Christianity and atheism are frequently perceived to be polar opposites.
It makes sense, intuitively, to see them in this way: One denies the existence of a God, the other affirms it, and so they appear are as distinct as black and white.
Not everybody, however, agrees with this polarization.
Tomáš Halík, the Czech intellectual who last week won the Templeton Prize for religious and spiritual progress, suggests that atheism and Christianity may better be understood as points along a continuum.
What separates one from the other? According to Halík "patience is... the main difference between faith and atheism".
He writes, in his acclaimed book Patience With God, that:
"I agree with atheists on many things, often on almost everything— except their belief that God doesn't exist. In today's bustling marketplace of religious wares of every kind, I sometimes feel closer with my Christian faith to the skeptics or to the atheist or agnostic critics of religion. With certain kinds of atheists I share a sense of God's absence from the world. However, I regard their interpretation of this feeling as too hasty, as an expression of impatience."
God, he says, can sometimes seem absent. He certainly is not always obvious to us. But just because he is not immediately obvious doesn't mean he is not real, available or knowable.
Halík suggests that we lay aside our impulse to dismiss God on the grounds that his reality is not always instantaneously or easily graspable.
With a little patience maybe we will discover that first (and even subsequent) impressions can be wrong.
For the atheist - and for those seeking to introduce atheists to the experience of God - the cultivation of patience may be one of the keys to addressing some of the biggest questions about life and reality.