Welcoming a former infidel

Welcoming a former infidel November 16, 2023


A scene along the James River, in or near Richmond
The James River (think of historic Jamestown, downstream) runs through Richmond, Virginia. We crossed the James twice today. When we do so with our granddaughter, it’s customary to say “Hi, James!” and “Bye, James!”
(Wikimedia Commons public domain image)


These new items have gone up on the website of the Interpreter Foundation:

Not By Bread Alone: “A Place of Peace in War-Torn Goma”: Blog Post #2

For more information on the “Not by Bread Alone: Stories of the Saints in Africa” series, go to https://notbybreadalonefilm.com/en/
For more information in French, go to https://notbybreadalonefilm.com/fr/
To see all of our posts about The Church in Africa, go to https://interpreterfoundation.org/category/africa/

Conference Talks: Prayer with Uplifted Hands, presented by Stephen D. Ricks

The religious ceremony of prayer with uplifted hands, practiced in Christian denominations contemporary with the organization of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, has an extremely ancient and venerable history that goes back thousands of years and is attested in ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, and Israel as well as in ancient Judaism and earliest Christianity.

This presentation was given on Saturday, 7 November 2020, at the Interpreter Foundation’s 2020 Temple on Mount Zion Conference.

The Temple: Ancient and Restored: “Joseph Smith and the Architecture of Genesis,” written by David M. Calabro

Part of our book chapter reprint series, this article originally appeared in The Temple: Ancient and Restored, Proceedings of the Second Interpreter Matthew B. Brown Memorial Conference “The Temple on Mount Zion,” 25 October 2014 (2016) edited by Stephen D. Ricks and Donald W. Parry. For more information, go to https://interpreterfoundation.org/books/the-temple-ancient-and-restored/.


Two cannons near Richmond
Cannons at Malvern Hill, Richmond National Battlefield
(Wikimedia Commons public domain photo)


We engaged in two principal activities today.  First, we spent several hours at the American Civil War Museum, in Richmond.  The displays in the museum are very well done, and very informative.  Then, after returning home, we went, on foot and by scooter, to a local park, where (I’m proud to say) one of my descendants proved to be by far the most energetic and agile chimpanzee within visible distance.


Ayaan Hirsi Ali, an official photo
Ayaan Hirsi Ali, from her website


Ayaan Hirsi Ali is a remarkable person, with a remarkable story.  And her story has now become even more remarkable:  “Why I am now a Christian: Atheism can’t equip us for civilisational war”

Her conversion from atheism to Christianity leads Ross Douthat of the New York Times to an interesting reflective piece:  “Where Does Religion Come From?”

I’ve had only one direct encounter with Ms. Ali besides reading her books — most notable among them probably her 2008 bestseller, Infidel.  That encounter occurred in Rapid City, South Dakota, of all places, when the massive annual libertarian gathering known as FreedomFest was held there in August 2021.  I chaired a lecture session at FreedomFest 2021, moderated a debate between a Catholic theist and a former-Catholic atheist, and chaired a session of the Anthem Film Festival, which is always a component part of the gathering.  But the high point for me in 2021’s FreedomFest was another panel that I moderated.  I take the following from an August 2021 blog post reporting on my involvement there:

On Friday, I moderated a panel with Ayaan Hirsi Ali and a pair of libertarians.  The topic was whether the American war on “Islamic fundamentalism” can be justified.  The two libertarians, of course, argued that American imperialism provoked 9-11 and other attacks against Americans and American interests, and that we should essentially exit the Islamic world and leave Muslims alone.  Ms. Ali contended, by contrast, that America is inescapably and irreplaceably the unique world power, and that the world would be a much worse place if we were to relinquish that role to, say, the People’s Republic of China.

Here, let me pause to say a word about Ms. Ali herself.  Born in Somalia, she became not only a self-proclaimed “infidel” atheist but, amazingly, a member of the parliament of the Netherlands.  And now (after the assassination of the Dutch politician Pim Fortuyn and of her Dutch filmmaker associate Theo van Gogh), she is  a citizen of the United States as well as a quite visible activist.  I had never met her before, but, candidly, I expected something of a firebrand.  Bright and articulate, yes, but fierce and perhaps a bit unpleasant.  Instead, to my surprise, I found her in our conversation before the session and in the panel itself to be soft-spoken, humorous, kindly, even – if I dare say it – cute.  She was also distinctly pro-American, which I had not anticipated.  She came across, really, as a political conservative.  (Which shouldn’t actally have surprised me so much:  She is, after all, affiliated with Stanford University’s magnificent Hoover Institution — where I myself spent two memorable weeks as a late teenager, not too long before my mission — and is married to Niall Ferguson.)

I tried to maintain my position as a moderator of the panel, rather than as a mere participant.  But I think I made it pretty clear that I could not fully accept the libertarian critique of American foreign policy.  That is, in fact, one of the major reasons (though not the only one) that I can’t simply describe myself as a libertarian pur sang or sign on with the Libertarian Party.  (Everybody in attendance was, so far as I could tell, opposed to COVID lockdowns.  Nobody wore a mask and there were continual expressions of indignation against vaccination.  Which left me wondering just exactly what these folks thought ought to be done to protect public health during a pandemic.  If they had their way, would those of us who survived small pox have all died of polio?  And when, occasionally, I heard enthusiastic paeans to the free market for “sex workers” and even a denunciation of the statist interventionist Abraham Lincoln, I thought to myself “No, these aren’t entirely my people.”

I liked her a lot, and I’m absolutely delighted at the news that Ayaan Hirsi Ali has now become a Christian.

I was considerably less pleased with the baggage delivery at Richmond International Airport last night.  It took just slightly more than an hour after we had landed for our luggage to arrive at the baggage carousel.  I’ve been told that Richmond has developed a reputation for slow baggage handling.  But an hour?  The flight from Chicago Midway was only an hour and fifty minutes.


Posted from Richmond, Virginia



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