I have already said that everything goes wrong without God. This is true even of the good things He’s given us, such as our minds. One of the good things I’ve been given is a stronger than average mind. I don’t make the observation to boast; human beings are given diverse gifts to serve Him in diverse ways. The problem is that a strong mind that refuses the call to serve God has its own way of going wrong. When some people flee from God they rob and kill. When others flee from God they do a lot of drugs and have a lot of sex. When I fled from God I didn’t do any of those things; my way of fleeing was to get stupid. Though it always comes as a surprise to intellectuals, there are some forms of stupidity that one must be highly intelligent and educated to commit. God keeps them in his arsenal to pull down mulish pride, and I discovered them all…. You cannot imagine what a person has to do to himself–well, if you are like I was, maybe you can–what a person has to do to himself to go on believing such nonsense. St. Paul said that the knowledge of God’s law is “written on our hearts, our consciences also bearing witness.” The way natural law thinkers put this is to say that they constitute the deep structure of our minds. That means that so long as we have minds, we can’t not know them. Well, I was unusually determined not to know them; therefore I had to destroy my mind. I resisted the temptation to believe in good with as much energy as some saints resist the temptation to neglect good. For instance, I loved my wife and children, but I was determined to regard this love as merely a subjective preference with no real and objective value. Think what this did to my very capacity to love them. After all, love is a commitment of the will to the true good of another person, and how can one’s will be committed to the true good of another person if he denies the reality of good, denies the reality of persons, and denies that his commitments are in his control?
How then did God bring me back? I came, over time, to feel a greater and greater horror about myself. Not exactly a feeling of guilt, not exactly a feeling of shame, just horror: an overpowering sense that my condition was terribly wrong. Finally it occurred to me to wonder why, if there were no difference between the wonderful and the horrible, I should feel horror. In letting that thought through, my mental censors blundered. You see, in order to take the sense of horror seriously–and by now I couldn’t help doing so–I had to admit that there was a difference between the wonderful and the horrible after all. For once my philosophical training did me some good, because I knew that if there existed a horrible, there had to exist a wonderful of which the horrible was the absence. So my walls of self-deception collapsed all at once.
At this point I became aware again of the Savior whom I had deserted in my twenties. Astonishingly, though I had abandoned Him, he had never abandoned me. I now believe He was just in time. There is a point of no return, and I was almost there… .
The next few years after my conversion were like being in a dark attic where I had been for a long time, but in which shutter after shutter was being thrown back so that great shafts of light began to stream in and illuminate the dusty corners. I recovered whole memories, whole feelings, whole ways of understanding that I had blocked out… .
… My own contribution to the theory of natural law is a little different than those of some other writers. One might say that I specialize in understanding the ways that we pretend we don’t know what we really do–the ways we suppress our knowledge, the ways we hold it down, the ways we deceive ourselves and others. I do not try to “prove” the natural law as though one could prove that by which all else is proven; I do try to show that in order to get anywhere at all, the philosophies of denial must always at some point assume the very first principles they deny.
It is a matter of awe to me that God has permitted me to make any contribution at all. His promise is that if only the rebel turns to Jesus Christ in repentant faith, giving up claims of self-ownership and allowing this Christ the run of the house, He will redeem everything there is in it. Just so, it was through my rescue from self-deception that I learned about self-deception. He has redeemed even my nihilist past and put it to use.
Many of my students tell me they struggle with the same dark influences that I once did. I hope that by telling the story of my own escape I may encourage them to seek the light.
The atheist is many times a wonderfully talented intellectual. I enjoy seeing the mind of an atheist at work. But, Dr. Budziszewski’s point is well-taken. Humans have the basics to understand right from wrong. But we don’t want it to be true. We play dumb to what we know to be obvious. We pretend to search for truth, to convince others that we are honest in the inquiry, but our hearts have already made up it’s mind, and even if the truth was in front of our nose, we would pretend not to see it. “Let’s play dumb.”