Monday, January 12, 2009

Atheist Bus Signs

There are advertising campaigns in England and Spain which publicize the atheist contention that God does not exist. Apparently highly Roman Catholic Spain has many, many atheists who feel very much discriminated against. So the local atheists have purchased an ad to run on the side of an occasional city bus that reads: "There's probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy life."

Now, while I don't agree with the atheists, I find I disagree even more with the people who responded to the ads like this, "God is going to get them for this. They'll be punished. You can't talk about God like this and get away with it."

Apparently, we have a thin-skinned, insecure God, ready to jump on anyone who disagrees or struggles with belief. This touchy and angry God seems quick to send to eternal punishment those who, when seeking intellectual honesty, come to the point where they just don't think God exists.

If that is the case, then I suspect a lot of the world has a real problem.

I occasionally experience what I call my "2 a.m. atheism," those nights when I'm so troubled by the cruelty and nastiness in this world that I do wonder if God exists.

What would the world be like if God just . . . disappeared? If there is no absolute goodness that holds the world together?

When my thoughts reach that point, I find I enter into a dark, dark place properly called "hell." I am longer embraced by the gentle darkness of night that gives good sleep; such gentleness is replaced by raging and desperate darkness where goodness and hope are absent--an empty place, truly terrifying in its emptiness. Empty of hope, empty of possibility, empty of any sense of goodness or justice or righteousness or gentleness or faithfulness or love.

This place is empty of gestures of kindness, empty of efforts to free the oppressed or give sight to the blind, empty of sacrificial generosity, empty of loving parents getting up in the middle of the night to care for their children, empty of dogs happily wagging their tales when their humans come home, empty of flower or vegetable gardens to provide beauty and food, empty of work that brings the satisfaction of a job well done, empty of clean laundry or home-cooked meals; it is without order, art, or music or dance.

It is a terrible vision that I receive in the moment of my atheism, those moments when God seems to disappear. That is what hell is: a place empty of God and therefore empty of good. And so, for me, I come from those times grateful all over again that God does exist and that God is good, and in that goodness, continues to invite us into redemptive relationship.

Now, does this God, who invites into relationship, but does not demand that humanity respond, become violently angry against those who just can't make the leap into belief? Is God furious with me when I enter those times when I must re-examine the basis of my faith? Or does God use those times to reinforce the mystery of faith?

Personally, I think God much prefers an honest atheist to those who calls themselves "Christian" but who live and act in a such a manner that no one ever sees even a glimpse of Jesus in their words or actions. Those are the ones Jesus termed "hypocrites," or "play actors." All pretense, no substance. And those who are quick to condemn the atheists may need to take a hard look at themselves--perhaps it is their own tendency to playact that have sent some in the direction of "there is probably no God."

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