Friday, December 26, 2008

Which Way to the Damascus Road?

The title of Christine Rosen's piece in the WSJ, excerpted below.

I did not have a Damascus Road conversion-- although I "came to faith" at an age (16-17) where such an experience is somewhat likely. That said, it's often interesting to hear people's "testimonies"-- in this context, the part of that testimony that relates to the details of their "conversion".

Some are more experiential. Others more intellectual-- those who, like Tolstoy, Chesterton, and Lewis investigated other hypotheses for such things and found them wanting next to Christianity. The flip side of that coin is they were attracted to related but different aspects of the Gospel.

Rosen starts with Antony Flew before moving on through Denise Jackson, Fay Weldon, C.S. Lewis, Charles Colson, and Francis Collins-- and concludes that "the road" is "paved with theology not therapy".

Given the recent attention garnered by the "new atheism" and its spokesmen, it was only a matter of time before a defector emerged from within the ranks. Enter Antony Flew. A lifelong outspoken atheist and Oxford philosophy professor, Mr. Flew recently published a book, There Is a God.

He would seem to be the ideal combatant to challenge the new atheists in the battle over belief. But is he really? A few reporters and bloggers have raised questions about the octogenarian's mental competence as well as the motivations of his co-author...Mr. Flew is not quite the crusading convert his book title suggests: He did not embrace Christianity, but Deism....

So who are the other writers manning the ramparts against atheism while espousing their new devotion to Christ? They are typically sappy types armed mostly with therapeutic bromides.

For several weeks this fall on the New York Times best-seller list, Christopher Hitchens's "God Is Not Great" lagged behind "It's All About Him: Finding the Love of My Life," by Denise Jackson, wife of the country-music star Alan Jackson. The "Him" in Ms. Jackson's title is not her husband, but God. The book tells the story of how a marital crisis prompted a spiritual awakening in Ms. Jackson....

After seven decades as an atheist, British novelist Fay Weldon recently converted. She, too, was inspired by her new faith to write a self-help tome, "What Makes Women Happy," which describes a near-death experience...

To be sure, the Jackson and Weldon books have inspired many readers. But the most enduring conversion stories in modern times don't offer tales of perky piety triumphing over personal malaise. They are far more ambiguous and attentive to the challenges of living a spiritual life in a secular world.

C.S. Lewis, one of the most well-known Christian apologists of the 20th century, called himself a "reluctant convert," and in his autobiography, "Surprised by Joy," he described the process as akin to being caught or overtaken by an irresistible force....

Yet Mr. Lewis's unusual conversion narrative has inspired thousands of believers. In the 1970s, just before he began serving a prison sentence for his Watergate crimes, former Nixon aide Charles Colson read Mr. Lewis's "Mere Christianity," and he says that it persuaded him to come to Christ. More recently, scientist Francis Collins, director of the National Human Genome Research Institute, has discussed how, when he was a young doctor and an atheist, Mr. Lewis's writings led to his own embrace of faith....

The most persuasive conversion narratives recount not merely emotional surrenders to faith but also intellectual grapplings with it. Although devout atheists would vehemently disagree, the conversions of men like Mr. Lewis, Dr. Collins and even, perhaps, Mr. Flew reveal that intelligent people -- trained in rigorous fields such as philosophy and the hard sciences -- can embrace faith and tell persuasive stories without extremes of emotional flagellation. The Road to Damascus is paved with theology not therapy.


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