Had an Interesting Conversation with an Old Friend from High School

He’s an atheist. I’m, you know, not. What sparked it was this on Facebook:

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My response: Dear Atheists: Stop being so dumb. It’s just embarrassing.

At which point an old atheist buddy of mine from Cascade High (Home of the Bruins. School of Pride!) wrote:

This is not a comment on how many books Christians read, it’s a comment on where beliefs are drawn from. One reference vs millions.

Nope. It’s a suggestion that Christians (who preserved ancient civilization when it fell apart after Rome fell) are dumb illiterates who only know one book.

Don’t think I agree with that point of view. Usually Atheists are not that narrow minded, because their beliefs are derived from many different sources, you know, science and stuff. It would be statistically inaccurate to say that Christians don’t read books other than the Bible, but they have created a belief system based on that one book.

The point of the meme is that only one book is allowed by Christians. It’s silly on the face of it and the meme has no meaning if it does not mean that.

Beyond that, I would question even the claim that Christians have a belief system based on one book, or even on any book. Islam is emphatically a religion of the Book. But Christianity is more precisely a religion of the Word Made Flesh. The Bible has certainly played a central role, but for most of the history of the Church, the bulk of Christians could not read. Their experience of God was mediated to them through the Mass and the sacraments, with the Blble playing a part in that (if they could understand the language in which it was read to them). The Bible takes a much more central (and even exclusive) role for some Christians with the Reformation and the rise of sola scriptura and fundamentalism). Americans, who are mostly Protestant, stand in that tradition and assume everywhere is here. But for most of the Church throughout history, the Bible, while hugely important, has been supplemented by Tradition, by the writings of Church Fathers, saints, theologians, mystics, and poets who have mediated revelation via an entire culture (including a boatload of other books).

It has also, by the way, given birth to things like the hospital, parliamentary democracy, a whole tradition of political and social thought (including the idea of separation of Church and state), and the sciences, which were born in medieval Latin Europe because the two conditions for science–belief in a lawful universe intelligible by the human mind and belief in secondary causes that could be studied–were present for the first time in the sacramental worldview of medieval Catholics. That’s where all those books in *Trinity* College came from.

For further fun reading, see this witty discussion of the debt the sciences owe to the European Christian tradition from science fiction author Michael Flynn.

PS. You might also enjoy his wonderful novel Eifelheim, which got nominated for a Hugo and won some other awards if memory serves.

Fun fact, my buddy’s name is also Mark. We once went on a camping trip in the Cascades and *everybody* on the trip was named Mark. It involved a hornet that got into my sleeping bag and stung me in multiple places before running out of venom and just stabbing me repeatedly with its stinger in futility as I finally ground the life out of it with my back. Good times. Good times.

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