The Spectator magazine had an article about a debate held at Cambridge University between Richard Dawkins with the new Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby. The debate centered on the whole issue of this atheism malarkey. It is this which has not left my head all week and I have pondered long and hard about what was said.
Richard Dawkins is what I would deem a “celebrity atheist,” a man who makes his living shouting that there is no God and that we are absolute masters of all we survey. We are answerable to no one and we can basically do whatever we want. Religion is an evil superstition and people need to be freed from these pervasive, pernicious beliefs.
Giving him credit, Dawkins was Professor for Public Understanding of Science from 1995 until 2008 at University of Oxford. Dawkins now prefers to spend his time as a wandering atheist preacher, telling all and sundry that belief in God is nonsense.
I go visit him most days and we pray together. He is 91 years of age, absolutely mad on rugby and Gaelic football, has to get the papers at the weekends and Monday to read the sports results. He is a delight to be with.
I decided to analyze Dawkins’ perspective as well as that of my priest friend to see what these two men offer me to guide me through life.
First I look to Cardinal Dawkins.
According to Dawkins, there is no spiritual element to the universe. There is no God, no angels, no afterlife, and no mystery. Everything can be explained by science. Love, happiness, joy and the wonder we feel at creation, all these are just the result of electrical discharges in the brain.
For an atheist, life has meaning only in the sense that we are part of the family of mankind. We are moral and do right by our neighbour simply because that is the most efficient way for a society to live. We are animals, the highest animals in nature and we obey the laws of natural selection like every other animal.
Atheism tells us that when we die that’s it; we are gone. The feelings of love that we have are only residual electric discharges in the brain and when these discharges settle down then there will be no feeling left; some sort of “Out of sight, out of mind” mentality.
Then we have the problem of the world itself. Where did it come from? It stands to reason that anything that exists must have had a beginning, no matter how much an atheist protests.
When asked “how did the universe come to be?” Dawkins’ reply is, “I don’t know. That’s a question for physicists, not me, I’m a biologist.”
Why is Dawkins allowed what I would call “a cop out” when he doesn’t know an answer? I wonder why he is given so much authority to discuss religion when his expertise is biology any way.
Again, when it is pointed out that love, morality, kindness, goodness and all these things are emotions of the soul and cannot be explained by material things, the only answer that Dawkins has is that he “resents people saying that atheists can’t feel love even though they don’t believe in God.”
Cardinal Dawkins is right; atheists can feel love etc. That is not the question. The question is; “How do they feel it. Whereabouts in the brain are the love cells?”
When I listen to Dawkins telling me that religion is not a force for good, that it shall soon pass and that in 200 years time we shall have moved into the “post religion” world I can’t help but ask myself, “Why has this religion stuff lasted so long. If these smart men are so smart and we are so stupid, why have they never been able to teach us the error of our ways?”
I pulled in to my driveway last night and there above the roof of my house was the constellation of Orion in all its glory. To the right was the finest crescent moon you could imagine, barley showing the outline of the new moon; beautiful.
And then I remember what Cardinal Dawkins teaches me; the feeling of awe that I have when I see the beauty of creation is an illusion. The love I have for my wife, who got out of the car with me, is only a selfish evolutionary mechanism to help me pass on my genes to the next generation. The desire I have for meaning to my life is a mental aberration caused by my superstitious and pathetic need to find meaning in life outside the three score years and ten we normally have.
What about my old friend, the 91 year old priest who spends his day talking to Jesus, what perception of life does he give me?
For him life has meaning, it is a beautiful adventure towards an eternity spent with a living, loving God, where we shall experience eternal bliss and happiness beyond measure.
When I ask him how the universe came to be he simply answers, “God made the universe and all that is in it.”
There is no big deal; the Big Bang, evolution and the formation of galaxies, are only the tools that God used to bring the world to where it is today. “Everyone knows that God created the universe, someone had to make it. It didn’t come out of nowhere.”
“When we love we participate in the love of God. God is love and he is the source of all love.” For my old friend, the universe makes sense and has purpose.
There is something else truly beautiful about talking to my old friend; he knows that he is coming near to the end of his life and he is looking forward to meeting Jesus.
For him, death is only the doorway to another life. It is not the end, just the real beginning, and it is nothing to be afraid of.
Between Richard Dawkins and my friend there is only one word of difference: “There is no God” and “There is a God.” What a difference a “no” makes!
On the one hand we have a meaningless existence as an animal who can neither love nor appreciate the beauty of life. For the atheist, in the final analysis, life is essentially meaningless; you might not be a superstitious fool, you might be wise and above this religious folly, but your life is still meaningless.
On the other hand, my quiet old priest friend presents me with a picture of life that runs from the very beginning to long after death, in perfect harmony with my limited reason. His worldview gives me a reason to love, makes me delight in the beauty of Orion and a crescent moon as reflections of the beauty of God who ultimately gives my life meaning.
In Richard Dawkins’ world my daughter who died ten years ago is a pile of bones and no longer exists in any form. My old priest friend assures me that she is safe with Jesus and waiting on her old da to join her.
Then as I was writing this a couple of thoughts came to me.
What if God does not want to be seen and does not want to give us answers to all our questions? What if he wants us to live by faith, trusting that he shall make all things well in his own time? He is God and if he exists then he is under no obligation to us to tell us what his plans are. What if he is a God of faith and not a God of answers?
Perhaps God wants us to make a choice, a choice to believe and to accept his authority in our lives.
Next I reflected on my priest friend. He talks constantly of Jesus, God the Father and God the Holy Spirit. They are important to him. I have also to say that rugby and Gaelic football are important to him as well as he talks a lot about them too.
Come to think of it, people are always talking about the things that are important to them; listen to a Man Utd fan talk about football or an economist talk about money.
Richard Dawkins is always talking about God. Why? If God does not exist why talk about him?
I don’t talk about Man Utd because football is not in the least bit important to me. I don’t bore you with economics because I decide to leave that to men better qualified.
But I do write and talk about life every week because life and what goes on in life is fascinating to me.
This nonexistent God must be important to Richard Dawkins. He talks about him constantly. Even if he does not believe in God, the strength of his unbelief is proof of God’s importance.
What is the future for these two totally different men, Dawkins and my priest friend?
One is quietly sitting reflecting on Jesus and God, happy with his life, living in no fear and waiting for the day when Jesus shall call him home where he shall join his ancestors in a happy embrace.
I can’t imagine what Richard Dawkins is thinking, but I can reflect on the experience of his great atheist friend Christopher Hitchens.
When asked “What will happen if you find there is an afterlife?” a slightly more humble and reflective Hitchens said, “I shall be pleasantly surprised.”
Then I think of Antony Flew, professor of Philosophy at several universities including Oxford, who died in April 2010. He was also a rampant atheist who said that as a thinker he had to follow the evidence.
Eventually the evidence proved to him that there was a God and Flew came back to his Christian roots and died in communion with his Anglican faith.
And what about me, the simple man who writes for the local paper?
I like the idea of a life with meaning. I like to look at Orion and the crescent moon and see the beauty of God. I like the idea that I shall grow old and be content with my life and be ready to meet Jesus.
Most of all I enjoy being a human being, loving and hoping, caring and believing. I may not be much good at it but even in the little that I can do it gives my life meaning and joy.
And I look forward to seeing my daughter again, seeing her smile and holding her in my arms.
Sorry, Richard, but you have nothing to offer me.
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