I was listening this afternoon as I drove along to a broadcast on EWTN in which the presenter, Al Kresta, was talking to EWTN host and Catholic psychologist Ray Guarendi about the 3 years he suffered horribly from clinical depression in the early 80’s. His episode of acute depression – for which he was twice hospitalized – was triggered in him by an encounter with a book by an atheist, entitled The Illusion of Immortality. Reading it in preparation for writing a book of his own, Kresta was suddenly overtaken by profound despair. He reflected that the reason the text – which regurgitated arguments he had long before encountered and defeated to his own satisfaction – had such an impact upon him was that the author seemed like a good guy who was simply sincere about his atheism, in a way that most atheists are not.
As Kresta spoke, his offhand phrase “the horror of the atheist notion of reality” hit me really hard. I began almost to weep at the image of that notion, carried through (in the imagination only) to reality – treated, i.e., as if it were really true (as if that could even happen). This feeling, of horrified tears at being perched for the first time in my life at the edge of a precipice that verged upon an abyss of pain without bottom, persisted throughout the conversation between Kresta and Guarendi. I could feel a boundless ontological void opening beneath me, unlike any I had ever suspected.
It was the horrible vacuum in which nothing can have any meaning, purpose, or point, and nothing is therefore worth anything; in which, i.e., nothing can be about anything, or for anything; in which nothing is any good.
I suddenly realized that, on a visceral level, I could not ever have been atheist. I had rather been ever a theist trying to figure out theism; what theism meant, and what it must then mean to be theist. And I could not but conclude that almost everyone – even the most vocal of our atheist interlocutors – is in the same boat. This perhaps is why atheists seem to care so much about the question of theism. If they were confident in their atheism, then theism should seem to them to be as absurd, and as little worthy of their time and attention, as the notion that there are fairies in the bottom of the garden.
If atheists really believed that theism is false, they would never trouble themselves to argue against it.
I realized that life as we inherit it from our parents must of course be crammed full of hope, thus of confidence, and so of courage to essay life’s adventures. What is a baby, after all, but an entirely pure exercise – and, indeed, an exertion – of ontological hope? What is the energy and enthusiasm of youth, if there be no hope? But I saw that in the absence of God, there could be no such thing as hope.
Or, therefore (obviously) as innovation, effort, or natural selection. No hope → no will to live → no life.
What could it be like to live as a thoroughgoing atheist under the firm conviction that life has no meaning or purpose or order whatsoever, so that everything that happens, or that one does, is pointless, stupid, useless, and a total waste? I saw for the first time what it would be like to believe such an absurd impossible notion, all the way down. It was a vision of Hell.
So I doubt that there are really very many atheists, properly so called – such as the apparently honest author who so appalled Al Kresta. There are rather, at most, theists who have decided to rebel against God, but who have not at all abandoned the nexus of notions upon which only the notion of rebellion might make some sense. I.e., they try to behave properly (by their own lights), and thereby admit in practice that God is real, so that it can make some sense to try to behave properly – when, in the absence of God, there could be no reason to behave in any way at all.
Can atheism be carried into practice? Can anyone honestly believe, all the way down, that nothing matters at all? I don’t see how.
How could you muster the juice to write a book in support of atheism if you believed honestly and all the way down that nothing you might do could possibly matter?
On the fundamental Pragmatic criterion of truth, then – that, i.e., what cannot possibly be carried into practice cannot possibly be true, or perhaps even coherent logically – atheism must be false. Show me an atheist who doesn’t care about anything, and I’ll begin to think otherwise.
But, why would any such person care to make himself evident to anyone else?
I’ll wait. I’m a theist, after all, and faithful; so, I can wait forever.
It will be interesting to see whether any atheist readers of this post care enough to respond. On their professed atheism, they could have no possible motivation to do so.