I’d Rather be an Atheist

mixed-poppy-seedAn increasingly tiresome argument against religion is that the only reason people believe in God or choose to be religious is that it makes them feel better.  It’s a subset of the “religion is just blind faith without evidence” argument, with strong ties to Karl Marx’s “opium of the masses” sentiment.  Secularists and atheists, who fancy themselves the most rational beings on the planet, frequently assert that people remain religious more or less for utilitarian reasons: usually because it gives their lives meaning, or comforts them when they are afflicted, or because of they crave a sense of belonging and community.  People choose to remain or become religious because it satisfies some emotional need.

ecclesiastesThis may indeed be true for a lot of people, but for myself and for many Christians this could not be further from the truth.  The assertion that religion gives life meaning and purpose has always sort of baffled me.  You see this kind of nonsense in atheist literature such as Albert Camus’ The Stranger in which the atheist protagonist is constantly assaulted by a Christian who simply cannot grasp how a person could not believe in God.  “Do you want my life to be meaningless?” is his refrain throughout the text.  I suppose I’m too much of an existentialist to really care about meaning.  The Bible itself says that everything is meaningless vanity.  People are very capable of assigning themselves meaning entirely apart from God.  They find meaning in their career or their family or in TV or video games.  All of these seem entirely arbitrary to me, and I don’t know why finding meaning in God’s alleged “plan” for one’s life ought not to be considered just as much an act of bad faith as finding meaning in more mundane things.  Maybe some Christians are concerned with the so-called purpose-driven life, but this kind of thinking strikes me as treating God as an object among many which exists only to satisfy an emotional or psychological deficiency on the part of the believer.  If your God’s function in your life could easily be replaced by a husband or a good hardy dinner, he’s no God at all.  Meaning – who cares?  It’s an empty pursuit.

LGBT-Welcoming-Church-638x425It’s often said that religious people desire a strong sense of community.  This assertion definitely has a basis in reality.  Churches spend half their time trying to figure out new ways to be more “welcoming” – which is just code for keeping them in the pews.  I hear this sort of sentiment a lot from secular Jews who couldn’t give a Flying Wallenda about God or religion, but remain practicing Jews for such dubious reasons as “tradition”, “heritage”, and “family”.  Mormons have their version of this too with their emphasis on eternal marriages (“for time and all eternity” > “till death do us part” they say).  The argument from a secularist or atheist perspective often goes hand in hand with the amazingly flippant assertion that people usually stay in the religion in which they were raised.  “If you were born in Saudi Arabia you’d be a Muslim!”  This of course is only an equivocation, and as a convert it obviously does not apply to me or to the millions of other people every year who leave their faith of origin for whatever reason.  Again, if your religion merely fills a void which could easily be filled by a book club, you’re probably in it for the wrong reasons.

crucifix0001tb8The idea that Christianity or religion in general is somehow comforting or anesthetizing, that it makes life easier, is particularly foreign to my thinking.  I’m of course the most pessimistic Christian on Earth, and I have to say I don’t really find Christianity comforting at all.  There are consolations of course, but this is a far cry from comfort.  I’m with Kierkegaard, Christianity is all fear and trembling.  Stepping into the majesty of God in prayer or through the Holy Mysteries is a perilous thing – he’s not a tame lion after all.  The character of Jesus Christ, simply from a dramatic point of view, is profoundly bizarre and unenlightened, and the way he chose to redeem the world is altogether frightful.  We worship a very strange and terrible God indeed who chose to go to such lengths to save such unimportant and unimpressive creatures as human beings.  This is no fluffy and docile deity with which we are dealing.  This is the God for whom men sold everything they had to live starving in the desert for decade, who demands martyrdom, who is just as likely to bless you with riches as to afflict you with debilitating poverty.  You don’t jump into this God without reservations.

truth_v_lies_cartoonMost of the time, I’d rather be an atheist.  The only good reason to believe anything is because it’s true.  I remain a Christian because I know the Gospel is true, not because of how it makes me feel.  I would like to live in a world where I can live how I want with no consequences in the afterlife.  I would also like to live in a world in which I can jump off a cliff with no parachute and not die, but such is not the world in which I, or anyone else for that matter, live.  In the end, I know that a relationship with the Holy Trinity is the highest and most perfect good, and so that is the goal for which I strive, but I cannot say it is always easy, enjoyable, or even rewarding.  Maybe I’m a bit masochistic when it comes to faith.  The more it hurts, the better I say.  If I weren’t a Christian I would be a nihilist atheist of the Nietzchean or LaVeyan strain, no moralistic Sam Harris-style poppycock for me.  Unfortunately these philosophies do not match up with reality.  The only reality is the Trinity, and to him we must conform our lives or be reduced to near nothingness.

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8 Responses to I’d Rather be an Atheist

  1. Anonymous says:

    Hello.

    While I would agree that the truths of the Church are certainly not convenient nor easy, it would be wrong to say that they are not rewarding. Such teachings are there for a reason, and are not meant to make us miserable or hate life. They are there for our own good, and in that sense they are rewarding. Communion with Christ and His Church is our reward, and though achieving it is not easy for convenient, it is 100% worth it. Obviously, it would be a lot more convenient to not have to think about having 28739187403 children. But the point of the Catholic Church’s stance on birth control isn’t to oppress women or even to make me have children at all. Rather it’s because these decisions help us to understand the fullness of life and human dignity. They are not meant to be painful, though they might seem it, they are meant to be enlightening.

    Yours Truly

  2. Sheila says:

    I used to think this way, until I actually tried contemplating seriously … what if God did not exist? What then?

    Morally, my choices would not change; I have a conscience and I don’t want to ignore it. But it would make the obedience to my conscience — and everything else I do — rather meaningless.

    Is it that odd to prefer a life where I have a hope of a happy eternity in heaven to one where I’m worm food, or where there is a God out there who loves me infinitely rather than where I’m alone in the universe, attempting to form relationships with other humans while knowing they will never understand me truly?

    No, give me the Catholic worldview any time, difficult as it is. It’s much more hopeful.

  3. Anonymous says:

    I find your viewpoint on why you are religious to be refreshing. Your assertion that you believe not because it is easy but because it is true relies on the premise of the Catholic habit of thought being correct. You say you know it is true because you can feel it. Excuse me for being a skeptic, but I don’t understand why emotion validates truth. Could you explain that to me?

    Respectfully,
    Anonymous

    • Indeed, I do assume the truth of Catholicism in thus article. The article’s more about debunking certain bad reasons to believe rather than an apologia for the truth of the beliefs themselves. If I had to prove Catholicism is true before making any other comments about it, my articles would all be way too long. I don’t mean to insinuate that I don’t have evidence for the truth of Catholicism or that I just believe because I “feel” it. If pressed I can certainly come up with a standard apology for Catholicism, but as an Eastern Christian I am much more skeptical of the more rationalistic, intellectual approach to the faith. I prefer a more intuitive approach. Real faith in God comes through experience of God, of living his life through Christ, not through syllogisms. For instance, I can prove that my cousin exists logically speaking and I can accept that fact intellectually, but I can’t actually know her unless I’m in a relationship with her. The same with God. If I prove to myself that he exists, great, but who cares if I am not mystically in a relationship with him. The only way to prove something beyond a doubt is to experience it.

  4. Bill Rondridge says:

    If you born into an agnostic family who were indifferent towards religion, do you think you would be Catholic?

    • Hard to say. I usually think it’s kind of pointless to deal in hypotheticals. I was born into a Protestant family. Not exactly indifferent to religion, but still a long way off from Catholicism.

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