Have atheists got it wrong? asks Katherine Birbalsingh on her blog in The Telegraph. It is a fascinating post, especially since Miss Birbalsingh, a gadfly of liberal educationalists in the UK, argues that perhaps they have! How many public figures even hint at coming to that conclusion these days?
First she is impressed by a couple of ex-gang members who have reformed because they have 'found God'. Next, she is moved by the profession of faith of Tariq Jahan, the Muslim father of one of the three men murdered by a hit-and-run driver in Birmingham during the riots:
He explains that his religion gives him the strength to see through the death of his dearly loved boy and accept that this was his son’s fate. I look on in admiration because I exist without that sense of certainty, and I find his certainty mesmerising.
Last she is interviewed by a Russian journalist who, because Birbalsingh believes in objective morality, asks her whether she believes in God or the State. After all, if there is an objective morality, it must come from somewhere!
Then out of the blue, she receives an email from a friend who tells her that the rioters cannot even have heard of the ten commandments and quotes from the Gospel of Saint Matthew:
“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Matthew 22:36-40
If you ask me, I think God is quitely stalking Miss Birbalsingh.
I can hear some people already bristling with hostility at that idea. After all, Birbalsingh is impressed first by any faith rather than by the true faith. But I think that would be to mistake the paths by which people are led towards the truth.
Wherever we are, we can only take the step that is in front of us. What is interesting for a believer in reading Birbalsingh is to note how even contact with a kind of faith-filled certainty is mesmerising. Mesmerising: the word is very strong. By faith here, I am speaking about what appears to be faith to an outside observer, rather than faith, the supernatural virtue given by God. Birbalsingh's use of the word mesmerising underlines the fact that often, in embracing propositions which we believe are revealed by God, we take for granted the psychological processes that belief implies and which appear thematic to someone who doesn't believe in anything. Faith for us is not a state of mind, and yet for an unbeliever in our culture, that is what it can first of all appear to be.
The awful corollary of this for those with faith - and I speak now of the supernatural virtue by which we believe what God has revealed through the Church - is that we are bound all the more to reflect faithfully what our faith proposes, for fear that we will appear as counter-witnesses to the truth. This is how people will know you are my disciples; by your love for one another. Preach always, said Saint Francis, and use words if necessary.
Perhaps in these days, in the context of unbelief, we believers are preaching, whether we like it or not. Perhaps then we should pray that it is always for good and not for ill.