Like all human beings, the atheist ones I’ve seen and known are always prattling on about justice and injustice. But atheists don’t seem to realize that there is such a category as “should” because there is a design for the world that we perceive.
Atheists do not believe in God, but I confess that I am an agnostic about atheists. For one thing, too many of them are all too ready to tell me both that God doesn’t exist and that they hate him intensely. Perhaps it is a lack of imagination, but I have never been able to rile up hatred of Sauron, Lord Voldemort, Bill Sykes, Simon Legree, or any of the other classic villains of fiction. If I do, the anger doesn’t last because I realize at the end of the day that they are fictional.
The other reason I’m skeptical about the existence of atheists is that they’re always complaining about the unfairness of life even as they brag about their own courage in facing up to a world without God. I recall a debate about God’s existence and science I attended many years ago while studying in England. The resolution itself was of the question-begging variety, offering that “This house believes science obviates the need for religion”—as if religious claims were simply imaginative attempts to answer natural scientific questions in the absence of scientific methods and facts. Team Atheism in this debate featured biologist Richard Dawkins and a couple of mini-me teammates lecturing their opposition on their cowardice in refusing to face up to the cold hard truths of science, which apparently had no room for God.
I was more persuaded by the gentlemanly Oxford University physicist Peter Hodgson, who argued that the rise of modern science was inexplicable apart from metaphysical beliefs derived from specifically Jewish and Christian teaching. The new atheist gang, he implied, was afraid of the cold hard truths of both philosophy and history. But what I kept thinking about was what it would mean to stand up to the cold hard truths of atheistic scientism as peddled by both real scientists and the kind of people who think that Bill Nye is really a scientist and posting memes bearing the legend “I ****ing Love Science” is the equivalent of reading a scientific journal.
Facing up to the cold hard truths of atheism means following Friedrich Nietzsche and Ivan Karamazov in the contention that if God does not exist, everything really is permitted. Indeed, even the language of permission should be banned, because there is no one to permit or deny anything. While agnostic and atheist friends tell me that “atheists can be moral,” they are equivocating on what it means to “be moral.” It’s true that atheists can “be moral” in a subjective sense; they can adhere to a moral code they have designed or adopted. Atheists can also be moral in an objective sense: they can act in a fashion that follows the natural law. What they cannot do is make any sense out of why anybody would be obligated to follow their self-designed moral codes if such codes crimped one’s style since there is no afterlife or judgment. Nor can they explain on their own terms why following traditional natural law morality is required since they do not believe in the kind of nature that would reveal moral obligation or require in any fashion that such moral obligations be kept.
Most importantly, true atheists cannot coherently appeal to one’s sympathy in the cases in which they believe others have violated a moral code. The human cry to the universe that “This is unfair!” really doesn’t make any sense, whether it is a cry against human behavior or against divine behavior. The only rational atheist response to purposefully bad human behavior is to put up with it or get revenge if you can. The only rational atheist response to tragedy in the natural world or the world of chance is, “It is what it is.” Yet atheists are by-and-large not willing to react in this fully consistent yet insane way.
Like all human beings, the atheist ones I’ve seen and known are always prattling on about justice and injustice, trying to elicit sympathy and support for undoing the results of human and natural evils, many of which do not concern me or them in any direct way in the least. If, as Emerson had it, a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, I’ve come to believe that foolish inconsistency is the warning light on the atheist tour bus. It should tell them something about the world.
You may indeed hate God, but that’s because he is real.
The atheists I have met are indeed right about the fact that Things Are Not the Way They Should Be. There is such a category as “should” because there is a design for the world that we perceive. Atheists are correct that evil is a problem for believers, but only if there is a God. Otherwise, there is no problem of evil and no category of “should.” It is, my atheist dudes, what it is.
Believers in God do wrestle with the dark mystery of a Providence we believe is good. A 20-year-old young man I know is shot to death in the street. This young man was an entrepreneur and a serious Christian who helped out with the youth group at his church. He was not given to violence, a fact I know personally because the last time I saw him in this world we were playing basketball and I hacked him so hard he went down on the ground. If he’d gotten up and slugged me I would have deserved it. Yet he didn’t. It makes no sense to me how his death fits in with God’s plan. In fact, it is appalling to me.
The believer’s way of dealing with such a dark mystery is not the purported atheist’s way of denying that the God who is responsible for all this exists. To get rid of the God who made young Marcus and allowed the tragedy of his murder doesn’t just eliminate the possibility that we will see him again. It gets rid of the sensible cry that rises up in our throats that his very death was wrong. To face up to the supposedly cold hard “facts” of the atheist vision is to give up on our very sensible and divine discontent about the world.
Nor is the believer’s way to come up with an abstract defense of the ways of God to man—theodicy, as it has been called. Much as these are helpful at certain moments of life, they cannot be sufficiently constructed in such a way to account for every particular case. Ultimately, for those who believe in God, the task is to courageously face down the dark mystery of God’s hidden purpose and hidden being, even to head straight into this dark cloud armed with the faith that the darkness is hiding something brightly lit.
Though the atheist will say that such a journey is irrational, it is not clear why this is so. It is no more—indeed, it’s a good deal less—irrational than the atheist who claims to be facing down the cold realities of a godless world while bitterly complaining about the problem of evil. Pascal observes that there are “reasons of the heart, which reason does not know.” I’d recommend that my purportedly atheist friends listen to their own hearts’ warm discontent and not to their logical arguments about cold realities. They might find that they go from not believing in God to not believing in their own atheism.
The Imaginative Conservative applies the principle of appreciation to the discussion of culture and politics—we approach dialogue with magnanimity rather than with mere civility. Will you help us remain a refreshing oasis in the increasingly contentious arena of modern discourse? Please consider donating now.
The featured image is “Two Satyrs” and is in the public domain, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.