The God of Hangovers
Atheism has its appeal, especially to the young: it seems sensible and modern and sophisticated. And the young want to appear sophisticated, as do we all. Atheism also eliminates the need to defend any assertions of a governing intelligence in the world, which can draw us into questions of metaphysics that few of us are capable of handling in a knowledgeable and convincing way.
We are often set back on our heels when someone demands of us proof of God’s existence. What they are asking is usually something that is impossible. By proof they mean material evidence as used in science. If there is a God, we cannot demonstrate His being by experiment, nor even by sensible observation, which we share with the animals. If there is a God, His existence, inasmuch as natural reason can establish it, must rest on inference and logic.
And we are suspicious of inference and logic. There seems to be some trick about it. We fear that clever men may be manipulating us. And even if we are very clever ourselves and can prove to our satisfaction that there must be a God, we will not yet have come near the vital question of God’s nature and our relationship to Him. Christ is not a proposition, but a Person. And even the cleverest of men can only know the truth of Christ by doing what He says, not by arranging syllogisms. And whatever cleverness we may have comes from God, the source of all intelligence.
Many clever men these days, however, are ranged against God, and we may understandably feel somewhat cowed in engaging in argument with an Oxford professor. But the public deference shown Richard Dawkins and like-minded controversialists rests largely on their academic prestige rather than on the competence of their critique of religion. There is an inversion of the argument ad hominem and their opinions are frequently not evaluated on their intrinsic merit.
Yet, we can gain insight by listening to those who have become what might accurately be called the evangelists of atheism. It is not what they say that matters so much as what they imply: they are all arguing for what they suppose to be truth. That is, they assume that we are capable of knowing something real and that there is an intrinsic value in such knowledge.
But, if we are creatures produced by random mutations of meaningless matter and we are all destined to oblivion very shortly, of what account is truth? And how might we determine it? Is not the pointlessness of our existence the only truth? And is not evolution, the supreme deity of Dawkins and his colleagues, a mindless mechanism rather than something to be reverenced? Yet, they speak of evolution with reverence, as though it were a vehicle for salvation. But salvation from what? From the superstition that life has any meaning. It is as though the draining of all significance from human action were a consummation devoutly to be wished.
And if life is ultimately pointless, whatever relative value it may have can only be purely personal and fleeting and, in reality, an idiosyncratic illusion. Why write books and go on the stump promoting atheism? Why should anyone care what anyone else believes? One might say, “Because we have to live together in societies. Evolution has so decreed it. And atheism makes living together more pleasant. Religion makes it more problematic.” The proposition is arguable, to say the least, and history has shown us how problematic atheist societies have been. Did communism and Nazism eliminate the supposed ills caused by belief in God?
That men have done terrible things in the name of religion cannot be denied, but that only proves their religion was wanting; that it did not rest on the God of Love shown to us by Jesus Christ, but rather on manmade creeds that encompassed cruelty in the name of God or substituted competing “plans of salvation” for the Savior. But it is not always wrong to fight. Sometimes, justice requires it.
And justice is a value that is universally endorsed, even by atheists. When one reads or listens to atheists, one detects an undertone of anger, if not a full-blown expression of it. The anger appears to be rooted in their sense of outraged justice. They identify what they call evil in the world and then argue that an omnipotent God, should there be a god, must accept responsibility for it. So, according to the atheist, there can be no god, for he would by definition be good and prevent evil from existing.
It seems atheists are angrier with those who defend God as good than with anything else. They seem to feel the pain of the world and to despair of its ever being redeemed, of suffering ever serving a purpose, of injustice ever remaining unredressed. Yet, our common experience is that pain can and often does serve a purpose: it can make us wiser, more compassionate, more loving. We cannot always understand the reason for suffering, but sometimes we can, and why should this knowledge not provide us with a key to unlock the mystery of seeming injustice?
One bulwark against evil is the pain that inevitably accompanies the behavior it leads to: hangover is a good reason for temperance, and every lack of restraint in sensual and emotional indulgence comes with its own type of hangover. Yet, no one rages against hangover as a form of cosmic injustice that disproves the existence of a good God. Hangover can be taken rather as evidence that God cares about our well-being and urges us to care about it as well.
One might ask, could God not have eliminated hangover and would we not be better off without it? That would be the case if we were not intended for something higher than intoxication; if our minds and bodies were not made to serve something beyond our immediate sensual pleasure. The fact that hangover exists can be understood as proof that God exists and that He has made us in a way that encourages us to rise above self-indulgence. Even if one discounts God and places evolution, that most mysterious of deities, at the pinnacle of power, one then has to wonder why evolution plagues us with hangover. What purpose does headache from too much wine serve in the overarching plan and presumed wisdom of evolutionary biology? What say you, Professor Dawkins?
If you say that we are designed to use our intelligence to survive and that drunkenness impairs our intelligence, then might one ask why survival has any value? If the answer be that we have no choice but to strive for survival, that it is involuntary instinct, is that not begging the question? And man, of all the creatures that walk, crawl, fly or swim, is alone in his capacity to act against the instinct to survive. Squirrels and red robins do not intentionally kill themselves. Some men do. So, the value we place on our life is not entirely instinct, and that makes intelligence, the capacity to reason, something that can supersede biology. If this were not so, then why should the atheist evangelist bother to climb into his pulpit? If all is determined by ineluctable evolutionary forces, then the joke is on the atheist who is compelled to believe he is doing some good by spreading a supposed truth. How could he do otherwise? How can anyone do otherwise than what he is doing? From the Big Bang, all is in lockstep until the end and free will is an absurdity evolution imposes on the minds of certain human beings who have no choice but to believe in it. It’s all a big joke, but a terrible and unfunny joke.
C.S. Lewis said the fact that men argue with one another shows they believe in objective truth. The appeal of the man who argues is to a standard that both he and his opponent agree upon. The whole point of an argument is that someone or something is wrong, which means there is a right. Men may disagree about who or what is in the right, but even the most adamant foes have a point of convergence. Both the communist and the capitalist think men should receive their due; they agree on the ideal of justice. But they differ on how justice can best be brought about. Most disputes come down to policy differences.
The devout atheist believes implicitly in the goodness of truth, in its power to make life better for himself and for others. What he fails to recognize is that his faith in truth and its beneficence belies his espoused belief in the ultimate meaninglessness of life. If there were no God, no intelligent design, no good or evil, but only a blind fatality without explanation or purpose, then there would be no truth to care about, no truth to argue for or against.
The evangelist of atheism is rather like Mr. Grimwig, a character in Dickens’ “Oliver Twist.” Mr. Grimwig wants it known that his belief in the rightness of his opinions is so certain and unshakable that he punctuates their pronouncements with the eccentric phrase, “…or I’ll eat my head.” People used to say, “…or I’ll eat my hat” to indicate their confidence in a particular truth, but Mr. Grimwig goes further.
The zealot of atheism is also prepared to eat his head, in that he insists on a blind fatality as the only certainty, not realizing that in doing so he swallows his own argument. For if we are merely a link in a causal chain that is forged, not by intelligence, not for any purpose, but by a series of random accidents that will end in absolute oblivion, then any assertion of truth, even the one he champions, can make no claim to being anything other than a determined effect of an “epiphenomenon” of matter. Atheism, theism, any and every “ism” is ultimately meaningless and destined to be swallowed by the maw of time, which is the entryway to the void.
But we must take heart. Mr. Grimwig cares deeply about being right, even when he is wrong. And so long as the atheist is a devout atheist, so long as he cares deeply about truth, he has opened a pathway in his heart and mind for the truth to enter. And with the Truth will come the Way and the Life.