Contra the Atheists: In Defence of Joy and Losers

Painting by Blake
'Sconfitta' by Blake

Common perceptions of Christians may well include the following: they are gullible, scarily amicable,  sexually unadventurous, irrational, zealous, happy-clappy, generally very boring, teetotal, cheesy, disconnected from reality, hypocritical, and in need of a heart-warming fable that they can believe in in order to feel better about their pathetic selves and less afraid of death. Now, if we’re honest, much of that is often true. After all, the Church is not meant to be a gathering-place of perfect human beings, but rather a communion of losers and failures – or, to put it as Eagleton once did, the shit of the earth. Jesus was, of course, contrary to what right-wing American zealots might argue, history’s all-time greatest loser.

What I want to focus on in this post is the last of these stereotypes: that Christians seek refuge from the real world in a cosy, cockle-warming tale. Those who think like this (and I was once a most vociferous proponent) generally tend to view themselves as enlightened, rational beings who have the fortitude to see reality for what it really is, not through any rose-tinted spectacles. Their world is one guided by ‘science’, by which I mean their faith in the capacity of practising scientists to solve the mysteries of human existence and to explain presently inexplicable phenomena. History, in general, is perceived to be an endless march of linear progress which is roughly in line with scientific and technological advancements, and the transcendent never much exceeds a hazy agnosticism. As for death, that’s the end: the great abyss.

With such a gloomy and unimaginative horizon, is it any wonder that certain people turn to Christianity? Atheists get Darwin. Not bad, all things considered, but Christians get Darwin and flame-engulfed angels! Atheists get an abyss, but Christians get – more terrifyingly – a bodily resurrection of all humans who must then give an account of themselves before the source of all being…who died for them! You couldn’t even write this shit! So, whilst it is, of course, true that many people take shelter in the Church so as to feel better about their lives, we might well want to stop to ask why this is such a bad thing. It’s rather like the whole ‘altruism versus egoism’ debate: did I help this little old lady with her shopping because I really wanted to help her, or did I do so because really I wanted to feel good about myself? Why couldn’t it be both?! Helping an old lady is good and doing good makes one feel good. Our popular conceptions of morality have been corrupted by the sadistic Kantian concept of duty: doing good must make us feel bad. Absurd!

Beatrice Addressing Dante by Blake
Beatrice Addressing Dante by Blake

No, Christianity is not for fools (well, it is but it isn’t, if you catch my drift). It is all very well for atheists to spout on about ‘proof’ and ‘science’ and ‘ideology’, but when it comes to the crunch it is secularists who are often (not always) the most gullible and least critical thinkers. It is totally acceptable for an atheist to invoke the dominant ideology of scientific rationalism – the great ‘opium of the people’ of our age – without having any specialist scientific knowledge whatsoever, whereas a Christian is forced to fight her intellectual corner in terms of science, history, theology, philosophy, etc. An atheist is under no obligation (other than worldly law) to accept responsibility for the state of the world or for the wrong of a particular situation; all they have to do is bemoan it, and go on reproducing the status quo which gave rise to it. A Christian, on the other hand, must accept that for all wrong that exists in the world, she is personally responsible; moreover, as if that weren’t enough already, she must do all in her power to ‘make God possible’ in no matter how dire a context. That Christians often don’t (à la moi) is not always a sign of their hypocrisy (although with me it sometimes is), but rather of their humanity.

Of course, many atheists are wonderful people who do wonderful things (the socialists the greatest amongst them), and they’re often a damn sight better than most Christians: give me Dawkins the Banal over Bush the Destroyer any day. But at the heart of Christianity is a political prisoner who was mutilated and then crucified by an imperial regime. It doesn’t get much more ‘real’ than that. Now, many atheists appreciate the horror and evil of the world – they are absolute realists – and for that I applaud them, but Christians know the darkness too. The difference for them is that they know a second, more potent, darkness – darker than the most infernal obscurity. So dark, in fact, that it is known to them as light. For them, death and evil have been conquered: to remind them that, despite this fact, we must still do all we can here on earth to stay true to that message is absolutely legitimate and necessary; but to deny them joy by claiming that it is only happy-clappy claptrap is nothing but the purest bourgeois ideology.


4 thoughts on “Contra the Atheists: In Defence of Joy and Losers

  1. Steve says:

    nice one dan,

    ‘It is totally acceptable for an atheist to invoke the dominant ideology of scientific rationalism – the great ‘opium of the people’ of our age – without having any specialist scientific knowledge whatsoever, whereas a Christian is forced to fight her intellectual corner in terms of science, history, theology, philosophy, etc.’
    I haven’t been able to put that coherantly into words before but now you’ve done it I realise i’ve been thinking it. Reminds me of something I read recently – someone suggested that if the stars only came out one night every thousand years, that everyone would be totally overwhelmed with awe and become religous overnight! -we all see through our lenses, and scientific rationalism is another lense.

    What do you mean when you describe the ‘light’ that Christians have as the second, deeper darkness?

    thanks mate!

    1. Daniel Hartley says:

      Hey Steve,

      The ‘second, deeper darkness’ image came from a vague memory of a sermon by Rowan Williams I read ages ago, but having just reread it it appears I’ve misused it slightly. The concept of God as a ‘ray of darkness’ originated with a fifth-century Syrian called Dionysius. It lasted until late 17th-century. Here’s 2 lines from a poem by Henry Vaughan (included in sermon): ‘There is in God (some say)/ A deep but dazzling darkness.’

      Some quotes from sermon:

      ‘God’s “ray” “interrupts” our blindness and ignorance; it “cuts through” something, as beams of light do. God is “the light of the world” in his Son Jesus; yet that interruption, that light cutting through our darkness, is not a comfortable clearing-up of problems and smoothing-out of our difficulties and upsets. On the contrary, it brings on a kind of vertigo; it may make me a stranger to myself, to everything I have ever taken for granted.’

      ‘Yes. God is one; the crucible of divine creative darkness, the breaking in on us of what is wholly unmasterable, so much so that it forces my defensive ego out of its castle in the centre of my unvierse: these are the marks of God wherever they happen, whether in sickness, ecstasy, madness, intuition, speechlessness.’

      ‘The Christian God is a ray of darkness, indeed, in the lives of individuals and in the story of humanity as a whole – the ground of paradox, of the oblique and puzzled language of so much Christian doctrine. And he is our home and our centre, the well of life and light, our loving father, the ultimate simplicity of pity and acceptance.’

      Hope that gets something across!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s