Thursday, May 17, 2012

Critique of Pure Atheism: Why I am Not an Atheist

To start with the negatives: this is not an apologetic, in the sense that it is not an argument for any particular religion; it has nothing to do with why I believe Christ rose from the dead. It is also not meant as an attack against atheists. If it is anything other than an inexcusably verbose rant, then it's a personal testimony of an atypical sort: not a testimony about conversion to anything, but about a lack of conversion. It's probably the weakest reason I have for belief as well as the weakest reason I have for lack of belief, but that's why it's not an argument.

Basically, if I did not have all of my better reasons for following Christ and for not being an atheist, I would still not be an atheist because I am prone to boredom. And atheism, to me, is unspeakably, unutterably, irretrievably boring.

Sometimes I think speculatively about being an atheist. Not in that I am considering giving up my faith, but because I have the sort of mind that can't resist a good "what-if" scenario. But I can't get very far into it before I come up with, "So what?"

To grant the basic premise of atheism is to grant that, as far as we know, human beings are the highest form of life, the highest form of existence. Granting this, I look at myself and I see someone who is self-centered, snobbish, often resentful, absent-minded, yada yada lots of flaws. I look at people who are very intelligent (say, Stephen Hawking) or people who are physically beautiful (say, ahem, Jennifer Lawrence) or people whose lives are or were incredibly exciting (Sir Richard Burton comes to mind, at random), or people who are extremely talented (anyone from Da Vinci to Twain to Shakespeare), and I think that if even these extraordinary people are the best thing the universe has to offer, or if I were one of them, or if I am the ultimate reality (which without some kind of external frame of reference, I am), then the universe and reality are just incredibly stupid.

Perhaps ironically, this wouldn't make me feel antithetical to people; if we're all stupid and all we have is each other, love and grace seem like much more worthwhile endeavors than does misanthropy.

But if that's what I have to start with, reality seems to get better, not worse, if I turn to religion. I could believe in a personal God who redeems me and whose hand guides my life, or I could believe in an impersonal force which binds all of life together, or in a cycle of death and reincarnation with a journey toward eventual enlightenment and union with everything. All of these seem more worthwhile than not believing in anything. (Of course, I do believe that the greatest and most redemptive truth leads to one specific place--or rather, one specific Man--but for now that's beside the point.) Not all beliefs are equal, and some cam lead to terrible places, but for that matter so can atheistic philosophy.

This may just be a restatement of Pascal's famous wager, which paraphrased argues that if I am an atheist and I am right, then I have gained nothing, and if I am wrong I stand to lose everything; whereas if I have faith and am wrong I have lost nothing (except, maybe, some time that in all honesty I probably would have spent playing Angry Birds anyway) and if I am right I stand to gain everything. To extend the idea beyond Pascal's original purview, it really makes more sense to believe in anything than it does to believe that this life is all we have.

I have heard it argued that not believing in God grants the greatest freedom. I find this idea curious, at best; I could probably post another entire rant in response to it. But for today I'll trade a little freedom (or I would if I had to, which I don't) for a reality that's more interesting than what's in my head.

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