Your correspondent was musing just the other day. Enter one’s wife.
“Are you thinking, dear?” she asked.
“I am reflecting, receiving,” I replied.
“What about, then?” she asked anew.
“Atheists,” I replied, succinctly.
“Oh, Lord, must you?” she expostulated.
She is right, of course. Atheists and their reasons to be could be a matter of anxiety. The traditional three taboo themes at a gathering in Britain are politics, sex and religion, to which atheism has been seen to form a relationship. This quartet of human strife is what gets people all riled up, and the nicest party is likely to end up as a brawl unless etiquette prevails. I shall nevertheless attempt to give you the lowdown on those among us who would deny the existence of God. The real task, however, is to write a few thousand words without being rude.
First and foremost we must explain to one’s atheist acquaintances that the God they deny loves them. The species atheos, however, is a being sometimes relying on second-hand ideas and that because the thrust of his or her reasoning tends often to be about the mistakes made by other people! That is where they are coming from. Your average atheist is a creature possessing great guile and often a vast measure of sophistry. This may be sufficient for talking up a storm, but without the possibility of bringing other people and their errors into things there is a decided lack of acumen.
“See,” they will exclaim, “religion leads only to war. History proves it.”
To be fair, this reasoning does give credence to the cautionary advice to button up given by partying Brits. It means resting in faith and exercising an inability to leave each other alone. But there is no excuse! We have, indeed, and to our unmitigated shame, committed all of that mayhem. We often err, and after all, only God is good. The peoples of religion have sometimes reversed the dictum. To proclaim that war is justifiable because “God is on our side,” is otherwise to be understood if one were to suggest that we should, in fact, be on God’s side. One way is the way of submission and the other is expecting God to submit to us.
What is really of the essence is that we must provide for the atheists reasonable proof of the existence of God. Believers talk about God. But one seldom encounters someone who has offered a definition of the God some believe in or the God that some do not. Acceptance of our lack would require humility, which is closely related to submission and the guidance we seek.
One wonders at this point about blind faith and can only surmise that such people simply believe in ultimate goodness and they would be wonderful. One can’t really blame the atheist for his or her frustration. But on the other hand it is our atheist friend who would tell us that common sense and a rational attitude fostered by reason is sufficient unto the day. Criticism is of the past and if you have never made a mistake you are qualified to point a finger, accuse, belittle, denigrate, criticize and even kill. Thus personal responsibility is the name of the game.
Simplistic? Of course. It leaves little space for the philosopher, for those who would debate, for experts of all kinds.
Wind up and make an atheist go and he will speak and say lots of things that are curiously related to those uttered by those of the opposite persuasion. Nevertheless, we are concerned here with Who makes things and people and what keeps all of the universes up and running.
As an aside, one must add that both atheists and theists are often unable to resist playing to a crowd. A crowd has its own Eigendynamik and is prone to being rowdy. In other words, being a mob. Mobs are easily swayed. A clever speaker, one whose stream of consciousness is well under way, can wind up a mob and get a few laughs; but get a mob excited and it will be hard to contain. It is all about jumping from one verbal thrust to the next until a deep-rooted nastiness takes over. There is also something thrilling involved, which lacks any semblance of conscience.
But back to the Divine Spirit! Not only is the Divine Spirit the Who in this essay, it is also the prime mover, methinks, of every single aspect of human endeavor, and plenty more besides. God is, actually, and quite reasonably, a force that enables. We have been given free will, and even if we presume that God does not control us (some would say unfortunately) in the accepted sense of the word, He does enable us. By this reasoning it is God Who is instrument in permitting the atheist to say “I don’t believe there is a God.” To deny God thus means a denial of one’s own existence.
If one has ever countenanced the probability of a mystical experience one is at least showing an open mind. But mystical experience must be verifiable or the mystics will always be called liars. On the other hand, mystics seem generally unwilling to explain things and, anyway, don’t give a hoot about being called liars.
Atheists are unlikely to investigate anything that would appear to be unreasonable. Again, one can’t blame them, and true to the casting of the first stone story one shouldn’t blame them because they would be asked to admit a universal truth that places thought into a secondary position.
Contrary to common belief, mystics deal with absolute reality, which is perhaps why they are usually so reticent. Our mystics, the Prophets, told it like it is. The way it is can be what we are pleased to call our collective history, which is quite obviously an ongoing event. It is physically what Charles Darwin, a nice old gent who was misused by atheists and abused by theists, called evolution. The human mind, regardless of whether you accept it as biologically evolved or believe in its unique, unchanged state from the time of creation, has now become, you might say, uppity. It has seen itself to be the boss. Deep inner feeling, the whisper from the soul, as it is known within Islam, has become irrelevant. The ideal human would be one who is able to work, create, play one’s part in furthering the science of life for the common good – but with a feeling of patience, trust, and sincere submission.
If we can accept that there is a primal force that could be likened to the fuel of the universe, we must be prepared to be unable to describe it because it is not of a physical nature. One might say it would be like trying to describe the appearance of wind, which does not actually have an appearance, but we can see its effect, like bending trees, or helping sailors. It is the same with the primal force! You can’t see it, but you can see, feel and experience its effect.
One must, of course, be prepared to believe that the Spirit is not just a bunch of molecules. What some seekers have done has been to sit still and watch what happens. This does not necessarily imply meditation but prayer may arise as a spontaneous burst of hope.
Imagine having a mind in abeyance. A mind that is modest, a mind that is no longer the boss. My mind, my servant! What atheist could argue with that?
The monotheist prophets, Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Muhammad, were appalled to see humans groveling before idols, bits of wood and stone constructs. They called for a return to the one universal common denominator we have; our life, our Spirit, our universal fuel, our dependence on life itself. I would ask you to please not confuse life with what people do. See life as that which enables people to do what they do. What they do with this life is a matter of personal capacity, and heaven help us!
It would be wishful thinking to suggest that atheists should investigate this unexplained, perhaps unexplainable energy. From a purely psychological point of view it is evident that humans “need to be right about something.” This “need” is likely to be fostered by the ego’s (self-esteem) fight against “losing,” which in turn could engender depression. Depression (if it has not become pathological) is fought against by the mind, and that in turn “strengthens” that which probably caused the depression in the first place. It could be worth remembering that any child leaving the womb brings genetic baggage that could – and history shows that the human condition has been pretty dismal – hinder the child from growing up well and healthy. In other words, the parents are to blame! Oh, dear, as it happens your correspondent has five children. And yet the parents are not really to blame because they are simply part of the chain. Thus, one could say that the best “laboratory” for research is the one you are living in, one’s self. After all, you don’t need lots of expensive equipment. You do not need an office or the need to commute. You are already there. But how is this relevant to prosocial behaviour following adverse experience? Well, in the pursuance of prosocial behaviour the participant feels “absolutely sure” that his or her attitude is correct. Experience fosters it. This “being sure” of something is of paramount importance to counter uncertainty, which is a large part of the human condition, and which leads to all kinds of often dubious endeavours. It is a widespread belief among most social groups that “doing right” is a good thing. It will make us acceptable; it will foster self-esteem. But above all the altruistic way will help one to feel right. We seem to need to prove a point about something, but actually it is all about how one feels. One wishes to feel good. One dreads feeling bad. People will go to many extremes in the pursuit of feeling good. The trouble is that the intellect tells some of us that we need a reason to feel good. There has to be an explanation. The ideal state, one may suppose, is to feel good for no reason whatsoever. That state of feeling good without reason could mean “no baggage.” But we know that having no baggage is not possible. We bring it with us into the world. Thus, genetic memory must be the point of investigation. An amusing take on altruism is about a person who has a deep feeling that money should be donated to a worthy cause. The mind switches in and argues that one is merely trying to placate one’s conscience. The deep feeling department struggles with the mind. Then, with a bit of luck, an even deeper deep feeling takes over and says “placate as much as you want, as long as you send the money.” Thus the ways of the Lord are indeed mysterious. The only real loss is to the value one places on one’s mind. This is a tricky business because one is then in the process of putting one’s mind back to where it belongs, as a servant and not a boss. It may be worth remembering that a new-born baby’s mind is anyhow in abeyance.
Carrying on and somehow making our way in life requires faith. The faith required is given through experience and that through something akin to basic research. (The world is our lab.) When learning to swim you must first experience the fact that water will support you. (You can do this in shallow water for starters.) Then having experienced the irrefutable fact that water will support you, you simply have to make a few movements to get somewhere. A slight problem is that one needs to place this knowledge into one’s memory bank, where it could be misconstrued and misused; but that is going a bit far at this stage. The second part of the need for faith through experience is when learning to live. To begin with, like the fact of learning to swim, we need to believe that life will support us, for it is made to do so. But believing that life will support us first needs irrefutable proof. This is difficult to attain. But one could simply plant a few potatoes and watch them grow into something edible. Common sense and a deep feeling for a possible answer to our existential dilemma could be given. It would, however, require a degree of modesty in respect of our needs.
The atheist would keep us earthbound. Not a bad place to start, but there is more that can be revealed within the human frame. Unfortunately, I can only offer an experience, of which I have no right to expect anyone to believe. I once waited at a large, noisy railway station for the arrival of a Muslim man of some mystic experience. The man and two others seemingly floated the length of the platform after leaving their train. I lurked behind a pillar and when they had passed me I hopped on behind their group. The moment I was within their proximity (a bubble-like zone surrounding them) the hectic noise and clamour of the railway station faded away (no shouts or whistles and all of the rest that make up the noisy experience of a London railway station). We were, indeed, in a bubble. Like a fool I could not resist dropping back to see what happened. Of course, the clamour returned.
The "message" was obvious: I needed to experience something I could not explain. Many of my spiritual doubts fell away. The experience was not to be denied. Here was a reality that I had previously not anticipated. I feel truly grateful for knowing that there really are such things unexplainable. Such as the peace that passeth (beyond) all understanding. Or being in the world but (literally) not of it.
If this essay is of any worth the quest for God is quite logically not really in our own hands, and as the railway-station mystic was once heard to utter, “Don’t try to go faster than God.”