Victories -- and Defeats
The dictator, the maple trees, Notre Dame, the pope, and the atheist.


Since both the light of reason and the light of faith emanate from the same Source, the intelligent Creator of all things and would-be Friend of His conscious creatures, they cannot in principle contradict one another. If they appear to do so, either those using reason or those using faith are making mistakes, and need to go back to see where the errors arose. This very check-and-balance — this creative rivalry — sparks a remarkable thrust forward at the heart of our culture.

Hope, an overriding confidence in betterment (personal and communal), is a powerful driving force. Even many who claim to be atheists retain at least this gift from the infusion of Judaism and Christianity into the heart of our culture.

Benedict praises atheists for many of their intentions and achievements. He points to experiences the human race has endured in our time to call attention to the inadequacies of atheism. He proposes what billions have found a more promising path.

Those of us who hoped for the election of Cardinal Ratzinger to the papacy, and predicted it early in the conclave, now have in this encyclical on Hope, and his earlier letter on Caritas, more than enough to fulfill our high expectations. Both “letters to the world” confront central crises of our time, for whose solution nihilism, relativism, and atheism provide far too little help.

On the subject of victory and defeat, bleakness versus hope, here is my favorite story from Peanuts: Charlie Brown is swinging the bat — strike one, strike two, strike three. Lucy tries to comfort him: “That’s all right, Charlie Brown. You win some, you lose some.”

Charlie Brown thinks it over. “That would be wonderful!”

Michael Novak is the winner of the 1994 Templeton Prize for progress in religion and the George Frederick Jewett Scholar in Religion, Philosophy, and Public Policy at the American Enterprise Institute. Novak’s own website is