Greg Sheridan had an article on belief in God in the online Sunday edition of The Australian. I liked the article but was especially taken with its opening quote from English poet and writer Philip Larkin. “And what remains when disbelief has gone?”
I sent the article to a number of disbelieving friends of mine. I don’t think they will be persuaded to alter their views. More than this, I did not detect, when I spoke to them about it, much understanding of the import of Larkin’s point. I don’t think they got it or, perhaps, they didn’t want to get it.
Right now, disbelief is militantly proselytised because belief exists. And here I will go out on a limb: I think those who disbelieve in God gain vicarious comfort from those who believe, in order to ward off the moral implications of disbelief.
Those who disbelieve in God must believe in something, though I have found them strangely reluctant to say what it is. Or perhaps they are so concentrated on what they don’t believe that they have given too little thought to what they do believe. I will help them out.
What they believe is that we have by chance evolved from inanimate matter, as have cockroaches. We are better looking than cockroaches – I think – can do more things, and have much more powerful brains. Mind you, what can be said of us in relation to cockroaches can be said to a large degree of squirrels and, obviously, of apes.
My point is that aesthetics and intelligence apart, we and cockroaches are equally products of random mutations and natural selection. They went one way, us another. There is nothing more to it; unless I have missed something in the atheists’ kit bag of the origin of the species.
Humans find cockroaches unpleasant and often kill them in various way, including by squashing. So what? There will be more cockroaches where they came from. How about bigger humans squashing smaller ones whom they find disagreeable? There are man-made laws prohibiting that, but is it wrong? By wrong, I mean is it ethically and morally wrong? Is it worse than squashing cockroaches?
Those who disbelieve in God sometimes say that we have evolved to protect each other in order to advance the human species. This doesn’t do it for me as a moral stricture. It’s a bootstrap’s theory without external underpinning. And it seems to support any action undertaken for the greater good.
Hitler, Pol Pot and Stalin probably thought that their policies and actions were for the greater good of the German, Cambodian and Russian peoples. Of course, you can argue they were wrong; that is, that they mistakenly chose the wrong path. But what of their intentions? Clearly, these were acceptable, were they not, in so far as they were aiming for the greater good.
None of this is palatable for any of us who are neither sociopaths nor psychopaths. So, disbelievers have a problem if they think about the implications of their disbelief. And here is where believers come in.
Believers have an external moral compass provided by God who made us. Disbelievers, I don’t care what they say, draw comfort from the believers around them. There might be something in it they secretly think, or hope. That’s why in extremis they appeal to God. Their disbelief is a fair-weather ethos; a mere debating position.
Now imagine all belief is gone. Then, of course, disbelief will be gone too, having nothing to parasitically live off. What moral law will then prevail in this vacuum? What will prevent assessments being made that some lives are worthwhile and others not? Some will be adjudged as being contributors to the greater good and others not. The latter will be dispensable.
We already have seen euthanasia and abortion on demand in many Western countries as Christianity’s role in life has diminished. Killing for convenience is increasingly becoming more acceptable. What if all belief and thus disbelief fell away to nothing and the evolutionary principle of the greater good became undisputed king. I wouldn’t want to be around. And neither would most present-day atheists. The weather would have turned from fair to foul.