Dear Donagh,

…. We’re having a difficult time with our son who is in college doing engineering.  He’s not really a problem, but he thinks we have a problem! He’s dead set against religion in every shape and form and he never stops bringing it up and arguing about it.  It seems to be an obsession with him.  He says no intelligent person could believe in God or be a Catholic.  It is especially this that annoys my husband who hates being branded as stupid, and they have a lot of fiery arguments.  [Our son] is very intelligent, but so is my husband in a different way.  I'm frightened that these arguments could make them hate each other and affect them for life.  Have you any advice for me?  Emily

Dear Emily,

Yes, few people are so intensely engaged with God as a crusading atheist.  The German writer Heinrich Böll once said, “I don't like these atheists. They are always talking about God.”  Try that thought on your son and see if it gives you some breathing space in the house.  

You used a very interesting phrase to describe your husband: “intelligent in a different way.”  This is a phrase to stay with.  We normally think of intelligence as a uniform quality: someone is thought to be either intelligent right through or stupid right through.  IQ tests strengthen this notion, claiming to be able to quantify intelligence in exact figures.  This satisfies our Western obsession with numbers and with measuring everything.  We are given the impression that the whole human race can be graded precisely for their intelligence.   People who get a high score are allowed to be members of Mensa, where they can sit around admiring one another – or perhaps competing, because numbers never come to an end.  All this is surely nonsense.  There are different kinds of intelligence within each person; and someone who scores highly in an IQ test may be quite obtuse in other ways.  Your husband may be far more intelligent than your son in some other and more important ways. 

There was once a young man who went to university.  When he returned for his first semester break he tried to dazzle his parents with his knowledge. He pointed to the fruit bowl on the table, which contained two apples, and said, “I can prove by mathematics that there are three apples here.” He picked up an apple from the bowl and said, “How many is this?”  “One,” they replied.  Then he picked up a second apple and said, “How many now?”  “Two,” they said.  “Correct,” he said.  “Now, 1 + 2 = 3.”  “Our son is a genius,” said his mother, winking at her husband.  “Very clever indeed,” said the father, “Now I will eat one apple, your mother will eat the second, and you can eat the third.” 

A professor of mathematics or philosophy may be quite helpless with a computer; a gifted poet may have no gift for philosophy or maths – or for computers; an ordinary person of no great education may be able to run rings around them all when it comes to practical living.  I wish they would forget about grading human beings according to one uniform measurement.  Why don’t you remind your son that you could beat him flat any day in feminine intuition?  He needs to be reminded daily that there are more things in the world than are dreamed of in his engineering. 

If it helps, you could refer him to a couple of questions on atheism that were addressed to this section of the website in 2013. 

Best of luck, Emily.


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