Happy National Atheist Day!

“I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers.”–Thomas Nagel

Go ahead and hug an atheist today. They need it. They live lives of sad desperation caught in a meaningless universe and protest that they’re happy because they see things “as they really are” and are free to enjoy life as it is, and then disappear into the dust and relieve an already overcrowded world of yet another sentient meatbag.

Evangelical atheists are funny little people, ain’t they? They claim to be the sole heirs to true “reason,” while promoting a mechanistic model of the the universe that is more faith-based than that of theists. I believe the origin of the universe in the big bang (a theory originated by Fr. Georges Lemaître) has a theistic cause, and I have the proof of my own senses and reason, as well as the perfectly sound logical point that all causes must trace themselves back to a First Cause. They also believe that the universe has an origin point, and that their faith-based view of science will find the solely natural cause for that origin annnnny day now. Just give it time. Top Men are working on it right now. Top! Men!

Of course, once that cause is found, it still doesn’t rule out a theistic answer to the origin and nature of the universe any more than understanding why a rose is red and smells nice renders Shakespeare meaningless.

Here’s the glorious truth for them: time, space, and matter have an origin point outside of time, space, and matter, and this everyone understands to be God. It’s really not that hard, and if the next question is, “Well, then where does God come from?” the answer is right there in that complex, brilliant, poetic, vexing, and infinitely wise thing we call scripture, formulated long before the idea of contingent being: “God is.”

What, you wanted something more than that? Maybe a calculation or a formula or a paper in Nature? An answer that reduces the infinite wonder of a totally non-contingent being responsible for all existence into something you can store in that bag of gray mush in your noggin? Tough crap. That’s all you’re getting: YHWH. It’s all you need. Embrace that one mystery, and all else makes sense.

I’m not sure what clinging to an irrational vision of reality gives to atheists. Belief in a transcendent order is a fundamental element of the human psyche, which would mean that it is, in itself, natural. These are the same people who argue that homosexuals are “born with” their sexuality and loudly berate the idea of gay people “going straight” or attempting conversion therapy. However, they seem to think it’s perfectly fine for a human animal born with an innate religious impulse to repress or deny that impulse in favor of … what? A Reason Rally? An upvote on a meme at Reddit? The approval of Sam Harris? Interesting bunch of hypocrites, these evangelical atheists.

But that’s okay, since they don’t really believe it anyway. As Andrew Ferguson writes in the best essay of the year, “Fortunately, materialism is never translated into life as it’s lived…. A materialist who lived his life according to his professed convictions—understanding himself to have no moral agency at all, seeing his friends and enemies and family as genetically determined robots—wouldn’t just be a materialist: He’d be a psychopath.”

You can’t believe the universe is without purpose or meaning, wave your hands around a lot, and then arrive at a moral order for behavior based upon vagaries like social contracts. That’s not even good nonsense.

And so today, April 1st, American Catholic is urging us to celebrate National Atheist Day. Go ahead, reach out to an atheist. Be prepared to offer a reason for your belief.

Honestly, most average disbelievers are really spiritual seekers, and not at all like the evangelical atheists we have here on Patheos, or those hauting Reddit and comboxes. It gets hard to separate the loud Ministers for the Church of Unbelief from the merely hurting, normal people. Usually we only hear from the likes of American Atheists, “Friendly” Atheists, Dawkins, Meyers, etc: the Sturmabteilung of modern militant atheism. Forget about those jerks: they’re the Jimmy Swaggarts and Jack Chicks of modern disbelief: really loud and really dumb.

The average person who doubts or denies the existence of God often does so for solid reasons, and they want answers, not polemics. I imagine many don’t really want to be atheists. Even many “atheists” don’t really believe in atheism. Some people fall into disbelief because they’ve seen an ugly side of religion and religious people. They’ve suffered. They’ve lost. They’ve grieved. They’ve been lied to. They’ve be wounded. They’ve been poorly catechized. They’re just plain ole sinners in a fallen world that exalts the self.

What they need isn’t atheism. What they need is what atheism can never offer. Charity. Faith. Hope.

Not the charity that merely seeks to serve the other (which is a good and noble thing), but a true caritas that is willing to immolate itself on the altar of the world out of pure love of God: a surrender to the love which moves the sun and other stars.

And not the faith that merely believes a thing because it’s reasonable or good or useful, but a faith that consumes the individual with a certainty of Truth.

And not merely a hope that looks to a better tomorrow, but a tendency of the soul towards the ultimate end in beatitude, which is the final happiness. A hope that looks forward in faith and love to the resurrection.

Atheists offer people an attractive lie: the world all there is, so you might as well just enjoy it. In other words, they look at a broken world, say it can be no product of a loving and omnipotent God, and therefore urge people to just embrace it as is.

By contrast, we look at a world broken by our sins, and see the creation of a loving father of who set his children free to fall, and then urged them to lift themselves up again. As a father does. As I did when my children fell. And in learning to stand, we learn to live, and in time, to yearn for the world beyond the world. We long for a return to the home we lost, and which was reclaimed for us on barren hilltop 2000 years ago. We travel a road of faith, hope, and love back to the kingdom we left.

It’s much more than merely an appealing alternative to the grim determinism of atheism, and it has one benefit above all others.

It happens to be true.

“A man can no more diminish God’s glory by refusing to worship Him than a lunatic can put out the sun by scribbling the word ‘darkness’ on the walls of his cell.”–C.S. Lewis


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About Thomas L. McDonald

Thomas L. McDonald writes about technology, theology, history, games, and shiny things. Details of his rather uneventful life as a professional writer and magazine editor can be found in the About tab.