Telling the Christian Story


The idea that the universe is ultimately without meaning—an idea advanced by many of the new atheists—has often struck me, and other believers, as nihilistic and even antihuman. I’ve heard atheist scientists rhapsodize about the feeling of awe, even reverence, they feel in the presence of the beauty everywhere and at every level of the cosmos; but its beauty is something only we can see and feel, and promises nothing. If beauty and such experiences as love and deep joy ultimately mean nothing and have nothing to do with the being of the universe itself, it seems a profound cheat.

Recently, however, I heard a radio interview with a naturalist who spoke with great joy about the evolution of flightless birds, and I began to understand more sympathetically how an atheist or agnostic might delight in the varied and wonderful things that surround us, and still feel that even if the universe ultimately has nothing to do with what we value, what we value is nevertheless precious. As a Christian, I believe that love and beauty have to do with the meaning of matter and energy and all that exists—but finally this is an act of faith.

Such an act of faith probably comes more easily if you grow up surrounded by a culture that reinforces the belief in a meaning that goes deep down into the heart of existence, and if it is presented in a sympathetic way and manifested in admirable lives. My own perceptions of the way things finally are were formed in the context of...

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About the Author

John Garvey is an Orthodox priest and columnist for Commonweal. His most recent book is Seeds of the Word: Orthodox Thinking on Other Religions.