Here’s a verse to ponder for this coming Sunday, April first: ‘The fool has said in his heart, there is no God’ –Psalm 14:1.
The psalmist’s wasn’t trying to offend or denigrate. Rather, he described a dangerous condition with real consequences for individuals and those they influence.
Take the warning we referred to last week from Blaise Pascal, father of probability theory (a useful branch of mathematics for gamblers). ‘Man’ who knows so little about where ‘he’ came from or where ‘he’ is going knows that sooner or later ‘he’ will die. Perhaps that’s the end of the matter. Perhaps not.
A reasonable person ought to be concerned about these options; and whether or not there is a God. Only a fool would be indifferent, concluded Pascal. The wise pragmatist would surely choose for the option of maximum happiness. This is a wager we all have to make. We’re all in this game.
Simply on the basis of probabilities, the only wise choice is to bet on God’s existence, Pascal reasoned. If true, we have gained eternal life; if false, we’ve lost nothing.
If we bet there’s no God, and we’re right, we’ve gained nothing; but if wrong, we’ve lost everything. Such a gambler would be called a fool in any company. So why would we make that irrational choice?
Believers are often accused of being ‘wishful thinkers’, believing in God simply because they want him to exist. The argument of course cuts both ways. Are atheists so convinced God does not exist for rational reasons, or simply because it would be so terribly inconvenient to their lifestyles if he did happen to exist?
Suppose, for argument’s sake, God did not exist. So what?The atheist philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, in his story The Madman, echoed the psalmist by having a fool tell the laughing crowd that there was no longer any God. ”We have killed him–you and I. All of us are his murderers.”
In Nietzsche's view, modern science and secularization of European society had effectively 'killed' the Abrahamic God, from whom meaning and value had been derived in the West for more than a thousand years. But Nietzsche’s madman was the only one who understood the implications.
The death of God, Nietzsche foresaw, would lead to any coherent sense of objective truth being replaced by our own ‘multiple, diverse, and fluid perspectives’–thus birthing relativism and post-modernism.
Further, he correctly saw that the death of God would lead to outright nihilism, the belief that nothing had any inherent importance and that life lacked purpose.
Nietzsche profoundly influenced philosophy in the twentieth century. Bertrand Russell wrote that we had to resign ourselves to building our lives on ‘the firm foundation of unyielding despair’. Jean-Paul Sartre believed humankind was left alone in the universe with no Creator. Albert Camus was resigned to facing life’s absurdity honestly.
Which has created the impossible dilemma of living with nihilism. Initially there’s something exhilarating about overthrowing old taboos and celebrating ‘freedom’.
Aldous Huxley put it candidly in Ends and Means (1937): For myself, as no doubt for most of my friends, the philosophy of meaninglessness was essentially an instrument of liberation from a certain system of morality. We objected to the morality because it interfered with our sexual freedom.
But in the long run, where does it lead to? Dostoevsky said that without God everything is permissible. We can’t say anything is wrong anymore–infanticide, incest, pedofilia, terrorism, greed, exploitation, human trafficking or genocide.
Hitler took Nietzsche at his word and Auschwitz was the logical outcome.
Russell, Sartre and Camus all had to make blind leaps of faith, irrationally choosing some meaning, purpose or value to live by: pacifism, brotherhood, love, Marxism…
Francis Schaeffer explained that modern man finds himself trapped in the basement of despair. But he makes an irrational leap of faith to the upper story of meaning–because it is impossible to live consistently otherwise.
In other words, modern, secular man is a squatter, choosing values, causes and rights without paying any rent.
Nietzsche’s madman pondered the folly of ‘killing God’: ‘What did we do when we unchained this earth from its sun?’
By the way, Charles Spurgeon preached that a more accurate translation of Psalm 14 verse one read: The fool says, ‘no, God’. Anyone–believers included–who says ‘no’ to God on any issue is a fool.
A word of advice: don’t be a fool.
Till next week,
Till next week,