Issue #262 / November 2023
I would love to hear your thoughts on Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s recent essay, “Why I am now a Christian.” These two sentences in particular made me think of you (and the almost entirely diminished atheist in me): “I have also turned to Christianity because I ultimately found life without any spiritual solace unendurable—indeed very nearly self-destructive. Atheism failed to answer a simple question: What is the meaning and purpose of life?”
BRIAN, LAMPANG, THAILAND
[ ] How then would you describe your spirituality? [ ]
AMALIA, FLORENCE, ITALY
Dear Brian and Amalia,
I read Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s piece, and watched her interview with UnHerd’s Freddie Sayers, with great interest. Back in 2007, I read Ayaan’s memoir, Infidel, a fascinating account of her journey from Islam to atheism, and so I was genuinely curious as to what may have precipitated her conversion to Christianity.
The quotation you mention is actually very close to my own feelings on the matter, which I wrote about in my book, Faith, Hope and Carnage. Upon reading Ayaan’s essay, though, I found little I could connect with, in so much as my interest in religion, and in particular Christianity, is non-political and fully personal and emotional. Although I understand the societal benefits of using Christianity as a kind of bulwark against spiritual cynicism, atheism, religious fundamentalism and the excesses of our present cultural moment, this was never my attraction to Christianity.
Amalia, I find that my religiousness is a slowly emergent state, one that is entirely drawn to the Anglican church of my childhood, and that the haunted presence of Christ is the essential and defining quality of that state of being. Christianity, for me, is bound up in the liturgy and the ritual and the poetry that swirls around the restless, tortured figure of Jesus, as presented within the sacred domain of the church itself. My religiousness is softly spoken, both sorrowful and joyful, broadening and deepening, imagined and true. It is worship and prayer. It is resilient yet doubting, and forever wrestles with the forces of rationality, armed with little other than the merest hunch or whispered intuition. The defining characteristic of my belief, and which I consider to be a fundamental imperative in my life, is uncertainty. This questioning impulse is the essence of freedom and the creative catalyst that keeps the wheels rotating irrevocably toward God.
As you doubtless know, Brian, the essay has gained an enormous amount of attention within certain circles, and has managed to vex atheists and Christians alike, a laudable achievement. I would encourage everyone to read the article and watch the interview. Whatever you may make of it, Ayaan Hirsi Ali remains a much needed cultural irritant and a courageous and formidable presence. God bless her for that!