Fellow Travelers?

Four Atheists Who Don’t Hate Religion

Hazel Motes, the protagonist of Flannery O’Connor’s novel Wise Blood (1952), tries to found a new church, one without Christ. It will, he says, be a church “where the blind don’t see and the lame don’t walk and what’s dead stays that way,” a church “the blood of Jesus don’t foul with redemption,” but a church nonetheless, with preaching and rites and congregations and all the usual paraphernalia. It’s there to do what the church of Christ does, but without the name of Jesus.

Half a century earlier, toward the end of his incarceration in Reading Gaol, Oscar Wilde wrote of his desire to found “an order for those who cannot believe: the Confraternity of the Faithless, one might call it, where on an altar, on which no taper burned, a priest, in whose heart peace had no dwelling, might celebrate with unblessed bread and a chalice empty of wine.” The members of Wilde’s confraternity would not believe in the creeds and dogmas of the church, and most emphatically not in Jesus; but they would believe that “everything to be true must become a religion.” The confraternity’s members would be bound by faith, but not faith in Jesus.

Motes and Wilde imagined or hoped, in their very different ways, that the church’s gifts might be received without cross, creeds, or sacraments—without, that is, knowing and acknowledging the name that informs those gifts. They recognized that the church does...

To read the rest of this article please login or become a subscriber.

About the Author

Paul J. Griffiths holds the Warren Chair of Catholic Theology at Duke University.