Some months after his passing, someone gets the better of Stephen Hawking in an “epic” tweet. This two-year-old summary appeared on one of my social media feeds today, and I had to wonder how smart or effective a tack this might be.
If one considers Professor Hawking an enemy of the faith, winning a one-sided war of words with a dead man is some kind of victory. The ChurchPOP site and the bishop’s twitter feed suggest a lot of cheering. But count me a skeptic on the converts to the faith it might have inspired. The English physicist is very far indeed from being the greatest threat to the faith.
On one level, in political-speak, this is known as playing to the base. In theological terms, it means huddling up with the ninety-nine and letting the lost one wander about in the wilderness or purgatory or somewhere.
Winning arguments appears to be the chief goal of the apologetics crowd. I believe Jesus had us set our sights on higher aspirations. Many effective evangelizers appeal to wonder, glory, and attraction. In his life, Professor Hawking had more than a career in science. But that career contributed to a pop culture appeal grounded in his struggle against a crippling medical condition.
I am sure that a living physicist would more than hold his own in a competitive discussion with a churchman. But that misses the point of what the Church is about.
The true inroad with (not into) an avowed agnostic/atheist is accompaniment. The onus is not on a social media-savvy prelate, but scientists, students, and other academics who share the day-to-day experience in exploring the cosmos. Lay people. Like me and most of my readers.
This is the place where women and men of faith dialogue at moments of wonder, when human beings are on the threshold of discovery. When life’s meaning is in doubt when moments of pain and sorrow surface. True friends would know when skepticism is rooted in experiences of alienation from God, from other believers, or from a single-minded focus on reason or some other indulgence.
Plus, I think you need to find living people.
Do you suppose Bishop McCaig convinced any scientists, any atheists, any fence-sitters? ‘Cause that’s the big picture here.