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Belief Is Hard, But Nothing Makes Sense Without God

January 20, AD2016

CS-IntercessoryPrayer-Pixabay

Whenever my brother comes to town to visit, we have a traditional meal that we enjoy together. It takes place at a local Chinese buffet, and typically the conversations can become deep and meaningful. These conversations might be about the state of the family, our quest for virtue, or various things that might be going on in our lives. Inevitably, I will plead at least once for him to move back to the Midwest to be near the rest of our family.

This past Christmas was no different. As we were devouring our crab rangoon and beef with broccoli, we got to talking about faith, which is something we have both wrestled with over the years. As usual, the conversation took many twists and turns. We talked about the reasons for belief, and the reasons for lack thereof. Eventually, when it came down to it, we both found ourselves echoing C.S. Lewis’ thought in Mere Christianity: “Ever since men were able to think, they have been wondering what this universe really is and how it came to be there”.

I’ve been thinking about this question for decades now. It’s challenging, and it has led me to a personal, “lowercase t” truth:

Belief is difficult. Faith does not come easily.

My brother and I are envious of those who effortlessly place belief in God and seem to have no trouble with faith in the Divine. Belief may have come easily or, perhaps they had a moment of clarity somewhere along the line. Perhaps it is even an illusion, and though they appear to have no struggles in this area, when doors are closed they do. I have no idea about the faith lives of the majority of individuals who profess belief. But I do know for me, it’s difficult.

Peace and Comfort

As a mental health professional, I am always seeing things through the eyes of psychology. When it comes to belief in the Divine, I am ever-cognizant of Karl Marx’s take on religion: It is the opium of the people. It exists to help mankind feel better about itself and its existence in a senseless and meaningless world. It has been, and can be, tempting to latch onto this idea.

While I ponder the implications of this notion, I keep coming back to the same basic truth: his conclusion is wrong. His conclusion has to be wrong because his premise is wrong. Marx contends that since religion offers people a sense of peace and comfort, it must have been designed by those same people. He believes it is a sign of weakness embraced by those looking for meaning in a cruel world.

But the truth is that the fact that religion brings a sense of peace and comfort doesn’t necessarily lead to the conclusion that it is a psychological phenomenon with no basis in reality. It could bring “the people” comfort and peace precisely because it is true. In other words, nothing about the fact that religion brings people peace and comfort disproves the truth contained within it.

In fact, it is precisely because of truth that we can ascertain the existence of the Divine.

Objective Moral Order

One area where we see truth is the area of objective morality. The very existence of an objective moral order points to the existence of a Supreme God.

This was demonstrated recently when a prominent atheist blogger converted to Catholicism. Writing for the atheist portal on the blog Patheos, Leah Libresco says, “I believed that the Moral Law wasn’t just a Platonic truth, abstract and distant.  It turns out I actually believed it was some kind of person, as well as Truth”. She has reasoned that because she has intuited an objective moral order to the universe, this objective moral order must have been created by an objective Creator. Further, her experience trying to explain objective morality without God led her to that very conclusion.

If we are being intellectually honest, she is one hundred percent correct. What we consider to be good or bad would be arbitrary and meaningless without an objective moral order, which cannot exist without God. At most, the standards of good and bad could be called socially acceptable (or unacceptable) norms of behavior.

Some would say that we can measure the morality of behavior based on the common good for a society. What is good for society will determine what is morally sound or unsound. But this explanation will always be lacking because what is good for society can change day to day, and what is good one day may not be good the next day. Further, what is good for one part of the population may not be good for another part, or vice versa. It would be very difficult, if not impossible, to determine a standard of morality that worked in all places at all times. With this reasoning, there would still be no such thing as an objective moral order.

But human nature tells us there are things which are inherently evil, such as murder, stealing, rape, genocide, and sex slavery. None of these things meet the universal standard for decent behavior, and this points to the existence of an objective moral order. We could claim that child sex slavery is only bad because we have deemed it bad as a society or because it doesn’t serve the “common good”, but we know this is nonsense. We might claim that the taking of innocent life is only evil because we have deemed it so as a society, but no doubt we would immediately object if that life were our own. By objecting, we have appealed to a basic, universal standard of behavior, a law which all mankind knows instinctively.

Law of Human Nature

C.S. Lewis gives a nod to this point in his well-known book Mere Christianity. He calls objective moral order the Law of Human Nature, and he calls it such because:

“people thought that everyone knew it by nature and did not need to be taught it. They did not mean, of course, that you might not find an odd individual here and there who did not know it, just as you find a few people who are colorblind or have no ear for a tune. But…they thought that the human idea of decent behavior was obvious to everyone”.

Lewis later on ultimately leads us back to our conclusion as he acknowledges that the Law of Human Nature is evidence for the existence of God. Indeed, the Law of Human Nature would make no sense at all without the existence of a transcendent God who created it. Lewis himself later reasons further that this God must, in fact, be the Christian God.

It is hard to fathom a world in which the Divine does not exist. I have previously speculated what a world with no truth might look like, and the situation basically remains the same imagining a world without God. God is Truth, after all. We certainly cannot have one without the other.

Furthermore, we can know there is a God because without God, nothing makes sense. Literally nothing about this world has any meaning whatsoever without God. Not only could there be no objective moral order, existence itself would be completely and totally empty and devoid of meaning or purpose.

The Bible study I quite recently rejoined is currently reading the book Theology and Sanity by Frank Sheed. He summarizes this entire dilemma quite nicely, as he notes:

“Therefore without God everything is literally inexplicable, not only in the sense that man cannot find the explanation, but also in the sense that there is none. Therefore, again, apart from the knowledge of God, man really is doomed to live in a meaningless universe, and he can but grow weary of the effort to live a meaningful life in a context that has no meaning. Not knowing God, he does not know what he is; equally he does not know what he is here for, where he is supposed to be going, [or] how to get there.”

It’s hard to imagine anyone putting it any more succinctly than that. It harkens back to Lewis’ quote regarding our place in the universe. Sheed’s conclusion, and Lewis’ as well, is that we were put in this world in order to find our way to a different world, a world where we could share in eternal life with Our Creator. They both acknowledge the meaninglessness of life without God and the complete and utter despair that can oftentimes accompany such a belief.

Opium of the People

Sheed’s and Lewis’ conclusion certainly is the most logical. Far from being “the opium of the people”, as Marx purports, religion helps to guide us and orient us toward our Creator and our final goal.

Conversely, without God, we are doomed to live a life of dissonance and contradiction with no guiding principle to hold everything together. I have often found this to be particularly true for myself. I have speculated that if someone were somehow able to completely disprove the existence of God, my life would fall apart. As it is, however, it’s completely impossible to disprove the existence of God. So, therefore, I have nothing to worry about.

How good it is to think about such things.

As we continued to devour egg rolls and sesame chicken, my brother and I pondered in bewilderment those who never take the time to think about life’s bigger questions. Or perhaps they are so taken by science and answering the question of “what” that they never proceed on to the equally, if not more important question of “why”.

After all, science can take us only so far. It is inherently lacking when trying to figure out reasons for things like existence and rationality. Lewis says, “But why anything comes to be at all, and whether there is anything behind the things science observes – something of a different kind – this is not a scientific question”. He understood that as important as it was and is, science is insufficient for explaining the existential “why” questions that haunt us as we go about our lives.

Armed with these reminders, my faith life grows. I still don’t have all the answers. I often wonder about the limits of human knowledge and understanding, or as my brother put it, “how can we know what we don’t know”? I don’t have a great answer to that question, but I figure it’s better to stick with what we do know.

Which is, without God, literally nothing makes sense.

Cullen Herout is a pro-life, pro-family writer. He has a passion for writing about life issues, Marriage, fatherhood, and creating a culture of life. Follow him on his brand new Facebook page here.

Photography: See our Photographers page.

About the Author:

Cullen is a husband, father, writer, and lover of Truth. He has a Mental Health Practitioner License in the state of Nebraska, and has years of experience working with persons struggling with mental illness and addiction. For the past four years, he has also been involved with Rachel’s Vineyard ministry for post-abortive women, serving as the counselor for their weekend retreats. Cullen is a regular contributor at The Blaze, LifeSiteNews, Live Action News, and Catholic Stand. He has a passion for writing about pro-life issues, Marriage, fatherhood, and building a culture of life. He lives in the midwest with his wife and two sons. Follow Cullen on Facebook at www.facebook.com/cullenheroutwriter.

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  • Ronky

    I’ve never understood the idea that “People invent religious beliefs to make themselves feel better.” Surely pretending that you believe in a pack of lies won’t make you feel better, but much worse.

  • Pete

    Interesting article. I have tried to discuss the same issues with both atheists and agnostics, most of whom are of the scientific nature.

    What I usually try to tell those who have Faith/Belief issues, is that you will probably never find either through the analytical/cognitive process.

    The physical world (physics) is the realm of the analytical/cognitive process.

    The Metaphysical world (God, Heaven, etc), as Aristotle referred to it, is the realm of Faith and Belief.

    In some regards Faith and Belief are similar to imagination. The more you can imagine the more you can believe, the more belief you have the greater your faith will become.

    As science started to open up the doors to the physical world, we started to understand that there were things that existed that we could not see, such as bacteria, viruses, microbes, atoms, molecules, etc. Once we could all see these things in science classes be began to realize that the physical world was made up of a lot more than our five senses could reveal to us.

    Such is the case when dealing with Faith and Belief. When you do not see miracles of healing taking place or other miracles being performed as Jesus and the Apostoles did, it is hard to believe that such things can happen. When they do happen in the modern world we just pass them off as chance, luck, or something that cannot be explained. That is where (Matthew 17:19) Jesus said to the Apostles, “… if you have faith, though it be but like a grain of mustard seed, you have only to say to this mountain, Remove from this place to that, and it will remove; nothing will be impossible to you. ”
    Living in the physical world where we have such great difficulty seeing the metaphysical world where God and Heaven exist, makes having Faith and Belief a very difficut process for many. Some seem to have an intutive nature in this regard, or are more open to it because of the connection between imagination and Belief.
    Sometimes are words also get in the way, as the word metaphysical has become a negative one because of the new age movement and other popular forms of the occult. Which also brings up an interesting point. Why can we humans accept the occult without question, and yet not accept the existence of God and the Blessed Holy Trinity?

  • Randal Agostini

    Image and likeness? It was Dale Carnegie that taught me why my own name was so important to me. Similarly, unless we take the time, we don’t fully appreciate how we are created in the image and likeness of God. We could consider a mother’s creation of her own child and how it is created through love, by Love and in Love. And so it is when we meditate about our own image and likeness we find that God created us out of total love – his own being brought us and everything we know into existence – out of Love, but saving the best for last he created us like himself for himself.

  • Elijah fan

    . You might find help, Cullen, from a very neglected angle that Augustine saw as very confirming of faith far apart from western man’s penchant for logical arguing toward belief in God….veiled prophecies of Christ hidden in the Old Testament were one of the strongest arguments for faith for Augustine. Unforetunately Augustine didn’t put that aspect of his work in one place but sprinkled them here and there.
    To him Genesis was often really about Christ. God casts Adam into a deep sleep and only then takes a woman out of his side…predicts what?….predicts Christ expiring and only then does a Roman spear open His side and out comes blood and water…His bride, the Church.
    Jacob sees the beautiful Rachel ( first principle made visible is the meaning of her name) and asks Laban, her father for her as wife for whom he must work seven years. Laban however switches daughters in the darkened wedding tent on the marriage night for coition and Jacob wakes to find he has slept with and married the not so comely Leah ( whose eyes were weak ) and he must work another seven years and then is married to both sisters. Predicts what? It predicts that later Christians seek to marry God in His beauty and goodness aspect but then find after working at Christianity that they are first married to Leah…the cross and not seeing everything so clearly as they had hoped but if they persevere, they make breakthroughs in seeing the delightful side of God and they are then married to both the cross and to the vision of God resplendent…to Christ on the cross and the ascended Christ resplendent in Heaven.
    God tells Noah to make the ark 300 cubits by 30 cubits by 50 cubits and to put a hole in its side. These says Augustine are the proportions, the ratios of a slender man’s body whose height is ten times his chest depth and six times his torso width….and the man will have a hole in His side and entering Him will save those who so enter.
    Augustine notes that this is partly why Christ said to the Jewish unbelievers…” if you believed Moses, you would believe me for he wrote of me”.. …” you search the scriptures for eternal life, and it is they which bear witness to me.”

    • Bendys

      The bible is full of metaphors. Unfortunately most people interpret them literally, like the protestants.

  • Paula

    Great article Cullen. Thanks for putting your thoughts to cyber-ink…

  • johnnysc

    Pope Benedict on Truth and how ambiguity can lead to a loss of Faith…..

    “The risen Lord instructed his apostles, and through them his disciples in all ages, to take his word to the ends of the earth and to make disciples of all people,” retired Pope Benedict wrote. “‘But does that still apply?’ many inside and outside the church ask themselves today. ‘Is mission still something for today? Would it not be more appropriate to meet in dialogue among religions and serve together the cause of world peace?’ The counter-question is: ‘Can dialogue substitute for mission?’

    “In fact, many today think religions should respect each other and, in their dialogue, become a common force for peace. According to this way of thinking, it is usually taken for granted that different religions are variants of one and the same reality,” the retired pope wrote. “The question of truth, that which originally motivated Christians more than any other, is here put inside parentheses. It is assumed that the authentic truth about God is in the last analysis unreachable and that at best one can represent the ineffable with a variety of symbols. This renunciation of truth seems realistic and useful for peace among religions in the world.

    “It is nevertheless lethal to faith. In fact, faith loses its binding character and its seriousness, everything is reduced to interchangeable symbols, capable of referring only distantly to the inaccessible mystery of the divine,” he wrote.

    Jesus Christ is the Way, the Truth and the Life.
    Jesus founded the Catholic Church.
    That Church is the pillar and foundation of Truth.

    • james

      ‘Can dialogue substitute for mission?’

      Dialogue can only produce the clarity needed for all to be one.

  • Ameribear

    Faith needs to be constantly fed and nurtured. Eucharist, reconciliation, adoration, the scriptures and a steady stream of good spiritual literature are indispensable. It’s also high time for us to cultivate meaningful devotions to our Holy Mother. We are living in an age where no one can afford to take there faith lightly anymore and fortunately we have everything we need before us.

  • james

    Unfortunately religion has become the nausea of the people because modern humans demand that on
    something this important everyone should be on the same page and if the handful of religions can’t gel
    then the science, moral authority, theology and premise are not worth the paper there written on.