Dinesh D Souza, The Greatness of Christianity: Table of Contents
Cf. Dinesh D’souza, What’s So Great About Christianity, at Amazon
“It is wonderful not to have to cower before a vengeful deity, who threatens us with eternal damnation if we do not abide by his rules.” —Karen Armstrong, A History of God
IN THE PREVIOUS CHAPTER we have seen how secular morality, while marching behind the banner of autonomy and self-fulfillment, can provide a cover for selfish and irresponsible behavior. Now it’s time to ask a deeper question: is unbelief itself driven by similar motives? To listen to prominent atheists, you get the idea that their sole cause for rejecting God is that He does not meet the requirements of reason. Philosopher Bertrand Russell was once asked what he would say if he discovered, after death, that there is an afterlife. Russell pompously said he would tell God, “Sir, you did not give me enough evidence.” I have throughout this book taken the rational objections of Russell and others seriously, but it should be obvious by now that atheism is far fr o m t he only reasonable alt ern ative. Unbelief, especially when it comes in the belligerent tone of a Russell, Dawkins, or Hitchens, is not merely a function of following the evidence where it leads. Rather, unbelief of this sort requires a fuller psychological explanation.
Let’s remember that atheists frequently attempt to give psychological reasons for the religious commitment of believers. In his commentary on the works of Hegel, Karl Marx famously said that religion is the “opium of the people,” meaning that religion is a kind of escapism or mode of wish fulfillment. In Marx’s view, people imbibe religion as a drug, to numb themselves to the pain and grief around them and to give themselves the illusion that the injustices of this world will be corrected in the next one. Sigmund Freud saw religion as providing a cowardly refuge from the harsh realities of life and theinevitability of death. We console ourselves by thinking that there is another world insulated from the hardship, injustice, and confusion of this one. As French atheist Michel Onfray recently put it, “God is a fiction invented by men so as not to confront the reality of their condition.” Another explanation for the popularity of religion, recently expressed by James Haught in Free Inquiry, is in terms of the wish fulfillment of its self-serving leaders. In this view, which seems quite popular today, religion persists because “churches and holy men reap earnings and exalted status from the supernaturalism they administer to their followers.”
I’m not convinced by any of these explanations. I agree that there are priests and mullahs who are self-aggrandizing salesmen, but why do people go along with their schemes? Yes, there is an element of wish fulfillment in religion, but not of the kind that the atheists presume. Theologian R. C. Sproul makes a telling point: why would the disciples invent a God “whose holiness was more terrifying than the forces of nature that provoked them to invent a God in the first place?” The God of the three Abrahamic religions—Judaism, Christianity, and Islam—is a pretty exacting fellow, demanding of us purity rather than indulgence, virtue rather than convenience, charity rather than self- gratification. There are serious penalties attached to ultimate failure: for the religious believer, death is a scary thing, but eternal damnation is scarier. So wish fulfillment would most likely give rise to a very different God than the one described in the Bible. Wish fulfillment can explain heaven, but it cannot explain hell. Even so, my purpose here is not to dispute the atheist explanation for the appeal of religion. I intend to turn things around and instead pose the issue of the appeal of atheism. Who benefits from it? Why do so many influential people in the West today find it attractive? If Christianity is so great, why aren’t more people rushing to embrace it?
Some atheists even acknowledge that they would prefer a universe in which there were no God, no immortal soul, and no afterlife. Nietzsche writes that “if one were to prove this God of the Christians to us, we should be even less able to believe in him.” On the possibility of life after death, H. L. Mencken wrote, “My private inclination is to hope that it is not so.” In God: The Failed Hypothesis, physicist Victor Stenger confesses that not only does he disbelieve in God, he doesn’t like the Christian God: “If he does exist, I personally want nothing to do with him.” And philosopher Thomas Nagel recently confessed to a “fear of religion itself.” As he put it, “I want atheism to be true…. It isn’t just that I don’t believe in God…. I don’t want there to be a God; I don’t want the universe to be like that.”