As Nathan Schneider describes in the introduction to his book, God In Proof, the word “proof” can seem intimidating, unlikely, or even demeaning—especially when put next to the word “God.”
By the end of the book, after following Schneider through a carefully constructed museum of thinkers with windows into his own journey of finding God, the reader finally emerges back into the familiar present, and the word “proof” can be seated comfortably beside “God” in our minds. Maybe not as close friends or siblings, but at least as familiar acquaintances.
Schneider, best known for his behind the lines coverage of the Occupy Wall Street movement that led to his book 2013 Thank You Anarchy, delivers the Bishop Dollard Thursday at Holy Cross House. In God in Proof, the New York-based journalist and writer, likens the genre of proof to Raphael’s School of Athens where thinkers can all gather and converse at once. The New York writer and journalist has constructed their meeting place in God In Proof, letting the reader find his or her place to explore.
The journey begins with ancient thought, touching upon Plato and Aristotle, who greatly influenced many of the proofs that follow. From there, Schneider begins a discussion of the opportunities solitude can give to the human mind for discovery of proofs and spiritual enlightenment as represented by Muslim and early Jewish thinkers. All the while, Schneider pulls the curtains back to allow glimpses into the stages of his own journey as his teenage-self discovers a passion for philosophy and experiences the isolation that can come from introspection and a yearning for spiritual certainty.
Schneider’s probing into the solitary life introduces him to the monastic lifestyle followed by several great Christian thinkers as they discovered their own proofs but also the need to find community in God’s love. In search of certainty, Schneider’s young-self experiments with many religions and eventually finds a touchstone in a Christian monastery and, especially, in his mentor, Brother Benedict. Eventually, Schneider becomes Catholic, channelling his search for certainty into Christianity.
Schneider continues to add bricks to the structure. He explores the proofs and criticisms offered by a variety of European philosophers from Rene Descartes to Ludwig Wittgenstein, Baruch Spinoza to Georg Hegel. He introduces thinkers such as David Hume, Francis Bacon, Isaac Newton, John Locke, and Joseph Butler, the Britons who heralded an era of scientific evidence and technological advancements. Attention is given to scientific minds from Charles Darwin to Stephen Hawking, and the strengthening position of atheism as adopted by minds such as Bertrand Russell as well as the emergence of the new atheists such as Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens.
Once again, Schneider’s experience of solitude is shown through time spent with his uncle while he questions his faith. By this point, Schneider is beginning to open the doors of his structure to let the air of the present enter the reader’s lungs. The interviews now take place in person and the Internet has reared its massive head.
God is still a question to him. This question, however, now has a home in the sturdy walls built around the proof genre’s very own School of Athens as Schneider describes it.
Just as he describes several of his proof-makers as building sound structures out of their proofs, Schneider builds for the reader a sturdy gallery. He brings the vaulted ceilings of the topic down to a more understandable, cozier level while providing windows to supply the light from his own journey toward his own form of proof.
Nathan Schneider’s talk, “What Proofs about God really Prove,” will be held Thursday, March 26 at 5 p.m. in the Holy Cross Conference Room.