I thought I’d share a little conversation I had a year or so ago with an atheist friend I’ve come to love and admire. It was held not long after All Saints and All Souls, so it pertinent to this month in which we think about the Four Last Things:
i used to think that “serving god” was some kind of slave like thing. that was just an uncharitable misinterpretation on my end. i think i get it now in the sense that what i think is “aligned with nature” is probably very close to what people meant with serving/submitting to God. all the things i like about the different religions and philosophies are pretty much the same virtues. anyhow, thanks for thinking of me. lol funny, another friend messaged me over pretty much the same sermon. i do love that Sermon on the Mount. i may be at odds with yous on what’s real and isn’t, but the beauty? that’s definitely real. and probably what matters the most
(Full disclosure: She wrote the above after what I wrote below, but I put it first because it gives a good insight into the tenor of her mind, and it fits rather well as a preface to my comments below, which were in response to something similar she said elsewhere, which is now lost to me.)
I’m one of those “Godless is as godless does” sort of people. So though you think of yourself as an atheist, I think of you as somebody who, in the very best sense of the word, fears God. Such fear is not craven servility but the power to see that other people have dignity and to feel horror, not only for assaults on them, but for the even worse horror of people like Trump or Miller, who spit in their faces.
I was at Mass on All Saints and the reading was the Beatitudes. One Beatitude really stuck out for me and it seemed to me that the Spirit wanted me to tell it to you: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” (Mt 5:6).
You wrote me [in another conversation] that you care about justice because you think we are on our own and this is our only shot. It’s a noble and good thing to try to do what is right, just because it is right and with no expectation of reward. Jesus, curiously, urges the same approach: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you salute only your brethren, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? ¶ You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. ” (Mt 5:43–48).
But there is reward and reward. External rewards–brownie points, money, acclaim–are not what the heart wants and you do well to reject such phoniness. But intrinsic rewards are fitting and good. So a person who marries for money does evil. But a person who marries for love receives the proper reward for a good heart. You want the proper reward for hungering and thirsting after righteousness: righteousness.
You want justice and decency and the exaltation of the weak and the proper use of power by the strong. You hunger for love and justice to be done “on earth as it is in heaven” even though you don’t think heaven is real. It matters far more to Jesus that you want that than that you think heaven real.
But the good news is that Jesus says heaven is real anyway and is on your side and that you are not on your own. We won’t ever see the hunger and thirst fully filled in this life, of course. But we are not on our own. Grace is real and breaks into our lives. You are, strange to say, one of the graces of God that has broken into my life and the lives of many others.
I guess I’m writing to say that I hope you open yourself to the hope that you are not, as your thought, on your own. God loves you and he wants you to know it. You’re a menschette and I hope you come to know it soon.