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“I painted to be loved.” That is how the artist Francis Bacon (1909–1992) described his impulse to create. Bacon’s work came to be part of the canon of late twentieth-century British painting, hanging in major museums around the world. His brutal images of contorted bodies, slabs of meat, and screaming popes, with their washed-out colors flowing away like diluted bodily fluids, are often linked to the nihilism of an atheistic, postindustrial existence. All this, Bacon said, from a desire to be loved.

That Bacon was an atheist is beyond doubt. Christians often dislike atheists: dismiss them, rail against them, fear them. But not all atheists are alike. Not all are enemies of faith.

Some bear witness to an unquenchable desire within, in which grace abounds. They know what is good but cannot grasp it.

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