My first atheist encounter

Istill remember the first time I met an atheist. I wish I could say it was as memorable as the time I met Henry Kissinger or Mike Love from the Beach Boys, but it was just upsetting.

I was 13, and until then, everyone I knew believed in God even if they didn’t go to church. My uncle invited me to dinner with their neighbors, and during the conversation I mentioned God—this was back in the days when you could talk about God without being assaulted—and the fellow immediately informed me: “There’s no God. This is all there is, and when it’s over, it’s over.”

That combative, self-assured statement startled me. I tried to debate him, but like most atheists, he had all the answers. To make matters worse, he was a lawyer, and I was a teenager struggling to punch up and relying only on the Baltimore Catechism and what the Sisters of St. Joseph taught me. Nevertheless, I clung to my beliefs based on faith, and he clung to his based on intellectual pride.

Since then, I’ve met scores of atheists in the most unlikely places. A growing number are college students, who fancy themselves too smart to believe in God. Consider Harvard University, where a reported one out of three students is atheist or agnostic. That same mentality exists in Hollywood, where it’s trendy to deny God’s existence, and the entertainment industry typically portrays believers as immoral ignoramuses.

I’ve discovered that disbelievers share common characteristics: They’re too smart for God. They blame God for the pain in their lives. And they’re too proud to believe there’s a God more intelligent than they are.

I’ve also encountered another species of atheist I classify as “the lazy atheist” or “the indifferent atheist.” They don’t care whether God exists because they’re obsessed with more important matters like the pursuit of pleasure, prestige and possessions. Some were never given the tools to find God and grew up in families that didn’t care whether God existed.

I remember the time my friend’s 5-year-old son came home from school, confused and anxious, and asked, “Mommy, who’s God?” I don’t remember her answer, but I do remember thinking, “How did it ever come to this? Her priorities are all messed up.” From the beginning, kids should have a relationship with God even if they don’t study the Baltimore Catechism—although it helps. Remember these foundational principles:

“Who is God?” God is the Creator of Heaven and Earth and of all things—that includes you.

“Why did God make you?” God made me to know him, to love him, to serve him in this world and to be happy with him forever in the next.

Pretty simple stuff. Pretty profound stuff, actually.

Today, there is a growing number of militant anti-theists, such as the late Christopher Hitchens—author of “God is Not Great”—along with Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins and the angriest of all, novelist Sir Philip Pullman.

Their thinking is often based on the premise there can’t be a God because of the way his followers behave. While our behavior can be abominable, it doesn’t disprove God’s existence. It only proves we don’t live up to the ideal.

When it comes to atheism, the basic ingredients are always anger, pride and intransigence. Vicka Ivankovic, one of the reported seers at Medjugorje, offered this insight:

“Blessed Mother says that those people who are in hell are there because they choose to go there. We all know there are persons on Earth who simply don’t admit God exists, even though he always tries to nudge them onto the path of holiness. They just say they don’t believe, and they deny him. They deny him, even when it is time to die. And they continue to deny him after they are dead. It is their choice. It is their will that they go to hell. They choose hell.”

Pray for them. It’s their only hope. Anyone who doubts God’s existence has a simple recourse, as a Sister of Mercy once told me: all you have to do is ask. If you ask with a sincere and humble heart, God will give you all the proof you need. But you have to ask.