Religion is the masterpiece of the art of animal training, for it trains people as to how they shall think… Arthur Schopenhauer [i].
Christianity, among other religions, is often referred to as a crutch for those who don’t want to think for themselves, face the difficult realities of life or make an effort to improve the world in which we live. It is viewed as the catch-all solution for the intellectually or morally lazy. How did the world come about? God made it. How do I have to act? God will tell me. How do I fix this problem? God will take care of it. What happens with the responsibility of my wrong-doings? God takes care of that too.
It certainly seems like an easy way out.
Yet Christianity, or any religion, isn’t the only way to conveniently escape the tougher questions of life. Atheism can equally be used as a crutch or a shield. Questions such as our ultimate origin, the meaning of life and our final destiny are quickly dismissed as unanswerable, so why bother? This is also applied to moral issues. A young atheist, living with her boyfriend, told him: But if there’s a God, then we can’t do whatever we want. This is very true. However, convenience or the ability to do whatever you want isn’t a good reason to avoid the God question. So if Marx’s maxim that religion is the Opium of the masses aimed at keeping you happy while you suffer, can hold true, then atheism can be dubbed as the Morphine which deadens your senses to troubling human and moral issues.
Atheists may cry ‘foul’ claiming that the superficiality of some atheists doesn’t translate to atheism as such being superficial. Surprisingly enough, I would agree. However, the same holds true for Christianity. Both can be superficially used to avoid effort on an intellectual or moral level. To quote Peter Kreeft, a Catholic philosopher, “The one thing everyone must start with is total honesty, I think, to believe just because it’s easier, or convenient – or to refuse to believe just because it’s easy or convenient – that’s not honest. … If I decide to stop believing just so that I can commit all the sins I want without feeling guilty, without asking what’s true and what God thinks – that’s dishonest. And to decide to believe just to avoid the hassle of thinking for myself or just because it’s socially convenient – that’s dishonest too” (Yes or No, pp. 58 – 59).
The point is you should follow something because it’s true, period. That is intellectual honesty. I’m not proposing a ‘simply close your eyes and believe’ approach, rather I suggest asking the tough questions about our origin, our destiny and the meaning of life. This is an invitation for atheists and Christians alike. Yet the search for truth requires effort.
It’s not enough to believe just because that’s how I was raised, because that’s my tradition. As Pope Benedict once said in an interview: What is interesting is that the concept of tradition has to a great extent made redundant that of religion, and that of confession or denomination – and, thereby, that of truth. Particular religions are regarded as traditions… (and) everyone should respect each other’s (traditions). At any rate, if traditions are all we have, then truth has been lost. And sooner or later we will ask what in fact traditions are for. And in that case a revolt against tradition is well founded (Ratzinger, God & the World, pp 34-35).
This isn’t an invitation to those Catholics who don’t understand why they go to Mass, confession etc. to stop going but rather this is an invitation to dig deeper: learn your faith, discover the reasons behind the tradition. Discover the truth behind the tradition. Discover the person of Christ behind the tradition.
So the next time an atheist tells you that Christians are superficial in their approach to life, tell them that we don’t corner the market.
Fr. John Bullock, LC is a Catholic priest with the Legionaries of Christ, firstname.lastname@example.org
[i]quoted in Atheist Blogger: http://atheistblogger.com/2008/02/15/101-atheist-quotes/
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