Mark Bauerlin’s failed atheism

In the May 2012 issue of First Things, professor of English Mark Bauerlin writes of his ‘failed atheism’. It is a moving account of his teenage epiphany that there was no God, decades lived in what he now sees as a kind of impoverished skepticism, and his final tentative steps into faith.

He has truly known the terror of an empty, godless universe:

Every night in bed I foresaw my pending nonexistence and trembled. I shut my eyes and the walls closed in. That I was destined to join the nothingness that I spied in the bush was an intolerable prospect, an unthinkable thought. My mind was stuck on eternal death—”I can’t believe it, I can’t believe it, this can’t be happening.” The discovery didn’t free me, it crushed me. The universe was open, but my life was closed. Others might take the disappearance of God as liberating, a chance to forge their own future, but not me. Whatever plan I might commence, whatever identity I might pursue, it shrank to pointlessness beside the yardstick of boundless nothingness.

The telling of his journey to Catholic faith is abbreviated, but he writes this:

The Catechism introduced to me “ways of coming to know God” that involve study and discipline, not a sudden revelation. The idea that faith might not be an instantaneous perception, that God’s presence or absence rests upon more than a blunt apprehension, struck me as a dilating prospect. God is out there,
and the Church is the way to him. If I haven’t apprehended him directly and overwhelmingly, as I did the Nothing of that not-burning bush when I was a bright and confused teenager, that’s the fault of my limited powers of perception, not because there is nothing there to perceive.

Reading it was, for me, a refreshing antidote to the stories I know so well of friends who have moved the other way.

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