“You are a man of strong faith aren’t you?” It was not the first question I expected from my doctor but it was not totally unexpected. The conversation at our previous visit had been lengthy and he had asked many personal questions. As personal questions directed at me often end up with faith as part of the answer his question was rhetorical.
His response to my brief answer in the affirmative caught me off guard. “I am a committed atheist,” he said with a smile on his face. His tone was not confrontational, it was simply a declaration of fact, as if he was saying, “You are who you are and I am who I am.”
I decided to expand on my answer so he could understand the important role faith played in my life. I told him that I frequently taught the bible and spoke in church, and that I had led a men’s Bible study group that morning before coming in for a visit. I then added, “While my faith is strong, it is more intellectual than emotional. I have a passionate faith, but not an emotional one. I don’t feel particularly close to God and I am not the type of person who “hears” God speak to me. My faith is more reason based.”
My use of the word reason triggered a memory for him. He told me that he had at one time been a student in a Catholic seminary studying to be a monk. During the course of his studies he began to have serious questions about his faith. When his doubts reached a crisis level he sought out the counsel of the priest who was his mentor. The priest’s response to his doubts dealt his faith a mortal blow.
“Faith,” said his mentor, “requires you to set aside reason.”
I was appalled at those words and told him so. “I cannot disagree with him more! That is completely false. If faith cannot stand up to reason, what is it worth?”
I shared with him my belief that the truth was in direct opposition to the view espoused by his teacher. Reason is at the heart of Christian faith. I told him of the Christian apologist, Nancy Pearcy, who makes the bold claim that Christianity is the only worldview that is “Total Truth”, the only belief system that viably explains all of the observable world from the origin and complexity of life as well to the nature of humanity and the presence of evil.
“But there are still questions that faith cannot answer,” he replied.
“Of course there are, but I have reached the conclusion that while God has not given me all of the answers that I want, he has given me all of the answers that I need in order to have faith.” He nodded in understanding and I added, “Your worldview requires faith as well. Perhaps even more than mine. There are questions that as an atheist you cannot answer.”
“Absolutely,” he replied, “I have no idea of how quantum physics works!”
We shared a laugh. And the visit went on.
When I left his office I reflected back on our conversation with a sense of amazement. Nothing had been resolved, no one had been convinced or persuaded, but something important had happened. Our understanding of one another had grown as had our respect for one another. I found myself wishing that more disagreements could be discussed this way.