Why Atheism Failed Me – Pt 2 of 3

“I believe in Christianity as I believe that the Sun has risen, not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”

C.S. Lewis; from an essay written for the Oxford Socratic Club

 

I hold to a biblical worldview because of faith – but it’s not blind faith.  My faith is based on overwhelming evidence drawn from astronomy, cosmology, biology, philosophy, archaeology, and the historical reliability of the New Testament.

Here, though, I share, in more detail than included in Part 1, the three specific reasons atheism failed me in light of my son’s suicide.

From Pt 1:  Atheism failed me because:

  1. It gave me no place to put my rage, pain and confusion.
  2. It gave me no purpose for my pain.
  3. It gave me no hope.

On the contrary, the Cross gave me all of this and more – so much more.

***Part 3 begins with me standing in my driveway on a hot afternoon wondering, “Why is the sun 93 million miles away, seemingly a perfect distance?”  It tuns out this was my first step ‘back home.’ The remainder covers my journey back to Christ using arguments from science for God’s existence.

NOTE:

  • As noted above, I explain below, in more detail, the reasons atheism failed me.  This was no flippant, half-baked effort.  I’ve never been impressed with ‘internet atheists’ who, hiding behind a keyboard, spit out soundbites, puerile insults and embarrassingly unintelligent rhetoric.
  • That said, I set my mission to read respected atheists of ancient history such as Epicurus, and from more recent history such as David Hume, Friedrich Nietzsche and Bertrand Russell, and finally, contemporary atheists such as Sam Harris, Raymond Tallis, David Berlinski and Thomas Nagel.  Everyone of these men, as well as others I read, are brilliant.
  • Then I had the pleasure of watching debates between a host of intelligent,  scholarly Christian apologists with popular atheists such as the late Christopher Hitchens and Cal-Tech physicist, Sean Carroll.
  • When I say “I set out to prove God did not – and could not – exist”, I am not overstating.  But,…atheism failed me. Here’s why – in more detail:

 

1. Atheism gave me no place to put my rage, pain and confusion.

  • G.K. Chesterton once quipped,
    • “The worst moment for an atheist is when he is really thankful and has no one to thank.”

    • In other words, when an atheist is thankful, for instance, for a beautiful sunset or a rainbow, to whom or what are they thankful? It’s a fair question.
  • The opposite is equally true. When an atheist is crippled with pain, rage and confusion, in whom or what do they find peace and consolation? This is also a fair question.  Orthodox atheism offers nothing to lean into beyond the proverbial “a shoulder to cry on.”
  • I needed more than someone’s shoulder to cry on. I needed more than advice or counseling (that said, I did spend a great deal of time in professional counseling.)
  • I needed more than banal knowledge from academia. I had lost my faith in God. But, I needed something to believe in again.  I didn’t need a hug and loving, fortune-cookie-level consolation.
  • C.S. Lewis asserted in his Mere Christianity,
    • “There has been no lack of good advice for the last four thousand years. A bit more makes no difference.”

  • Philosopher, Alvin Plantinga, teaches philosophy at the University of Notre Dame. He wrote, “Faith is not to be contrasted with knowledge: faith…[is] knowledge of a certain special kind.”
  • Sure, I could verbally vomit onto a loved one or friend, but I needed someone – something – much larger to offer me knowledge ‘of a certain special kind.’
  • Former atheist, Holly Ordway, possesses a Ph.D. in English Literature from the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. She is brilliant (I know this first-hand because she was one of my professors in grad school.) Ordway was not a mere casual atheist. Rather, she was hostile toward anything to do with Christianity, describing anyone holding to a biblical worldview as “poor, deluded Christians.” In her book about her coming to faith in Christ, Not God’s Type: An Atheist Academic Lays Down Her Arms, she reinforces exactly how I was feeling, what I was searching for:
    • “I had built myself a fortress of atheism, secure against any attack by irrational faith. And I lived in it, alone… I began to mock Christians and belittle their faith, their intelligence, their character… I wanted the real thing: real adventure, real meaning, real belonging. I didn’t know where to find it—or if it even existed.”

  • Rebecca McLaughlin holds a Ph.D. from Cambridge. In her book, Confronting Christianity, she writes,
    • “Atheist social psychologist, Jonathan Haidt, summarizes our basic psychological needs like this: “Just as plants need sun, water, and good soil to thrive, people need love, work, and a connection to something larger.”

  • What I needed and wanted was not a shoulder to cry on. What I needed and wanted was someone to scream at.  Someone to blame.  Someone to fight.  Someone to hate.  I needed something/someone ‘of a certain special kind.’

***The Cross offered me a place to put my rage, pain and confusion.

  • As I re-read the four biographies of Jesus (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) in the New Testament, I saw again the hatred, disgust, and mockery the people hurled at Jesus.
  • I saw with fresh eyes how their vitriol and verbal venom didn’t even stop when Jesus was sentenced to death. Like sharks smelling blood in the water, the people spewed acrimonious verbal assaults until Jesus’ dying breath. Even as Jesus was hanging on the Cross unrecognizable from the flogging and beating by the Roman soldiers, the criminals being executed on either side of him mocked and insulted him.
  • What did Jesus do when he was hit hard with hatred? He didn’t hit back.  He, in essence, said, “Hate me.  Loathe me.  Call me every profane name you can think of.”  The prophet, Isaiah, seven centuries before Jesus would suffer the Cross, wrote of Jesus,
  • I held nothing back from God. I tell people I’ve used far more profane language in prayer than I’ve used in public. But, just as he did in Jerusalem 20 centuries ago, he offered his back to me as I beat him over and over again with my pain, rage and confusion.
  • And then? I could sense him saying gently to me, “Nick, your hatred for me can never overcome my love for you.” This was it! I had found my Someone ‘of a certain special kind.’ I found it not in mankind, but in the Cross!
  • Lewis, again from his Mere Christianity, wrote,
    • ‘Look to yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. But look to Christ and you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in.

  • Thank God for the Cross.

 

2. Atheism gave me no purpose for my pain.

  • I never discovered any semblance of life-purpose in atheism. And it wasn’t for lack of trying.
  • Stay with me for a moment… There are numerous “isms” associated with atheism i.e. materialism, naturalism, humanism, Darwinianism, solipsism, scientism and others. (Feel free to Google these philosophies to gain an understanding.) These are all philosophical schools of thought arguing for very similar, but somewhat differently nuanced, ideas of – and for – human existence.
  • These worldviews held by atheists left me intellectually and emotionally bankrupt.
  • Basically, they all attempt to place human existence somewhere between particle-physics – human beings are a mere collection of atoms – and what atheist physicist, Sean Carroll, calls Poetic Naturalism.
  • I was reminded that worldviews outside the biblical worldview reach furiously for ontological and epistemological explanations that hope to prevent arguments for God’s existence from ever ‘having a seat at their philosophical table.’
    • It was geneticist and evolutionary biologist, Richard Lewontin, when talking about this very subject,  who aptly described the thought process of atheists: ‘we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door.”
    • In other words, “I will create any philosophical argument I can possibly create just so I can convince myself – and anyone else who will listen – there is no such thing as the God of the Bible.”
  • Particle physicist, Michael Strauss, cites the following example of this desperate effort to keep God ‘outside’ in his book, The Creator Revealed: British physicist Sir Arthur Eddington wrote:
    • “Philosophically, the notion of a beginning of the present order of Nature is repugnant. … I should like to find a genuine loophole.” Strauss explains the obvious: “Eddington uses the word repugnant to refer to the beginning of the universe because if the universe had a beginning, then it may have had someone who began it, and it is the idea of a creator that is repugnant to some scientists.”

  • Raymond Tallis is one of my favorite atheists due to his refusal to angrily attack opposing worldviews and being open to the Socratic principle of ‘following the evidence wherever it may lead us.’ (This Socratic principle, recorded in Plato’s Republic, is precisely what led to atheism’s champion, Antony Flew, to change his mind and become a theist.) Tallis was elected Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences for his research in clinical neuroscience.  In his book, Aping Mankind: Neuromania, Darwinitis, and the Misrepresentation of Humanity, he mocks the Darwinian naturalistic worldview by writing,
    • “As for science, has it not shown us, courtesy of Darwin, that we are animals and our nature has been fashioned in the bloodbath that is the natural world.” (How’s that for meaningful purpose in life?)

  • Until 2008, atheist, John Gray, was the Professor of European Thought at the London School of Economics. In his dismal and dispiriting book, Straw Dogs: Thoughts on Humans and Other Animals, he writes,
    • “The idea of humanity taking charge of its destiny makes sense only if we ascribe and purpose to the (human) species; but Darwin’s discovery was that species (of any type) are only currents in the drift of genes.”

  • Again, Richard Dawkins:
    • “The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is…no purpose…nothing but blind, pitiless indifference.”

  • In his book, God’s Undertaker: Has Science Buried God?, Oxford scientist, John Lennox, quotes Oxford chemistry professor, Peter Atkins:
    • “Humanity should accept that science has eliminated the justification for believing in cosmic purpose, and that any survival of purpose is inspired only by sentiment.”

  • Lennox also quotes biologist, George Gaylord Simpson:
    • [We are] “the product of a mindless and purposeless natural process which did not have us in mind.”

  • We are “fashioned in the bloodbath that is the natural world.” “Only currents in the drift of genes.” “…blind, pitiless indifference.” “…any survival of purpose is inspired only by sentiment.”
  • Just reading these kinds of statements made me depressed.

***The Cross gave me purpose for my pain.

  • Philosophically, C.S. Lewis deconstructs the above empty, morose opinions for the impossibility of life having any purpose:
    • “If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning, just as, if there were no light in the universe and therefore no creatures with eyes, we should never know it was dark.”

  • Theologically, Paul starts out his second letter to the believers at Corinth with this:
  • A couple of years after Jordan took his life public schools began contacting me to come speak to their students on the topic of suicide. I had never once “marketed myself” by creating a web site, fliers, etc. I certainly had no desire to relive my son’s suicide. That said, it never occurred to me that God could – or would want to – use my, and my family’s pain, to help others with their pain.  Apparently, God had plans neither I nor my family knew about.
  • Throughout scripture, God commonly uses the broken, the bruised, the crushed, and the weak to accomplish his purposes. Paul, writer of a third of the New Testament, pleaded with God to remove his ‘thorn in the flesh.’ (No one knows what this was.  But, Paul suffered enough from it to beg God three times to remove it.)  But God didn’t remove it.  Instead, he used Paul’s weakness to demonstrate God’s mighty strength. Paul records it this way:
  • In my weakness, I’ve now spoken in over a dozen public schools, to medical personnel at a hospital, in two universities, regional high school leadership conferences, and numerous churches.
    • I frequently receive emails, texts and notes from school administrative staff after I speak in assemblies. Almost always I am told a particular student who was planning on taking their life has chosen to live after listening to what I had to say.  The very first note I received (in 2015) was from a high school school counselor.  I had spoken the previous day at the Lubbock Civic Center.  It was my first time to ever speak of my son’s story in front of an audience.  I was fairly terrified, as well as an emotional mess.  But, it appears God enjoys using ‘messes.’ The counselor told me of a student who came to her office to explain that he had attempted to take his life the night before by swallowing an entire bottle of pills.  (Unbeknownst to them, or me, he had attended my talk the day before.) Then he told the counselor, “But I made myself throw up the pills.”  When asked why, he said, “Because of that man who lost his son.”
  • At the encouragement of a friend, I began blogging as a form a therapy. After the 2016 Netflix series, 13 Reasons Why, debuted, I wrote a blog titled, Why 13 Reasons Why is Both Dark and Dangerous.  It’s been viewed over 250,000 times in over 150 countries.
  • My blog, Suicide & the Bible, has been viewed over 55,000 times.
  • As on professional counselor told me, “God is able to repurpose your pain – if you will let him.” Oh, he is doing just that.  Praise his name.
  • After “finding my way back home,” I was reminded that, in the hands of Jesus, pain is transformed into power, rage is transformed into passion, and despair is transformed into hope. And that brings me to my third and final reason…

 

3. Atheism gave me no hope.

  • The Epicurean worldview is delineated as follows: We’re born. We live. We die.
  • But this philosophy is older than Epicurus. Warning ancient Israel of God’s impending judgment, the prophet, Isaiah, confronted the recalcitrant people for allowing themselves to devolve into this same philosophy:
  • As I read Nietzsche’s Twilight of Idols and the Anti-Christ, my heart hurt for him. Nietzsche was clearly a tormented man desperately searching for meaning and hope.  In Anti-Christ, he wrote:
    • “At this point I will not suppress a sigh.  There are days when I am haunted by a feeling blacker than the blackest melancholy – contempt of man.  And so as to leave no doubt as to what I despise, whom I despise: it is the man of today, the man with whom I am fatefully contemporary.”

  • Second only to the Bible, John Bunyan’s, Pilgrim’s Progress, is the best-selling religious book of all time. Writing from prison in the 17th century, Bunyan tells the gospel story using allegory.  The protagonist, Christian, is being led through a series of dangerous cliffs, foreboding castles, terrifying giants, and the like, en route to the Celestial City.  At one point, he sees a man in a cage.  Christian, curious as to why this man was in bondage, quickly grew inquisitive, prompting him to ask the man what had happened. The man in the cage answered:
  • That is precisely what atheism offered me.  Bondage.

***The Cross gave me hope

This is hope.  This is the Cross.  This is Jesus Christ.

For Narnia, Nick