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That Eureka Moment

The New York Times Magazine publishes today a collection of vignettes by well known people, recalling a moment of inspiration. There’s Anthony Bourdain talking about what a difference reading what was essentially the first draft of Hunter S. Thompson’s “Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas” made for him — and how HST inspired him later as a negative example (e.g., how not to be famous).

I’d love to hear from you readers recalling your own eureka moments. Many of you are familiar with what I consider my most consequential epiphany: how a happenstance visit to the Chartres Cathedral when I was a teenager completely changed the way I saw the world and its possibilities — but in ways I didn’t fully realize until later in my life. I won’t recount that yet again here. But the Times piece did bring to mind a couple of other lesser moments.

There was that time in college when I was struggling intensely to figure out if God existed, and if so, what He wanted from me. I was in front of the LSU Student Union building one Wednesday for Free Speech Alley, the weekly forum in which anyone could stand on a bench and make a speech to the crowd. There would always be a few obnoxious evangelists in the mix. I doubt they ever made a single convert, but they sure did antagonize the crowd. Like most other people, I laughed at them and rolled my eyes.

One day, a guy from my Introduction to Existentialism class took the bench following an evangelist. He held in his hands his copy of “The Portable Nietzsche,” on the side of which he had written “The Bible.” He said, in a loud voice, “God does not exist — but if He does” — and then he looked heavenward, and made an obscene gesture.

It was powerful theater. Shook me up, at least. It forced this thought: I like the Nietzsche guy, and don’t like the evangelists. They’re morons. But however wide of the mark they may be, if the evangelists are right about the existence of God, Nietzsche Guy has just put his immortal soul in danger of hell.

I realized I had to get this sorted. I knew that some serious Christians of my acquaintance read C.S. Lewis. I went into the campus bookstore the next morning intending to buy something by Lewis. They didn’t have anything, but I did pick up a copy of a small paperback called Kierkegaard’s Philosophy: Self-Deception and Cowardice in the Present Age, by John Douglas Mullen. I had been introduced to Kierkegaard in the Existentialism class, and had been intrigued by his thought. If a man like that could be a Christian, I thought, maybe he can show me how to be a Christian. I mean, maybe there’s a way to be a Christian that’s authentic but not what those evangelists represent. Maybe.

I read the Mullen book and suddenly, my life, and the Christian faith, made sense. The book is not a Christian apologetic, but rather a very accessible account of Kierkegaard’s philosophy, in particular his ideas about how modern people live falsely, and how they can live in truth. I saw myself and my struggles in this book. Somehow, a gloomy 19th century Dane knew me better than I knew myself. I read him, but really, he read me. Nothing like that had ever happened to me.

I remember visiting my parents one weekend, and lying in my bedroom late at night finishing the book. I remember the way the light was in the room, with my reading lamp, when I set the book down, and thought, “I believe in God again. I do.” I turned off the lamp and went to sleep. That night, I dreamed I was flying. And I woke up in a new world.

Give us your moment, or moments, of inspiration, please.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod’s commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written four books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Benedict Option.

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