Monday, July 28, 2008

Made-up Things

Hither if I have come through earth and air,
Through fire and water--I am not of them;

Born in the darkness, what fair-flashing gem
Would to the earth go back and nestle there?
Not of this world, this world my life doth hem;
What if I weary, then, and look to the door,
Because my unknown life is swelling at the core?
(George MacDonald, "The Diary of an Old Soul")
I must confess something rather embarrassing: not too many weeks ago I had fallen under the spell of the village atheists. I was reading their writings, and listening to their debates, all with the intention of proving to myself how silly they really were, and how superior my Christian worldview was from the standpoint of logic and reason.

Well, a funny thing happened on the way to the ivory tower, I discovered to my horror that they were making sense. Taken purely from the standpoint of logic and reason they make some powerful and convincing points. Sure, the Christian apologists who debate them make very powerful and convincing points as well, but the atheists have a trick up their sleeve which, to me anyway, trumps the apologists and wins the debates. You see the atheists get to play both sides of the table while the apologists only get to play one.

The atheists use arguments from reason and logic, but their trump cards are the arguments from emotion. The atheists seem to share a level of anger and hatred towards God that borders on the psychotic. They level charges against God with all the fury of a lover scorned and all the hurt of an abandoned child. And it is here that I ate the apple. For I too have long struggled with anger towards God for all of his seeming injustice in allowing the pain and heartache of this world to continue unabated.

The natural result of this anger seems, almost universally, to be a planting of the seeds of doubt. We try so hard to force the universe into something manageable or predictable. We take refuge behind the study of science. We try to find shelter beneath the comforting gaze of the goddess of reason. We deny the basic truth that man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upward, or we abandon all pretense and wallow in the muck and the mire.

And here, after years of struggling with faith, after wasting so much time trying to make God fit into the mold I had created and the box I had formed, I came to the end. And at the end I discovered the beginning. A light was shining in the darkness but I had not understood it. Not understood it that is until I was stabbed through the heart by the truth of the story and the reality of the myth. As I lay there in a stupor, under the spell of the village atheist, drunk with the maddening wine, I remembered...Before the silver cord was severed, or the golden bowl was broken; before the pitcher was shattered at the spring, or the wheel broken at the well. (Ecclesiastes 12:6)... I remembered.

I remembered the Creator because I remembered His creation. I remembered the numberless stars scattered like a symphony of light across the heavens. I remembered the sundering sea with its eternal invitation to pass beyond the edge of the world. I remembered the ancient forest and the lord of ageless wisdom that resides within some hidden realm. I remembered that I was fearfully and wonderfully made... in the secret place. That I was woven together in the depths of the earth. (Psalm 139:14,15)

I remembered my true home; a home I had never seen, but a home whose story was written on my heart. A story, a myth if you will, about a King and his Son. A story about a princess looking and longing for her white knight. A story of loss and betrayal, and of rescue beyond the gates of hope. And the story rings true. The myth that is written deep into every fiber of creation, that awakens a longing so exquisite as to be almost painful, resonates with a verity that goes beyond the realm of thought and word and finds its anchor in the very bedrock of the universe.

Yes, the pain is real. Yes, the sadness is real. Yes, the tears are real. Yes, the horror and disease and loss is real. But in what story are they not? And in what tale that stirs the heart do the heroes not live happily ever after?

The Lord of the story, the great Prince of the myth, came and knelt at my side as I lay bespelled and touched my face. He healed my heart and spoke my name. And at the sound of that voice I awoke and I remembered, and remembering I turned my back on the shadow and turned my face towards the glorious light. In the words of a great traveler who went before me on this road: "Here I stand, I can do no other".
All you've been saying is quite right, I shouldn't wonder. I'm a chap who always liked to know the worst and then put the best face I can on it. So I won't deny any of what you said. But there's one thing more to be said, even so. Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up, all those things -- trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself. Suppose we have. Then all I can say is that, in that case, the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones. Suppose this black pit of a kingdom of yours is the only world. Well, it strikes me as a pretty poor one. And that's a funny thing, when you come to think of it. We're just babies making up a game, if you're right. But four babies playing a game can make a play-world which licks your real world hollow. That's why I'm going to stand by the play-world. I'm on Aslan's side even if there isn't any Aslan to lead it. I'm going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn't any Narnia. (C.S. Lewis, "The Silver Chair")


Lexrst said...

The atheists use arguments from reason and logic, but their trump cards are the arguments from emotion. The atheists seem to share a level of anger and hatred towards God that borders on the psychotic. They level charges against God with all the fury of a lover scorned and all the hurt of an abandoned child.


I wouldn't presume to speak for everyone who might call themselves an atheist (lowercase or capital A), but I can certainly talk about me...

I make only two assumptions when it comes to my thoughts on the subject of life or reality or whatever you'd like to call it.

1.) We (humans) live in the universe. I like to call the universe nature. Not in the sense of trees and rivers and mountains, but in the sense of everything surrounding us from here on Earth out to the furthest reaches of space.

2.) We (humans) have the ability to learn about nature.

That's it.

Reason and logic for me are the best ways to go about that learning process, so that's what I use. Some people may choose other means to learn about nature and that's their prerogative.

I certainly don't harbor any negative feelings toward any deity in which you or someone else chooses to believe. It's a non-issue for me what you believe your personal deity did or did not do in your religion's histories.

So please do not presume that I or even most atheists base our thoughts about the world around us on something as simple as moral disagreements with a malevolent deity.

Should I presume that all Christians are Christians because they are angry at all the horrible things Allah/Zeus/Thor/Baal/Zoraster/Mithra/Osirus did? That's just silly.

We're here and we can learn. That is where I start.


Dan G said...

I should clarify that I was not presuming to speak for everyone who might call themselves an Atheist either. I know I didn't even attempt to make that point and I do apologize for making a blanket statement. Especially when my statements could be construed as an attack on someones sanity. It would probably have been better if I'd said "the idea of God" instead of "God" in the paragraph you quoted.

I think if you listen to or read someone like Hitchens you'll understand what I mean about anger and hatred. I think there's a reason he is seen as more of an anti-theist than an Atheist.

In any case, I certainly understand that to charge someone with hating someone they don't even believe in is to charge them with insanity. I'm not charging anyone with that. It is entirely possible that I brought my own emotions with me when I listened to and read these Atheists.

As for the rest I'm not even going to attempt go into apologetics. There are really good arguments for and against the existence of God and they have been very well articulated by much smarter people than me.

I followed the arguments for and against God from logic and reason until they reached a stalemate (for me). Since my head wasn't going to solve my dilemma I finally had to go to my heart.

The ancient Celts had a belief in a place they called the otherworld. They believed that there were places where the barrier between the two worlds became thin. They believed that there were times when the otherworld was closer to ours. They called these "thin places" and the "time between times". Even after the coming of Christianity to Ireland through Patrick, the Celtic Christians didn't abandon this idea. I think they were on to something.

Human kind has always instinctively believed that there was more than meets the eye. All the reason, logic and science in the world will never destroy the power of myth to stir something in our innermost being. Why do you think we humans have been telling each other stories since the dawn of time? Why do all the stories have such common themes? Why do they move us and resonate so powerfully within us?

Campbell was nearly there. Another step higher and he'd have poked his head through the veil and found himself in the otherworld. We do have a story written in our collective consciousness. It is a story with all the qualities of myth because all myths are, in fact, splinters of the original light.

You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. (God, Jeremiah 29:13)