From the editor: October 18, 2013
God Love Them,
Real Atheists Are Rare
This nearly 90-year-old monk looked me in the eyes with a kindness that disarmed the mental reflexes and habits normally in place when I consider "philosophical" questions. I had just asked him about someone I had known many years ago who had declared himself an atheist. His reply was even more disarming: "Your friend is not an atheist," Father Roman Braga assured me. No, he was not simply speculating; he knew what he said was simply true. You could see it in his eyes.
I recorded his words, and published them in an interview in Salvo. Commenting on atheists, he continued:
There are few real atheists. There is nostalgia in our soul for God; we are looking for God. Because we lost Paradise, there is nostalgia for Paradise. God is like the magnet that attracts us. God reflects himself in the heart of each individual in a specific way, and we have to embrace that specific way. . . . God is the prototype, and we are the icon, the image. The image wants to reach the prototype. This growing in God and in knowledge of God will be infinite.
Someone may say, "I'm an atheist, and I'm still searching." What is he looking for? For the truth? What is the truth? Nobody knows all truth. But Someone said, "I am the Truth"! And Christ reflects himself in the hearts of each individual in a specific way—that is the whole beauty we find in this world, and no power on earth will destroy it.
I thought of Fr. Roman's comments as I read these words in David Bentley Hart's new book, The Experience of God:
Materialism is a conviction based not upon evidence or logic but upon what Carl Sagan (speaking of another kind of faith) called a "deep-seated need to believe." Considered purely as a rational philosophy, it has little to recommend it; but as an emotional sedative, what Czeslaw Milosz liked to call the opiate of unbelief, it offers a refuge from so many elaborate perplexities, so many arduous spiritual exertions, so many trying intellectual and moral problems, so many exhausting expressions of hope or fear, charity or remorse. In this sense it should be classified as one of those religions of consolation whose purpose is not to engage the mind or will with the mysteries of being but merely to provide a palliative for existential grievances and private disappointments. Popular atheism is not a philosophy but a therapy. (p. 304-305)
Fr. Roman, I believe, would agree. And you will discover in the interview that he spent years in prison under the Communists in Romania for teaching students about their spiritual nature, against the atheistic materialism of the state. He knows first hand the face of so-called atheism. And he did not hate his "atheist" enemies.
Fr. Roman also discovered, first hand, the consolations of Christ, the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
Please say a prayer for Fr. Roman Braga, now 90, who is gravely ill, as he nears the end of his earthly sojourn. His life and witness have quietly touched the hearts and minds of many over the years, including the many young people he so ardently sought to enlighten by assuring them that they are made in God's image, and that we have all have a Father to whom we can turn and find true consolation in this life and the next—through Jesus Christ. Through the gracious words and kindly love of Fr. Roman I, too, have beheld a glimmer of our Father's steadfast loves that endures forever.
—James M. Kushiner