“I have left behind illusion,” I said to myself. “Henceforth I live in a world of three dimensions – with the aid of my five senses.”
I have since learned that there is no such world; but then, as the car turned out of sight of the house, I thought it took no finding, but lay all about me at the end of the avenue.
Charles Ryder’s words, as he turns his back on the enchanted world of Brideshead, are symbolic of the world’s disillusionment with religion. The very name of “Brideshead” resonates with its function in the story as a cipher for Christ and His Church. Christ is the “head” of the Church, His Bride. Ryder’s leaving of Brideshead for what he thinks is the last time is an escape from the illusion of religion and a going forth into the real world of three dimensions, which is experienced with the aid of his five senses. Can there be a more succinct definition of the creed of the atheist? “I believe in a world of three dimensions–with the aid of my five senses.” And yet, as the older, wiser Ryder had learned, there is no such world. For the mature Ryder, the narrator of the novel, who has recently embraced Catholicism, it is atheism and not Christianity which is the illusion.
Ryder is right but his rectitude is not self-evident. If one believes that the world is nothing but three dimensions, experienced with the aid of our five senses, the creed of Christianity is arrant and errant nonsense. Take, for instance, the Christian’s belief in the Trinity. Isn’t it absurd to claim that God is both three and one? Indeed, isn’t it absurd to claim that anything is both three and one? Don’t the atheists have a point? Isn’t the Trinity a defiance of all logic? Isn’t it utterly irrational?
As the Christian’s face frowns in consternation in response to these awkward questions, one senses a glib smile or supercilious sneer spread across the triumphalist countenance of the atheist. And yet the atheist seems ignorant of his own belief in a trinity. He believes in “three dimensions”. It takes three dimensions to make space. The cosmos is a trinity! The atheist is a trinitarian. His belief in the three dimensions necessary for the unity, i.e. oneness, of matter necessitates his acceptance of a natural trinity as mystical and mysterious as any supernatural trinity.
Having discovered the trinitarian dimension of space, what about time? The atheist concedes happily enough that space is subject to change and that its mutability is measured by something that we call time. Time and space are the two pillars that support the whole atheistic understanding of the cosmos. For the atheist, time and space is all there is; beyond time and space there is Nothing. It is, therefore, somewhat unsettling for the atheist to discover that time, like space, is trinitarian. We can only perceive time in terms of its own three dimensions of past, present, and future.
At this juncture, one might see the atheist’s face frown in consternation. It is one thing for a Christian to believe in the “nonsense” of a thing being both three and one at the same time but the atheist must surely squirm to realize that his own materialistic cosmos is trinitarian. For the Christian, the trinitarian nature of time and space is to be expected. If time and space were created by a Triune God, we should expect to find His Triune fingerprints in its very fabric.
On the subject of time, it can be shown that the atheist “progressive” is doomed to believe in a god of which his own creed denies the existence. For the atheist, or to give him his proper name, the philosophical materialist, the future does not exist because it has not happened yet. It is, therefore, odd that most atheists are “progressives” who idolize the non-existent future as the good or god that they serve. The irony is that, understood from a purely materialistic perspective, it can be argued convincingly that only the past matters because only the past has any material existence. Everything we are, and everything our world is, owes its existence to the past. We are where we are because we came here.
It can be argued from the same materialistic perspective that even the present doesn’t exist. The present is like the mathematical point. It exists as an abstract concept, not as a material reality. The present has no “time” as the geometrical point has no “space”. What we perceive as the present is in reality the immediate past. By the time that we perceive an event it has already happened, albeit only moments before. We are, therefore, doomed to be always living in the past because we cannot live anywhere else. The present moment, like the geometrical point, is a timeless and spaceless needle on which angels might perhaps dance but on which we cannot sit.
We live simultaneously in the telescopic past, which is the aggregate of all past events of which we are the inheritors, and in the microscopic past, which is the immediate past in which we find ourselves. The only valid objection to this understanding of time relates to time’s relationship to eternity. If God exists, He is not subject to time. There is no past and future for God, only an eternal Present. This is the deepest meaning of what we call God’s omnipresence. It is not so much that God is present everywhere, though He is, it is that everything is always present to God. Since, however, this objection relies on the existence of a God that the atheist denies, it is not an objection that is open to him. His materialism is myopically dependent on the omnipotence of the past, telescopically and microscopically perceived.
One could continue to multiply the mysteries which the atheist must believe, or the “nonsense”, as he would see it, which he must swallow. There are, for instance, the imaginary numbers at the very heart of mathematics upon which the science of electronics resides. These imaginary numbers have no existence in the “three dimensions” and yet most of the wonders of science that the atheist “progressive” idolizes are not possible without them.
Enough. The honest atheist, faced with these spiritual realities, will realize what Charles Ryder came to realize. There is no such world as the one imagined by the atheists. It is time that they left behind such illusions and returned to the faith and reason that built the civilization of which they are the unworthy inheritors.
Books mentioned in this essay may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore.
1. Evelyn Waugh, Brideshead Revisited, New York: Back Bay Books, 1999, p. 169