Thirty Buses To NowhereDONALD DEMARCO
I have often wondered why a person who does not believe in God can be apostolic about his non-belief. It may be that misery loves company.
If a person believes that he is a cosmic orphan, the fatherless product of mere chance, and that there is no afterlife, that morality has no objective foundation, and that the religious impulse that is common to all societies of human beings throughout history is a fraud, then why else would he want to convert others to this utterly bleak and barren outlook? Furthermore, there is no sociological evidence whatsoever to indicate that atheists are a happier lot than theists. Nihilism, that "tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing," to cite Shakespeare's cry of existentialist despair, is not a preferred state.
At any rate, a group of militant atheists in London, England, have raised, in a remarkably short period of time, $113,000 to advertize the alleged human benefits of atheism on 30 buses. Richard Dawkins, the modern poster boy for atheism, and bestselling author of The God Delusion and The Blind Watchmaker, has donated $9,000 of his own money to help finance the project. The ad reads: "There's Probably No God / Now Stop Worrying and Enjoy Your Life". To be logically consistent, the ad should have advised that people "probably" should stop worrying and enjoy life. But advertizing regulations frustrated the atheists' original intentions by requiring the word "probably" so as to avoid offending people who are religious.
The notion that there is no God and that human existence is a pointless affair swiftly careering toward oblivion, it would seem, is most disconcerting and not one that contributes significantly to a worry free and enjoyable life. Moreover, knowledge of the anti-human activities of such atheists as Hitler, Stalin, Mao Tse-Tung, Pol Pot and others is hardly conducive to taking comfort in a world populated by more and more atheists.
In the conclusion of William James' classic study, The Varieties of Religious Experience, he speaks of two factors that are common to all religions. The first is a sense of "uneasiness" indicating that "there is something wrong about us as we naturally stand". This universal trait is also congruent with the most minimal awareness of human behaviour throughout history -- that "chronicle of crimes and follies," to borrow the words of historian Edward Gibbons. We have a sense that something is wrong with us because it is all too obvious that there is something wrong with us. We are imperfect, incomplete, inconstant, mortal, prone to error, and capable of misanthropy of frightening proportions. Christians have accepted the doctrine of Original Sin which, according to G. K. Chesterton, is the one theological teaching that is demonstrably self-evident.
We are not "uneasy" because we fear that God might exist (as if proof of his non-existence would lead us to relax and enjoy life). We are "uneasy" because we know beyond the shadow of a doubt that we are insufficient, highly imperfect and unable to make it on our own.
James' second point, which follows from the first, is that in all religions there is the abiding sense that "we are saved from the wrongness" by a higher power. Therefore, all religions have a firm basis in anthropology (that man is a creature who is acutely aware of his deficiencies) and sound psychology (that he feels uneasy and seeks a solution in a higher power).
Atheism, being purely negative, has nothing to offer. It is an empty glass given to a thirsty individual, a non-answer given to an inquiring mind, a shrug of the shoulder offered to a passionate seeker.
William James, as a good psychologist, acknowledges man's soul in its state of uneasiness and hunger. He does not single out one religion as preferable to another. Yet, it should be obvious that among all the religions in the world, those that are more fully allied with truth have a legitimate claim to be preferred. It has been the long and unremitting effort of the Catholic Church to show that it is fully allied with Christ who, in His own words, is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Pope Benedict XVI, in Truth and Tolerance, gently asks a searing question: "what positive meaning does religion have, if it cannot be connected with truth?"
Let atheists be apostolic, and let them advertize on a fleet of buses going nowhere. But we should be reminded that their message offers no comfort since it furnishes no content.
Donald DeMarco. "Thirty Buses To Nowhere." Social Justice Review. (January/February, 2009): 8-9.
This article is reprinted with permission from Social Justice Review: A Pioneer Journal of Catholic Social Action and Donald DeMarco.
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