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A Matter of a Universe That Matters: Why I Am a Christian

May 30, AD2017

faith reason

“Always be ready,” Scripture tells us, “to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15). Here is my defense for my hope in Christ, and it comes down to this: either we exist for a larger purpose or we don’t. There are no probabilities to assign or calculate, no other options to consider. Either we have an objective telos, a final cause for our existence that is not of our making, or we don’t.

The Clever Monkeys

Take God out of the picture. There is no Creator or at least no intelligent Being who created and sustains the cosmos for any particular reason. The cosmos — including superstrings, if such beings of reason truly exist — is when it is where it is just because; there is no “why it is.” We clever monkeys are merely a belch produced by an undirected, idiot process called evolution, alive only to eat, eliminate, copulate, and die. Whatever else we do in the meantime either serves those purposes or is irrelevant.

And we eat, eliminate, copulate, and die only until we kill ourselves off, get killed off by some random yet natural event, or produce our own replacements (Man 2.0). We may fit into some ecological niche — very badly, considering what we’re doing to the ecosphere — but even that niche has no raison d’être because the ecosphere itself serves no final cause. Life itself has no reason to be; it’s just some strange counter-entropic force that, given enough time, will peter out just as all other energy peters out.

When we die, whether by our own foolishness or by our eventual obsolescence or by the Sweet Meteor of Death, we’ll leave some artifacts behind to testify to our existence. But even those will eventually decay; the final collapse of the universe will destroy the very last remnants in the process. And there’ll be nothing and no one to care when it does — no weeping of angels or cheering of demons, no demigods to shake their heads in pity for our passing.

It Doesn’t Really Matter 1

If atheism is true, then we don’t matter. In fact, eventually, we won’t even be matter. (Sorry, Men In Black reference.) We seek purpose, we’re told, because it facilitates our survival and gives us an evolutionary advantage. But why the hell would we need an advantage when there’s no real need to survive let alone evolve? All attempts to assign some purpose to our individual existences are merely rationalizing our surrender to the survival impulse. Why bother with all the little lies when the Great Big Lie is exposed?

Shut up; get on with the business of eating, eliminating, copulating, and dying. Or just get busy dying. Either way, there’s nothing out there to give a tinker’s dam what you do.

Morality doesn’t matter; culture doesn’t matter. Whether we take care of the Earth or wreck it completely doesn’t matter. Whether we get off this planet to colonize other planets or get wiped out by some astronomical catastrophe — it doesn’t matter. Kill all the babies or let them all live — it doesn’t matter because we don’t matter. Love everyone or hate everyone — whatever. There’s no Just Judge to punish the wicked and avenge the victim, no merciful Father to heal the broken and exalt the humble, no final rectification to compensate us for the injustices we inflict on ourselves and each other.

Philosophy is a waste of time; science is a waste of time. There’s no point in trying to make sense of, or learn anything more about, this existential carousel that keeps spinning to no end. We’re just looking for some excuse to keep on keeping on when we might as well just nuke ourselves into oblivion for all the difference it will make.

It Doesn’t Really Matter 2

It’s not just that we don’t matter. Nothing matters. We come from nothing; we’ll go into nothing. There’s nothing out there to care about anything. We’re not even the least important species in the cosmos because there’s nothing out there to which anything can be meaningful or valuable. The universe may be buzzing and hopping with intelligent life, but none of those other lives can have a telos; they don’t matter, either, so why should we matter to them? Or they to us?

And, according to string theory, ours is just one of 10500 possible universes. Of course, it doesn’t matter how high we pile up the numbers because it’s all dividing zero. A fraction of nothing is still nothing.

You matter to your family and friends, and they matter to you, but they’re as ephemeral as you are. They, too, are blips on the screen, here now and gone in a blink, a memory that will fade long before the sun grows dark and the universe folds in on itself. They, too, exist just to eat, eliminate, copulate, and die, and the fact that they’re keeping you company in this senseless cavalcade doesn’t add any value to it. Whatever purpose they can give you is as illusory and fleeting as any you can give yourself. Nothing really matters.

But What If …?

You say I’m taking atheism to an absurd extreme? I disagree; any atheist who doesn’t eventually reach these conclusions is still trying to rationalize the survival impulse. Only Friedrich Nietzsche went so far, and he went mad with the knowledge of it. Either embrace all the implications of an absent telos or consider the possibility that you seek the purpose of it all because it all does, in fact, have a purpose … even if it’s a purpose you don’t fully comprehend, even if the knowledge of it is just beyond your mind’s reach.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life” (John 3:16).

We are not the center of the universe. We are not the sine qua non of creation, its ultimate expression, or its reason for existing. We are not even the most important creatures on our own planet. Far from being the center of God’s attention, we may very well be the least of His concerns. And yet His concern was so magnanimous that He sent His Son into our history, to live as the poorest among us, to work and sweat for his bread as a carpenter, to eat and drink and sleep and walk alongside us for a while. Flinch at it if you must, but He sent his Son to take our sins upon his shoulders by his death.

There may be millions of intelligent species in the universe. There may be 10500 universes of differing kinds and laws. Pile on the numbers again; this time, God’s loving generosity to the human race becomes more stunning and wonderful. The less significant you make Man to the universe, the more you magnify God’s love.

All These Things are Given Back

Paradoxically, the very mystery of God becomes itself more comprehensible. The problem of evil can remain unresolved; because God transcends human understanding, it makes sense that I don’t know why He does and permits all the things He does. The purpose of my suffering is as much beyond my grasp as is the purpose of my life; but if God has given the one a good purpose, it stands to reason that the other has a good purpose as well. Because the Son of God “emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness” (Philippians 2:7), I can seek to understand, yet rest content without completely understanding.

Now philosophy and science have their uses. Our minds have been given reason and a thirst for knowledge to an end that’s something more than mere genetic survival. As children of God made in His image (Genesis 1:27), we are infinitely precious, which makes it imperative that we treat each other with justice, mercy, and love, that we reflect the great generosity of our common Father. At the same time, we can still know that the evil done in our midst will find redress; the sins that “cry out to Heaven” do not go unheard. I have reason to fear God’s justice, and yet I have reason to trust in His mercy.

Because our lives have an objective telos, the purposes my loved ones give my life and I give theirs are not some farcical equivocations; love itself is not boiled down to some survival strategy produced by a blind natural process. Peace matters; the biosphere matters; even evil matters, if only as something to be avoided. Grant just a little, and so much is given back: “But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33).

Blessed Even in Insignificance

Sneer at the Virgin Birth as an “antique absurdity” if it offends your elite sense of fitness. Call Christ’s sacrifice “barbaric” if it outrages your superior morals. Think me an intellectual cripple if it reassures you of your higher intelligence. I know of no other religious system save Judaism in which Man is anything more than a slave, or a sideshow for the gods, or a rope in the tug-of-war between good and evil, or a hapless victim of animistic forces beyond his control. I know of no other system in which Man is blessed even in his wretched insignificance.

And I find my “Babylonian puppet show” gives an objective telos to my survival instinct that I can find nowhere else — certainly not as a belch of probability in a universe that just is. No matter that I see it only indistinctly, as if in a mirror (cf. 1 Corinthians 13:12); it can’t be any more illusory than one I create for myself in the absence of God. My ignorance in the midst of a universe full of meaning is more satisfactory than would be total comprehension of a universe without a telos.

Photography: See our Photographers page.

About the Author:

Born in Albuquerque, N. Mex., and raised in Omaha, Nebr., Anthony S. Layne served briefly in the U.S. Marine Corps, and attended the University of Nebraska at Omaha as a sociology major while holding a variety of jobs. Tony was a "C-and-E Catholic" until, while defending the Faith during the scandals of 2002, he discovered the beauty of Catholic orthodoxy. He currently lives in Denton, Texas, works in the home-mortgage industry in Dallas, participates in his parish's Knights of Columbus council, and bowls poorly on Sunday nights. Along with Catholic Stand, he also contributes to New Evangelization Monthly and occasionally writes for his own blogs, Outside the Asylum and The Impractical Catholic.

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  • Frank7070

    1) A complex system of what I call mythology may help many feel purpose in life, but “feeling better” doesn’t constitute a valid argument that these beliefs are therefore real. It’s simply a psychological argument that helps prevent a personal existential crisis.
    2) Yes, leaving belief behind can lead to an existential crisis as described by “it doesn’t matter”, but there is light at the end of that tunnel. The human race will not continue forever and, in fact, a mere 10,000 years or so after it’s gone, there will be no visible traces that we ever existed. In so many billions of years, the sun will supernova and the earth, and all traces of life on it, will be fried to a crisp. Long before then, there’s good reason to believe we humans will do ourselves in. Yet, I need no supernatural god to feel better or to prevent a crisis of meaninglessness. The universe is. It is now. I am here now and living and conscious and aware of beauty and darkness. I am awestruck, grateful, at peace, and feeling grace simply for those reasons.
    3) How can I imagine that I could have future control over the human race or over myself after death; other than by taking some concrete actions now, such as protecting the environment in the hopes of a better life for our ancestors in the next few hundreds of years?
    4) Sorry, I don’t need a supreme being and a set of confusing, contradictory, capricious, and irrational rules to define a made-up morality for me. I don’t need to know which burnt offering to offer to atone for which rule breach. And without those rules, I am not a sociopathological serial killer. I understand that certain rules help us to live peacefully and happily with each other. Integrity and doing good deeds is not sourced from the bible or from being Christian, and there’s overwhelming evidence for that. The only morality I need is pretty much summed up in the bible, in many different religions, and from non-religious sources, too: we call it The Golden Rule, or a slight variation: as much as possible, don’t do things that harm yourself or others, both those living now and those living in the future.
    5) Not believing in god does not require the belief that humans are the center of the universe. There is no requirement that something or someone has to be the center of the universe. In fact, religion is more likely to view humans as the center, as people have used their religion for justification for not being ecologically responsible, or for cruelty to animals (and humans) ever since there was an old testament. To understand the scale of the universe is most humbling and full of awe and hardly has room for a belief in humans as the center.
    6) So love without god is a “farcical equivalence”? You have the right to believe that my love for my family and for the human race is not real, but I’m just letting you know that that is bullshit. Keep telling yourself that and maybe you can convince yourself. Love is alive and well without a required belief in any god. Love is not meaningless without god. My love is not less than yours. I am not invalid. My existence is not less than yours because I don’t share your beliefs. Isn’t it ironic that believers accuse non-believers of arrogance?
    7) Life without god is not “total comprehension of a universe without telos”. Science does not pretend to know everything, in fact, quite the opposite, and science does not make the leap of faith in saying that because there are things that we don’t understand there must be a god. It just stops with: there are things that we do not understand, but we continue to strive to understand them.
    8) I get that it is difficult for one who derives their meaning and purpose from their belief to think that a life without belief is therefore devoid of purpose or meaning. The non-believers are many and growing, and that has not corresponded to a greater rate of homicides or suicides by non-believers. I haven’t seen a great increase in atheist terrorists lately. We’re doing just fine, thank you very much, and many of those who have experienced an existential crisis have moved through it to the other side, to a place of peace and acceptance of a simpler reality.

    • The argument is about the objective logical implications of denying a final cause to the existence of life and the universe. It has nothing to do with an existential crisis or my subjective feelings, and it’s somewhat insulting to imply that I’ll feel better once I get over it and realize it’s nothing to worry about. It has nothing to do with whether my love is better than yours or not. Sure, you can get along fine without God; you can even get used to hanging by your thumbs; neither fact blunts my point. The argument has nothing to do with what scientists do know or will eventually know; it has nothing to do with terrorism or suicides; and it has nothing to do with whether atheists believe humans are at the center of the universe. (In fact, you completely missed the ball on that last one.) Not only are these issues irrelevant to the argument, in a universe without a telos they too are objectively meaningless questions. The only atheist belief I address is the only one atheism can address: whether God exists or not. But the argument was never intended to prove that God exists. That’s an issue on which whole books have been written by all sides, one to which I could never even begin to give a good answer in less than 2,000 words.