September 6, 2013
The trouble with atheists, some wag once wrote, is that they are always talking about God. How endlessly they obsess about him! And what strikes one straightaway about the sheer mind-numbing attention they pay to God, including especially the problems posed by us benighted folk who persist in believing in him, is that it so oddly testifies to the fact that he really does exist.
They are in very good company, by the way, since lots of non-atheists feel the same way. Of course, some of them are actually talking to God. It is, after all, the single most fateful human question we all face, taking us, as Pascal liked to say, by the throat. The esteemed Jesuit theologian John Courtney Murray, for example, in a seminal series of lectures delivered at Yale University in 1962 called The Problem of God, reminds us that nothing and no one can claim exemption from the God Question. “The whole man,” he tells us, “—as intelligent and free, as a body, a psychic apparatus, and a soul—is profoundly engaged both in the position of the problem and its solution. In fact, he is in a real sense a datum of the problem itself, and his solution of it has personal consequences that touch every aspect of his conduct, character, and consciousness.”
So there is no escaping the business, it being the net in which all of us are caught. Yet for all that the atheists lay claim to having seized the intellectual high ground in the debate, what finally drives them is not an argument about God at all. What is fundamentally determinative of their position, in other words, is not the result of an abstract intelligence in cool and clinical possession of its faculties, looking straight on at a problem solely in light of the evidence presented. It really hasn’t got anything to do with what’s under the hood. But rather an act of the will that is already and ferociously directed against God. Only after having decided to kill God, as it were, do they then set about finding reasons to justify his non-existence. “There are indeed philosophies that are atheist,” explains Fr. Murray, “in the sense that they are incompatible with faith in God. But they are reached only by a will to atheism. This will, and the affirmation into which it is translated (‘There is no God’), are the inspiration of these philosophies, not a conclusion from them.”
So one first decides that there is no God. Then one constructs the discourse needed in order to defend the decision. A bit like despising the neighbor next door whom you hadn’t even met, then going on to announce that, in addition to being despicable, he also doesn’t exist. People who steal a base like that, it seems to me, need to be called out on the matter.