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Religion – including Christianity and Judaism – is “violent, irrational, intolerant, allied to racism, tribalism, and bigotry, invested in ignorance and hostile to free inquiry, contemptuous of women and coercive toward children.” At least that’s according to the No. 1 New York Times bestseller “God is Not Great: Why Religion Poisons Everything” by journalist Christopher Hitchens.
In the news business, we often cite a nation’s current top-selling books – for example, the popularity of anti-Semitic titles in Arab countries – as evidence of the mindset of the people.
Well, in the United States of America right now, some of the most-bought, most-read and most-discussed books are angry, in-your-face atheist manifestos.
Besides Hitchens’ book, which has dominated nonfiction bestseller charts for months, there’s the popular “Letter to a Christian Nation” by atheist author Sam Harris, sequel to his earlier tome “The End of Faith,” and Oxford biologist Richard Dawkins’ “The God Delusion” – all New York Times bestsellers.
Then there are other hot titles: “God: The Failed Hypothesis: How Science Shows That God Does Not Exist” by Victor J. Stenger. “Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon” by Daniel C. Dennett. “Atheist Universe: The Thinking Person’s Answer to Christian Fundamentalism” by David Mills. And so on.
“This is atheism’s moment,” crowed David Steinberger, CEO of Perseus Books in a Wall Street Journal interview. “Mr. Hitchens has written the category killer, and we’re excited about having the next book.” That’s right – this fall the publishing world will further cash in on the anti-God juggernaut with “The Pocket Atheist,” featuring the writings of famous atheists, edited by Hitchens.
“How can this be?,” you might wonder. “Hasn’t America always been a Christian nation?”
No question about it. America was founded by Christians. Its very purpose for being was the furtherance of biblical Christianity, according to the Pilgrims and succeeding generations. Our first school system was created expressly to propagate the Christian faith. Almost all the Founding Fathers who drafted and signed the Constitution were believers. Even Supreme Court Justice David Josiah Brewer, in the high court’s 1892 “Church of the Holy Trinity v. United States” decision, proclaimed the obvious: “This is a Christian nation.”
Today, however, many of us are infatuated with outright, outraged, full-bore atheism. Almost half of Americans – 45 percent according to a recent Gallup poll – say they’d be willing to vote for an atheist for president of the United States. Dawkins, the charismatic evolutionist-author, is even selling young people “Scarlet Letter” tee-shirts with a giant “A” – for “Atheist” – on his website (and bumper stickers too). Somehow, atheism – just like homosexuality, which used to be considered shameful and something to hide – is now becoming hip, sophisticated, even a badge of honor.
What is responsible for this blooming of atheism in America today?
Dennis Prager, the brilliant Jewish radio talker and columnist, ferrets out some key reasons.
“First and most significant,” he points out, “is the amount of evil coming from within Islam.” He explains:
Whether Islamists (or jihadists, Islamo-fascists or whatever else Muslims who slaughter innocents in the name of Islam are called) represent a small sliver of Muslims or considerably more than that, they have brought religious faith into terrible disrepute.
How could they not? The one recognized genocide in the world today is being carried out by religious Muslims in Sudan; liberty is exceedingly rare in any of the dozens of nations with Muslim majorities; treatment of women is frequently awful; and tolerance of people with different religious beliefs is largely nonexistent when Muslims dominate a society.
If the same were true of vegetarians – if mass murder and violent intolerance were carried out by vegetarians – there would be a backlash against vegetarianism even among people who previously had no strong feelings about the doctrine.
Remember, to atheists, Christianity, Judaism and Islam are all pretty much the same – dangerous monotheistic fairy tales that induce people to oppress and kill each other – the only difference being the particular myths, superstitions and rules they impose on followers based on each religion’s traditions and supposed “holy books.”
Thus, the pathological fanaticism and hair-trigger violence exhibited by brainwashed jihadists around the world today are easily associated by atheists with all religions, especially when they call to mind abuses committed in past centuries – say, the Inquisition or the Salem witch trials – in the name of Christianity.
Another major, if more long-term, factor contributing to the popularity of atheist books, Prager notes, is the “secular indoctrination of a generation,” thanks to our de facto atheistic public school system:
Unless one receives a strong religious grounding in a religious school and/or religious home, the average young person in the Western world is immersed in a secular cocoon. From elementary school through graduate school, only one way of looking at the world – the secular – is presented. The typical individual in the Western world receives as secular an indoctrination as the typical European received a religious one in the Middle Ages. I have taught college students and have found that their ignorance not only of the Bible but of the most elementary religious arguments and concepts – such as the truism that if there is no God, morality is subjective – is total.
So the generation that has been secularly brainwashed is now buying books that reconfirm that brainwash – especially now, given the evil coming from religious people.
Finally, observes Prager, Christianity and Judaism have, with some notable exceptions, failed to effectively counter the ever-rising tide of atheistic secularism in the Western world. Pointing out that “it is virtually impossible to distinguish between a liberal Christian or Jew and a liberal secularist,” he notes that all three “regard the human fetus as morally worthless; regard the man-woman definition of marriage as a form of bigotry; and come close to holding pacifist beliefs, to cite but a few examples.”
Thus, with religious evil increasing in the world – thanks to Islam – and fewer and fewer people willing and able to confront it, Prager concludes “the case for atheism will seem even more compelling.”
‘Feigned knowing and a sneer’
Well, not that compelling. Even secular media bastion the Washington Post couldn’t miss the fatal flaws in “God Is Not Great.”
“Hitchens claims that some of his best friends are believers,” says Post reviewer and confessed Hitchens fan Stephen Prothero. “If so, he doesn’t know much about his best friends. He writes about religious people the way northern racists used to talk about ‘Negroes’ – with feigned knowing and a sneer. ‘God Is Not Great’ assumes a childish definition of religion and then criticizes religious people for believing such foolery.”
Noting that Hitchens “is a brilliant man” and even that “there is no living journalist I more enjoy reading,” the Post reviewer nevertheless goes for the throat: “But I have never encountered a book whose author is so fundamentally unacquainted with its subject. In the end, this maddeningly dogmatic book does little more than illustrate one of Hitchens’ pet themes – the ability of dogma to put reason to sleep.”
So, why then is Hitchens’ book so mesmerizing to so many?
Partly because he has a huge intellect, and most of us are impressed and frankly intimidated by superior intellect and knowledge – even if the bearer of those gifts is profoundly misguided. And partly because he’s a superb writer, and inherent in skilled and passionate writing is the power to persuade, to shake up, even convert. It’s a bit of magic, the way words strung together perfectly can play and dance on the brain, stimulating emotions and pulling on the strings of the mind in one direction or another.
And yet, upon close examination, what first appear to be powerfully logical atheist arguments turn out to be dust.
For instance, Hitchens boasts in Vanity Fair that on his nationwide book tour he says to his audiences: “My challenge: Name an ethical statement or action, made or performed by a person of faith, that could not have been made or performed by a nonbeliever. I have since asked this question at every stop and haven’t had a reply yet.”
Sam Harris makes the same argument, forcefully pointing out that human beings are born with an ethical sense of right and wrong – even if they don’t believe in God. And the atheist standard-bearers cite this as evidence no God exists.
Do they never pause to wonder whether God puts this moral sense, or conscience, into each person whether or not that person is aware of his Creator?
A little child innately knows it’s wrong to steal even though he’s too young to have any knowledge or belief about God. For most people, their inborn sense of justice and injustice operates as intended – just as their arms and legs and heart and lungs do – even if they’re not mindful of their Creator’s existence. When atheists see an old woman fall down in the middle of a street, they stop to help her as readily as anyone else. It’s called common decency.
Thus the very evidence of God – in the form of a mysterious moral sense of right and wrong that transcends time, place, culture and conditioning, a trait shared by no other animal – becomes for the atheist proof of just the opposite, that there is no God.
Here’s a funny one: If atheism is inherently so progressive and tolerant, and religion so ignorant and violent, as we’re told, how then do our atheist Pied Pipers explain the 100 million-plus innocent men, women and children slaughtered by their own atheist governments during communism’s 20th century reign of terror?
Simple. Hitchens simply declares atheistic communist dictatorships to be “religious.” Quoting his hero George Orwell, Hitchens says “a totalitarian state is in effect a theocracy,” thus making Stalin’s mass murders of tens of millions of his countrymen not the work of an atheist, but of religion! In North Korea today, the problem is not communism, but out-of-control Confucianism, insists Hitchens.
Uh-huh. And what about Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., whom Hitchens admires? How does he square the leader of the ’60s historic Civil Rights Movement with his having been a Christian minister? Well you see, explains Hitchens, whatever good King accomplished was due to his humanism, not Christianity. “In fact,” notes the Post, “King was not actually a Christian at all, argues Hitchens, since he rejected the sadism that characterizes the teachings of Jesus.”
So, the millions of innocents murdered by atheistic communists during the last century don’t count against atheism in Hitchens’ book, since communism isn’t really atheistic – its atheist leaders being so delusional that they’re sort of, you know, religious. But Rev. King, whom Hitchens likes, wasn’t really a Christian at all, since he didn’t embrace the “sadism” of the most compassionate, virtuous and self-sacrificial being ever to walk the earth.
And this passes for brilliant analysis?
Evolution, of course, is a key battleground for all of atheism’s champions. Dawkins, the Oxford evolutionary biologist often nicknamed “Darwin’s Rottweiler,” condemns people who believe in creationism as “evil.” (Strong, absolutist words for someone who doesn’t believe in God.) Hitchens mockingly catalogues various parts of the human body, taking witty pot shots at their “poor design.” And Harris – with stunning chutzpah – writes in “Letter to a Christian Nation” that “nature offers no compelling evidence for an intelligent designer and countless examples of unintelligent design.”
Sam, what are you thinking?
A single dandelion, considered from a strictly scientific, analytical perspective, contains more unimaginable complexity and spellbinding design brilliance – from its atomic and molecular design to its cellular and plant structure – than all the manmade supercomputers in the entire world combined.
“No compelling evidence for an intelligent designer”? Sounds like Harris has uncritically accepted a religious teaching that doesn’t square with reality.
That’s right, evolution is a religion, full of incredible and unproven beliefs about man’s origin, and by logical extension his destiny, and even his very nature. Any theory/philosophy – especially an unprovable one – having to do with explaining the origin, destiny and nature of man is, by definition, religious. If you don’t get that, you’re not thinking.
Ironically, many of the same human weaknesses and pressures that induce people to accept their religion unthinkingly also lead atheists to embrace evolution’s belief system just as mindlessly. Within the current science establishment there are overwhelming academic and professional pressures to embrace evolution – and persecution if one does not. No room for honest inquiry or, Heaven forbid, a good-faith challenge to current orthodoxy.
When Harris and other atheist-evolutionists protest there’s just no evidence of intelligent design, one has to laugh – just as history’s greatest scientists, from Galileo to Newton, would also laugh incredulously at today’s atheists for their conceit, arrogance and monumental blindness. In “The Marketing of Evil” I briefly explore this point:
From the beginning of human life until Darwin came along in the mid-19th century, human beings would step outside their homes and survey with their eyes and minds the wonders of nature. They’d see majestic 400-year-old redwood trees, hummingbirds that were able to hover, and honeybees that somehow knew how to do a special figure-eight dance that would communicate to all of the other worker bees the precise location of the dancer’s newly discovered nectar source.
Looking in every direction, we humans beheld not only fantastic complexity, diversity and order, but also the supreme intelligence behind creation, as brashly evident as the noonday sun.
This ubiquitous natural wonderland caused man to acknowledge and honor the Creator of creation, as Copernicus did when he wrote, “[The world] has been built for us by the Best and Most Orderly Workman of all.” Or as Galileo wrote, “God is known … by Nature in His works and by doctrine in His revealed word.” Or as Pasteur confessed, “The more I study nature, the more I stand amazed at the work of the Creator.” Or Isaac Newton: “When I look at the solar system, I see the earth at the right distance from the sun to receive the proper amounts of heat and light. This did not happen by chance.”
Did not happen by chance?
Ever since Darwin and his successors succeeded in selling us on evolution – a fantastic theory for which there is no proof, and many serious problems – when we now walk outside and look at the created universe, what do many of us see? Chance!
Although our eyes survey the same wonders of God’s creation that inspired faith in our predecessors, in our minds today we see only the meaningless result of millions of years of random, chance mutation. That’s what our minds “see” – the eternal dance of purposeless recombination of ever-more-complex forms, but all without meaning, without spirit, without love. And by direct implication we also “see” that man is not a fallen being needful of God’s saving grace, but merely the cleverest, most evolved animal of all. Since evolution by definition always results in improvement and advancement, man and all of his violent and lustful and selfish drives are perfectly normal and natural and … advanced. There is no good and evil, no Heaven and Hell – and man, as a highly evolved monkey, has no sin and no guilt – as these are logical impossibilities from the evolutionary point of view.
In short, whatever else evolution may be, the driving force behind it today is the same as it has always been – a way to deny God’s existence.
I conducted a little thought experiment a while back, while looking out over the Pacific from the Oregon coast. Drinking in the vast expanse of the ocean, the pounding surf, the seagulls, the salt air – ultimate serenity and ultimate power all in one timeless moment – I asked myself: How can one experience all this magnificence without believing in a Creator?
So I tried, just as an experiment mind you, to conceptualize the existence of the fantastic creation I was beholding, yet without a Creator. I consciously tried to adopt an atheistic worldview, even for just a minute, to see what it was like.
What I got was a headache, a psychic shock, a momentary taste of another realm – an empty, prideful, appalling dimension of hell-on-earth, masquerading as enlightenment and freedom.
That’s why the conflict between theism and atheism is not just a philosophical topic for polite debate over tea. It’s a spiritual war of the worlds. That high anxiety I felt momentarily, as I tasted the “other dimension” that animates those who reject the very idea of God, was minor and passing. But I’m quite sure hard-core atheists feel agony when the opposite happens to them – that is, when they chance to experience a fleeting moment of realization that God exists, and that they are accountable ultimately to Him.
This would account for the near-explosive emotion that always seems to surround this “objective, scientific” subject. Underneath all the scientific pretension, it’s all about man being master of his own destiny, about freedom from accountability to God, about being released from Judeo-Christian sexual morality, about making up your own rules, about sustaining the life of pride and individual will.
In a very real sense, it’s about being your own god.
Rebelling against father
Another giant flaw in atheist thinking is plastered right on the cover of Hitchens’ book. His title is “God Is Not Great,” with the subtitle “How Religion Poisons Everything.” Hitchens is equating “God” with “religion.” Big mistake! God is God, but even true religion is full of imperfect people – often confused, and sometimes corrupt or even crazy.
So, are atheists rebelling against God – or against religion? Good question.
If genuinely against God, they have an unsolvable problem – unless they come to realize their error, as many do at some point in their lives. But if they’re rebelling against religion, then clearly they deserve a little sympathy.
After all, religion in the modern world is a mess. And I’m not talking just about the cancerous jihad movement metastasizing within Islam. Even within Christianity – an authentic “religion of peace” – you have major scandals like the Roman Catholic Church’s 10,000-plus cases (since 1950) of alleged child sexual abuse at the hands of predatory priests, as well as the Protestant world’s abundance of high-profile scandals, sexual and otherwise. Then you have the absurdly unbiblical, leftist agenda of many so-called “mainline” Protestant denominations, including their idiotic attacks on Israel, the ordination of homosexuals and lesbians as church leaders and so on.
But even more troubling than all of this is the shallowness and superficiality in far too much of the modern Christian church.
On a recent Saturday afternoon I was channel-surfing and ended up watching the notorious 2004 film “Saved,” a satire that mercilessly skewers evangelical Christianity and features in the lead role a vain, duplicitous and occasionally downright mean adolescent Christian girl. The movie has been understandably condemned by many Christians.
Just for a lark, during commercials I flipped over to some of the Christian television networks to catch a little “real” Christian programming. It was eerie, almost surreal, how similar the “real” Christian preachers, fund-raisers and sidekicks were to the “caricatures” of the same types portrayed mockingly in the film.
Nothing in this world will more readily turn even decent people away from God (at least for a time) than religious leaders who are phonies. Unfortunately, it’s easy for guilty, denial-steeped people, those who aren’t yet ready to genuinely face themselves, to clothe themselves with the appearance of religiosity, while secretly – perhaps unconsciously – preserving their selfish, sinful nature. This is what we call hypocrisy. And it’s very confusing to people who are looking up to such prideful leaders for guidance and example.
In the same way, when parents are religious hypocrites, or emotionally “high” on their religion, or pretentious, or impatient and willful, or just confidently parroting “truth” they’ve heard but don’t really understand – their kids can sense something wrong, at first anyway. But because children are not yet mature and are easily influenced, they almost always end up either conforming (out of intimidation) to their parents’ mold and becoming just like them, or (eventually) rejecting religion altogether. Of course, the more such confusing parents try to “help” their rebel children, the more their kids resent them and become even more rebellious.
I know these are tough words, but if we’re ever going to understand why so many people are turning not only to atheism, but to Wicca and paganism and New Age religions and myriad other strange spiritual philosophies and practices – then we need to face the sad state of the modern church. Many thoughtful analysts say the church today is more in need of overhaul than it was at the time of the Protestant Reformation.
Yelling at God
Let’s move on now and focus on the No. 1 argument, not only today but throughout history, against the existence of God: “If there’s a loving and all-powerful God, how can He allow the human race – His children, made in His image – to suffer so terribly?” This question has often been called “the rock of atheism.”
In “Letter to a Christian Nation,” atheist scientist Sam Harris hammers this point into the ground:
“At this very moment,” he writes, “millions of sentient people are suffering unimaginable physical and mental afflictions, in circumstances where the compassion of God is nowhere to be seen, and the compassion of human beings is often hobbled by preposterous ideas about sin and salvation.”
Attempting to rub the reader’s nose in the age-old mystery of suffering, Harris goes on: “Somewhere in the world, a man has abducted a little girl. Soon he will rape, torture, and kill her. If an atrocity of this kind is not occurring at precisely this moment, it will happen in a few hours, or days at most. Such is the confidence we can draw from the statistical laws that govern the lives of six billion human beings. The same statistics also suggest that this girl’s parents believe – as you believe – that an all-powerful and all-loving God is watching over them and their family. Are they right to believe this. Is it good that they believe this?”
“No,” answers Harris, who adds, cryptically: “The entirety of atheism is contained in this response.”
From the day’s news, Harris calls forth still more examples of great suffering as evidence that God doesn’t exist: “The city of New Orleans, for instance, was recently destroyed by a hurricane. More than a thousand people died; tens of thousands lost all their earthly possessions; and nearly a million were displaced. It is safe to say that almost every person living in New Orleans at the moment Hurricane Katrina struck shared your belief in an omnipotent, omniscient, and compassionate God. But what was God doing while Katrina laid waste to their city? Surely He heard the prayers of those elderly men and women who fled the rising waters for the safety of their attics, only to be slowly drowned there. These were people of faith. These were good men and women who had prayed throughout their lives. Do you have the courage to admit the obvious? These poor people died talking to an imaginary friend.”
Mankind has grappled for millennia with the mystery of suffering, and how it can possibly be compatible with an all-powerful and benevolent God. Let’s explore this question together for a few minutes and see if perhaps we can catch a glimpse of a greater reality.
To begin with, let’s consider one more famous voice angrily condemning God as cruel and sadistic. See if you can guess who the speaker is:
What reason have we, except our own desperate wishes, to believe that God is, by any standard we can conceive, “good”? Doesn’t all the prima facie evidence suggest exactly the opposite? …
If God’s goodness is inconsistent with hurting us, then either God is not good or there is no God: for in the only life we know He hurts us beyond our worst fears and beyond all we can imagine.
So, who do you think this is ranting and raving against God? The ever-fuming journalist Christopher Hitchens? The haughty Oxford professor Richard Dawkins?
No, actually it’s another Oxford professor, far more famous than Dawkins, and whose intellect and writing ability dwarf Hitchens’. It’s C.S. Lewis, one of the 20th century’s most influential defenders of the Christian faith.
As you may know, Lewis was an atheist for the first part of his life. Through a gradual spiritual awakening during his early 30s, he first became convinced of the existence of God, and later – with the help of “Lord of the Rings” author J.R.R. Tolkien and another colleague – embraced the Christian faith. Through his books, like “Mere Christianity” (voted the best Christian book of the 20th century by Christianity Today in 2000), “The Screwtape Letters” (now being made into a feature film for 2008 release) and many others – including of course his beloved “Chronicles of Narnia” series – he helped, and continues to help, countless people in their journey toward God.
“So,” you must be thinking, “these angry anti-God words from the great C.S. Lewis must have come from his early, whacked-out atheist years – right?”
They were written after “Narnia,” after “Mere Christianity,” after all the acclaim of an appreciative Christian world. They were written, to be precise, after the 1960 death of Lewis’ wife, Joy, in his book “A Grief Observed.”
For most of his life, well into his 50s, Lewis the author, literature professor at Oxford and Cambridge and celebrated Christian apologist, had been a bachelor. Then he met Helen Joy Davidman, an unusually gifted American writer and poet of Jewish background who had converted from atheistic communism to Christianity, in part due to Lewis’ writings. After they corresponded for several years, she moved to England and they married in 1956, when Lewis was 57.
Both of them knew Joy had bone cancer. In fact, they were married at Joy’s hospital bedside.
Amazingly, Joy experienced a dramatic remission, during which time the couple lived together happily, traveled and enjoyed each other to the fullest. But this blissful period was short-lived, and Joy died when her cancer returned with a vengeance in 1960.
In his 1961 book, “A Grief Observed,” Lewis records for posterity his intense bereavement – including his very real angers and doubts about everything he had written and taught about God for decades – and does it in such a raw and uncensored manner that he originally released the book under the pseudonym of N.W. Clerk, so readers wouldn’t associate it with him.
But let’s see how Lewis responded to this severe personal suffering – and what conclusions he ultimately came to about God. He begins, understandably enough, poignantly grieving the loss of his beloved (whom he referred to in the book as “H,” for Helen):
… The most precious gift that marriage gave me was this constant impact of something very close and intimate yet all the time unmistakably other, resistant – in a word, real. Is all that work to be undone? Is what I shall still call [Helen] to sink back horribly into being not much more than one of my old bachelor pipedreams? Oh my dear, my dear, come back for one moment and drive that miserable phantom away. Oh God, God, why did you take such trouble to force this creature out of its shell if it is now doomed to crawl back – to be sucked back – into it? …
… What pitiable cant to say, “She will live forever in my memory!” Live? That is exactly what she won’t do. You might as well think like the old Egyptians that you can keep the dead by embalming them. Will nothing persuade us that they are gone? What’s left? A corpse, a memory, and (in some versions) a ghost. All mockeries or horrors. Three more ways of spelling the word dead. It was H. I loved. As if I wanted to fall in love with my memory of her, an image in my own mind! It would be a sort of incest. …
Meanwhile, asks Lewis, where on earth is God?
This is one of the most disquieting symptoms. When you are happy, so happy that you have no sense of needing Him, so happy that you are tempted to feel His claims upon you as an interruption, if you remember yourself and turn to Him with gratitude and praise, you will be – or so it feels – welcomed with open arms. But go to Him when your need is desperate, when all other help is vain, and what do you find? A door slammed in your face, and a sound of bolting and double bolting on the inside. After that, silence. You may as well turn away. The longer you wait, the more emphatic the silence will become. There are no lights in the windows. It might be an empty house. Was it ever inhabited? It seemed so once. …
Not that I am (I think) in much danger of ceasing to believe in God. The real danger is of coming to believe such dreadful things about Him. The conclusion I dread is not “So there’s no God after all,” but “So this is what God’s really like. Deceive yourself no longer.”
Now Lewis zeroes in on the key question:
… Sooner or later I must face the question in plain language. What reason have we, except our own desperate wishes, to believe that God is, by any standard we can conceive, “good”? Doesn’t all the prima facie evidence suggest exactly the opposite? What have we to set against it?
We set Christ against it. But how if He were mistaken? Almost His last words may have a perfectly clear meaning. He had found that the Being He called Father was horribly and infinitely different from what He had supposed. The trap, so long and carefully prepared and so subtly baited, was at last sprung, on the cross. The vile practical joke had succeeded.
In his despair, Lewis goes on to speculate darkly about the “vile practical joke” played on him and his beloved.
What chokes every prayer and every hope is the memory of all the prayers H. and I offered and all the false hopes we had. Not hopes raised merely by our own wishful thinking, hopes encouraged, even forced upon us, by false diagnoses, by X-ray photographs, by strange remissions, by one temporary recovery that might have ranked as a miracle. Step by step we were “led up the garden path.” Time after time, when He seemed most gracious He was really preparing the next torture.
The next morning, Lewis thinks better of his agonized rant.
I wrote that last night. It was a yell rather than a thought. Let me try it over again. Is it rational to believe in a bad God? Anyway, in a God so bad as all that? The Cosmic Sadist, the spiteful imbecile?
And coming to his senses, he asks:
Why do I make room in my mind for such filth and nonsense? Do I hope that if feeling disguises itself as thought I shall feel less? Aren’t all these notes the senseless writhings of a man who won’t accept the fact that there is nothing we can do with suffering except to suffer it? Who still thinks there is some device (if only he could find it) which will make pain not to be pain. It doesn’t really matter whether you grip the arms of the dentist’s chair or let your hands lie in your lap. The drill drills on.
Eventually, after fully expressing his anger, inconsolable grief and doubts about God, Lewis starts to turn a major corner.
… Something quite unexpected has happened. It came this morning early. For various reasons, not in themselves at all mysterious, my heart was lighter than it had been for many weeks. For one thing, I suppose I am recovering physically from a good deal of mere exhaustion. … And suddenly, at the very moment when, so far, I mourned H. least, I remembered her best. Indeed, it was something (almost) better than memory; an instantaneous, unanswerable impression. To say it was like a meeting would be going too far. Yet there was that in it which tempts one to use those words. It was as if the lifting of the sorrow removed a barrier.
… How far have I got? Just as far, I think, as a widower of another sort who would stop, leaning on his spade, and say in answer to the inquiry, “Thank’ee. Mustn’t grumble. I do miss her something dreadful. But they say these things are sent to try us.” We have come to the same point; he with his spade, and I, who am not now much good at digging, with my own instrument. But of course, one must take “sent to try us” in the right way. God has not been trying an experiment on my faith or love in order to find out their quality. He knew it already. It was I who didn’t. In this trial He makes us occupy the dock, the witness box and the bench all at once.
Lewis finally admits a shattering but also liberating personal truth …
He always knew that my temple was a house of cards. His only way of making me realize that fact was to knock it down. …
… And he offers a useful metaphor to explain the powerfully redemptive use God makes of human suffering.
… Bridge-players tell me that there must be some money on the game, “or else people won’t take it seriously.” Apparently it’s like that. Your bid – for God or no God, for a good God or the Cosmic Sadist, for eternal life or nonentity – will not be serious if nothing much is staked on it. And you will never discover how serious it was until the stakes are raised horribly high; until you find that you are playing not for counters or for sixpences but for every penny you have in the world.
Nothing less will shake a man – or at any rate a man like me – out of his merely verbal thinking and his merely notional beliefs. He has to be knocked silly before he comes to his senses.
In the afterglow of this profound realization, Lewis, in a moment of story-telling brilliance, confides in God:
Sometimes, Lord, one is tempted to say that if you wanted us to behave like the lilies of the field you might have given us an organization more like theirs. But that, I suppose, is just your grand experiment. Or no; not an experiment, for you have no need to find things out. Rather your grand enterprise. To make an organism which is also spirit; to make that terrible oxymoron, a “spiritual animal.” To take a poor primate, a beast with nerve-endings all over it, a creature with a stomach that wants to be filled, a breeding animal that wants its mate, and say, “Now get on with it. Become a god.”
Why do you suppose one person who suffers a tremendous personal loss also loses his belief in God, while another goes through the same experience and – despite all his transient doubts and angers – emerges with his faith intact, and stronger than ever?
Why did some people survive the Nazi Holocaust only to conclude there is no God – or no God worth knowing if He would allow such suffering – while other Holocaust survivors emerged from that ordeal with a far deeper faith in the Almighty?
What words can describe this mysterious quality? Humility, faith, blessedness, grace? It’s actually beyond words – perhaps some secret mystical connection between our soul and God, some back-channel that enables us to keep attuned to a proper perspective regardless of difficult circumstances.
That special quality – C.S. Lewis had it – is the secret ingredient that makes the good things that happen to us truly good, and the bad things that happen to us also good, because God uses them to perfect our character. In the same way, for people who live from the energy and motivation of pride (which in turn is connected to the invisible realm of evil), the bad things that happen remain bad (non-redemptive), but even the “good” things (success, wealth, fame) aren’t good either, because they just build pride, in ever-increasing conflict with God.
Our life is a gift – including the suffering. It’s time we stopped spitting at the gift-Giver. Atheists who rant pompously against God are a little like ants, muttering and sputtering furiously against man, believing themselves superior to him (if he even exists!).
Life is not only a gift from God, but it’s supposed to be magical – or maybe “miraculous” is a better word – and full of adventure and discovery. I’m not referring to our outer journey of life, which may or may not be particularly exciting, but to the inner adventure we’re meant to experience – a journey of discovery whereby through progressive realization and repentance our character is gradually perfected for the Creator’s purpose. The enchantment of such a life is subtle and private – no one else will know about it – but it’s more magical than anything in “Harry Potter” or “The Lord of the Rings” or “The Narnia Chronicles” or any other fantasy from the mind of man. Because we are living characters, set in a story not from the mind of man, but from the mind of God. And that story is full of wonder.
An acorn falls to the ground, dies to itself, and effortlessly grows into a towering oak tree – a transformation which, if it occurred in a few seconds, we’d consider pure magic. But, since that same magic unfolds in slow motion over the course of 50 years, we think nothing of it. We walk past such marvels constantly and shrug, just as we bypass the potential miracles of character growth within each of us – dying and being reborn – because we don’t understand God’s methods. Sometimes there is miraculous transformation in suffering – but only if we endure it with patience and dignity, and not with resentment.
God works miracles through the things we suffer. Even Christ, the perfect Son of God, learned obedience that way, Scripture tells us.
“Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered; And being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him.” (Hebrews 5:8-9 KJV)
So, even if we suffer, even if we need to be “knocked silly” like C.S. Lewis, even if we lose everything like Job, what of it? The magic of redemption is in the air when we suffer with patience and humility and without anger – and allow God to transform us at our core, into the giant oak. This is a great mystery.
And what of the atheist? He also breathes a kind of magic air, but of a very different variety. He is his own god, or so it seems. That kind of freedom has a sort of sweet stench – a little like those green Christmas-tree-shaped air fresheners that people hang from their car’s rear-view mirror, meant to make the car smell better but which actually emit an offensive odor. Just so, the “sweetness” of pride, of being your own god and master of your destiny, has a spiritual scent that is noxious to sincere seekers of truth.
Meanwhile, as atheist authors write books and lecture and travel to and fro persuading as many of us as possible to abandon our faith, lift up your gaze: The enemy is amassing and heading for the city’s gates. The global Islamic jihad movement, which is single-mindedly focused on spreading Islam over the world at the point of a sword – or a gun or a bomb or a suitcase nuke – has awakened after centuries of relative dormancy and is on the prowl again, seeking whom it may devour. The waning of genuine Christian faith in America is like a pheromone, a sweet scent this predator can’t resist. And yet – just as God brought ancient Israel back to life over and over, don’t count us out.
It’s been said it takes a religion to fight a religion. Thus, however many angry and clever books atheists write expounding their arguments, they’ll never make any headway in countering radical Islam. You see, genuine belief in God – the God Who inspired the Holy Bible and sustained America’s soldiers throughout all the righteous wars we have fought for freedom, not just for ourselves but for others too – is what has given strength and muscle and sinew to America up until now. And without genuine faith in God, we will never be able to defeat the Islamists in the coming battle. Why? Because their belief – and therefore their determination, persistence and willingness to suffer for the sake of obedience to their god – will be more powerful than ours.
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