Thursday, July 10, 2008

The Need for God

"Now - here is my secret:
I tell it to you with an openness of heart that I doubt that I shall every achieve again, so I pray that you are in a quiet room as you hear these words. My secret is that I need God - that I am sick and can no longer make it alone. I need God to help me give, because I no longer seem to be capable of giving; to help me be kind, as I no longer seem capable of kindness; to help me love, as I seem beyond able to love."
-From Douglas Coupland's, Life after God

"Christianity is a crutch." That's what I used to say to other students in high school. I had a theological chip on my shoulder, and I wanted the world to know it. However, looking back, I see that to level such a claim is both entirely true, and completely fallacious. It just depends on where one is standing. Douglas Coupland's little paragraph gets at the ambiguity, and actually illumines quite well why there is a two fold need for God (and why its not a crutch, in one sense).

Robert Penn Warren wrote in All the King's Men, "Man is conceived in sin and born in corruption and he passeth from the stink of the didie to the stench of the shroud. There is always something!" And indeed, there is always dirt to be found under the fingers. There is always something. After every absolution there is a new indulgence. To recognize sin must come after first recognizing God. Its a theological driven vision of the world. The path to a pre-existing morality that circumscribes theological particularity is a road toward Kantian ethics. Such a deontic ethic not snuffed out from the beginning, builds into its own self-validating perspective. Sin doesn't prove God. Sin is known only as Sin because of Scripture. In God's goodness He gave grace. To call grace a 'crutch' seems almost vulgar, but visually intuitive. Here, grace is not some helpful third-leg, but a life-source. Grace doesn't help, it saves.

The other reason people need God is because they don't have God. This was what Douglas Coupland meant when he wrote, "I need God." The book was entitled, "Life after God." But there is no such thing. There is no Life after God.

Bertrand Russel wrote a book entitled, "Why I'm Not a Christian." It's not a very good book. Its a collection of essays, and he basically levels one criticism on Christianity: not the divinity of Christ, not the cannibalistic notion of Eucharist, nor the misanthropic stance of being martyred for a cause. No, he thought that basically, Christianity was a philosophical crutch. Russel thought that God resembled a benevolent father-figure far too much for there to be any good to come of it. What he should have said was that he had read Feuerbach, and had agreed with him.

It reminds me of T.S. Eliot who, from his poem The Waste Land, wrote, "The world ends like this, not with a bang, but with a whimper." The man who was an ardent atheist most of his life found God in the end. He probably needed God, because he knew there was no life after God.

So Christianity is a crutch. Either because someone knows God, and knows sin is real, and needs grace from God. Or because someone does not know God - and knows there is no life after God - and for that reason needs God.

There is a popular little poem that has been going around in the past few years, it troubles me a bit.

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

In college, back in my youthful naivete that I someday, somewhere misplaced I did feel that way: My deepest doubt was that I was powerful beyond measure. Not anymore.

So, acknowledging sin and doubt is not a goal, but it can be a felix culpa. At times our legs will ache, we will groan from pain. We will want a crutch, and God will be there.


Tinman said...

I actually understood most of that! :)

This is a really nice piece. I especially liked that you quoted Eliot. (No, not just because of his last name!) _The Wasteland_ is a wonderful piece about searching. I'll have to reread it to see if I agree with you that he found God. All I remember about it is that when I first read it, (almost 20 years ago now!) I found it profoundly sad. You've given me a fresh perspective from which to read it.

I really liked your final comment about our legs aching and our need for a crutch. Beautiful.

Thank you so very much!

The Catholic Atheist said...


Good to hear from you again. We miss you here, and I'm sure you know that.

Thanks for the wellwishes, and I agree The Waste Land is a phenomenal piece. It took me a few times reading it through to begin to appreciate it. Though, when he wrote it he was still an atheist. His turn to Christianity didn't happen until late in his life.

Keep in touch, hope you are doing well.

Hellernot said...

And Guns....
Remember we have two crutches that we cling to.
We know this from the new mystic.

Just Me said...

I hope you enjoyed your BLT! Finally figured out how to leave a comment. I am continually amazed to read your posts. They open my eyes, and I'm excited when I think I understand them!

rob poswall said...

My dad wrote a book about loosing ur faith... I made a video for it. Its a fun book!

beninpalestine said...

Very well written and insightful. How do you deal with someone who takes the perspective of Nietzsche or Feuerbach, though? Can you know there is no life after God if you reject the idea of God's existence altogether?

The Catholic Atheist said...

Dear Beninpalestine,

I like your blog. You might know Dr. Norman Finkelstein. I was lucky enough to have him as an instructor during my time at DePaul University. Good luck on your work in the Middle East.

To your question: no. Those who reject God have serious epistemological problems, how does one know anything outside of the experiential and the physical (not that Christians have it easy). This gets at the heart of why and where existential philosophy goes in the next generation: Post-modernism (read specifically post-structuralism) reigns supreme mainly because all previous meta-narratives have broken down, especially claims concerning the extra- or non-phenomenological. Or another way of saying this broadly, it is the death of metaphysics (and while undergraduates worldwide may be rejoicing, there is not much good news in realizing that what you see is literally all you get) - which harkens back to my post and why God is still needed.

So technically, yes, Nietzscheans - struggling at times with epistemological grounding - may more often err on the side agnosticism.

Did I answer the question?
Thanks for reading.

beninpalestine said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
beninpalestine said...

Thanks, catholic atheist, I'm glad you enjoyed my blog. I've been meaning to go back to Palestine ever since I was there 2004, but for a variety of reasons I haven't made it back. I do know Norman Finkelstein. I had a class with him too.

You did answer my question. If I think about it, I can see how a Nietzschean, with his or her modernist perspective, would err on the side of agnosticism. Reason replaces god, but the modernists still reach for universal truths.

I agree with your argument, because I believe in God. However, if I didn't, I think I would have serious issues with your whole premise. Isn't there good news in the experimental and the physical?

The Catholic Atheist said...

Ben, dear Ben, my apologizes for not putting two and two together. Sometimes simple math eludes me. Please forgive me.

You actually ask a very interesting question.

What about materiality, what about the world? Is it essential good?

For Christians this is softball, underarm pitch: turn to Genesis 1, begin reading. The very conception of a good, created world is the corner stone of Christianity. It is the reason why being a Christian-Buddhists is oxymoronically. Early Church heresies tried to denounce the goodness of the created order. Such rebels were quickly ousted by the Church leaders. Marcion tried this by scrubbing the Old Testament out of Christianity. The very incarnation of Christ points to the vindication (a reassurance) that the world is not to be denounced, but embraced. C.S. Lewis makes the point in his book, 'The Problem of Pain' that the fact that the Earth is corruptible (literally), limited and generally insignificant in comparison to the vast universe gives little reason for humanity to believe that the created cosmos is Good. And so God must exist and be Good, if Christianity, in spite of the tragic world, sees it as essential good.

So, what of those poor heathens; those pagans, theological a sea, not knowing what to think of the created order? They probably will find some goodness in the world, because the world is good. But, there is no promissory note on the redemption of creation, there will probably always be the suspicion about creation that Christianity, at its best, should be able to avoid. Christianity can trust creation, and like any relationship, trust fosters enjoyment. Wendell Berry writes of this. Maybe you should read him, I think you would find him very much to your liking.

I have rambled, in short: There is goodness in creation, but Christians know this not only through the experiential, but through the creational degree in Genesis and the re-affirmation in the Incarnation. Such benchmarks allow for a hope in a future where creation (including creatures) are redeemed, and that is certainly good news.

beninpalestine said...

So, maybe I am reading your argument wrong, and do tell me if I am, but I get the impression you think there is invariably a hint of nihilism in atheism.

The Catholic Atheist said...


Yes, you condense my own thoughts well. There does indeed seem to be a natural predilection toward nihilism in atheism.

My professor, Dr. Long, once said that if someone found the bones of Jesus he would give up all this teaching, go home and become a nihilist.