A few days ago, I posted a blog entry in which I asked the question why some atheists claim to consider their message of the non-existence of God really good news. (Such atheists do exist; I hear from them fairly frequently.)
I’ve been mocked and ridiculed for that post, and their misreadings of what I wrote have proven to several people that I’m a shallow thinker, philosophically uninformed, writing for ignorant rubes, only restrained from murder and burglary and adultery by my fear of a mythical but vengeful “Sky Daddy,” and so forth.
But, for all the hand waving and the mockery, they still haven’t answered my question. (I think that, in most if not all cases, they failed even to notice it. They were so eager to dismiss a caricature of what I had actually written that they didn’t trouble to read my blog entry with even minimal care. Why bother? Overwhelmingly, these particular critics know in advance that little if anything that I do has or can have any merit.)
So I ask the question again.
Here’s a passage from something that I published a number of years ago:
I confess that I find those who rejoice in atheism baffling. It is not merely the thought of the atheist’s funeral: “all dressed up with nowhere to go.” I think of Beethoven, hiding down in the basement with pillows to his ears, desperately trying to save his fading sense of hearing as he was working on his majestic “Emperor” Concerto. Or, a little later, conducting the magnificent Ninth Symphony, which he never heard, having to be turned around by the concertmaster because he did not know that the audience was applauding him. I think of Mozart, feverishly trying to finish his own Requiem – dead at thirty-five and thrown into an unmarked pauper’s grave. So many lives have been cut short, leaving so many poems unwritten, so many symphonies uncomposed, so many scientific discoveries unmade.
In fact, it is hard to think of anyone who has achieved his or her full potential in this life. Tragic foreshortenings do not only happen to geniuses. A neighbor and friend was stricken with multiple sclerosis in her midtwenties and now, in her thirties, lies bedridden in a rest home. Barring some incredible medical breakthrough, this is her life. Absent hope for a life to come, this is all she will everhave to look forward to. [She actually died a couple of years after this article was published.] My own father, for the last six years of his life, blind from an utterly unforeseen stroke suffered during routine and relatively minor surgery, was incapable of any of the activities in which he had once found satisfaction and pathetically asked me, every few weeks, whether he would ever see again. What comfort would there be in saying, “No, Dad. This is it. Nothing good is coming. And then you’ll die.”
Of course, something may be unpalatable and unpleasant yet accurate. I can certainly understand coming to the sad conclusion that this is in fact the truth about the human condition: That we live briefly, then we die and we rot. That so, too, do our children and our grandchildren. And that so, also, does everything we create — our music, our buildings, our literature, our inventions. That “all we are is dust in the wind.”
But I cannot understand those who regard this as glorious good news. . . .
Consider . . . this supremely complacent remark, offered by a vocal atheist critic of Mormonism during a 2001 Internet discussion: “If there were a God,” he reflected, “I think (s)he’d enjoy hanging out with me — perhaps sipping on a fine Merlot under the night sky while devising a grand unified theory.” Only someone very comfortably situated could be so marinated in smugness about the question of the reality of God.
But the vast majority of the world’s population is not so situated, and, for them, atheism, if true, is very bad news indeed. Most of the world’s population, historically and still today, does not live, well fed and well traveled, to a placid old age surrounded by creature comforts. Most of the world has been and is like the favelas of Rio de Janeiro, the slums of Cairo, the backward rural villages of India, the famine-ridden deserts of northeastern Africa, the war-ravaged towns of the southern Sudan and of Rwanda. If there is going to be a truly happy ending for the millions upon millions of those whose lives have been blighted by torture, starvation, disease, rape, and murder, that ending will have to come in a future life. And such a future life seems to require a God.
Yes, the problem of evil is a huge one. But to give up on God is to give evil the final say. It is to admit that child rapists and murderers dictate the final chapters in the lives of their terrified and agonized victims; that Hitler and Stalin and Pol Pot really did triumph, forever, over the millions they slaughtered; that, in the rotting corpses of Darfur and Iraqi Kurdistan, we see the final, definitive chapter of thousands of lives; that there is, really, no hope for those whose health is in irreversible decline; that every human relationship ends in death, if not before.
This would not be good news, and I see no compelling reason to accept it. In fact, I see numerous persuasive reasons to reject the claim.
Some do, in fact, claim to find atheism a wonderful message, good news, that they can scarcely wait to share with the world. Once again, Why?