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.