Q: You were raised as a Protestant, you grew into an atheist, you married a Christian Scientist and then you went and became a Catholic. It’s hard not to think of a miracle. How were you led into the fold?
A: Odd as this will sound to Christian readers, my reason for being an atheist was because of a deeply rooted love of truth.
Since a young age, I believed that human reason, and only human reason, was man’s path to discover the nature of reality and virtue, to discover what one is and what one ought to be, provided one was sufficiently fearless and objective and dispassionate in the investigation. All belief in anything supernatural I rejected as insufficiently supported the evidence; even the concept of a natural above nature I rejected as paradox. But for all my skepticism I never lost my love of truth.
Three things happened which eroded my faith in atheism.
First, when I became a husband, I was shocked and appalled to learn that I had been lied to my whole life about the nature of unborn children. The atheists and secular powers in my country all pretended and acted as if my son were not alive, not human, not important; when, of course, any man who loves the truth cannot help but see that he has a duty to love and protect his beloved children. The secular not only lied, they tempted young mothers to commit the most atrocious crime imaginable, for surely to kill one’s own little helpless baby is worse than to kill a stranger, because when a mother who should love her helpless child kills a relative, there is treason involved, a betrayal of her highest duty and her deepest instincts. The baby has no one else to protect him.
My son was wrongly diagnosed with having a disease, and the doctor gently suggested killing him. My wife was a Christian, and would not even hear of the issue. To my infinite shame and regret, for a moment, just for a moment, overcome with the fear of the burdens raising a crippled child would lay on me, I was tempted by the offer, and contemplated killing my own son. You see, I did not have the staff of the Church on which to lean. I was trying with my own unaided human reason to find my way through the thicket of vice and virtue, right and wrong, and so for a moment my foot touched the pathway to hell.
For that moment, in my heart, I thought as a murderer thinks, and not just a healthy, normal murderer, no, a kin-slayer; an infanticide.
What was wrong with the atheist world, if we atheists were so right on so many things, that we could be so grossly wrong about this?
Second, when I became a father, I realized that my duty as a father was to raise my sons to be men, real men, and not to be weak and foolish creatures enslaved to degrading vices. This was not a matter of opinion or preference: it was a matter of iron duty, which I could not evade any more than I could evade the fact that twice two equals four. The atheists and secular powers in my country all pretended and acted as if all moral choices are equal and all equally meaningless: that no matter what you choose, your choice is sacred and praiseworthy, because there is no wrong choice. This doctrine is not only a lie, it is illogical, on the grounds that a father cannot instruct his children to make choices without standards, and a standard by definition is something one does not choose. It is a given.
So, once again, I was shocked and appalled to learn that I had been lied to my whole life about the nature of human vice and human sexuality. I had been told by the secular culture and by my fellow atheists that sex was a recreation, a source of meaningless pleasure, and I had been told that fornication was better than monogamy, and sexual perversion was better than chastity. Upon becoming a father, logic told me that no matter what my preferences or opinions in the matter, I would be failing in my duty to my sons if I taught them to be unchaste or to be perverts. But everyone around me, the entire world, the media, the press, the culture, the academia, the laws, all were unified against that single, simple idea that truth is better than falsehood and purity better than vice. I realized with a sensation of seasickness that I was surrounded by an empire of lies.
So for the second time I asked myself, what was wrong with the atheist world, if we atheists were so right on so many things, that we could be so grossly wrong about this?
On September 11th, the anniversary of the defeat of the Paynims of the Battle of Vienna, America, and all the Western world, was viciously and cravenly attacked by Mohammedans, and the long war between Christendom and Dar-al-Islam, suspended since Lepanto, was renewed. As an atheist, I saw this as an example of the extravagant evils of religion in action, and was certain that my fellow atheists would be as outraged as was I with the attack on our most beloved institutions of the West, the liberty – particular intellectual and academic liberty – which we enjoyed.
Instead, the atheists, particularly those of the American Left, vocally and wholeheartedly supported and applauded every effort to stop any retaliation for the unprovoked attack, and sided, wherever possible, with our enemies. While not coming out and saying they wished for enemy victory, they rushed to aid and comfort them, put legal and social barriers in place against our forces to protect the foe, and played the grossly dishonest word-games of moral equivalence and blaming the victim.
I was shocked and appalled to learn that I had been lied to my whole life about the nature of secularism. It was not, as it so often claimed to be, a merely rational and human concern for human life on Earth. To judge from the public reaction of the majority of atheists after the Twin Towers fell, the atheists did not side with civilization against the dark and barbaric terrorists. No, they sided with the terrorists against the Christians.
I stared in all directions in astonishment, with wide eyes and mouth hanging open. What had driven the world I served insane? They were suicidal. The atheists were aiding and abetting the Jihad, offering apologetics and support for it.
The thing I had thought my whole life was atheism was not atheism, it was merely antichristianity.
I was ashamed to the core of my being to see my fellow atheists behaving in such a fashion. In three areas of paramount importance, the nature of life and death, the nature of sex and romance, and the nature of war and peace, my fellow atheists were not only wrong, they were extraordinarily and absurdly and profoundly wrong, wrong to the point of insanity.
At about this same time, atheism started becoming popular, and many books and articles were published that were openly atheistic: authors such as Hitchens, Dawkins, Dennett, Harris. One would think I would rejoice to see the ideas I supported at long last receiving public attention. But the books and articles were lies. My fellow atheists were not attacking the things about religion I thought mistaken and evil, they were attacking the good things which made religion tolerable, those same three issues of life versus death, chastity versus perversion, self-defense versus self-destruction. They were attacking reason.
I was an atheist because I loved truth and I thought that the truth, the unpleasant truth, was that no gods were or could be real. Because I loved truth, I loved virtue, life, reason, and goodness. And I found myself alone. All my fellow atheists, to one degree or another, were on the side of falsehood, death, nonsense and madness and evil.
I have three times mentioned how shocked I was, but I did not say what shocked me so. I was shocked by the sheer frivolity, the lightheartedness, the silliness of my fellow atheists and the whole secular world in their approach to these deep matters of life and death, purity and perversity, peace and war. They treated all issues of philosophy like questions of fashion.
None of my fellow atheists, not one, was an inspiration for me as a husband, or as a father, or as a patriot of the civilization of the West. Even men whom I admired for other reasons, or were dear friends, treated selfishness as if it were the norm, treated love of life as if it were an oddity, or treated history as if it had never happened.
The idea haunted me that the atheists could not be wrong about all the important issues in life, but right about the one paramount issue of whether God existed.
Once my faith in atheism was lost, my deep-seated hatred of Christianity eroded. I began reading Christian authors, particularly C.S. Lewis and G.K. Chesterton. In them, I found the sanity and sobriety that was missing in my atheist allies. Lewis and Chesterton were not merely right, but deeply and soundly and soberly right, right in the way a healthy man is right: their hearts were in the right place.
The idea haunted me that the Christians could be right about all the important issues in life, but wrong about the one paramount issue of whether God existed.
So I sat down to read the Summa Theologica. Remember that it was my firm belief that unaided human reason was the only tool men had to discover the nature of reality and morality. I reasoned that this work, written by the most reasonable writer of all time, could settle the matter. If he could not reason me into belief in God, no one could.
Well, the thickness and the dryness, the sheer hard work of the intellectual effort defeated my attempt. I gazed with weary eyes at the endless pages of tightly-reasoned proofs, each as difficult as a math problem, and decided that God Almighty would not, if He were real, expect every illiterate farmer in every village too small to have a paved road run to it to go through this careful and painstaking means of reasoning to discover Him. If He were Almighty, as well as being the creator of the laws of nature of the universe, He would have some means by which the people whom He wished to save from death could be saved.
Armed with this simple reasoning, I decided to put all my lifetime of philosophy to an empirical test! I knelt and prayed perhaps the most arrogant prayer of all time (albeit, at the time, being an atheist, I had no idea how arrogant it was).
“Dear God,” I prayed, “I know you do not exist. I can prove it with the accuracy and elegance of a proof from Euclid. But, as a philosopher, I am honor bound to entertain seriously even ideas I know to be absurd. So, just on the off chance that the absurd idea that You exist is true, sir, I demand that You show Yourself to me and prove that You exist. If You hear this prayer, and do not answer, then You either do not care if I know You, or You cannot. If the first case, You are not all-loving, and in the second, not all-knowing or not all-powerful , so if You do not answer this prayer, You lack one of the defining attributes of God. And if You do not exist at all, I have wasted no more than a lungful of air and a moment, of time, but I have done all my duty as a philosopher requires, and put the matter to the test. I dare You to show Yourself to me.”
Well, God answers prayers, even blasphemous ones, sometimes with a dreadful sense of humor. Three days later, I was stricken out of the clear blue with a heart attack. As I lay on the floor writhing and dying, my wife, a good Christian woman, called her Church, and a man who makes his living praying for the sick and healing them offered to heal me , which he did on the spot and in that same moment. The pain went from being all-consuming to nothing in the time it would take you to snap your fingers.
Astonished and clutching my chest at the sudden and complete surcease of pain, and curious as to what had afflicted me, I went to the hospital emergency room. I was not worried, but I wanted an examination to tell me what had happened. The doctors ordered major heart surgery, for it seemed that I had five blocked arteries in my heart. So I was in one hospital and then another for several days.
On the first day, before any surgery, while I was waiting in the emergency room, I suddenly grew aware of my own soul, a part of myself which, up until that moment, I would have said was mythical, make-believe. I felt the Holy Spirit enter my body. It was like a physical sensation. I was not drugged nor in pain nor frightened nor influenced by anything that would deceive my senses and memory: nor can I describe it to anyone who had not suffered a similar sensation.
As you can imagine, this gave me much to ponder. After the surgery, to the surprise of the nurses, I did not need any pain killers, because an act of prayer merely made the pain go away.
Then the Virgin Mary came to visit me. She has told me not to speak of what we spoke of, but I will say that there was no secret to it, nothing you could not learn merely by reading your Bible.
That was astonishing enough, but then I saw God. He was like a light, and like perfect love, and I was filled with ecstasy and bliss.
Later, I saw Jesus Christ. Unlike my other visitors, He terrified me, telling me that He would be my judge on the last day, but that God the Father judged no man. At this point, I suspect that my visions might be hallucinations, because no Christian I had ever met, and no book by any Christian I had ever read, had ever put across this odd and zany doctrine that God does not judge men, but that Christ does.
After I was released from the Hospital, I spend many a day at home recovering. Again, I was not on any drugs nor pain killers, nothing that would influence my thinking or my perceptions. And I had a religious experience. This was different in nature than the visions, which were experiences much like speaking to a person, or communing with a loved one. This was more like being a mind taken up into a larger mind, a small soul being embraced in a larger one, a soul larger than the universe. I saw that all thoughts ultimately issue from God, who is the prime mover of thought as He is of action, and I saw the relation of time to free will, and the paradox of God’s foreknowledge and the freedom of men to disobey was explained to me. It was as if I stood outside of time, and could turn and look at it, and see its structure, its symphony.
If this were not enough, two or three weeks later, I decided to read the Bible for the first time since in my adult life. I came across a passage which was word for word the same as the vision of Christ said to me. The passage is from the John, which I had never read before, not even in school.
So, I had asked, nay, demanded proof from God that He show Himself to me, and I was answered as entirely as any man could ask. I experienced a miracle healing, was saved from death, then felt the Holy Spirit, spoke to the Virgin and saw the Father, and later had a religious experience. As a philosopher, I note with wry amusement that the attempts of my atheist friends to explain away my experiences as coincidence or delusion or self-delusion are contemptibly weak, a mere tissue of ad hoc explanations. I note as well, that they cannot explain why virtue is better than vice, logic better than nonsense, life better than death, or why there is a universe instead of a void.
To be sure, there are mysteries and paradoxes in Christianity, questions of incarnation and foreknowledge at which the human reason quails, and yet from these paradoxes come conclusions so sound and clear and wholesome that a man can know how best to live. I have tried my whole life to live up to the strict and stern standards of the noble Roman Stoics, Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius, Cicero and Seneca, and to live with as little fear of death as Socrates displayed, even with a cup of poison in his hand.
The only time I was utterly unafraid was when (according to the world’s standards) I should have been most afraid, when I was under the knife for major surgery. Instead, filled with the love of God and a peace that cannot be described, I was buoyant, fearless, and cheerful. I was as unafraid as Saint John when he held a cup of poison in his hand.
In other words, as a Stoic, I could never live as a Stoic, and adhere to the pagan standards of a good and noble life. But as a Christian, I could.
My atheist friends, when they pontificate on their doctrines of life, utter paradoxes even more paradoxical than any Christian theology, and from their paradoxes come only darkness and hell, conclusions so confused and petty that a man who actually believed them would either throw himself into a whorehouse and live his life in an endless and endlessly vain pursuit of false pleasures, or throw himself in to the sea and drown his meaningless life in the uncaring salt wave.
I hope that answers the question.
Q: The Great Books program of St. John’s College had a significant influence on the way you understand the world and, indirectly, on your becoming a Catholic. Could you tell us something about it?
A: Ah, I see you have resolved only to ask me questions which require page after page to answer! Saint John’s College in Annapolis is a school of a type that might be more familiar to Europeans than to Americans. There are no tests and no grades, and every student follows the same course of study, which consists of the classical Trivium and Quadrivium (Grammar, Rhetoric, Logic, Arithmetic, Geometry, Music, Astronomy). We read the Great Books of Western literature in roughly chronological order, starting with the ancient Greeks, the Latins, the Medieval and Renaissance writers, the Reformation and Enlightenment, and finally, and disappointingly, the Moderns.
We read literature starting with Homer, philosophy starting with Plato, studies music and languages, science from Ptolemy to Einstein, mathematics from Euclid to Goedel politics from Aristotle to the Federalist Papers, and economics, the youngest of the disciplines, from Adam Smith to Karl Marx.
Such an education is like being a man with a memory in a world of amnesiacs. All the clever ideas which you will hear from all the clever people, repeated as if no one could question them, all come from somewhere and for some reason, usually in answer to a specific problem in philosophy or politics, ethics or mathematics – and the clever people are not clever enough to tell you where their ideas come from. Nor, not knowing their origins, can the clever people defend such ideas.
A little knowledge of the great conversation which has been going on between the generations and which forms the basis of our civilization (for the basis of civilization is in the habits of virtue formed by the habits of mind, which in turn are formed by philosophy) would be of inestimable value. Consider that Aristotle, in analyzing the Utopian Republic of Plato, adroitly identified the problem with all schemes to own property in common, or raise children communally. Imagine the bloodshed that would have been averted, the millions and tens of millions of lives saved in the Twentieth Century, had this adroit criticism of communism been remembered and taken to heart by the intellectuals of those years.
In my day, the school was blissfully free of Political Correctness – there simply are no African American ancient Greek philosophers or playwrights or historians or poets to put onto the list of Great Books, and a writer like Cervantes was present because he was great, not because he was “Hispanic”. I believe that purity has been sullied by the inclusion of at least one writer based on his skin color, not based on the merit of his contribution in the commonwealth of letters.
Q: Should Catholic colleges concentrate on providing that kind of education?
A: I don’t know anything about Catholic colleges to be able to answer the question. I will say that the swiftest and best cure for Protestantism and Modernism is to be familiar with the accomplishments of the past. Nothing shatters the yokel parochialism of the present day more swiftly than recognizing the immense stature of men of genius whose thought built our world.
Q: When you became a Catholic you took the name of a 1st Century martyr, Saint Justin. Why did you choose that patron saint?
He is the patron saint of philosophy. I think of myself first as a philosopher who writes novels, not as a novelist who writes philosophy. I pray him to inspire and lead me to be as he was: one who cared more for truth than for life.
Q: You write for a living and, apparently, in your free time, after a long day writing… you keep on writing. You have a successful blog on which you talk about literature and sci-fi, but also about God, philosophy, politics and morals. Why did you start writing a blog?
A: Human weakness, vanity, madness. I was once a newspaperman, and my generous editor gave me leave to write on any of the topics of the day, or, for that many, any topic at all. As if bitten by a bug, I became so used to writing editorials that I find I cannot long do without it. It is sort of like St Vitus’s Dance, except with words rather than foot-twitching.
Q: Some people think that science fiction and Catholicism are all but incompatible (due to the old Faith vs. Science canard). I guess you don’t agree…
A: I rather strongly do not agree. Catholicism invented Western Civilization which invented science. The scientific method rests on certain metaphysical and theological axioms without which it cannot exist. Because these axioms were not recognized in the ancient world or the Orient, there was no scientific progress properly so called in ancient Greece, or Rome, or before the coming of the White Man, in India, China, or the New World, accomplished though these civilizations in other ways certainly were.
The modern recrudescence of paganism, the bland heathen world view of the materialists, is undermining the ability of the West to continue to do science. The recent scandal and word-war over Global Warming and Global Cooling I suggest is a sign of the decay of modern science. Postmodern science is a dead limb severed from its life giving Catholic roots. Earlier examples of the abortive science of postchristian nations can be seen in Lysenko in Soviet Russia, and the make-believe race sciences and history of the Nazi Germans.
To a smaller degree, science and Protestantism are all but incompatible, since the essential point of Protestantism is the rejection of the unity and the Magisterium of the Church. This necessitates whole dependence for all matters of faith and morals on a private interpretation of scripture. Such private interpretation is strongly inclined, since there is no certain authority on which to rely, to be literal. Protestantism, with its strong emphasis on private judgment and private reason, ironically is prone to enthusiasm, including outbreaks of mania and emotionalism and esoteric doctrine which an authoritarian Church naturally hinders or checks. Science is unemotional and public and authoritative, and the findings of geology, astronomy, and biology certainly seem to be incompatible with a literal reading of Genesis; and the enthusiastic nature of some Protestant groups urges them to hold science and literature and learning in low regard (the example of Deal Hudson as depicted in his autobiographical AN AMERICAN CONVERSION spring to mind).
That said, it must be emphasized that Protestantism does not contain the direct opposition to science and reason found in the esoteric religions of the East, Buddhism and Taoism, or the indirect opposition to reason and science prompted by paganism and polytheism in general.
Without a belief in a monotheistic creator, there is no assurance that reason is sufficient to discover the laws of nature, or even that there are laws. The materialism of Karl Marx, for example, proposes a universe where by definition the position of brain atoms are determined by mechanics, by the actions of selfish genes or mindless social and economic forces. In such a universe no scientific reasoning, nor reasoning on any topic, is possible or imaginable.
Likewise, without a belief in the independence of secondary causes from the whims of many gods there is no point to the study, since such laws are merely illusions of consistence in an arbitrary acts. For this reason, the classical world never reduced the speculations of its philosophers to an system of natural philosophy called science.
Likewise again, the belief in that all the material world is illusionary of necessity obliterates the motive for scientific research. There are no medical researchers who are practicing Christian Scientists.
And finally, the belief found in mainstream Mohammedanism that the one God participates directly in all acts of cause and effect in effect obliterates cause and effect, since the existence of regularity in nature becomes an illusion produced by the reliability of the inscrutable will of God.
Q: You’ve recently published a novel called Count to a Trillion. Could a new reader guess that you’re a Catholic just by reading it? Are there Catholic elements in your books?
A: So far in my life, I have not used by books to proselytize or flatter or even to describe my own beliefs, neither my atheist beliefs when I was an atheist, nor theist now. I write enough editorials that I feel little need to editorialize while engaged in the serious business of storytelling. But any writer’s world view appears whether he will or no in the world he invents, so a new reader who was perspicacious might hazard such a guess. But he would have to be extremely perspicacious.
What I do not do in COUNT TO A TRILLION is have the main characters avoid religion or condemn it. Both the heroine and the villain are Roman Catholics, because they are Spanish, and my conceit is that the Spain of the future will reflect the days of the Spanish Empire, achieving a glory from the discovery of news worlds in space which once she achieved in the discovery of the New World in the Americas. My hero is something of a skeptic, albeit nominally a Christian.
Because the novel deals with immense spans of time, the Roman Catholic Church obtains an unusual prominence, merely because it is assumed in the novel that the Church will last as far into the future as she has into the past.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I am writing the opposite of a Dan Brown novel. My young hero realizes that he is unlike his brothers in looks and nature, and begins to wonder if he was adopted. Tillamook, Oregon, the cheese capital of America somehow does not seem like his home to himself. He father is a deacon in the Roman Catholic Church, perhaps an assassin for the Opus Dei or, better yet, a Knight Templar whose grandmaster still controls the Ark of the Covenant. When our hero goes to work for the Haunted Museum, whose curator is an insane scientists who collects animals that should not or could not still exist in our world, he discovers that there is more than one world. Our young hero falls in love with the mad scientist’s beautiful daughter, and is off to rescue her when the mad scientist warns him she is about to open a doorway into a parallel dimension using the Moebius Coil.
The idea behind the story is that the energy required to create a second and parallel universe is greater than the universe and comes from outside of it, so therefore only when miracles occur or fail to occur is the timeline split into two parallels. The main enemy of the youthful hero is the world that arose when the Tower of Babel, in that version of history, never was struck by the confusion of tongues and never fell. Unfortunately, the Babylonians were the first in all parallel history to discover the secret of how to travel sideways in time, and, being from a world where there are neither nations nor tribes nor divisions, the Babylonians can neither imagine nor tolerate living in peace with neighbors not in union and unity with them, and so they have conquered all the various versions of history, and soon will conquer ours.
There is more to it than that, of course. The story includes monkey-masked ninja-girls, levitating prophets, one eyed Arimaspians, living iron, no-headed Blemmye, blood-quaffers and cynocephalics, one-legged Sciopods, not to mention the stolen Rhine-gold, the flail of a conquered Pharaoh, the tarncape, the Cup of Jamshyd, and a prayer-powered “mecha” or walking tower shaped like a shining suit of armor forty stories tall, and a remarkably beautiful mermaid from a world where the fleets descended from the Ark of Noah have yet to find dry ground.
Q: Finally, two obvious questions for all Catholic sci-fi writers: Has any Cardinal already contacted you to enlist you in the Arcane Conspiracy to replace all Heads of State with robots in order to enslave free countries and subject them to the Tyranny of the Church? Have you received the unbreakable medieval-latin cyphers for secret communications with the Congregation for the Propagation of Faith by the (Laser) Sword?
A: No, but I have been given my secret decoder rosary with built in strangle wire, my stealth jetpack, and I have been shown the secret confessional booth whose trapdoor leads into the secret lair where the crime-solving supercomputer of the Archbishop hums with power. Adoring the lair walls, along with giant pennies and robots of dinosaurs, is the trophy room of relics and icons. From this cave, cadres of ninja-trained priests in black rush out to track down criminals and evildoers …. in order to hear their confessions and bring them forgiveness and tell them the secret of eternal life.
Compared to how wild and supernatural that is, any mere conspiracy of world conquest seems tame, does it not? The world is already subject to the tyranny of the head of our Church, for all authority in heaven and earth is His.
2. How would you instruct a soul that finds their being to be oddly, madly jealous of your certitude on questions of faith?