When injustice or tragedy comes our way, a common response is to get angry and exclaim, “why me?” or “this is not fair!” or “this shouldn’t be happening to me!” Some shake their fist at God.
Why do we react this way? Why are we troubled by injustice? Why do we find tragedy and suffering so intolerable? Who told us things were not meant to like this?
Human beings resist the idea of accepting pain as inevitable. We cannot bring ourselves to consider tragedy as normal and to live with it as we do with the changing of seasons or varying weather patterns. Suffering regularly provokes anger and disappointment.
Somehow we instinctively know there is something wrong with this picture. Things shouldn’t be this way. This idea seems to be written deep inside of us. Injustice and suffering were simply not meant to be.
Tragedy would not seem tragic to us unless somehow we knew that life was supposed to be different. Injustice would not exist unless there was some kind of unspoken universal law that everyone should adhere to.
After all, we cannot talk about “crooked” if we do not have some idea of “straight.” We cannot be homesick if we have no home. We cannot be disappointed or frustrated unless we are convinced something better should be taking place.
If there is a God who wrote his moral law in our hearts, and who created us to live in a perfect world that was somehow ruined in a tragic way, then our reactions make a lot of sense.
But if this material world is all humans have ever known, if this is “normal” and it has always been this way, then anger makes no sense at all. It’s like blowing our cool because autumn leaves turned color, or because the temperature dropped.
If an atheist acted according to his naturalistic worldview, he would see everything that goes on in this world as normal. He would not be getting angry at tragedy and injustice.
But he does.
It appears his heart knows something that his head doesn’t.
So much enthusiasm about the non-existence of God is somewhat bewildering, as no one appears to be nearly as excited about a similar absence of belief in unicorns, vampires, werewolves, astrology, nation-building, or the Labor Theory of Value. Nor is anyone dedicating much of their time to writing books and giving speeches at universities and conferences with the avowed goal of convincing others not to believe in them either.
Atheism, I began to realize, rested on a less-than-satisfactory evidential basis. The arguments that had once seemed bold, decisive, and conclusive increasingly turned out to be circular, tentative, and uncertain. The opportunity to talk with Christians about their faith revealed to me that I understood relatively little about their religion, which I had come to know chiefly through not-always-accurate descriptions by its leading critics, including British logician Bertrand Russell and German social philosopher Karl Marx. I also began to realize that my assumption of the automatic and inexorable link between the natural sciences and atheism was rather naïve and uninformed.
–Alister McGrath, Atheism, Christianity, Religion, and Science
The New Atheism’s vigorous and uncompromising assertion of the rationality of its own beliefs and the irrationality of everyone else’s has caused many within the wider atheist community to cringe with embarrassment.
As the atheist philosopher Julian Baggini pointed out, the New Atheism seemed to believe that “only through stupidity or crass disregard for reason could anyone be anything other than an atheist.” This sort of dogmatic intellectual arrogance, he suggested, just gave atheism a bad name.
From the time that I could think rationally on the subject, I did not believe in God…
What made me consider God’s existence a real possibility? The Lord of the Rings. I was a young teenager when I first read the Tolkien tomes, and it immediately captivated me. The fantasy world of Middle-Earth oozes life and profundity. The cultures of the various peoples are organic, rooted in tradition while maintaining a fresh, living energy. Mountains and forests have personalities, and the relationship between people and earth is marked by stewardship and intimacy. Creation knowing creation. Tolkien describes these things with beautiful prose that reads like its half poetry and half medieval history. Everything seems “deep” in The Lord of the Rings. The combination of character archetypes and assertive “lifeness” in the novel touches on an element of fundamental humanity. Every Lord of the Rings fan knows exactly what I’m talking about.
In my narrow confines of scientism, I had no way of processing what made Tolkien’s masterpiece so profound. How could a made-up fantasy world reveal anything about the “truth”? But I knew it did, and this changed my way of thinking. Are good and evil merely social constructions, or are they real on a deeper level? Why am I relating to ridiculous things like talking trees and corrupted wraiths? Why was I so captivated by this story that made fighting evil against all odds so profound? Why did it instill in me a longing for an adventure of the arduous good? And how does the story make sacrifice so appealing? The Lord of the Rings showed me a world where things seemed more “real” than the world I lived in. Not in a literal way, obviously; in a metaphorical, beyond-the-surface way. The beautiful struggle and self-sacrificial glory permeating The Lord of the Rings struck a chord in my soul and filled me with longing that I couldn’t easily dismiss.
Someone once said that if you sat a million monkeys at a million typewriters for a million years, one of them would eventually type out all of Hamlet by chance. But when we find the text of Hamlet, we don’t wonder whether it came from chance and monkeys. Why then does the atheist use that incredibly improbable explanation for the universe? Clearly, because it is his only chance of remaining an atheist. At this point, we need a psychological explanation of the atheist rather than a logical explanation of the universe.