Kissinger Eulogizes William F. Buckley and Comments on Knowledge and Faith

Anthony Ramirez of The New York Times published an article on April 5 describing the funeral service at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York for William F. Buckley, who died on February 27th at age 82. One of the most influential American political conservatives of his generation, Buckley is widely respected for his powerful intellect. The founder of The National Review, he is recognized for the central role he played in shaping the blend of anti-communism and libertarian economics that became the core american political ideology of President Ronald Reagan.

Speaking at the funeral service, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger made emotional comments about how Buckley had come to reconcile the gap between objective knowledge and religious faith:

‘Over a decade ago,” he [Kissinger] said, clearing his throat, ”Bill and I discussed the relationship of knowledge to faith. I surmised it required a special act of divine grace to make the leap from the intellectual to the spiritual. In a note, Bill demurred. No special epiphany was involved, he argued. There could be a spiritual and intellectual drift until, one day, the eyes opened and happiness followed ever after. Bill noted that he had seen that culmination in friends. He did not claim it for himself.”

I was struck by these comments, both because of the speaker and the context. Secretary Kissinger, himself a man of powerful intellect and a German Jew whose parents fled the Holocaust, has clearly considered deep questions of God and religion and was touched by the loss of a long-time friend. It is interesting to me that he focuses on the notion that, for individuals who are intellectuals and very data driven, perhaps an epiphany or revelation of some kind is necessary to bridge the gap between faith in the existence of God and knowledge of objective reality.

As I think of this perennial debate, the oft-repeated motto of the New New Atheists comes to mind– “I don’t need to believe in God to have a moral conscience.” The atheists, in my view, totally miss the irony of their own assertion. That little voice in your head that tells you the difference between right and wrong is evidence of a little bit of God that’s inside every one of us. No epiphany required. Henry_kissinger_2

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