08 May What If God Doesn’t Exist?
by Tom White
What is life all about, anyway? Shakespeare’s character Macbeth famously said, “Life is a tale told by an idiot: full of sound and fury and signifying nothing!”
Many scientists and philosophers believe just that. They believe that there is no God, that the universe we see is all there is, that life is pure accident, and that consciousness is simply a product of the chemistry of the human brain, that there is no such thing as free will or spirit, and that you and I are nothing more than projections or perhaps “computer generated images” of the complex chemical processes of our brains.
Actually the scientific case is a bit more complex: scientists look for natural common-sense explanations to the world around us.
One of the strangest things in the world is consciousness, that is, our actual experience of ourselves and the world, our sense of being and knowing.
Our conscious being and to a lesser extent the conscious being of animals is obviously a miracle, but scientists aren’t allowed to say that. They have to find some mundane, natural explanation, but the only one anybody can think of is that consciousness is a product of brain chemistry
But if there is no God, there is no good or evil, no meaning or point in life whatsoever beyond “eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die.”
And if what we call me—myself!—is only the result of some very complex electro-chemical patterns in my brain, then what am I? I cannot even call myself a delusion: what is being deluded?
If this is truly the case, then all effort, struggle, love, sacrifice, achievement are futile. We are born for no reason and we die because our bodies wear out. If there is no God, then Macbeth’s view of life appears to be correct: life is a tale told by an idiot.
I have often wondered how a materialist philosopher sees his wife and family. Does he see his children as little opportunistic Darwinian parasites?
Does he see himself and his wife not as a loving human couple but as two organisms somehow enslaved to the biological program hard-wired into his brain, mediated by various hormones and reinforced by cultural norms?
Anyway, for all of its transparent absurdity, it appears that we live in a society that is in danger of succumbing to this view of life.
From every side we are told to indulge our whims, to celebrate our passions and flee from all discomfort. YouTube and Netflix promise endless diversion—from what?—from the dreadful thought of meaninglessness and death.
Happily, the great majority of the human race rejects the dismal view of total meaninglessness out of hand. Whether people are explicitly “religious” or not, they find great meaning in their victories and joys and even in their defeats and sorrows.
I don’t see that this is possible unless there is embedded deeply in every human heart the knowledge that Life transcends the cravings and fears of the body and the petty concerns of this existence, that Life has some ultimate, transcendent meaning.
Many years ago, a Maryknoll missioner told me a story—or perhaps I read the story in their magazine, I’m not sure—of an encounter he had with a boy who was so crippled that all he could do was to squirm along the ground bumping his begging pan ahead of him with his nose.
If you or I were to come upon this boy lying in the dirt, after we got over being shocked and horrified, we would probably try to help him by sending him to some prestigious children’s hospital in the developed world, on the presumption that the poor boy had no “quality of life,” or human dignity.
That’s what the Maryknoll priest no doubt thought. But when he actually sat down and became acquainted with the boy, he found out that the boy was happy, because God was with him every moment of the day.
What’s the point? The point is that life, even a life such as this boy was given, is not meaningless. Each life, your unique life, my unique life, is a love affair between us and God.
I just recently read of a study where an experimenter gave one monkey in a large cage with other monkeys a piece of celery which the monkey matter-of-factly took and ate. Next the man gave another monkey a banana while the first monkey was watching. Finally he returned to the first monkey and offered another stick of celery, but this time the monkey rejected it in disgust as if to say, “That’s no fair!”
Isn’t that just like us: Susie is pretty and I’m not, Joey is rich and I’m not, Ashley is popular and I’m not, Koko got a banana and I didn’t. I’m not strong or good-looking or rich or born in the right country or popular or artistic or athletic or clever or talented, etc., etc.—you name it.
We make human judgments—ignorant, earthly judgments about the quality of our lives—instead of accepting the wonderful breathtaking fact that each life—your life, my life—is a miracle and that each unique life is, properly speaking, a love affair with God.
People, jobs, problems, ideas, passions will come and go in your life. Light will pass into darkness and back into light; health and sickness will come and go. And these all have their due importance. But the one constant is the God who with transcendent wisdom and care and tenderness brought you personally into being with all of your strengths and talents and also with all of your weaknesses and flaws and shortcomings, and who walks with you through every moment of your life.
Your life is not an accident. God chose you. God spoke your name and said, “Live!”
We tend to think that our individual lives are small, unimportant, insignificant, average. We will live our lives as part of the crowd; we won’t ever do anything noteworthy.
But that’s not how God sees things. We won’t know what we have accomplished until we stand before him who created us in Love and who walked with us in Love.
What we think of as our greatest achievement might be nothing in his eyes, and our worst failure might be to him a great victory.
One of Mother Teresa’s best known sayings is:
“People are often unreasonable and self-centered. Forgive them anyway.
“If you are kind, people may accuse you of ulterior motives. Be kind anyway. If you are honest, people may cheat you. Be honest anyway. If you find happiness, people may be jealous. Be happy anyway. The good you do today may be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway. Give the world the best you have and it may never be enough. Give your best anyway.
“For you see, in the end, it really is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.”
Your life is not an accident. Love chose you! Yes, you!
The people of Ghana in Africa say, “God loves me best!” All of us can say that: God loves each one of his children best!
So, “Be a spendthrift of love”, as our foundress Catherine used to say.
Give the world the best you have even though your best seems insignificant; even though other people wonder why you don’t seek comfort and pleasure. Even (God forbid!) in the face of disaster, give your best anyway.