readership lacks neither intelligence nor industry, so it is for those with memory, the intellect and will, to imagine what such an alternative intellectual culture might look like.

The divorce of reason and faith has left us without a universe. Moreover, in the interest of preserving the integrity of both, the divorce proceedings have left both parties bitter and no longer on speaking terms. In the process we have left everything in fragments. But if we are to imagine, in the spirit of St. Augustine, a university of a very different kind—a universitas dei, if I may—it can only be one informed by the story of the world according to which the fragments of five loaves fill twelve baskets, in which the story of Christian faith informs the heights and the depths of our intellectual life and work. In every discipline, therefore, it remains for us to unlearn the atheism of our own thought—which is another way of saying “take every thought captive to Christ.”[26]

Augustine famously described faith as quaerens intellectum. The university, then, provides us the leisure to be restless for such understanding, to restlessly seek the God in whom true rest is found. On many college campuses there may not be a chapel big enough to cast such a hopeful shadow, but if anything, thinking in shadows ought not to be something foreign to Christians, who “see now as in a glass darkly.” It is therefore the luminous darkness of the Christian mystery which does not put an end to, but marks the beginning of our reason’s true vocation. For as Augustine himself says, “Unthinking faith is nothing.”[27]


[1] Proverbs 8.31-2. In the Vulgate: Cum eo eram cuncta conponens et delectabar per singulos dies ludens coram eo omni tempore ludens in orbe terrarum et deliciae meae esse cum filiis hominum.

[2] Boethius, The Consolation of Philosophy, II.1, 62.

[3] William Shakespeare, Macbeth, V, v, 19-28.

[4] Bob Dylan, “It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)” Bringing It All Back Home (1965).

[5] Michel Onfray, Atheist Manifesto: The Case Against Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, tr. Jeremy Leggatt (New York: Arcade 2007), p. 219.

[6] David Bentley Hart, The Beauty of the Infinite: The Aesthetics of Christian Truth (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans 2003), p 125.

[7] Ibid., p. 117.

[8] Ibid., p. 93.

[9] Henri de Lubac, The Drama of Atheist Humanism (San Francisco: Ignatius 1995), p. 496.

[10] F. Nietzsche, The Gay Science, sec.125, trans. W. Kaufmann (New York: Vintage, 1974), pp.181 82.

[11] Karl Jaspers, Nietzsche: An Introduction to the Understanding of his Philosophical Activity, 3rd ed., trans. C.F. Wallraff (South Bend, IN: Gateway, 1965, 1979), p.247.

[12] Nietzsche, The Gay Science, sec. 108 (New York: Vintage, 1974), p.167.

[13] Ibid., p.60.

[14] John Updike, In the Beauty of the Lilies (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1996), p. 40.

[15] Michael J. Buckley, SJ, At the Origins of Modern Atheism (New Haven: Yale, 1987), p.13.

[16] Nicholas Lash, “Among Strangers and Friends: Thinking of God in Our Current Confusion”, in Michael J. Himes and Stephen J. Pope, eds., Finding God in All Things: Essays in Honor of Michael J. Buckley, SJ (New York: Crossroad, 1996), p. 53.

[17] Rene Girard, “The Founding Murder in the Philosophy of Nietzsche”, in Paul Dumouchel, ed., Violence and Truth: On the Work of Rene Girard (London: The Athlone Press, 1988), p.232.

[18] Maurice Blondel, The Letter on Apologetics, in The Letter on Apologetics and History and Dogma, tr. Alexander Dru and Illtyd Trethowan, (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1994), p. 148.

[19] Stephen Toulmin, Cosmopolis: The Hidden Agenda of Modernity (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990), p.3.

[20] Walker Percy, “Why Are You a Catholic?” in Patrick Samway, ed., Signposts in a Strange Land (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux 1991), p. 309. My title, which I confess to having ripped from another great Southern writer, the columnist Lewis Grizzard, is intended in the Percyan spirit; Grizzard was, however, not bemoaning God’s death, but Elvis’. (Sometimes, especially in parts of the South, it is difficult to know the difference.)

[21] Flannery O’Connor, The Habit of Being, p. 90.

[22] Phillip Pullman, The Amber Spyglass [His Dark Materials; 3] (New York: Knopf 2000), pp. 410-11.

[23] Hebrews 12:22-24, 28-29.

[24] Matthew 22:37.

[25] Luigi Giussani, The Risk of Education, p. 117.

[26] 2 Corinthians 10:5.

[27] St. Augustine, On the Predestination of the Saints, II.5: uoniam fides si non cogitetur, nulla est.