Book Review: No One Sees God

No One Sees God: The Dark Night Of Atheism And Believers, by Michael Novak

It is rare, and striking, when a book is written by someone who I have never heard of whose viewpoint is very similar with my own but whose background is somewhat distant. This book was certainly a melancholy read, talking about the dark night of the soul that is faced by all reflective people seeking for God but not finding, longing for certainty but having to deal instead with the indirect proof of providence. Where this book particularly succeeds in its aims as both a dialogue of faith as well as a work of natural theology. This is not a book that is easy to read because of its gloomy honesty, but it is a work of surpassing beauty and intellect.

Lest I get carried away by praise for this most excellent work, I must note that this book is not perfect. The author is a committed Catholic, and this leads to some flaws in his approach and worldview. This would include assumptions of the Trinity as well as the legitimacy of papal authority and human tradition, a too facile tendency towards syncretism between biblical truth and the philosophy of the Greeks and the debased political culture of the Romans. Nevertheless, despite these flaws, this book manages to show the Catholic mindset at its most tolerant and at its most appealing. This is not the Roman Catholicism of tyrannical crushing of disagreeing mindsets, but rather the tolerant British or American Catholicism full of cultured and respectful dialogue with others.

A large part of this book is a critique of the defensiveness of the “new” atheist movement as well as an examination of the mindset and worldview differences between believers and nonbelievers. By examining the “difficult” scriptures of the psalms or Job or the Gospels (among other places), this book shows how all thinking people who are compelled to wrestle with the universe and its absurdity have to live in a world where one must struggle with injustice and randomness because of the freedom that mankind has been given by our Creator, even as we appreciate the transcendent beauty that comes as a result of that same freedom [1]. We cannot appreciate the good without accepting the bad as well. Divine providence is present in both the beauty as well as the tragedy. All things work together for the good, even those things that are horrible and brutal. This book honestly faces that darkness and turns it into beautiful reflection, reflection that is similar to my own thoughts on the matter.

The organization of this book is very intriguing and thoughtful. It begins with a critique of the failings of the most vocal atheists of the contemporary world, which takes up the first two chapters. The next two chapters after that engage in a dialogue about the common darkness with a respectful and friendly atheist. After that there come a few chapters where the author deals with Okham’s razor and blicks (hermeneutical approaches to life), an examination of the repercussions of randomness for the intelligibility of science, the ways that people think about God, and an examination of existence and the existent. The book closes with a couple of chapters on the tangled and contentious meaning of secular for believers and nonbelievers and then looks at the end of the “secularist age” with some thoughtful comments about how thinking people on both sides of our culture wars can engage in thoughtful dialogue, as well as two appendices that include a very fascinating speech as well as some very intriguing dark passages of the Bible (one of which comes from the uninspired apocrypha).

At its core, this is a book about important and serious matters, full of intriguing quotes [2] as well as deep reflections. It is not a book that provides happiness and cheer, but rather a book that provides an encouraging handshake or hug in the dark night of the soul that all of us have to spend at least some time, if we are sensitive and reflective souls. Some of us, indeed, have spent our whole lives in that dark night of the soul, searching for comfort and instead being refined through intense suffering and anguish to become far better people than we could have imagined possible, through far more trouble and torment than we would ever wish on ourselves or anyone else. And yet no matter how long we suffer, some of us still long for the glory that is promised to us by He who cannot lie, but who hides His face from us nonetheless, allowing us only a glimpse, every now and again, of some small aspect of His being and nature as we become more and more like Him from the inside out.

[1] I have explored this particular aspect of freedom in a variety of posts:

[2] See, for example:

“I am no lazy lover
With sweeping grandeurs
of small talk. Words, you discover,
are passing; love endures.” p. i

“Biblical faith demands putting childhood behind, and adolescence, and the busy-ness of young adulthood. It requires an appetite for bravery for going out into unknown territories along to wrestle against inner demons, and a willingness to experience darkness, if darkness comes. Faith is not for those who seek only man-made pleasures.” p. 2

“Two men looked out from prison bars
One saw mud, the other stars.” p. 75

“When the happiness or misery of others depends in any respect on our conduct, we dare not, as self-love might suggest to us, prefer the interest of one to that of many. The man within immediately calls to u, that we value ourselves too much and other people too little, and that, by doing so, we render ourselves the proper object of the contempt and indignation of our brethren.” – Adam Smith p.171-172

“A high intelligence may bring with it much suffering, the more acutely felt because of one’s ability to read every painful one of its nuances. Other people may miss half the unspoken drama and half the hurt. Or, perhaps, not reading too much into the event, they take it with common sense and get closer to the heart of the matter.” p. 221

“Most of what we experience closest to us is composed of transient things–passing, here today, but by no means forever, passing like sand through one’s fingers at the beach, or like pink sands through an hourglass. Passing like comments through the night sky, self-incinerating. Why are atheists not grabbed by the fragility, the passingness of all the bittersweet beauty around them? Why do they not grasp hold of the power and glory of the sheer insight and beauty in all that surrounds them, penetrates them, embraces them?” p. 230

“Who are we? It would be good to know. In that way, even the darkness in which we work out our lives is unitive. Let us be kind to one another.” p. 276

“Consider this alone: since this foul century began, how many terrorized children have spent long nights, uncomprehendingly, in tears? And yet, in this night of a century, a first fundamental lesson was drawn from the bowels of nihilism itself: Truth matters. Even for those unsure whether this is a God, a truth is different from a lie. Torturers can twist your mind, even reduce you to a vegetable, but as long as you retain the ability to say “Yes” or “No” as truth alone commands, they cannot own you.” p. 278

“To obey truth is to be free, and in certain extremities nothing is more clear to the tormented mind, nothing more vital to the survival of self-respect, nothing so important to one’s sense of remaining a worthy human being–of being no one’s cog, part of no one’s machine, and resister to death against the kingdom of lies–nothing is so dear as to hold to truth. In fidelity to truth lies human dignity.” p. 279

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About Nathan Albright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in Bible, Book Reviews, Christianity and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Book Review: No One Sees God

  1. J.Richard Crant says:

    Nathan B Albright. I’m sad now, you made me cry, don’t do that again please.

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