Here is one more passage from Couchoud’s Théophile. What I like about Couchoud’s expressed sentiments is his sympathy, his compassion for humanity, his tolerance (in a positive sense of that word) and understanding. The New Atheists like Richard Dawkins, Chris Hitchens, Sam Harris were angry, bitter, intolerant — and, I had to conclude, fundamentally ignorant about the nature of the religions they attacked and the reasons people believed in them. They created and attacked caricatures of both the faiths themselves and their adherents. At a certain level there was a truth behind those caricatures, and real harms have been committed by those religions, and I could to that extent laugh with their mockeries and feel some affinity with their disdain, but only at a superficial level. I was myself once deeply religious and had to admit that the religious believers in the world were, in fact, me. I was sincere, as far as I knew how to be sincere. I was, given my lights, as well intentioned as I knew how to be. I made horrendous mistakes, but in hindsight they were the result of ignorance, even if that ignorance was “ignorantly” self-induced, or from sheer weakness. If our own experiences are our primary guides to understanding “how others work”, I knew that there was something major lacking in the New Atheist attacks on religion. Couchoud, on the contrary, writes as a real humanist. If I was once a devout believer, I have no choice but to express the compassion and love Couchoud himself expresses for those who remain as constant reminders of ourselves.
Paul-Louis Couchoud had the following essay published in 1928 — again from his Théophile (pp 216-219) — as introduced in the previous post. Again, it is a translation from the French.
REASONS NOT TO BELIEVE
In every era, apologists try to find new “reasons to believe.” But the reasons not to believe also multiply and gradually coordinate. It is useful to occasionally take stock of them.
Our culture is characterized by the growing importance of sciences that have humanity as their object. The naturalist-type scientist, whose object of study is nature, contrasts with the humanist-type scientist, well-versed in the methods of historical, philological, and psychological sciences. To both of them, Christianity does not appear in the same way.
The naturalist scientist, in a way, ignores it and is uninterested in it. They simply exclude from the scope of their science the simplistic and ill-founded solutions that the Bible seems to impose. After doing that, they are inclined to grant religion a special domain for which they feel, according to their education, respect or disdain.
The humanist scientist behaves differently. Religion is at the very center of their study. It has an inexhaustible interest for them. However, they do not grant it a special place among human phenomena. They examine it in its historical and psychological context. They do not seek to refute it, but they aim to describe its genesis. They bring it down from the absolute and place it in the conditioned.
In our times, the mindset of the humanist scientist tends to spread. Yet, more than that of the naturalist scientist, it is fundamentally incompatible with religious faith, especially with Catholicism. For anyone who undertakes free research of this kind and wants to maintain the integral faith defined by the Council of Trent, an internal crisis is either open or latent.
It will not take much effort, indeed, to discover the historical illusions and psychological illusions on which the majestic edifice of faith is built.
Let’s consider only three psychological illusions here.
Through this special state of meditation called prayer, can we change the course of things?
It is a very dear desire of humans. It was the driving force behind all magics and religions. It bravely defies experience. In fact, prayer is a beneficial and fruitful state, akin to inspiration. It has an impact on the person who practices it and sometimes on the world through them. But to believe that in the depths of inner silence, one touches a very powerful person, be it a saint or God, is nothing but a common illusion of duplication.
Do miracles occur in Lourdes or Lisieux that go beyond nature?
An eternal illusion, as old as humankind, to which one wholeheartedly lends oneself, as the taste for the marvelous is deeply ingrained in humans. Miracles around tombs belong to popular religion, older and more vigorous than Christianity itself. They only testify to an old human desire.
Is our self or, as they say, our soul, immortal?
This is the deepest and most industrious aspiration of humans. It has built the most beautiful mysteries and the most subtle philosophies. Does that mean it can change realities? Alas! Nothing in experience corresponds to this. Human wishes are of one order, and realities are of another.
Will it be said that these illusions are beautiful and comforting? That is a matter for discussion. In any case, a religion reduced to pleading for beauty and utility is sick. Christianity is condemned to be true or to perish slowly. For it cannot prevent men from standing up to it and saying: harsh, desolate, cruel, it is the truth we seek. And on it alone, we want to rebuild our moral life, build our society.
Against the revolutionaries who want to go all the way with free inquiry, today’s Christians are reduced to defending their traditions because they are ancient and beautiful. In this, they resemble the last pagans much more than the first Christians.
Do the others, the new men, harbor hatred or contempt for Christianity? Certainly not.
Christianity is of humanity. That is why it is precious to humans. It carries within itself an immense human heritage. It is by studying it in all its aspects, in all its depths, not to seek God but to seek humanity, that we will discover the future destiny of humanity.
The one who passionately examines Christianity not to seek God but to seek humanity is sometimes more full of broad sympathy toward it than the one who strives to believe but feels the burning restraint placed on their intellectual freedom and critical sense everywhere.