In the spring of 1962, Flannery O’Connor gave a talk to an English class at Emory University in Atlanta. One of her listeners was a young poet much taken by what she had to say. Too shy to go up after the address, Alfred Com wrote O’Connor, and received the following, edited reply.

I don’t know how the kind of faith required of a Christian living in the twentieth century can be if it is not grounded on this experience that you are having right now of unbelief. This may be the case always and not just in the twentieth century. Peter said, “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.” It is the most natural and most human and most agonizing prayer in the Gospels, and I think it is the foundation prayer of faith.

As a freshman in college you are bombarded with new ideas, or rather pieces of ideas, new frames of reference, an activation of the intellectual life which is only beginning, but which is already running ahead of your lived experience. After a year of this, you think you cannot believe. You are just beginning to realize how difficult it is to have faith and the measure of a commitment to it, but you are too young to decide you don’t have faith just because you feel you can’t believe.…

The intellectual difficulties have to be met, however, and you will be meeting them for the rest of your life. When you get a reasonable hold on one, another will come to take its place. At one time, the clash of the different world religions was a difficulty for me. Where you have absolute solutions, however, you have no need of faith. Faith is what you have in the absence of knowledge. The reason this clash doesn’t bother me any longer is because I have got, over the years, a sense of the immense ...

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