Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Doubt

Yesterday I mentioned my undergraduate course in apologetics at the University of Notre Dame in the 1950s. I can't remember the name of the priest who taught the course, but I remember him telling us in the first class that someday we would find ourselves sitting next to a Protestant minister on the train and everything we learned in apologetics would suddenly come into play. In the ensuing conversation we would either win another soul for the True Faith, or -- horrors! -- we might lose our own ticket to eternal life.

Fifty-five years later, I have yet to find myself sitting next to a Protestant minister on a train. Or bus. Or plane. Or next to a rabbi, an imam, or the Dalai Lama, either. Oh, I've known ministers of various faiths, but by the time we met I had not the least interest in saving their souls, and -- as far as I could tell -- the feeling was mutual.

Which raises the question: Couldn't this blog be seen as an attempt to proselytize for religious naturalism?

I don't think so.

A lively public exchange of views on matters of religion -- or politics, or anything else -- is a good thing. I am grateful for the chance to read works by Catholic theologians such as the always interesting John Haught or the late departed Thomas Berry. Cheers too for the Richard Dawkinses and Daniel Dennetts. I'll take a pass on those works by evangelicals that currently crowd the best-seller lists, but more power to them. This blog would soon come to a grinding halt if it didn't have provocative ideas from every field to feed on, pro and con.

So I float my religious naturalism into the world. But I don't go knocking on anyone's door. I accept everyone where they are and hope they will allow me the same courtesy.

Proselytism is a corollary of certainty. My university apologetics teacher urged us to brook no doubt. My science teachers inculcated a healthy skepticism.

(And as for my university apologetics text, Frank Sheed's Theology and Sanity -- you are Catholic or you are nuts -- my spouse informs me that it is still in print, and ranking higher on Amazon than any book of mine.)