I think I get the sentiment of one who has felt disgust at the pathetic and fearful superstition we sometimes see in the behaviour of a religious zealot, but just because a lunatic believes the world is round that does not mean it isn’t. And personally I am not convinced that nothingness could be as profound or even scary as has been claimed. Aristotle is reputed to have said, ‘Nothing is what rocks dream of.’ There may well be those who get so scared of nothing that they invent all this after-life stuff, but in my experience ‘nothingness’ seems like a magnificent relief, a great dream and hope of the human wanting the freedom to do whatever they like. As Huxley said, ‘I had motives for not wanting the world to have a meaning and without any difficulty was able to find satisfying reasons for this assumption … For myself the philosophy of meaninglessness was essentially an instrument of liberation: sexual and political.’
The other edge of the ‘freedom’ sword is that ‘freedom is not a license to do whatever we want but the power to do what is right’23. Such ‘doing’ has come over and over again from the life and words of one who said, ‘Love God and love your neighbour as yourself’ … and even, ‘love your enemies’. Hence: the abolition of institutionalised slavery; the recognition of women’s rights; the abolition of gladiatorial contests; the union movement for the rights of workers. It is no accident that ‘grace’ is so universally recognised as the hallmark of Jesus’ influence.
So rather than the dreams and longings of something happening beyond death being the product of clever social engineering by a cave-man, it would appear that these longings are simply the natural buddings of what is deeply embedded in the human soul and rather than being a reason for scepticism, a reason for wonder and for curiosity.
In my travels I often find myself in conversations with random strangers about this and make it a point of asking them two questions:
#1.’Do you believe that your deepest longings will be fulfilled in this life?’ Most of the time they will say, ‘No.’
#2 ‘So, is it fair to conclude that we were made for another world?’ They will then say something like, ‘Wow, I have never thought about that before,’ or ‘Yes it is fair to conclude that.’ At about this point they will often laugh and even beam a smile of gratitude as they get the spirit of fun and the excitement in these questions. It’s almost as if we have been transported to the moment of the movie ‘Bruce Almighty’ where Bruce (Jim Carey) asks God (Morgan Freeman), ‘Can I ask why?’ and God (to Bruce’s consternation) says, ‘Yes! You can! That’s the fun of it!’
Curiosity, like the cat, keeps coming back to what touches on it’s inconsolable secrets and the more clumsy our efforts to satisfy it, the more it is aroused, which is why all the efforts of Soviet and Red Chinese atheism, for example, merely created a brimming dam of hungry souls who are now flooding back to faith in droves.
There are so many tantalising pieces in this mystery. Questions and clues are everywhere: Not only do we ask, ‘Is there a god?’ but, ‘What kind of God?’; ‘Is this spiritual being already aware that I am on the hunt?’; ‘It it dangerous?’
It was CS Lewis who said, “The pantheist’s god does nothing, demands nothing. He is there if you wish for him, like a book on a shelf. He will not pursue you. But God himself: alive, the hunter, king and husband; that is quite another matter. There comes a moment when those who have been playing at burglars hush suddenly: ‘Was that a real footstep in the hall?’ There comes a moment when those who have been dabbling in religion: ‘Man’s search for God’, suddenly draw back. ‘What if we really found him? We never meant it to come to that. Worse still what if he found us?’”