If the great tree of truth were suddenly to topple, taking down the beautiful and the good with it, what would be left? Once the three transcendentals have fallen to the ground, is there anywhere in the forest where hope might reappear? Or would that be the end of everything?
Only if there is no God on whom the claims of each may rely can we say that there is no hope. Only then does nihilism have the last word. And the first. For if God were truly dead, or if He never was to begin with, then all is nothingness. And each man’s life is no better than “a walking shadow,” as Shakespeare says, “a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Orthodox. Faithful. Free.
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It would hardly matter what arguments we make about the matter, there being no matter, or mind, to make them. Period. If there is only nothing to begin with, how does one deduce something from it? “It is absurd,” writes Chesterton, “for the Evolutionist to complain that it is unthinkable for an admittedly unthinkable God to make everything out of nothing, and then pretend that it is more thinkable that nothing should itself eventuate into everything.”
Neatly put, I’d say. And so, on that hook, let the atheist go hang himself.
Another way of putting it, I suppose, is the reminder that if there were no God, there would be no atheists. Which, come to think of it, is how Chesterton himself put it. For atheism, then, to exist, there has got to be a God. Just as, if blasphemy is to thrive, there must be someone—a Supreme Someone—to blaspheme. “If anyone doubts this,” says Chesterton, “let him sit down seriously and try to think blasphemous thoughts about Thor.”
How completely parasitic, therefore, is the relationship between the atheist and God. Remove the Prime Mover, in other words, and nothing moves. Including, to be sure, the atheist himself, who, at the end of the day, absolutely depends on there being a God in order for him to doubt His existence. He must needs turn God into a corpse so that he’s got something to feed on. Rather like the scholars of whom Kierkegaard spoke, who spend long hours upstairs in heated debate about His existence; meanwhile, God quietly waits in the lobby downstairs to learn of the outcome. Pretty hilarious.
But is there anyone out there who really believes this stuff? I mean, is actually attracted to nothingness? Who are these people? In the circles in which I move, which consist of mostly pious university students, I haven’t met too many. At least none who openly dare to believe in nothing. And how exactly does one go about sustaining such a belief? It must take no little courage since, for most people, even to go on living for five minutes requires that there be at least some meaning to their being. Without which, why not suicide?
And not the self-invented sort, mind you, as if it were up to us to impose a meaning that is otherwise not there; the thinnest sheen of sense, as it were, to cover over the blankness of non-being. But the meaningfulness of being is there precisely in order to be discovered, to be apprehended by us, because such meaning as sustains the universe, and thus all creatures nestled within its folds, is already there, already baked into the cosmos by the One who first brought it all into being.
And God said, “Let there be light;” and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness Night. And there was evening and there was morning, one day. (Genesis 1:3-5)
Our task, therefore, is to become shepherds of being, to use a lovely Heideggerian phrase; we are to clear and cultivate a space for being, affirming its beauty and truth and goodness at every turn. Much as Adam named the animals, acknowledging in each a meaning inscribed in advance by God himself. We are thus custodians of a cosmos we did not create but are nevertheless free to receive, to take pleasure in, to celebrate; indeed, from moment to moment, to preserve and defend. Our task, therefore, is to become shepherds of being, to use a lovely Heideggerian phrase; we are to clear and cultivate a space for being, affirming its beauty and truth and goodness at every turn. Tweet This
All because, and this we mustn’t forget, were there no meaning to begin with, if the weight and worth of the cosmos depended on how we felt about it, there would then be only nada, nothingness. And such judgments about being as we might care to make would not only be futile or inane, they would be utterly unimaginable and unthinkable as well.
Ah, but not in the world where postmodernism reigns, where God is no more than a story we tell ourselves, a metafiction borne out of fear and desire, the atavistic longing of a doomed race for a logos that, alas, does not exist. Of course, what the smug postmodernist cannot account for, can never explain, is why human beings should have such longings in the first place. If there is no God, no intelligibility inherent to the world as such, why do human beings search for such things? Where do the longings come from? And why, when they cannot be assuaged, are we then tempted to despair?
Atheists may be very clever at explaining things from inside the secular shell, which they’ve tried to keep so hermetically sealed that nothing transcendent can possibly break through, but the price they’ve exacted is much too high to pay. To exclude God from the world, from all rational conversation about the world, is to do a terrible injustice to man, who cannot help but cry out for meaning. The very heart of whose own being beats ineluctably with longing for God, for union and intimacy with God. Yes, we remain finite creatures in countless ways, and there is much within the secular shell we do not wish to do without.
But for all that we remain limited and finite beings, there is yet one connection both deeper and prior to everything secular, and that is the relation we have to God, to that Infinite Other for whom alone and finally we pine. Deprive us of that connection and not only will the heart protest that it cannot live on those terms—forced to subsist, as it were, on a diet without truth or beauty or goodness—but it will sooner or later rise up in revolt against so inhuman a regime.
That, then, is my resolution for the New Year: neither to forget nor to fail in any way to remind others of that truth—that we are made for God and that, as an old bishop living in Hippo once declared, “our hearts remain restless until they find rest in Thee.”