Affirmation

26 02 2011

Does life deserved to be lived?

Albert Camus’ famously surly and sardonic question was asked in the face of death, which he believed made life absurd. Camus could only see the negative side of the question, as he allowed himself to believe in only the things his eyes could see. Kierkegaard came to a similar but crucially different conclusion, largely because he could see with more than his eyes. Life, he claimed, was lived between two absurdities: the absurdity of death, which ended in nihilism, or the absurdity of faith, which ended in redemption. Both outcomes, both realities, were ultimately absurd. We make our choice.

We do our best to make sense of things, we humans. Absurdity, for most of us, is not an option, or at least not a very satisfying one. And yet, we are beset by doubts at certain times about what we believe, and sometimes things do seem absurd. Those who do not come to this temporary conclusion from time to time, who say they do not doubt, have recused themselves from the rest of humanity, from feeling and from life; they live in a state of denial from which they do not want to be awakened. Should we let sleeping dogs lie?

In the meantime, the rest of us face life on uncertain terms. Mr. Huxley once said, Life is bottomlessly odd, and he was right. The sheer oddness of existence should hit us once in awhile and allowed to wash over us like a cold shower. Face the abyss ~ or the Abyss. Take your pick.

The atheist chooses the former, and for these following reasons, which amount to the main arguments against religious belief:

  1. No one has ever been able to corroborate a sighting of  any divine being for public scrutiny, at least not in the last few hundred years, since around the time of the rise of the Modern Age, circa 1500. I should amend that by saying that no one in the industrial west has witnessed such an event and had hard, scientific evidence to back it up. In other words, the existence of God has never been objectively proven. In the absence of such proof, belief in God is a fairy tale.
  2. The Church, which is the institution erected by Christ to be the manifestation of God in the world, has been a historical repository of murder, mayhem, and retrograde thinking from almost its inception. Besides that, Christians themselves are largely a bunch of hicks and Christian conservative lunatics who confuse racism with patriotism and patriotism with religious belief.
  3. Experiences that have historically been attributed to spiritual causes are now known to be nothing more than neuro-chemical events and/or examples of complex social systems dynamics inherited from a bygone era. In other words, so-called spirituality is just evidence of high cognitive brain function or age-old group-think superstition that we haven’t yet quite managed to shirk from our collective consciences as a species.
  4. The world is full of apparent aimless and needless suffering, and the idea that this world is somehow managed or overseen by a benevolent God is not only ludicrous but downright insulting. It begs the obvious question: if a particular class of students mostly receives F’s from a professor, at some point suspicion is cast upon the professor and not the students. God’s little experiment, in other words, doesn’t seem to be working out too well. Maybe there is no God.

There are other arguments, of course, but these are the four most persistent. Here is my response, in brief, to each:

  1. Isaiah 55:8-9 “My thoughts are not your thoughts, and my ways are not your ways,” declares the LORD. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
  2. James 4:8-10 “Come close to God, and God will come close to you. Wash your hands, you sinners; purify your hearts, for your loyalty is divided between God and the world. Let there be tears for what you have done. Let there be sorrow and deep grief. Let there be sadness instead of laughter, and gloom instead of joy. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up in honor.”
  3. 1 Thessalonians 5:23 “Now the God of peace himself sanctify you wholly: and your whole spirit, and soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
  4. Mark 13:17-19 “But woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days! “But pray that it may not happen in the winter. “For those days will be a time of tribulation such as has not occurred since the beginning of the creation which God created until now, and never will.”

Here’s my abridged version: God’s very nature does not lend itself to proof of any kind, only evidence. In the meantime, for better and for worse, he’s stuck with us, broken believers in need of forgiveness and mercy, who too often mar his image in us but who yet still manage to bring the radical call of love and peace into this broken world from time to time. Meantime, we are preserved by God in body, mind, and spirit; that in other words, given our being made imago dei, we are more than the sum of our individual parts, and because it is the nature of God not to lend itself to proof, so we, too, as imago dei, have an element to each us that does not lend itself to scientific measurement, logical proof, academic study, petri dishes, or philosophical speculation. And yes, we live in a world of suffering and violence and sadness ~ that’s precisely the point. This world is not evolved. It is and remains broken, and we as God’s servants have a call upon our lives to make things different, to be change-agents, to be little and imperfect reflections of Jesus in the world, to wash the feet of those who are in need, clothe the naked, feed the hungry…

And in the midst of all this, we are also called to point to all the remarkable beauty in the world, the unmistakable presence of goodness in the hidden corners of life, to make joy the principal aim of our lives and the principal reality in the lives of others. Amidst all of this obvious pain and suffering, there is a reason to live, to hope, to believe, so at the end of the day, we can answer Mr. Camus’ question with resounding conviction: Yes, this life deserves to be lived, with simultaneous intention and abandon. We must affirm this. We can and will affirm it. It’s the only life we’ve been given. It’s the only life we’ve got. And when this chapter closes, the story has just begun.

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