Going for a Walk with Universals

by Ryan Bradley

The green in that tree. “2” in that sign. Angels and demons.

The blue-gray of the sky today. “S,” “T,” “O,” “P” and red. My soul.

Black in the asphalt. God.

As I walked through the neighborhood where I grew up on that brisk December afternoon, the collective revelations of my first semester studying philosophy began to emerge. There’s a saying that many Christians are “practical atheists” They believe in God, but that belief has little effect either on their actions or on their other beliefs.

I was not a practical atheist. I was, however, a practical materialist. I believed in God, and I believed that God was not physical. He might as well have been alone in that distinction, though. I believed there was something called a “soul” in people, although I had no idea what it was, and it didn’t seem very important. If someone asked about angels and demons, I would have affirmed their existence too. I would have affirmed them with the same embarrassment that accompanied reminders of my pre-teen infatuation with Frank Perretti novels and third-hand stories of missionaries casting out demons in remote lands. Angels and demons are in the Bible, but (based on how much I heard taught about them) they were not important, and taking an interest in them seemed naïve and childish.

Everything was physical, except for these few exceptions.  The “world” I lived in was a  a naturalistic world with a handful of bizarre supernatural outliers. Of these exceptions, God was the only one that mattered. Yet even He was, if not limited, at least unlikely to be active in the world. After all, every action by God was a breaking, not only of the laws of science, but the very nature of the universe as a physical place. Surely miracles happen, prayers get answered, and God does make a difference this side of heaven. However, any examples you would have presented me would have been met with a strong and chilly skepticism.

I was only vaguely aware of the strength of this skepticism or of its roots, which were fueled less by intellectual conviction than by a longing to be a “sophisticated” Christian, respected for not being like those fundamentalists…

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