“The people who challenged my atheism most were drug addicts and prostitutes…”

A man who made a nice living on Wall Street, and prided himself on his cynical atheism, finds his belief in unbelief sorely tested—and in ways he never expected.

Here’s writer/photographer Chris Arnade: 

I eventually left my Wall Street job and started working with and photographing homeless addicts in the South Bronx. When I first walked into the Bronx I assumed I would find the same cynicism I had towards faith. If anyone seemed the perfect candidate for atheism it was the addicts who see daily how unfair, unjust, and evil the world can be.

None of them are. Rather they are some of the strongest believers I have met, steeped in a combination of Bible, superstition, and folklore.

The first addict I met was Takeesha. She was standing near the high wall of the Corpus Christi Monastery. We talked for close to an hour before I took her picture. When we finished, I asked her how she wanted to be described. She said without any pause, “As who I am. A prostitute, a mother of six, and a child of God.”

Takeesha was raped by a relative when she was 11. Her mother, herself a prostitute, put Takeesha out on the streets at 13, where she has been for the last 30 years…

It’s sad when it’s your mother, who you trust, and she was out there with me, but you know what kept me through all that? God. Whenever I got into the car, God got into the car with me.

Sonya and Eric, heroin addicts who are homeless, have a picture of the Last Supper that moves with them. It has hung in an abandoned building, it has hung in a sewage-filled basement, and now it leans against the pole in the small space under the interstate where they live.

Sarah, 15 years on the streets, wears a cross around her neck. Always. Michael, 30 years on the streets, carries a rosary in his pocket. Always. In any crack house, in the darkest buildings empty of all other furnishings, a worn Bible can be found laying flat amongst needles, caps, lighters, and crack pipes…

…They have their faith because what they believe in doesn’t judge them. Who am I to tell them that what they believe is irrational? Who am I to tell them the one thing that gives them hope and allows them to find some beauty in an awful world is inconsistent? I cannot tell them that there is nothing beyond this physical life. It would be cruel and pointless.

In these last three years, out from behind my computers, I have been reminded that life is not rational and that everyone makes mistakes. Or, in Biblical terms, we are all sinners.

Read the rest. 

And view his photographs here. 


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