A standing on my head insight from N.D.Wilson’s new book Death by Living -
All ideas must put on flesh if they are to live well…
…Atheism is an idea. Most often (thank God) it is an idea lived and told with blunt jumbo-crayon clumsiness. Some child of Christianity or Judaism dons and unbelieving Zorro costume and preens about the living room…
Christianity is no good at all as an idea. Stop thinking hat an asserted proposition is the same thing as faith….Enflesh it
Benedict XVI said “Saints are lived theology” and “the Scriptures can only be interpreted in the lives of the saints”. By it’s very nature Christianity demands to be lived or it is not real. The incarnate One is only alive as we continue to incarnate his Truth (which is also a Way and a Life) in our own lives. If it isn’t lived it isn’t real.
On the other hand, how can atheism be incarnated and fleshed out? Atheism is, at it’s core, a negation. It is a denial. It is the emptiness of dark compared to light–the void of cold compared to heat. Here is the big question–what does atheism look like when it is lived out?
The current crop of “nice atheists” will say, “It is the fullness of being human without superstition of any kind. It is human love expressed for one another and we sometimes help out at the soup kitchen too.” But those ideals and laudable charitable actions are borrowed from the Christian ideal of sanctity as fulfilled humanity and charity as the result of graced transformation. In other words, the atheists are borrowing Christian clothes because they want to be charitable and respectable without God.
But why should they do this? What rationale is there for being nice, good people? If atheism is true, then why should being nice and good and helping at the soup kitchen or running a marathon for a cancer cure be any better or worse than being a selfish television addict or even worse–a politician. If atheism is true why be good, and how do you know what “good” is anyway?
The atheist will say, “there is such a thing as the golden rule…” Errr. That comes from Judaism and Christianity. They will say, there is such a thing as empathy. Ummm, read your history, it was unheard of before Christianity. They will say there is just such a thing as being decent. But what does “being decent” consist of and why should your definition of “being decent” be necessarily any better than not being decent? And the whole idea of “being decent” comes from the idea of altruism which historically doesn’t exist outside religion.
To press it further, why would random acts of charity and having a nice family dinner be a way to live out and enflesh the idea of atheism? How do they connect? Where is the rational connection between asserting that there is no God and being nice to others? There is no necessary connection.
Since atheism is a negation the only way to live out the negation is through negation. There are some, to be sure, who have followed through with the negation of atheism. There are some who have followed through and lived out their philosophy. I’m thinking of poor old Friedrich Nietszche who died insane and alone. In a horrible way he fleshed out his atheism. Then there is Stalin and Mao. By murdering millions they lived out their atheism.
No, give me the nun in the crazy wimple and the shades. She’s living out her Christianity. For that matter give me the hypocritical failure of a Christian who–even in his failure and subsequent repentance and getting up and trying again–is living out his Christianity. Give me the humble person dying of cancer who still drags herself off to Mass every week. In a billion ways in a billion souls Christianity is being fleshed out and lived–sometimes with success and often with failure, but at least the story can be lived and the theory is being put into practice–even if the practice doesn’t always make perfect.
Atheism, on the other hand, how does anyone live that out without descending into the dark abyss?