Not God’s Type: An Atheist Academic Lays Down Her Arms
Remember the fish wars from the 1990s? Some snarky materialist took the old Icthus symbol (the outline of a fish, which was, if you’re still drawing a blank, an ancient sign for Christians) gave it legs and put the word “Darwin” on the inside. The riposte to that was given with another Icthus with the word “Truth” inside it as it was devouring the Darwin fish.
Those days of clever, perhaps even slightly friendly jabs seem over. If one reads the comboxes of atheist sites on the internet, one quickly gets the impression that atheists are the brightest and best on the planet simply by virtue of their disbelief in a deity or religious systems. The vitriol and arrogance is virtually palpable on the computer monitor.
Of course, the Body of Christ gives herself a black eye when the “arguments” mustered by some are simply assertions along the lines of “My God is REAL!” and then ended with “You’re going to burn in HELL!!!” or when the phrase “May God have mercy on your soul” is thrown as an epithet over the wall.
Not God’s Type is a conversion biography, the kind which has been with us since St. Augustine’s Confessions back in the 4th Century. More recently Holly Ordway, a professor of Literature, charts her journey from atheism to theism, and from there to the Anglo-Catholic church and finally to rest in the Roman rite.
Ordway spends some time laying out a warning for would-be apologists who seem to think that one can be argued into the Kingdom. As a former pastor of mine remarked, if arguments get you into the Kingdom, you can be argued out of it as well. There needs to be more in our approach to winning converts and forming disciples.
“My problem could not be solved by hearing a preacher assert that Jesus loved me and wanted to save me. I didn’t believe in God to begin with…” she lets us know early on.
Ordway spends a few pages on her early years, noting that she lived a “nonreligious childhood,” but growing up in America when she did her family celebrated Christmas and Easter—all the form, but without the content. This reader would have liked to see a bit more explication of that time. Were her family nonreligious by conscious effort or was it more out of a sense of incuriousness about the world?
Her parents did, however, supply the young girl with plenty of books; books of all kinds that have shaped children (and some adults) for generations. This would provide the baptism for her imagination that would soften her later for the Gospel.
“Long before I gave any thought about whether Christianity was true, and long before I considered questions of faith and practice, my imagination was being fed Christianly. I delighted in the stories of King Arthur’s knights and the quest for the Holy Grail, without knowing that the Grail was the cup from the Last Supper. I had no idea that the Chronicles of Narnia had anything to do with Jesus, but images from the stories stuck with me, as bright and vivid in my memory as if I had caught sight of a real landscape, had a real encounter, with more significance that I could quite grasp.”
At seventeen, Ordway joined a college fencing team, which would prove to be a critical choice for her years later. It was during college, however, when her latent atheism “blossomed” into a strident anti-Christian worldview.
It was surprising, given her literature studies that she didn’t fall down the literary theory hole of post-structuralism and deconstructionism. “If I had been consistent, I would have embraced the theories of literary criticism that treated stories and poems as language games with no meaning outside the text, or that pronounced language itself to be self-contradictory and meaningless, but I didn’t; one of the reasons I wrote my doctoral dissertation on the little-regarded genre of fantasy was that I wanted to avoid that kind of literary theory and stick to a more traditional, meaning-based interpretation of the books. Even though in doing so I was contradicting the principles that undergirded my atheism, I treated art, music, and literature as if they had real meaning.”
In fact, the poems of Jesuit priest Gerard Manley Hopkins sowed the seeds of belief for her like no other writer.
So, in getting to the meat of the book, her conversion, we are told the tale of her joining a fencing club after she had moved to San Diego to teach. Her coach, Josh, was instrumental in changing the way she approached belief, Christianity, and Christians. Previously, she had found them rude, stupid, and insincere. “But Josh wasn’t trying to sell me on anything. He was simply being my coach, the best fencing coach I ever had. He cared about me, not as a potential convert, bus as me, a unique individual, and he always, always treated me with respect…..I didn’t respect Christians. I respected Josh and Heidi [NB: the coach’s wife]…who were Christians.”
You already know from the outset that Ordway follows Jesus, but she goes into great detail with the months she spent metaphorically fencing with Josh over questions of belief. I found her reconstructed conversations to carry most of the interest in the book and I wanted more of them.
Ordway’s style is very accessible as she doesn’t write like an academic at all. The chapters are short and the whole book could be probably finished in a sitting or two. As previously mentioned, I think the book could have been strengthened with more material. This edition is 184 pages another 16 or so probably would have fleshed out some more details to give the reader even more to enjoy.
While anyone can enjoy this story, I think it might be helpful to give to that rather aggressive friend you have who seems to enjoy clashing with unbelievers more than actually treating them as persons. You know, the one with the “Truth” Icthus still on the car (probably with a piece or two chipped off at this point). There is a definite place for sound arguments defending the faith, but without love, friendship, and perhaps a baptized imagination already in place, the words are more likely to be taking as a sounding gong than anything else.