Paul Greenberg

The letter right below it -- it came from a reader in Hot Springs, Ark. -- was more complimentary. He liked my mention of Christopher Hitchens' tolerating Christians praying for him even though he's a prominent, and fervent, atheist. Or as he put it, "A Jewish writer employing the model behavior of an atheist to spank a naughty Christian preacher -- does it get any better than that?"

It got better immediately thereafter when the letter writer mentioned my second-favorite Christian apologist. "Somewhere," he wrote, "G.K. Chesterton is smiling." Any letter that cites Chesterton can't be too bad.

My very favorite Christian apologist is the very readable (on any topic he chose to write about) C.S. Lewis, who was the first professor of medieval and Renaissance English at Cambridge, where, which was just like him, he argued that there was no such thing as an English Renaissance. Which makes sense: Any break with the past as abrupt as a renaissance would naturally offend the English sense of propriety, not to mention the English sense of continuity. Let's hope there'll always be an England. These days you can't be sure.

C.S. Lewis was a defender of the faith but never a zealot. Indeed, he abhorred zealotry and vulgarity in general. Perhaps because he had a sense of humor -- see "The Screwtape Letters" and "Mere Christianity." He never put much store by clever polemics, either for or against religion. He even wrote a prayer for Christian apologists like himself:

The Apologist's Evening Prayer

From all my lame defeats and oh! much more

From all the victories that I seemed to score;

From cleverness shot forth on Thy behalf

At which the angels weep, the audience laugh;

From all my proofs of thy divinity

Thou, who wouldst give no sign, deliver me.

Thoughts are but coins. Let me not trust, instead

Of Thee, their thin-worn image of thy head.

From all my thoughts, even from my thoughts of Thee,

O thou fair Silence, fall, and set me free.

Lord of the narrow gate and the needle's eye,

Take from me all trumpery lest I die.

Amen.

I'm not sure to whom atheists would appeal for such humility, but surely the best of them, like the best of believers, seek it, too.


Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.


 


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