Seven of the Many Reasons I Am Not An Atheist
Sometimes I think I'd make a pretty great atheist. I know all the arguments against God. I get all the reasons people don't believe. Some of the best novels I've read are by atheists. But... I'm not convinced. I have lots of reasons. Some are intellectual. Some are more emotive. I don't have time or space to share them all, but here are seven reasons I don't believe in unbelief.
1. I wouldn't be able to intellectually defend my moral commitments.
I believe that all people have innate worth and dignity. As a Christian, I believe this as a fact rather than an opinion. In creation, God wove worth and dignity into what it means to be human - "created in God's image." If I were an atheist, I would have to admit that any talk about human rights would be based on my opinion rather than objective reality. Everything is fine when the majority has the same opinion about human rights. But what argument can we make for such things when opinions shift and the majority deems a targeted minority as unworthy of rights? I can't read Dawkins' The Selfish Gene and arrive at human dignity. Instead, I'm faced with moral contradictions that don't square well with what I hold dearest. Altruism seems obtuse in a world where humanity is the blind product of a merciless nature that is "red in tooth and claw." There's plenty of moral arguments made by atheists, and plenty of moral atheists, but I feel like I'd lack intellectual integrity by holding onto moral commitments that don't pair well with reality.
2. My problems with the world would just be opinions.
I can't scroll through Facebook or Twitter more than a few moments before I'm met with a host of sad realities and broken stories. Tragedy after tragedy... Without God, I would have to admit that when I look at the world and see injustice, in the end this just my opinion. All the pain and unfairness in the world is ultimately in reference to nothing. When the child dies from sarin gas in Syria, or the gunman goes on yet another rampage, the finality of death allows injustice to have the last word. In the end nothing will be put to rights - there will just be silence. Nothingness. Moral outrage abounds in America right now. If there is no God, then it's all just opinions - desperate cries that no one hears. But if God exists, justice will have it's day, and pain will not have the final word.
3. Sunsets (and other beautiful stuff).
Sometimes in late Spring my running route takes me along historic Old Main Street in South Windsor. At just the right moment, the setting sun gently glows over the trees and colonial homes, casting a gentle warmth over the tobacco fields. I feel surrounded by transcendent beauty. Alongside the wonder, I also experience an odd feeling of sadness. Beauty is fleeting. I am transient and momentary. The beauty is deeper than I am. It invites me to comprehend it, but I don't feel equal or eternal enough for the task. Sometimes I feel this way about my wife, my children, or a song I've heard so many times that I know every note. I sit in the empty sanctuary of my church and rest in stillness and awe as I look at the cross and stained glass windows replete with the symbols of my salvation. It's all beauty - and in its presence atheism is an unwelcome guest - a worldview that doesn't grant me the capacity for wonder, awe, and gratitude. To think that accidental creatures in an accidental universe pause to gaze with wonder for a few moments in the struggle to survive and pass on genes...
4. My problem with meaninglessness would be meaningless.
If we live in a universe without transcendent meaning, why do we hunger for it?
C.S. Lewis put it this way:
If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning: just as, if there were no light in the universe and therefore no creatures with eyes, we should never know it was dark. Dark would be a word without meaning.
I've always found naturalistic explanations for religion kind of like old myths about why elephants have large ears. I just don't buy it - the whole idea that religion developed as an adaption to help our ancestors survive in a cruel world with inexplicable natural phenomena. Our instincts for food, sex, and sleep all exist in relationship to something real. I find it hard to believe that humanity is incurablly religious in relationship to nothing. If religion really is more like a phantom limb, then what a sad lot we all are! And yet, even in the absence of religion, we still hunger for meaning. I really do feel for the poor existentialist who, having stood at the edge of cold, dark nihilism, has had to do the hard work of creating her own meaning in a meaningless world. Poor Sisyphus - pushing the boulder up the hill, only to bear the burden again. I, on the other hand, am persuaded that our longing for meaning is a puzzle piece that fits into something meaningful.
5. I think atheism is boring.
I'm not saying this as a slight. No one can listen to the late Christopher Hitchens and call the man boring! I'm just being honest - nothing about atheism excites me. I know that some people look at the absence of God as exhilarating. Plenty of people see unbelief as an opportunity to throw off what they perceive as puritanical prohibitions. I'm not sure if the guys in MGMT are atheists or not, but one of their verses sums up what some feel about the absence of God:
This is our decision to live fast and die young.
We've got the vision, now let's have some fun.
Others embrace atheism with a more tempered, even-keeled kind of hedonism - perhaps even a resigned stoicism in the face of cold reality. All of these options seem dull to me.
I find it all boring for the same reason we love a great story. The Christian story is an exhilarating narrative that is going somewhere. There is a rhyme, a reason, a destination. I feel the same way about atheism that I do about my old DVD player. The story abruptly stops and I can't get the thing to turn back on.
I find it inconceivable that inanimate matter gradually developed the ability to ponder itself. I puzzle over the atheist view of consciousness for the same reason I puzzle over pantheism. If God is the universe and the universe is God, then what in the world is God? The word makes no sense. Likewise, if matter is all that exists, and matter is able to perceive itself, then what's the difference between the matter and its own self-perception? I know this is getting deep, but bear with me...
And to think that atoms and molecules spend so much futile effort trying to figure themselves out! Can actual reality even exist in such a schema? (It seems like atheist philosopher Thomas Nagel is doubtful has his doubts). If homo sapien brains all of a sudden ceased to exist, would the universe no longer be rationally perceived by anyone? (Assuming we're the only intelligent life in existence). How does anything exist apart from being perceived? If God is, then the universe is perceived even apart from our perception.
I'm not ending this blog with a simple Sunday school answer. I'm ending it with the very grounds for my belief that love exists. What we call love is often a fancy form of self preservation. "When they swear their love is real, they mean 'I like the way you make me feel.'" But the life of Jesus is perfect love - love that gives to the point of pain, and then some. It's love that does not set its affection on what is worthy, but rather finds and loves what is unworthy and ugly on the basis of unearned grace. I do not believe in Jesus because I already believed in a love that he happened to perfectly fulfilled in his person. No, I believe in love because in Jesus "this is how we know what love is - Jesus Christ laid down his life for us" (1 John 3:16). Apart from Christ, love is open to the ruthless deconstruction of postmodern critics and scientific theories. The cross, however, beams with love that cannot be easily explained. In our effort to deconstruct it according to human power and wisdom, it in turn deconstructs us. The love of Christ is why I believe love is an actual thing, and that love has gripped me in such a way that I cannot ignore it. If it did not exist, my only other option would be atheism. In other words, apart from Christ, the word God has no meaning for me.
Pastor John Rasmussen - Our Savior Lutheran Church - South Windsor, CT