February 24, 2012
In Eleonore Stump’s Wandering in Darkness, there is a quote by Simon Blackburn that is very characteristic of the belligerence of some atheists towards Christianity. In his review of John Polkinghorne’s defense of Christianity, he writes that reading the books have left him “in despair about humanity’s desperate self-deceptions and vanities and appetite for illusion. Everything will be all right in the end, we are washed in the blood of the lamb, we are blessed...”
Blackburn believes “the cosmos is some fifteen billion years old, almost unimaginably huge, and governed by natural laws that will compel its extinction in some billions more years... We evolved only because of a number of cosmic accidents.... Nature shows us no particular favors: we get parasites and diseases and we die, and we are not all that nice to each other. True, we are moderately clever, but our efforts to use our intelligence... quite often backfire...”
Stump points out that his description of reality is blind to the things that seem to be most important in it, “the immensity of the universe does not trivialize the human response of awe to its beauty or the yearning desire to share that sensed beauty with someone else. There is sickness and death, but there is also the fear of being abandoned to loneliness in sickness and the wish for tender care in dying. Moderate cleverness and moral mediocrity are part of reality; but so is the heart-melting genius of Mozart’s music and the overwhelming self-sacrifice of Maximilian Kolbe.”
And I would add, that atheists who mock Christians and what they hold as sacred and significant, choose to live in a very limited and bleak world because they obstinately refuse to see the richness and goodness in the Christian tradition and many Christian lives.
And now it’s time for a story.
The following are scenes from Dostoyevky’s Devils.
One morning people discover that the icon of the Mother of God which stood at the entrance to the market place, has been robbed. And someone has left a mouse in its case.
Later in the chapter, a group of people, some of whom are responsible for the theft of the icon and for leaving the mouse, on their way to their destination hear about a suicide and decide to stop by and check it out, because as one of the ladies says, “Everything’s so boring, one can’t be squeamish over one’s amusements, as long as they’re interesting.” As they greedily observe the dead young man, one comments that suicide is the best way out. Another person hearing about the facts behind the suicide eagerly points out that at least he had a good time before he took his life. A few others noticing the grapes and wine on the table help themselves to it. Then they all merrily continue their journey.
Here Dostoyevsky is giving us pictures of a world where nothing is sacred and those for whom some things are sacred (i.e., the icon and what it signifies) are mocked and ridiculed. The icon of the Mother of God is as significant as a mouse. The death of a young man is meaningful and worthy of attention in so far as it’s amusing. That is a bleak world indeed.