Russell and Duenes

Thanksgiving: I Don’t Want There to be a God

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I happened across this blurb by that the atheist philosopher, Thomas Nagel, wrote back in 1997 (HT: Justin Taylor):

I am talking about something much deeper—namely, the fear of religion itself. I speak from experience, being strongly subject to this fear myself: I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers. . . . It isn’t just that I don’t believe in God and, naturally, hope that I’m right in my belief. It’s that I hope there is no God! I don’t want there to be a God; I don’t want the universe to be like that.

I remember my pastor and I having a conversation with a college student in Hermosa Beach, CA, who said that he couldn’t believe in the gospel because of all the contradictions in the Bible and what not. My pastor, being wise and perceptive, asked the young man, “What if we could clear up all the biblical problems and other issues to your satisfaction, not our satisfaction, but yours…would you then want to have a relationship with Jesus?” “No,” he said. And there was this silence, for there was nothing more to say. The business about the biblical problems was a smokescreen, and now we all saw it clearly. He didn’t want Jesus to be Lord. His answer has always stuck with me, and in some ways has haunted me, for I know that I too, have all too often, wanted there to be no God over me. And this is the real test, isn’t it? Do I want God? And would I like the Bible to be true and to compel my allegiance? If not, wouldn’t I find heaven to be, as Daniel  Fuller put it, like attending a party to which I was never invited?

Yet something else strikes me about Nagel’s confession. He says he wants there to be no God, and he doesn’t want a universe with God in it, ruling over it. But I wonder if he means that he truly wants a godless universe, or whether he wants a universe where he doesn’t have to think about God, but he can still have all of the wonderful things that attend a universe suffused with God’s common graces. A truly godless universe cannot even be imagined, because it would be something different from our universe, not in degree, but in kind.

We cannot emotionally or intellectually come to grips with a universe where we are truly the accidents of some random material process, where love, justice, truth, goodness, and beauty are not real, where rational thought is not possible, and where we are genuinely no different and no more valuable than the common water flea. What we usually means when we say that we hope there’s no God is, “Give me a universe where life has meaning, where beauty and love are actually things to be enjoyed and known, where loyalty and friendship mean something, where work and vocation add value and bring fulfillment and goodness, where I can live as if what I do matters, as if sexual intercourse is not just some meaningless, good-feeling act, no different than shooting up on heroin, where my choices are real and consequential, and where I can even give thanks on a day like Thanksgiving…give me all this, and perhaps even life beyond the grave in some better place, but don’t give me a God over all of it to whom I shall have to give an account.” We want the Christian capital without the Christ.

But as Douglas Wilson says, if God doesn’t exist, there’s no one to thank, and too often it appears that we want it that way.



Written by Michael Duenes

November 21, 2012 at 6:20 pm

Posted in Duenes, Reflections

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