I have always said there is no such thing as an atheist (save a VERY few men like Nietzsche, who wound up insane in letting go). There is not the capacity to completely reject the centrally-embedded idea of God, the being who unites and sustains everything. The spotlight effect we all have would not allow for it, and its rejection would probably come at the cost of our sanity. But the truth could be that atheism doesn’t have to exist, since we seem to want to believe we can replace God with anything and it will suffice. Apatheism might be enough, worse though it is…
As I said I have forever been struck by the idea that the human brain was developed with a framework that requires our recognition of God, as if there is some thematic element of theism and yearn for the one true God inherent within it as a part of being human. We all yearn for something that we cannot understand completely, some Great Other which seems to be as relevant in our lives as food or water. C.S. Lewis understood it well, and a quote I have posted here before speaks to his thoughts on the matter:
Heaven itself would be – must be- a coming home.
…You say the materialist universe is ‘ugly.’ I wonder how you discovered that! If you are really a product of a Materialistic universe, how is it that you don’t feel at home there? Do fish complain of the sea for being wet? Or if they did, would that fact not strongly suggest that they had not always been or would not always be, purely aquatic creatures? Notice how we are perpetually surprised at Time. In heaven’s name, why? Unless indeed, there is something which is not temporal…
In the reality of Now, the clock is always ticking. One might suppose, looking at the glossier advertisements of watches – ever more exact, ever more spectacular flashes of the passing second – that modern man considers time a lovesome thing or, possibly, has a watch fetish. We might be better advised to throw the whole lot into already-polluted Lake Erie.
And yet, after all, the clock is not always ticking. Sometimes it stops, and then we are happiest. Sometimes – more precisely, some-not-times – we find ‘the still point of the turning world.’ All our most lovely moments are timeless…If indeed we all have a kind of appetite for eternity, we have been caught up in a society that frustrates our longing at every turn. Half of our inventions are advertised to save time – the washing machine, the fast car, the jet flight – but for what? Never were people more harried by time: by watches, by buzzers, by time clocks, by precise schedules, by the beginning of the programme. There is, in fact, some truth in ‘the good old days’: no other civilization of the past was ever to harried by time.
And yet, why not? Time is our natural environment. We live in time as we live in the air we breathe. And we love the air – who has not taken deep breaths of pure, fresh country air, just for the pleasure of it? How strange that we cannot love time. It spoils our loveliest moments. Nothing comes up to expectations because of it. We alone: animals, so far as we can see, are unaware of time, untroubled. Time is their natural environment. Why do we sense that it is not ours?
[And we come to the quote:] ‘Do fish complain of the sea for being wet? Or if they did, would that fact not strongly suggest that they had not always been or would not always be, purely aquatic creatures?’ Then, if we complain of time and take much such joy in the seemingly timeless moment, what does that suggest?
It suggests that we have not always been, or will not always be, purely temporal creatures. It suggests we were created for eternity. Not only are we harried by time, we seem unable, despite a thousand generations, even to get used to it. We are always amazed at it – how fast it goes, how slowly it goes, how much of it has gone. Where, we cry, has time gone? We aren’t adapted to it, not at home in it. If that is so, it may appear proof , or at least a powerful suggestion, that eternity exists and is our home…Golden streets and compulsory harp lessons may lack appeal – but timelessness? And total persons? Heaven is, indeed, home…
I personally (along with a billion to 3.5 billion other people) believe the mental/psychological/spiritual yearning to be the God of Abraham, Moses, Jesus, possibly Mohammad, and even the Brahman itself. When you believe in God, your worship centers around Him. But what if you don’t believe in God, or your belief is only a nominal aspect of your life? You still worship:
The whole idea of constant worship, our constant submission to some power, really stuck with me. This is the idea that we are constantly worshipping something- be it alcohol, rehab, drugs, God, sex, math, whatever. The idea with AA was just to transition into worshipping something else, although I’m not exactly sure what one is worshipping- recovery? Truth? Some kind of raw admittance that one is messed up? Or perhaps what AA is looking for is just the acknowledgement that one is always worshipping. Perhaps by knowing that we are always worshipping we can be more aware of just what and how we are worshipping.
. . .
“Because here’s something else that’s true. In the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And an outstanding reason for choosing some sort of God or spiritual-type thing to worship — be it J.C. or Allah, be it Yahweh or the Wiccan mother-goddess or the Four Noble Truths or some infrangible set of ethical principles — is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things — if they are where you tap real meaning in life — then you will never have enough. Never feel you have enough. It’s the truth. Worship your own body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly, and when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally plant you. On one level, we all know this stuff already — it’s been codified as myths, proverbs, cliches, bromides, epigrams, parables: the skeleton of every great story. The trick is keeping the truth up-front in daily consciousness. Worship power — you will feel weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to keep the fear at bay. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart — you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. And so on.
Where we do not have the wish or capacity to make God our god, we do our best to replace him. Everyone worships something, and tries to put all kinds of differently-shaped pegs into the God-shaped hole we have within us. We will not find happiness though, until we find out that the God-shaped space within us can only be filled by the God. What’s worse for those of us that are in a religion oriented toward the One, True God is that some of us end up creating God in our image, as opposed to the opposite. We worship the God whose attributes we pick and choose for our own personal comfort. Believe in abortion? God must too. Believe in getting drunk all the time? God must be fine with it. Believe Mass is a waste of time? God doesn’t require that you go. This type of thinking, though it makes for some very comfortable and narcissistic theists, is something that all of us who are intent on having a great relationship with our Creator should be wary of…
I best have some breakfast and get to class. But just remember: everyone worships something. Who will you make your God today?
[Note: See Neil Gaiman’s American Gods novels for a fantasy take on this idea…]