Monday, March 1, 2010

Rejoice You Haitians, Rejoice!

Some time ago a poster campaign was undertaken in the UK. It was billed as public demonstration of the rise in New Atheists' power as a reasonable force in the abolition of religion. They even had Richard Dawkins as the proud poster boy. They led with the tag-line:

"There's probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life."

Aside from their refusal to hedge their bets and actually stick some resolve behind the message with which they wish to change 2,000 years of Western thought, there is a deeper and more alarming consequence of such statement. The assumption is that joy can only come without God.

Why would this ever be the case? The perusal of any new atheist writing makes their rationale clear why - one can only be left gobsmacked by the caricature of God presented through the selective and often misread passages of say Dawkins in The God Delusion. God is genocidal, sexist, filicidal, malevolent, fickle, demanding but most of all uncaring and unloving. How could the possessor of these traits be anything other than joyless? Or are there Shakespearian shades of 'he doth protest too much'? Put simply does our utter refusal to accept the consequences of our actions underlie the insistence of God being joyless? It's not my fault, but His. To surmise - and I do not think I'm skewing this at all - people find it wholly unacceptable that there is inherently nothing lovely or loveable about us. We are so blinkered by self-obsession that we act as errant spoilt children who are so self-absorbed that we refuse to acknowledge fault even when it is blatantly obvious.

Much is made of our Perfect and Holy God and the general abhorrence towards the fact we need to be without sin to approach Him. "I'm a good person, sin is for all those other people" people cry. After all we may have faults but at least we're better than that guy - God may not want him but he definitely wants me. In short there is no joy because we refuse to accept that all have sin and so no one can approach God. One thing that often comes to my mind when considering issues like these is that if we were to be treated within our earthly relationships as we have treated our Heavenly one then there would be no one who would stand for such behaviour. We would be encouraged to leave that person behind - "you don't need that stress in your life, you're too good for them". Without being too personal would Dawkins, Harris, Dennett et al. accept repeated adultery, the refusal to listen to instructions or requests, permanent self-obsession or the inability to accept the disastrous consequences of poorly thought through decisions? They may say they could but I doubt it. I for one certainly could not. So why do we demand this of God who is perfect and holy, vastly divorced from our sinful disposition? John makes it clear how we delude ourselves and hide from God's awesome glory (c.f. 1 John 1:5-8).

Back to the point and the source material: the Bible gives extended accounts of when God Incarnate walked on Earth. I for one struggle to find any examples of Jesus bringing anything other than joy unless you are a Pharisee or caught up amidst His Passion. No one moped because Jesus was in tow. So I struggle to find examples of how God is a killjoy - indeed He wishes for us to be joyful and share in the intra-Trinitarian relationship which is hardly characterised by misery!

This humanist message also carries a more callous - accidentally I'm sure - undertone. The authors would claim that they hold the keys to happiness - that their worldview of reductionist fatalism is true. To paraphrase one should always be happy because bad stuff just happens. No rhyme nor reason - it is just because. Rejoice you Haitians - there's probably no God, enjoy life! Rejoice you serial victims of rape in the theatre of war - there's probably no God, just get over it and enjoy your life! Now this may not be principal message behind the campaign, yet this flows from their rationale. This stance is entrenched in our obsequious Western middle-class worldview where if truth be told we have no concept of suffering. We are rich and well-provided for. Sure we all have problems but how may of us would swap that for the Third World? We pretend that we understand their situation, yet mock them when they speak of God as if we know better. Again I doubt reductionist fatalism would seem so appealing in Port-au-Prince or Darfur.

Now this is not about truth statements and I encourage you to come at this from an impartial view. Some people in suffering will automatically look for an explanation for their position: some blame the universe, others blame or praise God. Is it unreasonable for those who are broken by their situation to look for the joy of God? Even if God did not exist why would it be a terribly bad thing to look to Him anyway? Bad stuff just happens will not please or comfort anyone. To me it seems fairly obnoxious to demand of those suffering that they forget any reason for their suffering and therefore expect such a paradigm shift when we know nothing of a given situation. I speak with no authority on suffering, but just pray that those involved in the campaign never know the depths to which suffering can take us. It is easy not to worry about God when there is nothing driving you to question your very existence.

Despite my protestations I have nothing against campaigns like these: they open up discussion and allow a Christian response. The danger comes from the implicit messages entangled within their rhetoric and so we need to wary of the impact glib comments may have.

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