The Unbearable Heaviness of Being (In a World Without God)
Modern man is in a bad way. Everywhere we see people in the modern Western world in crisis and chaos. The signs of disintegration and degeneration are of course apparent for all to see. And the ways people seek to cope with the modern plague of alienation, meaninglessness and despair take plenty of forms: suicide, drug abuse, reckless relationships, sexual promiscuity and random acts of violence.
From whence does this mess arise? Why are we in such dire straits? The answer is as simple as it is profound. We are in a monumental mess because we are seeking to carry a load we were never meant to carry. We are seeking to do the impossible. We are seeking to put a square peg in a round hole.
We are, in a word, seeking to be God. Modern man has declared there is no God. There is no centre to the universe. There is no divine glue that holds all things together. We have wrenched God out of the universe, and there is now a gaping hole where God once was.
But just as nature always abhors a vacuum, so the only thing left to fill this massive hole of God’s banishment is mankind – individuals who have been made in God’s image, but who no longer believe that the creator exists anymore.
So now we are seeking to climb a mountain impossible to climb. In kicking God out of the universe, we are seeking to take his place. We are vainly pretending that the centre of all things is ourselves, and that we can hold all things together. We are now the source of all meaning, of all purpose, of what is true and false, right and wrong.
We, the creature, have usurped the rightful place of the creator, and now think we can somehow take his place. But that means we are now carrying a burden impossible to bear. We have supplanted God and enthroned self. But naked self, without the God of heaven and earth, is crushed under the load of its own choosing.
No wonder we have an obsession with self today. With no more God in the universe, all we are left with is self. We have sought to replace the sovereign God of the universe with the Sovereign Self. With such a huge burden to shoulder, we are not holding up very well. Thus we are awash with techniques and programs to help the self cope.
We are up to our ears in self-fulfillment, self-actualisation, self-esteem, self-identification. Therapists, psychiatrists and counselors are working overtime to deal with the problems of self. But to the extent that these are secular counselors, their help will be of limited value.
Man is more than just a slab of meat. He is also a spiritual creature with spiritual needs. When we deny this aspect of human reality, we end up with alienation, despair, and frustration. In biblical terms, our real problem is sin.
Sin robs us of our rightful place because it robs God of his rightful place. And when we do that, we destroy ourselves. As David Wells puts it in his new book, “The self that has been made to bear the weight of being the center of all reality, the source of all our meaning, mystery, and morality, finds that it has become fragile and empty. When God dies to us, we die in ourselves”.
We are simply not built to carry the world on our shoulders. Atheists can chirp all they like about the non-existence of God, but all they are doing is chaining mankind with a death-wish. Instead of liberating mankind, atheism enslaves him.
In his superb examination of atheistic humanism, and the huge costs of it in recent human history (as in the reigns of Stalin and Hitler), Vincent Miceli closes with these words:
“Whoever strikes against God strikes down himself. The atheist denying God degrades himself. The atheist exalting himself above God sinks below the level of animate and inanimate beings. Liberation from God is enslavement in creatures. Absolute humanism is the sure road to absolute despotism. Denial of God as truth begets the imprisonment of man in the self-imposed darkness of his own myths.” (The Gods of Atheism, 1971)
The twentieth century certainly bore witness to the despotism and inhumanity of the atheist utopias. How could it be otherwise, when we seek to take the place of our Creator? When we attempt to dethrone God, and put our own fallen and finite values and wisdom into place, we are doomed to failure.
Yet we have not learned the lessons of the previous century. We continue to make the same mistakes today. Only now we celebrate these moves and glory in our past mistakes. The new militant atheists positively applaud and fastidiously promote the eradication of all religion – at least in its public expressions.
The new atheist fundamentalists like Dawkins and Hitchens pronounce a curse on all religion, but will probably not live long enough to see the full results of such foolish thinking. They should have learned from what was attempted in the name of Sovereign Man last century. Instead they make excuses for it, and claim that communism was not atheistic, or that Hitler was somehow really a Christian.
The inhumanity of humanism was warned about by many earlier prophets. C.S. Lewis spoke much of the “abolition of man”. The secular experiment is a grand experiment to see what life is like without God. And the results are not looking very good.
As the late philosopher, and atheist turned Christian, C.E.M. Joad put it, “For the first time in history there is coming to maturity a generation of men and women who have no religion, and who feel no need for one.” Or as the late ethicist Paul Ramsey said, “Ours is the first attempt in recorded history to build a culture upon the premise that God is dead.”
Announcing, and believing, that God is dead has consequences. And it is we who suffer the most for it. We cannot bear the whole universe on our shoulders. We were not meant to. We must let God be God. Only then can men be men. Only then can we find the way forward to be possible, and the burdens not insurmountable.
Miceli again lays out what is at stake here. Although negative in nature, a-theism has an affirmative component: “For atheism receives its true, full meaning from the reality it rejects – God. It represents a choice the creature makes of himself and his universe in preference to his Creator. For every temptation to deny God has as the necessary correlative of the denial the affirmation of the creature over God”.
“The affirmation of the creature over God”. If that sounds like an absurd proposition, it is. But the Psalmist rightly expressed this absurdity three millennia ago: “The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God’” (Psalm 53:1). For most of human history mankind has let God be God. Today we think we know better. But the foolish and tragic results only continue to multiply.