Motivated not to Believe


  “Belief or unbelief is a choice,” says British journalist, Peter Hitchens. "As a choice, it is based upon desire. What, in other words, do I want? What is my desire?

 Hitchen’s point is that desire is the key factor as to whether one chooses to live in the world of belief, or the world of unbelief. 

 I can desire “one kind of universe” or another, says Hitchens. It’s my choice to make. 

 In which world will I take off my hat and stay a while?

 Could the debate between believers and unbelievers boil down to something so simple and stark - A desire? A choice?

 Certainly Hitchens thinks so. When finally two people are exhausted from arguing, (as in the case of two brothers) it comes down to choosing to believe, or not. 

 For the Hitchens' brothers, Christopher, chose one way. Peter, the other.  

 The key difference between them was on the level of desire/choice.

 In his book, The Rage Against God, Peter Hitchens, looks back on his former life as an atheist and confesses that he did not then want to believe. He was  motivated not to. 

 The only obstacle to belief was his own self-will.

 Which accords with St. Paul who argued in the book of Romans that we all know God by nature, but choose not to know.

 We are born with this knowledge. It is built-in to us. We innately know. We are born to believe. But choose to disbelieve. 

 If what Paul says is true, then an unbelieving state is not to be accounted for in terms of some lack of evidence. For, as Paul is saying - the evidence is never what is missing.

 Paul's claim is: “What may be known about God is plain.

 God is “clearly seen.” (Romans 1:18-25)

 From which it follows therefore that "people are without excuse.” For although they knew God, they neither glorified Him as God, nor gave thanks to Him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts darkened.

 "Claiming to be wise, they became fools."

 I have a very clear memory of a little boy who, in a state of wonder and joy, could not stop talking for three hours straight about the Bible stories he had heard at summer camp. In a car ride from Vancouver to Kamloops, British Columbia, he retold with verve the New Testament stories as if he had been there.  

 There was nothing unnatural about it. Religion wasn’t stifling him. No. The boy was at his best. His face shone. He was bursting with knowledge and inspiration. He was full of wonder, innocence and belief. 

 My wish for him is that one day he will be so fortunate as to see this level of inspiration in his own little boy or girl.

 Now, to lose this knowledge and the sense of wonder that it brings forth, is no attainment.

 It is no mark of sophistication to become cynical. It is rather a tragic loss.

 To lose touch with one’s natural intuition for God is to lose what matters most. To recover it is everything.

 Now, the struggle as to whether to suppress our innate knowing, or to affirm it, is played out in every generation and in every heart

 And, after all is said and done, the question for any of us always comes down to whether there is something open in us, or not? 

 Is one's heart open or closed?

 The intensity of one's openness is everything. Which led the Scottish story teller, George MacDonald, to write that openess to the Divine is the supreme virtue. 

 Thus the only important question ever is whether I am open or not.

 Will I allow the natural desire, or yearning for transcendence, to open up in me or, will I prevent this knowledge from springing up?  

 Now, if the heart opens, one enters the universe of belief.

 What kind of universe is that? That is a universe, says Mr. Hitchens, that is distinguished by laws and purpose. Laws and purpose are "woven into its very fabric.” 

 Which is to say that the universe of the believer makes sense. It is a meaningful and intelligible world. It coheres.

 It is a universe held together by what the Greek philosophers called the Logos - a centre at the heart of all. In other words - there is meaning at the heart of reality.

 For a good many years, Mr. Hitchens wanted nothing to do with such a  belief/desire. He did everything he could to mock and dismiss it. He thought he was too clever to believe.

 As an atheist, he lived in the kind of universe where the thinking is that the "dead remain dead," and actions have no ultimate consequences.

 The nature of this universe was "essentially chaotic,” says Hitchens, for there is no meaning at its heart. It is a world without any ultimate reference point.

 It is what Peter Hitchens thought he wanted it then.

 Hitchens cites Somerset Maugham’s, Of Human Bondage, where the hero, Philip Carey, “counts himself freed from all kinds of restraints on his behavior when he decides to abandon his faith.” 

 Faithless, Philip Carey felt free to do what he pleased - with which Hitchens identified. Carey’s sense of “liberated” feelings were his own. 

 Peter Hitchens explains that “what Philip Carey wanted, and what I wanted in that hedonistic era, was personal autonomy, that I could live as I wished.” 

 Which is the kind of demand one often hears: 'I will live my way and in my terms!’

 On display is the raging atheist who cries out that, ‘It’s my life and I’ll do want I want! I'm not answerable to anyone and especially not to God.'

 In a previous article, I called this attitude 'the freedom to be an idiot.’ 

 The idiot imagines that he is not ultimately accountable. He has granted to himself the license to be immoral, if he would like to be. 

 In a state of unbelief and therefore unbound and unrestrained, he can now justify any form of transgression. He can become some kind of transgression specialist who delights in pushing any envelope he can find.

 He thinks: “Who can I shock? Who can offend? 

 His motto is: 'No belief. No God. 'I’m free! Yahoo! And then becomes one. 

 Indeed, his delight may be in casting off all restraints and to break all rules. Like the unhinged in downtown Vancouver five years ago, who smashed windows and turned over police cars after a hockey game loss. (2011 Stanley Cup Riot)

 Feeling free, he can unite with those profane forces that "throw away all customs, institutions and achievements.” (Roger Scruton)

 He can align himself with the company of those who wish to slash and burn.

 He can become a member of the desecration brigade. A demolition technician.

 For what matters to such a one, after all, is not some effort to uphold first principles and to search for truth, beauty and goodness. No. What matters is his sense of “momentary exultation” at tearing something apart.

 Such a one may feel to free to go on a rampage. To riot if he feels like it, like the students Roger Scruton observed in the Paris of the 1960’s.

 Scruton, a 25 year old philosophy student at the time, watched with horror as the rioters cast off all restraints in the name of freedom. 

 He described their destructiveness: "Reality itself had been affronted. Repulsed, it had recoiled and collapsed into countless pieces, never to be reconstituted.” 

 Scruton was beholding the advent of the nihilistic postmodern era. Nihilism had been unleashed. The antinomian spirit was on the warpath.

 On the streets of Paris, Scruton was observing what happens when things fall apart and the centre no longer holds.

 He described the rioters, "full of fury and resentment," full of "mockery and spite," setting out on their path of destruction.

 He’s been writing about it ever since, observing that the culture has continued to erode as it continues in "its full flight from the sacred."

 Now, one of the motivations of the atheist culture, says Scruton, is to escape from the eye of judgement.

 Thus instead of following the Biblical admonition to seek the face of God as your highest possible aspiration, you do everything you can to avert the gaze of That face upon you.

 Indeed, one's life can become one long effort to evade being seen by God.

 And then the miracle happens, as in Peter Hitchen’s life: "I had gone in search of the fine food and wines of Burgundy.” But happened to come upon a painting of the Last Judgment. 

 “I scoffed. Another religious painting! Couldn’t these people think of anything else to depict?" 

 "Still scoffing, I peered at the naked figures fleeing toward the pit of hell. But this time I gaped, my mouth actually hanging open.”

 “These people did not appear remote or from the ancient past; they were my own generation.”

 “Because they were naked, they were not imprisoned in their own age of time-bound fashions. On the contrary, their hair, and in an odd way, the set of their faces were entirely in the style of my own time.”

 “They were me and the people I knew.” 

 “I had a sudden, strong sense of religion being a thing of the present day. A large catalogue of misdeeds, ranging from the embarrassing to the appalling, replayed themselves rapidly in my head.”

 "I had absolutely no doubt that I was among the damned, if there were any damned.” (Hitchens, p. 103)

 The recognition that he was no different than those portrayed jolted Peter Hitchens out of his world of unbelief. 

 He began to enter the world of belief. His desire not to believe was replaced by the desire to believe with all his heart. He wanted to know forgiveness. He wanted to know the truth. He wanted to know God. His desire was to know what was worth more to know than anything else.

 Last summer at Oxford, Peter Hitchens was interviewed by Eric Metaxasis, of Socrates in the City. I watched the interview three times. It filled me with great joy.


 Sunchair, Fade