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Atheist travellers’ questions can be ‘clarifying’

Richard Leonard SJ; Paulist Press; $26.99

Reviewed by Br Brian Grenier CFC

Leader scan (Leonard)[2]RICHARD Leonard, a Sydney-based Queensland-born Jesuit who has a doctorate in cinema studies, is well known to an expanding and appreciative readership for his earlier works – Where the Hell is God?, Why Bother Praying? and What Are We Waiting For?

In-flight conversations with fellow travellers have prompted him to add to that list the book under review.

Its three chapters are entitled “Belief and Unbelief”, “Questions of Faith” and “Witnesses of Faith, Hope and Love”.

Admitting that “dialogue with atheists can be clarifying”, he begins by casting a critical eye over some of the issues highlighted in recent years by prominent authors aggressively proselytising in the name of unbelief.

In this introductory chapter he writes clearly and cogently about such matters as religion and science, religious experience, the image of God and the different ways of knowing.

Fr Leonard assures us that faith is not certainty. “Doubts and questions are essential elements of contemporary religious faith.”

Consequently, in preparation for his second chapter, he wrote to 30 young adult friends – believers and non-believers alike – asking them to identify “the questions they most have or receive about the reasons for and against religious faith”.

With the well-honed skills of a good communicator, he responds respectfully and with considerable insight to the questions these correspondents raised.

His responses bring to this reviewer’s mind St Peter’s advice: “Always be ready to make your defence to anyone who demands from you an account of the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and reverence”. (1 Peter 3:15-16)

Chapter 3 profiles saintly men and women whose lives witness to authentic Christian faith, hope and love, among them: St Ignatius Loyola, Dorothy Day, Oscar Romero, the author’s family, Pope Francis, and the martyred Trappist monks of Algeria.

We are thereby reminded that faith is something active and cannot be limited to creedal professions.

I have no hesitation in recommending Fr Leonard’s new book to all readers of The Catholic Leader who, I am sure, will find it enlightening and, in popular parlance, a “good read”.

It would make a suitable gift to family and friends.

Those among them who are grappling with faith-related issues will find it helpful and reassuring.

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