by Bob Wheeler
In the opening chapter of his book god is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, the late and controversial New Atheist author Christopher Hitchens made the remarkable assertion that “people of faith are in their different ways planning your and my destruction, and the destruction of all the hard-won human attainments that I have touched upon.” He then concluded, “Religion poisons everything” (emphasis his).
To most people this sounds ridiculous. Jesus taught His followers to love others, while the atheists Stalin and Mao slaughtered millions. It is hard to see how the world’s problems can be remedied by getting rid of the divine Lawgiver and Judge.
But leaving Christopher Hitchens aside, who really needs religion? Why even bother with it? Let’s face it: in our modern materialistic society few people pay much attention to religion. To them it is some silly thing that a few people need, mostly older “church ladies.” The rest of us can get along perfectly well without ever darkening the doors of a church building. Or so we think.
The fact of the matter is that there are good reasons why religion exists. As human beings we must all ultimately face the great existential questions of life: Who are we? How did we get here? Does life have any meaning and purpose? What makes the difference between right and wrong? And then there is the awful reality of death. Why do we die? What happens to us after we die? Do we simply cease to exist, or does some afterlife await us?
The modern materialist never bothers with these questions – his life is filled with the Internet and TV. He has more urgent and pressing matters to occupy his attention: What’s for dinner tonight? What’s going on this weekend? Who’s going to win tonight’s game? And then he is totally unprepared for death when it finally comes. But the ultimate questions will not go away; they are lurking there for us, and we cannot ignore them forever.
And then there are some people who try to come up with other solutions to life’s big questions. Scientists and philosophers try to come up with alternative explanations of reality. Psychologists try to come up with non-religious solutions to life’s perplexing problems. Ordinary people turn to sex, sports, politics, money, or alcohol and drugs to fill the void and ease the pain. But it is all in vain. The questions are still unanswered (or the proposed answers are unconvincing); the problems still remain.
God is the missing piece of the puzzle. What makes us different from animals, the reason we are capable of rational thought and moral judgment is because we were created as human beings in God’s image. Life has meaning and purpose because we were created by God for a specific reason and we have a divinely appointed destiny to fulfill. Justice and morality are figments of our imagination: they exist by virtue of divine decree. And there is the possibility of life after death.
In the end atheism has nothing to offer but a meaningless, purposeless existence in an amoral universe followed by the cold silence of the grave. There has to be more to life than that.
We were created by an intelligent Supreme Being and live in a universe fashioned and ordered by Him. Our very lives depend ultimately on Him. We can understand life only in terms of the creative purpose of Him who made us. “And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth . . . so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move and have our being . . .” (Acts 17:26-28; NKJV). Ultimately we are accountable to our Creator for what we think and do.
That is why we have religion.
“For thou hast created us for thyself, and our heart cannot be
quieted till it may find repose in thee.”
St. Augustine, Confessions, I.1