Peter Kreeft has a wonderful anecdote about his religious philosophy class. He asks all the people who do not believe in God to put up their hand and asks them to sit on one side of the room. On the other side of the class, then, is the theists or deists. Then he asks the theists to argue against the existence of God and the atheists to argue for the existence of God. Without fail, Kreeft says, the theists offer the best arguments one can come up with against the existence of God. Also without fail is the atheists who tend to offer the weakest possible arguments for the existence of God. In short, Kreeft says, the theist has thought out his position, while the atheist has tended to not really give it the thought it deserves.
I bring this up because I have discovered that this tends to hold true in much of my discourse with atheists. Reading Karl Rahner for one of my courses – as painful as it was – reinforced in me an idea that has been germinating in my mind for quite some time. I have come to realize that the god of the atheist is a god I don’t believe in either. I too want to do everything I can to destroy the idol of that god in the world. However, unfortunately, the atheist tends to equate that god with the God of the theist or the Christian, and it is in no way the same as the Christian God.
For Christians, God is completely Other. He is completely transcendent to all creation. We cannot grasp Him, we cannot put Him into a box, we cannot define Him completely. For everything we do say positively about Him, we must hold that these words are insignificant in comparison to the reality that is God. If God is love, He is ever more than our understanding of love, for example. Yet when you talk to an atheist, they look at ‘god’ as some figure who can be examined, dissected, and parsed. In short, their ‘god’ is one who is completely comprehensible to the human mind. And they impose this idol as the god of all theists. But this is not our God. God is completely other.
Where is the proof of this? The most common version is their equation of the Christian God with Thor, Zeus, the Flying Spaghetti Monster, etc. In short: the gods or God: they are all part of our order of things. They do not see God as completely other. If God is not completely other, then I don’t believe in Him either. A great proof of this is found in Dawkins’ book “The God Delusion”. He says “the problem about a designer is this: who designed the designer”. What we see in this is a subtle problem: Dawkins is equating the Christian God as simply the first thing in reality. The whole of the cosmos and God are in the same reality: God is just the greatest thing of our reality. But that is not the Christian claim. Dawkins (and most atheists) set up a straw man. They rightly destroy that idol. But they have not ridden us of the Christian God because they have never taken Him seriously.
Yet when we look at Scripture, we see a very different understanding of God. When Moses encounters God in the burning bush he asks Him a name and God refuses to give Moses a name; He simply says “I AM WHO AM”. God refuses to give a name because to give a name means you can be manipulated. Job’s search for meaning in his suffering is also a demonstration of God’s complete Otherness: “My ways are not your ways”. God is infinitely more than anything in the created realm. God transcends all that is: He is completely, totally, and irrevocably OTHER. Thus, when people like Dawkins make the claim “who designed the designer”, it is a demonstration that they are unable to grasp the totality of the mystery, transcendence, and otherness of God.
This brings me to a second point on the topic. We live in a culture which states that you have to try everything in order to make an informed choice. My first reaction to this is simply “well, do I have to try murder to see if it’s wrong?”. It is a rather extreme statement to make, but it is hyperbolic in order to demonstrate the absurdity of what Blondel calls “dilenttantism”: the need to try everything because that is what life is all about. I bring this up because it leads me to the important of Blaise Pascal’s arguments for the existence of God. Though I don’t have the space to go into detail about what he says, I simply want to emphasize his idea that it is the most reasonable thing to believe in God because it is the statistically best idea to embrace in virtue of his four possibilities. What we tend to do is think that belief is purely in the mind. It is an assent, and that is it. But Pascal means something by belief. He means that we ought to live as if God exists.
What does this mean? It means that our life is formed by God: action is what is primary. If we live as if God exists, then our minds will be formed to embrace the total Otherness of the reality of God. What does this mean? It means that it tends to be the case that those who are atheists have never actually given theism a shot because they have never lived according to what that entails. Some may have been raised in religious households, but I have found that what they have been raised in tends towards superstition. Some legitimately reject God as He is. But my question to atheists is “Have you actually lived as if God exists?” If not, then their statements are futile and what they say is not based on reality as such. I would be much more willing to listen to an atheist who actually takes reality seriously. Unfortunately, I have yet to meet one.