I’ve been thinking about the new atheist advertisements on the London busses which proclaim, “There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying, and enjoy your life.”
I thought the atheists were supposed to be really smart people. Usually one of their arguments against theism is that believers are all little kiddies who think there is a big sugar Daddy in the sky who will look after them, and that they have wrapped themselves up in a warm comfort blanket and are eating philosophical cotton candy. If this is the case, then believers aren’t worriers. Like the most convinced Calvinist who knows he’s one of the elect, we’re all smug, comfortable and have our ticket for heaven. So why advise us not to worry?
The other stick they use to beat believers is that we actually are worried all the time. We’re racked with guilt. We inflict guilt on little children. We’re neurotic. We’re think God’s up there about to punish us and we’re cowering in the corner all the time, and when we’re not we’re scampering off to confession in a paroxysm of scrupulosity. There are definitely some Christians like that too, but like the extreme Calvinist they are among our more crazy family members, and as any loving family does with their fruit loops, we love them and pray for them and hope they’ll snap out of it.
So the with the “what me worry?” ploy the atheists are setting up not one, but two straw men–both of them mutually contradictory. We can’t all be smug religious comfort bunnies and wild eyed quivering religious neurotics at the same time. What the atheist can’t get used to is the fact that there are an enormous number of people (in fact the majority of the human race) who manage to both believe in God and also live lives that are pretty normal, in fact not only do we believe in God and are fairly normal, we think that our belief in God is what helps us to be normal.
Now the other problem with the atheist’s arrogant little slogan is the curious word ‘probably’. Why on earth would a committed, really gung-ho, “I’m willing to put my money where my mouth is” atheist launch such a half hearted, watered down message? This ‘probably’ word is so lily livered. It’s so pathetic. Are they hedging their bets? If their message is only that there is ‘probably’ no God it’s no message at all, in fact it may be counter productive.
Let’s say I’m strolling through London, never giving God a thought. In that respect I’m the one who’s a real atheist. I’m the sort of person who lives for myself and tries not to harm anyone. I wake up. I go to work. I come home. I watch TV. I eat. I sleep. I wake up and it starts again. Then I see this bus saying that there is probably no God.
But only ‘probably’? This doesn’t help my atheism. What if there is therefore even the smallest chance that there is a God? What if he has set up a religion? What if there is, after all, a judgement and heaven or hell? What if I have to give an account of my life? I wish they hadn’t put that ‘probably’ in there. It indicates that the atheists have doubts, and that is not what I wanted.
There is ‘probably’ no God, but what if there is one? Then I’m better off being religious because when I die it is better to have been religious and find there is no God than not to have believed and discover there is a God.
So I get on the bus and this guy comes up and asks if I want to buy a lottery ticket. He’s wearing a uniform and all, and has this French accent. He’s wearing a name tag. It says, ‘Pascal’.
“That’s an odd name.” I say.
“Yes” he smiles, “In English ze name means ‘Easter.’